Ever since I acquired my vintage 1962 Buffet R-13 in the summer of 2011, my buddy Vinnie (who is a far better clarinetist than I) has coveted it. And while he knows that I would never part with it, every couple of weeks he nevertheless not-so-subtly reminds me that he is interested in buying it, should I ever decide to sell it. With as much as I have been collecting vintage clarinets of late, one would think that there would be a greater probability of that happening, but why would I part with one of the best clarinets in my collection? At least that’s what I thought before attending NAMM this past weekend . . .
Six months ago, the wizard who worked his magic on a number of my saxophone mouthpieces, Marc Yacoubian sadly passed away after a motorcycle accident. In the wake of his passing, however, I discovered that he had been endorsing a clarinet brand that I had never heard of before: F. Arthur Uebel. Intrigued, I began reading whatever I could on the various clarinet forums online and found plenty of favorable reviews about them. Still, I thought that any clarinet funds would be best spent on building my collection of vintage instruments. But I was definitely looking forward to at least trying them out at the 2017 Winter NAMM Show.
As I approached the booth accompanied by my buddy Scott, a vocalist, I was greeted by Andreas Moe of Moe-Bleichner Music Distribution who described to me the entire Uebel line of Boehm clarinets. Since I play mostly jazz on the clarinet, Andreas suggested that the Preference-L would likely be the ideal horn from their line. From the first note, all of us noticed that there was something extra special about my connection with this horn. I tried out the rest of their models, including their flagship model, the Superior. But as great as each instrument was to play, I kept coming back to the Preference-L. And even though this model was best-suited for me as a jazz player, the sound of it was versatile enough for me to sound like a respectable classical clarinetist without changing any equipment. To ensure that we were hearing things right, Andreas had me play for CEO Victoria Moe as well as for Josh Johnson, one of their artist endorsers working the show with them. Everyone agreed that it wasn’t just a great horn, but rather an optimal pairing of player and instrument. For someone to find a signature sound on an instrument that quickly was truly a special moment. I had come to NAMM with the intentions of just casually trying out a number of clarinets, but now I had an instrument in my hands that had my name written all over it.
Over the course of the next couple of days, I tried out all the other high-end clarinets at the show–Buffets, Selmers, Backuns, etc. Yet while these were all fine instruments, each paled in comparison to the Uebel. Without going into too much detail, the Uebel was effortless to play, had wonderful intonation, and had a huge sound which remained even and consistent over the entire range of the horn. But more importantly, the sound had a sparkle which I had never heard before when playing the clarinet. It was such a joy to play that I didn’t want to put it down. In fact, with a horn like that, I would likely practice clarinet more than saxophone! Of course at NAMM, technically you are not allowed to purchase on the floor, so unfortunately I was unable to take it home with me.
There is, however, a happy ending to the story: I am buying that exact clarinet and they are shipping it to me later this week. When you find the perfect instrument, you can’t pass it up. It gets better, though: Not only do I truly believe in their product, but they think enough of me as an artist that I am joining the Uebel family as an artist endorser.
So Vinnie, maybe I will sell you my R-13 . . . after all, it really should be played.