PermaLink I'm trying an oily musical experiment07/02/2008 10:37 PM
I have played clarinet for almost 37 years now.  Eventually, all instruments need serious help.  I... am about to help.

I am a native clarinet player. I've been playing since the fall of 1971, and have gone through at least half a dozen clarinets over the years, either because I broke them, sold them, had them stolen or upgraded to something better. My three clarinets now (which take up space in the house along with two trombones, two banjos, a synth, Nora's piano, two flutes and a box of harmonicas) are each more than 35 years old. In addition to a little E-flat sopranino I bought used on a lark at Bill's Music in Catonsville Maryland in April 2004, I have a 1964 wood Evette V100 that I literally cannot remember buying, and a 1971 "Golden Age" Buffet R13 that I clearly remember buying. It was at a pawnshop at Baltimore and Gay Streets in downtown Baltimore that isn't there any more, though the nearby titty bars are. I paid $300, far less than a new one would cost.

Well, the Evette is old and tired, and the Buffet is inharmonic (it's gone out of tune with itself and sounds like crap in certain registers). Since I don't have the several thousand dollars needed to buy a new Buffet R13 "Tosca" and am suspicious of newer instruments anyway, I figured I'd send the Buffet away to have it rebuilt. There's a guy in Colorado who has a rather controversial method to restore playability and intonation to "played out" instruments by stripping them down and immersing them in organic oils. Soak them for a few weeks, let the wood absorb all those nice organic oils, and then put them back together and adjust them back to factory spec.

I read as much as I could find about this, and realized, hey, if it's just a matter of tearing the instrument down and soaking it, I can do that. $22 and a quart of pure almond oil later, I got home. Rather than trying this out on my vintage Buffet, an instrument made in 1971 during the late Golden Age of Buffet clarinets, before mpingo wood got expensive and crappy and Buffet got bought by Boosey and traded around before being reclaimed by the French a couple of years ago, I figured I'd experiment with the Evette, a good intermediate instrument made in the 1960s by a Buffet subsidiary. I got home, tore all the keys off the instrument, and put a pint of almond oil in a big Ziploc bag, and put the wood parts of the Evette therein.

It gets to sit in there for four weeks. I'll be really curious what it weighs when it gets out of the bag. The wood parts weighed only 10.9 ounces when I started, so I fully expect the wood to soak up at least two ounces of oil in the next month. It will swim in the oil, sort itself out, swell back up to its manufactured size, and become resonant and playable again. Then, I can take some time, thoroughly clean and hone the mechanism, repad and recork all the keys, and put it all back together.

If it works, I'll do the same to the Buffet this fall. Immunize it against cracks and oversensitivity to changes in humidity and correct that nasty low spot in the intonation curve that has bugged me for a decade.

If the Evette comes out smelling like marzipan and playing like a skin flute, I can always just send the Buffet to Colorado with many hundreds of dollars. But I figure that the only difference between most craftsmen and me is time and knowledge. Time I've got, and knowledge I can acquire... they did, after all.

And you who only know me from Lotusphere are thinking, WTF? He plays clarinet, and works on his own instruments?

Well, yeah. It might amuse you to know that I also have skills in piano technology. Nora is bugging me to order new piano tuning tools so I can work on her piano. I may drive myself to do it anyway, since two years have passed since it was last tuned and the midrange of the instrument is flat. Stuff like that bugs the crap out of me, particularly since I know what to do about it and how to do it.

I can also make beef jerky (some of you have experienced this) and make wine and hard cider.

And a lot of other stuff.

Amazing what you learn from these "blog" things, isn't it?

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Blabber :v

1. Turtle07/03/2008 12:04:46 AM

Cider: you don't want it. My best batch is 1997 vintage, it's made with a Lalvin champagne yeast, tests at over nine percent alcohol and is dry as a bone.

Music: I've played everything from New Orleans traditional jazz to experimental classical music to musicals to big-band stuff. And Mozart.

2. Dan Sickles07/02/2008 11:09:36 PM

Fascinating! Two burning questions:
What kind of music do you love to play?
Will you bring some of that cider to Lotusphere?

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