|Rovner Eddie Daniels Model Ligatures|
After nearly a decade playing every gig and practice session on my second vintage Rovner Eddie Daniels model ligature, I've decided it's time to change equipment: to my third vintage Rovner Eddie Daniels model ligature. As you can see, I don't change ligatures that often. In fact, with the exception of one gig in 2015, and some practice sessions using German mouthpieces and string, I think I've played only two of these Rovners for the last 22 years. Making this decision today was simply a matter of wear and tear - the old lig was starting to lack the depth of sound it once yielded, so it was time to switch it out for a "new/old stock" I've kept as a backup. But doing so made me reflect on my approach towards gear. It might be a little different, and I thought it might help others to have access to my perspective.
New gear can be exciting and fun. Trying a different clarinet, mouthpiece, ligature, reeds - at the highest level of equipment, they each offer a different set of possibilities. But there can be a dark side to this for the player too - each change can make you more obsessively self critical, more self conscious, more focused on response time, comparative intonation, or just physically adjusting to something new rather than focusing on the music. At the very least, it's a distraction from expression. At worst, the player can start to obsess over matters that actually impede the making of music.
When I was a young symphony player, fresh out of grad school, I tried whatever gear I could get my hands on. Dissatisfied with my own playing, I searched for the solution with each new piece of equipment. Reeds, mouthpieces, instruments - I would spend maddening hours switching back and forth, recording myself - trying to find what I was after. All of this was an important stage of my development as a musician, but it wasn't enjoyable. My goal became to find something that satisfied my desire and musical needs, then stop trying equipment altogether - I needed to get off the equipment carousel and focus on artistry - on the actual making of music.
My era of experimentation was basically relegated to about five intense years. By the end of that span, I had decided upon the Selmer Centered Tone for my clarinet. I bought three of them (two Bb models and an A) to ensure I'd always have one. My mouthpiece of choice became a vintage Brilhart Ebolin from circa 1938. I bought mine at a time when most clarinetists didn't value them - they were easy to pick up on eBay for $10-$20 apiece. I probably own about twenty or thirty of them, but have played only two over the past decade. And, as mentioned above, my ligature of choice is the Rovner Eddie Daniels model, which hasn't been produced for over a decade (they replaced it with the Versa, which is not exactly the same, and doesn't work as well for me, so, like the vintage Brillys, I've collected those too).
Now I don't consider these to be objectively the best clarinet equipment of all time for everyone - there is no such thing. But they are the best for me - yielding the sound I always wanted when I was growing up, and striving as a young professional to attain. Beyond those concerns, I've always felt the most important things for any musician to possess are consistency as a player and the ability attend solely to the music. My philosophy, and practice, has always been to get so comfortable with my setup that the instrument itself seems to disappear when i'm playing, becoming an extension of my musical thought. That can't happen if I'm always focused on my equipment.
I'm not sure many younger musicians are taught to find the right gear and then stop fussing with it. And I think it can drive players crazy to be focused on their horn rather than the music. I searched for decades before I stumbled upon the Selmer Centered Tone as my ideal clarinet, so I can understand the frustration and drive to try new things. But if you're like me, and it drove you nuts to be focused on your gear rather than the music, take my advice: find something that works, and don't bother with it again. Stockpile the gear you need, and get on with the business of singing through your horn.
And as for my "new" ligature, let's just say for tonight's gig I'm bringing along the old one as backup...just in case.