Clarinet barrels are important to the tone and tuning of clarinets. Just as the shape and quality of the clarinet mouthpiece can affect the sound of the clarinet, so too can the barrel. While many clarinet players are happy to use the barrel that originally came with their instrument, many advanced players will search throughout their career for the perfect barrel for their playing style and desired sound.
The barrel is sometimes referred to as the interface between the body of the clarinet and the mouthpiece. Like other parts of the clarinet, barrels come in different materials – wood or synthetic. The main difference between the two materials is that a barrel made with wood is that the characteristics of the wood can change over time, whereas a synthetic barrel should remain consistent (wood is an organic material, it ‘breathes’ and expands).
The advantage to a wood barrel is that since the wood ‘breathes’, they produce a more ringing sound preferred by many players. Your barrel will respond differently with different clarinets, and with different mouthpieces, so if you are planning on buying a new barrel it is a good idea to try some with your current instrument; and remember that if you change mouthpiece you may need a new barrel too.
One of the most famous specialist barrel makers is the Moenning company. These barrels taper at both ends, creating what Moenning calls a ‘choke’. This innovation is supposed to result in a richer, fuller sound. Other innovations in barrel design by other companies include barrels with changeable bores, barrels with solid bronze inserts and barrels that tune by turning rather than pulling them out a little.
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