The Holiday season is upon us. I want to do this week’s blog about a special clarinet company I got to learn about this year, and that is F. Arthur Uebel.
This is the little bit I know about Uebel:
They are a German clarinet-making company that has been around for decades, but a few years ago they “overhauled” their catalogue of instruments, at least their French-fingered clarinets. I was recently in the market for a new clarinet to replace my old clarinet, and I went and tried everything I could. In this process I was fortunate enough to have been engaged in a nerdy social-media encounter with the amazing Josh Johnson, a multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire (and an Uebel clarinets artist among many other things), who is especially active in the Broadway musicals world. At the time we were both living in NYC, and Josh invited me over to his apartment to let me try his Uebel clarinets.
I won’t talk about every clarinet in detail, because Josh has his own blog (http://woodwindwonderland.blogspot.ca) that is probably about a million times more popular than mine (for good reasons) where you can get all the details you need. I will give very quick run-down of each before I talk about the Classic, in more detail.
Here is the list of Uebel clarinets I tried in the order of price (lowest-highest).
Classic ($1,287.20/ 1,418.00)
To be discussed after this list.
More resistant Buffet Festival with bigger and sparklier sound.
A French-keyed clarinet with German-style bore, very resistant with the most round, homogenous, even, and the warmest sound you have ever heard.
Emperor (Bass Clarinet)
This bass clarinet didn’t work too well with my set up (B50 mouthpiece, 3 Vandoren v.12 reed).
Okay now I will talk about the Classic.
This is apparently meant to battle the Buffet E11 ($1,899), which is really funny to me because not only is it better than the Buffet E11, I honestly think this clarinet is to me a much better instrument than the R13 (but..but..Buffet is the best..but my teacher plays Buffet…). There are four things that are absolutely where Uebel wins over most other manufacturers.
- Build (silver-plated)
- Wood (dry-aged)
- Sound/ evenness (German-inspired smoothness with nimble flexibility of a French clarinet)
- Okay I said four but… intonation
The Classic (the basic model with out the option of the left e-flat key) is significantly cheaper than the E11. Even with the extra key it is still significantly cheaper than the E11. The keys are very solid (silver-plated) and comfortable, and the wood is dry-aged, and not Kiln-dried (accelerated drying process). The sound is very even from the very bottom to the high, and to me it does not sound like a student clarinet. I really think I could play it professionally. And of course last but not least, the intonation is so, so impressively good.
After my initial encounter with the Classic, about a couple of weeks later, a parent of a student asked me to recommend a new clarinet. Of course, I hesitated not a second to say, “Uebel’s Classic.”
Now you might be thinking, well, for a student 13 hundred dollars is still a lot! Well, let’s talk about that.
Why Invest in a “Student” Clarinet
I have spent many many lessons fixing my students’ instruments. The truth is, I train my students to respect their instruments and these students are intelligent and responsible people. They are not monsters that get some kind of sick joy out of throwing their clarinets around. Then why do clarinets fall apart? Yes, there is the natural and gradual wear-and-tear but far more often, I find parents try to save money by buying their kids $70-$100 Chinese (most likely from eBay) instruments. Some of these are surprisingly okay in the beginning, but after a very small amount of time, you will see the joints wobble, keys are bent, and the student before too long, hates playing the clarinet. And often, the intonation on these instruments are not very good.
After my student got his Uebel Classic, his intonation, sound, and blend immediately improved drastically. His mother told me this as well (she’s not musically trained at all). Is it a mere coincidence that his overall playing improved after switching instruments? Probably not, because while he was a good student and a citizen, he was not one of my most eager practicers (sorry man, but you already know).
You will save yourself a lot of time and money buying something that is reputable in its category. It is good to learn from your mistakes, but I’m just telling you that buying those super instruments will likely be a mistake in the long run. Here are some other “timeless” brands that will be good especially for much younger clarinets (in their indestructible and low cost characteristics.
Yamaha (made in Japan)
With quality instruments, if you take care of them, you can always sell them at a pretty good price. You can also rely pretty easily on the used ones, too. With bad instruments, not so much.
Good luck, and happy searching!