How a clarinet is made in the workshops of Henri SELMER?

Want to know how  a SELMER Clarinet is manufactured? We explain you it all.

Armelle Nicolas | Técnica Taller
24/10/2022 | Actualizado: 24/10/2022 24/10/2022
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SELMER Paris started manufacturing clarinets in the 19th century (Place Dancourt, Paris) as we explained in our post about the brand and has since acquired a great reputation in the professional field. This tradition of craftsmanship has been passed down from generation to generation in the Mantes-la-Ville factory, which has been able to combine innovation and tradition. Today, a Selmer clarinet consists of 450 parts and requires about 20 hours of work.

How is a Henri SELMER clarinet made? 

Drying the wood

The ebony arrives at the workshop in the form of narrow, rectangular blocks of wood for the bodies or pyramidal blocks for the bells. Work begins immediately on the outline of the outer shape. At the same time, the interior is drilled. To stabilize the wood sufficiently to be able to work it properly, the body, upper joint, lower joint and bell are stored for 3 years in a temperature and humidity controlled room. The roughed body of the clarinet undergoes a post treatment to avoid possible cracks in the ebony. The bodies are treated with linseed oil under pressure for 12 hours in an autoclave. Then, the different parts of the instrument are dried in a drying oven for several days. Finally, after all these years of treatment and drying, woodworking can begin.

Two precious woods are used in the manufacture of clarinets, ebony (Dalbergia melanoxylon) and rosewood (Dalbergia stevensonii). They are particularly prized for their machining qualities (hardness, tight fibers, dimensional stability) and for their acoustic performance.

Ebony originates from Mozambique, while rosewood comes from South America. Its use, regulated by the Precious Woods Conference, is regularly questioned. These two species take an average of 70 years to reach the maturity required for their use. Before even reaching the mill, the raw wood is dried by the forestry operator for a 5-year cycle.

Other species are also used in the manufacture of stringed and wind instruments: the wood of the Madagascar passion fruit (Diospyrus Perrieri), of Gabon (Diospyrus Crassiflora) or of Macassar (Diospyrus Celebica). 


Turning and drilling of the wood

After seasoning, the wood is turned again to give it its final dimensions. The chimneys that constitute the places of the holes of each note are marked. The pores of the wood are plugged and the body is carefully hand sanded with a fine abrasive. The marking of the toneholes is finished by hand. Depending on the model, metal liners can be mounted on the tenons.

The locations for the keys and chimneys are then drilled. These are milled conically, at their base on the inside of the bit. This is a critical operation in the acoustic definition of the clarinet. All these operations are performed on digitally controlled machines, equipped with carbide-formed tools that guarantee precision and stability in the creation of dimensions.

Finishing of the wood joints

Once the final calibration of the bore has been carried out, the dowel plugs are fixed and ground.

The logo is then engraved into the wood with a digital machine and the engraved logo is then gilded by hand.

The body is now ready to move to the assembly area.


The posts - on which the instrument mechanism will be mounted - are screwed into the bodies by hand. They are milled, drilled and tapped.

The various rods and hinges (axis of rotation of the keys) are cut to size and individually checked in the standard assemblies. 

Mechanical operations

At the same time, the various elements are manufactured: the primary parts (keys, posts, mechanics) are machined in nickel silver and, less frequently, in brass. These, in turn, are cut, drilled, chamfered, stamped and milled. They are then inspected and stored in a specialized warehouse.

The primary parts are assembled by silver soldering on positioning supports. These subassemblies are then inspected and stored. They form the key assembly of the instrument.

Polishing and silver plating 

After being pre-polished on a rotating drum of abrasive grains, the keys are polished by hand on a lathe.

After dry cleaning and polishing, the keys are checked for uniformity of appearance.

The keys are then plated by electrolysis.


During the finishing phase, the needle springs are attached to the posts and the key set is assembled along the length of the instrument.

After final drilling of the rods and hinges, the slippers are attached to the keys. The corks and felts are sized and attached to the heels of the keys. The finished keys are placed in their final position on the instrument. This phase of manufacturing requires experience and meticulousness.

 Quality control

At the end of the production cycle, the instrument is inspected for form and function.

Since 1998, the quality approach has been reinforced and several actions have been carried out to raise staff awareness of the demanding requirements imposed by the world-class position held by Henri SELMER Paris.

Numerous quality controls are carried out throughout the production cycle, according to very precise criteria. A specific SQA (Selmer Quality Action) corresponds to each manufacturing phase. If the SQA is not good, the instrument is not allowed to continue on the production line. This makes it possible to avoid any deviation in manufacturing, even at a very early stage of the process.

Each instrument is then tested by testers who check the acoustics in soundproof booths, and with this the manufacturting process is over and we have a new calrinet. 


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