Most woodwind players would be surprised if you asked them whether the material from which their instrument is made affects its sound. Certainly!—most would reply. An inexpensive nickel-plated flute has a tone lacking in character and brilliance, but a fine silver flute sounds, well, silvery! It has a tone that sparkles, that sings, that carries to the back of the concert hall. The most discriminating flutists might opt for the more luxuriant timbres of white, yellow, or rose gold, or even the rare and weighty quality of platinum.
And any self-respecting oboist or clarinetist would refuse to even consider an instrument made of lifeless black plastic. Only the finest aged African blackwood can provide the dark, rich, woody tone that a true artist requires. Bassoonists likewise insist upon bassoons made from the best maple, and preferably treated with a secret-formula varnish, which, like that of the famous Stradivarius violins, is rumored to impart a special vividness and resonance to the instrument’s sound.
And fine saxophones, though most often made from brass and lacquered in a gold color, can be special-ordered in silver or even gold plate, which, saxophonists just know, bestow a unique sonic personality. Some saxophonists are willing to pay a premium for certain hard-to-find French instruments made in the decade following World War II, which are reported to be made from melted-down artillery shell casings, and to have a correspondingly powerful quality of tone.
It seems to many musicians a self-evident truth that premium materials produce a premium sound. But scientists have believed for years that a woodwind instrument’s material has virtually no effect on the kind of sound the instrument produces.
Unsurprisingly, the scientific view has not been popular with the woodwind-playing crowd. Most have invested thousands of dollars in their personal instruments made from the rarest woods and shiniest jewelry metals. Most have been taught the subtleties of instrument selection by wise and respected teachers, and have dutifully passed the knowledge on to their own generations of students. But most of all, they have heard with their own ears the difference between a silver flute and a gold flute, or a plastic oboe and a wood one. They have held the instruments in their own hands and felt, deep in their gut, that different materials just sound different.
Theobald Boehm, the 19th-century flutist and metalsmith who virtually invented the modern flute, held to this idea. He wrote in 1871,
The greater or less hardness and brittleness of the material has a very great effect upon the quality of tone. Upon this point much experience is at hand. Tubes of pewter give the softest, and at the same time the weakest, tones; those made of very hard and brittle German silver have, on the contrary, the most brilliant, but also the shrillest, tones; the silver flute is preferable because of its. . . unsurpassed brilliancy and sonorousness; compared with these the tones of flutes made of wood, sound literally wooden.1
Clarinetist Geoffrey Rendall, writing in 1954, said that clarinets made of ebonite (a hard rubber compound) “somehow seem to lack the carrying power and expressiveness of wood.”
The tone can be taken just so far and no further. It lacks life and is no longer popular with professional musicians. . . . What has been said of ebonite may be said of metal. . . . it has the slight deadness of ebonite. . . 2
The woodwind player and historian Anthony Bates said in 1967 of the clarinet,
. . . [It] has a cylindrical tube . . . of African blackwood, which has replaced cocus; though possibly none of this jungle wood can rival the old Turkish boxwood, which for some reason gave especially fine results in clarinets. . . Many fine players have played on ebonite, which gives a sweeter though rather smaller tone than wood. Metal, on the other hand, does not seem to offer the right resistance, giving a tone that feels to most players rather vapid and uninteresting, and it is not used for high-class work.3
So why do scientists insist that material is effectively irrelevant?
Many woodwind players assume that, say, a clarinet vibrates like a violin soundboard or a drumhead, transmitting sound waves into the surrounding air. And, in fact, a clarinetist can feel the instrument vibrating in her hands when she plays.
The mistake here, according to scientists, is thinking that the vibrating instrument is what is producing the sound. Basic acoustics tells us that the woodwind instrument is merely a container for the real sound-producing body—a vibrating column of air.4
A number of scientists have undertaken to prove empirically that characteristics of a woodwind instrument’s sound are affected only by the characteristics of the air column. But there are several factors which make this a difficult proposition.
First, as every woodwind player knows, no two instruments play alike. Fine woodwind instruments vary from specimen to specimen. These variations range from the easily visible to the virtually undetectable, and interact in complex ways to affect the sound of the instrument. In order to accurately test the effect of wall material, these instrument-to-instrument variables must be eliminated.
A particular difficulty with eliminating these variables in woodwind instruments is the question of the instrument’s pads. Woodwind instruments have toneholes that are opened and closed by pads made of cork or animal skin. These pads are installed by hand by specialized craftsmen, and the process is widely regarded as more of an art than an exact science. Small variations in the organic materials involved, and in the pads’ installation, can cause very noticeable differences in the way each instrument plays.
