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· Registered
27 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I was looking into buying a Contra-Alto clarinet in Eb. For I've always thought of clarinets as super saxes, as in the bass clarinet, being in the same key and having about the same mid and high range as the tenor sax, but with the low range of a bari.

So I've been looking into a Contra-Alto Clarinet. Key of a bari, low notes of a bass, timbre of a clarinet.

I'm looking for opinions on a contra-alto for 3 reasons:

1. Can play bari music, and can easily transpose bassoon, tuba, trombone, etc parts

2. Plays low, but not so low as you can't tell a note apart on the lower range.

3. Plays high enough if you need to play high.

I just need some of you're guys opinions on it.

Thanks in advance!​

· Distinguished SOTW Member and Old King Log
798 Posts
A few more points to consider:

5. Weighs a ton, and can require special seating for some players. The "straight" ones come in a very long case that eeds a large car, station wagon, pickup truck or van to move it around.

6. Sounds muddy and muffled, particularly if it's a former school horn that has been battered about. If you get an expensive one, you can expect something closer to a bass clarinet tone, but don't get your hopes up.

7. One in good condition should end up costing you a mint. A pre-owned school horn may be affordable, but it will also be close to destroyed. (There are a lot of contra-alto clarinets in school auctions, and I've yet to see one that I would buy, even considering that I would have it restored.)

8. Relatively useless outside of the concert band. As a solo horn, it can work (in a freakish sort of way) - hell, there are people who play jazz on alto clarinets, so why not a contra alto. But, unless you are in a concert band, or doing one of six or eight musicals in a pit band (On The Twentieth Century has a part, and so does the recent The Producers), you're going to have to improvise your music from something else.

9) The mouthpiece that you'll get with any used horn will be a piece of junk unless it's aftermarket; new contra clarinet mouthpieces cost a bundle. And, the reeds ain't cheap either.

Instead of blowing a house payment or two on a piece of junk contra clarinet, spend it on a good bass clarinet. Much more utility. Looking at it from a monetary standpoint, I've made at least a thousand times more dough from bass clarinet playing than I every have from contra clarinet playing.

Finally, if you really feel the need to own one, I'd spring for a Hovenagel designed metal one from the Leblanc folks. Normally, I would avoid their products, but the Leblanc horns are some of the best.

· Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2008
1,663 Posts
I like the contra alto and they can come pretty cheap. Mine is a Bundy from eBay that was a school horn that needed a little work but under a hundred.
I think I paid between 300 and 600. It's been a few years.
---an interesting range issue;
--Take away the low Bb and a soprano clarinet has the same low range as an alto sax. Usually a bass clarinet has a low Eb the same low note as a bari sax low Bb. Contra alto with a low Eb is gets lower then a bass sax. The Eb on the contra alto would be a bass sax low Ab.
...On my web site (bob&jerry page) there is a contra alto country tune.
Cut me some slack for the sloppy play. I'd only had it for awhile but you can hear how the upper register is a pretty clear and yet it still works as a bass instrument. Bass clarinet can't really replace an acoustic bass but the contra alto can somewhat.

· Registered
324 Posts
I've got a cheap Selmer Bundy contra alto. I have had quite some use for it:
- As a substitute for tuba, string bass or other low woodwinds like contrabass clarinet, 2:nd bassoon or contra bassoon.
- As a new color in a big band when the baritone parts consisted of mostly low bass tones. Could take many of them an octave down...
- Amplified with a reed mic and effect pedals as substitute for electric bass. A good amp, an octave down effect and heavy distortion = great fun!

Of course it helps if you're able to sight transpose from both Bb and C bass clef.

I don't bother to use the high register if I can avoid it. If I need to play higher I use a bass clarinet or a baritone sax instead.

· Distinguished SOTW Member
3,592 Posts
SOTSDO said:
Finally, if you really feel the need to own one, I'd spring for a Hovenagel designed metal one from the Leblanc folks. Normally, I would avoid their products, but the Leblanc horns are some of the best.
Those are really fun, and built like tanks. My high school had a BBb Contrabass clarinet that I used to play at lunch sometimes.
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