Uebel Clarinets In The 21st Century: A Primer

Recently, I wrote an article about the Uebel Superior clarinets, which are my instruments of choice these days. I've received a lot of great comments and questions about that article, but the most common by far is "What about the other models?", so instead of publishing individual articles about each model, I wanted to do one post that touched on all four of the new Uebel soprano clarinet models for those of you who are curious.

Before I break down the individual models, I would like to touch quickly on a few salient points about all of the models: They are all made of naturally aged and unstained grenadilla, and ALL models are available with left hand Eb/Ab key (it's standard on the Superior, Preference, and Advantage A clarinet), and all mechanisms are very heavily silver-plated in the German tradition. All models are also equipped standard with an adjustable thumbrest, and as of this year, all of them feature the Uebel logo on the upper joint beautifully hand-inlaid in sterling silver wire, which will never wear, unlike the foil stamping/gold crayon logos so common in the industry. (The Superior model has an additional solid sterling silver logo-plate with "Superior" engraved on it.)

There has been quite a lot of internet chatter lately about the exact origins of the Uebel clarinets, and as an Uebel artist representative, I wanted to be absolutely clear about it all, so I reached out to the owner/CEO of the company via the US distributor. Yes, Uebel does indeed own and operate a factory in China (it is their own factory, staffed by their people; it is not a subleased/contracted situation, and all work performed there is to their own very high German standard), but the French-system clarinets are in fact made entirely in Markneukirchen, Germany. As I understand it, the China factory's primary purpose is large-scale production of the German-system clarinets, which are exceedingly popular in the German market.

I won't write too much about the Superior here, since my last blog post is about nothing BUT (you can read that here if you haven't yet: The Uebel Superior: Why Yes, Yes It Is! ), but let's start with it anyway.

The Uebel Superior is a top-of-the-line professional handcrafted instrument made of the choicest grenadilla wood that is naturally aged for a minimum of 7 years, the finest pieces of which are chosen via X-ray and frequency selection (hanging the billets and then tapping with a rubber mallet and choosing only those which produce the most pleasing sound). The bore of the Superior is a very Germanic style, quite similar to the Schwenk & Seggelke model 3000, and produces an extremely beautiful, thick sound that both blends very well with a section and creates a lovely solo voice on its own. The star selling point of the Superior is the incredible beauty of tone one achieves in the upper registers of the instrument; the upper clarion is free of "pinch", and the transition into the altissimo is both effortless and flawless. It is, however, relatively inflexible in terms of color, just as one expects from a German clarinet, so it is not perhaps ideally suited for the jazz/swing/contemporary artist, but it is an ideal clarinet for the soloist/recitalist/large orchestral principal. (However, if jazz/swing/contemporary/klezmer is your thing, keep reading! Uebel has something just for you!)

The Superior is a bit more resistant than the typical French-bore clarinets that we're used to, but the evenness of tone color and response throughout all registers of the instrument is well worth it. (It's also advisable to use perhaps a more open mouthpiece and slightly softer reed to counterbalance this, if you so choose. I've heard some pretty fantastic results produced with a closed/hard combo, too, though. Personal preference! :) ) The Superior is available in Bb and A, and there is an Eb version to be released this year, which received global unanimous raves when the prototype was presented at various industry events around the world. Truly a clarinet for the most discerning of players.

Uebel Preference, on the left, Uebel Classic on the right! :) 

Next in the line up, we have the Uebel Preference. This clarinet is THE clarinet for the versatile player who wants a blank canvas to reproduce whatever voice they hear in their head; this clarinet can scream, it can wail, it can be dark and Brahmsian, it can Rhapsody in the blue-est of ways, and it is a fantastic instrument for the klezmer/ethnic player. (In fact, a dear friend has used the Preference in the pit of the current Broadway production of Fiddler On The Roof in the solo clarinet chair to great acclaim on multiple occasions). The Preference is made of unstained grenadilla aged 5-7 years naturally, and has the same precision-fit, heavily silver-plated mechanism as the Superior. The bore of this instrument is much closer to the prestige-level French instruments we all know and love, so if you find yourself thinking of perhaps purchasing a Buffet Festival, you REALLY need to try this instrument. I recently lent the Preference to a friend who is the clarinetist in an operetta currently running this summer here in NYC, and he summed it up thusly: "It's like a better Festival!" (He also at one point mentioned that he was able to play a low E and F perfectly in tune for the first time on this instrument!) It is the ultimate worry-free professional clarinet. You can truly just let go and focus on making music with the Preference! Currently, the Preference is only available in Bb, but an A is in the works.

Uebel Advantage (in key of A)

Even more affordable than the Preference, we have the Advantage.  Firstly, it is made of the same beautifully figured unstained wood as the Preference. It's really a beautiful instrument to look at, and at first blow, will feel VERY familiar to 99% of American clarinetists. This is the instrument that you need to look at if you're considering dropping $3000+ on a new R13, because the Advantage gives you that same well-loved "ping" in the sound, with all of the concomitant shadings of color and tonal flexibility that we've all adored in the R13, but with much improved evenness and resistance through the registers, not to mention superior intonation, and all for considerably less than you would spend otherwise. The altissimo is particularly accessible on the Advantage, and just this past year, the Advantage A clarinet was released, putting a perfectly matched pair of brand-new professional clarinets within reach of just about anybody. This is the instrument for you if you're a conservatory student, or an extremely talented high school player on a budget, or even a professional clarinetist who isn't pulling in a six-figure salary but needs a top-notch pair of clarinets for orchestral playing that won't break the bank!

Last but certainly not least, there's the Uebel Classic. This is the entry level model of the Uebel lineup, but do not mistake it for a student clarinet, for it is no such thing. The Classic can hold its own against just about ANY clarinet you put it up against. I've had several NYC clarinetist friends try it, and just about every single one of them made the "trade you my clarinet for this one!" joke...and that was BEFORE I told them the price! This instrument, WITH the left hand Eb/Ab key option, comes in at just around $1400 (less than $1300 without the extra key!), with the same evenness and great intonation of all the other Uebel clarinets. It has the same flexibility of sound as the Preference, and a bit of the inborn personality of the Advantage. It is also just a stunningly made instrument that is very comfortable to play. If I could compare it to any clarinet on the market, past or present, I think the most apt comparison would be with the now-deceased Leblanc Esprit; it's a pro-quality clarinet at an intermediate-level price point. Hard to argue with that!

There, in a nutshell, are the 4 current Uebel soprano clarinet models; if you're in the NYC or Boston areas, and would love to try one, shoot me an email, and I would be more than happy to make that happen for you! :-) I really, really love these instruments, and I am 100% convinced that you will too, once you try them!

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