Band & Orchestra

The Best Clarinet

Black Clarinet

The modern clarinet traces its history back to the chalumeau that shepherds used for centuries. As music progressed, however, the chalumeau could not be used to play a whole octave without overblowing.

It was not until C. H. Denner of Nuremberg, Germany, figured out how to place two extra holes in the duodecime key that the clarinet was born. Soon, the Baroque composer Antonio Lucio Vivaldi heard it and immediately rewrote three of his compositions to feature it.

Its popularity spread very quickly with George Frideric Handel writing his Overture in 1748 to feature this instrument, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart soon writing his Concerto for Clarinet in A piece which is still considered one of the most demanding pieces of music for a clarinet player to master.

Those looking for the best clarinet brands today will find a variety of choices. It’s important to consider which instrument fits your needs the best.

Top Pick: Yamaha YCL650
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Beautiful unstained grenadilla wood, makes each unique, the toneholes are undercut by hand ensuring they close properly. The low E/mid B notes sound nice and crisp because of a groove cut into the bell, and the tone is warm and resonant with its 65 millimeter barrel.

 

Why You Should Trust Us

I have spent countless hours attending band practices of Mike Brady. For 18 years, his Texas UIL bands always won the state high school band competitions in marching and in sight reading.

I have raised two girls through the high school band program. I have driven countless hours to help the band program at local, regional and state contests. Proudly, I call five high school band directors friends. They have profoundly affected my life in a very positive way and I am extremely thankful to call them friends. Additionally, I have several friends that play the clarinet in bands.

I play the cello and the piano. I have spent five years teaching piano lessons. I have also directed numerous musical groups. I also honed my own skills by taking music classes at the University of Northern Iowa.

How to Choose the Right Clarinet

The first thing that a player or parent needs to decide is the type of clarinet that is right for them. There are five types of clarinets, although the B flat clarinet is by far the most common.

The instruments sound different so it is important to choose the one that fits the need the best. Transposing of music for the different clarinets does not work well because the jumps become extremely tricky to perform.

B Flat Clarinets

B flat clarinets, along with the A clarinets, are often referred to as the soprano clarinets. They are the most popular in school bands, and are very popular with musicians who like to play a variety of music. Almost all Dixieland, jazz and swing music is played on this type of clarinet.

A Clarinet

The A clarinet is usually used only in classical music with players often switching between it and the B flat clarinet. This clarinet is longer than the B flat clarinet and has more holes at the bottom of the instrument allowing complex pieces like Mozart’s Concerto for Clarinet in A to be more easily played.

E Flat Clarinets

Players who already have mastered the B flat clarinet may want to consider the E flat instrument. This instrument is one of the highest pitched instruments that is heard in a band. It is a difficult instrument to master because of the advanced fingering required. It also takes a great ear to make sure that this instrument stays in tune.

Bass Clarinets

Bass clarinets are usually played in concert bands or orchestras where they are placed on a peg on the floor because they are much larger than a soprano clarinet. When carried, players use a strap. The most common bass clarinets have a low tone of E flat while others can reach to low C.

Harmony Clarinets

These clarinets are rare and intended only to be played to support a melody played by another instrument. They often require special ordering.

Buying a Clarinet

There are many different factors to keep in mind when you are buying a clarinet whether you are a professional player or buying for a student.

Body Materials

Most plastic clarinets are entry-level models. They will not produce the rich sounds that musicians love to hear. The best clarinets are made of grenadilla, although manufacturers will use different names including African blackwood and mpingo wood.

Very rarely one will see a greenline clarinet which is 95 percent grenadilla mixed with carbon fiber and epoxy resin. These are the best because they handle changes in weather conditions better and require a little less cleaning. There are a few clarinets made out of rosewood and cocobola.

Key Styles

The keys are made of either nickel, silver or gold. The best is gold because it will not rust, however, cost can be prohibitive. Silver is less likely to rust than nickel.

