I have made the decision recently to purchase a Buffet Tosca Bass Clarinet, so starting here, if handing over £8,000 doesn’t show how much I like it then I don’t know what will! But here is my review of this instrument anyhow and I hope it tells my fellow clarinettists a little bit more about it compared to some of the other models.
I won’t pretend to be an expert but in the few years I have been playing the bass clarinet I’ve truly fallen in love with the instrument. I’ve had experience in orchestras, the Women of the World Orchestra and the Orion Orchestra coming up in June, and many solo recitals on bass clarinet with works by Will Howarth (Livefrommybedroom) and Paul Harvey so I know enough and have enough love for it to have become a little bit of a geek about it.
I’m not going to talk much about Selmer, I have had experience with their older models, I find them generally very nice indeed with very rich tones, however price and reliability comparisons to the most recent Buffet Prestige and the Buffet Tosca models make them a little wanting in my opinion. Having said that, I have played on some very very nice Selmer basses and when looking for an instrument I would never rule them out.
Buffet Prestige basses emerged as an instrument that was more easily playable, with a warm sound that is easier to transition to from a standard Bb clarinet. I have to admit I really like these instruments, I have played on several new Prestige instruments, and on the whole I have found them very nice sounding and very easy to play on especially in the upper registers around the top end. My music college has two new prestige bass clarinets However tuning has remained a serious issue on these instruments. As my bass clarinet teacher Ian Mitchell said to me last week “It’s just something we learn to accept as bass clarinet players to deal with” in reference to the inevitably sharp concert A.
My first impression on the Tosca the moment I played it was how free blowing it was. It is so easy to make a sound, it just falls out, the instrument just seems to do all the work for you! Going over the break has never been so easy! I have actually found myself moving to slightly harder reeds on this instrument. I usually play on a Vandoren Traditional size 3 on bass clarinet (3.5 for Bb clarinet) but I feel like on this bass I need somewhere between the two. I have been experimenting with V12 3 reeds and blue box 3.5 reeds, my results have varied so I haven’t quite decided, I sometimes find V12’s a little unresponsive, but they can have more oomph. Either way I think I’m going to stick with the blue box based on price, I have had a lot of success with my sandpaper adjustments as well with slightly harder reeds, and if something is unplayable then they normally remain that way no matter what I do!
Moving on from my reed rant… The tone on this lovely free blowing instrument, is stunning. It is sweet and mellow, and just lovely to listen to. It sounds uniquely like a bass clarinet but with the flexibility and softness of a Bb clarinet, at the same time it has great oomph (I like this word) when you want a big sound. All in all it is hard to make this instrument sound ugly – I say that carefully – in comparison to it’s peers. In Howarth’s of London I had the privilege to try two Tosca bass clarinets and found them both absolutely glorious sounding, with with the only differences being in slight in timbre. I chose the one that I thought felt a little sweeter, but really it was a very, very difficult choice.
Tuning. On the whole the intonation is very good. It’s not perfect, but I don’t know an instrument that is. In any case, it is pretty damn good. That tricky concert A I mentioned… sorted. The G over the break… sorted. High notes… sorted. That’s all I have to say really. Or course there are discrepancies, it’s made by humans not gods.
Key work is lovely, it’s very comfortable to reach most of the keys, I have small hands and low notes is something I normally really struggle with on bass, but the re-working of the keys (Eb key now on the back is useful) has made it much easier to play easily. It’s much more compact, first time I played it I actually was overreaching for the low notes. The only one I can’t reach easily is the alternative Ab key on the left hand, which is a funny one anyway which doesn’t get used much.
Overall I have to say, this bass clarinet feels absolutely superior to every other instrument I have played on, I love this instrument it’s the right one for me. After a year umm-ing and aaah-ing about whether or not to buy a bass – and if I do which one, second hand or new? – it took me half an hour in the practice room to make a decision.
I hope this helps anyone else on the similar search to find an instrument, or for anyone who wanted to know a little bit more. Feedback or questions are heartily welcomed! Video of me and my bass to follow as soon as possible!