Updated: May 10, 2015
Clarinet Reviews:Clarinets Review - If you have ever listened to Mozart's clarinet concertos, you know that the clarinet is capable of creating some of the most beautiful, touching, and incredibly rich, diverse music. From light and airy to haunting, the range of sounds is astonishing. While a great player can make beautiful music on subpar instruments, it really does take a superior clarinet to produce top quality music. This guide will take a look at some of the best clarinets, focusing on the needs of beginners and amateur players. If you're a pro, you likely know what you want and need: it can be more difficult for those who are new to playing. We'll also look at what else you need to make beautiful music with your clarinet.
Choosing a Clarinet - Choosing an instrument begins with looking at the player and his/her goals. How much experience does he have? Is he getting lessons or does he play in a school band or community orchestra? Are you "encouraging" him to take lessons or does he really want to? Does this clarinet have to be of quality that will last for years or can it be a less expensive model that a player can outgrow in a year or two? Likewise, do you want plastic or wood? Both can make a tremendous difference in price. Another very important choice is the model: there are alto clarinet and bass clarinet variations, but the most common and most likely to be used by beginners is the Bb or B flat clarinet. It is a good idea to rent a clarinet at first to get a sense of how it works and sounds. Then, it's time to shop. Here are some good starting points. There are several big names to consider when you are choosing your clarinet. These are: Buffet Crampton, Armstrong, Artley, Amati, Dixon, Selmer, Vito, Bundy, Noblet, Jupiter, Leblanc, and Yamaha. These tend to be more expensive; can you go to your local box store and purchase a clarinet? You can, for instance, go to Walmart and by a clarinet for only $50. Great deal? Not so fast. Many experts recommended strongly against purchasing an off-brand or very inexpensive brand because you will encounter quality issues. Not only can the intonation sound wrong, throwing off your ear, it may not work mechanically very reliably for very long. What if your child doesn't know yet if he wants to play the clarinet and you want to let him try? You might want to put that $50 into a rental. If it is solely for fun and off-key concerts, go ahead with the generic brands. For serious playing - or learning - go with name brands. Now what about plastic? This can actually be a good move. Plastic clarinets are very durable and they are excellent for beginners or for those who will put their clarinets through some traumatic use (such as for use outdoors). Their sound is fine, maybe not ready for the concert hall, but perfectly suitable for beginners.
The Best Clarinets:High-End Clarinets for Beginners and Learners - If your child (or you) love the clarinet and plan to pursue music education, then a high-end clarinet can be a wonderful choice. These provide beautiful, high-quality sounds and are durable and well-made. The problem is that they are also very expensive. Music-Theory recommends three as good starters: the Buffet B-12, Vito 74XX, and Yamaha 34. The Buffet B12 Student Clarinet has a 65mm barrel, nickel-plated keys, and brushed "wood-like" ABS plastic that creates an appearance and sound similar to grenadilla wood (from which high-end wood clarinets are made). The advantages of the B-12 are that it is durable, lightweight, and easy to clean. They can be handled by even young players. Other features include 442Hz key Bb, 17 keys, 6 rings made of silver-plated nickel, blue needle springs, adjustable thumb rest, and mouthpiece assembly. Now for the discordant note: it costs $565. The Yamaha and Vito clarinets are in the same price range and are available via instrument stores and vendors online. The YCL-250 Bb Clarinet is another that is frequently cited as a great clarinet for beginners.
A Not-so-Pricy Clarinet - Paying over $500 can be too much of an expense for many people. Not to worry. Selmer, one of the top brands, provides a great beginner clarinet Prelude CL701. This is their "entry level" clarinet, so the price is a bit more friendly. You can expect to pay about $280. Still not cheap, but you will get very good quality. The Prelude has a hard rubber body for wood-like sound and nickel-plated keys. It features a molded mouthpiece, short barrel, and 442Hz tuning. Bundy is also another brand frequently referred to as a good student brand. The Bundy BCL-300 Clarinet is a good choice with ABS resin body, bell, and barrel, nickel-silver keys, 17 keys, 6 rings key system, double skin pads, and stainless steel screw mechanism. You can find this for $280 as well.
Buying Clarinets Used:It can be tempting to buy clarinets used on sites like eBay. This can be a very good way to get a great clarinet at a great price. It can also be a good way to get a bad clarinet at a high price. Before you buy, research the vendor thoroughly. How's his feedback? It should be at least 97 percent positive. Look at the description carefully: what brand is it? It may have a Buffet mouthpiece but a different type of body. Ask the vendor about this, as well as how old it is. You can find a more thorough guide to buying your clarinet on eBay here (http://reviews.ebay.com/What-To-Look-For-When-Buying-A-Clarinet_W0QQugidZ10000000001611644). As always, pay with PayPal if you can so you have the buyer protection that affords. Also, make sure each and every one of your questions is answered before you buy.
Clarinet Accoutrements - When you have your clarinet, you will need a few more supplies to start playing. These include reeds, reed cases, and reed trimmers, cork grease, sheet music and stand (though you can improvise a stand), polishing cloth for the exterior, silk cloth with weight for cleaning the barrel, and a clarinet case. Prices for these things vary widely; if you plan to pursue clarinet playing, it is worthwhile to get top-quality accoutrements so you can maintain the appearance and functioning of your clarinet (you certainly don't want to have to replace it anytime soon!). You can find clarinet supplies here.