Clarinet barrels have become one of the most popular ways to personalize the response, tone, and tuning of a clarinet. The idea is by no means new, but as with so many things nowadays, we are completely spoiled by both the amount of selection readily available, and the quality of the craftsmanship.
Wesley Rice Clarinet Works may not be the first name that comes to mind when you are considering your next barrel, but you might be interested to learn that they are the trusted manufacturer for some of the world’s most prominent existing barrel brands, including Clark W. Fobes.
Recently they have branched out into manufacturing their own line of barrels, and Wes was kind enough to send me one of each of his products for thorough testing. If you’re interested in hearing more from Wes about his company, passion for repair, and how he got started manufacturing products, be sure to check out Episode 45 of the Clarineat Podcast.
Wesley Rice Delrin Barrel
- Considerable upgrade over stock student barrels
- Extremely stable material
- Durable and weather resistant
- Virtually immune to cracking
- Lighter than wood
- Less flexible, resistant, and versatile than wood
Durable, Affordable and Incredibly Stable
Delrin is a material that offers “high stiffness, low friction, and excellent dimensional stability.” In fact, it will maintain its dimensions in temperatures as low as -40 degrees celsius. This is simply incredible, and when combined with its light weight, affordable cost, and durability, Delrin might seem like a dream come true for clarinetists.
Delrin will maintain its dimensions in temperatures as low as -40 degrees celsius.
The Wesley Rice Delrin barrel is advertised as being identical in measurement to its wooden counterpart, and Rice even mentions on his website that for some clarinets they “will actually sound better than a wooden barrel.” However something must be a little different (perhaps the density?) between these materials since I personally found that there was some discrepancy.
The pure Delrin product was much less resistant than the others, and it didn’t seem to sustain the sheer volume of air I wanted to move through the instrument without losing the focus in the sound. Regardless, these barrels offer a significant upgrade over most stock student barrels that I’ve tried, and I think that many doublers, students, and those who have to play outdoors will be especially thrilled with this product.
Wesley Rice Grenadilla Wood Barrel
- Excellent tone, response, and intonation
- High-quality finish
- Reasonably priced at $149
- Sleek, smooth, ringless appearance
- Typical risks of wood (i.e. cracking, warping, etc)
- Ringless design may increase chance of cracking
The Classic Choice
I’m pleased to report that the Wesley Rice wooden barrel is an all-round great product, just as I would have expected considering I’ve been using the Fobes barrels (that he also manufactures) for the past several years. This barrel increased the ease of response and improved the tuning across the entire range of my clarinet as advertised. It exhibited a dark, round tone at all volumes.
I tried the 67mm and found that it was well matched to my favourite high pitched mouthpieces including the Fobes 10K, Vandoren BD5 and D’Addario X25E. However it is worth noting that it played a little bit flat when paired with my American pitch mouthpieces. If you’re playing on a so-called “13 series” mouthpiece you will want to be sure that you order a 66mm version for most instruments.
The finish on these products is professional and the wood appears to be of top quality with no apparent imperfections. Its unstained finish accentuates the quality of its appearance, which is sleeker and more minimalistic than other brands on the market today. The only downside might be that ringless barrels tend to have an increased propensity to crack according to many, and the logo itself is quite “busy,” which (although incredibly minor) does detract from the overall appearance of the product.
Overall the Wesley Rice Wooden Barrel presents a solid choice, and I suspect that this will be the most popular product in the lineup.
Wesley Rice “Industrial” Barrel
- Looks incredible, and plays great too
- Adds serious presence and projection to the sound
- Available in Delrin or grenadilla interior
- Literally a work of art
- Adds noticeable weight
- Appearance may concern some players
- Might be too loud for all applications
A Work of Art… Literally
The Industrial barrel is a stunning and brilliant collaboration between Wesley Rice Clarinet Works and the prominent metal artist Chris Bathgate. Bathgate’s metallic art pieces have sold for tens of thousands of dollars, and each Industrial barrel consists of a metal casing that is actually crafted by him in his workshop. The interior features the standard Wesley Rice bore design and can be purchased in either Delrin or Grenadilla with vertical or diagonal stripes (I tried the Delrin, diagonal version).
Watch Chris Bathgate’s “Precision” Film
My first thought when I saw the Industrial barrel was that it was incredibly cool-looking. I’d never seen anything like it, and don’t expect to again any time soon. My second thought was (to be honest) that there was no way that it would actually perform, let alone well. I figured it was a gimmick for kids in marching bands or those with too much cash burning a hole in their wallet. Boy was I ever wrong.
A Barrel of Surprises
I was extremely surprised and impressed by the amazing performance of this barrel. It exhibited an incredible volume and ease of playing, yet maintained a dark, resonant tone that you would expect from a professional product. When I first tried it at ClarinetFest in Lawrence Kansas I was with Eric Salazar. He was so impressed after playing only a handful of notes that I thought I’d have to fight him to get it back! Needless to say we were both amazed, and the more I used it, the more I liked it.
In short, I’ve never played a barrel like this. And neither have you. If you get a chance, you should definitely try it out. The only drawback is that it’s might be a bit too boisterous for some applications. But if you’re a jazzer, in a marching band, or in any other situation where you need to project and be heard you owe it to yourself to get this barrel. I don’t know what makes it so loud and full but whatever it is works amazingly well.
Another surprise was the practicality of the material and the design. I had assumed (again, wrongly) that the deep ridges were purely for aesthetic reasons, but they actually made installing and removing the barrel much easier than normal.
Overall this barrel looks amazing, plays fantastically well and projects like a dream, but it’s not for everyone. At $249 the price is a little higher than other barrels on the market. But considering the calibre of the artistic collaboration here, I believe the price is justifiable. The only real dilemma is whether you want to actually play it, or leave it on the mantle as a feature art piece in your home. Overall, Wesley Rice Clarinet Works is producing some fantastic products, and I highly suggest you give them a try.
Buy Wesley Rice Barrels