Purchasing The Best Beginning And Continuing Clarinet

Brands of clarinets to buy and things to look for when purchasing any clarinet, whether for beginners or more advanced players.

Purchasing a quality clarinet is important for all students, from beginners to advanced players. There are many brands and many models out there, and it can be difficult for inexperienced players or their families to choose a good model. However, with a little guidance, purchasing a quality clarinet is easy.

The most popular brands of clarinets are Yamaha, Vito, Jupiter, LeBlanc, Selmer, Bundy, Noblet, and Buffet. Most are French companies, because American students play on the French-system clarinet. There is also a German-system clarinet, but it's different and no beginning band students in the USA will use it.

The best of these brands are Yamaha, Leblanc, Selmer, and Buffet. Any of these brands are fine for a first, plastic clarinet. Plastic clarinets are ideal both for beginners and for marching band, because they can take a beating or the outdoor weather they'll be subjected to. Purchase your clarinet new if at all possible. If it's not possible, have a professional play test the instrument and play condition it before you pay for it and take it home. The danger with used instruments is that they could have stuck keys, pads that don't seal, misaligned rods, or a number of other problems. New clarinets shouldn't have these problems, and if they do, return them to the factory and get a different one.

The Yamaha YCL250 is a good plastic model. The LeBlanc 7214PC model is also good. The Buffet B-12 (which is actually ABS resin and not plastic) is a wonderful, highly recommended model for both beginning and intermediate students. This Buffet model could last a student from beginning level straight through high school (assuming the student plays only for fun).

Ultimately, if you are looking for a decent plastic instrument, you can buy any model from the companies listed above. Expect to pay $100 - $400 for the instrument. If you are looking for a slightly better instrument, you can get the Buffet B-12 for only slightly more ($450 or less). Purchase these clarinets from a local music store or online. Make sure you look online (auction sites are just as good as professional dealers for beginning instruments) before you make your purchase; the price can be several hundred dollars lower. One clarinet was $850 list price and music store price, but the exact same model was $411, brand new, online.

When it's time to upgrade, you'll want to look primarily at the Buffet line of clarinets. Some professional players will argue that Selmer clarinets are just as good or better, but Buffet clarinets are typically considered "the" standard clarinets among most professionals.

It's not worth it to buy an "intermediate" level clarinet if you're planning to upgrade. There are decent models that will cost anywhere from $1000 to $1500. However, by spending only a few hundred dollars more ($1800 - $2200), you can buy a standard, professional model clarinet that far surpasses any of the intermediate level clarinets. The best plan is to buy the Buffet B-12 if you want a nice, wooden-like clarinet without actually purchasing a top-quality wooden clarinet.

There is also the Buffet E-11, which many people like. It's an intermediate wooden clarinet that's good for beginners to advanced players, and would be worth it if you purchased it straight after rental (and not after having bought a clarinet previously). It's a good instrument, but not nearly up to the standards of THE professional model, which is the Buffet R-13.

This model, the R-13, is the model that many, many professional players use. In fact, most players either play on this or a special hand-made instrument. If you choose to buy this instrument, do NOT purchase it online. Search online for a major dealer near you, one that specializes in Buffet instruments. Make an appointment to go to him or her and play test several instruments. You will be allowed to play as many as you want if you bring your own mouthpiece. This is very important - not all instruments are made the same! Beginning, plastic instruments are machine-made and roughly equivalent, but these professional-level instruments can vary highly from one to the next.

No matter what brand you're looking at, if you're play testing it, look for these things:

*Keys are well aligned

*All pads seal (ask a professional to help)

*Instrument is neither too free blowing or too resistant

*Wood is not cracked

*Keys are the appropriate height above the holes and feel comfortable to the hands

*Register key doesn't open too far (should barely come away from the hole). This can be adjusted on some models; ask the dealer to adjust it for you. If it opens too far and can't be adjusted, don't buy the instrument

*Bridge keys aren't bent

*Instrument is made from Grenadilla wood

If you know nothing about clarinets, ask these questions of the professional who's helping you. They'll show you these things. They should also play it for you. Ultimately, if there are any problems with the instrument or you don't like its sound, don't buy it.

Having a good mouthpiece also matters. Don't ever buy a cheap, $20 mouthpiece just to have one. Don't play on the mouthpiece that comes with the clarinet unless the student is a brand new beginner, the instrument is plastic, and money is tight. As soon as possible, the mouthpiece should be upgraded. It makes a huge difference in sound and the development of the student's embouchure.

Most good mouthpieces are made by the Vandoren company. The most common ones are the M13, the M15, the B40, and the B45. The one most recommended for band students is the B45. It runs about $50. You can purchase this online. Private teachers can make individual recommendations. Band directors who happen to be clarinet players can as well.

Purchasing a good, quality instrument and mouthpiece is important to a student's success. As long as you keep these brands and tips in mind, you'll purchase a great instrument that will last as long as your student plays.

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