While most quality bass clarinets come with a decent package of cleaning and maintenance accessories, there are many other essentials that bass clarinetists should consider keeping on hand at all times.
I usually carry most of these accessories with me when I travel to rehearsals or concerts, though some of them are meant for occasional use and can be left safely at home. This article will list the essentials that you should buy and keep on hand.
1. What Accessories Typically Come With a Bass Clarinet?
Generally, a decent-quality bass clarinet like a Selmer or Buffet will come with a nice package of cleaning and maintenance supplies. These accessories include a mouthpiece, a ligature to hold the reed, cleaning swabs, cork grease, a neck strap, and a lyre or music holder.
A budget or student-level bass clarinet may not come with any of these items except the mouthpiece and ligature, in which case you will have to buy more of them.
While some bass clarinetists choose to use the mouthpiece that came with the instrument, many more purchase mouthpieces that fit their playing style and produce the desired sound.
If you find that you don’t like the mouthpiece that came with your instrument, this is an inexpensive purchase that will pay off in a better sound.
It is always a good idea to have a backup mouthpiece in case yours becomes chipped or damaged in any way.
3. Spare Reeds
It seems that the life of a woodwind player revolves around their reeds, and this is especially true for the bass clarinet.
There are a wide variety of reeds available on the market today at a broad range of price points. However, the most expensive reed won’t always give you the best sound.
Premium reeds tend to last longer than inexpensive reeds, but you should play-test a variety of reed brands to get the sound you want.
- You will need a harder reed (3 and up) if you want to play in the altissimo register (above the treble clef staff).
Many bass clarinetists today are choosing plastic reeds like the Legere brand. These reeds last longer than cane reeds and produce a much better sound than they used to.
However, they are more expensive, with one reed costing about as much as a box of five cane reeds!
How many spare reeds should you keep on hand just in case?
It is a good idea to keep at least two boxes (5 reeds each) on hand at all times. Sometimes reeds are duds, and sometimes they chip or break right out of the box. You will always need a backup.
If you buy plastic reeds, you will need two reeds at a time.
4. Neck Strap
The neck strap that comes with even the best bass clarinets tends to be cheap and uncomfortable. To get the best comfort, consider buying a baritone sax neck strap with wide foam padding.
5. Cork Grease
Cork grease is an essential purchase, especially for a new instrument with corks that need to be broken in.
Be careful that you do not use too much cork grease, or your instrument could slip apart and become damaged.
6. Bore Oil
Bore oil is an occasional-use item and is only used for wood clarinets. It prevents the wood from drying out.
A casual player should only have to oil their bore once a year. If you play more than an hour per day, you may want to oil every four months. Again, be sparing with the oil!
7. Cleaning Swabs
Cleaning swabs are a necessity since your instrument needs to be cleaned every time it is put away with no exceptions.
This prevents dangerous moisture buildup inside your instrument and keeps bacteria or fungus from growing!
Good-quality bass clarinets generally come with two nice cleaning cloths, one chamois for the upper and lower joints and one with thinner material for the neck.
- If you are buying a swab, make sure that it is intended for the bass clarinet since a clarinet swab will not have a long enough cord.
8. Eyeglass Screwdriver and Mulitool
This is something that professional musicians always have on hand. There is always a chance that one of your instrument’s screws will back out during a rehearsal, leading to bothersome downtime.
An eyeglass screwdriver that you can get at a supermarket or drugstore for a few dollars is just the right size.
I also carry a multitool in my gig bag, mainly for use on music stands that can be notorious for coming loose during rehearsals. I have lent it to the percussion section in the past for use on drum stands.
9. Reed Case
A reed case is optional since reeds come with individual plastic cases, but you will find that your reeds are kept much better in a dedicated case.
Most reed cases have a firm glass or metal backing that allows the reed to dry out flat without bothersome rippling.
10. Tuner and Metronome
Rather than buying a dedicated tuner and metronome, many musicians choose to buy or download a smartphone app. There are several quality apps on the market today, including MusiciansKit.
These apps can help you tune your instrument and keep your practicing in rhythm. Stand-alone tuners and metronomes are still available.
11. Bass Clarinet Stand
A stand is not essential for beginners, but it is excellent to have on hand. Laying your instrument on the floor or across a chair is not recommended.
A stand will enable the instrument to be safe while you are not holding it.
12. Bell Cover
Bell covers have become more necessary during the age of the coronavirus pandemic. Many rehearsals have required the use of bell covers and performance masks.
Fortunately, these accessories are inexpensive and can be ordered online.
13. Lyre / Music Holder
Lyres are less important for bass clarinetists because they are poor marching instruments. Delicate wood instruments should not be played in these environments.
If you are a high school or college student, you may need a lyre to play in an outdoor concert or at a sports game. Most of the time, the instrument will come with an acceptable lyre.
This may seem like a long list of accessories, but you don’t have to purchase them all at the same time. You can add them as you go along.
My personal gig bag has gotten heavy with all of the items I carry with me to concerts and rehearsals.
Pay the closest attention to your stock of reeds and your cleaning supplies. These are the most essential items to carry every day!