One of the fun parts about being a musician is personalizing your setup to help maximize your potential.
One of the not-so-fun parts about being a musician is having to pay for these upgrades.
If a new clarinet, mouthpiece, or ligature isn’t in your immediate future, here are some smaller equipment upgrades you can make which will make a big difference:
- A new swab without exposed metal. Many clarinet swabs have a weighted metal pull so that the material doesn’t get stuck in the bore of your clarinet, but any exposed metal can scratch the interior of your clarinet. Find a weighted swab which is encased in fabric, rubber, or any protective covering.
- A reed case which holds multiple reeds. I don’t know about you, but I hate having single plastic reed sleeves cluttering my clarinet case. Store all your reeds in reed cases which hold multiple reeds (bonus points if the reed case includes a humidifier!). I like the Vandoren Hygro Reed Case because it protects my reeds and also maintains a constant humidity level for optimal performance.
- New cork grease. If you find yourself having to reapply cork grease frequently, it could be time to reevaluate your cork grease choice. Some materials in cork grease can actually dry out the cork with repeated use, so talk to your local repair technicians and clarinet friends to see which cork grease you should add to your “to-try” list.
- A non-metal mouthpiece cap. RIP to all the reeds I’ve killed due to an errant metal mouthpiece cap! Metal is heavier than other mouthpiece cap materials available and can chip both reeds and mouthpieces, so consider making the switch to something lighter more forgiving. (FYI all mouthpiece caps, regardless of material, can chip reeds and mouthpieces, so always be careful when placing the cap over your mouthpiece.)
- Mouthpiece patch. If you’re not already using a mouthpiece patch, give one of these a try! Not only will it protect your mouthpiece from teeth marks, but it will also help cushion your teeth so you can practice longer. Win-win! (Just make sure to take regular breaks). If you already use a patch, try different sizes and thicknesses, because this can affect feel and response. Make sure that you regularly change your patch and that it doesn’t protrude over the tip – this can inhibit your ideal sound!
- Thumb cushion. If your clarinet is cushion-less or it’s been a while since you’ve changed cushions, it could be time to shop around. You can search for clarinet thumb cushions or get crafty and make your own. You can use pencil grips, stethoscope tubing, or whatever else does the job! There are no strict rules about thumb cushions, as long as it feels comfortable and doesn’t inhibit proper hand position.
- Different reed cuts or models. When was the last time you tried different reed cuts or brands? Even if you are a loyal customer to a particular reed company, it’s a good idea to occasionally try out all their available models and cuts. Musical tastes and sound concepts can change over time, and you might find that a product you previously dismissed works great with your setup now!
- Tuner or metronome. These aren’t strictly clarinet-related, but bear with me – if you aren’t keen on your metronome and/or tuner, you’ll be less likely to use it. Shop around for other mets and tuners (analog or digital) which inspires you to use it consistently.
I hope this helps your setup (and your wallet)! I’d love to know what other small equipment upgrades you’ve made which have huge results, so leave a comment below with your suggestions. As always, happy practicing!