What Kind of Clarinet Should I Get?

Discussion in 'Clarinets' started by pete, Nov 30, 2009.

  1. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    You should, of course, read http://www.woodwindforum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=2547.

    While there are a lot of cheap clarinets on the market, there is no guarantee that cheap = good.

    As an introduction, modern clarinets are made of wood (a few different kinds), plastic or metal. The metal horns that are currently available are either expensive professional horns or really low quality instruments, with no in-between. Avoid these. Plastic clarinets are your standard cheap student horns: we'll get to those in a few seconds. Wood is generally reserved for intermediate and professional clarinets.

    Additionally, you want a Bb clarinet. There are approximately a dozen other members of the clarinet family.

    But we're talking inexpensive beginner horns.

    First, it's very hard to go wrong with Yamaha. A new YCL (stands for "Yamaha Clarinet")-250 sells for around $700 US. However, you can sometimes get older, warrantied and overhauled Yamaha student clarinets for under $250 (again, see http://www.woodwindforum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=2547 for some ideas of where to buy an overhauled, warrantied horn).

    Let's simplify the Yamaha model names, though. First, remember that it'll be in the form of "YCL" for "Yamaha Clarinet" and then a number. Here's what those numbers mean:

    2x or 2xx: Plastic student horn, where "x" is any number.
    3x (generally 32 or 34): Wooden intermediate model.
    450: Wooden intermediate model; replacement for the YCL-32.
    6x or 6xx: Wooden standard professional models.
    7x or 7xx: Wooden custom professional models.
    CSx or CSxx: Wooden custom-built professional models, where "x" is any letter.
    SEx or SExx: Wooden custom-built professional models, where "x" is any letter.

    The idea is that if you walk into a store to buy a Yamaha clarinet and have a choice between, say, a YCL-20 and a YCL-34 and the 34 is slightly more expensive, get the 34: it's a better horn.

    Again, if you're going to buy used, you want to get a recent clarinet that is fully overhauled and preferably with a warranty. If you're getting a wooden clarinet, if the ad says that it has cracks or pins, or has been cracked and repaired, SKIP IT.

    ===========

    Buffet also makes some really decent student clarinets. The Buffet B12 (NOT the B10) is a fairly decent horn that has been described as a plastic version of Buffet's flagship R13 professional horn. Yes, they're $600 new, but under $250 for a warrantied, overhauled instrument.

    Buffet's model chart is much more complex than Yamaha's. I'll try to simplify it.

    B10: Plastic student model. Don't get this one (someone will ask "why": the keywork's plastic and it's an A=442hz horn).
    B12: Plastic student model.
    E11: Intermediate wood clarinet.
    L-Series "Limite" Advanced intermediate horn made out of blackwood.
    C-Series "Conservatoire": Advanced intermediate grenadilla wood clarinet.
    R13: Professional wood clarinet.
    R13 Prestige: A step higher than the R13 (additional keywork)
    RC (Robert Carree): Essentially a custom professional wood clarinet.
    RC Prestige: Essentially a custom professional wood clarinet.
    Vintage: Essentially a custom professional wood clarinet (for those saxophonists out there, it's essentially a "Reference" version of a 1950's R13, per http://www.buffet-crampon.com/en/instruments.php?mode=productDetails&pid=95).
    Festival: Essentially a custom professional M'pingo wood clarinet.
    Tosca: The highest-end Buffet clarinet. Grenadilla wood. Non-R13 bore. Full Boehm keywork.
    Greenline: This isn't a selection of models, but how some models are made. It's a resin of grenadilla wood.

    Buffet also had a line of clarinets under the Evette (and earlier, Evette-Schaeffer) name. These are fairly old horns.

    So, if you step into a dealership and you see a B12 for $244 and a C-Series for a couple dollars more, get the C-Series.

    Again, if you're going to buy used, you want to get a recent clarinet that is fully overhauled and preferably with a warranty. If you're getting a wooden clarinet, if the ad says that it has cracks or pins, or has been cracked and repaired, SKIP IT.

    ============

    I do not recommend any other make student clarinets than Yamaha or Buffet. Someone else may have a different opinion ....
     
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  2. tictactux

    tictactux Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

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    Before you buy, you should check what key plating your instrument has or rather should have: An increasing number of people suffers from nickel allergies, and the vast number of clarinets sold in the U.S. comes with nickel-plated keys (quite unlike in Europe where the standard appears to be silver-plated).
     
  3. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    Good point.

    In my examples, the Buffet B12 has nickel plated keywork, the E11 has silver plated. For the Yamaha, the student models have nickel-plated keywork and the intermediate models can have either silver or nickel -- and it's easy to tell them apart: the models that have an "N" in their name (e.g. YCL-450N) have nickel plated keywork.
     
