The enforced stay-at-home time brought about by the pandemic has allowed me to examine my approach to music-making, equipment, repertoire, etc. One of the results has been to re-evaluate products that I have been using as well as investigate various new woodwind accessories. Listed below are eight such items, listed alphabetically. This is the first of two articles devoted to woodwind equipment.
A.L.E. Reed Balancer
There have been a number of useful reed adjustment products that have come on the market in recent years including the Reed Geek, sanding sticks and sanding sponges. One can now add the A.L.E. reed balancer to that list. This very handy and compact piece of steel with a very fine cutting edge on one side became available last year. It works beautifully in removing wood from any part of the reed in a very subtle and efficient manner. Conceived by multi-reed player Marty Giaimo, it is the perfect size to slip into any saxophone or clarinet case and travel to any job with. At the very affordable price of $20, I believe that it is a valuable addition to the reed adjustment tools available and it will last forever! Added features that one can opt for include a personalized name engraved on one side of the tool and various holders in the forms of a leather pouch, keychain, or lanyard.
Behn Adjustable Clarinet Barrel
Brad Behn is well known and respected in the clarinet world for his innovative work in mouthpiece design and materials. (https://joffewoodwinds.com/videos/brad-behn-clarinet-mouthpiece-innovato) He has now pioneered a barrel design that is sure to become a tradition within the clarinet community. The Behn Evo adjustable clarinet barrel for both Bb/A clarinets is different from all other barrels (adjustable and standard) that I have played and tested in my career. The new barrel design is made of rubber, which offers a more stable product than wood and one that will not crack or change over time. The barrel is adjustable in degrees of .5 millimeters, from 63mm to 68mm. The desired length is easily attained by an adjustable ring located in the middle of the barrel. The ring is made in either rubber or stainless steel and they have a different effect on the resultant tone. (The rubber-ringed barrels weigh 26 grams while the stainless steel-ringed barrels weigh 56 grams.) Both models can be used interchangeably on Bb or A clarinets thanks to their unique interior design. They offer the player maximum flexibility with regard to tuning since the rotation aspect of adjustment can be easily accomplished while playing and without having to stop. While this is not a cheap item, the resultant sound, practicality and durability is more than worth the cost. It is the only barrel I have played on Bb and A clarinets since I obtained it.
Boveda Humidity Control Packs
Boveda has helped to pioneer two-way humidity control for over 23 years. The company was initially known as Humid-Pak and founded to create humidity control for cigars as an alternative to humidors. Since then, they have expanded their influence to include musical instruments. The D’Addario company was the first to incorporate these humidity packs into their reed preservation approach a number of years ago. Today, the Boveda website offers a separate page for woodwind instruments, specifically. This unique product adds or removes humidity as needed in one’s instrument or reed case and with no odor. It requires no maintenance whatsoever when the pack is left in these cases other than replacing them whenever they start to harden—usually every 2-4 months. The packs come in variable percentages of humidity ranging from 32%—84% and in different sizes as well. The use of this product eliminates the need to constantly replenish instrument cases with sponges, orange peels, humidifiers, or wetting reed holders. No more loose clarinet barrel/bell rings, pads that have dried and shrunk in their key cups, or bores that have changed. I have been using them for a number of years for every instrument I own as well as in every reed case with much success. They are very affordable ($13 when buying a 10-Pack) and can be purchased direct from the website. For anyone owning a wooden instrument, the use of Boveda humidity control packs is a must.
Hagerty Silver Products
Hagerty is a family-owned business that has specialized in silver care products for 125 years. I have used each of their three items detailed below for many years.
Hagerty Silver Protection Strips ($8) neutralize the tarnishing that naturally occurs with silver-plated objects and keeps gold-finished materials shiny. These 2” x 7” strips are valuable aids for any player owning horns with silver plating or made with solid silver. They are non-toxic, emit no odors, and are easy to use. For any player owning a silver flute, silver-plated saxophone, or clarinets with silver keys and rings, this is a simple solution to maintain the look and feel of the instrument. One strip/case is enough for 6 months of use. They are sold in groups of 8 strips.
