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What Is a Metal Clarinet?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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A metal clarinet is a form of this woodwind instrument that is partially or entirely made out of metal. These designs were popular early in the twentieth century, but by the end of the century, other materials had become more popular. Today, metal clarinets are mostly antiques and traded for collectible value, but some clarinets are still made of metal, or with metal pieces.

Clarinets can be made of many different kinds of materials. Some are made of wood. Others are made of “plastic resins.” The hard plastic clarinet has become a popular alternative, partly because of the lower cost of production and durability. Other woodwinds, like the simple recorder used in many elementary schools, are often made of plastic resins.

Some kinds of higher quality clarinets may have metal plating over other materials. Some of the most valuable clarinets are made with African hardwoods or other woods like boxwood. Some are also made of ivory, although this is rare.

Musicians today feel that an entirely metal clarinet may not often provide for a good, resonant sound. Some think of metal clarinets as producing a “tinny” sound. Others critique the construction of some metal clarinets as excessively thin. Many metal clarinet models are thinner than those made with some other types of materials.

In addition to the body of the clarinet, the mouthpiece of this instrument can also be made of different materials. Many of the materials that makers use for the mouthpiece are the same ones that fashion the entire instrument. These include plastic resins, metal, wood and ivory as mentioned above. Some mouthpieces can also be made of softer rubber.

Some musicians claim that the mouthpiece is what makes the difference in tone for a clarinet. For example, a metal mouthpiece could alter the sound that comes out of the instrument, making it excessively nasal to some musicians. Generally, musicians spend a lot of time and energy picking out mouthpieces, which can be inserted into any given instrument if they are compatible.

There’s a widespread controversy over the value and utility of many of the metal clarinet models now on the market. Some cite low online auction values for these instruments, claiming that they are not great quality instruments. Others still collect these metal clarinets, either for musical use or collectible displays.

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Discussion Comments

By AnswerMan — On Sep 18, 2014

I actually owned an antique metal clarinet for many years, but I never really learned to play it very well. One of my friends was a professional musician, and he played a few notes on it one time. It sounded fine to me, but he said it sounded a little tinny to his ears. He did like the feel of the mouthpiece, however.

I've looked on some clarinet websites to learn more about my instrument, and learned some interesting clarinet facts along the way. But apparently this particular clarinet is worth more as a musical collectible than an actual instrument.

By RocketLanch8 — On Sep 17, 2014

When I first started getting interested in music, I decided I wanted to play the clarinet. At that time, the two most popular choices of material were wood or plastic. I don't even remember seeing any metal clarinets in the display case at the music store. I started out with a wooden one, then traded it in for a hard plastic model. Again, I had no idea that metal was an option.

One advantage I can see with a metal clarinet is that it doesn't need to be warmed up like a wooden one. Every morning before practice, my instructor told me to wrap my hands around the wooden clarinet in order to warm it up. The saxophone players didn't have to do that because their instruments were made out of metal.

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