Best Clarinets Brands Review in 2018
There are countless clarinets brands on the market that offer their take on this woodwind instrument. Professional players have already had enough time and experience to find their preference, but beginners might too easily lose themselves in the sea of possibilities. This article is intended to help beginner clarinet players find the instrument that best suits them.
Quick Clarinet Facts
As a beginner, it’s important to understand clarinet essentials before making your purchase. The clarinet is the general name of a family of woodwind instruments known for their single-reed mouthpiece, cylindrical shape, and flared bell. This family consists of seven main members of different sizes. Although they are all variations on the same theme, they have slightly different appearances, pitches, and timbres. These types also have distinct applications and are better suited for some music styles than others.
What size should you select?
The Eb is the smallest of the more common clarinets and, therefore, has the highest pitch. Per its name, this particular clarinet is configured in the key of E flat. This instrument produces a rather shrill sound and can be found in most orchestras. Contrary to what you might expect, this is not a good clarinet for beginners, since its narrow mouthpiece and short keys make it very challenging to master.
The most prevalent clarinet, the soprano, is about a third longer than the Eb. It’s available in the key of A or Bb, with the latter being the more common. Whereas the A is only encountered in classical music, the Bb is frequently used in jazz bands and orchestras. Also, most music available is written for this kind of clarinet. Since it’s manufactured in large quantities, clarinets brands manage to offer Bb sopranos for a more economical price.
The alto clarinet is the soprano’s slightly larger and lower-sounding sibling. It’s configured in the key of E flat. From this size up, clarinets are increasingly curvier than the straight Eb and Bb models. You may want to consider an alto for playing in a band or a small chamber ensemble.
Another popular type is the bass clarinet, which is also in the key of Bb, but set an octave lower than the soprano. It is used in a variety of different genres including marching band music and jazz.
The contrabass and the contra-alto clarinet come in at one octave lower. The first is configured in Bb, whereas the second is in Eb. Both are mostly used in small chamber ensembles, bands, and orchestras.
There are several other members of the clarinet family, although it is unlikely that you will encounter one of these right off the bat. The piccolo clarinet, the D and C clarinet, the basset clarinet, the basset horn and the octo-contrabass are considered unpractical for entry-level players. However, we do mention them briefly because they might be fun to try out once you get the hang of the basics. We really recommend the Bb soprano clarinet for beginners, and we’ll review 5 particular Bb models a little later in the article.
For more information on the different types of clarinets watch the Youtube video below.
Start Small, Dream Big
As any other music instrument, clarinets are available in a very wide range of prices. The main factors that determine the eventual price of an instrument are the quality of the materials and the amount of work needed to build it. Professional players may pay thousands of dollars for a handcrafted, wooden instrument. However, there are some budget-friendly clarinets brands on the market that are still of a very decent quality. Aimed at the beginner’s budget, we’ve only reviewed models that cost between 200 and 750 dollars. By starting small, you can eventually save for that custom-built design that you see in your dreams. Alternatively, this might be your working instrument; you can take it on the road without worrying too much about possible damage or theft. Another reason why you might want to start with an affordable clarinet is because, while gaining experience, you might discover that you prefer an alto clarinet instead of a Bb for your small chamber ensemble.
Don’t forget the reed!
The main requirement to start playing the clarinet, besides the clarinet itself, is an appropriately-sized reed. It takes some dedication and time to figure out how to make vibrations against the reed that will produce a clean sound. Be sure to select a reed of the correct size for your specific clarinet type.
Which brand should you choose?
There are many different clarinets brands on the market. A few artisanal brands specialize in beautiful, custom-built instruments. Others produce their clarinets on a much larger scale. Well-known clarinets brands are Buffet, Yamaha, Jean Paul, Jupiter, Amati, Nuvo, Mendini, and Merano. We tested models of the first five brands of this list. Each brand offers an affordable Bb soprano. For an in-depth look at these options, check out our reviews on them below.
Five Best Clarinets Brands
Buffet B12 Bb student clarinet
The B12 is a Bb soprano clarinet made by the company Buffet Crampon and is manufactured in Germany. The body is made from ABS resin, which is a lightweight synthetic material. The body rings are made from silver-plated nickel. At the top of the bell, which is the flared section at the bottom of the clarinet, a metal ring is attached. This bell ring prevents the bell from splitting due to excessive forces. The B12 comes in a case that also includes a mouthpiece and neck strap.
The B12 we tested made a good overall impression on us. Of course, the synthetic material is a trade-off. It allows Buffet to offer this soprano for a fair price, but it lacks the dark mellow tonal qualities of a wooden instrument. ABS resin is more durable than wood, which makes it more suitable for children or for players in marching bands.
We experienced some difficulties in putting the instrument together because the corks were slightly too large. Applying cork grease might help. Over time, the issue might resolve itself because the corks shrink slightly. However, if this problem persists, it could be solved by carefully sanding them down to the ideal diameter. We found the Buffet B12 to be easy on the fingers and to play in tune. However, we noticed some difficulties concerning the pads that cover the keys. After only three weeks, some of them started to fall off. Replacing these can be costly and ideally should only be necessary after a couple of years.
