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Thread: Latest Side Projects

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  1. #1
    Obi Wan
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    Latest Side Projects

    Because you can never have too many projects to work on, I decided to add a couple to my plate this summer.

    A friend of mine was clearing a house that had been in his family since 1911 when they found an old clarinet in the attic. He asked me if I was interest. I, of course, said sure. It turned out to be an old Albert-system clarinet. This type of clarinet is favored among dixieland, klezmer and other folk music artists as the simpler keywork makes it easier to do more musical effects with the instrument like sliding through notes. The vast majority of clarinets produces are what is called a Boehm System clarinet. They have more keys and key rings, and are undoubtedly more precise instruments in terms of their intonation.

    A little bit of research put this particular clarinet's manufacture between 1890 and 1900. Problem was that it was missing a couple of keys. So, I went on eBay and found another Albert clarinet that was also missing some keys, although not the same keys on the first clarinet. The "parts" clarinet dates between 1880 and 1890. I'd prefer to have the older one be the instrument to be restored, but cracks in the body seem to have ruled that out.

    The Albert clarinets finally gave me the impetus to work on two other clarinets in my collection that have been sitting for many years waiting for me to decide I was ready to fix them up. The one I'm working on first is a 1927 Conn hard rubber clarinet. It's not particularly valuable, so I figured that one would be my restoration guinea pig. The other clarinet is an Eb soprano clarinet -- it looks like a toy -- that I've had for 30 years. It dates to 1914 and was an old Army band instrument.

    Once those two are out of the way, I'll attack the Albert clarinets. I have another wooden clarinet, an Evette, that I've been playing. I'm trying to get my doubling chops back -- adding clarinet and flute to my woodwind palette. I also have an oboe, but learning to play that is a much longer term project.

  2. #2
    Moderator Mickey Richaud's Avatar
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    Congrats on the find!

    Fun to combine tasks, isn't it? I just modified one of my banjos. It's a kit I assembled a couple of years back. I'm working on clawhammer style, an old-time style that many play on the neck in order to get a more "plunky" sound, rather than the bright notes of bluegrass when the strings are played close to the bridge on the banjo head. Problem is, the strings are too close to the neck to strike, especially to get your thumb under the fifth string to play. The solution is to cut a scoop out of the fretboard; some banjos can be bought with said scoop already in place, but neither of mine had that.

    I have two banjos - this one and another, more expensive and ornate, with inlays and binding on the fretboard. Didn't want to risk damaging it or doing anything that would lessen its value, so I decided to tackle the kit banjo. Even so, it was given to me as unassembled by a couple from the church from which I retired, and I didn't want to mess it up, either. The wife had bought it for her husband when he was in med school back around 1980, but all he had done to it was seal the neck. I did more sanding and staining, then assembled it, and it came out pretty nicely. Sounds good, too.

    But I'd been thinking about trying to play on the neck and didn't want to buy another banjo or trade one of these, so I decided to take a chance. The easiest way to do this is with a stationary belt sander, but I don't have one of those. Others have chiseled them out, but I didn't trust my hand at that. So, I pulled the five bottom frets out of the fretboard and got out the sandpaper. Started out with 50 grit sandpaper, then 80 and finally 150. The key is to remove the wood to just below the slots where the frets were, but not down to the neck's wood. (That's why I didn't trust my chiseling skills! Took several hours over a two-day period, but I'm really pleased with how it turned out; to me it looks as good as some I've seen that were "factory" made. Now I have to train my right hand to play in a different position.

    Anyway, back to your project - have fun with it, and I know your playing will take on a new meaning for you because of it.


    Mickey

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    "There are three kinds of men. One who learns by readin'. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on that electric fence for themselves." Will Rogers
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    Obi Wan
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    Good looking work that you've done there. Honestly, I couldn't tell that is a modification.

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    Obi Wan
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    I've got a banjo ukulele. Strum only - can't fingerpick.

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    Administrator Basil's Avatar
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    Admit it - you just like to toot your own horn
    “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” - Oscar Wilde

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    Obi Wan
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    Quote Originally Posted by Basil View Post
    Admit it - you just like to toot your own horn
    Yes, but just like cars, if you can't tell the story behind it, then it's just an old instrument. It's the human side of the equation that gives an old object its value.

