My bass clarinet...and mouthpiece, and reeds.

My bass clarinet...and mouthpiece, and reeds.


I got a note in the mailbag today which was sort of cute — and I realized reading it that I've never talked about it on the blog.

Hello Mr. Lowenstern my name is charles and I watched a lot of your videos and they help me a lot and I want to be a professional player when I grow up and what kind of instrument do you use and why do you use it?

Well, punctuation is one of my instruments (sorry — I just had to tease you).

Okay, down to business.

Instrument: I think most people who know me know that I'm a Selmer artist. I've played Selmer bass clarinets since I was a junior in High School. Right now I have a pair of Selmer Model 37 bass clarinets (to low C). Before that I had a 1985 Model 33. And before that I was playing on an old Series 9 from the 1960s (to low Eb) that I recall carving my initials into. No, it wasn't mine, it was Interlochen's and I had graffiti issues back then.

Anyway, in my opinion, Selmer bass clarinets are the way to go — but I get a lot of grief from other players that Buffet Prestige bass clarinets are preferable. I think their argument is valid; Buffet bass clarinets are ideal for someone who is not primarily a bass clarinet player, because the Buffet horns feel more like clarinets than the Selmer horns. Problem is, they also have more resistance than the Selmer horns, and therefore the instrument generally has a limited response & dynamic range to various volumes of air. (I defy anyone to play louder — with a nice sound — on a Buffet; and I defy anyone to play quieter — without hiss — on a Buffet. Yes, I challenge you Buffet fans to a duel!)

Mouthpiece: I use a Vandoren B50 mouthpiece, and have since they came out a few years ago. Before that, and for 30 years, I played modified Selmer C* mouthpieces. They were heavily modified by Everett Matson (who worked on mouthpieces for all of the great clarinet players from the 1940's (?) until his death in 2001). I still have a ton of them, because they're remarkable mouthpieces, but the B50 is by far the best stock mouthpiece I have ever played. It's really, really great.

Reeds: The strength of your reed really depends on your mouthpiece. I use a Vandoren V12 bass clarinet reed, strength 2.5 (!) — seriously. A mouthpiece as big as the B50 requires a softer reed or it's like playing on a piece of plywood.

Ligature: In my opinion, for beginning players, it doesn't make much difference what ligature you use. As long as you tighten the reed on the mouthpiece well, you could use paper clips and shoelaces. For advanced players, the difference is subtle — the materials used (wood, metals, cloth) will make a difference, but the difference is very personal. I don't recommend one ligature over any others. But for those keeping score, I play a Vandoren Optimum.

And there you have it. If you have any questions or if I have forgotten anything, let me know in the comments.


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