Hanson T6 clarinet
Guide price: £1989
Date of manufacture: 2009 (approx)
Date reviewed: August 2010
A professional quality British clarinet from an
When you wanted a decent clarinet in years gone by your choices were
pretty limited. Chances are you ended up with either a Boosey/Buffet,
a Selmer or a Yamaha. If you were feeling particularly rebellious you
might have bought a Leblanc. There really wasn't that much choice unless
you went 'off-brand' and sought out the smaller makers - but this was
generally only an option for those players able to afford and justify
a very expensive instrument.
These days things are very much different due to the aid of modern production
techniques and automation, and it's possible to find a considerable number
of good quality clarinets that won't break the bank.
One such example is this Hanson.
Well, quite. You may well never have heard of them - unless you're a sax
player, in which case you might be quite familiar with the name.
What marks Hanson out from the rest of the crowd is that they're a British
company. That in itself isn't so unusual, there are a number of British
clarinet makers turning out extremely good instruments - but what makes
Hanson unique is that by using the very latest production techniques they've
been able to produce good quality instruments in the UK at prices previously
unheard of for this kind of standard.
Machine-made clarinets are nothing new - it's a manufacturing technique
that's been in common use for many years - but it's a mistake to think
it's simply a matter of loading a billet of wood into one end of a machine,
switching it on and waiting for a perfect product to drop out of the other
end. What distinguishes one finished product from another is the care
with which the wood is selected, the design of the instrument and the
way in which the machines are used. There's also quality control, as well
as having the means and the motivation to tweak the design and the manufacturing
process to make subtle but important improvements.
The latter is that much harder to do on an industrial scale, which is
why smaller companies like Hanson have an edge.
What we have here is the Hanson T6. The T denotes their professional
range of clarinets, and the range is made up from the basic T5, the T6
and the all-singing-and-dancing T7.
It's a very elegant looking clarinet - the sculpted barrel and lack of
a bell ring give it a clean and unfussy look, while the plain tenon rings
give it a sharp and stylish tweak. To my eye it looks modern, without
being unnecessarily different (art for art's sake, and all that).
In terms of construction there's nothing particularly different about
the body compared to the vast majority of modern clarinets. It's made
from selected Grenadilla - and the important word here is 'selected'.
Hanson make it clear that they don't dye or fill the wood - which is a
technique some manufacturers use in order to make use of slightly poorer
quality wood. In terms of how the instrument plays it probably makes no
difference at all, but a better piece of wood is less likely to suffer
from problems in years to come and will always look good.
Hanson use woods that have been naturally aged for up to 12 years (8
years for the T6 model). This is another important consideration. If you
built a clarinet out of young, unseasoned wood it's a certainty that the
finished product would warp and split within a very short space of time,
if not while you were making it. The longer and more carefully wood is
aged, the better and more stable it will be. It's possible to speed up
the seasoning process using kilns and suchlike, but just about everyone
I know in the wood trade will tell you that natural seasoning gives the
The T series clarinets are available in a choice of materials. There's
Grenadilla (as featured on this example), Rosewood - and a 'reinforced
Grenadilla'. At present I'm not sure exactly what this is, but Hanson
are prepared to guarantee any such bodies as crack free for life, which
is something worthy of consideration.
One final point regarding the wood itself, Hanson are currently the only
manufacturer of woodwind instruments in the world to have been FSC
(Forest Stewardship Council) certified. In today's world of shrinking
resources it does the company great credit to have achieved such certification
- and it says much about the company's ethos.
The build quality of the body is very good indeed. One of the problems
associated with CAD/CAM
manufacture of instruments is that of achieving a good finish. The Hanson
scored exceptionally well in this respect, with neat edges to the tone
hole rims and joint ends, and a rich sheen to the wood. Inside, the bore
looked to be clean and smooth.
Aside from that there's really not much that can be said about a clarinet
body - the 'proof of the pudding' comes later, in the play test.
The pillars and fittings were likewise neat and well finished, though
I did spot a turning mark on one of the rings. A small cosmetic point,
but it wouldn't be a proper review if I didn't point such things out.
I was pleased to see that certain pillars were fitted with locking screws.