  4. Tammi

    Tammi Private woodwind instructor

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    The E11 was offered with nickel keywork, as were some E12s' and E13s'.


    Selmer USA has improved a great deal since the days of the Bundy and Signet lines and has a few beginner/intermediate clarinets that are worth looking into.
    Although the Signet Special and Soloists were/are pretty good, and those old Bundys... They have to be the 'Timex' of beginner clarinets.
    The Omega is about as close to a pro clarinet as you're going to get without the pro price.

    Those are the ones I have personal experience with.
     
  5. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    However, I can accept that some older/original E11/12/13's had nickel keywork. (Also note that the current E13 is an A=442 instrument.)

    The main reason why I don't try to talk about some of the more "vintage" clarinets is because I then have to talk about serial number ranges. Hey, the Marigaux I bought from you is a perfectly good horn and easily as good as or better than a YCL-20.

    In other words, trying to simplify, a bit.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 1, 2009
  6. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    [Admin_Hat=ON]

    I got a PM on this, so I thought I'd share:

    Remember that we're trying to write out threads for beginners. I've tried to make it abundantly clear in http://www.woodwindforum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=2547 that the main reason NOT to buy a used horn is because a beginner/beginner's parent will probably not know how to determine if the horn he's looking at is junk.

    That being said, if you can list common new horns or common used horns that you can find with a a full OVERHAUL and WARRANTY, that's helpful. Or, if you'd prefer, if you could look at a place that sells WARRANTIED, OVERHAULED horns, like http://www.musicremasters.com, and talk about those horns, that would be extremely helpful. (It's especially helpful if you can go to http://www.woodwindforum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=2547 and list places you know that sell OVERHAULED, WARRANTIED used instruments.)

    All that being said, if I was a beginner (or the parent of a beginner), a $250 B12/YCL-20 is worth more to me than a $350 Signet Soloist (not picking on Tammi; just using that as an example because it's mentioned in the thread) because I won't be able to tell much difference. And, if I decided I wanted to buy new, instead ... the Signet Soloist isn't out there anymore. The B12 is. The YCL-20 morphed into the YCL-250.

    Additionally, think like a beginner or beginner's parent: if horn A is $250 and horn B is $350, is horn B really worth it, especially if I (or my kid) decide to stop taking lessons in 6 months?

    It's partially my fault. I should have explained all this clearer when I opened the section.

    [/Admin_Hat]
     
  7. Tammi

    Tammi Private woodwind instructor

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    I wasn't recommending the Signet line, only saying that Selmer USA has improved the quality of their clarinets since these were in production, and that the newer student/intermediate offerings were worth taking a look at.
    I'm sorry if I've made another mistake.
     
  8. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    Everybody makes mistakes, Tammi. One more from you just makes the rest of us look good, so we want you to stay around for the contrast....

    I think that there is a danger of "over-thinking" all of this, and going to much more effort might end up making it more confusing and frustrating. The concept of viewing this from the perspective of a "know-nothing" parent rather than from that of a musician (even one who makes two whole mistakes like Tammi) is key here - first and foremost, the task of the guide should be to "demystify" the maze of instrument brands and models.

    After all, the permutations of "what to buy" have increased geometrically, both by the proliferation of "models" and by the buying options that are now offered by eBay and such alternative methods as Craig's List.

    Like it or not, we (or you) cannot be the ultimate guide to buying a clarinet on a service like eBay. Face it, eBay doesn't do a good job with its own procedures and processes, much less the millions (literally) of permutations of Chinese horns and Czech horns and Japanese horns and Indian horns that are listed there for sale on a daily basis.

    Mind you, I don't want a single person on the face of the planet to be saddled with a Selman clarinet, but a single voice in the darkness cannot overcome all of the flashing lights and other visual tricks seen in the ads of the people that sell that dreck. It'd be like bailing the Titanic with a teaspoon - possible, but not practical.

    (Getting down to the level that acknowledges the difference between early Bundy and late Bundy would be a authoring tour de force, but would ultimately cause as many questions as it would solve.

    If it were me that was doing this (and it isn't - I'm far too lazy to put out so much effort), I would:

    • Lose the listings of model names and numbers, and just point out that all of the major makers (who I would limit to Yamaha, Selmer, Leblanc, Buffet and (as a nod to what is out there in quantity) Boosey-Hawkes) have made introductory, intermediate and professional models

    Then, I would add:

    • There have been other makers throughout the years who have produced horns of comparable quality but who have now passed from the scene; and

    • That the recent development of instruments made in primitive workshops in the Far East have flooded the market and made life a living hell for teachers and instrument repairmen alike.

