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Finding Your Instrument – A Systematic Approach

by Wolfgang Lohff


New or used? Rent or buy? Rent or buy? Best sound or best intonation? Do you have to compromise, or you can have it all? You stand in front of several choices when you find the right instrument for you! The right choice can save you time and money in the future.

Based on more than 35 years experience as musicians and repairers we want to give some advice and show you how a systematic approach can help you find the right instrument for your needs.

What to look for?

When you compare the instrument you should be aware of:

  1. The Instrument’s overall condition: A leaky instrument does not show his true self, and intonation and sound will be unpredictable.
  2. Diagnose Potential Problems: Can unsatisfactory intonation corrected? Sound may be darker? The flaps are adjusted? Etc . . .
  3. Are there enough instruments from which to choose?
  4. The overall results of your tests: Audio? Intonation? Projection? Pads? Mechanics? Etc. . .

When comparing instruments – even the same model – you will often notice a big difference in sound and intonation. There are several reasons for this phenomenon. Leaky pads are one of them, and often underestimated. The density determines the intonation, sound, projection and playing comfort for any woodwind instrument. It is not enough to be able to play the low notes. Clarinetists can play the deep E on a clarinet even when C-fold is slightly open, but the cleaning process does not come out without help from left-handed C. A really close instrument plays easily, are better tuned and projecting better. This applies in particular bass clarinet and bassoons. (You can play pianissimo and you will still be heard even at the last row.)

Acoustics . . . In Brief
  1. Sound is a combination of a fundamental tone and its overtones. All instruments from a cello to a trumpet, the same fundamental tone. But it is the intensity and quantity of the overtones which give each instrument its identity.
  2. Each leak eliminates overtones and reduces the richness in sound and projection.
  3. Each leak decreases the instrument’s response.
  4. A leak has a tendency to collect water and gradually wood and pads can become damaged.

It is not always easy to determine whether an instrument sealing. You can try three methods:

  1. First remove the upper. Cover all holes and bottom of the well. Soak up the hole in the top. If you can produce a vacuum (as big as a bottle) and hold it for 10 seconds, then it’s probably close. Repeat this procedure with the lower section. The vacuum will not be as large as on the cap, but it should last as long. Disadvantage with this method is that the vacuum pulls the pads against the tone holes.
  2. A vacuum gauge. It has the same drawback as in No. 1.
  3. The best way is a WFL-meter. It is a specially designed machine that controls how much air flowing out of the instrument.

Even if the instrument is new or refurbished … check it yourself! If the instrument is not sealing, the leaks ranked first. The acoustic aspects will change when the instrument is sealing.

Tone Color

The instrument’s overall sound should be your first criteria. Once you compare the instruments are tight, you will have a realistic chance to judge the sound. What sound preference is always a very individual decision. Often classical players prefer a dark and warm sound, while jazz musicians prefer a more open, crisp sound.

New wooden instruments have more resistance than used. The sound is warmer and darker. In time they will open up and play more freely. One reason for this is that humidity in the instrument of change during the first year. A factory instrument is dried to about 7% moisture. A blown will have about 16%. This can change the bore and affect intonation. Most instruments will have a slightly higher pitch, but the basic sound will persist. Compare the first volume with a mouthpiece, you know and in an environment you know (eg, at home or in the orchestra). If there are individual tones with unwanted noise (eg, a rigid Bb or D / A) check what can be done about it. An instrument’s sound is very complex and therefore cannot be changed. Conclusion: do not buy the instrument if you do not like the sound!

Mouthpiece & Reed

The instrument has now been chosen with a mouthpiece from your old instrument. The new instrument might sound better with a different mouthpiece. It’s time to try. Note that American mouthpieces often intonationally lower than European. Make your decision based on sound and playing comfort. Intonation we come to later. Do not forget to test the new mouthpiece with different reeds.


Intonation was formerly one of the most important criteria when comparing instruments. This applies to some extent still the flutes and saxophones, but for clarinets, oboes and bassoons, we now have good opportunities to adjust intonation. By using different combinations of instrument, barrel, mouthpiece, leaf, modern technologies can adjust an instrument’s intonation very individual and personal. It is a false premise that one of these parameters alone can be perfect.

We are all physically different and have different embouchures. Some would prefer mouthpieces are open / closed or with long / short facings. The choice of mouthpeice will affect intonation. Added to this is that all manufacturers have their own “scale” is not necessarily one you like. If you’ve found your perfect combination of mouthpeice and reed, giving you the sound and playing comfort you’re looking for the instrument’s intonation adjusted to your needs.

(Unfortunately this is not common knowledge. Most musicians are amazed at what can be done!) If you play several instruments, have them adjusted equally, there should be no need to worry about the intonation when you play.

In contrast to the sound, intonation can be measured and therefore adjusted precisely. Choose the instrument with great sound and intonation get changed as you wish by an expert.


Today, instruments are of many different materials. If you play outdoors or are afraid of cracks in the instrument, you can now with the new Greenline material, get a quality instrument for this use. These instruments are of professional standard.

Wooden clarinets still produced the best resonance. The most common is grenadilla but rosewood, boxwood and other woods are also available. Potentially, all wooden instruments crack. A properly repaired crack is no problem anymore and will not affect the quality of the instrument. (However, you should stay away from cracks formed!). As good crack repairs can be expensive, a long warranty is often worth the money.

For more information, please contact us at:
Phone: 269-340-9013
Fax: 202-206-5710
Skype / Twitter / Facebook: lpwindsusa
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