Hagerty Silversmith’s Silver Polish ($13/bottle) or Aerosol Spray Polish ($18/can) can be used to maintain the shine of a silver instrument quite effectively. I have found the polish in either form to be especially helpful in cleaning the tenons of a silver flute. This results in a smooth fit for the joints of the flute as well as improved resonance.
Hagerty Silver Duster Tarnishing Polishing Cloth ($8) is a two-piece cloth that can prevent tarnish, fingerprints and oils from lingering on one’s instrument. It is excellent for wiping down an instrument immediately before and after playing.
Piccolo/Flute Flag Swabs
Roger Holman has produced quality swabs for flutes for many years that are able to dry the bores and headjoints of all sizes of flutes in an efficient manner. His piccolo swab ($30) has become the go-to piccolo cleaner for professionals throughout the industry. Constructed of man-made fabric attached to a carbon fiber handle, one can completely clean a piccolo without detaching the headjoint from the body. The “C” flute swabs come in two sizes depending on one’s preference for cleaning the headjoint separately from the body or the entire flute at once. The 14” model ($30) and the 28” model ($50) come with flexible plastic handles. The Alto Flute swab ($65) has an added 8” detachable extension added to the standard flute length. All swabs come in a variety of colors to choose from and are easy to wash with dishwashing liquid detergent. I’ve used them for many years and have no complaints with their durability and practicality.
The Reed Well is a 12-sided glass that aids in the breaking-in and testing of reeds. It allows one to soak and maintain clarinet & saxophone cane reeds of any size. Once filled with water, the reeds adhere to the sides so that the tips of the reeds never touch bottom and the integrity of the reeds are maintained throughout the wetting process. It allows one to monitor the porosity of the reeds by observing the water penetration at the back end of the reeds—the end facing upwards when the tips are pointed to the base of the glass. Therefore, one knows just how long to leave any one reed in the water and avoid any long-term damage to the reed’s life. I have been using this simple device for many years and feel that it is a vital tool for all woodwind performers. The original Reed Well was created in 1994 and discontinued some years later. It is now available again with a lid for protection as well as a sponge insert for those players who prefer to store their reeds in the glass with some added moisture. The Reed Well is machine washable and is easily transportable for gigs. It is sold for $30.
Saxophonist Matt Vashlishan has developed a unique way to improve resonance and change tone color on any saxophone via his adjustable weight neck screw. This beautifully crafted brass screw replaces the standard screw that comes with the saxophone and helps to secure the neck to the body of the horn. The Vari-Screw can be augmented with up to 5 different weights that one can purchase additionally and add to the screw. Whether using the basic screw ($30) or adding additional weight, the sounding results are significantly better. The Vari-Screw Gen2 is an improvement over the original offering of several years ago in shape, material and playing characteristics. The thread size for different saxophone models is accounted for when an order is placed. I currently use this product on my Selmer Mark VI and Yamaha Model 82ZIIS alto saxophones as well as my Selmer Mark VI and Super-Balanced tenor saxophones.
Yamaha Cleaning & Powder Papers
The Yamaha company has always looked for new and innovative ways to improve instrument performance. One of the most problematic aspects of woodwind playing has been the ability to maintain the quality of instrument pads after they accumulate moisture, oil and/or grime. Woodwind players have generally used cigarette papers to remove moisture from pads and paper money, powders or oil to alleviate pad stickiness. In recent years, Yamaha has produced two excellent and affordable answers to these problems—Yamaha Cleaning Paper ($11) and Yamaha Powder Paper ($13). The papers are of high quality and non-abrasive and each sheet is large enough to be cut into several pieces that will remove all moisture and/or stickiness from an entire horn thoroughly after many hours of playing. The cleaning paper packet contains 70 sheets while the powder packet has 50 sheets. Both products fit easily into any size case and I have benefited from using them for several years.