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From: MVinquist
Date: Tue, 3 Jul 2001 06:01:54 EDT
Subject: [CB] Contra reeds

Sam Andreyev asks what reeds a BBb contrabass clarinet takes.

Sam -

I played Eb and BBb contra exclusively in the West Point Band for over a
year.  The following is what I do, but for a one-time experiment it may not
be worth it to try everything.

On what size reeds to use, all I can say is it depends.  Presumably the
baritone sax reed you have is too narrow to fit the BBb contra mouthpiece.  I
have a Selmer Eb contra-alto and a Leblanc metal BBb contrabass.  I have
newish Selmer mouthpieces for both, and the mouthpieces are identical except
for the size of the tenon.  I've found that at least Vandoren bari sax reeds
are too narrow and that Vandoren bass sax are just right.   I'd stick with
Vandoren.  Ricos are awful, even they are available in both Eb contra-alto
and BBb contrabass sizes.

Selmer and Buffet BBb contras are rare, so presumably you have a Leblanc.
The newer Leblanc BBb contras (after 1985 or so) have mouthpieces that use
the "smaller" bass sax reeds.  The older ones had larger mouthpieces that use
Vandoren Contrabass Clarinet reeds.

These instruments need quite soft reeds -- about # 2 -- just hard enough to
keep away from a "flapping" sound on the low notes.  However, I buy them
rather hard -- # 4 -- because they almost always warp with a "spine" running
down the middle of the underside.  I think it's because the large area of
bark on top doesn't expand, so they can warp only downward.  At any rate, you
have to level the bottom of almost all reeds.  I use a very large, fine-cut
flat file or 400 grit wet-or-dry (black coating) sandpaper over plate glass.
Put your fingers only on the bark and work a dozen firm strokes, back and
forth.  You'll almost always see a shiny streak running down the center.
Keep working until the entire area below the bark is shiny.  As you do this,
you can also look at the butt to see if the reed is cut crooked, with one
side of the butt thicker than the other.  If it is, work harder on the higher
side to make them even.

When you get the area under the bark shiny all over, put your fingers lightly
on the vamp and work gently on the sawdust-clogged area of the file or the
worn area of the sandpaper to polish the rest of the underside.  You can also
work down the tip from the underside if it's too thick, but this is risky,
since you can go right through tip easily, especially at the corners.  Better
to work with a reed knife in the usual way from the top for fine adjustments.

Next, you need to make sure the reed doesn't overlap the sides of the rails.
If it does, your lower lip wraps the overlapping area of the reed around the
rails and kills the vibration.  Take the reed down along the edges if
necessary on the file or sandpaper, always with the butt-end moving forward
and the tip trailing, until it's a tiny bit narrower (1/64" or less) than the
outside of the rails.  Then you can move the reed left or right in
microscopic increments to find the "sweet" location.

On contra mouthpieces, the reed has to seal along a very long curve.
Therefore, you have to put the reed on with the tip a little higher than the
tip of the mouthpiece -- perhaps as much as 1/32" -- so that when it wraps
along the lay, the tip seals completely against the mouthpiece, particularly
at the corners.

I play double lip (with my upper lip over my upper teeth) full time on all
clarinets.  It's a practical necessity on contra clarinets to avoid
scrambling your brains.  As an oboist, you should have no trouble with this.

Take a deep breath, starting at your belt-line and continuing until your
chest rises naturally on top of the air below.  Then relax and let the air
rush out without "blowing."  Any push should be from the top down, never from
the bottom up.

It may help to use an "Andy Gump" bassoon embouchure, taking lots of
mouthpiece on the top, dropping your jaw down and back and bunching up your
chin (contrary to everything you know about soprano clarinet).

Contrary to what may seem natural, contras need to be coaxed more than
blasted.  Use plenty of air, get some "ping" into the sound, and be the roots
that support and nourish the tree.

Wish I could be there with you.

Best regards.

Ken Shaw


Date: Tue, 03 Jul 2001 08:30:20 -0400
From: "John Webster"
Subject: Re: [CB] Contra reeds

Ken has very good advice. I seem to have better luck with Rico's than most people, But I'm used ot using what  is at hand and don't have really high expectations.  Vandorns have always seemed to 1 harder than other brands and I personally have never gotten used to them.  Putting that aside,  the "instruction booklet" that came with my new Vito BB contra states emphaticly that use of a soft reed is necessary to get the lower notes and they supplied a 1 Marcha (spelling?).  This actually played best the first few times I worked with the instrument,  but have now gotten a better feel for the embrochure needed and find that a soft 2 1/2 Rico (I'm not sure if it is the Contra reed or other Barrie reeds I am using I have both, some in 3 which are too hard) works best for me.  It gives the better tone in the lowest note and avoids the "flapping" Ken refered to.  2  Rico equals a 2 Vandorn ,so in my opinion Ken is right on the mark.   JOHN

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