Yamaha YCL-255 Bb student clarinet
The Japanese-produced YCL-255 is a student Bb soprano which is modeled after more expensive professional Yamaha clarinets. Just like the previously reviewed model, this body is also made from ABS resin. This synthetic material is easier for beginners to maintain in good shape but it does sound less warm and authentic than wood. The barrel has a diameter of 65 mm to deliver a focused tone. The bell of the YCL-255 does not have a nickel-plated ring, which might make it prone to cracking. An adjustable thumb rest is present with a ring to attach a neck strap. When purchasing this clarinet, you can choose between a hard or semi-hard case. A Yamaha 4C mouthpiece and cover are included. In addition, the player receives a swab for cleaning, a manual, and cork grease. You can start playing immediately without having to buy these accessories separately.
When taking our new YCL-255 out of its case, it was very easy to put together. For being a student model, this clarinet sounds very pleasant. It is also a beautiful instrument and, initially, the construction quality seemed high. However, after a month of playing, a piece of the clarinet fell off. We could easily glue it back on so we do not consider this to be a total deal breaker.
Jean Paul USA CL-300 Bb student clarinet
The Jean Paul CL-300 is manufactured in the United States of America. Its body is made from Ebonite and the keys are made out of nickel. Although Jean Paul describes this finish as ‘wood’, it is actually a synthetic material. We feel that this material produces a less aesthetically pleasing instrument. The company sells this clarinet in a semi-hard carrying case with a shoulder strap rather than a sturdier hard case. It does include several accessories, such as a 2 1/2 Rico reed, a pair of polishing gloves, a cleaning cloth, and cork grease. It has a full warranty for one year. Jean Paul will supply new parts to replace broken ones or, in some cases, an entirely new clarinet. Chances are rather high that you will need to invoke this warranty since the building quality is not great. One key of the instrument we tested did not cover the hole completely, rendering it utterly useless. Another key fell off after a couple weeks. The keys can easily be bent and sometimes get stuck. This is the downside of purchasing an economical instrument. If an instrument is barely played because of its poor construction quality or it needs to be repaired repeatedly, the monetary savings become devalued. This soprano clarinet did not really sound great but it was accurately tuned across the scale.
Jupiter JCL-710 Bb student clarinet
Jupiter is one of the more preeminent clarinets brands that has been manufacturing wind instruments in the USA for almost four decades. The JCL-710 is their take on a Bb student clarinet. Its body is made from ABS resin and has a beautiful matte finish. This durable synthetic material is particularly interesting for beginners. This instrument has a bore of 0.583 inches. It features a nickel silver bell ring to prevent cracking of the bell. The keys are of nickel-plated nickel to offer the combination of lasting beauty and great playability. Jupiter incorporated offset trill keys in this design, which help alleviate excess moisture that might have accumulated in the instrument. This was the most expensive instrument of the ones we tested.
Our JCL-710 had some screws that were sitting a little loose, so we had to tighten them. Apart from that, the quality seemed very high. Although it produced a clean sound, there was still a detectable difference between the tones of synthetic and wooden instruments. And, at the same price point as the Jupiter, you can find a wooden instrument with a more dynamic tone. This instrument has a thumb rest that you can adjust for personalized comfort. Other features include undercut tone holes and a comfortable C/G key riser. It comes with a hard case and cleaning supplies. Jupiter offers a convenient warranty on any manufacturer’s defects or broken parts until the student graduates high school.
Amati ACL 311-O B flat student clarinet
Amati is the oldest clarinet builder in Europe. This company builds its instruments in the Czech Republic. Their ACL 311-O is a soprano B flat clarinet for beginning players of an exceptionally high quality. It has a cylindrical bore of 14.6 mm and stainless springs. The body is made from real grenadilla wood, rather than the synthetic materials usually used in student models. This natural material gives the instrument a very warm, authentic sound. Sound-wise, it can not compete with professional models, but those are in a much higher price category. Of the five clarinets brands we tested, this is the second most expensive model. This could be enough reason for a beginning player to opt for another clarinet of our list. It is realistic that a beginner might not pursue the clarinet for a long period of time, so it’s risky to invest a large amount of money on a beginner instrument. Add to this the fact that wood is more easily bruised than durable synthetic materials, and we would consider the ACL 311-O better suited for intermediate players than students. Especially for younger players, durability is an important aspect and should be taken into account when considering a purchase. Amati offers this instrument in a case with accessories such as a mouthpiece, ligature, a cap, and care products.
We found the warm sound of the Amati ACL 311-O Bb soprano far surpassing that of the other four clarinets brands. However, this review is intended for beginning players, for whom price and durability are important aspects. The Jupiter JCL-710 was taken out of the race because we consider it too expensive for students. Jean Paul USA CL-300, although very affordable, had a construction quality that we consider too low. Based on our experience, we recommend spending at least $400 in order to get a decent student model. The two remaining candidates, the Buffet B12 and the Yamaha YCL-255 were quite similar. They are both made from the durable ABS resin and sound decent. Although Buffet was over a hundred dollars cheaper, this difference is more than lost when you have to replace the keypads after a couple of weeks. The force that was needed to assemble the B12 was too much for a child. Lastly, the Yamaha came with handy accessories. Of the five clarinets brands we tested, we found the Yamaha YCL-255 the model best suited for students.