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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I just received today, after a 5 week wait, the bass clarinet I had bought on Ebay back at the end of January. I bought it on a whim, if you will (chorus sings Whim Away, Whim Away), as I have wanted to find an instrument that would be fairly easy to learn due to its similarity with sax. I thought about and dropped the idea of it being either a flute or an Aerophone for a number of reasons each. I considered the trombone for about 5 minutes while in the throes of some kind of evil spell but fortunately woke up in time. Horror of horrors it is actually more difficult and inexplicable than the trumpet, which I have already tried over the past couple of years. Not enough time left in life for that torture, so while listening to Eric Dolphy I saw a light bulb catch on fire. So here it was at last, after 4 weeks held hostage for ransom by Spanish Customs thieves. And I am now already as of this afternoon and evening in the process of learning how it works and how to play it so I can enjoy it just as I do all my saxes, T, A, and S.

I'm going to post about my experiences, impressions, and progress with this thing that I've always thought looks somewhat like a tenor sax on Aicd as seen from the standpoint of a long-time Saxophone-Only player. It is one odd bird I'll say that much to start. This thing appears to have more Keys than Alicia could ever dream of having but in fact, after counting I discovered that there are only 3 more than on my tenor. It it had a high F# key that would make it only 2 more. Thankfully I don't have nor want a high F# key as that note is easy enough to blow with the Front F. However the BC does seem to have more multi-clusters of jammed together think pinky type keys and that is kind of curious at the same time as a bit off-putting.

Actually it's not the number of them as much as more of where and how they are placed and how you have to play them that seems strange to me. Take for example the LH thumb rest which in fact isn't really a thumb rest but actually a key touch that you have to let up on to get G. Is there any key on a saxophone that you have to keep you thumb on but need to not press it in order to get a G? And how exactly you do that without losing a grip on this long tall Sally of an ungainly thing? That seems to be my first task to figure out. I watched a video online of how to play a scale down from there and it's not that hard actually other than remembering to depress the "thumbrest G key" again for all other notes. My mind automatically wonders if there couldn't be a more practical way to play G without it being the place you rest your left thumb in order to play the register key, or what I assume is the or a register key. But never mind that for the moment on to playing it.


This afternoon and evening I tried it with a number of reeds, different in both brand and hardness. I only have tenor reeds so far, but since people here have said they are fine, I think I'll stick with them for now. The 4C seems to want a med-hard reed so I started with a Plasticover 3.5 that seemd to do well, or as well as could be said for a newb. I tried a La Voz 2 but way too soft and a Rigotti Gold 2.5 also too soft so then I played it with my Forestone White Bamboo 4.

This is the only one of those I have ever bought back when I was playing 4s on my 100 Berg. To my surprise it is about as soft as a 2.5. Either it started that way or just softened down to that, don't know. Mystery to me that I need to ask others about. I don't get it, but a 4 it is not. Might be more like a 2 of anything else. So it plays sorta okay on this 4C however I like the Plasticover 3.5 better and then when I went to a PC 4 that was even better. I'm going to try some 4s in other brands like a Rigotti, Java, and Select Jazz to see how they sound tone wise. This is all an unknown universe to me, you realize, and part of learning to play it is learning about what it likes and needs....kind of like a wild animal I have taken in as a pet. My experience playing the 3 Sax woodwinds has given me the ability to suss out what works and doesn't work and what to do to perfect my playing by trial and error.

First off the embouchure. On the video I saw by a school BC teacher she said to cover the lower lip. Mostly because she was talking to teens and they might actually put their teeth on the reed. I of course use the lower lip as a pad and not over my teeth and play that way on all 3 saxes. But in defference to her, I covered my teeth. I also tried playing with my upper teeth both covered in a double embouchure as well as on the reed. I'm just feeling it out to see what works best as the size of the mpc....or rather its width.....is new to me. I also am working on how the mpc should go in my mouth since it angles upward and makes the reed actually at an oblique angle to the tongue. Does one blow into the reed, down on the reed, or up at the tip of the reed? Trying all three to see which doesn't create the most godawful screech heard this side of the River Styx. Horrible.