A second consideration is the human physiological factor. A woodwind player’s embouchure—the way he uses the complex system of facial muscles to form an interface with the mouthpiece—is, as he will ruefully tell you, highly variable. Even the finest and most consistent players change their embouchures, at least imperceptibly, from moment to moment. Many of these subtle changes are made intuitively and without the player’s awareness of which muscles are being used, or maybe even that they are being used at all. The complex human respiratory system adds another comparable layer of problems. The human anatomy presents a highly complicated and hard-to-measure set of variables that must be dealt with in order to construct a scientifically acceptable experiment.
A third and even more mysterious factor is the influence of human psychology. Any bias on the part of woodwind players or listeners can affect their perception of an instrument’s sound. A bassoonist, for example, might consciously or unconsciously expect that, say, a bassoon with richly grained wood might have a “fuller” sound, or that a plastic bassoon will just sound more “plasticky.” The simple expectation of hearing a certain sound may influence the bassoonist (or a listener) to project that expectation onto the actual sound heard.
In a 1964 experiment, University of Southern California physicist Dr. John Backus attempted to determine the role of a clarinet’s body vibrations in sound production.5 Backus’s experiment centered on a clever and slightly comical gadget, with an artificial embouchure powered by a household vacuum cleaner. The clarinet’s tone holes were all closed (simulating a clarinetist playing the instrument’s lowest note), and the bell of the instrument was fitted with a muting device. When the clarinet was “played” via vacuum cleaner in this way, no sound waves could pass from the air column inside the clarinet directly into the air surrounding the instrument. Backus found that in this situation the instrument was virtually silent; the vibrating wood of the clarinet emitted such weak sound waves as to be inaudible to a human ear at a distance of one inch from the instrument’s body. Backus concluded that the wall vibrations of a clarinet are too small to produce a perceptible sound. Further, he speculated that if it were possible to make the instrument vibrate sufficiently to be heard, the consequence would not likely be a pleasant one; he pointed out that a similar phenomenon occurs when one of the instrument’s keys works loose and causes an annoying buzz. Backus’s further research reveals that the instrument’s body vibrations are due to the reed vibrating against the mouthpiece, not due to the vibrations of the enclosed air column.6
In 1971, the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America published a study by Dr. John Coltman, a physicist and researcher for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation.7 Coltman, an amateur flutist, attempted to test the sound properties of different woodwind wall materials while minimizing the effects of instrument variation, physiology, and psychology. Coltman’s experimental apparatus matched Backus’s for both ingenuity and hilarity, consisting of three cylindrical tubes: one of silver, one of copper, and one of blackwood, all identical in inner diameter. Each tube was fitted with an ostensibly identical flute headjoint made of Delrin plastic. The three flutes were arranged so that their headjoints passed through a shield, blocking the tubes from the flutist’s view, and the entire contraption was mounted on a central rod, which the player held onto (so as not to touch any of the tubes) and rotated to bring each of the headjoints into playing position.
In the first phase of the experiment, a panel of listeners (including nonmusicians and musicians, some of the musicians being flutists), was asked to listen to sets of three sample notes or groups of notes. Two of each three samples were played on one flute, and one sample was played on another, and the listeners were asked to identify which sample was played on a different flute than the other two. The results? The listeners were correct about one third of the time, the same result that would be expected from random guessing.
In the second phase of Coltman’s experiment, trained flutists were asked to blindly play each of the three flutes, and select one which they thought they could identify again. Then the flutists were instructed to spin the rod quickly so as to lose track of the selected flute, and then find it by playing each of the flutes again. Again, the results were essentially on par with random selection. Coltman interpreted these results to mean that neither flutists nor listeners could accurately identify a difference in sound between the three materials.
Decades of similar studies, especially the continued work of Backus at the University of Southern California, confirm and refine these results. But though the scientific evidence seems overwhelming, musicians still insist they can hear a difference. It is possible—even likely—that wall material does influence an instrument’s sound, but only in a number of indirect ways.
Materials may affect they way an instrument sounds before anyone ever plays it—by affecting the way the instrument is made. For example, some woods may respond better to instrument makers’ drills and reamers, and thus more faithfully reproduce the desired bore shape; certain metals may likewise cooperate better in taking the desired form. Or perhaps more expensive materials make better-sounding instruments because makers handle them with an extra measure of care. In the case of plated flutes or saxophones, instruments that seem to play especially well may be selected by the maker for a special finish of some precious metal.
