Guide to Choosing the Right Clarinet

Choosing the Right Clarinet & Clarinet Brands Explained

We stock a wide variety of clarinet brands appropriate for absolute beginners through the most consummate professionals. We’ve created this guide to the clarinets 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 specialists at 612-331-4717.


Clarinets are typically made from a variety of synthetics or wood (grenadilla). Synthetic clarinets are more resistant to physical damage and change little in different seasons or climates. All other things being equal, synthetic instruments will not produce as warm a tone as a wood clarinet. Wood instruments sound better/warmer but need much more care than the synthetic version to avoid cracks. Wood can very slightly, expand or contract throughout the life of the instrument, causing occasional key fitting problems that will need to be corrected by a repair technician.

Beginner Clarinets:

When searching for a beginner clarinet for a young player, we suggest a synthetic instrument like the Buffet Prodige or Yamaha YCL-255. These are inexpensive, yet have a strong reputation for playing well and holding up to some level of mistreatment. For a slightly older or more careful student, the Buffet E11/E12, Yamaha 450 or Leblanc Serenade are intermediate or semi-professional models that are considered good wood instruments.

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 fine mouthpieces that are priced around $100. The Vandoren B45 and 5RV Lyre are good models to start with and are worth every penny in the early stages of musical development. We also carry Clark Fobes and Brad Behn student mouthpieces that are hand-crafted and are affordably priced between $35-40. For more information, see our online Mouthpiece and Ligature guide.***

Intermediate Clarinets:

If you’ve been playing between 3-5 years the basic synthetic instrument may be hindering your technical abilities, not letting you develop your sound and expressiveness. The current industry standards for intermediate clarinets are Buffet E11 or E12F and the Yamaha YCL-450 or YCL-650. We strongly believe that for new purchases these models are the right way to go. The only other option we suggest is finding an used professional model clarinet that is in good condition. When approaching the purchase of used clarinets it’s best to go with a reputable brand like Buffet, Selmer or Yamaha otherwise you could end up with an instrument with cheap parts that plays poorly. For clarinets, age does play a factor, especially when looking for a good intermediate model. Older clarinets may have cracks, a blown out bore or were poorly maintained. These are factors to be mindful of when buying instruments online without trying them first. If you decide to buy a cracked clarinet have it looked at by a professional repair tech to make sure the crack was fixed properly. Check our Used Instruments page to see what we have available, or call our clarinet specialists to get more information on current inventory.

Professional Clarinets:

After some years of private lessons most mature and dedicated players will start to outgrow their student instrument or intermediate instrument. This happens sometimes in early to late high school years or when a player’s performance opportunities increase. A private teacher or our clarinet specialists can help determine if a student is ready for a professional instrument.

The current industry standard professional model clarinets are the Buffet R13, Selmer Presence or Yamaha CSVR. We also regularly stock other high-end clarinets for trial as well.

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 from Grenadilla wood. However, Buffet also offers a GreenLine series which follow the same manufacturing process as the 100% Grenadilla instruments but with the addition of carbon fibers. GreenLine clarinets can withstand 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. Beware! These exotic woods can crack more readily than Grenadilla.

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 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.

Testing Clarinets:

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 give you a baseline and a better idea of what you like and don’t like in a new 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 are how the instrument feels 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 so technically challenging that you are not really testing the instrument but your own abilities.

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