Buying a clarinet on eBay - What questions to ask?

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With so many clarinets on eBay it can be hard to know where to start. How do I go about buying an instrument online? What questions should I be asking? How do I make sure I am getting a fully working instrument? This guide has been written in view of the first time buyer in the hope of offering independent information and advice. If you find this guide helpful, please vote below so that more of our guides will be visible.

Regardless of what make and model you decide upon it is vital to make sure you know exactly what condition the instrument is in to avoid disappointment and expensive repairs. Most listings on eBay offer a single picture and a short description. You should have no qualms with asking for more information and pictures, or ones of sufficient quality, so that you can know as much about the instrument as possible without physically holding and playing it. For more information about new and second hand clarinets please see our guide - 'Beginner Clarinet Bb - New or Second Hand?'

Below we have listed the 10 key areas you should ask about if they are not already answered in the listing. Remember, someone might have already asked the same questions and these might be published at the very bottom of the listing, where the seller has the option to attach them.

1) Make & Model  
It is important to bear in mind that and awful lot of listings are for a child's instrument being sold by their parents, whom know very little about the instrument themselves. Consequently they can be unknowingly misleading. very often listings just say 'Clarinet' or 'Buffet Clarinet'. It is important to establish what make and model the instrument actually is. The make will most often be stamped on 3 or 4 parts of the clarinet. Often people see 'Buffet' stamped on the mouthpiece and assume the instrument is a Buffet when it might actually be another make altogether. Unfortunately some individuals will  not list the model name or number deliberately in an attempt to dupe you into paying over the odds for a lesser model. Ask if all the parts are from the same instrument, do the serial numbers match?

2) Age
How old is the instrument, has it had just one owner, is it ex-rental, school owned? Was the previous owner an adult or a child? This information can help when considering how much use the instrument has had and how well it has been treated. Also, asking if or when it was last serviced can be helpful.

3) Pads and Tenon Corks
The most important factor in ensuring a clarinet plays is that all of the pads seal and are airtight. Just one leaking pad renders the clarinet unplayable. If the seller is unsure or does not play themselves ask to see macro photos of the pads so you can see for yourself if they look worn or damaged. Damage to the tenon cork is easy to see in photographs, it can be replaced easily (by a technician) so this does not have to rule out buying a particular instrument altogether but should be asked about nonetheless, keeping repair costs in mind.

4) Keywork
Is the keywork in good condition? The keys must be correctly aligned or the clarinet simply will not play. They must be padded and corked correctly or the keys will clink when pressed and released. Are the keys tarnished or pitted (permanent damage to the plating), will a good clean and a polish restore their former shine?

5) Mouthpiece
Is the mouthpiece in good condition? Any used clarinet will have some signs of wear, though these should be minimal. Macro photos will show any damage from teeth and any damage that might affect its performance. What make is the mouthpiece, is it the original or has it been replaced?  Mouthpieces vary dramatically in price, quality and characteristics; cheap plastic mouthpieces can be bought from £8, advanced ebonite mouthpieces from £60.

6) Damage & Repairs
Has the clarinet been cracked or chipped, have any repairs been carried out? It is important to ask about any previous damage and repairs as some sellers feel that, once repaired, previous damage is of no significance. A previously damaged instrument should sell for significantly less than one in 'mint' condition. However, it is key to confirm with seller that the performance of the clarinet has not been affected and that the repairs were carried out by a professional.  Chips to the tenons themselves can be very difficult and expensive to repair and can significantly affect the clarinets performance. We would suggest avoiding instruments with this sort of damage.

7) Carry Case
Does the clarinet come with a case, and is it in good condition? Is the case the original or a replacement?  Although not affecting the performance of the instrument if the clarinet has been bought as a present, a scruffy looking old case, with a broken catch can somewhat dampen the occasion. Ask if the instrument is from a smoke free home. We have had the misfortune to come across dozens of instrument and cases that smell like ash trays!

8) Feedback History
Take a look at the seller's feedback. Have they sold other instruments? If their positive feedback % is low they might not be a reliable seller and it might be worth thinking twice about purchasing from them. It is also worth looking at the bid history on these items, numerous bids from zero and low feedback accounts might imply that the seller is bidding up their own item to increase the sale price artificially, misleading genuine buyers that more people/competition are interested than really are (this is shill bidding and strictly against eBay policy)

9) Shipping Charges
It is vital to check over the seller's shipping charges before bidding. Often these can be highly inflated to reduce the eBay fees paid by the seller, as postage and packaging charges are exempt from seller fees. High P&P charges also mask the final cost of the item, as these will be added at the end of bidding and can potentially increase the price disproportionately. If you later wish to return the instrument eBay and Paypal will protect your payment, however they won't reimburse shipping fees, so be aware of this.

10) Payment & Feedback
It is always a good idea to pay for the item promptly and contact the seller to let them them know you have done so. Confirm the method by which it will be sent and when you can expect to receive it , make sure your address details are correct and give them your phone number if there are any problems. Without communicating face-to-face people tend to be quite defensive  and suspicious. A phone call and a human voice can make the world of difference if any problems arise. Positive feedback is a reward for good sellers, if you're happy with your instrument leave feedback right away. Equally, don't leave neutral or negative feedback without first contacting the seller, explaining why you are not happy and giving them the opportunity to rectify the problem.

If the instrument arrives and it is not what you were expecting the opinion of a music shop or teacher is wisely employed. Remember that you are protected by eBay and Paypal so if things go wrong don't panic. Again, communicate with the seller, a phone conversation will resolve 90% of problems.

As with all purchases the best instruments in the best condition tend to cost more. A great playing instrument can make all the difference between a child progressing and enjoying playing all the way through to adulthood, and giving up after only a few months of reluctant struggle. There are some great buys on eBay. Following the pointers in this guide you can be sure of getting one at a fair price. For information on what clarinet to buy for a beginner please see our guide - 'Buying a beginner clarinet Bb' .

We hope this guide has proved useful and that whomever the clarinet is for enjoys it thoroughly! Should you have any further questions please feel free to contact us at info@friendlyflutes.co.uk



Best wishes

Thea and Tim
Friendlyflutes



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