A quick tour through Backun Musical Services’s carefully appointed Vancouver facilities will quickly convince visitors of the company’s expertise in fine clarinets and the unique culture associated with them. The brand, which started around 13 years ago on a one-off clarinet barrel project in Morrie Backun’s instrument repair shop, has quickly established itself as a global leader in clarinet manufacturing. Professional musicians around the world play Backun, from Ricardo Morales, principal clarinet of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Corrado Giuffredi, principal clarinet of the Orchestra della Svizzera Italian (Switzerland), to jazz legend Eddie Daniels.
But the company’s latest push should have retailers even more interested: Backun’s Protégé and Alpha lines of clarinets are aiming to bring the renowned brand into the intermediate market. A series of design advances and innovations mean that, now, a large new demographic is open to the prestigious name. As director of sales and marketing Joel Jaffe says, the motto they’re stressing is: “Exceptional products at outstanding margins.”
“The perception was that we were a luxury, but out of reach for many players,” says Jaffe. “Morrie wanted to make his designs and craftsmanship more affordable. So we doubled down in a lot of technology and focused on areas where we could improve production and manufacture student and intermediate clarinets.” Backun entered this market in 2013 and it’s been a primary part of their identity since then (Protégé and Alpha clarinets will be a significant focus at this year’s Winter NAMM Show).
“Both of these clarinet models were designed by Morrie Backun and were specifically developed to meet the needs of professional, student, and amateur clarinetists,” says Jaffe.
The Backun Protégé Clarinet
The Backun Protégé, which is available in cocobolo and grenadilla woods, is an aspiring-professional clarinet designed to have “superb” scale and acoustics while being light and easy to play. It’s built to have the same quality and uses the same natural (unstained) woods as Backun’s professional clarinets, and it is available in several key finishes including nickel, silver (standard), and gold. Jaffe says that many Backun artists use this instrument in the teaching studio, and that dealers have had great success using it as a step-up instrument for rental fleets and educational sales. The Protégé comes with a wooden Protégé Barrel and Bell, and its street price is approximately $2,000.
The Backun Alpha Clarinet
The Alpha clarinet is a professionally inspired synthetic clarinet. “It’s designed to meet the needs of our artists who play outdoor concerts and in environments where the temperature can be unpredictable,” says Jaffe. “The benefit is that this instrument is priced economically for students and intermediate players with a street price of approximately $1,000. Given the high quality synthetic body of this clarinet, as well as its light weight, we’re receiving a lot of requests from marching bands (high school and college), as they use these instruments in all conditions.” Jaffe adds that many school dealers have already approached the company to make the Alpha a part of their rental fleets due to its quality and durability.
That’s not all the company has rolled out recently: complimentary with these new models is Backun’s new line of Protégé BH Mouthpieces (street price: $150) for student and intermediate players. A hard rubber mouthpiece, it is developed on the foundation of Backun’s professional MoBa mouthpieces.
A Long Way from Morrie’s Shop
The state-of-the-art processes involved in the new clarinets mark a bold evolutionary step from Backun’s early days, when product focus was heavily on the Traditional Barrel and Traditional Bell, sold for advanced musicians looking to customize their own instruments. Using a variety of cutting-edge multi-axis CNC and rapid 3-D prototyping machines in its factory, the company is able to quickly and accurately create prototypes and finished models with microscopic precision, at consistently high quality.
In short, the company has made strides over the last year at reshaping its identity in the band and orchestra marketplace. From fine barrels, bells, and mouthpieces to world-class clarinets designed for professionals and students alike, the Backun brand has covered a lot of ground. Jaffe notes that the careful evaluation and adaptation is all part of the company’s core values. As the company’s well-known tagline states, Backun is “Reinventing the Clarinet one Piece at a Time.”
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