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What is the difference between a student clarinet and a professional one?

Other then $$$$'s, what is the difference between a student clarinet and a professional one?

Is there a noticeable audio quality difference between the different levels of clarinet?

If there is a difference in audio quality, can anyone hear it, or is the difference only visible to the trained ear?


Clarinet, Sax, Oboe, History
This is mainly on a case by case basis-but most pro level stuff will sound, play, and be built better than most student level instruments, though by no means is that always true.
And by how much is also variable.


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
There are a lot of differences between student horns and professional horns. I'll list two easy ones:

* The professional horn from any manufacturer will be made to their highest quality with their highest quality materials. That doesn't mean that one company's professional horn is better than another's, it just means it's the best they can make.
* The professional horn will help you shape your own sound easier than a student horn.

The difference in tone quality can generally be heard by playing the horns one after the other or "side-by-side." Student horns generally have a bit "brighter" and "thinner" tone. However, if you're going to ask me to pick out the Buffet R13 from a group of 30 other clarinets playing at the same time, I doubt I can.

FWIW, there should be equal importance given to the mouthpiece. A really nice mouthpiece can make a really average clarinet sound quite nice, as I've demonstrated for years when I played student and intermediate horns with a pro mouthpiece.

The #1 determinator of how you sound is you.
It doesn't matter if you have the world's best horn and world's best mouthpiece if you aren't a good player.

Looping back a bit, the player can tell a lot more about the horn than the listener. "This horn is really easy to play altissimo on!" "This horn has much more convenient keywork." Etc. Also note that horns tend to have their own little quirks, too, like, "The low Eb is 5 cents sharp, so I have to furrow my brow to get it to play in tune." There's also the pragmatic: "This horn plays the upper altissimo very nicely, but it's $5000 more than this other horn that does a pretty good job." Of course, if a horn is easier to play, you'll probably want to play more, which will make you into a better player :).


Admin and all around good guy.
Staff member
I love this question, mostly because it is what my wife asked me when she started up on clarinet again after a 20+ year break. She wanted to know why I wanted to buy her a used Buffet Festival clarinet when she still had her student Selmer soloist. I told her I was glad she asked and that we should perform a simple test. I had her play the full range of the instrument and logged each note's intonation on a chart. Then we did the same with the R13. Where the student instrument ranged at worst from 15 to 20 sharp and flat, the R16's worst notes were 5 cents sharp/flat (in the normal places). She instantly knew what she wanted and has played professional horns ever since.

Another plus that many people don't mention but I appreciate is the keyworks. The keyworks on my pro horns play like butter, smooth, relatively quiet, and wonderful. When I lend an instrument to my friends, they are totally spoiled and know what they are missing if they are playing a student instrument.
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Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
I've been mostly pragmatic with clarinets. I've owned a very old Selmer Centered Tone, played a few Buffet R13s, and a couple Selmer Series 9s and 10s for an extended length of time. I've been fairly happy with my Yamaha YCL-34 and the Buffet student horn (the fun clear one) before that, especially for the cost. I also really rather liked my old Pan American metal clarinet. All that being said, I'm also not a soloist for the Phoenix Philharmonic and never planned to be. However, if I did start playing clarinet again and didn't want to refurbish my wife's horns, I'd look up some older pro horns. Used Yamaha CSVs are now in the $1000 range ...


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I just say that "pro" instrument have more work in them as student instruments do. In student instruments, the "it's good enough now" point comes earlier in time during the manufacturing process than with professional instruments. Also, some less important steps are omitted, cheaper pads and mouthpieces are chosen etc etc.

But *inherently* a student instrument is not worse than a professional instrument, ie "they" don't make the student horn intonate worse or somesuch - it's just less refined, leaves the conveyor belt at an earlier stage.

Just to illustrate - I recently sold my Bundy/Artley bass clarinet. The potential buyer brought a tuner with him and checked each note. None was off my more than five or maybe seven cents. Paired with a decent mouthpiece, such an instrument can - acoustically - easily compete with a pro horn. On the other hand, the keywork is, well, rather rustic and unrefined compared to an instrument that has $5000 more work in it. That's the price you pay with student horns (of a reputable brand, I hasten to add) - you get a dirty soil-stained potato while the pro customer gets a washed and brushed and hairdried potato. :)


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
I mention that all horns have some inherent quirkiness. I think you can say that pro horns have less of that. As an example, using some saxophones, I've played several Selmer Mark VIs and the Yamaha Custom Pro 855 and 875, which were very close copies to the Selmer. Both had difficult altissimo ranges -- for me, at least. My Buffet Dynaction, a horn that came out a couple years before the Selmer? Easy for me to play. Did have an Eb that consistently wandered out of tune ...

Kinda building on what TrueTone mentioned, a lot of companies' student horns are so drastically different from their professional horns, it's like you're comparing completely different things. That can even be the case for the extreme high-end instruments: Buffet has, what, eight different pro models? And they are definitely different, mostly on the inside (radically different bore), but also on the outside (keywork).