Clarinets and Concepts—Milwaukee

© 1995 A Comparison of Buffet Clarinets with Different Set-Ups

My original motivation for writing articles and giving clinics was an attempt to dispel some of the mythology that exists in our industry. Many notable people have stated that you should never oil an instrument's bore and that cork pads are inferior. I have taken their position to the opposite extreme; Organic Oil Immersions and all cork pads. You can now see the results of an audience's preferences of paired comparison performance tests between these differing clarinet set-ups.

My first article in TechniCom, as well as my first clinic, involved the effects of environment on grenadilla wood and other organic materials; they represented "nuts and bolts" offerings. This current clinic, Clarinets and Concepts, as well as the one last year in Denver, was designed to present the performance aspects of different instrument set-ups; standard wood versus immersion treated wood and all bladder pads versus all cork pads.

The Concepts clinic is definitely a "put up or shut up" situation because I have no way of knowing what audiences will, in fact, prefer. Test results from the clinics in both Denver and Milwaukee could have demonstrated the inferiority of the consequences of immersion processing and cork pads, but they did not! Test results were even more dramatic this year than in Denver. This year test averages approached a 2 to 1 preference for immersion treated clarinets versus standard clarinets and all cork pads versus all bladder pads.

The test consisted of four instruments, 2 new, 1 old, and 1 plastic. I received two new Buffet R13's in the same condition as the Libertyville, Illinois center received them from France. I left these new clarinets as close as possible to the Buffet Crampon factory set-up. Thorough work would have included new pads and other modifications, but I wished to test the results of an immersion treatment and not my ability to otherwise customize instruments. Instruments were designated as A, B, C, and D

  1. The first (new) clarinet was put into good playing condition (GPC) including necessary key-fitting and bladder pad (refloating).  
  3. The second (new) clarinet was given an Organic Oil Immersion and then a GPC with bladder pads.  
  5. The third grenadilla clarinet is an older R13 that was immersed in 1988 and padded with all cork pads.  
  7. The last clarinet is a Buffet Lucite model.


Test Session Result
1. New "Standard R13 Wood (A), vs. Plastic (D), test was which is wood and which is plastic? (% correct answers) 1 - Denver

2 - Milwaukee

two session average

46% correct

42% correct

44% correct

2. New (A) vs. New Immersed (B)    
Preferring (A)
1 38%
  2 33 %
  two session average 35%
Preferring (B)
1 62 %
  2 67%
  two session average 65%
3. New (A) vs. Old Immersed (C)    
Preferring (A)
1 36%
  2 45 %
  two session average 42%
Preferring (C)
1 64 %
  2 53%
  two session average 58%
4. New Immersed (B) vs. Old Immersed (C)    
Preferring (B)
1 29%
  2 45%
  two session average 37%
Preferring (C)
1 71%
  2 55%
  two session average 63%


I am presenting separate test results for both sessions because the room for session 1 was quite cold, while the room for session 2 was warm and muggy. All instruments reacted to the differing room temperatures as well as the change in climate, but not all to the same degree.

It must be noted that there is little about these tests that could be considered "scientific". Our hope was to offer a clinic that would be both enjoyable and raise conceptual questions in the minds of the audience. Ideally, the same etudes and scales should have been used on each test. However, if Mr. Lukasik had been required to play the same music for all tests, the audience would have been put to sleep half way through the clinics.

Even though stringent testing procedures were not followed, these tests do represent valid subjective appraisals by the audience. The parameters used were timbre, resonance, response, and player facility. I expect to be able to provide hard data from acoustic tests in the future. These physical (non-subjective) tests would be designed to measure the acoustic changes that occur as a result of immersion treatment.

1. New "standard" R13 wood vs. Plastic

The audience was asked to determine which instrument was wood and which was plastic. This test was given for two reasons; to give the audience some experience with paired comparison listening tests and to allow them the opportunity to "look within" the timbres of the instruments for other identifying factors. This type of test usually yields a 50% (chance) result. Because of the small sample size, the range of chance would lie between 45 to 55%. The clinic average of 44% could still be considered to fall within the range of chance.

These results may indicate that the audience tended, on average, to believe that the plastic instrument was a wooden one and vice versa. Correct answers ranged from one to eight. Anyone getting three or less or seven or more correct answers were definitely hearing differences in timbre. One's ability to distinguish a wooden timbre from a plastic one would be a consequence of hearing acuity, concepts of timbre, and experience in perceiving various factors within a given timbre.

2. Second Comparison

The immersed clarinet was preferred 2 to 1 for this test. This strong audience preference was not anticipated. It must be noted that the barrel on the immersed new R13 was a miss-match to the bore of the upper joint, while the barrel on the standard clarinet was a very good match to the body.

3. Third Comparison

Please note the results of session 2; they represent an anomaly when compared to the other results of Comparisons 2, 3, and 4. Session 1 results approach a 2 to 1 preference, while session 2 results approach 1 to 1. Joe's reed chirped during one of the second session tests, but I failed to note in which comparison it happened—it could have been this one.

4. Fourth Comparison

Remembering that the room was cold for session 1, the audience preference for the old immersed clarinet with all cork pads approached 3 to 1. This may indicate that the more mature clarinet handled the cold room better than the other instruments. The results of session 2 may indicate that the warmer room allowed the immersed instruments to respond with greater similarity.

The Denver and Milwaukee clinics demonstrated the extreme problems encountered when attempting to describe sound with words. It is apparent that people hear or perceive the same sound in different ways. When asked to describe why they prefer one instrument over another, an audience will tend to use the same words and concepts for either preference. One person may describe a sound as full and rich while another will describe the same sound as harsh and wild. The world of subjective evaluations is certainly intriguing.

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