9 Best Clarinets That Play Great [Buyer's Guide + Reviews 2020]
Posted in Woodwind Instruments | Last Updated on May 1, 2020
While finding the best clarinet depends greatly on the player’s personal tastes and expectations for the instrument, in this article we will review 9 clarinets that offer a great value in terms of quality and price. In our review you’ll find clarinets targeted for students and beginners, intermediate level players, as well as professional players. We’ve thoroughly examined each of these clarinets for material quality, player satisfaction, value, craftsmanship, and voicing. We made sure that we found all leaders among their competition.
Jean Paul USA - CL-300 (Best for Students)
This first clarinet is manufactured by Jean Paul USA, a leading manufacturer of beginner and intermediate band instruments. Backed by a 1 year parts and labor guarantee, each clarinet is checked for quality by an experienced technician before being sold.
A standard Bb clarinet with an ebonite body and nickel-plated keys, it is feels solid but comfortable in your hands, weighing in at 3 pounds. The cylindrical bore produces strong projection and a variety of tones. The clarinet comes with two barrels of different lengths, and Jean Paul’s standard mouthpiece and ligature. The Boehm 17 key system is responsive and allows new players to learn standard fingerings transferable to most clarinets.
This clarinet is aimed primarily at students and beginners, but could very well allow a player to progress through the intermediate level with minimal limitations – especially if they upgrade the mouthpiece and ligature. Although a bit pricier than some other entry level and student clarinets we have reviewed, this is an excellent investment for a player looking for room to grow musically.
Featuring accessories including a plush-lined hard case, cleaning cloth, set of Rico reeds, and cork grease, it includes everything needed to start playing immediately and perform basic instrument maintenance.
Glory Bb Student Clarinet
The most affordable out of the all the clarinets we reviewed, the Glory clarinet performs surprisingly well for the price point. With a black ebonite body and gold, lacquer-finished keys, this clarinet boasts a unique and lavish look. Sound construction materials create a full and resonant tone in this clarinet.
The Glory B-flat clarinet comes loaded with accessories including a hard carrying case, second barrel, mouthpiece, and ten high performance reeds, alongside a maintenance kit containing a screwdriver, cork grease, reed holder, soft cleaning cloth and a pair of gloves.
At 3.5 lbs., the Glory is just slightly lighter than many wood models. Although suitable for a brand new player or student to learn on, this clarinet might be outgrown relatively quickly. Quality is also less consistent in newer manufacturers such as Glory, so it’s always wise to perform an inspection for any defects in craftsmanship when purchasing from them.
Overall, this instrument is an exceptional value for its rock-bottom price. It presents a great opportunity for anyone looking to dip their toes into the clarinet to do so, without much remorse if they decide it’s not for them.
Buffet - B12 (BC2540-5-0)
This clarinet comes from Buffet, a household name among clarinetists and many professionals’ brand of choice. Quality can be safely assumed to be a nonissue, and you might have an easier time finding parts and service for it compared to clarinets from more obscure manufacturers.
With a body of ABS resin carefully designed to mimic genuine granadilla wood, this clarinet produces a beautiful tone for a student instrument. ABS is also known for its durability, stability, and longevity. The keys are smooth and silver-plated, which gives the Premium great response and action. An adjustable thumb rest allows players of all hand sizes to feel comfortable, especially for younger children with small hands. Buffet uses a unique bore in the Premium, fashioned after their acclaimed E13 and E12F models. The Premium’s design allows for free airflow and makes learning proper breathing techniques and embouchure easier for new players.
Although the Premium is one of the best beginner clarinets on the market, it, of course, reflects in the price. However, if maintained well the clarinet should hold much of its value if the time comes to upgrade. It comes standard with all the accessories you’ll need to start playing plus a carrying case.
Yinfente - Intermediate Bb Clarinet
This gorgeous, solid rosewood clarinet is a very nice option for someone looking for an all-wood clarinet on a budget. Although rosewood isn’t the usual choice for a clarinet, it is often used in other musical instruments and is acclaimed for its acoustic properties. Rosewood produces an original tone and gives this clarinet a unique and stunning appearance.
Boasting silver plated keys, it’s rare to see this quality of materials at such an affordable price. The experienced player might notice small details in the response, tone, and design that contribute to this clarinet’s low cost.
