The Materials

Original clarinets, chalumeaux and basset horns from the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century are virtually all made of European Boxwood though there are some of ebony and a few early instruments in fruitwood. Rings or ferrules to reinforce the sockets became more and more common during the eighteenth century. These were made of horn, typically from the water buffalo, or ivory.

My clarinets and basset horns are all made with well aged European Boxwood and horn rings. While high quality artificial ivory exists, I prefer to use exclusively water buffalo horn. There are three reasons for this choice. First, I simply don’t like working with any of the products I’ve tried so far. Second, while some of the imitation ivories are quite convincing, they are not ivory and I prefer to use materials that were in fact in use when the original instruments were made. Third, imitation ivory comes with an inherent contradiction: if it looks real enough then it could possibly cause problems with inexperienced customs agents and doesn’t then it is too ugly for one of my instruments.

Chalumeaux are available in boxwood and palisander. Grenadilla and ebony are also possible, but may take longer. Boxwood is the authentic material, but performers who travel a great deal may find the added stability of a heavier tropical wood more reliable. Many surviving wind instruments of the period are in ebony, so it is reasonable to expect that Denner, for instance, might have made an ebony chalumeau if a customer had requested it.

All keys are made from brass. The long keys on clarinets and basset horns are forged by Matteo Ribo in Brussels. The smaller keys are cut from brass sheets. I then fold the brass to make the axles, rivet on the phosphor bronze springs and file to shape.

The prices of instruments in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries depended greatly on the materials. A clarinet in boxwood with horn rings and brass keys might cost about a third as much as one in ebony with ivory rings and silver keys.