There are various pieces of equipment you will need before starting to learn the clarinet. This section gives you advice on each item and help with where to shop.
Obviously the most important and for the inexperienced the most difficult item to choose.
Clarinets are made from plastic or wood, the plastic instrument normally being the choice for the beginner because of cost. There is little point in spending a large sum on an instrument which may be abandoned and neglected after a short period. This certainly runs true for young children. However in my experience adult learners, having more discipline, are less likely to give up quickly. Therefore a mid-ranged wooden clarinet would be a good option. This standard of instrument gives a better tone and response, the metal is stronger and the keywork is more refined making it easier to play. I would recommend a mid-ranged wooden clarinet over a plastic one any day but it does depend upon your budget. Clarinets are expensive.
The beginner clarinet market is extremely competitive and in a bid to be the cheapest quality has really suffered. You get what you pay for, especially in this arena. To drive down prices cheaper materials are used and unskilled labour is often employed for assembly. The result is clarinets with bendy keywork and poor intonation, on the cheapest models it is possible to bend keys easily with your fingers. Plating on keywork quickly corrodes and pads have a shorter life. If your budget does not stretch to a wooden clarinet then do go for one of the better plastic makes, Buffet, Yamaha or Selmer. There are other good makers but I have found these models to survive and function well in the rough and tumble of the school enviroment. The first clarinet I played on was a Boosey and Hawkes Regent plastic model (sadly no longer available ) 40 years ago and we still have some of these clarinets in use today.
I would stick to these companies for mid-ranged wooden clarinets as well. My favourite is the Buffet E13 which is an excellent quality instrument but relatively expensive. The joints are often too stiff and the instrument must be returned for adjustment. This is inconvenient but must be done to avoid future problems.
Yamaha produce an excellent range of wooden clarinets at a modest price. These are the clarinets I recommend my pupils to buy if they want something a bit cheaper than the Buffet E13. They are dependable, consistant and hard wearing. My favourite two are the YCL 650 and the YCL 450 both of which are fantastic value for money.
If you really want to splash out then go for the Yamaha CX. I am seriously impressed with this clarinet. It is very good value and can only be beaten by the top professional models which are much more expensive. I play on Buffet Festivals and at £3000.00 each they are a serious investment.
Remember these are my opinions. There are other models on the market and if you can get impartial professional advice use it.
Where and how to buy
There are many companies in competition so shop around. The easiest way is on the
internet where prices are at their lowest. The high street shop is convenient and you can
actually handle the instruments but they usually have a limited stock in store and find it
hard to compete on price due to high overheads.
Buying second hand is very difficult for me to help you with. There are many pitfalls and if you decide to go this route it is advisable to have the instrument checked out and valued by an expert.
There are a lot of different schemes by which you can rent/purchase/lease instruments. Again shop around and try different companies. Normans, Dawkes and Myatts are 3 such dealers. The real disadvantage of these schemes is they are more expensive. The advantage is the ability to spread the cost over a longer period. Also there are buy back schemes which can be attractive if you just want to test the waters rather than commit yourself fully with a large financial commitment.
You will spend a lot of time with your chosen instrument so buy the best you can afford. Think slowly about your best options, shop around and you will have a friend for life.
One last piece of advice on this issue. Ask for the clarinet to be supplied with a Vandoren 5RV mouthpiece. The mouthpiece is very important. Most clarinets are supplied with a cheaply produced model which can cause all sorts of problems and turn an enjoyable past-time into a daily struggle. The first thing I always check when a pupil is having problems is the suitability of the mouthpiece. Do yourself a favour and buy a good one straight away. The extra cost will be repaid every time you pick up your instrument. We will discuss mouthpieces in more detail later in the course.
Advice about clarinets
Copyright Colin Hunter