the world has changed again.
Did we assume that musical instrument manufacturing and sales would keep on following the old patterns while everything else was changing?! Let me illustrate what I mean by using personal computers as an example. In the early days of the computer revolution (the 1980s), computers were expensive. My first computer came with tools to open it up. People were expected to fix them or upgrade the parts. And little computer stores to help us do that sprang up even in little towns across America. Not anymore. Computers are now considered throw-away items. The little stores have disappeared. When you buy a computer you hope that it will last for a couple of years, and then you will buy another one. And when that time comes, it will be a better one.
Instruments and other ‘durable goods’ used to be treated more like those early computers. They were expensive. Every home town music store had a repair department. Not anymore. Many of my reconditioning customers tell me that they no longer have good access to an instrument repair shop. Reconditioning a clarinet (except when I do it for you) now normally costs $200-230. But new Chinese-import student-model clarinets cost between $130-250. Welcome to the days of throw-away clarinets.
Being a nostalgic person at heart, I don't welcome this change. I liked the friendly face of the good-old days, with the warm smile of the person behind the counter at the local music store. But certainly the musical instrument business will not be the one hold-out as the whole world changes around us.
Let's compare a parent's options when shopping for their child's first clarinet:
Intonation is crucial. If you have good tone but play out of tune, no one will want to listen to you!
People like wood instruments. It's traditional, and we don't like to change. But consider these two things:
1. Modern ABS plastic sounds better than the older brittle plastic clarinets.
2. A plastic instrument will sound wooden if you put a wooden or hard rubber barrel on it.
This new state of affairs changes many of my recommendations about vintage clarinets in these ClarinetPages! Many times I rated vintage clarinets with 2-3 serious intonation problems as ‘intermediate intonation’. But now I would say that instruments that have a low C-Bb-A that are way sharp, plus problems in the throat tones, and/or a sharp upper register should just be turned into lamps. Yes, a smart player can make adjustments, but only if one has time to pull out or push in before important exposed passages. And frankly, most students are not ‘smart’ enough to play such instruments in tune. Please understand: I love fixing up vintage clarinets, and it is so neat to recondition them up when they hold sentimental value for someone. They often have lovely wood. But if they don't play in tune up to modern standards, they are not really going to be useful in our modern world— where now a throw-away-priced clarinet (depending on the model and if you get lucky) can have professional intonation.
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