These prevent the pillars from rotating, which is often a problem as a
wooden clarinet ages and the wood shrinks a little. It's not a disaster
when this happens, it just means a repairer has to fit shims to the pillars
to make them secure again. These screws will make that job unnecessary.
The body is finished off with the inclusion of an adjustable thumb rest.
in the keywork where the Hanson truly excels, being well made and finished
- and with some very interesting features.
The most obvious of these is that there's no "crow's foot".
Instead of the usual two-pronged foot that hangs down from the F/C touchpiece,
the T6 has two arms that extend over the F/C tonehole. It looks a little
'busy', but offers increased strength over the crow's foot design and
therefore a much better response during playing. I would perhaps have
liked to have seen a couple of adjustment screws in the arms, just to
make it easier to tweak the regulation from time to time - though there's
a chance that they'd make the arms look a bit ugly.
A further benefit of this design is that it's unlikely to go out of regulation
if you're at all clumsy when assembling or breaking down the joints. A
very common cause of problems is the F/C touchpiece being bent down, which
throws out the crow's foot regulation. That will scupper your chances
of getting a B/E until you have the key adjusted.
major "ooh" point is the very interesting design of the left
hand spatula keys. In other clarinet reviews I've spoken about my personal
preferences for the design of these keys, being somewhat unimpressed by
the pin and socket design and favouring
the stepped arrangement. Hanson have gone one step better and incorporated
a little roller into the end of the lever keys. This design looks to be
sturdy, and the wheel serves to keep the action both swift and quiet.
The beauty of this design is that it doesn't need any buffering - so unlike
plain stepped keys there are no corks to wear away and in the case of
pins and sockets, no rattling or free play (or skin to wear away, which
is the common method of quietening such keys). Once the regulation has
been set you can effectively forget about it until such times as the roller
wears...and I don't think that will be any time soon.
I think it has to be said that the E and F# key feet (sitting atop the
rollers) look a bit industrial and tend to draw the eye, but I believe
it's a very small price to pay for the improvement in feel that this design
Note that the owner has removed the Eb lever arm (which accounts for that
first empty pillar) - some players find the additional lever gets in the
way while others can't do without it.
Another welcome touch is the addition of an adjusting screw to the lower
ring key foot (it's just visible in the shot below, peeking out from behind
the lower edge of the Bb trill touchpiece). It might not sound like much
but it gives the player the ability to raise or lower the ring key action
at will. If you don't think that sounds very handy it's probably because
you've never tried raising or lowering the action to see whether it improves
the response of the instrument.
rest of the keywork is rather more standard, but there are still a few
nice touches (literally) here and there.
For example, look at the generously sized throat A touchpiece. It might
not seem like much, but in the heat of the moment when your hands are
hot and sweaty, having a touchpiece like this can make the difference
between hitting or missing a note.
Clearly someone's given some thought to such issues, and this shows in
the design of the side trill key touchpieces and again in the speaker
key touchpiece - though this last gave me a few problems initially, as
we'll see later. Finishing off and powering the action is a set of blued
Finally, the whole outfit is supplied in this instance in a sturdy and
compact backpack style case. I don't much care for having a zip fastener
on it, but the portability is very handy - especially for us doublers
who have to lug two or three instrument (plus accessories) along to a
Under the fingers the T6 felt wonderful. A great deal of this is down
to the design of the keywork, but it shouldn't be forgotten that these
clarinets are individually set up and checked at source - and that makes
a lot of difference. You'd be surprised at how badly set up many a top
professional clarinet is, and to have an instrument perform properly straight
from the production line is worth paying the extra for.
The most notable differences were the speed and accuracy of the F/C key
links and the rollered left hand spatulas. These made a considerable difference
compared to a standard key design, and one that could be felt both at
speed and during slow passages. The overriding feeling was one of confidence.
I loved the wide throat A touchpiece and the shaped trill touches. I can't
say that they made huge improvements but it felt like my fingers were
more able to 'bounce' off the keys onto other notes. Again, it's that
feeling of confidence.
had some trouble with the speaker key touchpiece though.
I have quite large hands, and wide thumbs - and I found myself catching
the trailing edge of the touchpiece. I've come across this problem before,
when I've customised this touchpiece for clients - quite a few find it
handy to be able to roll their thumb forward (rather than upward) to operate
the speaker key, and while the modification has worked for them I've always
found it a complete pain for me.