It is also possible that the vibration of the instrument’s body is, in fact, audible to the player through the phenomenon of bone conduction, in which sound waves are transmitted through the bones of the head to the inner ear. If this is the case, it is possible that the instrument’s vibrations are minutely audible to the player. As Backus points out, there is no reason to believe that audible instrument body vibrations would be an improvement, but in any case the vibrations could conceivably affect the player’s perception of tone, and thus even affect his approach to playing the instrument, indirectly affecting what the audience hears.
But the most convincing theory of why musicians are so sure about gold flutes and maple bassoons is that the materials do, in many ways, affect the way the player feels. And, as any musician will tell you, nothing affects the music more than the way the musician feels. The smooth, polished wood of a fine oboe, the patina of the silver keys, even the gold of the maker’s emblem, lend the oboist confidence, comfort, perhaps a sense of luxury?—that come through in the way he or she plays.
While it seems clear from scientific investigation that, all else being equal, materials make no difference to a woodwind instrument’s sound, it seems equally clear from musical experience that all else is never equal. Factors as small as the precise brass alloy of a saxophone’s body can make all the difference in the world—not because of any acoustical effect, but because of the undeniable human element. So if you feel, deep in your heart, that a platinum flute or a rosewood oboe or a silver-plated saxophone will make you sound better, then it probably will make you sound better.
Woodwind players will continue to play the instruments that feel and sound right to them, no matter what the scientists have to say. And so they should! A musician’s instrument is the tool of his or her trade, a treasured possession, and a nearly constant companion. But perhaps a levelheaded understanding of the role of materials in a woodwind instrument’s sound can lead to better instruments—and better musicians—in the future.
1. Theobald Boehm, The Flute and Flute Playing in Acoustical, Technical, and Artistic Aspects (New York: Dover Publications, 1964).
2. F. Geoffrey Rendall, The Clarinet: Some Notes Upon its History and Construction (New York: Philosophical Library, 1954), 14-15.
3. Anthony Bates, Woodwind Instruments and Their History (New York: Dover, 1967), 117.
4. See, for example, William J. Strong and George R. Plitnik, Music – Speech – Audio (Provo, UT: Soundprint, 1992), 307-315.
5. John Backus, “Effect of Wall Material on the Steady-State Tone Quality of Woodwind Instruments,” The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 36, no. 10 (1964 ): 1881-1887.
7. John W. Coltman, “Effect of Material on Flute Tone Quality,” The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 49, no. 2 (1971): 520-523.
39 thoughts on “Does material affect tone quality in woodwind instruments?: Why scientists and musicians just can’t seem to agree”
Interesting comment about wood !! I know that scientists think the material doesn’t affect the properties, but I remember a conversation between Alan Fox of Fox Bassoons and Arthur Benade (the acoustician) where Benade remarked the difference between one material and another is only a 1 or 2 percent change in sound. Alan remarked back for you Arthur that is very small, but for a professional musician that is a VERY BIG difference !!
It’s interesting you say “most woodwind players”, as most of the woodwind players I know don’t think that different material affects the tone of the instrument. I’ve thought this ever since my first saxophone, which was made from plastic and sounded very much like a brass saxophone.
But I do believe it’s true that if you feel good about your instrument it will help you play better, I feel better playing a horn that I like the look or feel of, whether that is luxurious satin gold finish or beaten up old brass patina.
The stuff you hear about material is mostly marketing, and very few companies agree whether silver helps give you a bright sound or a dark sound, so we all tend to take that with a pinch of salt.
“Maybe some musicians have spent time enough with instruments to be able to feel the 1 to 2 percent difference that scientists proved does exist, but can’t feel, between instruments of different materials.”
where did that 2-3% figure come from? the real difference is way less than that..
A few years ago, I purchased a vintage metal clarinet to serve as an emergency back-up for my trusty Buffet R-13. I did some research and found that there’s a range of quality in metal clarinets, like any other instrument and I found one that might be classified as a low-pro level horn. I’ve asked my friends close their eyes and identify which one I was playing — no one could tell. It’s a fun instrument to play — and it’s real shiny!
An former teacher of mine, bassoonist Ted Lapina, played a plastic Polisi bassoon while I knew him at Shenandoah. He insisted that it played better than any holy Heckel he’d ever played. His bassoon playing colleagues were scandalized, of course, but he stuck to his guns. I learned a healthy skepticism from him, back in the day.
