A Richard Keilwerth-made Bass Clarinet

Richard Keilwerth-made bass clarinet, bass clarinet bell, Jubilee bass clarinet, vintage bass clarinetLast summer I brought home my new to me Richard Keilwerth-made bass clarinet, but for a variety of reasons I haven’t had the opportunity to get out and play it with a band until last week. After doing some juggling of my schedule, I was able to free up my Thursday nights enough to start rehearsing with a community band one city over. I figured this was a good place for me to get my bass clarinet chops back up to where they were 30 years ago, and to get used to playing this quirky mid-century German bass.

Now that I’ve got two rehearsals under my belt with this Richard Keilwerth-made bass clarinet, I figured I have enough to go on to write a mini review of how this horn performing in the wild.

This bass has a beautiful tone. Even though I don’t have my embouchure anywhere near where it once was, this bass clarinet’s tone is very evident. The tone is sonorous in the lower end of chalumeau register—where a bass should be. The Bb4 of the chalumeau is the only note that gives me any grief. In its standard fingering it is very airy, and not all the pleasing to my ear. However, when using the alternate trill fingering the tone is clean and pure.

The clarion register speaks easy enough, but I do have some intonation issues on the B4, C5, and C#5. The notes tend to play sharp, and I have to still get used to lipping them down a tad.

I have to be really conscious of how open my throat is, and that I’m blowing lots of warm, supported air through the horn as I go over the break from the chalumeau to the clarion registers. If I close up even the slightest bit, or bite too much, the horn will squeak when I try for the B4 or C5. While true on all bass clarinets (and clarinets in general), what makes this Richard Keilwerth-made bass so tricky is the incredible amount of resistance this horn provides the against player.

In general, I describe playing this Richard Keilwerth-made bass clarinet like driving a Panzer tank vs a Mercedes limousine. It is nowhere near as easy to play as the university’s Selmer. The Keilwerth is not nearly as ergo-friendly either. (The left pinkie keys especially are not for those with small hands.)

This Richard Keilwerth-made bass clarinet takes a ton of air, and the resistance on this baby is absolutely crazy. As a matter of fact, my Martin Committee III bari takes less air than this bass clarinet. That said, I am a bass sax player after all, so moving and supporting air is not a problem. 😉 Therefore I found my bass clarinet has the potential for tons of volume, and I had no problem keeping up tone and volume-wise with the band’s bari sax player when we played together. I was able to cut through the sound to be heard. Yes, this bass has that potential!

(I struck part of that statement because at last night’s rehearsal the bari player suddenly started playing at double the volume when the two of us were playing the same lines. This was not something that happened the week before. Ah sax players, I know they are always worried to be drowned out by a bass clarinet.) 😉

Based on the four hours of solid playing I’ve done with others, I am definitely happy with my choice of this Richard Keilwerth-made bass clarinet. I am very happy that my tech had it in his back room. I’m extremely happy that he figured out that it would be a good player, and that he did such an excellent job fixing it up for me. As it turns out, it really is one kick-ass bass clarinet.

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is www.bassic-sax.info. If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

© 2017, Helen. All rights reserved.


Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.

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