    Putting it in a "non-interactive form" like a list, table or whatever will turn off a good portion of the readership, many if not most of which come from the "post-reading" generation. Only if you could put forth the effort to render it in an interactive form (i.e., as a series of links that would cut down the length of the material to be read through) would most of these "post reading" folks bother to run through the non-relevant stuff to get to the particular Yamaha model for which they are looking.

    True, taking this approach may mean that some unfortunate folks are going to be missing out on the occasional wonderful Marigaux instrument. But, if you try to cover everything, you will end up not covering everything well...and certainly not well enough (in the eyes of the intended user) to guide a buying decision of such (apparent) magnitude.

    (I say "apparent" because the difference between a $400 instrument and a $600 instrument is only significant if you don't consider the $1,000 to $3,000 buying decisions that people are making about flat screen televisions and cruises on a yearly basis. That $200 difference pertaining to their children's education is only so much noise (the cocktails for one week) when considered in terms of a Caribbean cruise that the child's parents make take on a yearly basis. But, there's no accounting for taste...)

    I'm just sayin'...
     
  9. callum_603

    callum_603

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    We love Hanson.....

    I have just upgraded my son's clarinet and spent a long time looking at the options.
    As he was already playing a Sonata instrument (a Hanson Licensed clarinet) I spoke to Alastair (the owner) about an upgrade.
    We settled on a clearance T5-RG which turned up yesterday. The Sonata has performed superbly as a starter instrument, it is ebonite construction so no worries about getting wet or splitting. It also played very nicely which is why we decided to stay with the Hanson...... an awful lot of instrument for the money!
    The T5-RG (reinforced Grenadilla) instrument is a beautiful piece. Very light and a lovely rich tone. My son is extremely pleased.
    We spent some time setting it up for him with his clarinet tutor, we were sent three mouthpieces, one Hanson RF-1 and two Vandoren. (a B45 and a 5RV)... still trying to decide between the B45 and the Hanson RF1
    His tutor admitted to being utterly unaware of Hanson clarinets but had been very impressed when he played their saxophone. He was gushing over this one in both it's quality of construction, action of the keys and tone on the instrument.
    The whole experience has been very easy and both Julie and Alastair went out of their way to accommodate us.
    I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Julie and Alastair...... if only all companies operated this way!

    Julian Hopes
     
  10. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    One other thought on this: when I was confronted with beginning students with slender fingers (usually young girls), I always recommended that they start out on Vito instruments. This was not so much because of superior tone, intonation or key work so much as it was for the smaller tone holes under the fingers.

    Once the finger placement issues are worked out and the student is hitting them on target, they can move up to an intermediate instrument.

    This may be a bit more expensive in the short term, but it quickly addresses the beginner squealing issue, something that I have seen lead to frustration with some young clarinet players. And, although I have made this recommendation for the Vito Bb soprano, I have seen enough "wrong" with the Leblanc intermediate and artist lines to convince me never to recommend them. (Or a Vito bass clarinet, for that matter.)
     
  11. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    I was called upon, once again, to provide a lesson to a new clarinetist. I love doing these half hour sessions because a good one on one session can have immediate and wonderful results. This young student had a clarinet the school provided, some no name instrument labeled on the case only, Monica or some such. This student, 12 year old girl, couldn't get the horn to speak, so I put my mouthpiece on the instrument and was surprised to find that it played rather well for what I consider a throw-away instrument.

    The student was surprised too and upon inspecting the reed, lig, mouthpiece set up, it was clear that she had this down pat. The reed was a #2 btw. So starting with the middle C I quickly figured out that she wasn't sealing the tone holes, within the half hour we got beyond that and I left her with instructions on playing long tones (soft to loud with tuner), and tonguing exercises, plus work on her Christmas song for the upcoming concert. I will have one more session with her, but her mom was very pleased with the progress.

    So one of the options I suggest is that new players start with an instrument from the school if that is an option. The rate of musicians who quit by middle school, and certainly by high school is somewhere north of 75%, so it will be money saved, especially for parents who have trouble putting food on the table each month to use the school instrument if at all possible.
     
  12. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    Slender girl fingers were responsible for more than one frustrated girl student that I saw back in the day. Lining up with the holes on the lower joint is hard enough (ever look closely at the spacing down there - an un-natural arrangement for a young hand), but that third finger hole (T|•••|••o) compared to the ring finger of a young girl can be problematic.

    Long ago and far away, I decided upon Vito clarinets as the starter horn for a young girl or boy. Not the best instrument overall, but them small finger holes sure cut down on the squeaks.
     
  13. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    Nice to see that...

    ...in the past five months I haven't changed my opinion. (Enter smiley here...)
     
