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Going Flat Out: EH and BH Clarinets

Christian Wissmuller • January 2020Roundtable • January 13, 2020

Two of the most common and popular types of clarinets are the EH and BH clarinet. This is largely due to the fact that both are transposing instruments, meaning that, on an EH instrument, when the musician plays C, the note sounding is a concert EH; On a BH instrument, when a C is played, the resultant note is a concert BH.

For this month’s “mini Roundtable,” we touched base with Brian Petterson and Matt Vance of Yamaha Corporation of America and Buffet Crampon, respectively, to learn what’s new and on the horizon for EH clarinets, while Jupiter’s John Richardson shed some light on what’s afoot over in “BH land.” Check out their observations below to learn more about trends that are driving sales of these popular woodwinds.

What’s your overall impression of this market segment? Are clarinet sales up, down, or level when compared to this time last year?

Matt Vance: Specific to EH clarinets, sales remain consistent for this segment. Between individual players, professional clarinetists, schools, and military bands, EH clarinets are always in need for these different groups of players and institutions/ensembles.

For your brand, what specific models of clarinet are currently top-sellers?

Brian Petterson: Among the EH clarinet options in the U.S. market, the professional level Yamaha YCL-681 is the most in-demand option. The Custom level YCL-881 model is a close second and is a great option for those looking for a premium quality instrument. Small changes in design between the two instruments clearly differentiate them for discerning players.

MV: Buffet Crampon is able to offer EH clarinets at multiple price points and levels. For many schools that don’t have the budget to purchase a professional instrument, the E11 performance EH clarinet is a fantastic option. It offers an African blackwood body, silver-plated keywork and double fish skin pads at a very affordable price, offering many school bands and clarinet choirs the ability to tackle more advanced literature. For those looking at a professional EH clarinet, we offer four different models: The R13, RC, RC Prestige, and Tosca. At this level, one is not necessarily considered “better” than the others; each model presents its own unique response characteristics and sound quality. Of course, all four feature silver-plated keys and African blackwood bodies, with the RC Prestige and Tosca utilizing premium unstained Grenadilla wood (the RC Prestige is also available with a Green Line body).

Most of our artists select either the RC Prestige or Tosca, and those selections are dependent on the sound the player is seeking – the Tosca EH is often described as having a sound more similar to the B-flat clarinet, while the RC Prestige characteristically has more upper harmonics in the sound, giving the player a unique sound to their EH clarinet when compared to the rest of the clarinet family. Of course, each player is different, and your results may vary!

When it comes to promotion, display, and marketing of clarinets, what practices have you observed successful dealers adopting?

MV: As with all of our clarinets, artist selection and input is vital to our instruments and their continuing quality and growth. Regarding EH clarinets, artist involvement is even more key. EH clarinets seem to have much less margin for error when it comes to an expectation of quality and playability as the EH clarinet is often a very prominent “voice” in a band or orchestra. Dealers are also reliant on our artists to select quality EH clarinets for their stock, and artists often hand-select EH clarinets for their respective schools or ensembles.

BP: Knowledgeable staff members with a clear understanding of the products and the market are the cornerstone of successful clarinet dealers. EH clarinets are specialty instruments and it makes a difference when dealers can inform customers and musicians about production consistency and the importance of trying an instrument before making a purchase. These trusted advisors are well-versed in the EH clarinet. They understand the different needs that a clarinetist has when playing the small, but advanced instrument, even down to mouthpiece and reed choices that work well with the instrument.

Have you been noticing any trends of note when it comes to clarinets, either on the vendor or end-user sides of things?

BP: The market has been trending for some time now towards EH clarinets with silver-plated keys and adjustable thumb rests. The silver-plated keys offer a wider range of sound characteristics and also the tactile feel many players prefer. Adjustable thumb rests help with the ergonomics of the instrument, which is quite different from the larger BH and A clarinets.

MV: The introduction of the Tosca EH clarinet was interesting with regards to sound concept. The tonal characteristics of an EHclarinet were, generally speaking, thought of as light and brilliant. The RC Prestige provides those qualities and has been considered the gold standard for EH clarinets for many years. The Tosca, however, embodies more of a sound concept akin to the BH clarinet while providing the needed range, which may appeal to some players and ensembles.

Any recent clarinet releases or upcoming clarinet models that you’d like to draw MMR readers’ attention to?

BP: The current offering of Yamaha EH Clarinets is set. However, Yamaha continues to take great pride in the commitment we make to research and development, always looking to improve our instruments for all levels of clarinetists. Our renowned technicians and designers, along with our worldwide network of artist Atelier facilities are constantly working closely with top musicians to determine their expectations for the EH clarinets and customize them to best fit their needs.

Expectations for the clarinet market in 2020?

MV: 2019 was another very successful year for Buffet Crampon student, performance and professional clarinets. The Prodige is cementing its place as the best student clarinet on the market and our performance and professional clarinets continue to be the choice of educators, players and professionals worldwide. With such a wide variety of excellent models available at varying price points, we expect Buffet Crampon EH clarinets to maintain their place as the market’s first choice in 2020.

BP: The recently adjusted regulations on the import of Grenadilla wood instruments are going to make a big difference to smooth the flow of wood clarinets into the United States. We expect to see growth in the market with the clarinet segment continuing to expand, as well as a continued demand for premium quality instruments for the foreseeable future. This spring, Yamaha plans to support dealer sell-through efforts by offering promotions during the step-up sales season and around graduation time.

John Richardson: In this category, Jupiter specializes in student and advanced-level instruments. The market doesn’t really change much here. Within the market, preferences change. Educators are preferring that students be able to produce a characteristic clarinet sound at an earlier stage with a beginning instrument. We have spent much time ensuring Jupiter designs help cater to this preference.

The Jupiter JCL1100S is taking off for us. You get advanced features such as a left hand EH/AH and a raised left-hand C/G tone hole that previously you could only find on very expensive instruments. These features paired with select Grenadilla wood and silver- plated keys make this instrument a favorite for many educators. Trial programs have helped Jupiter clarinets to become one of the preferred instruments by educators. Once an influential educator experiences Jupiter clarinets, the instruments end up on preferred lists for rentals and purchases.

I think in general, younger educators as well as dealers are open to new ideas. If they can find instruments that have a good scale, are easy for beginners to get a sound out of and are built to take the rigors of beginning band, acceptance is inevitable… especially if the price is right! The market is ever-changing. The requirements, expectations and preferences are always moving. We just need to be ready to move with it!

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