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Selmer Prologue clarinet

Origin: France (www.selmer.fr)
Guide price: £800
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: 1999
Review date: March 2002

Intermediate quality clarinet, with a wooden body, silver plated keywork and ebonite finger hole inserts

There were a number of features on this instrument that impressed me. The most notable from a reliability point of view was the locking arrangement of the point screw pillars on the lower joint.
Most modern clarinets of intermediate quality and above have this feature, but I felt the Selmer design to be quite neat and tidy.

Prologue pillarsThe pillar and its locking plate are one unit, so the figure 8 base plate ensures the pillar cannot rotate (a common problem with point screw pillars and wooden clarinets) and the adjacent grub screw holds the whole firmly in position.
The keywork is worthy of mention. Selmer have managed a good compromise between delicacy and strength, so that the keys are not too cumbersome and yet are relatively strong. The forked F link over the mid tenon is graceful yet sturdy, and the "crow's foot" link from the low F to E is one of the heftiest I've seen in a long time, with an elegant rounded two-pronged foot. A quick test revealed the keywork to be very resistant to casual bending.

Not such high marks for the left hand spatula keys though.

Spatula key armsThe top keys are from the Selmer. They've opted for the pin and socket arrangement.
I dislike this mechanism for a number of reasons; the pin is an area of weakness...these keys can be subject to quite a lot of stress; the feel they give is sloppy... in order to prevent the pin and socket from being noisy in action it's common practice to sheath the pin with a little skin. However, too much skin and the action will be stiff, too little and it'll just fall off. Even when it's just right there will still be a tiny amount of free play in the link.
All things being equal the arrangement pictured below is a far better bet, where the arm of the low E or F# key rests on top of the spatula key.

At least the pins are metal - unlike some clarinet manufacturers who've taken to using nylon pins - presumably to cut down on the noise this kind of action makes. I wouldn't like to find myself standing before a full concert hall knowing that all that's between me and disaster are two small nylon pins.

The finger holes are of the insert variety, made from Ebonite. This means that they are fitted separately rather than being an integral part of the body. I like this - finger holes are prone to damage, making them a 'plug-in' option is a sensible move. They are well profiled externally too, though an internal examination revealed a slight groove where the finger hole sits on the wood of the body. A bead of wax would have made this a neater finish.

This model was fitted with leather pads, which with the nicely balanced action of the keywork gave a very comfortable and positive feel to the action. The keys were well placed, and the profile of the rings gave a smooth feel to the main stack action.
In playing, the instrument was rather bright tonewise - though not excessively so. I did pick up a little hiss on the mid B, but I suspect this was due to the use of a cork pad on the speaker key (if you have this problem, fit a leather pad...works wonders). I found the tuning to be good and even, with a nice graduation of tone over the throat notes - although these observations are bound to be entirely personal.

Lastly, the case. This was a semi-hard type, with an all round zip fitted. I have my reservations about such cases; if they're well made and beefy enough they can be quite a good compromise between weight and protection, but an all-round zip is something of a liability...if it breaks (which zips tend to eventually) it can be very difficult or impossible to replace. As it is, the case was adequate.

All in all a very nice clarinet from the Selmer stable...well designed and built, worth a look.

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