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Hanson T6 clarinet
Origin: Britain
Guide price : £1989
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: Unknown, but recent
Date reviewed : Aug 2010

Description : A professional quality British clarinet from an independent manufacturer.

Hanson T6 clarinetWhen 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 best results.
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.

Hanson T6 clarinet F keyIt's 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.

Hanson T6 clarinet spatula keyAnother 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 brings.

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.

Hanson T6 clarinet trill keysThe 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 steel springs.

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 gig.

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.
Hanson T6 speaker keyI 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 certain memories!
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 after all).
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 by Gershwin.
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 than another.

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 larger manufacturers.
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.

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