The Uebel Superior: Why Yes, Yes It Is!

If you read my blog article summarizing the International Clarinet Association convention in Baton Rouge back in 2014, you may recall that I was extremely impressed by a few instruments, but there was one in particular that snagged my attention...the Uebel Superior. This is a clarinet that provides that beautiful dark, focused German sound that I (and so many other clarinetists I know) love so much, but with the Boehm system keywork that we're all used to. Of all of the instruments I played that weekend, the one that stuck with me the most, almost to the point of obsession, was the Superior.

Well, fast forward a year and a half: I am now fortunate enough to be an Uebel artist representative, and I am playing on a pair of them! I've had them for a little over 5 months now, and I fall in love with them a little bit more every day. For the first time ever (at least since I played exclusively on actual Oehler system clarinets back in 2008 for several months), I am able to produce almost exactly the sound that I hear in my head when I play the clarinet. So many of the problems that we face as Boehm-system clarinetists are simply eliminated by the Superiors (and by the Uebel clarinet line in general, but we're specifically focusing on the Superior in this article). The upper clarion and altissimo registers are just as warm and full-sounding as the lower registers, and the amount of control that the Superiors provide in the upper reaches of the instrument is mindblowing. Every person who has played these instruments has immediately remarked on how easy the transition to the altissimo is, and how full it sounds, even at the softest of dynamics.

A well earned Superior-ity complex :P 

For a purely Boehm system clarinet, it is the closest thing I have ever encountered to the German sound, without being a Reform Boehm instrument (and honestly, the differences in feel between this and most of the RBs I've tried are so minimal that I can't imagine spending the extra money now.) This is due largely to the genius team of German instrument makers and designers who created the Superior.  The man responsible for the resurrection of Uebel, Jürgen Stölzel, put together a team including master instrument maker Jörg Thümmler and famed clarinet designer/builder Jochen Seggelke (of Schwenk & Seggelke) to design the flagship of this new line. I have no idea how they did it, and probably never will, as the exact specifications are a closely guarded secret, but they have somehow managed to imbue the traditionally bright (particularly in the upper registers), unevenly balanced, and problematically-tuned French clarinet with an evenness in resistance that is unmatched, the silkiest of sounds, and remarkable intonation. It isn't *exactly* the same as an actual German clarinet, but by Jeeves, it is very, very close.   

Storytime: I recently lent the Superior Bb to a clarinetist friend (who is currently a graduate student of one of the biggest names in clarinet pedagogy today) for several days. Upon returning it, he remarked that he played it in a rehearsal of Mahler 3, and has never had such an easy time blending with the woodwind section, particularly intonation wise, and that the sound of the upper register drew several appreciative comments from his fellow orchestra members.

I've talked to you about the sound of the instrument, but let's get physical for a few moments. These clarinets are BEAUTIFUL. They are quite traditional in appearance, true, but there is a very refined elegance to the design that is quite lovely to look at. The mechanism is extremely well constructed to very tight tolerances, and is heavily silver-plated, as is customary of German instruments. The Superior is also constructed of the very finest pieces of grenadilla wood that exist. It is aged NATURALLY (not in a kiln) for a minimum of 7 years, and is subjected to a lengthy selection process, including auditory selection by being gently tapped with a rubber mallet (a very traditionally German thing to do in instrument making; only billets that produce a sound within a certain frequency spectrum are chosen for turning; many of the highest-end German clarinet makers do this), they are X-rayed to check for internal flaws, and the pieces of wood are grain-matched for the upper and lower joints (which are actually made from one piece of wood whenever possible). Only 1-3% of Uebel's wood stock ends up being selected to be made into Superiors, which certainly lends accuracy to the name! :)

The upper bore of the bell contains an egg-shaped chamber with a sterling-silver-mounted hole drilled in it for accuracy of intonation on low E and F, and a smoother transition from the throat to the clarion register. The bell is also thick-rimmed and ringless, lending a beautiful, sleek look to the instrument. On the upper joint, above the A key, is a rectangular plaque of solid sterling silver bearing a cursive inscription of the word "Superior", and above that, the Uebel logo, which on the newest production models is filled with not a foil or crayon, but solid silver wire, to ensure that the logo stays crisp forever and will not wear. Lovely little details that show just how much Uebel cares about these instruments! (My Bb has this silver wire fill, my A does not.)

All of the posts are locked, of course, and the instrument comes equipped with fine white leather pads. (I typically have always used cork on my upper joint, but I'm having no problem at all with these, and they're wonderfully quiet!) Both the Bb and the A are supplied with leather-covered Winter French-style cases lined in beautiful maroon velvet with the Uebel logo tooled into the leather on the lid of the case in the corner, and a shearling-lined case cover with backpack straps and a SUPER roomy exterior accessory compartment. The A comes in a double case, the Bb in a single. 

A left-hand Eb/Ab lever is of course also standard on the Superior, and in what I think is a particularly well thought-out move, all Superiors are supplied with the Vandoren Klassic string ligature :) (An especially appropriate and welcome accessory in my case, given that I play on a Vandoren B40D German mouthpiece!)

I could continue talking about how beautiful they sound, and how evenly they play, and how stunning they look and feel, but what might just be the MOST exciting thing about these instruments is the price. The Superior Bb, an absolute top-of-the-line, cream-of-the-crop, elite level instrument, costs over $1200 less than the Buffet R13 Prestige/Festival, $1000+ less than the Selmer Privilege, and around $2400 less than the Tosca. They're really a fabulous value, dollar for dollar, and a wonderful way to enter the world of the German clarinet sound experience without paying five figures for a Reform-Boehm or Oehler system clarinet! 

If I could touch just for a moment on the Superior A clarinet, all of what I've said above holds true for it, but given the typically awkward and finicky nature of most A clarinets, the difference is all the more remarkable on the Superior. Since I brought my set home, several of the best clarinetists I know here in New York have played them, and UNANIMOUSLY they all said it was the best A clarinet they've ever played! Switching between the Bb and the A is truly seamless, and the sound is just out of this world, with a wonderful freedom of sound in places where the A clarinet is usually tight and stuffy. (Mozart would approve!) 

Now, there are some things that the Superior does not do, and it would not be fair of me to not talk about those. If you play quite a lot of jazz or klezmer or world music or even perhaps do a lot of musical theater doubling, the Superior may not be the ideal choice, because the beautiful, creamy sound it produces is somewhat inflexible and is hard to make sound like anything BUT beautiful. The pitch centers are also so accurate and well "slotted", to steal a term from my brass friends, that wide smears and bends are a bit difficult on the Superior. Being "wild" isn't really something that's native to the personality of the Superior. If you are one of these sorts of players and require serious flexibility, then the Uebel Preference is the clarinet that YOU want to try, but we'll save that for another post! :-) 

In summation...forget everything you thought you may have known about the Uebel clarinets from the pre-Cold War era. This is a brand new generation of instruments, and if you are on the hunt for a new clarinet, you absolutely owe it to yourself to try one. If you're in or around the NYC area, feel free to contact me and I'll be happy to set up a private trial for you! :-) 

Until next time, as always, happy clarinetting, folks! :) 

(Note: Inquiries may also be sent directly to the US distributor at or! :-) ) 

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