Clarinet Buyers Guide

Makes to look out for: 

  • Budget: There are numerous budget brands on the market however, quality is linked to price. Consider Buffet, Yamaha, Jupiter, Uebel, Windcraft, John Packer, Odyssey. In the second hand market there are many B&H Regent clarinets, however, these instruments may be in poor condition so only consider if they have been restored by a NAMIR repairer.
  • Intermediate: Backun, Yamaha, Buffet, Uebel, Selmer
  • Professional: Hanson, Buffet, LeBlanc, Uebel
  • Vintage: B&H 1010/Imperial, Leblanc, Buffet

The Bb clarinet is the most common type of clarinet. Beginner clarinets are usually made from ABS resin. This makes them lighter to hold and the body material is durable for new players who are getting used to maintaining them. As players progress, they generally move onto wooden instruments which commonly offer a richer tone quality, more projection, and higher quality manufacturing processes. The wooden instruments require a little extra ongoing maintenance and care to ensure optimal performance.

How they work and common issues: All clarinets have a system of keywork with pads that close over the tone holes. These pads can be made from a variety of materials. On student instruments they are usually white bladder pads, on upgrade/pro instruments they can be white bladder, leather, gore-tex or other synthetic materials. In general terms pads degrade over time due to moisture and wear from use. Examples of wear include discolouring, rips or tears, bloating, and hardening. If a pad is degraded and/or not covering its tone hole correctly then air can escape making the instrument less efficient to play and resulting in notes that don’t speak correctly.

Within the keywork system there are a range of corks (and occasionally other materials like felt or nylon) that regulate the mechanism. These regulation materials ensure all the keywork works in sync and the correct keys and pads are actioned when the player depresses them. Over time these materials compress and/or wear and this can lead to the instrument being out of regulation which will result in a Clarinet that can be harder to play and/or notes that don’t speak correctly.

The Clarinet is made up of 5 main sections: the mouthpiece, barrel, top joint, bottom joint, and bell. Each section joins together with a cork seal. This cork can degrade and become compressed. This will result in the sections not sealing together correctly. Care needs to be taken when assembling each section as there are various key mechanisms (bridge key for example) which can be damaged by rough handling or poor assembly.

The mouthpiece uses a reed and ligature which create the sound wave. Mouthpiece quality can vary massively (like instruments) and as such it’s a good idea to seek advice from your teacher, an experienced player, a specialist retailer, or a musical instrument repair professional to ensure you have the most suitable mouthpiece. A poor mouthpiece can make playing the Clarinet harder than it needs to be. Ensure it’s either new and/or fully sanitised and in good condition if buying pre-owned.

Priority features:  A mouthpiece that does not have teeth marks/indentation on the top of the mouthpiece.

Nice to have features: wooden clarinets are generally considered to have more depth to their tone and are suitable for intermediate players and above.   Student/intermediate clarinets have nickel silver keywork, whilst higher level clarinets tend to have silver plate or sterling silver keywork.

Play test:  If you are new to playing then ask an experienced player to play it for you or take advice from your local NAMIR repairer or teacher. Play the clarinet with a reed you are familiar with, together with a mouthpiece you are familiar with.

Common problems – things to look out for:

If you are intending to buy second-hand, check for worn or damaged pads.  White bladder pads tend to discolour when they are old.  Leather pads are generally tan coloured or white – if they get wet they can go hard and darken.   Check the cork in between the tenon joints is not loose and the cork is not damaged on the bridge key (the key that joins the upper and lower sections).

Check the mouthpiece does not have scratches inside the mouthpiece or teeth indentations on the top.

Check the keywork for signs of wear as this can be unsightly and uncomfortable to play. It also affects the resale value of an instrument.

If you are purchasing a wooden clarinet, check there are no cracks in the wooden body. You should also check for crack repairs as these will also affect the value of the instrument.


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