Choosing a Clarinet
First select your ability level - beginner, intermediate, or advanced/professional.
Student Instrument - These are the entry level instruments for the student in the first 2 - 3 years of study. They are made of plastic, and it is important that the horn be in good playing condition, with a medium mouthpiece (plastic is OK), a supply of reeds, cork grease and a swab. The models we recommend are:
- Buffet B10, B12 or the Accent made by Buffet
- Vito 7242, 7214 or Vito Reso-tone 3 (7212 or 7213)
- Selmer 1400, 100 or 300, or Armstrong, Artley or Bundy (all made by Selmer)
- Yamaha 20, 24, 26, 250 or Advantage
These are all comparable, but we personally prefer the Buffet B12, Yamaha 20 or Vito 7214. The Vito 7214 holds up like iron and comes with a great case as well. The Buffet has the wonderful feel of the Buffet professional model, but the cases do not hold up well. The newer model Yamaha 250 is just like the model 20.
There is nothing wrong with giving a wooden clarinet to a beginner, but it just isn't necessary. The plastic instruments will hold up better to the hard use that young players sometimes give. You hate to see someone drop a nice wooden instrument, but it's not so bad with a plastic one.
Intermediate (or step-up) Instrument - These are wooden instruments that get a more characteristic tone suitable for the advancing player after he or she is no longer in the beginning stages, usually toward the end of junior high when a plastic instrument can inhibit the student's progress. For most players, an intermediate level instrument is good enough to last through the rest of their playing career. The wooden body creates the characteristic clarinet tone, and they are high quality great instruments. We recommend:
- Buffet E11 or International
- Yamaha 34 (or its twin the 450)
- Noblet 40 or 45, or newer Normandy 4, all made by Leblanc
- Selmer 200, 210, 211 or Selmer Signet 100. (Some Signets are plastic, so make sure you're getting a Selmer Signet 100 made of grenadilla wood.)
Professional Instrument - This is for an advanced high school or college player or a professional. They are top of the line and are used by the best professional players around the world. We recommend:
- Buffet R-13, the choice of professionals
- Buffet pre-R-13, made by Buffet before about 1950
There are other professional models as well including Selmer, LeBlanc and Yamaha. The choice is up to the preference of the player. At this level, different players may prefer a different model according to their personal taste.
New or Used? New instruments are great, but expensive. Used instruments are much cheaper, but might need expensive repairs. How do you tell? Unless you are a proficient clarinet player, you probably can't tell by looking if an instrument needs work. All the pads must seal perfectly, the action must be smooth, the keys must be properly adjusted, and the body must be free of defects. If you are buying from a reputable dealer (such as ClarinetCloset.Com) the instrument should be in good playing condition with return priviledges during the inspection period. If you are buying from an individual, it should be taken to the teacher to make sure it is in good playing condition.
Repairs can be expensive, as much as $150 for a repad job, or lots more depending on the work needed. It just doesn't make sense to buy an inexpensive used clarinet and then have to spend a lot of money in repairs. It's better to buy a clarinet that is already repaired and in good playing condition so you know what your true cost will be.
Value? A good quality instrument will retain its value if it is carefully used and kept in good condition. The better the instrument, the more of its value it will retain. Student instruments tend to lose a lot of value, intermediate instruments will lose less, and professional instruments still less. My wife for example, plays on a 50 year old Buffet R13. How long will an instrument last? It's impossible to say, but a student instrument should last for 10 years of constant playing, an intermediate clarinet for 15 - 20 years of steady use, and a professional model even longer. If an instrument is carefully used for a few years and then left in the case, it should still be in good condition. Remember that some technologies advance, so a clarinet won't last forever, and rust and mold will set in after a while.
Marching Band? Some people who have a fine intermediate or professional model do not like to take it outdoors in the cold, rain or snow, and I can certainly understand why. Why would you want to subject a delicate instrument to that kind of heavy use. They like to keep their wooden clarinet indoors, and then use a plastic one outdoors. Sounds like a good plan. If you do use your wood clarinet outside, dry it off thoroughly if it gets wet. Also, when bringing it in from the cold, allow it to warm up before playing in order to prevent cracks. You can hasten this process by rubbing it with your hands or holding it under your arm.
Band Director: Start with your band director. Some band directors will recommend a certain brand, and that's what you should get. That way the entire section might have a more uniform sound. If the director is flexible, then go with one of the models listed above. There are lots of other brands, but my advice is to stick with the "Big Four" as listed above: Buffet, LeBlanc, Selmer or Yamaha. Instrument manufacturers are always being bought and sold, so it's sometimes difficult to keep track of who owns what, but I have listed the specific models to get. Vito used to be part of LeBlanc, for example, but is now owned by Conn-Selmer, I believe.
Mouthpiece: At the beginning level, the plastic mouthpiece that came with your instrument is okay, but after a while it will begin to impede progress. Sometime in the second or third year of study, start thinking about getting a high quality hard rubber mouthpiece such as the Vandoren B45. It just gets a better tone. There is a dizzying array of mouthpieces on the market, but unless your band director or private teacher has a preference, just stick with the excellent and well known Vandoren B45.
The most important element is the player. Remember the clarinet is just a two pound hunk of metal and wood until the player makes it come alive. If the player is not doing things right, (embouchure, breath support, hand position) then even the best instrument won't help. If the player is mastering the fundamentals, then he or she will outgrow that student plastic instrument at some point.