The Yinfente Intermediate would work well for any middle school or high school band, or even a chamber orchestra. Complete with a hard case and some accessories, it comes packaged nicely and delivered very timely. As with all wood clarinets, this clarinet will require proper maintenance and storage to maximize its longevity and keep it in good condition.
Jean Paul USA - CL 400
This second Jean Paul pick has some major upgrades compared to the CL 300. The body is constructed of ABS which is slightly stronger and produces a superior tone to ebonite. The keys are improved from nickel to silver plating.
Weighing in at 6 lbs, this clarinet is on the heavy side (especially for a non-wood clarinet) and padded thumb rests and neck straps might help maintain comfort throughout long performances and practice sessions. A Bari mouthpiece and Rico ligature enhance the playability of the clarinet, allowing for easier tone control and less compensation through embouchure on the part of the player.
A professional carrying case and high player satisfaction also increase the appeal of the CL-400. For an intermediate clarinet made of this caliber of materials, Jean Paul manages to keep the price quite affordable compared to its competitors.
A drawback for some intermediate players might be that they will appreciate the superior voicing of wood clarinets as they move to a professional level. An intermediate player should understand and personally hear the differences between wood and plastic to ensure future satisfaction before making their decision.
Buffet Crampon - E12F
With a body of grenadilla wood, poly-cylindrical bore, silver plated keywork finish, and blue steel springs, no detail of this clarinet has been overlooked. Considering the craftsmanship, quality, and reliability of Buffet, the E12F is a true masterpiece. The French manufacturer lives up to its reputation in delivering this cutting-edge model.
Considering the value, the price is fair, but at the very top end of intermediate clarinets. Players should be committed before considering making an investment in this clarinet. Targeted towards student musicians, the E12F is derived from Buffet’s professional models. The E12F would also be a great choice for the committed hobbyist or for a member of a small band to use for gigs.
The E12F includes Buffet’s standard mouthpiece and a lightweight backpack for storage and transportation. Optimized for a rich and vibrant range of tones this clarinet can seriously improve a player’s sound.
Professional and recording musicians might test this model if they can find it available, but they will likely want to look towards models targeted at the career clarinet player.
Yamaha - YCL 650
The first of our professional picks is from Yamaha, who should not need much of an introduction. Reliability, customer service, quality, and accuracy have made them a leading brand across many markets.
The YCL-650’s technical specifications include a grenadilla-wood body, silver plated keys, blue steel springs, 65mm barrels modeled after Yamaha’s V series, and a cylindrical bore. Practically falling into and staying in tune by itself, clarinetists will enjoy the ease and accuracy of adjustment on this model.
The resonance chamber in the bell creates excellent projection. Precise intonation, a quick response, and perfect action make this clarinet a blast to play. Complete with a 4C mouthpiece and Yamaha carrying case and accessories, this clarinet doesn’t disappoint.
The price falls on the lower end of professional clarinets, but in this price range and above, many of the changes become minor and very specific to the individual player’s tastes. To make fully informed decisions between clarinets of this caliber, you will need to experiment with many models to find what is most important to you, and conducive to the sound you desire.
Le Blanc - Bliss LB210 Bb (Budget choice)
Leblanc is a renowned and experienced French manufacturer of clarinets, for anyone who isn’t already familiar. Their LB210 model is the product of collaborative efforts between clarinet virtuoso Julian Bliss and innovator Morrie Backun.
The LB210 has an all grenadilla-wood body. The keys are nickel plated with a unique option for black nickel, giving this clarinet a sleek and modern aesthetic. All of the Bliss models feature a specialized bore allowing for less air pressure but increased versatility and control.
The price is in on the low end again for professional clarinets, which can be explained in part by the nickel as opposed to silver plating of the keys. Given that this shouldn’t affect the instrument practically; this makes the LB210 an excellent choice if you’re on a budget for your professional clarinet.
Utilizing a midsize backpack for a carrying case, transporting this clarinet is no problem. A Leblanc standard mouthpiece and accessories add to the LB210’s value. Some professionals might find the LB210, or its black-nickel keys, don’t fit in well with their orchestra or band and want to stay with a more traditional model.