Thanks for a well written summary of this debate, which rages on and on and on and on. . .
A great article! Thanks for sharing it.
I have a few observations I’d like to add.
“The mistake here, according to scientists, is thinking that the vibrating instrument is what is producing the sound. Basic acoustics tells us that the woodwind instrument is merely a container for the real sound-producing body—a vibrating column of air.”
True enough, but the material that sets the vibration in motion and the material against which the vibrating air moves does affect the quality of the sound. Consider a gong. Would it sound the same if made of plastic? No! It’s the brass of the gong that initiates the vibration of the surrounding air, giving it the quality of the sound that you hear.
The fallacy of Coltman’s experiment with flute tubes of different materials was his use of a plastic headjoint. The headjoint, more specifically the riser, has the most impact on the sound produced by the instrument. If he had used headjoints constructed of the same materials as the tubes, there probably would have been a more noticeable difference. He could easily have blindfolded the players and hidden the headjoints from view of the listeners to attain as much anonymity as he needed without using the plastic headjoints.
I agree that “It is also possible that the vibration of the instrument’s body is, in fact, audible to the player through the phenomenon of bone conduction.” I tell my students this all the time. Just as a singer (or speaker) hears their voice differently from the listener, so, too does the instrumentalist.
“But the most convincing theory of why musicians are so sure about gold flutes and maple bassoons is that the materials do, in many ways, affect the way the player feels. And, as any musician will tell you, nothing affects the music more than the way the musician feels. The smooth, polished wood of a fine oboe, the patina of the silver keys, even the gold of the maker’s emblem, lend the oboist confidence, comfort, perhaps a sense of luxury?—that come through in the way he or she plays.’
True again. Additionally, one is more apt to take better care of a quality instrument – regular cleanings, keeping it in good adjustment, handling it with care – than one would a student model horn. This adds to the better quality of sound produced.
Thanks for your comments. I have to disagree with you on a few points, based on my reading of Benade and others regarding the physics of woodwinds. Again, I’m not a real scientist, so I welcome any clarifications of concepts I may have misunderstood.
I agree that in the case of a gong, which is an idiophone, the vibrations of the material itself are significant. But in the case of a flute (for example), which is an aerophone, I maintain that the material does not “set the vibration in motion” (Dr. Joe Wolfe gives an excellent summary of how this actually works); nor does the material interact in a significant way with the air column, other than to give it its shape (see Backus’s article, “Effect of Wall Material on the Steady-State Tone Quality of Woodwind Instruments, JASA, October 1964, which specifically addresses this point. To my knowledge, this article is not freely available online, but check your local library).
No doubt Coltman would have preferred to use flutes made entirely of the same material for his experiment. But this would have created an even more fallacious result, since, as you and I know, every headjoint plays differently. There’s no verifiable scientific evidence (yet?) that the material of the headjoint have the “most impact” on tone. (However, there is a great deal of advertising from headjoint makers that makes this claim, invariably suggesting that the most shiny and expensive metals sound the best.)
I do think you make a good point about the care that instruments made from nicer materials are likely to receive.
“True enough, but the material that sets the vibration in motion and the material against which the vibrating air moves does affect the quality of the sound. Consider a gong. Would it sound the same if made of plastic? No! It’s the brass of the gong that initiates the vibration of the surrounding air, giving it the quality of the sound that you hear.”
In case of woodwind instruments the material that sets the vibration in motion is the wooden reed mounted on your mouthpiece. Destpite of the fact that the saxophone is made of brass which is metal, it is categorised as woodwind instrument, because the sound vibration is created by a wooden reed. The material of which a woodwind instrument is made only shapes the sound column. When the soundwave leaves the instrument it has certain wavelenght and frequency. And these two properties are not affected by the body material of the woodwind instrument. But shape of the body and expecially the shape of the mouthpiece and the quality and material of the reed affect this absolutely. Sorry for my english.
The single or double reed of a woodwind instrument is not made of wood. It is made from a plant called arundo donax.
This is of the reed family ; hence the name “reed”.
The material the reed is made of is called “cane” in English. In German the material is referred to as “Holz” or “Rohrholz” , which means “wood” or “tube wood”.Perhaps this is where the misconception that the material is wood has come from, also the misconception that the woodwind instrument is called so because the mouthpiece or reed is made of wood (which it isn’t).The name”woodwind instrument” comes from the fact that the body of the instrument is made of wood (including the flute).
