Yamaha's German horns


Old King Log
Staff member
What with the high quality of their professional level saxophones, a few years back I was looking to acquire a Yamaha Oehler system horn. You would think that any organization that makes these expensive things would be more than willing to send one out for me to buy at their inflated list price.

However, that is not the case. Everywhere I turned, I bumped up against a whole lot of "No!" Forget about getting one here in the States. No one would even consider it. Ditto Yamaha Japan. Letters and email (in Japanese, no less) was not just given a "no"; rather it was ignored, not even the courtesy of a reply.

While I'm sure that they sell the occasional one over in the mother country, German sources were equally unresponsive. No answer to either letter or email.

I finally ended up "settling" (and that certainly is the word; it's not a professional horn despite what their marketing would have you believe) for an Amati top end horn. All the silver plating in the world is not not going to disguise that the Amati is poorly made, with chips in tone holes and keywork/pads that needed a lot of tender loving attention before they sealed up just so.

So, I ask it here: what's the secret to dealing with Yamaha to make them cough up one of their horns here?
I'm amazed that you couldn't find an overseas dealer. This is a world economy after all!
Since I've already got the (barely suitable) Amati Oehler horn, I've used up my allotment for clarinets that I only occasionally use. Unless they are now willing to trade me one-for-one, it ain't gonna happen.

At the time, I tried the "friend in Deutchland" approach as well. She was able to contact a number of commercial music houses, but none were interested enough to lay one in the time. And, if a hot (in point of fact, very hot) babe like her wasn't able to move their cold, cold Teutonic hearts, it's very unlikely that a troll like me would be more successful in her place. Their loss, I guess.

It took me almost a year to get my Amati horn into what I consider playable condition. Out of the case, it was completely unplayable, no ifs, ands or buts. That the firm would even ship such an object as a "complete" instrument has biased me against them from this point forward, which is not a good thing as they are one of the few sources of full Boehm clarinets left in the world.

Aside from general poor adjustment issues, easy enough to correct, (and from having to get a proper mouthpiece from Vandorn to replace the junk box French style one sent with the horn) I had the devil's own time getting the rings down to the point that my fat fingers could adequately close the tone holes associated with them.

Ultimately, I had my repair guy down here fabricate custom pads for the little vent holes that were covered by keys attached to the rings themselves. These are unique to the Oehler system, vent openings to better tune an open note, and are literally attached to the edges of the rings.

Since they are "fixed" in relationship to the ring, they (in effect) control the height at which the rings come to rest. With the very fat "stock" kidskin pads used as it was built in the Czech Republic, the rings on the clarinet were held so high above the chimneys that it was an ordeal to keep them sealed with the fingertips, particularly when operating any of the little finger touch pieces with either hand.

The ultimate solution was to cut custom sized pads out of cork, similar to those used on clarinet upper joints here and there, and then to install one, check the ring height, and then sand an identical one down if the height was too high, then rinse and repeat as needed. Lot of trial and error on all three of the little buggers, but we finally got there in the end.

(The angle for the keywork for the little finger left hand is so horrid that I am of the opinion that it was designed by the ancestor of the guy who laid out the left hand little finger table keys for the Conn saxophones. The straight "clapper style" key for F#/C# is so far around that I invariably use the patent C# just to avoid the chance that a "reach" might disturb my fingers elsewhere.)

(I've found that the best way to assemble the horn is so that the bottom joint's finger holes are displaced about 15? to the left of the finger holes on the top joint. From the best that I can see of Germans playing these instruments, that's the way things are supposed to be, and it sure makes that left hand little finger stuff a lot more accessible.)

One of these days, when my family inheritance "ship" 'comes in', I'm going to shoot for the ultimate prize, an Oehler bass clarinet. I have never even seen mention of such an animal outside of the very high end pro horns, and it makes you wonder just what student bass clarinetists learn on over there.
And, if a hot (in point of fact, very hot) babe like her wasn't able to move their cold, cold Teutonic hearts, it's very unlikely that a troll like me would be more successful in her place. Their loss, I guess.
You should have tried to convince them that you were Paul Cohen. :D
What are the advantages of the Oehler clarinet over the typical Boehm system? In other words, why do you want one?
Different tonality, for the most part. I find Boehm horns to be "shrill" compared to either Alberts or Oehlers. They're also a bit more facile in sharp keys (with Boehm being moreso in flat keys), this due to the way the first finger fingerings are arranged.

(In the past, I have used it for musicals, where the key signatures often drift into the five plus sharp range. Not so this year - mostly bass clarinet and baritone this time around.)

As I started playing on Albert horns but had zero experience with the Oehler system, it was something that I always wanted to try. In pre-internet days, it was a struggle to even try one for sale here in the US of A.

At least the Amati is now available to anyone with a little money and a telephone. The quality issues involved with it make me wish that I had been able to land a Yamaha instead.

I use a Vandorn German-style mouthpiece, along with their German cut reeds and my own (I hold the patent) ligature on the thing. It looks cheesy as hell (with the huge Amati logos on each and every joint, and in bright silver foil to boot), but plays just fine with #4 reeds.

