I found this email off the Sneezy Clarinet List. It’s from clarinet master Clark Fobes and details his experiences with various pads on the clarinet.Subject: [kl] Pads, cork, skin, whatever
Date: Sat, 14 Apr 2001 09:46:01 -0700
From: “CLARK FOBES ” <email@example.com>
Pad installation is the ultimate challenge to the craftsman’s skill and sensitivity. I have seen work from repair people that are excellent mechanics, but never developed the skill of installing a pad.
One of the fortunate aspects of my career as a repairman was that I learned to repair all woodwinds (and brass and strings and percussion!). Before I
turned to the clarinet as a specialty I spent many years repairing other
woodwinds, especially top end flutes. Flute pad installation may be the most
difficult skill to learn with piccolo repair at the apex. Because of so many
hours leveling flute pads I developed a heightened sensitivity to the fine
art of making a pad to seal properly.
Over the 23 years that I worked as a repairman I encountered just about
every pad available and even experimented with some pad making of my own.
Here are a few thoughts.
Cork pads are an excellent choice for the upper joint of clarinets. They
must be made from high quality, optical cut cork. Pre cut cork pads are
available from several of the repair supply houses. Select the best side and
gently sand it against a flat suface. I do this by placing a small square of
600 sandpaper on my jewelers anvil and then place the cork pad on the paper.
With index finger of my right hand I hold the pad down as I gently rotate
For proper installation on Buffet clarinets I buy 9.5mm pads and hand
cut a “ledge”and bevel away the excess so that the cicumference of the pad
lines up with the edge of the pad cup. This similar in shape to a standard
French style or “beveled” skin pad. This prevents the pad edges from
shrinking or retreating into the cup over time. I also use a glue similar to
hot gun glue. This remains some what resilient over time and has better
adhesion than shellac. Finally, I almost never see cork pads properly shaped
once they are installed. After leveling, the key must be removed and the pad
edges should be rounded with 400 sandpaper. This reduces turbulence around
the edge of the pad and consequently noise. I never use cork pads on any
keys that are sprung open.
Skin or “bladder” pads are made from the stomach lining or intestines of
cows or sheep. This material has been used for about 150 years and is still
the best agent for covering wool or wool-like substances in the use of small
woodwind pads. The best bladder pads I have ever seen are those made by Bill
Brannen of Chicago. His pads are very “round” and emulate the feel and sound
of a finger closing a tone hole. I think part of Brannens success with those
pads is the particular felt he uses. I have no idea where it comes from and
it is probably one of those close guarded secrets that he may never reveal.
In fact, it is highly possible that his felt is no longer available. This
happens a lot in the music manufacturing business.
As I said earlier, the bulk of my overhauls in the past years were done
with a mix of cork pads and Straubinger pads. Thge Straubeinger pads are
rather firm so I developed a special technique to allow a bit of “give” when
the “E?B” pad an “F/C” pad of the lower joint work together. Remove any cork
from the “crow’s foot” and put a small dot of felt on the key surfaces where
the “crow’s foot” meets the key. This adds a bit of give and reduces the
feel of the pads hitting the tone hole.
If I have a customer that wants skin pads in the upper joint I use a
very firm, flat pad. However, I prefer a softer pad in the lower joint. This
produces a better legato.
Leather pads are most often used in the larger clarinets because they
will retain their shape better than a large skin pad. I don’t use “tan” pads
any longer. I prefer the white kid leather used for bassoons. J.L Smitth
1-800-659-6073 carries an excellent called “Lucien”. My only complaint is
that the pad is a bit too thick and the leather on the back must be trimmed
for some areas of the bass clarinet or basset horn.
Leather pads are much more porous than skin pads and fro the best seal
the area inside the seat ring should be sealed. Melted bees wax or parafin
Tim Clark of Columbus has developed a hand made pad that uses fine
leather covered with skin. These pads hold up well and feel great.
Valentino Pads and synthetic pads
Curiously, I worked for Pete Valentino at the old “MV: Music store in
Fresno when I was a very young man. Pete owned the store, but had been an
excellent repariman in his day. He began experimenting with synthetics in
the 60s. The best pad he ever made was a black pad that has not been
available for many years. I repadded the upper joint of my bass clarinet
with those pads in 1985 and I have not replaced them! The upper joint seals
like a bottle. I tried them for awhile on soprano clarinets, but I found
that over a year the larger pads compressed and “popped”. I agree woth
Gordon Palmer that the adhesive that Pete uses does cause the synthetic cork
I use the valentino synthestic cork extensively for key corks, but i buy
it without the adhesive backing and just use contact cement.
For a short period Pete also sold his “black” material as a key cork
material. When it was available I made pads that were cork covered with a
layer of the material. These pads worked very well in some problem areas of
bass clarinets and basset horns.
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