For years I have played a brass SML tenor sax, lacquered, dating from the early 60s. A fine instrument with a big sound.
A few years back I came across another in a market, bought it and had it serviced so that iit played perfectly. An identical instrument, except it was chrome (yes chrome not silver) plated.
I could not tell the difference between the sounds of them.
I now own two Selmer 10S clarinets. There *is* a slight sound difference – but I think that may because one has leather pads, the other the more usual white ones. That one is going to get a repad …
What? No comment on reeds and mouthpieces??!! And CHOPS??? I was with a friend one day in a music shop, and he took his mouthpiece, put it on a metal clarinet that looked like an old beaten up lamp, and proceeded to fill the store with the most beautiful clarinet voice imaginable. I’ll never forget that day, it was magic!
I was wondering if the way in which breath moisture condenses on the bore of a clarinet affects the sound.
I coated the inside of my Selmer Series 10 clarinet with a 50/50 mixture of liquid dish soap and water. I did not like the way it played.
Removing the coating and re-oiling the clarinet returned it’s fine sound.
Plastic Clarinets are sold with a mirror like bore. I have found that removing this mirror like finish with very fine (0000) steel wool improves the sound. (I only do this when I am repadding the clarinet.)
Perhaps clarinet makers hobble plastic clarinets so as not to interfer
with the sales of “Professional” wooden clarinets.
If I was buying a new clarinet it would be a Buffet Greenline.
Then I could say to players with a traditional clarinet:
“That sounds good; too bad it’s made of wood”
This subject is highly interesting; I agree with Dan Kennedy. The smoother the inside bore of the clarinet is, the better it sounds. Plastic bodies can be extremely smooth. The drawback of a plastic clarinet is however, that the body is not so much affected by the surrounding temperature as wooden clarinets. So when the pitch of the wooden clarinet is going up during playing, the plastic one does no go up in pitc at teh same rate. i notice that when playing duets with my students. I play German system Wurlitzers and I alwya wonder how it is that my good studenst are able to draw a good sound from their plastic Buffets or Bundys. In temperate climate zones this duet playing needs a fequent intervals of retuning. Art Marshall
My daughter and I just finished her science fair project in which we double blinded sound samples from several cane, Legere, and Fibracell reeds. Four different professional musicians listened to the reeds and graded them on darkness, clarity, roundness, resonance, articulation and range. (Argue all you want about the choices, we went in knowing little about the physics of sound and came out with a ton of knowledge.)
We found that in all cases accept articulation, the Fibracell was the favorite, and an overall Favorite in “beauty”, a totally subjective quality. (Legere was the least favorite and Vandoren cane was in the middle) Although not ALL grades agreed, there were only a few that had one judge grade in disagreement with the other three. It was pretty solid data.
Additionally, spectragraphs and sonograms agreed with the ratings, showing physical proof of what the judges rated.
Now a few caveats: My daughter liked playing the Legere best, and the Fibracell least. I was a bit surprised by the data because the Fibracell actually “closed up” in the higher octaves when played in an articulated chromatic scale. (I swear to god I never thought I would be using a sentence like that).
Also, we included a Vandoren 2.5 because we had read the hardness numbers are not always accurate and the Fibracells are softer than their number suggests.
The 2.5 cane reed BLEW all the other reeds out of the “contest” in every catagory!!!
One of the music professionals helping with the project told us the Fibracell has a softer spine, that is why it failed like it did. Also, different cut mouthpieces favor different hardness of reed.
We are going to do a small test tonight to see if a Legere 2.5 is rated better but due to a delivery error we don’t have time to include it in the science fair project. (Nuts)
I hope you all find this interesting, and we would LOVE to hear your comments.
I think this project (which grew out of proportion to a 7th grade science fair) should be repeated using more parameters such as different mouthpieces and reed hardnesses.
While very interesting, I’m not sure that there is much there in the way of reliability . Unfortunately, cane reeds change in sound and sometimes quite drastically. So repeating the same study after playing on the same reeds for 20 minutes and THEN conducting the experiment could result in an entirely different data set. Also, I can attest that Legere reeds can sound and play better on some mouthpieces than others.
