Depending on the quality, user expertise and price of a clarinet, the materials and methods of manufacturing vary.
A clarinet is a woodwind instrument commonly used in bands and orchestras and is manufactured in different sizes and pitch ranges. A traditional clarinet is made up of 5 parts; the barrel, bell, upper and lower joints and mouthpiece. Early clarinets were made of boxwood, plum or pear wood and ivory. In this article, we will discuss how clarinets are made including the major materials used in the manufacturing process, so continue reading to learn more.
Raw materials used in clarinet manufacturing
Modern clarinets are manufactured with various materials, among them plastic. Most beginner clarinets are made with plastic since it is cheaper, lighter and rarely affected by conditions like humidity. However, since they are intended for beginners, they are often constructed poorly. Hard rubber, another form of plastic is also used and unlike regular plastic, this material produces amazing quality clarinets that can even be used by pros. Also, some plastic clarinets are manufactured with resin.
Another material used is wood. Several kinds are used like Grenadilla wood (African Blackwood), Honduran Rosewood and Cocobolo. Grenadilla wood is the most common wood type used due to its durability, although this material is rare and almost endangered. Honduran Rosewood is an equally popular material, due to its acoustic capabilities. It is, however, less durable compared to Grenadilla wood. Cocobolo wood is another material used to manufacture clarinets, which is exotic and native to Mexico. This wood is known for the intimate sound it produces. The main downside to Cocobolo wood is that it causes allergic reactions to some players.
Metal is also used in manufacturing clarinets although not as common today as it was in the 20th century. However, since metal clarinets are mass produced they are generally known for being low quality. But clarinets made of metals like silver have good quality.
Other parts of a clarinet, like a mouthpiece, are manufactured from ebonite, a type of hard rubber. Keys are typically made from an alloy of zinc, copper and nickel, called German silver. Keys of finer clarinets are manufactured with pure silver and the most expensive models with gold. Other clarinet materials are; cane for reeds, silver or cheaper alloys for ligature, cork and wax for joint lining and stainless steel for the springs that work the keys.
The table below has summarized the major materials used in clarinet manufacturing, their advantages and their deterrents.
|Plastic.||Cheaper, lighter and not affected by conditions like humidity.||Generally poor quality clarinets and less durable.|
|Hard rubber.||Cheap, not affected by humidity and produces great sound.||Poor quality clarinets due to mass production.|
|Resin.||Light, durable, cheap, not affected by conditions like humidity and produces relatively good sound.||Poor quality clarinets due to mass production.|
|Grenadilla (African wood).||Denser, more durable, less porous thus rarely affected by humidity, resistant to cracking, fine-grained, produces high-quality sound and unlikely to change shape even when exposed to elements like water.||Expensive.|
|Honduran Rosewood.||Durable, good quality and produces rich, resonant sound.||Expensive, highly porous (thus easily becomes waterlogged and changes shape), prone to leaks and cracks, sometimes produces poor intonation sound and is rare due to poaching.|
|Cocobolo.||Produces soft and pleasant sound and is durable.||Expensive, prone to cracking, affected by humidity, cause allergic reactions and may not project well at times.|
|Metal.||Resistant to cracking and plays consistently regardless of temperature and humidity.||Poor quality clarinets due to mass production.|
Clarinet manufacturing process
The manufacturing process varies slightly depending on the material being used. For wood clarinets, logs are harvested and seasoned either by being kept in the open air for months or by being dried in a kiln, to prevent warping. Then, the logs are split and cut to roughly finished clarinet lengths. Barrel pieces called billets are then carved in a pyramidal shape and then sold to the manufacturers.
The manufacturer inspects the billets and then skilled workers drill holes lengthwise through the centre of each billet using a borer. The billets are then turned on a lathe, seasoned again and finally reduced to finished sizes.
For plastic clarinets, plastic pellets are melted and forced into cylindrical molds under pressure.
These next steps are applied to all clarinets regardless of the material in use;
Tone holes are bored onto the billets or cylindrical molds and in mass production, these holes are made at once on a setting out machine, at specified distances with precise diameters.
For key construction, the die-casting method is used, where the German silver alloy is forced under pressure into steel dies. Then, the keys are polished either by being placed in a tumbling machine or by being buffed individually.
Pads made with felt, cardboard and leather or skin are then fitted to the keys. Then, the keys are drilled and fitted with stainless steel springs. Finally, these keys are mounted on small pillars called posts that are initially set in their drilled holes.
Assembling of the clarinet
To assemble the instrument, joints are lined with cork and waxed for the pieces to fit perfectly into each other. Then, decorative metal rings are fitted to the instrument’s body pieces and the end of the barrel. Finally, the mouthpiece is fitted to the instrument. For quality control, a worker inspects for visual flaws and plays tests the clarinet to check for intonation, tone quality and action of keys. Typically, a well-manufactured clarinet lasts for decades without any major defects.
Clarinet manufacturing is an old-fashioned industry that has kept most of its manufacturing techniques for over a century. The materials used and method of manufacturing affect the price, durability and sound quality of a clarinet.
Which clarinet should I buy?
Your level of expertise with clarinets will determine the kind of clarinet you should buy. Typically, wood clarinets are mainly used by pros while plastic and resin clarinets are mainly used by beginners and intermediate players.
How much is a clarinet?
Clarinet prices vary depending on the manufacturer and the materials used.