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    Moderator Mickey Richaud's Avatar
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    Quote Originally Posted by SaxMan View Post
    Yes, but just like cars, if you can't tell the story behind it, then it's just an old instrument. It's the human side of the equation that gives an old object its value.
    So true! The couple that gave me the banjo kit were very special folks. They gave it to me when I retired, and after we moved over here, they came over with some other folks to ride bicycles in the area, one of their favorites. I had just finished it and was able to show them and play it for them.

    Not too long after, the wife died - breast cancer. So this banjo's not going anywhere.
    "There are three kinds of men. One who learns by readin'. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on that electric fence for themselves." Will Rogers
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    Administrator Basil's Avatar
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    Quote Originally Posted by SaxMan View Post
    Yes, but just like cars, if you can't tell the story behind it, then it's just an old instrument. It's the human side of the equation that gives an old object its value.
    All kidding aside - it is very cool!
    “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” - Oscar Wilde

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    Obi Wan
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    So, I ended up buying two more Albert system clarinets. One was another "parts" clarinet, a Buffet from about 1881. It's missing keys, too. Hoping that between the two I can make one good clarinet, but the parts interchangeability may not make that happen. I just bought another one from the same 1880 - 1900 time period. This one is more of a rosewood finish with what was likely gold plated keys. It is complete and can play a little bit, but needs all new pads. I can tell just from playing it why this style of clarinet is favored among dixieland, klezmer and other folk types -- the simpler key work and the lack of key rings makes it easier to slide around the instrument.

    Only problem is the intact one is what they call a "high pitch" instrument. All instruments today are turned to A = 440 hz standard. High pitched instruments were generally A = 457 hz, some as high as 460. Just to give you an idea, the next semitone up from A = 440, a Bb is at 466 hz, so the high pitch instrument is nearly a half step over where a modern instrument tunes.

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    Great Pumpkin NutmegCT's Avatar
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    How far would you need to lengthen the instrument to pull it back down closer to 440?

    Maybe just put a hollow tube into the bottom?

    Tom M.
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    Great Pumpkin JPSmit's Avatar
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    As an aside, do you do pads etc? My brother is currently making himself a nice side business repairing instruments (pads especially) for the local school board and music store.
    John-Peter Smit
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    Yoda waltesefalcon's Avatar
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    I was a woodwind repairman for many years, throughout high school and into college a bit. I am very interested in your project and would like it if you could post pictures of your clarinets. Clarinet was my instrument when I was in band, I sold my R13 years ago and wish I hadn't.
    Cheers,
    Walter
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    Obi Wan
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    Quote Originally Posted by NutmegCT View Post
    How far would you need to lengthen the instrument to pull it back down closer to 440?

    Maybe just put a hollow tube into the bottom?

    Tom M.
    Wind instruments don't work that way. If you lengthen one thing, then the position of the tone holes are wrong. I might be able to try a longer barrel at the top, but doubt it would give me enough of a difference to play with low pitch instruments without throwing everything out of whack.

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    Obi Wan
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    Quote Originally Posted by JPSmit View Post
    As an aside, do you do pads etc? My brother is currently making himself a nice side business repairing instruments (pads especially) for the local school board and music store.
    I'm kind of learning as I go along. I am changing out all the pads, but there's a learning curve. That's why I'm using an old hard rubber clarinet as my cadaver before I attack the Alberts.

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    Obi Wan
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    Quote Originally Posted by waltesefalcon View Post
    I was a woodwind repairman for many years, throughout high school and into college a bit. I am very interested in your project and would like it if you could post pictures of your clarinets. Clarinet was my instrument when I was in band, I sold my R13 years ago and wish I hadn't.
    I'll post up some photos shortly. I need to do another photo hosting site since I filled up my Flickr one.

    I remember when R13s cost around $600. They are several times that now. I started on clarinet but switched to sax after a couple of years. I'm having a lot of fun picking it back up again.

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    Yoda waltesefalcon's Avatar
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    Re: Latest Side Projects

    I've been thinking about picking up a clarinet and getting back into playing. I just haven't have the proper motivation.
    Cheers,
    Walter
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