Like the clarinet mouthpiece, a clarinet barrel can make a tremendous difference in the performance, sound, and intonation of a clarinet. The barrel, sitting between the mouthpiece and upper joint, shapes the way the air enters the clarinet. An upgraded or updated barrel can fix issues in sound and intonation and is a great way to improve a set up without investing in a brand-new instrument. Barrels range in price from $80 to $300.
When choosing a barrel, it is important to decide the qualities of your sound that you like and those you wish to improve. The type of wood and shape of the inner bore of the barrel both affect sound. A barrel can make a clarinet sound darker or brighter by affecting the balance of overtones. Barrels can also provide resistance and affect the focus of the clarinet sound.
For example, if you find that your clarinet sound is spread or lacking in focus, you might choose a barrel that is more resistant. If you like your clarinet sound but would like it to be larger or project better, choosing a barrel with less resistance enables you to use your air more effectively. The Buffet Moennig barrels are designed to improve focus, while the Buffet Icon barrel is designed to improve responsiveness and sound projection ().
A new barrel can also improve the intonation of a clarinet. Barrels come in different lengths, ranging from 62-67mm. Check your barrels to find out what length you currently play on (standard B-flat clarinet barrels are usually 66mm, while A-clarinet barrels are usually 65mm). If you find you are consistently very sharp or very flat, throughout the entire range of the instrument, you might consider a longer or shorter barrel (if you are sharp, choose a longer barrel to lower the pitch; if you are flat, choose a shorter barrel to raise the pitch). If you are happy with your current intonation, choose a new barrel that is the same length as the one you play now.
Be sure to test a new barrel with a tuner, playing the low, middle, and upper registers in a medium dynamic. It is common for the throat register of the clarinet to be sharp and for the low chalumeau register to be flat. A new barrel can reduce these intonation tendencies. The polycylindrical bore of the Buffet Chadash barrel was designed to eliminate sharpness in the throat tones, while adjustable barrels, like those made by Paulus & Schuler, Magideal and RS Berkeley, have a mechanism built into the wood that allows you to physically lengthen or shorten the barrel itself while playing.
If you find that you really like the sound of a new barrel, but the intonation is slightly sharp overall, it is also possible to purchase tuning rings ($10-$35). The rings, which range from .5-1mm, can be placed just inside the opening of the barrel to provide more length and lower the pitch.
If possible, try out a few barrels before choosing the best one for you. Ask friends, colleagues, or teachers if you can try out their barrel to experience for yourself the difference that the barrel can make to your sound. If your music shop offers it, test several different barrels (even different barrels of the same model) before choosing the one that is best for you.
If trying out multiple barrels is not possible where you are, pre-selected barrels are a great option. At Lisa’s Clarinet Shop, Lisa personally tries all the barrels she stocks and can help you choose a barrel that is best for you ().