Clarinet Curiosities: Unusual Systems and Inventions

The pioneering and curious spirit of clarinetists and manufacturers has led to the development of unique and innovative instruments throughout clarinet history.

Here are a few clarinet curiosities, including unusual clarinets, clarinet systems, and inventions to intrigue you:

  • Clarinets in a variety of colors. A quick Google search for “{insert favorite color} clarinet” yields countless hits for clarinet in all hues of the rainbow.
  • Clear clarinets. These cool clarinets allow you a clear view into the inner workings (aka air) of the clarinet.
  • Plateau key clarinets. Plateau keys were much more common a century ago, but some manufacturers still offer plateau keys on clarinets today.
  • Left-handed clarinets. These clarinets are very rare and are custom-made to make the clarinet more accessible to some players.
  • Quarter-tone and double clarinets. Several quarter-tone system clarinets have been developed to allow players to more easily maneuver their way through quarter tone music. One of these is Fritz Schuller’s “double clarinet” which includes two clarinets connected by a single mouthpiece.
  • Saxonette/Clariphon/Claribel. These synonymous instruments are shaped like a curved saxophone but with the clarinet’s acoustics. They were first produced by the Buescher Band Instrument Company during the first part of the 20th century.
  • McIntyre system clarinets. This system was developed in the mid-20th century by Thomas and Robert McIntyre in Connecticut. This system was developed to make it easier to cross the break by adjusting throat tone fingerings.
  • Extendable two-tonality clarinet. There have been a few instances of two-tone clarinets throughout history, such as this clarinet from the late 19th century.
  • Octocontrabass and octocontraalto clarinets. These extremely rare instruments were created by the Leblanc corporation, and only a few were made. Learn more about their history in this YouTube video.

Clarinet-adjacent instruments

These instruments might not technically fall under the clarinet family tree, but I wanted to share some distant cousins of the clarinet family.

  • Octavin. This single reed instrument in Bb resembles the boot joint of a bassoon and was patented by Oscar Adler and Hermann Jordan in the late 19th century. Listen to this unusual instrument (as well as two other rare clarinets) here.
  • Heckelphone-clarinet. Whether you classify this early 20th century instrument as a clarinet or saxophone, these never gained widespread popularity. (Wilhelm Heckel also created the Heckel-clarina.)

Here are some other websites you might find interesting to learn more about clarinet systems and inventions:

I hope you enjoyed this foray into the curious world of clarinet history! What other unusual clarinets do you know? Leave a comment below!

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