Allan Segal's in-depth barrel information


An article originally appearing in Doctors Products newsletter.

So, what’s the deal with barrels?”

The clarinet has inherent tuning difficulties. Its scale is a compromise at best, and tuning barrels are an aid in our attempt to achieve livable solutions for this dilemma.

Originally integral to the upper section, the barrel later became separated. As different mouthpieces came into vogue, it became necessary to alter the bore of the barrel to allow consistency of tuning across the scale. This also effected sonority and changed resistance to air flow. The wide variety of materials available to the barrel maker further compounds the issue. Choices are bewildering, but this lets the player tinker with the acoustics without having to forfeit the entire instrument.

Samuel Krauss, former principal trumpet of the Philadelphia Orchestra, used to carry a drill bit and a Craftsman electric drill to re-bore the pipe of his students’ mouthpieces. So it is no surprise to note that some clarinet pedagogues (and not just instrument technicians) are adept at reboring barrels.

The famous Moennig taper arose from the need to narrow the tuning between sharp clarion twelfths and flat low notes when adapting to a wider mouthpiece bore (such as the Kaspar pieces). I remember watching Hans Moennig pick through his display case to find just the right barrel for a given clarinet. My own original Moennig barrel has dimensions that do not work well on newer instruments. In fact, swapping barrels and observing the changes in tuning and sonority leads to a remarkable conclusion—What works for one person- and one instrument- may not work for someone else, even when playing on the same instrument.

Some guidelines do seem to hold:

The mouthpiece exit bore and the inlet bore of the barrel need to be considered when designing the right barrel.

The tuning characteristics of the brand of instrument (or even its era of manufacture) come into play when selecting a barrel.

The ideal sound that the player seeks (Classic American, British, the various Jazz styles, etc) should be a prime factor in formulating the barrel.

And then there are the considerations of wood types—Blackwood, Kingwood, Cocobolo, etc, or synthetics—ABS, Rubber (including reformulations of classic mouthpiece material), Metal, Scrith, etc. When working with Chedeville type rod rubber, the resultant resonance was surprising when compared to equivalent bore shapes that were rendered in Blackwood.

And let us not forget the exterior shape—Fat (a current favorite), thin, traditional, spool-shaped, and even ones with additional chambering (such as the Power Barrel®)

No single barrel will fix all the woes of a given instrument. In fact, sometimes the problem is a specific leak or tone hole adjustment or even (perish the thought) “operator error.”

Steps in barrel making showing Kingwood billet with pilot hole, Cocobolo billet with sockets, Tambootie billet with facets, and roughly turned Blackwood. The bore is not yet determined.

Ultimately, excepting certain restraints for tuning, finding the right barrel is subjective. So have fun and enjoy the quest.

The Author measuring height of new billet.


Noted barrel artisan Allan Segal hails from Philadelphia, where he watched as Hans Moennig worked his magic. His clarinet teachers included both Joseph and Anthony Gigliotti. “Sidetracked” by a career as a surgeon, including a departmental chairmanship, Dr. Segal returned to clarinetistry and combined his passion for woodworking with acoustics to produce acclaimed tuning barrels. He continues studies with teacher Roi Mezare in Pittsburgh, and recently performed as soloist at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center, in Midland PA. His wife, Brina, is an accomplished amateur pianist.

Leslie Craven's Review has wonderful pictures and more information:

This is information that Dr. Segal gives on eBay:

Here we see several clarinet barrels. The shapes differ. Each is from a unique species of wood. The lengths vary, and, the internal dimensions might be conical or cylindrical, or even contorted.
 What does all this mean?

Clarinets have inherent tuning difficulties. Sometimes the higher clarion notes are sharp. Sometimes the low tones are flat. The throat tones might be fuzzy.

Barrels can help to some extent. Ultimately, it is the player who effects the greatest change.

Sometimes correcting intonation is just a simple matter of having a barrel of the right length. Perhaps only an adjustment of the register key is needed. An honest person should tell you when that is the case.

Tuning can also be tweaked by alterations in the shape of the barrel's bore. . .The classic reverse taper cone bore might suit one player, but others may find it "overkill", too resistant, or just not to their liking. That is why it is important to discuss the matter with the dealer.

Another factor is the shape of the barrel and the choice of the wood (or synthetic). Rosewood may please one person, cocobolo another, and m'pingo....well, you get the idea.  And if you do not favor one species, perhaps the problem is not the wood, but the mass or shape of the barrel. Even turning the barrel on its axis can change the sound or the way you produce the sound that you want.

Some important things to keep in mind:
The outlet bore of your mouthpiece does not necessarily need to match inlet of the barrel....BUT the acoustics of the mouthpiece-barrel combination are best achieved when the barrel artisan has all the facts.

Barrels are tools....they assist you. They are helpful, sure, but the player is most important factor, next is the reed, then the mouthpiece, then-perhaps-the barrel. It is the a finishing touch to the acoustic formula. All the hype in the world and merchandizing of accessories  will not fix a untrained embouchure or correct poor air support.

Try/buy barrels based on a grasp of the situation. Most pros have drawers full of them. Have fun, and enjoy the adventure.