Clarinet Shopping Advice


Good News: Really good inexpensive clarinets are readily available today.
Bad News:    Really bad inexpensive clarinets are also readily available.

Basic Recommendations for parents and clarinet shoppers

 If your price range is
 New Used AND fully-Reconditioned
 $100 to $200

For beginning students on the tightest budget

For Canadians reading this table, please see the comment from Annette at the bottom of the page.
If you insist on buying a new Chinese instrument below $200, only buy a new one. Please see the advice on the under $200 page. Consider this a throw away purchase. Don't expect good resale value. At the time I wrote the Chinese Clarinet Page, most of their clarinets were junk. They have improved. 

Be sure to see the next row in the table, because for a little more you can now purchase a good new clarinet, and I give the names of a few prominent instrument outlets.

See the sub-page: How to buy a clarinet great clarinet for $200
See if I have one in your price range: Phil's Clarinets for Sale. If you don't see something there, read How to buy a great clarinet for $200.
Also ClarinetCloset.com may have something.

Short list recommendations: Fully-reconditioned Plastic Vito/Normandy, Yamaha, Buffet or Bundy
For other brands, including wooden French Stencil clarinets, look at the reviews here on clarinetpages.net before you buy.

Don't buy clarinets where someone claims that the instrument is in “playable condition.” If someone has a ‘owner reconditioned’ clarinet on eBay for a reasonable price (in other words, someone like me) and if they have good seller ratings, it will probably be a good purchase.
DON'T buy used Chinese clarinets. See more information below on what NOT to buy.

If you are a handy, do-it-yourselfer, you can buy a good-model not-reconditioned clarinet and do the needed work yourself. Beware, this will take time, patience, and money for a long list of materials. See the Do-it-yourself page for information about how to replace pads, etc. 
 $200 to $350


Chinese clarinets have only recently improved in 2013-2015. This is why I say NOT to buy used ones. My brief recommendation is this: If you are buying a Chinese clarinet, only get a new one and buy a recommended brand or a brand sold by a well-recognized music outlet. (wwbw.com, 123music.com, Hysonmusic.com, etc.)
Avoid buying from start-up companies on eBay and Amazon and from anyone selling from China.

In this price range, you can find some excellent model fully-reconditioned clarinets. You can even get good reconditioned wooden clarinets in this range. Buying in this price range is much better than using rent-to-own programs. Buying a reconditioned recommended-model wooden clarinet for $250 is so much better than buying almost any plastic student model. Check out Phil's reconditioned clarinets. If you buy from eBay, see the caution in the cell below this one.

Short list recommendations: WOODEN Noblet, Selmer Signet, Yamaha, Evette & Schaeffer (Not plain Evette.)
PLASTIC Vito, Yamaha, Buffet.
For other brands, look at the reviews at this site before you buy. There are some good-model wooden French Stencil clarinets that would be available in this price range.
 $350 to $600
At the upper end of this range: There used to be the
Ridenour Lyrique 146. This is no longer available. When a new product is available I hope to update this page.

The Amati clarinets in this price range would probably be my next choice. I have not had the opportunity to review them. Jupiter clarinets from Taiwan would probably be next.

There are better model name clarinets (including Selmer) in this price range, but BEWARE. Many of these are Chinese clarinets and not really better than those in the $200 to $350 range mentioned in the cell above.
Consider fully-reconditioned wooden Leblanc/Noblet, Selmer, and Yamaha clarinets in this price range. You can often get professional model wooden clarinets around this price. But check that the model is a good one by looking at the reviews here at clarinetpages.
You will probably need to buy from eBay at this level. Make sure that the seller has a high positive feedback score and has sold over 200 items. For USA readers, I recommend that you not buy from dealers located in other countries.


 $600 to $1000

This level of instrument is for intermediate to advanced students.
Hard rubber Ridenour Lyrique 576bc. This is a professional instrument at a wonderful price. This is the instrument I (Phil) have played since July of 2009 and I still love it. Read my review here. [Update:] I now am a vendor for this clarinet right at the review page.

Many more options at this level. There are a few new wooden instruments (probably Chinese) at this level. In my opinion they would probably not be better than the Lyrique 576.

The Yamaha YCL250/255 are plastic instruments that can be purchased new in this price range. You will also find student models for other major brands listed here.
The professional model Buffet R-13 can be purchased in this price range— used but fully-reconditioned. Also you will find very nice wooden Leblanc/Noblet, Selmer, and Yamaha clarinets in this price range.

Comparing my top choice for new and reconditioned: Many of the older top model clarinets that can be purchased in this price range will be from the years before poly-cylindrical bore technology, so the intonation will not be as good as the new Lyrique 576. At this price range, try to find reconditioned wooden instruments from around 1970 or newer, and check the reviews of the models here at clarinetpages to see whether I have marked them as having professional model intonation or poly-cylindrical bore.

