This is a low C bass clarinet that is made out of Texas. There are generally positive reviews out there for it mixed with some slight negatives. My review is actually positive although I’m going to dig into the ugly stuff more than the good – and there are good things. It has the strong advantage of being an inexpensive low C bass clarinet for around $3000 USD (plus whatever shipping that might mean for you), there are a lot of adjustment screws which I love to see, and once it’s set up it plays quite nicely. I imagine shipping across these long distances makes it basically mandatory to get an adjustment once it lands as this customer’s horn did, but there’s more than that: they don’t seem to use great materials for their rubbing parts and there seemed to be some carelessness in the fit of their pivot screws.
The sliding materials that they used were textured, much like soldering wick, which is bumpy and a really odd choice unless you wanted to take advantage of the roughness to hold oil or grease… but even grease is a bad option so I cant explain it. This stuff that was actually used was not strictly copper wire, there seemed to be a plastic coating on it, but not enough of one to bury the texture completely making this a pretty ineffective choice. It’s probably pretty obvious conceptually why this is a problem, but in reality people are probably not that sensitive to a small amount of inefficiency… unless you use this material on wildly long rods as found in the bottom joint of this instrument. The length of the rods makes low C bass clarinets a nightmare to setup in general; they flex (this makes design tricky for the makers and makes key bending tricky for me) and they seem to go out of alignment easily.
On this instrument I was asked to fix the chalumeau D as driven by the left hand pinky. This is a key that travels about 30″, drives 5 large keys, and pivots in 3 places. There is a large amount of room for slop in the mechanism and at about every opportunity for flexing and key play there was an excess of it. Some of this problem is inherent to low C clarinets, but I have worked on low C’s that have addressed this problem way better (and they’ve been around longer). On this instrument I had to add teflon covered corks to prevent the D key touch from bucking inwards because of the really odd choice of meeting up with the thumb key touch radially (a video is below). The counteracting forces could work if their key guides were totally enclosed around the rods like Buffet does, but instead they have a U-guide that only captures the rod side to side. As you see in the video, the rod actually jumps from the guide each time you use that key, demonstrating a large waste of energy. I replaced some of the ‘solder-wick’ sliding materials with teflon and lost a lot of the flex. If the customer wanted to go all in on it (which he didn’t), I could have made caps to pin the rod down (I think Yamaha or Jupiter does this on long high keys on bari saxes).
The other rubbing issues I got were on the adjustment screws for the bottom joint. ‘Solder wick’ made an appearance here too which jammed up the key work much like sliding an eraser on a piece of metal would do.
And the final piece of sloppy manufacturing was in the pivot screws. They were all tightened to look right, but the keys would not move. I asked if I could correct this but the customer did not want to pay for it so now they hang out about an eighth of an inch, which is ugly, but functional I guess. I had to do this to a lot of posts on the bottom joint. Only one screw on the top joint.
So how does it play? Pretty damn good after everything has been adjusted. I am not a bass clarinetist but I have certainly played a few. The clarion is a bit stuffy for a couple of notes, I made what improvements I could here, so it is likely my technique that is limiting me. I will see what the customer has to say about it, though I know he will find it to be a major improvement. It plays very well all the way to the bottom now and the feel in the spring tension is much more even (there were a couple of oddball keys that sprung hard).
If I was required to buy a bass clarinet for doubling I think this is actually not a bad choice once everything is setup well. As long as you factor in $150-300 of having some work done to it to make it more efficient, mid-level players (students, concert bands) to pro doublers should be quite happy with this.