Bore Sizes

Clarinets have different bore sizes. New players will have an easier time playing instruments with a small bore while those players with experience will enjoy the flexibility of larger bore sizes. This is especially true when playing jazz music where the transitions can be very fast.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Yamaha YCL650
The silver-plated thumb rest is fully adjustable, thick enough that it will not break easily and amply sized for any player$1,922.99
Hanson T6 Clarinet
This instrument has two little arms that give the instrument added stability
Buffet R13 Clarinet
The rest of the keywork on this instrument is high quality ensuring years of enjoyment$3,315.00
Selmer Prolouge Clarinet
The toneholes are each made separately and inserted into this Selmer clarinet which means less costly repairs if one is damaged
Windcraft WCL-100 Series 1 Clarinet
The thick corkwork on this clarinet easily keeps the keys from rubbing togetherOut of stock
Academy Phoenix PCL-12 Clarinet
This instrument even features a cork ring key on the top ring key making this instrument easier to play

Our Recommendations

If you are a beginning player, or are a parent of a young player, then here are our recommendations on the best clarinets to buy.

Yamaha YCL650

Our top pick for a student clarinet is the Yamaha YCL650, as it is made from beautiful unstained grenadilla wood.

The fact that Yamaha chose to leave this instrument unstained allows each instrument to look unique and means that the stain will not be coming off during the cleaning process. When cleaned carefully each time that the instrument is played, this Yamaha instrument should continue to look beautiful for many years.

The toneholes are undercut by hand ensuring that the holes in this clarinet close properly. Each instrument is also finished by hand ensuring that there are no rough spots to hurt player’s hands. The silver-plated thumb rest is fully adjustable, thick enough that it will not break easily and amply sized for any player.

Yamaha built the YCL650 with 17 keys using the French Boehm system that is the most common arrangement for new players to master. The low E/F cluster keys are made on a locked pillar helping ensuring that they stay in place and eliminating the need for costly repairs.

A pin-and-socket arrangement on the E/F sharp spatula keys helps ensure that they will not break during a performance. The keywork is silver plated adding to this instrument’s beauty as they stand in sharp contrast to the instrument’s natural black color.

The silver plating should continue to look beautiful for years if the clarinet is properly cleaned and stored properly. The low E/mid B notes sound nice and crisp because of a groove cut into the bell enhancing their sound.  This instrument produces warm sounds that can be easily heard because of its 65 millimeter barrel.

The point screws work properly so that they can be easily adjusted by band instructors or knowledgeable players as the instrument begins to age allowing the instrument to be tuned. It is very easy for the player to produce quick action on this clarinet that has a nicely balanced tone.

Other Products to Consider:

There are other clarinets that are worth a look.

Hanson T6 Clarinet

While Hanson is definitely not a household name, even in music circles, their T6 clarinet is one that needs to be considered. The grenadilla wood chosen for this clarinet is carefully aged for 12 years to lessen the likelihood of it splitting when the player performs.

Hanson is the only clarinet maker to hold a Forest Stewardship Corporation accreditation for taking care of the environment. They also do not use any stain on their instruments allowing each instrument to show its individual beauty.

Instead of the normal crow’s foot arrangement over the F/C tonehole, this instrument has two little arms that give the instrument added stability. This arrangement also means that the instrument is very unlikely to go out of regulation even as it ages.

The lower keys have a little roller that eliminates key noise without any pads to wear away. A wide-throat A touchpiece gives players a boost of confidence because it is so easy to reach.

Buyers can find different bore configurations including the French, English and dual, so players need to choose the one that fits their style of music the best.

This instrument would have easily topped our list if it was made by a major manufacturer, but I am skeptical about buying major instruments from little known brands.

Buffet R13 Clarinet

Like the Yamaha YCL650, the Buffet R13 clarinet is a good student model. It would have placed higher if Buffet would have used a better quality grenadilla wood which would have allowed them to leave the stain off this instrument.

The second reason that this instrument does not place higher is the nylon pins on the left-hand lever keys. These nylon pins tend to break eventually causing costly repairs. Players can help compensate for these nylon pins by making sure they never press the keys down extremely hard. The rest of the keywork on this instrument is high quality ensuring years of enjoyment.

The locking screws for the point pins on the lower joint allows the instrument to be easily tuned. These pins sit in a nylon collar further helping to protect them. This instrument is extremely well-balanced so that players can play for hours without becoming fatigued.

Making it easy to continue practicing, this instrument has an ample fully-adjustable thumb rest. This instrument has stiff action when it arrives from the factory, so consider having someone with experience adjust the tension.

The instrument’s natural resistance makes it a natural choice for classical players while jazz players will definitely want to have the resistance adjusted. It produces a balanced sound in the upper register which can be a problem on some student models.

