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Clarinet Barrels and Clarinet Bells from Vaccaro & Stevens WoodwindsBesides the correct boring of the tone hole on the clarinet, the undercutting of the tone hole, and an excellent bore, a good barrel and bell are the most important components of your clarinet. This assumes that you have selected a good mouthpiece.

The clarinet barrel and bell assure you great intonation, response, tone color, and evenness throughout the instrument.

The question then becomes "do you start at the bottom of the clarinet with the bell, or the top with the barrel?" Since I will assume you already have a great mouthpiece, that plays the style of music you play in the best possible manner, I would say the next piece of aftermarket equipment to purchase is the barrel. The clarinet barrel can fix many problems and is much less expensive than a bell.

The Clarinet Barrel

What does a custom clarinet barrel maker have to keep in mind?

First of all, the clarinet barrel can have several tapers.

  • Handcrafted Clarinet Barrels from Vaccaro & Stevens Woodwinds There is the straight taper where the top and bottom of the inside dimension are the same.
  • There is the standard taper, where the top of the inside of the clarinet barrel is smaller than the bottom.
  • Then there is the ever-more-popular reverse taper, where the top of the inside of the barrel is larger than the bottom. There are probably more variations of these tapers too.
  • There are also several designers who use a double taper, where the top and the bottom of the clarinet barrel are bigger than the center.

Then there is how much the taper changes from one end to the other. Is it a radical taper or a slow taper? Is it radical for part of the taper and slow at other parts of the taper?

How is the weight of the clarinet barrel distributed? Is the top, middle, or bottom bigger on the outside? What material is the barrel made of? Is it blackwood, cocobolo or some other exotic hard wood?

What about custom hand reaming to fix certain notes?

All of the factors above combine to determine the qualities of sound, response, and intonation of your barrel. You should ask your manufacturer of aftermarket clarinet barrels and bells these questions.

The Clarinet Bell

So, what does a custom clarinet bell maker have to keep in mind?

The clarinet bell is much like the speakers in your stereo system. The speakers in your stereo system can ruin the sound of the most expensive state of the art stereo components or it can create the glorious sound the components were intended to produce.

  • How big is the opening and what is the flair at the bottom of your clarinet bell?
  • Where does the inside and outside flair start?
  • What is the relationship between the inside and outside flair?
  • How long is the bell in comparison to the standard bell that came with your clarinet?

Bell Dimensions

Handcrafted Clarinet Barrels from Vaccaro & Stevens WoodwindsBrass musicians have been concerned with these questions for many years, as they have realized that the bell controls the projection of the instrument as well as the overtone series simply by its shape, flair, and length, both internally and externally.

Where is the weight in your bell? Is the weight at the top or bottom? Was the bell constructed with a big thick piece of wood just to minimize the chance of cracking? Is that big thick piece of wood necessary for a dark sound?

I have found that most aftermarket clarinet bells these days tend to be bigger than the bell that comes from almost every instrument manufacturer.

Is the weight the most important factor in what you are looking for in a good bell, or is the design is the most important factor.

It is my experience that design trumps all! If this were not so we would see heavier clarinets, barrels and bells from the manufacturers. You can go out and try dozens of aftermarket clarinet bells. One will work better than the rest for you.

Since the bell controls the complete overtone system of your clarinet, it makes sense to me to have the bell custom-made to complement your particular clarinet, barrel, and mouthpiece setup. This is different from trying a bunch of pre-made clarinet bells.

Look for a clarinet bell of solid design and material that compliments your clarinet, barrel and mouthpiece. You will not want to collect a shoebox full of barrels and clarinet bells unless you have a lot of money. Pick your clarinet bell carefully and with guidance. You will be glad you did.

Mike Vaccaro – 2011


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