One question we get a lot in the repair shop is what pad choices are available? Also, what are the benefits of each type of pad?
1. Cork pads – this pad option is often considered the standard option for the upper joint of a clarinet when one is considering a pro setup. In our shop a pro setup consists of cork pad on the upper joint (except for the A/D key) and your choice of pads on the lower joint. Cork pads need to be very firm, flat, and virtually pore-less. When installed properly these pads will last a very long time. One of the benefits of cork pads is that they can actually be surfaced. When a skin pad wears out and the indention becomes really deep the only option is to replace it. Cork pads most of the time can be surfaced to remove the indention in the pad and extend the life of the pad. My favorite benefit in cork pads is venting. We all have found notes that just seem stuffy. Cork pads can help alleviate and vent the air out of the pad. The way this is accomplished is by beveling the pad. We actually custom fit every cork pad in our shop. We find the correct thickness, change key angles, and bevel pads as necessary to achieve the best result. Cork pads are by far my favorite. One common dislike is that they do tend to be louder than the traditional skin pads. This is why we only install them on the upper joint.
2. Traditional skin pads – if you have ever purchased a new clarinet then you probably know about the traditional skin pad. Skin pads are actually made of a couple different materials. Traditionally, you have a firm cardboard backing, a layer of felt, and a double bladder skin wrapped around the pad. The felt does a good job to make this pad option very quiet. Skin pads when installed properly can last a long time. The problem is that in many cases skin pads are not installed properly and they will shift causing major leaks. I would blame this more on the installation than the pad itself. Skin pads are a little more difficult to install, which is why it is done incorrectly many times. A common misconception is that since the felt adds some give to the pad surface that you can over tighten the spring tensions to make the pad cover. While this may disguise leaks as a result the horn is still leaking, and you also have an instrument with spring tensions that feel awful. Skin pads are the most used pad for a reason.
3. Gortex pads (Buffet) – Gortex pads are Buffet’s premium pad. It is actually a buffet skin pad wrapped with a gortex (leather-like material). Gortex has been used in many industries. It is supposed to be waterproof as well. It looks very smooth in contrast to the porous surface of leather pads. One benefit is the gortex layer makes the pad feel more firm. When installing you can actually manipulate the thickness of the pad because the gortex layer is very pliable. When installed correctly, the gortex layer creates a nice tight seal. One down side is that they are unfortunately very expensive. You can only purchase them from Buffet.
4. Leather pads – leather pads are very similar to skin pads but instead of a bladder skin you get the leather layer wrapped around the same cardboard backing and felt. Leather tends to have a porous surface, which some repairman do not like. I think leather pads have their place though and we install them if the customer requests them. The leather material gives the same benefit that the gortex pads have when it comes to the firmness of the pad. There are several leather pad options. If you have heard of Roo pads, these pads are actually made from kangaroo leather.
5. Synthetic pads – Valentino! You probably have heard of these pads if you are a band director. The peel-n-stick pad is definitely appealing. These may work in an emergency situation but peel-n-stick is not a good long term solution. Valentino actually has come a long way. The traditional greenback valentino has a few layers. A paper backing, dense foam material, and then a sealing layer. The top sealing layer is what causes the pad to seal. If they were just made of dense foam the air would leak through the pad. A common option that we recommend to people for the lower joint is Valentino’s Master Series pad. This redesigned pad comes with many layers. It has a very hard backing and a few layers of foam. The difference is the backing and the layers within the pad, which overall make the pad more firm. You actually have color options as well: tan and white.