Selmer Prologue Clarinet

The Prolouge clarinet from Selmer features a locking mechanism of the point screws on the lower joint. This plate’s figure-eight shape ensures that the pillar cannot rotate and snap off. The low F to E link is very strong as is the forked F link.

While not as reliable as other possibilities, this clarinet features a metal lock-and-pin mechanism. The toneholes are each made separately and inserted into this Selmer clarinet which means less costly repairs if one is damaged.

Under the well-placed keys is a great piece of leather to help cut down on key noise. The Prolouge plays a little bright with a slight hiss in the middle B.

This clarinet is made of grenadilla wood that has been stained. Players need to be very careful about cleaning the instrument each time they play it.

Windcraft WCL-100 Series 1 Clarinet

Unlike the previous models, the Windcraft WCL-100 Series 1 clarinet is an entry level model because of its plastic body. If you are not sure if the clarinet is the right instrument for you, then make sure to consider this model because of its price while being a very playable instrument.

The plastic is thick enough that it will not easily break. The undercut toneholes ensures that this instrument stays on tone. This instruments built-in flexibility ensures that the locked pillars stay firmly in place.

The tightly-fitted thumb rest helps players keep on playing without feeling fatigue. It will easily accept a sling ring if the player desires.

The well-designed silver keys look beautiful without any chips or rough places commonly seen in models at this price range. The thick corkwork on this clarinet easily keeps the keys from rubbing together.

Academy Phoenix PCL-12 Clarinet

Another great student and beginner priced instrument is the Academy Phoenix PCL-12 clarinet. Like the Windcraft, this instrument features a tough plastic body that can take some rough play.

This is a Chinese instrument, but unlike many other Chinese instruments it is really well made. While the thumb rest is decent size, players may want to fit a rubber cushion over it to make it more comfortable during long hours of practice.

This clarinet has locking pillars over the lower joints so that this joint does not easily snap. Adding to the ruggedness of this instrument, it features stepped lever keys. The tough keys should stand up to most student abuse without breaking.

The shoulderless parallel point screws will not take up any free play, but they can be constantly adjusted. The substantial corkwork will help to cut down on key noise.

This instrument even features a cork ring key on the top ring key making this instrument easier to play. Substantial blued steel springs helps the keys seal properly so that the player does not get a lot of unwanted wind noise.

Sources

Buffet Crampon R13 Clarinet Review. (2014). Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.bandinstrumentsguide.com/buffet-crampon-r13-clarinet-review/
Clarinet Buying Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2016, from http://thehub.musiciansfriend.com/band-orchestra-buying-guides/clarinet-buying-guide#help
The Clarinet History. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2016, from http://www.the-clarinets.net/index.html
High School Band Teacher on Saxophones [Telephone interview]. (2016, November 19).
Howard, S. (2005, March). Buffet R13 Clarinet. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.shwoodwind.co.uk/Reviews/Clarinets/Buffet_R13_clarinet.htm
Howard, S. (2013, January). Academy Phoenix PCL-12 Clarinet. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.shwoodwind.co.uk/Reviews/Clarinets/academy_phoenix.htm
Howard, S. (2010, August). Hanson T6 Clarinet. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.shwoodwind.co.uk/Reviews/Clarinets/hanson_T6_clarinet.htm
Howard, S. (2002, March). Selmer Prologue Clarinet. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.shwoodwind.co.uk/Reviews/Clarinets/Selmer_prologue_clari.htm
Howard, S. (2006, March). Yamaha YCL650 clarinet. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.shwoodwind.co.uk/Reviews/Clarinets/Yamaha_YCL650.htm
Howard, S. (2012, December). Windcraft WCL-100 (Series 1) Clarinet. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.shwoodwind.co.uk/Reviews/Clarinets/windcraft_wcl100.htm
Making Fine Musical Instruments For a Quarter of a Century. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.hansonclarinets.com/Hanson_Clarinet_Company._Making_Music_in_Great_Britain./Home.htm
Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.wwbw.com/Yamaha-YCL-650-Bb-Clarinet-461380.wwbw
Selmer Seles Prologue – Bb Clarinet. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.dawkes.co.uk/selmer seles prologue – bb clarinet clarinet.dm?catno=ba0332
Windcraft WCL-100 – Bb Clarinet. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.dawkes.co.uk/windcraft wcl-100 – bb clarinet clarinet.dm?catno=wcl-100

Notable Replies

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for including some low cost options. Is it extremely hard to move between clarinet types once you learn one?

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