Purchasing a clarinet isn’t something you do every day and it can be an expensive purchase so it’s worth doing some research and getting it right. In this guide I will focus on clarinet jargon, frequently asked questions from customers, advice to online purchasing and my personal clarinet recommendations.
Technical specification can be confusing – here is a brief explanation of some common terms:
The inside of the clarinet from the mouthpiece down to the bell. It is predominantly a cylindrical column with no variation in the size of the diameter – bar mouthpiece and bell areas. The bore is the part of the clarinet that sounds. Some pro models feature a Polycylindrical bore which means that the diameter is not the same size throughout its length. A sudden reduction in the diameter of the bore creates a bit of resistance which changes the sound and enhances its colour.
Hard plastic used to make the vast majority of student clarinets. It is light, doesn’t crack and is resistant to hot/cold temperature fluctuations.
Also known as African Black Wood – this wood is hard and heavier than plastic. The wood offers an enhanced tone and is usually found on pro clarinets.
Simply the cork strips at the ends of each section of the clarinet body. They protect the instrument whilst ensuring the good fit when it is assembled.
This is found on the back of the lower clarinet joint. It allows the player to help spread the weight. Some clarinets features adjustable thumb rests, Thumb cushions are often purchased by players which fit over the thumb rest and hep ‘cushion’ your thumb while playing.
Tone holes and Tonehole Undercutting
The holes which you cover with your fingers to make different notes. They lie underneath keys and finger rings and need to be completely closed to achieve the right sound. For the acoustics of a clarinet to function correctly the toneholes need to be ‘undercut’ this involves cutting away part of the inner bore of the instrument underneath the tone hole. For most instruments this is done with computer controlled machines however with top level professional instruments each tone hole is hand cut by an experienced craftsman to a shape that is individually optimised for each hole.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I buy a well-known brand?
The question of brand inevitably links to price –people will often pay more for something which does the same and looks the same but which has the ‘right’ brand. It is no different in clarinet land– historically Yamaha and Buffet have been market leaders but as their prices have crept up over recent years they have edged themselves above many people’s budget. There are other, lesser known brands out there – Sonata and Selmer Prelude to name a couple which offer the same reliability as well as a good sound quality for a fraction of the price – these brands are frequently the choice of Music Education Authorities for Wider Opportunities schemes and are worth checking out.
Do I need a plastic or wood clarinet?
When something is described as plastic it can sound a bit cheap and nasty. In fact, these days most student clarinets are pretty much all made from plastic or resin construction (a fancier way of describing hard plastic) and it is generally only the pro models that are made from wood. As stated earlier ‘plastic’ models are less susceptible to extreme weather conditions and don’t crack! This means a beginner will usually start playing on a plastic/ABS/Resin specification model. Wood is used (usually Grenadilla) to make more expensive intermediate and pro models, aimed at players around grade 5 and above.
What size does my child need?
Standard Bb Clarinets are quite large and heavy and are usually recommended for children age 8+ (depending on their size etc). For younger and smaller children, the C Clarinet offers a good solution enabling players as young as 5 to pick up a clarinet. They also come in fun colours, which add to their appeal. Take a look here.
What is the AIPS scheme?
AIPS (Assisted Instrument Purchase Scheme) is a scheme operated by Local Authorities which enables full time state pupils learning music at school to purchase new instruments via their school VAT free. More information available here.
Can I rent a clarinet to see if I like it?
Rental schemes are a great idea if you’re not sure your child is going to last the course. Rentals usually offer a low monthly payment with the flexibility of being able to return the instrument if your child decides six months down the line he/she wants to play something else.. We offer our own rental scheme – please see our website for details.
Buying a Clarinet Online
Buying online, you will generally receive better prices and you can order from home at any time of the day. You are also covered by the distance selling regulations, particularly useful if something goes wrong or you’re not happy with your purchase.
My advice to purchasing online:
- Read the guide below to the best clarinet models currently on the market.
- Read reviews – Go onto Google and search for some of the clarinets that you are interested in. Customer reviews can be extremely helpful.
- Choose a reputable supplier website and take a look at their services -Finance options? Warranty? Delivery service?
- Make sure that the clarinet you have chosen is at a competitive price. If the website you’d like to buy from is a little more expensive, try calling them up to see if they can price match.
- Order your clarinet, sit back and wait for it to arrive!
If you want to see what customers are saying about the online shop, you can look them up on www.trustpilot.co.uk
Top 5 Clarinets under £500
Shopping for your first clarinet, whether it’s for you or someone in your family is not easy if you have no prior experience. Not everyone is familiar with the ‘in’ brands or the terminology. Here is a guide to 5 of the best clarinets currently on the market which are aimed at beginners.
C Clarinets are becoming a regular feature in schools, allowing as young as 5 and 6 to get to learn a woodwind instrument, Lightweight, with smaller holes they offer a good tone and modern design. A variety of fun colour should appeal to both boys and girls.
With noticeable price rises in Yamaha and Buffet’s student offering over the last few years, other brands have entered the market allowing schools and parents to purchase good quality instruments that don’t break the bank. The Sonata clarinet is made in the UK by the Hanson Clarinet Company who also produce high-end models. ABS body, durable and lightweight as well as offering a warm and responsive tone – this model ticks a lot of boxes. Practical backpack style gig bag completes the outfit.
The Buffet B12 has been around for a long time and still has a convincing offering of quality, style and reliability – as well a long overdue makeover of its gigbag. Made from durable ABS resin (hard rubber) the sound produced is similar to that of grenadilla wood, found on most intermediate and pro models. One of the most expensive student clarinets on the market, the B12 weighs in at just over the £400 mark.
Successor to the popular YCL250, Yamaha’s latest student model is also made from ABS resin and features an adjustable thumb-rest. Similarly priced to the Buffet, this is the alternative ‘top end’ student model.
The Jupiter brand isn’t quite as well known as the previous two models although sells well into Education. ABS body with matt finish for better grip and a full warm sound. Comes in a stylish moulded case.
Top 5 Clarinets Over £500
A more recent addition to the Yamaha range, the YCL450M uses clever technology initially pioneered in their oboes, which houses a protective layer of resin next to the column. The result is a sturdier instrument which still looks the part (grenadilla exterior) and is well equipped to deal with the rough and tumble of school and home life.
Although usually dubbed an intermediate model, the E13 comfortably sits between intermediate and pro spec. Made from the best quality materials and selected grenadilla wood, it offers both durability and gorgeous sound projection. Fantastic and versatile and available in a traditional or backpack style case.
Hand crafted advanced clarinet made from carefully selected and treated grenadilla. Rich concentrated tone which delivers right across the full range. Robust and reliable design. Popular with players grade 6+.
Gorgeous pro clarinet made using the highest quality unstained Grenadilla so you really look and sound the part when you’re on stage. The selected wood used to make the clarinet gives an incredible rich sound, consistent throughout the different ranges.
Featuring a slightly larger bore than the R13, the RC is preferred by many players (particularly on the continent). It delivers an extremely pure and precise sound along with ease of response. Great for advancing and pro players.