And how much mpc tip do you take in. It seems from my trials today that it's much less than with a tenor and much close to the tip of the reed. The other issue is if the reed tip should be aligned exactly with the mpc tip edge or down a few hairs. I started out placing it right at the edge as I do with all my tenor mpcs and it seemed to deaden the volume. When I lowered it down a tiny bit it opened up a lot and sounded fuller tonally too. However I would not say that this horn is very loud.or even as loud as I thought it would be. Very mellow sounding low end. Then again that could be my underdeveloped BC chops and not the horn. So far I can play all the low notes from G on down but I don't have the chromatic order down yet because my poor pinky doesn't know that cluster of keys yet. That will come soon I am sure, however.


So far I have not tried the two oter registers mainly becasue I don't know how to get them and what the scale is since it is not another octave. Only time and practice will get that for me, but I feel that I can learn it because my first impression is that I like it and the tone it has. That woody resonance that only a bass clarinet has is very nice music to my tenor player's ears.


All for now

JIA
 

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I appreciate your write up. My wife has been saying that she likes the sound of the bass clarinet. I may follow your lead.
 

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Somewhere on SOTW not long ago a kind person posted a link to a pdf, Bass Clarinet 101: Bass Clarinet for Dummies by Edward Palanker. It is about six pages. A search (mwa-ha-ha) should find it.
 

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I also am very pleased that you have made the sacrifice and are giving it a go. I know someone with one, he's played clarinet for years, and have always lusted after it. It seems like a saxophone except the octave change comes on the twelfth instead of, well the octave, they have nothing like the volume of a sax though. Anyway, as you observe the fingering can be a bit odd. I have a regular clarinet that I sometimes have a go on and can sometimes get into the next register but is sure is a hard blow and the squeaks are awful. One good thing about the bass, I think, is that you don't have to cover so many holes, so less squeaks I hope. Anyway, good luck and give us regular updates.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thank you all for the links to good stuff for a learner. I have already watched a few videos on playing BC on YouTube and know a bit more than I did the other day. That was basically a bit more than nothing. So I appreciate the help. While I know it is different than a saxophone, it is similar enough in some major ways that I feel I can gain some degree of facility on it in a shorter time than if I was a total newb-boob.

Here are some photos of it and I really am happy that I lucked out in buying this one. The seller is a closeout dealer and so had about 6 or more of these former Jr. High BCs on sale at the same time. I looked at all of them and chose this one because it looked clean and I could see enough pads to know that at least some were good. As it turns out they are all good and fairly recent too. As you can see the metal is fairly flawless and the bit of polishing up with a cloth I did was all it took to make it look almost like new. The damn thing fairly glistens and so far the sound has hints of being just like it should be considering that I am not an actual player yet. Just a tenor sax guy trying it for the first times. I expect it to get much better as I go along, just like it was with sax for me.

Musical instrument Brass instrument Wind instrument Music Woodwind instrument


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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Here are photos of some of the pads so you can see how good they are. I don't know what school LJH is but since the seller is located in Pittsburg PA I looked online and found a Latrobe School system in the Pittsburg area that might be where the horns came from. I would love to give them a shout out for doing such a great repad on BC #11 because it looks really great.


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That's pretty nice. Locally, I saw a one-piece Bundy sell for over $800 (not including tax) and it did not look as nice as yours.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
That's pretty nice. Locally, I saw a one-piece Bundy sell for over $800 (not including tax) and it did not look as nice as yours.
This one is two pieces with a hex set-screw holding the band tight. While cleaning the tube last night I unscrewed it and tried to separate the two parts but they were really tight, so I desisted. Best to leave well enough alone since all is working well. Tonight I'm going to put my LED leak light in it and see if it has any. If not than the squeaks are just my unformed chops. LOL
 

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Great stuff Michael, I wish you the best of luck with it. What does your good lady think about it? dare I ask. :twisted:
 

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Several years ago I bought a 1950 Conn 484N, a 5pc wood low Eb bass, and had it restored. It is a great sounding instrument but far from perfect. There's a certain balky quality in the upper clarion register - common to most basses that aren't present-day, high-end models. The 484N has 2 octave keys, but they seem to be designed to open and close together.