Pitch wise, I just use the longer of the two barrels. (The length of the joints is different than on a Boehm, so the longer of the two shorter appearing barrels still allow you to play down to pitch.)
Terry: Very interesting. I own three Albert clarinets and three Boehms, all soprano (one of the Alberts is a C). I've heard the claim before that Alberts supposedly had better tone . . . and by better, I mean more suited to the old New Orleans style of playing. Most of the original jazz clarinetists played Alberts.

I once had a guy come into my band's gig regularly to sit in - he played an Oehler. I was always under the impression that Oehlers were just an Albert with a few more doo-dads, but basically they finger the same. I've never played an Oehler so I don't know.

What I DO know is that my Boehm clarinets all sound better to my ears than do my Alberts plus I find the Boehms SO much easier to get around on. I admittedly am not reading complicated charts - I make it up as I go.

Yes, the sound of my Alberts could be just the particular models I own . . . the guys I know today who play Alberts are all terrific players - lots of technique and wonderful tone, but my Boehm clarinets don't suffer from inferior tonality. I'd put my two Buffet Boehms up against any Albert System for tonal qualities. I get similar feed-back from fans who know us all and have a discerning enough ear to compare.

I've always suspected that the differing tone of Alberts compared to Boehms was a myth perpetuated by hard-core traditionalists who want to play an Albert because Bechet and Dodds and Noone etc. played Alberts. The guys who play Alberts would probably have similar issues as I have if they tried to switch to Boehm. Like so many things, music-store commandos CAN spread the bull pretty good.

But, it is too bad that one who wants to buy a nice Yamaha Oehler or Albert can't do it. I've seen them advertised in the WW&BW catalog a while back and got the drools when I read the page. DAVE
My original interest was sparked by the tone controversy plus the fact that I was not able to tell for myself if such a difference existed. I tend to be a hands-on guy, one who wants to test the opinions of others (since in so many instances I have found that those opinions are not always reality based).

Push comes to shove, there is a significant portion of the clarinet playing world that does their playing on radically different instruments. And, they seem to do it pretty well, if all of those recordings of German and Austrian orchestras were anything to go by.

Yet, until the birth of firms like WWBW and the internet (and eBay), the opportunities to play such instruments were very few and far between. As you say, you've never used an Oehler horn, evidence that my experience (prior to acquiring the Oehler "system" horn) was not unique. For the record, it's still pretty difficult to acquire an artist-level instrument from a German maker - that is unless you have a whole lot of money. Check out the listings on German eBay some time and do the Euro math...

I'd even go out on a limb and say that 99% of the Boehm players out there have never put their fingers on an "Albert" horn, despite the relatively thick on the ground presence of them via eBay. While I will never say that the overall tuning on an Albert is superior to that found on a well set up Boehm, they do (in my opinion) have a more "open" feel to them (along with a funky spacing for the fingers on the lower joint).

I will make one categoric statement about the "other" clarinet systems involved here: I would not want to have to play one without the patent C# mechanism. Too much finger sliding to suit me on a horn without it. (Of course, my Boehm horns (the vast majority of them at least) are all "full Boehms", so I have been "finger greasing" adverse for a long time now.)

I did have the pleasure of having someone during a big band event wonder if he could borrow my clarinet once (he was a notorious light traveler, and had left his soprano at home) when he had a part to cover on a chart where I was playing bass. I said "Sure, why not?" and handed over the horn at the appropriate time. It didn't dawn on him until his left thumb hit the ring-less thumb tube that he was suddenly in an alien world. Priceless...
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I've told this story before . . . when I moved to Montana several years ago (since returned to SoCal, but that is another story), I immediately joined a trad band that was being formed by another California transplant. It was a good one.

We did a concert one night along with a traveling German polka band. The German band had a slew of clarinets - all Alberts. During a break we were exchanging stories and praise for each other's music, with the aid of interpreters and broken English and German.

All the clarinetists were in the conversation and were holding their horns. I asked one guy if I could try his. They all snickered. I put my mouthpiece on his horn and played a blues tune after running a few arpeggios. They couldn't believe that a rube in Montana knew how to play their Albert clarinets. It was a good laugh among all of us.

As far as Alberts being more open than Boehms - that certainly has not been my experience, but I admit I haven't experienced everything. DAVE
I started on an Albert bass, one of those "We've got Grandpa's old horn in the closet - let's let Little Terry start on that!" decisions that can scar a child for life. I worked out of the Rubank Elementary Method Volume 1, which had both an Albert fingering chart (which used a picture of a horn that looked like a regular wooden soprano clarinet) and a Boehm fingering chart (which used a picture of a metal clarinet).

After a few years on the bass, the school instructor convinced me Mither to switch me over to a no-name wooden Boehm soprano. The bass got dumped (it was a wonderful Buffet) and I converted over to the modern French way of doing things.

Later on in college, I found (in a poorly inventoried horn room) another Buffet Albert bass, had it rehabbed at my own expense, and played that for a year. I should have lifted the horn (they had no idea that it was there), but I was honest and stupid then. It's probably up on someone's wall now...

Since that time, I have acquired another, one that didn't require a rebuild to work. As a result, I have yet to get it "dedented" and otherwise done up right. I also have a rickety Italian Albert bass which could serve as an olfactory definition of the term "funky"...

My use of the term "open" may be a poor one. I just found that an Albert bass (and some Albert sopranos) sounded more "natural" or "free" as far as the tone was concerned. I may not be expressing this correctly, of course.
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