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Chinese Ebay c clarinet review

I am posting this because I could not find any recent reviews of inexpensive chinese made clarinets before I bought this one. Recent is important because the quality of stuff coming out of factories in mainland China is always changing, usually for the better.

I have been wanting to get a C clarinet (soprano) for several years, but hesitated to do so. C clarinets are a lot rarer than B flat, so there weren't many good options for getting an inexpensive one. I should explain that I am a lot more proficient on Saxophone than clarinet, which I find to be much more challenging to play. I'm just not that proficient. My intended use for the clarinet was for family gatherings, because trying to play a transposing instrument with people playing flutes, plucked string instruments, violins, pianos is a real drag. Obviously, you can't just share music, you need special arrangements and this is not great for spontaneity. So, that is the context.

The obvious solution was to buy an instrument off eBay, where C Clarinets are readily available, chinese made of course. I hesitated to do this, knowing the reputation of these instruments, so for a couple years I just abandoned the idea. I finally decided to take a chance. What few reviews I could find were several years old. They said quality was getting better, intonation was pretty acceptable, keywork tended to be soft. They pointed out that all instruments were being made in just a few factories, even though there are many eBay sellers. With this information, I picked out a chinese seller with a good rating, and ordered an ebonite c clarinet "professional quality". I paid $160 US for the clarinet and $60 for EMS shipping. I live in the pacific Northwest and shipping was guaranteed to be there in about 20 to 30 days.

Well, the shipping guarantee was very conservative! The clarinet arrived in less than a week, which is really impressive, considering it had to clear customs! So that part was good.

I tried the clarinet out with my own mouthpiece and reed. The mouthpiece was a used Portnoy, provided to me by a local clarinet teacher, repair guy. More about him later. I should mention that almost all modern c clarinets are designed to use a b flat clarinet mouthpiece. Intonation was not bad, except for 1st register A. First register B refused to sound, but the clarinet went into the second register pretty readily. Then, after the clarinet warmed up, all the chalumeau notes refused to sound at all. Clearly, the clarinet needed some attention. So I took it to Richard Boberg, at Woodwind Repair in Beaverton, Oregon. Richard is an awesome teacher and woodwind technician, with great experience. So I was pretty confident he would be able to sort things out. I expected to be chastised for buying an ebay clarinet, and I was, but gently.

To make a long story short, the lower section of the clarinet leaked like a sieve. There were also some issues with the A key: spring too long, action not right. It took Richard about 30 - 40 minutes to get the clarinet playing properly and he charged me $35, which I think was very reasonable indeed. I think a different tech would have had to spend more time, and charged more, if they had been willing to work on the clarinet at all.

To summarize:
The quality of materials in the clarinet was very good. Gore Tex pads! Ebonite body. Hard, nickel silver keys.
The quality of the machining was acceptable. Posts were screwed into tapped holes, rods fit reasonable snugly into posts.
Assembly quality was pretty poor. The expensive, high quality gore-tex pads were attached hastily, with hardly any glue, so they were not floated and consequently many didn't seat well and couldn't hold air. The A key was not well adjusted and the needle spring was too long. Etc.

The fundamentals are all there with this clarinet (which is probably pretty typical of all chinese clarinets made now, late 2016) but unless you know how to service clarinets, or have a good tech who is willing to work on them, buying one is a bit risky.

One other thing: the case was quite nice in appearance, smaller than usual for a hard case. The foam felt a little soft. The pieces fit snugly, and a very nice swab was included, also a thumb rest. No accessory compartment at all! Case hinges and latches were nailed on, not screwed on. I'll have to see how it holds up. Not easy to get a replacement case for a C clarinet!

So, how does it play now? Very well! Thank you, Richard! Intonation is good, except for the A key which is about 20 cents sharp: annoying, but correctable. And I can't speak about the intonation in the 3rd register, since I don't play that high. But the clarinet should do what I need it to do. I don't find it more difficult to play than a b flat, and I am thrilled to have a key of C woodwind. Now, if I could only learn to smoothly navigate the register break!