|The contrabass clarinet is pitched in Bb, two octaves
below the Bb soprano clarinet (one octave below the bass clarinet), with
a range frequently extended downward to low D or C (the lowest Bb on the
Older instruments will usually have a range extended down to low D or Eb. One can find contrabasses in the loop shape shown here (often referred to as "curved", "looped", or "paperclip" form), or in the "straight" shape, which looks like a larger bass clarinet with a long neck. The looped contras are all metal, while the straight contras may be metal or wood (or resin). Straight contras are currently manufactured by Selmer (rosewood), Leblanc (metal), and Vito (resonite). As far as I know, the looped contra is made only by Leblanc. All Leblanc contras have a bore diameter of 1.182", while the Selmer contra has a bore of 1.333". Modern Leblanc contras (model 340, pictured at right) and Selmer contrabasses have extended range to low C (the Leblanc 342 has range to low Eb).
Both the Eb and the Bb contra are most commonly found in bands and wind ensembles, and clarinet choirs. Less often, one encounters them in orchestral music, pit orchestras, and the ocassional jazz solo.
|Believe it or not, there are stands for these instruments, too. Leblanc makes (or made) a sturdy stand specifically for the coiled contras (adjustable for Bb or Eb instruments), which can be ordered from the Woodwind & Brasswind. The stand has a heavy (but collapsible) tripod base, with a detachable cradle that supports the bottom of the instrument, and a brace (with a snap-on leather strap) that supports the horn at one of the cross-braces. The first view shows the stand alone, while the second view shows the stand supporting a model 340 Bb contra. The stand is adjustable, so that one can use it instead of the peg, and can even play the instrument while standing. Unfortunately, it appears that Leblanc has discontinued production. You may still be able to find one at a music store...|
|The Eb contrabass (also known as the "contra-alto" or "contralto") is also available in loop or straight forms, in metal or wood, from Selmer (Paris) (rosewood), Selmer/Bundy (resonite), Buffet Crampon (wood), Leblanc (metal), and Vito (resonite). It is pitched in between the Bb bass and the Bb contrabass instruments, with low range to Eb, D or C (concert Gb, F or Eb, an octave below the bass clef). The Eb contra is also popular because one can sight-transpose bass clef music (read the bass clef music by pretending its treble, while adjusting the key signature by removing 3 flats or adding 3 sharps or a combination). Pictures of my Buescher EEb contralto!|
|Recently I've been playing both Eb and Bb contra with the San Jose Wind Symphony, along with (sometimes) Bb bass sarrusophone. Between the three cases, and the stands, and the music, it was getting a little ... cumbersome. The solution: have Altieri Bags make a custom double contra gig bag. It really helps, although it is nearly five feet long - it is still lighter, and less awkward than two 4' contra cases.. I carry the stands in a bag made for carrying microphone stands.|
|My first contrabass was a BBb Leblanc that was made around 1950, overhauled and restored by Charles Fail Music . Lowest note is written D (sounding contra C). This instrument is particularly interesting in that it comes apart: the loop section breaks down in the middle, and the whole thing fits into a case about 27" long (about 70 cm). I've since "upgraded" to a brand new model 340 Leblanc contra like the one pictured above, with range to low C (sounding the lowest Bb on the piano). It doesn't come apart (at least, not on purpose), but I can live with that ;-)|
|G. Leblanc, in its quest to construct a complete clarinet choir, also invented clarinets pitched an octave below the contralto and contrabass: the octocontralto and octocontrabass.||