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Clarinet Glossary

Confused by terms such as Flared Bore and Tone Holes?  Here is an explanation of the most common technical clarinet-speak...


To explain in simple terms, the bore refers to the internal diameter of the space running from the barrel through the main body to the bell of the clarinet.  This is machined from the wood blank as the first stage of the clarinet making process.  Developed in the 1950’s, by Buffet with their RC model, the polycylindrical bore is now a fairly common element of clarinet design as the very slight adjustment from a purely cylindrical shape gives a much more focused sound.  Even very tiny changes in the diameter, shape and length of the bore can affect the sound produced by the clarinet.


The barrel is the short section of clarinet which sits between the mouthpiece and the main body of the instrument.  On student instruments, the barrel is a set length of 64.5-65mm.

Boehm System

The Boehm system is the fingering system used on clarinets in the United Kingdom.  The Boehm was developed in the mid 19th century to make the clarinet easier to play.  The main features are the finger rings and needle springs which allow the player to move their fingers quickly around the notes of the clarinet.



The level and cost of your clarinet will usually determine the material it is made from.  Student level, lower budget instruments tend to be constructed from ABS resin which makes them lightweight and lower maintenance making them ideal for young players.  More expensive instruments are made of wood, this usually being granadilla (or African Blackwood) as this has a warm rich tone to it and is less likely to crack than some other woods.

In recent years, Buffet have developed a series of clarinets called "Greenline" which are made from 95% Grenadilla wood shavings and 5% polycarbonate fibre and epoxy resin.  This material is very hardwearing and durable in extreme conditions, which makes it a popular choice for players in extreme climates.


The pads on clarinets tend to be made of three materials – these are cork, leather and fish skin – the preferable choice being fish skin as this gives a tight fit and is durable.  You will find that most quality modern instruments will feature fish skin or “double bladder” fish skin pads, although leather pads are sometimes found on slightly older or lower quality instruments, and cork pads are often used on student clarinets.

Buffet have also started to use a new material for their professional level clarinet pads – Gore Tex.  This is extremely water resistant and durable.

Tenon Corks

Tenon Corks are the cork strips which are visible at the ends of each part of the clarinet.  The cork protects the ends of the instrument whilst also ensuring an airtight seal.  On professional level instruments each tenon end is not only corked but also features a metal ring which further protects from damage.

Thumb Rest

On the back of the middle joint of the clarinet is a metal oval plaque.  This is the thumb rest and allows you to balance the weight of the clarinet across both hands more comfortably.  On a lot of clarinets, you will find a small screw which allows players with smaller or larger hands to adjust the thumb rest and find the position most comfortable to them.

Tone holes

This term refers to the holes underneath keys and finger rings which, when covered, result in the different notes on your clarinet.  On more expensive instruments you will find that tone holes are undercut which can result in a more responsive playing experience.

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