Clarinets are NOT like expensive violins— where people treasure the really old ones. Because of the recent improvements, professionals play newer models.
 Above $1000
Ridenour's new Libertas clarinet is in this range. I also am vendor for the Libertas

If you are looking at this price level, you already are working with a teacher or professional who will advise you. I do not believe that Buffet R-13 clarinets are the best instrument you can buy. See what Sherman Friedland says about this.
 


1941 Clarinet ad: (My how times have changed!)


All below this line is older information, but still worth reading.



If you are considering buying a Chinese brand clarinet not mentioned above, I strongly advise you to check out the Chinese Clarinet Page. Chinese instruments are improving and this topic is complicated. Don't let the initial price be your only consideration! A list of CLARINETS NOT TO BUY is also found at the bottom of the Chinese Clarinet Page.

BEWARE: Currently on eBay there are listings for NEW Yamaha YCL-250 and Buffet B12 clarinets. They are located in Beijing and are obviously FAKES. The starting bid price is usually under a dollar, but the shipping is around $150! Again, please see more about this on the Chinese Clarinet Page. [UPDATE 20May2012: This situation seems to have improved. I have seen less of these fake listings. I don't think they are gone totally.]

Don't buy a clarinet from someone on Ebay who says “I don't know much about it, but it looks like it would play,” or “It looks like it is in good condition.” Clarinets that have been sitting around for a few years almost always need some fixing to make them really work well. I particularly DON'T trust pawn shops selling on Ebay that claim their instruments are in “good condition.” Often I can see from their photos that the instrument would be unplayable! Just one pad not seating in the upper keyed joint will make the instrument unplayable. A beginning student doesn't know whether the response problem he/she is experiencing is something he/she is doing wrong, or if the problem is in the instrument itself. Don't give a gift of frustration to your son or daughter! Also, most young people don't want to stick out as odd. DON'T buy them an electric blue clarinet or any other odd color.
1981 Selmer Poster
It is often a better investment to buy a wooden instrument, than a plastic one. For instance, used and un-restored Vito plastic clarinets are selling for $30 on Ebay. (Reconditioned ones are selling for $200, plus shipping.) Whereas brand name wooden instruments may fetch half of the original purchase price even if sold un-restored, and will probably bring the whole original value (in today's inflated dollars) if reconditioned. In other words, a grenadilla wood Selmer Signet that was sold for $250 new in 1970 will still bring $250 today if reconditioned, or perhaps $100 if in good condition but not yet reconditioned. Wooden clarinets don't require special care and are not more fragile than plastic clarinets. So if the initial outlay is not a problem, it is a better deal for you to buy a reconditioned wooden clarinet for a beginning student, even if the student will someday play in marching band.

I also urge that parents check out the pages at this site about Mouthpieces and Reeds, as these are vital topics for the success of your student.
It would be a good investment to have your child's clarinet serviced every year before school starts. Do this early in the vacation time to avoid the rush in the last month before school starts.

Parents: Please teach your student how to assemble their clarinet, because much damage results from doing it wrong! The header picture of every page on this site shows good hand position for assembling the most easily damaged part of the clarinet. See the page at clarinetcloset.com, which has good illustrations. (I agree with everything except using cork grease. See my advice on the Corks page.)
And see this Wiki page that also includes a video: http://www.wikihow.com/Assemble-a-Clarinet

Here is an Excellent Wiki on Buying your first clarinet: http://www.wikihow.com/Buy-Your-First-Clarinet

See clarinut.com for good information about different models for beginners, intermediate players, and pro's.
See more tips for parents also at the same clarinetcloset.com site.

Under the general heading of advice to parents:

Is it true that clarinet is a good instrument to start on if your student wants to play oboe, bassoon, or saxophone?
It does seem to work well to go from clarinet to other woodwinds. I certainly found that to be true. However the thing that must be considered is whether your student, while still so young, will be able to stick with the clarinet if what they really want to play is the saxophone. (I would think they should be able to switch to the instrument of their choice after enduring a two semesters or less of clarinet.) If your child wants to play the oboe or bassoon, cheerfully help them get private lessons. Musicians who play those instruments get good scholarships to college! And since clarinets are so important in the makeup of a traditional band, I would guess that good clarinetists are winning scholarships these days also.

Is it a good idea to buy vintage clarinets?
  • If you are looking for a good beginning instrument for a child, a vintage instrument can be an OK choice. The problems are that your band director may distrust any unusual brands, and the keys may not be sturdy enough if your child doesn't take care in assembling and disassembling. If you are considering a French Stencil clarinet, only buy one made by the better manufacturers, especially those which have good reviews on this site.
  • If you are an adult coming back to playing the clarinet, a vintage instrument may be a very good choice.
Is a clarinet rated on these pages for Intermediate to Advanced players harder to play for a beginner?
No. Not at all. Clarinets are not like some brass instruments or bassoons, where a beginner could not handle a certain bore or mouthpiece. If your beginning student has a good reed and mouthpiece, they can play any clarinet that has pads that seat well and keys that are regulated well. Above all, you don't want problems there, as the student will think their problems are their fault. And, in general, students will sound a tad better with a better instrument. Having a good horn makes some little psychological difference!