by Alcides Rodriguez
As a clarinetist who has been playing professionally for the last 16 years, I know how a great clarinet should feel and how it should be set-up. Over the years I have learned how to do the work and feel very comfortable doing it.
My background as a repairman
I know many people may be wondering why someone with a performing career would want to do clarinet repairs. The answer is simple: because I can do it, I know how to do it, and because I love doing it.
I don’t consider myself a master repairman nor have I done apprenticeships with anyone. I have learned to repair clarinets by tweaking and repairing my own instruments for many years. I have learned by studying and analyzing other people’s work, by researching about tools and processes, and by just doing the work hands on.
I grew up in a small town in Venezuela and access to a repairman was non-existent. The closest repair shop was about 7 hours away by bus, and there was not a music store close by to order pads or repair parts.
This situation forced me to start disassembling my own clarinet at the age of 13 and to begin figuring out the construction and mechanism. I started making my own pads from very ordinary materials (cork, felt and plastic sacks for wrapping) and gluing them to the keys with contact cement (no room for adjustment!). I became very resourceful adapting all sorts of materials to make springs, and I changed bumpers and tenon corks. I am sure back then my clarinet leaked all over the place… I didn’t know better, but I made it work and I was a very happy kid making music in the youth orchestra of my hometown.
When I came to the United States, I was introduced to the kind of craftsmanship involved in repairing and overhauling clarinets. During my college years, I was not thinking much about being a repairman, but about being a performer and winning an audition in an American orchestra. But at the same time, I continued to repair and tweak my clarinets.
Eventually, and when I was finally able to afford it, I started having different repairmen working on my clarinets. Whenever I got my clarinet back from the repairman it felt great, but after many sessions of practicing it started to get out of adjustment again. Instead of going back to a repairman, I would do the adjustments myself.
It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that by doing all the tweaking and adjustments on my clarinets, I had been doing what I believe is the hardest part of repairing an instrument: the fine-tuning. It was like seeing the light, and that’s what inspired me to become a repairman. I then started to obtain the right tools that would help me do all sorts of procedures, and that is how I have gotten this far.
Right now I have a great shop with all the tools I need to work on clarinets, but I continue to develop and look for new tools that will allow me to do even more advanced procedures, thereby being able to offer even more services to our customers.
I am always learning and trying to find better and more efficient ways of doing things, actively experimenting, researching, and looking for the best materials available to do my work. I treat every clarinet I work on as if it were my own and as if I were going to use it to play in the orchestra.