Buffet Crampon - R13
If you haven’t noticed yet, we’re big fans of Buffet. Who wouldn’t be? The R13 a legendary model from the French innovator and clarinet powerhouse, and for good reason – it is the most popular professional clarinet in the world.
With the grenadilla body and silver plated keywork you would expect, the R13 delivers a focused, full, and complex tone. The R13 boasts incredible power and versatility across all of the registers, making the clarinet suitable for nearly any application: orchestras, soloists, clarinet instructors, and more.
The first clarinet we have reviewed that varies in key, the R13 comes in the key of A. Most clarinet music is written for clarinets in the key of Bb, however any composition can be transposed to any key (this requires competency in music theory and can be time consuming). This could be a strong drawback for a newer musician or student.
Buffet’s R13 is the most expensive of all the clarinets we’ve reviewed, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the money. Buying an R13 will give you an unrivaled and legendary tone and place you in a league of world-class clarinetists.
Outside of our reviews, we’d also like to give our readers some general tools in understanding clarinet terminology and deciding which clarinet is best for them.
Do I need a wood or a plastic clarinet?
While plastic might seem like an inferior choice to wood, it depends on your expectations for the instrument. Wood offers deep, rich, and dark tones that, unfortunately, even the best plastics can’t match. Wood is generally used in professional and, occasionally, in intermediate clarinets, and is typically a more expensive option than plastic. Many student clarinets are made out of various types and grades of plastics. Although unable to rival wood’s tones, the plastics employed in clarinets are engineered specifically for their musical qualities, as well as their durability and strength. The wooded ones are susceptible to cracks and must be protected from humidity, rapid temperature changes, and hard impacts - whereas these concerns are much less threatening to plastic clarinets.
Which clarinet keys are best?
The keys are a very influential over a clarinet’s response, action and, playability. Keys should be smooth and have no rough edges, in perfect alignment with the tone holes, and preferably be made or plated with nickel or silver. Silver offers authenticity and beauty, but can tarnish quickly and requires maintenance to keep it looking nice. Nickel is less expensive and requires less maintenance, but can turn a dull grey over long periods of time.
What is the clarinet’s bore?
The bore of the clarinet refers to the cylindrical tube which the air and sound travel through, which is the length of the instrument. If you look through the clarinet in the light, the bore should be seamless and straight (some high end clarinets have curved, poly-cylindrical bores that give them unique tones, but this is rare in student clarinets and the manufacturer will specify this in the details of the clarinet).
What are the pieces that make up a clarinet?
The main body is made up of the barrel, upper and lower joints, and the bell. The barrel is located directly below the mouthpiece, then the upper and lower joints which contain the tone-holes, and finally the bell which resembles, you guessed it, a bell. The reed secures to the mouthpiece with a ligature, and the keys are attached to the upper and lower joints.
Which reeds should I get for my clarinet?
An experienced clarinet player will tell you that the right reed can make all the difference in the tone and playability of your instrument. Reeds come numbered by strength, 1 being softest and being hardest. Thinner reeds are easier to play with, but thicker reeds produce deeper and heavier sounds. Rico and Vandoren are both celebrated reed brands and the choice of many professionals.
How do I pick a ligature?
The ligature of your clarinet affects the airflow and acoustics of your instruments, but not as much as many of the other components of the clarinet. Keeping this in mind, price and taste can be a large factor in your decision. Metal ligatures produce louder, richer sounds and are commonly used in concert and orchestral environment. Cloth ligatures can create warmer, softer sounds more suited for practice or small events.
Which clarinet brands are best?
The best brands are, simply put, what is right for you. Giardinelli, Leblanc, Yamaha and Crampon Buffet are all renowned manufacturers, and they are known for the quality and craftsmanship of their instruments. With the quality and prestige of one of these clarinets, you’ll want to be sure you’re ready to make an investment in it. These brands tend to hold their value over time compared to other manufacturers. With a less common and experienced manufacturer, you might find clarinets with similar construction materials for significantly less, but you take a chance in terms of quality, customer service, and dependability.
Which clarinet does my student need?
You should start by consulting your child’s music teacher; then consider your budget and expectations for the instrument, as well as your child’s interest and proficiency in the instrument. A higher quality clarinet increases the satisfaction of playing and makes learning easier for students. Any beginner to intermediate clarinet we reviewed can be suitable to learn on.