Richard Edwards who is the editor of Clarinet and Saxophone magazine recently reviewed the John Packer 223 Eb which first appeared in July's edition.
The John Packer "223" Eb clarinet is based on the similar "123" model which was reviewed in the Autumn 2007 issue of Clarinet and Saxophone. The difference between the two is that the latter instrument is sold as a "learning" clarinet which is stripped of non-essential keys, whereas the "223" is a standard Boehm system Eb clarinet.
The "223" model will primarily be aimed at schools and institutions wishing to buy an inexpensive Eb clarinet for their bands and ensembles. After having changed the reed from the very soft one that was supplied in the case, I was impressed to find that the instrument was very free blowing and even in tone. The mouthpiece provided was comfortably able to play high notes up to high G. Intonation also seemed very good in all octaves, although the interval between Bb and B across the break was slightly wide. Like most Eb clarinets, the main body of the instrument is in one piece, and is made of ABS resin. The nickel plated keywork is strong and robust. The instrument is a supplied in a compact zipped cloth case complete with shoulder strap.
Any student becoming familiar with playing the Eb clarinet for the first time, must be aware that it is completely different from playing the Bb clarinet. As well as the obvious difference in size, it is essential to use harder reeds which offer more resistance when blowing. Any weaknesses in a player's technique on the Bb clarinet will be magnified when playing the Eb clarinet.
Beginner clarinet players with smaller hands who wish to learn on an Eb clarinet will be better off sticking with the more basic "123" model. There is no advantage to learning on an instrument which has keys which will not be used be used by the novice player. However this clarinet is worthy of consideration for the more accomplished player.
There are few Eb clarinets available at the budget end of the market, and at a recommended retail price of £199 this instrument presents excellent value for money. Whether there is a market for this kind of instrument remains to be seen. Band directors of younger musicians may prefer the more unified sound of Bb clarinets, although in the right hands the "223" Eb clarinet is capable of blending well within a clarinet section.
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