The springs are also fragile and lose tension easily, and one bad spring can render the horn totally inoperative. And that low Eb key isn't well leveraged or positioned. You need a pinkie as long and strong as your other fingers to hit it comfortably.
 

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Mhh, I love the sound of a bass clarinet, but it's about the only clarinet I can stand. I'm canvassing the pawnshops and goodwill in the hope to find one but so far, they are all just regular clarinets :(
 

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Upper register is similar to sax, except high C is thumb+register key. Lower register is similar to alto recorder. The 'throat' tones have their own fingerings. the left and right hand pinky keys--three of the five close the same vent, so really there are fewer keys on the clarinet.

I expect to hear transcriptions of Out to Lunch, Jitterbug Waltz, and God Bless the Child as played by Eric.
 

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Bass clarinet; invented by Adolph Sax.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Great stuff Michael, I wish you the best of luck with it. What does your good lady think about it? dare I ask. :twisted:
Thank you Rob. I am getting into it a bit at a time. It sure has that resonant woody bass tone. Very alluring.....until my right pinky hits one of those side keys and causes a chicken squawk.It was no problem. She's accustomed to it and doesn't mind much unless I clutter, here word, up the house with the stuff. The big thing now is where am I going to keep it since I have no stand for it and I don't want to put it into that funky hard case if I can avoid it. I like to have my horns out where I can grab them and play when the mood strikes me. I'm thinking of some kind of wall mounted holder by the side of my desk in the study where I am now. It's out of the way and out of sight, but that's just one idea so far. Having small retractible fingers that lengthen and shortend as needed would be very handy with this horn.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Several years ago I bought a 1950 Conn 484N, a 5pc wood low Eb bass, and had it restored. It is a great sounding instrument but far from perfect. There's a certain balky quality in the upper clarion register - common to most basses that aren't present-day, high-end models. The 484N has 2 octave keys, but they seem to be designed to open and close together.

The springs are also fragile and lose tension easily, and one bad spring can render the horn totally inoperative. And that low Eb key isn't well leveraged or positioned. You need a pinkie as long and strong as your other fingers to hit it comfortably.
Yes, kind of a reach. What I can't figure out is how little kids in elemenatary and JHS could play this thing if adults with normal size fingers have to stretch theirs with weights to be able to reach those 5 lower keys. Not to mention trying to know which one you are touching without a fingertip cam.

Upper register is similar to sax, except high C is thumb+register key. Lower register is similar to alto recorder. The 'throat' tones have their own fingerings. the left and right hand pinky keys--three of the five close the same vent, so really there are fewer keys on the clarinet.

I expect to hear transcriptions of Out to Lunch, Jitterbug Waltz, and God Bless the Child as played by Eric.
Those are coming right up.......in about 20 years.

Bass clarinet; invented by Adolph Sax.
You're kidding, right? What drugs was he one at the time, DMT? Or maybe it was he wasn't on drugs and should have been.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·

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Thank you Rob. I am getting into it a bit at a time. It sure has that resonant woody bass tone. Very alluring.....until my right pinky hits one of those side keys and causes a chicken squawk.It was no problem. She's accustomed to it and doesn't mind much unless I clutter, here word, up the house with the stuff. The big thing now is where am I going to keep it since I have no stand for it and I don't want to put it into that funky hard case if I can avoid it. I like to have my horns out where I can grab them and play when the mood strikes me. I'm thinking of some kind of wall mounted holder by the side of my desk in the study where I am now. It's out of the way and out of sight, but that's just one idea so far. Having small retractible fingers that lengthen and shortend as needed would be very handy with this horn.
I am thinking of steampunk wall holders for the horns I am using on a daily basis, it's cheaper than anything and with rubber sleeves for hot water line insulation or if I want to go fancy/expensive, bicycle handle bar wraps, it would look neat and I can probably accommodate 4 horns for less than $50 and 2 hours of work.

Can't help you with the fingers, though :)
 
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