Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jazz Clarinet Gear Review: 1944 Selmer Balanced Tone

The Selmer BT is another on the list of clarinets considered by many to be the "ultimate jazz horn." (The others I've heard most often considered for that honor are the Selmer Centered Tone, the Radio Improved, and the Selmer Albert). I picked up an Enhanced Boehm Balanced Tone this past summer, had some work done on it, and have been playing it for about a week now. The enhancements include a seventh ring (which I consider nearly indispensable) and an articulated G# mechanism (which I haven't really used much).

1944 Selmer Balanced Tone

The basic sound quality of this BT is much different from most contemporary horns, though it bears a Selmer family resemblance to both my 1955 Centered Tone and 1981 Series 10S. The main difference is a thicker quality to the sound--very solid, even heavy if an effort isn't made to keep the sound moving.

The Chalumeau is a real vintage treat. Like my 1951 Fritz Wurlitzer Reform Boehms, the BT has a metal sleeve between the joints, sheathing the inside of the lower joint. This adds weight and seems to add resonance as well. It is a very mellow horn down low, though less defined in sound quality than the later Centered Tone, and without as much "jump" to the sound as later Selmers.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this horn is the break between the chalumeau and clarion registers...if there even is a break! I've never played a horn where the pressure exerted for throat tones and low clarion register seemed identical, until now. It's so smooth that practice on this BT tends make my transitions even smoother on my other horns.

The Clarion therefore seems like an extension of the chalumeau, but the same difficulty in defining the sound exists--this is a fat instrument, and the sound is great, husky, mellow, all of those wonderful adjectives, but to get a ringing, light, moving sound is a challenge.

The Altissimo is a true Selmer altissimo; simply unbeatable for jazz. Easy jumps, plenty of volume; the characteristic "fretless" agility and flexibility are all there. It's very tough to tell any significant difference between this altissimo and those of my other Selmers.

All in all this is a great instrument. It yields a real vintage sound, good for swing era ballads and mellowness. In terms of all-around jazz use, I feel the definition of sound and extra "pop" of a Centered Tone can be addictive, and the agility one can gain on either a CT or a 10S edge them slightly higher in my book that the BT, but there is something wonderful about stepping back in time for a moment with this horn from the '40s. There's an honesty about the sound of this horn that is good for the soul.


Gary Gregg said...

Eric, I must thank you for writing the exact thoughts I have about my M series BT. After reading your comments in 2014? I found this horn at my repair guy's shop in 2015. He bought it off Ebay so he could get the Chedeville clarinet mouthpiece offered with the BT. When I played it (sans repair and adjustment) with my Crystal MPC - event in that state of repair I could tell I had to have this horn. I got this BT M4883 plus a Selmer Albert Bb L4681 for $250. I asked him to put the BT back in playing condition. He did and my CT and Series 9 are now resting comfortably and permanently in their cases. I use a Vintage-1940s-Selmer-Magnitone-Ligature with VanDoren Epic56 3.5 reeds. What still amazes me is the smooth transition and intonation over the break. Goodness me, I love to play this horn. Thanks for alerting me to this jewel.
All the best. Gary Gregg
PS: my crystal MPC was made by Greg Harrison and is similar to the ones he makes (made) for Pete Fountain. Just heard from Greg that Pete only played a 1 or 1.5 reed - hard to believe his sound with that reed strength. But, Greg also made reeds for Pete. Maybe urban legend? Anyway, thanks for your insight on the BT.

Anonymous said...

For those of you reading the above comments from Gary Gregg, you may take his playing impressions to the bank! As a clarinetist, I had the honor of working with Gary nightly in the mid-80's, and learned much from him and his playing. An excellent player with a very sensitive ear to woodwind tone quality.

Gary Gregg said...

To anonymous.

I'm humbled by your comments and thank you for taking the time to say hello. check out for my most recent efforts. maybe we can reconnect. take care and thanks again. Gary