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by David Hite
In spite of the fact that Moennig clarinet barrels have been in service for nearly fifty years, in many circles they may remain generally unknown or misunderstood. I share the following information in answer to many questions I've been asked about: historical background, playing characteristics, specifications and measurements.
History Hans Moennig's shop in Philadelphia was the center for state of the art woodwind repair in the U.S from the late 1930's through the early 1980's. Mr. Moennig worked with virtually every major principal clarinetist in the U.S. Much of his work was quite innovative. Not only did he set the industry standard for repadding and key adjustments, he also took great interest in adjusting the acoustics of the instrument: he reshaped tone holes for better intonation and more even scale; he adjusted the bore if it was incorrect; and he fabricated clarinet barrels when needed from his supply of suitable wood.

During the late '40s, Ralph McLane, then principal clarinetist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, was a frequent visitor to the shop. Known for his wonderful rich tone, Ralph always wanted his instrument to be better, and together he and Moennig experimented with a variety of bore measurements for barrels. McLane would spend hours in Moennig's shop testing, comparing, and listening critically. (I have heard that McLane's favorite testing passage was the Brahms Lullaby or a simple tune like Rock-a-bye Baby.)

The outcome of this "trial and adjustment" experimentation was barrel specifications which Moennig reproduced. One by one, clarinetists who came into his shop adopted these barrels and used them exclusively.

After quite a few years as the demand continued to grow, the Buffet company made a Moennig barrel available as an accessory item. Although these barrels were close to Moennig specifications, they were not ideal because of variations in production or changes due to wood instability. Critical players looking for barrels with true Moennig bores had to depend on knowledgeable repairmen with correctly tapered reamers to check and adjust their barrels on a custom basis. Presently, this is still the case.


To the trained ear, a correctly bored Moennig barrel produces a distinctly better, fuller, richer sound than the standard size barrel when played with most mouthpieces generally in use now and in earlier days. For well trained and experienced clarinetists, the preference has been nearly universal.

Many times when a clarinet gets too free or lackluster, it is possible to greatly improve it by replacing just the barrel. Indeed, the industrious artist, will usually try every barrel in sight to see if it might give some slight bit more satisfaction than the one he is playing.

Why it works

The reason the Moennig taper bore works so well is that it creates a "choke" in the bore: the lower end of the barrel bore is actually smaller than the bore at the upper end of the upper joint of the clarinet. When the reed vibrates, a standing wave column is created which reflects up and down within the bore of the clarinet. When it reaches the point of a barrel choke, this standing wave column is reflected with much greater intensity back upon itself.

A choke should also be present at the upper end of the bell. Traditionally, the neck of the bell is slightly smaller than the flare of the bore at the bottom of the lower joint. When the choke is correct -- not too much, or even worse, not at all -- the sound is enormously enhanced. Certainly, the bell as well as the barrel can easily make or break the special quality of a favorite clarinet.

Specifications The measurements of the Moennig barrel bore should be: .589" at the top, tapering down to .580" at the bottom for the Bb clarinet. The A clarinet was found to improve greatly in tone, response and tuning balance when it was bored .004" smaller than the Bb. Ideally, therefore, it is necessary to use a different barrel for each clarinet. (Yes, this may be an inconvenience for those players who are in the habit of using the same barrel for both the Bb and the A in order to facilitate a quick change between clarinets. However, the improvement, especially in the A clarinet, is dramatic enough to justify the extra effort!)

If you are unsure as to whether your barrels meet this specification (and if it means enough to you to really know) you can purchase a 3/4 inch telescope gauge and a slide rule micrometer (inside - outside) at a hardware store. Use these to tell you exactly what your dimensions are. (The standard Buffet barrel differs quite a bit from the Moennig by measuring much larger at the bottom. It usually matches the size of the bore at the top of the upper joint.)

Break in &
A standard problem inherent in barrels is that, due to the proximity of the barrel to the mouthpiece, it heats up much more than the lower parts of the instrument. In addition, greater amounts of moisture collect in the bore. These two factors, moisture and heat, will influence the bore considerably when the barrel is new. Usually, the grain of the barrel will swell up making the bore contract in size. When it becomes too small, the clarinet gets stuffy, and harder to play. Certainly, the tone becomes tighter also.

It is necessary to check the bore frequently during the first year to determine its stability. If the grain swells up, the barrel can be re-reamed to proper specifications. (The trick here is to find a repairman or friend who has a properly adjusted reamer to make these corrections.) After being played for a year or so, the barrel wil usually become stable and hold its dimensions securely.

Composition To offset the bore instability problems, manufacturers have made barrels of hard rubber, plastic or aluminum. Some have gone to the trouble of putting a rubber or plastic liner inside a wooden barrel. These solutions have proven useful in certain seasons. But for many discerning players, the sound produced by a solid wood barrel remains preferable.

In selecting barrels with the best sound, players have found that the softer the wood, the better: hard, shiny finished wood will not produce nearly as good a sound as softer, grainier wood with more open pores. (And, of course, the softer, better sounding wood is more likely to crack during the cold winter months!)

Length Traditionally, with most well designed mouthpieces, a 67mm barrel for the Bb clarinet and a 66mm barrel for the A clarinet are appropriate for A-440 tuning. In the opinion of most artist players, a longer barrel gives more depth and richness to the sound. Therefore the longest barrel which also comfortably meets their tuning requirements is preferred.

New instruments which have not yet been played in are generally slightly lower in pitch because of their resistance. As they are played and become freer, the pitch will rise slightly. Consequently, a 66mm length barrel is customary in the beginning of the instrument's cycle. The A clarinet usually will need a 65mm barrel in the beginning. (If playing only the A clarinet, a 67mm barrel may be best.)

Comment In closing, I would like to make this point: Having lived with these standards for most of my playing career, having evaluated hundreds of barrels including many reamed by Mr. Moennig, and having at my disposal a "profession approved" barrel bore reamer to make corrections, I have become rather strongly committed to these Moennig standards.

As mouthpiece and instrument designs are continuing to be modified to achieve different tonal qualities, new inherent problems surface, especially in tuning. This is particularly apparent in mouthpieces which are supposedly attractive because of their darker sound voicing. Unfortunately, there may be a temptation to turn away from the virtues of the Moennig type barrel and the principles which make it work merely to find something that will correct tuning deficiencies. Perhaps we should be on guard against the gradual erosions of sound standards!


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