How to Test Equipment at Conventions
For musicians, conventions and conferences are wonderful opportunities to hear concerts, attend masterclasses, and peruse exhibits for music, tchotchkes, and equipment. These events are great places to try equipment you might not have access to otherwise, but making sure you find your best setup at these venues can be tricky if you are not careful. Here are some tips to select new equipment among the cacophony of the exhibit halls:
- Scout out the exhibits for the booths you are interested in trying their equipment. Plan to test their equipment during low-traffic hours (it’s typically slowest when the exhibits open or during lunchtime). Testing equipment during downtime means you will get more personal attention and will be able to hear the products better.
- At the booth, ask for recommendations as to what order you should try the equipment. For mouthpieces, some might prefer to try in order of similar tip openings. Barrels might be grouped according to bore size. This will give you a better comparison for a variety of products.
- Keep an open mind – don’t rule out equipment because it is different from your own. I have heard so many clarinetists tell me that they only play on open mouthpieces, soft reeds, larger bores, etc. only to fall in love with something vastly different from their own after trying it. Individual sound concepts, personal preference, and technical capabilities all change periodically, and it is important to test new equipment to make sure that your setup is helping you achieve your desired sound and response.
- Keep in mind that some equipment might not be compatible with other aspects of your setup. For example, some mouthpieces require specific ligatures. Also, just because a mouthpiece does not respond well to your current reed does not mean you should disregard it. Ask for a variety of reed samples to find the best fit for the equipment you are testing. Ask for recommendations at the booth for the optimal companion equipment.
- Realize that everybody sounds and responds differently on the same equipment. Just because your favorite clarinetist uses a certain product does not mean you will sound like them on identical setup. Find your individual musical voice.
- Only test one new piece of equipment at a time. Don’t try a new mouthpiece, ligature, and barrel all at once, because you will not know which piece you like or dislike.
- When trying any new equipment (mouthpiece, ligature, reed, instrument, barrel, bell) play the same excerpt on each product. You will not know how two like items compare if you play Mozart on one and Nielsen on the other. For clarinetists, I recommend playing a three-octave F major scale three times – loud, soft, and staccato. This gives you all the information you will need (how the equipment feels and responds loudly, softly, and tongued in all registers).
- Once you have narrowed your selection down to five or fewer products, see if there is a separate room available for equipment testing. Some larger conventions such as ClarinetFest usually have these rooms specifically reserved for this purpose.
- Don’t feel pressured or rushed into making a decision. Finding your holy equipment grail is a process, and if you are not completely satisfied at the convention or conference, there are many resources available online where you can order products in bulk to test in the privacy of your home. It can be stressful to make equipment decisions, especially in a room full of opinionated musicians. Ultimately, you have to decide what feels and sounds the best.
I hope this information helps you at the next conference or convention you attend. Good luck and happy product testing!