The Nomadaphone consists of three simple parts: a mouthpiece that works with standard clarinet reeds, a body tuned in the key of D, and a bell to amplify and direct sound from the instrument. Typical clarinets are costly, fragile and prone to cracking, and have complicated key configurations. I wanted to create an instrument that sounded beautiful, was extremely portable, and easy to teach to new musicians.
The Nomadaphone is half the size and a third of the weight a typical Bb clarinet. Though it is limited to an octave range in the chalumaeau register, the sound is focused, rich, and bright. For added ease of coupling the reed to the Nomadaphone mouthpiece, the Nomadaphone uses simple O-rings rather than a standard bulky clarinet ligature system.
Ten years prior to beginning the Nomadaphone project while on a summer travel fellowship in France, I apprenticed a clarinet maker who fabricated custom renaissance clarinets . Through much guidance and mentoring, I completed a boxwood clarinet mouthpiece. Since then, I have played and performed clarinet seriously, but had always hoped to design and build my own experimental musical instruments.
I began designing the Nomadaphone by prototyping simple clarinet mouthpieces from everyday materials like bamboo and 1/2 inch pvc pipe. Through several iterations, I discovered that the key design component was the geometry and curvature of the mouthpiece table. Too much distance between the reed and the mouthpiece would make the tone breathy and resistant, while too little distance and the reed would easily close up and squeak. Through a delicate and lengthy process of sanding and testing, I learned which mouthpiece curvatures produced the tone and resistance I was looking for.
After gaining a better understanding of mouthpiece acoustics, I began building full-scale prototypes from PVC and Delrin. Delrin, a much harder plastic than PVC, allowed me to machine prototype mouthpieces to a much higher level of precision and tolerance. The Delrin prototypes also helped me to test and determine the best order of machining operations needed to accurately produce a mouthpiece to match my specified shop drawings.
Much of the detailed work on the mouthpiece was spent on the lathe, where I first drilled the internal bore and then turned the exterior mouthpiece taper from solid brass stock.
I then milled the mouthpiece's table, exposing its internal bore and creating the interface for the reed to attach to the mouthpiece.
With good lighting and machinist's marking ink, I painstakingly sanded and the mouthpiece table until it's curvature matched my previous prototypes and the mouthpiece created the sound personality I had hoped for.
Starting with precise tube length-frequency calculations as a baseline, I tuned the instrument in the key of D by enlarging and relocating tone holes on Delrin instrument body prototypes. When I arrived at a tone hole arrangement which played in tune and had equal resistance through the register, I mirrored the body design in brass. Finally, I turned a Mahogany bell to allow the instrument to project its beautiful sound.