  14. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    I recommend the Buffet B12 for the same reason. I haven't measured the distance between or the size of the tone holes. But it makes a big difference for the kids I work with. I still have my newish B12 for the first grandchild who wants/deserves it.
     
  15. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    This kinda brings us back to the discussion of plateau clarinets (clarinets that have covered keys), because that eliminates the problem of properly covering the toneholes. Unfortunately, the last plateau clarinet, the Vito 7214p, is no longer available.

    Many years ago, my sister got herself a Geminhardt open-hole flute. It also had little covers for the tone holes if you decided you didn't like the open tone hole idea. Why doesn't someone do that for clarinet? I think that'd help out beginners immensely.
     
  16. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    With the flute, the holes are through the center of the pads. With the standard clarinet, the holes are through the center of the brille (German for "eye glasses"; the Boehm inspired rings around our holes), so the plug wouldn't work. With a plateau clarinet, you could do this, but it is generally considered by clarinet players that plateau clarinets suck big time, so they have faded from the scene.

    My lead alto player used to use a plateau horn, but he quickly moved to a standard Buffet. Oddly enough, the difference is mostly perceived by the player - the sound to the audience is just about the same.

    A baritone player I once subbed for had a badly repaired broken ring finger tip on his right hand; positively the worst finger to have problems with for a clarinet player. He didn't play clarinet at all due to this until I told him about the plateau clarinet. He bought one, enjoyed it for a month or two, and then died...
     
  17. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    To me, it just seems kinda odd to have a prejudice against plateau instruments "just because." Hey, (most) bass clarinets and contrabass clarinets have covered keys, primarily because you'd have to have mutant arms and fingers to get those tone holes covered.

    > With the flute, the holes are through the center of the pads. With the standard clarinet, the holes are through the center of the brille (German for "eye glasses"; the Boehm inspired rings around our holes), so the plug wouldn't work.
    I do understand, but I'd still think it'd be possible to do something similar. Hey, you're covering the toneholes with your fingers. I doubt that's the best solution. There should be some way to make something temporary that'd work. Hmm. Product idea ....

    > A baritone player I once subbed for had a badly repaired broken ring finger tip on his right hand; positively the worst finger to have problems with for a clarinet player.
    The fact that I've had my left pinkie broken for me several times does limit me in sax choice: I really dislike non Selmer-esque G# clusters because the C#/B/Bb is really hard for me to press on those. I suppose that if I had ever found a really good horn that suited me except for that cluster, I'd be talking with a repairman to modify the horn for me.
     
  18. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    I've played an open hole alto horn - it was not a fun experience...

    The great flowering of odd clarinet accommodations occurred after World War I. In that conflict, the fragmentation of artillery rounds was much less sophisticated that they were in World War II and beyond. When a shell burst, the shell body shattered into a few, large fragments. So, you either got missed completely, or you were contacted by a heavy, ragged projectile fragment.

    As a result, many of the wounds from the war were of the "shattered hand or arm or leg" nature. As plastic surgery was in its infancy, people didn't get fully repaired, if at all.

    Where this bears on musical instruments is that in Europe everybody got swept up in the British, German and French drafts. It didn't matter if you were a concert pianist or a clarinet player, you got tossed into the maw with everyone else. And, every side fired off millions (literally) of such shells. Near Verdun, where the Germans fought a battle of attrition with the French four most of a year, you cannot walk three steps on the battlefield without seeing such a fragment.

    Badly wounded musicians returning to their old trades were quick to seek solutions to their medical problems. In some cases, the accommodation was written into the music, cf piano concertos for one hand or the other. Missing or shortened fingers led to extended keys and rings with pads rather than straight up rings. I've seen quite a few older clarinets (from the era) with modified keywork - it looks strange today, but it served a real purpose once upon a time. (They were all part of the mighty cordwood stack of old clarinets that dear departed Hunleth Music used to have at the rear of their showroom.)

    I've even seen a one-handed saxophone that dated from the 1920s, almost certainly such an accommodation. And, extensions or crooks for keys matched to fingers that are too short or only a stub aren't all that uncommon - my repair guy has made several such adjustments to instruments over the years, even matching the fit and finish of the other keys on the horn.

    (Modern artillery shells (and grenades) are designed so as to break into hundreds of small fragments rather than a few large ones. Fewer dead, but a lot better chance of wounding someone. And, a wounded man usually takes himself and one or two others out of action (to evacuate the wounded fellow). A much more efficient way to fight a war.)
     
  19. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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  20. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    At the end, Normandys were the only horn that offered the plateau key system as a choice for a soprano clarinet. Before that (in the 1970s or so), Leblanc also offered one.

    I've never seen Selmer (the brand I've dealt with most) offer such an animal, but they've been making clarinets for a long, long time...
     

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