If you’re the proud owner of a new clarinet, congratulations!
(Don’t worry if you’re still trying to choose a new clarinet – I’ve got you covered with some of my pro tips to help you select a new clarinet.)
As you break in your new clarinet and familiarize yourself with the sound, feel, and tuning, I recommend having it set up and customized by a qualified repair tech.
(If you’re looking how to assemble your clarinet, click here.)
What does it mean to customize or set up your clarinet?
Professional clarinets have remarkable consistency from one instrument to the next, but this also means that they will have to be adjusted to suit the needs of the individual player. This is referred to as having your clarinet set up and/or customized.
How do I know what I want set up or adjusted?
As you become used to your new clarinet, keep a list of things that you’d like to improve (on the instrument, not your own playing). Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- How is the tuning? Do any notes stick out or seem “sour”? Pay careful attention to the tuning tendencies of the throat tones. Pad heights could be adjusted for slight tuning improvements, but pay careful attention to the tuning when selecting a new clarinet.
- How is the tension in the pinky keys? Is one key significantly more or less resistant than the others?
- Do the keys open too little or too much?
- Does the thumb rest feel comfortable? Even with adjustable thumb rests, sometimes the placement is not right for your hands. Consult your repair tech to see what options are available for you.
To test for these things, I suggest playing 12ths (starting on low C and adding the register key to play a G). This will give you a good idea of tuning in different registers. Keep in mind that tuning the 12ths is a compromise – the higher note typically runs sharp, and if you lower this too much, it will negatively affect the pitch of the lower partial.
What are some ways I can set up my clarinet?
Here are a few ideas for possible clarinet customizations. Always consult your trusted clarinet repair tech for specific feedback and advice to you, your clarinet, and your performance needs:
- Pinky key tensions
- Key height, especially in the throat tone notes (this will adjust the tuning)
- Thumb rest position (you can have this raised, but it will involve drilling new holes into the clarinet)
- Cork options (there are different cork options, and your repair tech can share their suggestions for how this would affect your setup)
- Before having your clarinet set up or adjusted, be sure to spend enough time with your new instrument to truly know its tendencies. This is especially true for tuning, which can vary widely depending on several different factors, so don’t make an adjustment until you’ve established reliable tendencies for your clarinet.
- Work with a qualified repair technician who knows the clarinet. You’ll want a clarinet specialist to set up your clarinet due to the specific knowledge required for some customizations. A clarinet specialist will also be able to recommend other ways you can further set up your clarinet to meet your performance needs.
I hope this advice helps you customize the clarinet into the clarinet of your dreams!