With so many beginner clarinets on the market it can be hard to know where to start. This guide has been written in view of the first time buyer, in the hope of offering independant information and advice. If you find this guide helpful, please vote below so that more of our guides will be visible.
The Buffet B12 is the most popular student clarinet on the market and for good reason. Designed with the beginner student in mind, the B12 clarinets are constructed from the strong and lightweight ABS resin, giving the clarinet an appearance similar to Grenadilla wood. The properties of ABS resin make the B12 durable and easy to clean, perfect for the young beginner. Built to last, the B12 is constructed from high quality materials, giving longevity to the body, cork, mechanisms and pads. This is a highly versatile instrument recommended for grades 1-6 and beyond!
The B12 model has a traditional design with nickel-plated body rings, straight keywork and a traditional bell ring. The highly refined nickel silver keywork affords outstanding stability and precision. The B12 benefits from double fish skin pads, ensuring excellent sealing. The latest model features an adjustable thumb rest, to allow correct and comfortable positioning for all ages (and a neck strap ring). The lightweight ABS resin makes the B12 easier to hold for the younger musician and the highly responsive keywork saves little fingers. The B12 maintains its value due to the quality of its construction - it is highly durable and can withstand a certain amount of mistreatment by the younger player. It stands at the top end of the entry-level market but compared to cheaper models, and if taken care of, is the best investment long term. When the time comes to progress to a wooden clarinet, if well maintained, you can recoup between £80-£150, or potentially more in part exchange for a new instrument. The B12 has an RRP of £500, though most suppliers sell them at a significantly discounted price (£280 upwards).
The B12 uses the Boehm key arrangement system, as is most commonly used worldwide, Germany and Austria being the exceptions. Germans and Austrian clarinets also commonly use a piece of string to attach the reed to the mouthpiece, as opposed to a metal ligature. If you are looking to buy a second-hand instrument, especially one from Europe, please enquire as to the key system. The vast majority of clarinet teachers will want a new student to learn the Boehm key configuration.
The Yamaha YCL250 Bb clarinet, from Japan, is also an excellent beginner instrument, with the same key configuration. The YCL 250 is Yamaha's latest contribution to the beginner clarinet market, replacing the highly acclaimed YCL 26.
In tandem with the B12, the YCL 250 is constructed from ABS resin, affording it the same properties: strong yet light, attractive wooden appearance, moisture resistant and easy to clean, With an RRP of £420, the YCL 250 also lays at the top end of the beginner market. The YCL 250 boasts a new barrel design, borrowed from Yamaha's professional and custom clarinets. This 65mm barrel delivers a focused tone and rapid response, assisting the new student in reaching the correct pitches early on. The Yamaha 250 also features Valentino-type synthetic pads, in contrast to the double fish skin pads of the B12. Although well functioning and potentially more durable, synthetic pads are considered by many (including ourselves) less desirable - less comfortable under the fingers and with a lesser performance . At the beginner level there is a compromise to be made, between durability and performance. We feel that double fish skin pads, if looked after, still have the edge here and so favour the B12 on this. The YCL 250 comes with the Yamaha MPCL6C mouthpiece, which will not need to be upgraded from until the time comes to step up to a wooden instrument. The YCL 250 is an easy blowing instrument and stands up well against the B12, although in our opinion is still marginally behind on playability, which is reflected in the price.
Please be aware of new "BUFFET" B12 and "YAMAHA" YCL 250 clarinets from China sold on eBay, these are generally counterfeit goods and of very poor quality.
The Jupiter JCL-631 is also a very good beginner clarinet. Jupiter is a Taiwanese company, though their beginner instruments are made in China. Even so, the JCL-631 is very well made. Critics still maintain however, that the Chinese made Jupiter clarinets are not as durable as those from Buffet and Yamaha. With an RRP of £360, fitted with an adjustable thumb rest and constructed form the durable ABS resin, the JCL-631 is highly suitable for the young clarinetist. With silver plated keywork, undercut tone holes and a 'wooden finish' the Jupiter matches the Yamaha and Buffet in the aesthetics department. We prefer the YCL-250 and Buffet B12 due to their supreme playability and quality of manufacture. However, when taking price into consideration the JCL-631 is certainly an attractive option for the beginner clarinetist.
There are plenty of other well known clarinet makers such as Selmer (Artley's, Armstrong's etc.), the old Boosey and Hawkes (responsible for the early Buffets, Bessons and B&H Regent's), Leblanc's and so on. We have not discussed them here but many good quality second hand clarinets can be found on eBay. The old plastic Regent, Edgware and Emperor are certainly worth taking a look at if on a budget. For advice on buying a clarinet on eBay please see our guide - 'Buying a clarinet on eBay - what questions to ask?'
We hope this guide has proved to be useful and that whomever the clarinet is for enjoys it thoroughly! You may also find our guide 'Beginner Clarinet Bb - New or Second Hand?
helpful. Should you have any further questions please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Thea and Tim