How to Buy a Clarinet



Whether you're looking to buy a clarinet for the first time or you're about to purchase a step-up or professional model, there are a few things to keep in mind.  This buying guide answers common questions concerning how to buy a clarinet.

When you're first starting out, it's important to invest in a quality instrument that is in good working condition and will allow you to make a good sound. However, as a beginner you don't need to shell out the big bucks on a professional model.  If you buy a good beginner clarinet now, you'll be able to keep it as a spare later or use it for outdoor performances such as marching band.  


How much does that cost?

A good beginner clarinet will cost between $400 and $1,000 if bought new.  Generally, cheaper instruments are not going to work as well or sound as good.  You'll be spending a lot of time with your instrument, so in the long run you'll be much happier with a $400 clarinet that works than a $100 one you'll have trouble playing.

As for professional models, they can be $1,000 and up.

How do I buy a clarinet new?

There are several ways to do this:

1.  Online ordering.  You have a wide selection of websites to choose from and compare prices.  Here are some of the big ones:

2.  Your local music store.  This is a good way to check out instruments in person, and many stores offer a rent-to-own program. One drawback is that there may not be a very big selection, especially at smaller stores.  

3.  An instrument dealer.  These are professionals who personally try out the instruments straight from the factory and can provide a personalized match for you based on your needs.  I've had good experiences buying clarinets from www.lisasclarinetshop.com.

If at all possible, I strongly encourage you to try out more than one clarinet.  Or, if you haven't started yet, have your clarinet teacher or an experienced player help you.  

Why?  

All clarinets are made a little differently and have a different feel and sound, even with clarinets of the same model.  For example, if I want to buy a new Buffet R-13, I would order 3 of them, spend a few days playing them to decide which one suits me the best, and send the 2 I didn't like as much back to the retailer.

What about used clarinets? 

In many cases, a used clarinet is perfectly fine.  Some stores will offer refurbished clarinets, which are checked over by a repairperson and in general work great.  

Make sure that the clarinet you're getting won't need extensive repairs on top of the price of the instrument itself! Say you have a grandparent who used to play and has had a clarinet in their attic for the past 40 years.  Now you don't have to buy a clarinet, right?  Well, if it's in poor condition and needs a complete overhaul, you're looking at a price of $400 and upwards.  For that price I could buy a new clarinet and turn the old one into a cool lamp.

What about E-bay?

E-bay is a great place to get a lot of different things at a good price, but in the clarinet department I would be wary.  Since you would be choosing an instrument based on only what you see online from someone you don't know very much about, there's no guarantee that they instrument you buy will be of good quality.

Why can't I just get one at Walmart?

The clarinets for sale at places like Walmart, Sam's Club, or Costco may seem like a great way to buy a clarinet, but from what I've heard they are very poorly made and break very easily.  When your Walmart instrument does break, you may have trouble finding a repairman willing to spend time fixing it.  While I do like the concept of offering instruments that are affordable to more people so that more people have the opportunity to make music, I can't vouch for a retailer that sells instruments that will leave you frustrated and unsuccessful.

What kind of clarinet should I get?  Plastic or wood?

There are tons of brands of clarinets out there nowadays.  It's generally better to stick with the major brands to ensure good quality. 

Frequently with beginner clarinets, you have the choice between wood and plastic.  Wood clarinets usually have better tone quality, but if you're just starting out, the difference between plastic and wood in that regard is not as significant.  

You may want to buy a clarinet made of plastic first because it's more durable against getting bumped or dropped.  If you become more advanced and get a wooden clarinet, you can then use your old plastic one for marching band.  It will hold up better than a wooden clarinet through heat, cold, and precipitation (make sure your pads don't get wet, though!).

Here are some good choices for beginner clarinets:

  • Buffet B-12
  • Yamaha YCL 250
  • Vito 7212 and 7214

For advanced players, I recommend buying a Buffet clarinet.  I've played on other brands of clarinets, but Buffet's tone quality and feel of the keys are consistently my favorite.  It is also the most played clarinet among all professional clarinetists.  Both my B-flat and A clarinets are R-13 models.

Everyone is built a differently and has different playing needs, so don't be afraid to explore and try out what's out there.  Happy hunting!


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