Clarinet Buyer’s Guide

Before buying a clarinet, consider the following:

1. Music is all about sound
2. The better the instrument, the better the potential sound

A poor quality instrument will be more difficult to play and fail to give satisfactory results. This hinders progress and leads to loss of motivation – sadly, a common reason why many give up. Buying a clarinet need not be complicated or expensive if a few simple guidelines are followed:

1. Don’t buy cheap Chinese instruments
2. Don’t buy secondhand unless you have reliable advice

However, there is no need to buy an expensive, professional quality clarinet if just starting out learning the instrument. Most manufacturers tend to categorise their various models as ‘student’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘professional’, or something similar.

Student clarinets will generally be made of ABS resin, which is more robust than wood and cheaper to produce. The keywork will not be as robust or precise as the professional models, but the instrument will often be easier for a beginner to handle.

Intermediate clarinets are more likely to be made of wood – usually Grenadilla – and will have better quality keywork and padding. Intonation and tone will be better. A proficient player moving from a student clarinet to an intermediate model will usually notice a big jump in the quality of their performance.

Professional clarinets start at around £2000. Built to take the knocks and bumps of a working musician’s life, they will usually be made of better quality Grenadilla with very robust, well-designed keywork with durable silver or nickel plating. There may be additional or custom keywork, undercut tone holes, a hand-polished bore and many other features which add considerably to the cost of manufacture.

Student Clarinets

The following represent good choices:

Buffet B12
Cost new £400, second-hand £200

The nearest thing to a default choice for a beginner. ABS resin body, cold forged nickel silver keywork and excellent general design from one of the world’s foremost manufacturers.

Yamaha YCL-255
Cost new £400, second-hand (YCL-250) £200

Another good beginner’s clarinet. ABS resin, nickel silver keywork with choice of nickel or silver plating.

Boosey and Hawkes Regent
Cost new n/a, second-hand under £150

No longer available new, but many cheap examples second-hand. A decent beginner’s clarinet if in good condition. Buyer beware!

Intermediate Clarinets

Buffet E11
Cost new £900

Buffet E13
Cost new £1300

Yamaha YCL-450
Cost new £850

Yamaha YCL-650
Cost new £1100

Boosey and Hawkes Edgware
Cost new n/a, second-hand £150

Not as good as the Emperor, but still a reasonable student/intermediate clarinet if in good condition. Grenadilla construction.

Boosey and Hawkes Emperor
Cost new n/a, second-hand £450

A well-regarded intermediate clarinet from this former manufacturer. Need to get a good example, but can be a bargain. Again, buyer beware.

Professional Clarinets

Buffet R13
Cost new £2000

A standard in all the world’s top orchestras

Buffet RC
Cost new £2000

Same as the R13 but with slightly altered bore geometry

Buffet Tosca
Cost new £4300

No-compromise clarinet for virtuosos

Yamaha YCL-CX
Cost new £1800

Selmer Recital
Cost new £3000

Peter Eaton Elite
Cost new £3200

Hand-made British clarinets with a wider bore than usual these days. The nearest equivalent to the Boosey and Hawkes 1010 beloved of Jack Brymer and Gervase De Payer.

Boosey and Hawkes 1010 Symphony
Cost new n/a, second-hand £1000+

If professionally used and maintained, a wonderful instrument capable of unique expression. Intonation problems rumoured to abound, but a thing of beauty in expert hands

Boosey and Hawkes 926 Imperial
Cost new n/a, second-hand £1000+

As above, but with narrower continental bore