Thursday, January 2, 2014

Mouthpiece Review: Selmer HS * Oval (c.1955, refaced by Bradford Behn 2013)

Widely considered among the finest Selmer made, "HS*Oval" mouthpieces from the 1950s are getting more difficult to acquire. For anyone playing a Selmer Centered Tone clarinet, though, it's a good idea to have at least one of these, if only to get an idea of what the horn sounds like with its intended mouthpiece.

Selmer HS* Oval c.1955
I'm not one to insist upon matching vintage 'pieces to vintage horns--my philosophy has always been to use whatever works, even if it strikes others as unorthodox. There are those, for example, who would suggest that a C85 mouthpiece "shouldn't" be used on a large bore horn, as it was designed for the narrow bored 10S clarinet. I don't share this opinion, and have mixed and matched many different eras' equipment successfully over the course of my playing career. Having said this, I think it's a very good idea to get a baseline reading of an instrument by matching equipment, keeping in mind that doing so doesn't produce a magic wand (ultimately it's more important for a jazz musician to find a personal sound--whatever the names and dates on the equipment.)

Hoping to get exactly that sort of baseline, I acquired several vintage Selmer mouthpieces last year, this HS*Oval among them. It was in pretty rough shape when I got it, though not damaged significantly. I sent it off to Bradford Behn for refacing and was deeply impressed with the results.

Brad did a fantastic job, on this and a Benny Goodman model, both of which match well with my 1955 Selmer Centered Tone. Before this, I'd been very happy to play a C85, but after the refacing, everything got easier--volume, depth of sound, richness of tone, and even facility over the break. Everything is just much smoother, with plenty of timbral range, mellowness or bite, and on the HS*Oval in particular, an even stronger chalumeau.

These mouthpieces are getting more difficult to find, and prices are going up. Unfortunately, too, there seem to be some mouthpiece refacers who think they can be marketed as "jazz" models by opening them up to excruciating degrees-which for many of us is tantamount to mangling them. As a jazz clarinetist who uses a relatively close facing (as many jazz clarinetists do) I'm very much against this, and hope that any mouthpiece craftsmen reading will reconsider the practice. Considering the scarcity of these vintage pieces, please do not open them up before finding a player who wants it done! For those looking for a great mouthpiece to match a vintage large bore, I highly recommend this piece.



M.S. Dickerson said...

I am a sax player first playing fairly wide open mouthpieces, and double on clarinet. I currently have a selmer center tone Bb with a selmer HS** mouthpiece. I find it very restrictive and wonder what someone might recommend to make it easier on a wide mouthpiece sax player to use for a selmer center tone clarinet?

Eric Seddon said...


There are many mouthpiece refacers out there who can open up that HS** for you if it produces the type of sound you dig. If not, you have several options. I've used a Selmer C85 on Centered Tones successfully (though some people will caution that the intonation of these more modern mouthpieces can throw a CT out), and my current gigging 'piece is a vintage Brilhart Ebolin model.

I'd experiment with anything and everything. Centered Tones are great horns, and depending on your embouchure, any number of 'pieces will work.

Good luck and Keep Swinging!


John J. said...

Greetings, Mr. Seddon,

I enjoyed your comments about the Selmer oval HS* refaced by Bradford Behn. Recently I bought one from him and have had great fun playing it ever since. On my R-numbered Selmer C-T with 20/7 keys ("full Boehm"), it is rather resistant, but I love the rich, warm resonance. It speaks beautifully on an X-numbered Series 9, giving the best balance between power and elegance that I have ever gotten from a Series 9. On a whim, I put this mouthpiece on my old Bundy Resonite, and I was in disbelief because it played easily and sounded really good. I played it in front of the electronic tuner for 20 minutes trying to convince myself that it wasn't as correct as it sounded... I'm trying to think of a way to break the news to Mr. Behn, that someone out there is enjoying one of his hand-worked mouthpieces on a vintage plastic clarinet.

Thanks for your insights!