We stock a wide variety of clarinet brands appropriate for absolute beginners through the most consummate professionals. We’ve created this clarinet buyer’s guide to the instruments we carry to help you make an informed decision on what instrument is right for you. As always, if you have any questions feel free to call our clarinet specialist.
Clarinets are typically made from a variety of plastics or wood (grenadilla). Plastic clarinets are more resistant to physical damage and change little in different seasons or climates. All other things being equal, plastic instruments will not produce as warm a sound as a wood clarinet. Wood instruments sound better/warmer but need much more care than the plastic version to avoid cracks, and the wood can very slightly expand or contract through the life of the instrument, causing occasional keywork fitting problems that need to be corrected by a technician.
Your First Clarinets:
When searching for a beginner clarinet for a young player, we suggest a plastic instrument like the Buffet B12. These are inexpensive, yet have a strong reputation for playing well and holding up some level of mistreatment. For a slightly older or more careful student, the Buffet E11 basic model is a good wood instrument that has become a standard for beginner/intermediate clarinets the world over.
We suggest: Don’t skimp on the mouthpiece! The mouthpiece is the most important part of the clarinet for beginners. The included mouthpieces that come with most new instruments ("Stock" mouthpieces) are usually poor quality, making it difficult to produce a good tone with good intonation. Many students give up on music too early because they’re using equipment that makes progressing difficult.
Vandoren makes many fine mouthpieces that are usually between $85-$95. The Vandoren B45 and 5RV Lyre are good models to start with and worth every penny in the early stages of musical development. For more information, see our Mouthpiece and Ligature guide.
If you've been playing for a while the basic plastic instrument may not be letting you develop your sound and expressiveness. Without a doubt the current industry standard for intermediate clarinets is the Buffet E11-France clarinet. We so strongly believe that for new purchases this is the right way to go the only other option we suggest is a used and good condition professional model. When approaching the purchase of a used clarinets it's best to go with a reputable brand like Buffet or Selmer (call us for details on professional Selmer clarinets), otherwise you could end up with an instrument with cheap parts and that plays poorly. Look below for the professional models we suggest and consider testing used instruments of those models. For clarinets, the saying "Age is nothing but a number" can really apply, especially when looking for a good intermediate model. Check on our Used Instruments page to see what we have available, or call our clarinet specialist to get more information on what we currently have available.
Choosing a new intermediate or professional level instrument can be a daunting task but enlisting the help of a private teacher or knowledgeable sales person can make things easier. Always bring your mouthpiece, reeds, and the instrument you’re currently playing when trying new instruments. Playing your own instrument first will let you make sure your mouthpiece and reed are working as you expect, and give you a baseline of the room acoustics in the space you are trying the instrument. Using your current mouthpiece setup will add some familiarity to this process and give you a better sense of the differences between your clarinet and the clarinets you’re testing. The biggest things to look/listen for would be how the instrument feels like in your hands and how it feels to play it. Switching back and forth from your clarinet to the new instrument will help you feel the different resistance levels as the air moves through each one. Make sure to use a tuner when testing to check intonation. Play a familiar passage of music and some basic scales the same way on each instrument. Resist the temptation to "show off" or play music that is technically so challenging that you are not really testing the instrument but your own abilities.
Making the Jump to Professional Instruments:
After some years of private lessons most mature and dedicated young players will start to outgrow their student (plastic) instrument sometime during their late middle school/early high school years. The private teacher will help determine if a student is ready for a professional instrument.
The industry standard professional model clarinet is the Buffet R13. We keep a large inventory of R13 clarinets for customer trials, so you can be sure you're getting the right individual instrument for you. We also can provide other high-end Buffet clarinets such as the Tosca, RC series, and the Devine. The other popular make we can suggest is the Selmer Signature series of clarinets. These can offer features above the R13 but at a premium cost.
As with Intermediate instruments, it is imperative that you give a professional instrument a thorough evaluation before committing to a purchase. Our trial policy is easy and flexible so you'll know you're making the right decision.
Professional Clarinet Features and Options:
Most professional clarinets are made form Grenadilla wood. Buffet also offers the R13 GreenLine series which follow the same manufacturing process as the 100% Grenadilla R13s. With the addition of carbon fibers, GreenLine clarinets can withstand the variations in atmospheric conditions (temperature, humidity). The risk of cracking is therefore eliminated. Created in 1994, the GreenLine series of instruments has taken advantage of the excess wood remaining from the clarinet manufacturing process. This process of combining grenadilla powder with carbon fibers produces a clarinet that is greatly resistant to environmental change.
Other woods for making clarinets include Honduran rosewood and cocobolo but these more exotic woods are used more rarely due to diminishing supplies. Clarinets using these exotic woods are usually more expensive to purchase and provide specific sound qualities for professionals that desire them.
Some professional models incorporate extra keywork. There are alternate keys (ways to finger) for B, C, and C# but there is only one Eb/Ab key on the right hand side so some professional models will have an added Left Hand(LH) Eb/Ab lever operated with the left pinky finger. This extra key gives the player the option to decide which pinky finger they want to use on difficult musical passages. The Eb/Ab key can be helpful but most clarinetists play without one just fine. Some professional clarinets like the Buffet Tosca and Devine have a low F correction key. The low F on clarinet tends to be sharp and the low F correction was added to help fix the problem by bringing the note down in pitch.