For a very interesting read about the use of wood and clarinets, see Tom Ridenour’s piece called “The Grenadilla Myth” :
I’d like to expand on the paragraph that starts with: “Materials may affect they way an instrument sounds before anyone ever plays it—by affecting the way the instrument is made.” I have read that wooden flutes sound different than metal ones because of the extra thickness of the wood and the manner in which the tone holes are made. Metal flutes have collars either drawn or soldered around the holes, but the holes on wooden flutes are drilled into the material and the surrounding material is level with the hole. I don’t know how that could translate into a sound difference, but it’s an example of the material affecting the way the instrument is made.
I completely disagree however I am sure scientifically that there are materials that would result in the same quality of tone that is made with less desirable metals and woods when it comes to certain materials… the resonance vibrating factors and quality of craftsmanship play the most important role…
Polisi never made a plastic bassoon. Mine was German maple stained black
Just like to point out that while the type of wood may not affect the sound, it affects how it’s made and how durable it is once finished. The density also very much affects the tone as lower density wood will actually leak air, though once you get past a certain quality it’s not much of a difference. But consider maple versus a cheaper wood like pine: Pine is full of sap and resin which even when fully dried is still present. The grain affects how easily the wood can be worked as well as how strong the instrument is. Granted, the difference between, say, maple and pearwood or boxwood may not be significant, but it’s still a factor. As for plastics, well, I play a lot of PVC instruments and they sound just fine.
Well scientists won’t ever know more about flutes than musicians. We play these things, and know that material do makes a big difference on the playback. And it was such a detailed and thorough article I thought it would never end :)
I thought this was a WONDERFUL post. I am an amateur oboe player with only a few years of lessons under my belt. I own a RS Berkley and rent a Yamaha 441. I was about to buy a used Loree and went to my teacher for help picking out a couple to have sent “on trial”. He not only discouraged me from buying another oboe (he seemed really confused by todays prices….thought you could get a used Laubin for $1,000), he suggested that I return my Yamaha because $55 a month was “pissing in the wind” and that I should learn to play what I had before I bought another instrument. When I asked to try his Loree I felt like I played and sounded better (I hadn’t read your post yet). He disagreed. I am most likely going to quit lessons and, as he put it “noodle” around on my own. I love the sound of the oboe and wanted to play for my own enjoyment, not to be a professional musician. I may still buy a Loree….because “I” think that it makes me sound better. GREAT POST
“Or perhaps more expensive materials make better-sounding instruments because makers handle them with an extra measure of care. In the case of plated flutes or saxophones, instruments that seem to play especially well may be selected by the maker for a special finish of some precious metal.”
I use to think this was likely until I realised that in order to do this, the manufacturer would playtest an instrument, and then totally disassemble it in order to get it plated, then re-assemble.
The cost involved would probably not make it worthwhile.
“Or perhaps more expensive materials make better-sounding instruments because makers handle them with an extra measure of care. In the case of plated flutes or saxophones, instruments that seem to play especially well may be selected by the maker for a special finish of some precious metal.”
I agree with this opinion, but if I’d be honest, I think that here talent is the most important about playing musical instruments. Sometimes someone who hasn’t money to buy a good musical equipment plays better than that one who has the best saxophone or clarinet. I think it’s all about the talent and desire to create something cool, in this way it’s music.
“Woodwind players will continue to play the instruments that feel and sound right to them, no matter what the scientists have to say. And so they should!” I found this a most detrimental attitude. Should we not care about the truth instead of simply believing what we choose and allow ourselves to be fooled? Or worse, forget the possibilities of what this can open up to us and stick to the limitations that our predetermined perception allows. That being said, I found your blog liberating. Knowing the science i.e. the facts about what does and doesnt affect the sound (your other arguments for what could be causing sound differentiation do not hold much weight either because they have no science to back them up or they dont to hold up to the scrutiny of logic when you think them through), is that now when I approach an instrument, I think about overcoming my psychologically induced prejudices and see ALL woodwinds as equal…if I CHOOSE to make them that way – instead of being a victim to my preconceived notions.
I would say that scientists are probably right but it is kind of hard to believe that changing material doesn’t affect the sound. Btw great article!
I remember a writeup by Benade where he stated that the difference in tone between plastic and wood clarinets is that plastic ones have sharp edges on the inside of the tone holes whereas wooden ones are very slightly rounded. He improved the sound of a plastic one by slight and careful rounding. The airflow around tone holes is complex and turbulent, and that is why a very small change in shape can be significant. Surprised this has not been brought up in this thread!
Really informative article. And I have read all the comments which gives a clear idea. In my opinion, I think material affect a little in tone quality. And I do it in practical life.
And Ian you’re right. I agree with you.