The More it Costs the Better it Plays. Really?
the truth about clarinet pricing in black and white
Americans have been bombarded for at least two generations with propaganda from a variety of sources that tell them unless they spend a lot of money for something they won't get a high quality product. Along with this comes a barage of advertising that promotes products as objects of status in order to justify higher and higher asking prices.
The old saying "the best things in life are free," still holds true for the most part. They are, as the TV ad says, "priceless." If you don't believe it just try to pay a baby for a smile. Though the saying remains true in principle, it is not true that the best performing products are always the most expensive. Far from it. All that is needed to prove that out is to check product evaluations on sites like Consumer Reports. Their analysis is filled with modestly priced products of every kind. Products which, when tested, either out-perform or perform on par with similar products often costing twice as much. Any shrewd and savvy buyer knows this to be true from repeated experiences of buying everything from toasters to trousers. How often do we pay for a label, when the performance quality simply is not there or no better than other, less famous products? The clarinet is no exception
Those who peruse our site at RCP and read about our clarinets will no doubt have a wide variety of responses to our message. Some will discount it all because the price doesn't match the elitist image so near and dear to them. Others will be reluctant or wary because they will naturally think, “How can anything so inexpensive be really good?”
I cannot adequately respond to the first disposition, because if image is more important to the person than substance, hardly anything I can say will make a difference. Besides, such people are not likely to study an issue long enough to truly consider a contrary opinion with a fair mind. They seldom have the patience or capacity which is likely why they're so status conscious. However, I do feel I can offer a cogent response to the second questioner, the one who asks how something can be good yet not expensive. Let me parse out the response in categories to make it a bit easier to grasp, for there are several points to the answer. Before we do, however, let me state the conclusion at the beginning. The short answer is, "Yes, something can be as good if not better than more expensive products." If that's so, and it is, the next logical questions is, "If the greater expense isn't added to make the performance and/or quality of the product better, just why is it added?"
That's the question that should really be asked, and we are about to find out the answer.
First of all, let me share what I know to be an important principle: Good dimensions do not cost a penny more than poor dimensions for the tooling that determines the basic acoustics of the clarinet. The machinist who makes the tooling for a clarinet model usually cares nothing and knows nothing of the ultimate use of that tool. His concern is singular––make what he sees on the blue print faithfully. Whatever the dimensions––good, bad or indifferent––he charges the same. If he received an order for two tools of the same type, he would charge the same for them, even if one was designed by the best clarinet designer in the world and the other had dimensions resulting from a monkey throwing darts at numbers randomly placed on a dart board. So the difference in a reamer with good dimensions and one with poor dimensions is not the actual cost of the reamer but the intelligence of the designer. Cost of good and bad reamers: the same. Good reamer dimensions; priceless!
Here we see the first big difference in the expense of clarinets. The least expensive clarinets to build are those made with plastics. The reason is not so much the expense of the material, per se, but the processing required. For example, in the area of mouthpiece manufacturer, it takes about four operations to produce a plastic mouthpiece, from start to finish. The number of operations for finishing hard rubber mouthpieces is usually around eighteen––and in manufacturing, time IS money.
When it comes to clarinet manufacture, it takes more operations to prepare hard rubber clarinets than plastic ones, but fewer operations than those needed to prepare Grenadilla clarinets. But beyond the savings hard rubber offers in actual factory processing, there is also savings in the materials themselves. Hard rubber, like Grenadilla wood, is a natural product, but much more plentiful, much easier to procure and much less expensive to prepare for processing with the final result in actual performance being equal if not better in every respect. In addition, the superstructure of middlemen between the extraction of the raw material and its' delivery to the factory for final processing is considerably less. There is little or no material waste in the manufacture of Hard Rubber clarinets and comparatively lots of waste with Grenadilla. Finally, Hard Rubber requires no expenses for the time, storage and ovens required in pre-processing and final curing of the partially processed wood billets.
The bottom line is that pure, natural hard rubber is a wonderful material for clarinet making, enabling the maker to build high quality/performance clarinets at a fraction of the cost and literally a hundredth of the time required to produce the same clarinet in Grenadilla––that is, if you consider the curing/seasoning time for wood as manufacturing time.
Bureaucratic and Logistical Overhead
The final expense difference is concerned with white-collar overhead. The reason some products are famous is because much money and time is spent in making them famous through advertising and creating a superstructure of sales representatives, paid endorsers and dealers, all of whom increase the final cost of the basic product. In addition, there is also a huge bureaucratic structure of bookkeepers, design and advertising employees, credit managers, middle management, upper management, CEOs, secretaries, fancy offices, warehouses and skilled and unskilled workers.
All these costs are factored into the final price of your clarinet, and not one of them makes the clarinet play the least bit better or improves it artistically, acoustically or technically in any way or degree. What they do improve are the bank accounts of MBAs and bankers who wouldn’t know a clarinet from a glockenspiel. It is this superstructure that constitutes the largest single percentage of what you actually pay for the clarinet.
What to do?
Eliminate the frills and as many things as possible that do not directly contribute to the actual performance quality of the instrument and add to that a person of knowledge and skill to design and insure the performance of each instrument. The result is a wonderful instrument with top-notch performance characteristics that is affordable to most anyone.
RCP Policy and Priorities
At RCP we put that solution into practice. We concentrate on keeping our costs as low as possible, eliminating any excesses and expenses that do not directly contribute to the actual improvement of product performance. We do all our advertising in house, write all our own ad copy, do our own photography and graphics, manage our own web site and hire no assistants for any part of our work or processing. We have no CEOs, MBAs that expect high salaries or fancy offices––nor will we ever! Every possible expense is eliminated and that savings is passed directly on to you, our customers, whom we serve personally. This means what the customer pays for is the actual performance quality of the instrument and not the salaries of an array of over-paid CEOs, upper and middle management, paper pushers on every level, secretaries, warehouses, offices, sales reps and layers of middle men. What you pay for is the performance of instruments that have been prepared by factory workers according to state-of-the-art acoustical designs and each individually set up, tuned, resistance balanced and thoroughly tested by the person who created those designs in the first place. You don’t even pay for any additional customizing you may ask for after-point-of-purchase. Everything has been done to make the product perform better for you and every cost has been eliminated that adds no value to the actual performance of the clarinet.
The choice, as always, is yours. You can pay for image, hype, paid endorsers, MBAs, bean counters and fatten the already fat bank accounts of CEOs, etc––or you can pay for actual performance substance and let the status seekers throw their money away on cosmetic features and image, once again proving two important truths: Spending a large sum of money does not guarantee high performance quality in the product and that the possession of money does not automatically indicate the presence of wisdom, knowledge or even intelligence in its possessor. The evaluations on Consumer Reports demonstrate the first truth, the contents of any super market celebrity magazine amply demonstrates the second.