[Revised August 2016]
Check first: Be sure to check out what is available currently on Phil's Clarinets For Sale. I don't sell many clarinets under $200, but please check.
Quick and Easy Way: New el-cheap-o Chinese clarinets available on the Internet have improved. If you are going this route, here is important advice:
- Do NOT buy an older model Chinese clarinet. It is too likely that it will be junk, and you will need to get it worked on. Getting it worked on can easily cost more than buying a new one.
- Check to make sure your band program will accept a Chinese clarinet. In my little town of Siloam Springs, AR, the band program doesn't accept them.
- Beware of counterfeit clarinets. You can sometimes find a new "Buffet" or "Selmer" clarinet on eBay for very cheap (around $100 or less). This is a sign that the instrument is probably counterfeit!
- Purchase from one of the main on-line music houses, and expect to pay $150 to $250. (Larger music houses that you should check are WWBW.com and HysonMusic.com.)
- I don't recommend that you buy a Chinese clarinet via Amazon or eBay. Or, YOU can tell which ones NOT to buy just by looking at the price: DO NOT buy a new clarinet costing $69!
Slower but great quality: Buy a used good-model clarinet and get it reconditioned.
- You can't do this if you are in a hurry. If your child needs a clarinet really soon, see if you can borrow something for a couple of weeks.
- Make notes on the brands and models to look for below. Check the prices for the good models on eBay before looking at clarinets locally. Find a good brand clarinet that someone is selling ‘as is’ for $25 (for a plastic clarinet) or up to around $75 (for a wooden clarinet).
Look at this thread on the ClarinetPages.info forum: Recommended Clarinet Tech Services. Another link to the same information is found here. Send your clarinet to one of the cheaper recommended services for reconditioning. (Most local music stores charge over $200 now for this service.) Ship the clarinet without the case to save money. Your used clarinet should come back looking great and playing like new. Consider buying a new $30 case on the Internet if the old one does not present well. What the case looks like will probably MATTER to you child! Don't embarrass them with a dowdy-looking case.
- Ask around among the parents in your community. Some have clarinets in their closets.
- You don't have to worry about the condition! Just plan on having whatever you buy reconditioned.
- Avoid buying a cracked wooden clarinet unless it is the bell (lowest part) that is cracked. (That part hardly matters at all!)
- You can definitely find $25 clarinet with nice bright, shiney keys, so DON'T buy an old, musty clarinet with tarnished or damaged keys.
Short list of good student models:
- The plastic Selmer CL300 has wonderful intonation and very sturdy construction. [19Aug2016 update] I first wrote here that “you can pick them up for a song. ” Instead of them going for $25 like I thought, they are going for more like $70. (I don't recommend the older Selmer Bundy plastic clarinets because of intonation problems.)
- Plastic Vito and all models of plastic Yamaha clarinets are abundant and often sold cheaply. You can often win an auction on a Vito for $25-35 (plus postage).
- Wooden Noblet / Normandy / Leblanc clarinets: If you are patient, you can buy Normandy clarinets for $50-75, Noblets for a little more than Normandy. (Don't buy a Normandy clarinet if the keyed joints are made of plastic.)
- Wooden Yamaha clarinet: If you are in a part of the country where the Yamaha instruments have been promoted by large music stores and with the cooperation of band directors, you may find that you can get good deals on this brand.
- If you happen to find a used Ridenour 146, or a Forte clarinet in your price range, get it!
- Check the reviews at this site before bidding on or buying other brands/models.
Not on the short list: The reason I don't put Buffet/Evette on the short list is because the competition for this brand often makes them more expensive. They are also not really such great quality! The quality of Buffet instruments does not warrant the price difference. However, if you do find a great deal on a Buffet/Evette, go ahead and take advantage of the deal. I have not been very happy with older Selmer wooden clarinets in the intonation department.
Happy bargain hunting!