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Buffet BC 1180 bass clarinet

Origin: France (www.buffet-crampon.com)
Guide price: £2,300
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: 2003
Date reviewed: July 2003

A mid range wooden bass clarinet (to low Eb) that nicely bridges the gap between the student plastic models and the rather more expensive professional models

Bass clarinets are magnificent beasts. For me it's down to the weight of the things - that huge lump of wood that comprises the body, the seemingly oversized keys, the contorted neck and twee bell. The Buffet certainly looks the part, but is it all mouth and no trousers?

If it had any trousers they were firmly round its ankles! This clarinet was brought to me as new, it had never been used as such, merely bought for an educational establishment, tried once and whipped straight round to me to see what the problem was.
And the problem was the setup.

In a word, appalling. There was barely a pad that was seated correctly - and I'm not talking small, niggling leaks, I'm talking whopping big leaks that would stop an instrument dead in its tracks.
A great many of the pads were simply the wrong thickness, the rest were poorly set - the whole thing needed a reseat. The pads themselves, in white leather or kid, are of average quality - though to my mind they were rather stiff.

But before I tackled the keywork I looked to the body. There were two major problems here - the mid and bell joints were stiff.

Buffet bass clarinet tenonThe Buffet incorporates a clamping ring for the mid tenon joint, but even when fully slackened off the tenon joint was binding in the socket. This is a wholly bad thing; at the very least it means the player has to wrestle the joints to dismantle the instrument, which can lead to damaged keywork - and at worst it presents the possibility that the joint may jam completely.

The fix is to skim a little wood off the inner tenon (the unlined portion) . The same process had to be repeated on the bell tenon.

Apart from these problems the body is well made, and really rather attractive with its non-stained Grenadilla.

The keys are well made and nicely laid out, with very little of the key whip that can plague large instruments, though I was disappointed to see Buffet has used those terrible nylon pins for the left hand lever keys (low E and F#). These pins are weak enough on standard Bb clarinets, with the extra leverages in play on a bass clarinet I'd have preferred to have seen a more substantial arrangement... such as the standard stepped key.
I had some reservations about the key heights on the stacks, but this was sorted out during the course of regulating the action.
As usual, the springing was set far too heavy.

The speaker key mechanism was of an interesting design. It felt slick under the thumb, but I noticed just a slight hesitation as the lower pad came up. I couldn't see that the mechanism itself was at fault, and it appeared to me the domed pad was getting itself ever so slightly wedged in the speaker chimney. A flatter pad here will solve this issue.

The points screws are good, and these will ensure the action remains stable whilst allowing for a degree of adjustability down the years.

An adjustable thumb rest and a standard Buffet mouthpiece completes the setup, all enclosed in a very stout and neat case.

As regards playing, I'm not a fan of bass clarinets much above the throat notes - they tend to instil in me a feeling of someone scraping nails down a blackboard - but to the Buffet's credit I found it quite agreeable in the upper register, almost lyrical in fact. Below that the clarinet was suitably sombre and sonorous tonewise, with perhaps a touch of brightness that would provide a nice cut in ensemble playing.
I quite liked the mouthpiece, though I'd have preferred something with a bit more punch - but then I'm not really a bass clarinet player, and I'm talking strictly in jazz mode! I noticed no undue problem with the tuning.
The action was slick enough, with the keys falling snugly under the fingers - and the problematical low G key felt nice and positive.

On the whole a rather nice instrument that's let down badly by its setup. At its price point it doesn't have much competition, but what competition it does have comes in the form of the formidable (and very slightly cheaper) Leblanc Esprit.
I would say that trying both models is a requirement for a prospective purchaser of a mid range bass clarinet.

 

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