There are many options available when searching for a new clarinet, and several important factors to consider.
Most clarinet students begin playing with a plastic instrument. As you advance, graduating to a higher-quality instrument (often a wooden one) is an essential step in helping you develop as a clarinet player. Plastic instruments are less susceptible to circumstantial changes (temperature, humidity, etc.), which make them ideal for younger players, who may be unintentionally careless, and for playing outside—marching band, for example. However, most plastic instruments are mass-produced, and are simply not crafted in a way that creates a “tight” instrument that performs well over time. This is why investing in a higher-quality instrument is so beneficial: it gives the growing student a really solid instrument that does all the things a clarinet needs to do well, so the student doesn’t have to compensate for an inferior instrument while trying to master playing clarinet.
Wood-bodied instruments, while more fragile than plastic, are considered better because they generally produce a better sound quality, and they are more carefully produced so that everything about the instrument is more tightly fitted and made of higher quality materials. With proper care, they will last a very long time. There are instruments that are made of polyresins (see Buffet’s Greenline instruments) or other materials that are excellent alternatives to wooden clarinets, especially if you live in a very dry climate, or a very hot/cold one.
When it comes to price, there are several reputable brands that sell quality wood-bodied clarinets. Yamaha, Selmer, Buffet Crampon, and Serio are popular with teachers and their students across the country. Prices can vary widely based on which model(s) you see, so it’s a very good idea to search online and get a sense of what you can afford.
Many music stores only carry a few models selected from any company’s available range. Yamaha, Selmer, and Buffet-Crampon all offer intermediate-level clarinets designed for advancing players that are reasonably priced (anywhere from $2000-$4000), as well as professional models that can be much more expensive. Serio is a new line of clarinets designed for professional quality at a reasonable price and are an excellent option in the $2000 price range. For a discussion of different types of Buffet clarinets, please see this blog post [https://lisasclarinetshop.com/blog-post/comparing-buffet-crampon-r13-e11-and-e12f-clarinets/]. A more expensive instrument may be a good investment if your student expresses an interest in pursuing music studies beyond high school, such as Buffet’s R13 instruments. Whenever possible, try out the instrument(s) you are considering before you buy it! A clarinet may look great but may not necessarily be a good fit for your student, especially in terms of sound quality.
It is also possible to purchase a used instrument. Many music stores sell used instruments, such as Lisa’s Clarinet Shop. They are available on sites such as eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace. As with all used goods, you’ll want to do as much as possible to see the instrument beforehand, and ideally, test-play it to see if it will fit you and your student’s needs. As with all used goods, purchases from these sources are as-is, so there can be hidden costs when buying a used instrument in this manner, as opposed to an instrument shop.
Whatever kind of clarinet you decide to purchase, keep in mind the following:
- The pads of the keys should completely cover the tone holes without sticking. This does exclude the ring-keys, which are sealed with the fingers. Check to ensure that the pads are not worn, loose, or discolored, especially on used instruments.
- The joints should fit together completely, without any looseness. Make sure each tenon cork (around the point where one joint is inserted into another) is securely glued and has no rips or tears.
- The bore should be clean, dry, and smooth, inside and out. Especially for used instruments that have been exposed to lots of moisture from being played, the bore will show signs of deterioration if it hasn’t been properly cared for. If you suspect any damage, notice a seam or crack, or it just seems that the clarinet (body and/or keys) is more worn than you were led to believe, have it checked out by a professional at a music shop or a clarinet teacher.
- The bell (lowest joint with the flared opening on the end) should not be chipped or cracked.
Brand-new instruments definitely should not have any of the problems just listed! If you find one that does, return it, ask to see a different model, or make a claim on the instrument’s warranty if you have already purchased the instrument. If you are reviewing a used instrument for purchase and one or more of these issues arises, have it reviewed by a professional clarinetist before you buy it. In some cases, a simple repair can fix the issue, but some issues are more expensive than they’re worth.
It’s important to note that even the best instruments are still dependent on the player having a good mouthpiece, ligature, and reeds, in addition to the instrument. A total investment in proper equipment includes these items, as well as a cotton or silk swab, cork grease, and a protective case for the instrument and its accessories.