The Hanson design is rather less extreme than the mods I've carried out,
and I found that it didn't take me long to become accustomed to it. After
half an hour or so I barely knew it was there, and after 45 minutes I
began to find it quite handy.
I experimented with the ring key height adjuster, which was fun. I found
it came in really handy when changing mouthpieces. One piece seemed to
work best with a high action, another tolerated a lower action. It was
just nice to be able to make such adjustments 'on the fly' rather than
having to muck about with sanding or changing bits of cork.
Tonewise I was very, very impressed with the Hanson.
Given the asking price I expected a certain level of quality, but got
a lot more.
One thing to bear in mind is that Hanson offer a choice of bore configurations
for their professional clarinets. This model can be had with and English
or a French bore - and even a dual bore configuration known as a 'jazz
bore'. I just love the sound of that one, if only because it brings back
The choice of bore will dramatically affect the response and tone of the
instrument, and whilst my tonal comments only serve as a rough (and personal)
guide as to what an instrument is capable of you should bear this in mind
if you feel moved to try one out on the basis of my comments.
In this instance the T6 was supplied with the standard French (narrow)
bore, and it very much lived up to the sort of response I'd expect from
that configuration. The tone was rich and full but not unwieldy - precise
and agile, and highly responsive.
Narrow bores are like that, but they often suffer from a 'boxy' lower
end and a degree of shrillness in the upper register. I searched for it
on the T6 but didn't find it - the low notes were just the right side
of punchy while the upper register retained its dignity and didn't exchange
its sweetness for an acidic edge. I find such clarinets to be an easier
blow than the larger bores, at least over a period of time - but that's
a purely personal preference. Many a fine player will disagree - and likewise,
many a fine player will disagree with them too.
I'll be honest, I really wasn't expecting a great deal from the Hanson.
I suppose I should own up to the fact that although I can pick up a £200
saxophone and have no expectations whatsoever, I still tend to be a bit
price-led when it comes to clarinets. Then again I've always considered
the Boosey 926 Imperial to be one of the best clarinets I've ever played,
and that was by no means a super-pro instrument (so maybe I'm not so blinkered
Perhaps there was an element of "So you think you're up to it, eh?"
about my approach to the Hanson - and its answer was "Yeah, more
than up to it!".
I loved playing the T6 - it just felt alive in my hands and so very versatile.
I played through a few octave ranges to test the tuning (which was fine,
even over the break), and I actually enjoyed it. Most of my clients know
I tend to avoid having to do things like playing scales and suchlike,
but there I was, happily tootling away at octaves like they were penned
Tuning is always something of a contentious issue with clarinets. As with
most instruments it's an exercise in compromises - in the case of clarinets
it's based around bore size, bore taper and tonehole profiles, and as
yet no-one has come up with anything approaching perfection. Instead,
each manufacturer attempts to even out the discrepancies as much as possible
- and each will have their own particular methods of doing so. Some methods
will suit some players better than others - thus a player might find that
they can play better in tune on one brand than another, while another
player may find the opposite is true. At this level of build it will be
up to the player to decide whether one design philosophy suits them better
I particularly liked the evenness of tone across the range. Lots of clarinets
suffer from 'baritone sax syndrome', whereby there seems to be a complete
change of tone across a certain break-point (usually around top G on a
baritone, and over the throat keys on a clarinet). To be sure there has
to be some change, but it should be subtle and unobtrusive. This is exactly
how the Hanson performed.
All of this adds up to the T6 being a contender. It surpassed my expectations
based on its price point, and better still it showed me a good time. That's
a fine achievement for an instrument pitched at a position in the marketplace
where the competition is red hot.
In making enquiries about Hanson clarinets I found quite a few people
saying that they'd never heard of the brand. I think that's about to change.
They're not widely available compared to other brands, but Hanson offer
a 'try at home' scheme, which is an attractive opportunity if you wish
to try one for yourself. Another important consideration is that in the
event of your requiring any product support you can actually deal with
Mr Hanson himself - which is a huge step up from the usual deal with the
If the price is within your budget and you don't try one of these, you
will never know what you're missing - and it's a lot.