Yesterday I made the difficult decision to stop playing the Selmer Privilège model clarinets that I loved, and which only last Spring I considered to be the next best thing since sliced bread.
My reasons are complex, and I'd like to share them with you.
I have recorded myself playing the Selmers a number of times, and they usually win over my Buffets on that measure. I have also played them in my orchestra (Columbus Symphony) numerous times over several months. In that context I occasionally had the feeling of pushing up against some barrier in their sound, which, if I tried to exceed it, would render the tone more spready, even "honky".
The Selmer Privilege instruments are beautifully made, well crafted, and have a meaty tone. They tune well (with a few notable exceptions) and have a very even scales tonally. In many ways, they are superior in design and craft than my Buffet R13s.
However, I have developed as a player around the Buffet model R-13's famous poly-cylindrical bore, with its particular feel and resistance (designed by Robert Carrée for Buffet in 1955). For 30-some years of playing, I have responded to that particular resistance and shape as my cue how to play and sound my best.
With the Selmers I had to blow a little differently, but they took that and made it sound beautiful. So I didn't mind. However, over time I realized I couldn't get "into" the sound and "spin" it (a very slight vibrato I occasionally use to create a vocal feeling, to warm up a note). And I had trouble getting as much of a "pear" shaped tone with the Selmer as I can with the R-13. (The pear-shape image was used by Robert Marcellus, and perhaps other teachers to describe and ideal core shape of the clarinet sound, slightly bulbous at the bottom.)
I found with the Selmers that at the bottom of the pear-shape I attempted to create with my air, I would hit a limit in what the bore would allow me to do, which prevented me from shaping the tone as I wished. I wanted a bigger room to dance in! It was for this reason I decided to stop playing them.
At this point I don't think I will sell them, at least not yet. I want to try them again in a few months and see if I come to the same conclusion. If I still feel the same after that I will try to sell the set. (let me know if you might be interested)
It has been a very interesting learning experience and I have come to love my Buffets even more, with their complex poly-cylindrical bore and slightly more open feeling. I am now even more sensitive to "tightness" in Buffets. I am careful to look for enough openness, enough give, enough play in the sound where I have freedom to shape my tone, and I can get the bottom of that "pear" with enough ring and roundness and fullness.
While I was in the throes of re-examining my equipment, I tested out all my current barrels and bells with my two sets (Bb and A) of Buffet R13s. I also re-considered the various "tightness" of each of my Buffets to be sure each set matched well. (When switching from Bb to A or back in orchestra, it's nice when the instrument switched to feels as similar as possible)
I matched up barrels and bells to individual instruments, again (I have done this before, but had the Selmers in mind as my primary instruments then). I found that certain Backun barrels (for more on Backuns, see Backun Fever and Backun Fever 2) went better with certain instruments, and the Morales-Backun (MoBa) barrels with the other set.
The grenadilla "Fatboy" Backuns seemed to sound best with my chosen orchestral instruments (first set) with their more solid core of tone, with the MoBa bells for those, since they add just a touch of roundness and softness to the tone to balance the directness of the Fatboy barrels.
I chose the MoBa barrels, with their slightly softer wood and more rotund shaped tone, for my second set of instruments, my solo/chamber music instruments, which I will also use for practicing at home.
My newest R13 A clarinet, which I bought last year, and which has a fantastic sound, became my choice for my home instruments (second set), while my older A, which is a bit more open, with that larger, rounder "pear" shape, was moved to my orchestral set (first set).
This decision felt right, for my current orchestral Bb has a very extroverted and flexible tone, and the older A, purchased around the same time, matched its tonal shape well. My second Bb, which is also a beautiful, but slightly tighter feeling, will now pair very nicely with the newer A and its similar feel and resistance.
Enough shop talk for now. If you made it this far, I hope I have opened your eyes to the subtleties of tone and equipment and their intrinsic relationship to the personality of the player.
If you are intrigued by the fame of Buffet's R-13 tone, please read the following testimonial from an oboist in S America:
I write after hearing a moving concert of the Mozart clarinet concerto played by an ex-colleague (Jose Botelho), who is older than Drucker and plays... in the opinion of many out here at least, almost if not just as well as the great NY Phil clarinetist.
In any case, he is still performing on a Buffet, with a new type of mouthpiece and ligature. giving it a round and big sound --in contrast to years ago. Nevertheless the Buffet clarinet, at least out here in Brazil, seems in a declining period as most young instrumentalists are purchasing a lovely clarinet made in Chile by an Argentine called Rossi. [Luis Rossi Clarinets are beautiful. I have played one, and loved it, but feel quite content now to stick with my sweet Buffets]
But still, to these aging ears there is no clarinet sound like the Buffet. For me not even Selmer comes close to it. And the sound of the clarinet is important to double reed players...
I can only imagine my own reaction to the decline of the Buffet clarinet, is similar to those who were opposed to the great changes in the oboe,when it converted to a full key system after the top of the top many moons ago was an open hole system.
Any reaction is always appreciated, updating this observer how the Buffet clarinet is doing in your part of the world.
There you have it. Mr. Emert brings up an interesting point: the decline of Buffet in some musical cultures, where a slightly different concept of tone, led by different clarinet makers, is replacing that famous sound of older players.
Even in the US, a change in tonal culture is taking place, led by the Morales Backun collaboration with Leblanc, and the slightly more "bulbous" tones produced by their equipment. (My Backun equipment, carefully chosen to match my needs, adds a mellower color and more rounded shape to my "pear".)
I can't pretend I haven't been around awhile. Robert Marcellus and Harold Wright still emit the ultimate clarinet tones to my ear, and they played Buffet clarinets.