The clarinet is a woodwind instrument that is mostly constructed out of African hardwood. It is cylindrical in shape, with a hollowed-out tube that has a bell-like flare at the bottom and one of the most sophisticated and delicate musical instruments to play.
A clarinet is so sensitive that even the slightest ridge or scar on the wood can produce a dramatically off-key sound. This is not good for a clarinet.
In fact, it is an incredibly sophisticated process to make a clarinet, so the companies that make it have to be extra careful to shave the wood in an exact manner.
Unfortunately, some brands fail to do justice to the integrity of a clarinet and will be listed below.
Table of Contents
- What Makes a Bad Clarinet?
- Brands to Avoid
- Conclusion: Where to Buy Clarinets From?
What Makes a Bad Clarinet?
The clarinet is made up of some very intricate parts. These parts include the mouthpiece, the barrel, upper tube, keys, lower tube, and the bell. Each of these parts has to be constructed according to exact measurements for the clarinet to sound good.
However, if even one of the components deviates, the whole instrument will sound wrong.
For example, the mouthpiece always needs enough room for a certain amount of air to pass. Not more, not less. This means, if the mouthpiece is too hollowed out or too tightly suffocated, the sound it will make may sound too bassy or too squeaky.
Thus, the mouthpiece has to be constructed of the exact measurement in proportion to the other parts.
Perhaps the most essential parts of the clarinet are the keys. These are little holes at the top of the tube that allow you to change tones and keys with your fingers, similar to flutes. These holes have to be carved out with careful attention.
Each hole on the upper tube and the lower tube must be equidistant to the holes in the respective regions. Otherwise, the key will not match the rest of the orchestra.
Another factor that adds to the making of a bad clarinet is the use of raw material. Good sounding clarinets are always made up of high-quality materials. The body is made up of African blackwood/hardwood. The specific species of the tree doesn’t matter.
The mouthpiece is usually made up of rubber, and the metalwork is done by using German Silver. This silver is an alloy consisting of nickel, zinc, and copper. Any other materials used will distort that sound and quality of the instrument.
Brands to Avoid
When looking to buy a clarinet, you should always avoid brands that do not use the materials mentioned above.
For example, if a brand does not use African blackwood or German Silver, that should be reason enough for you to avoid it.
So, let’s look at some brands that you should avoid purchasing your clarinets from.
If you’re a beginner find a good quality budget clarinet and play away and continue to learn.
1. Online Retailers (Amazon/Ebay)
Brands that are usually sold over eBay or Amazon are definitely worth an in-depth look. There are a lot of cheap clarinets with a less than average quality body. They use nickel instead of German Silver for their keys and other metal components.
A lot of online brands private label their products from China or somewhere else and just slap a logo on it. Make sure to read reviews and make sure the clarinet makes sense for you and your situation.
As a retailer, Costco also sells instruments that are low cost and, effectively, low quality. They sell their clarinets through the Jean Paul USA brand. This brand makes clarinets that are mostly under $200 and are made up of materials that are less than adequate. The keys are not even a pure nickel. They are nickel-plated. But are great starter clarinets.
The body of this clarinet is Ebonite and not African hardwood. This is perhaps their biggest mistake because the clarinet does not sound too much like a real clarinet. Thus, retail sellers like Costco are also places that you should avoid when looking for a clarinet.
Similar to Costco, Walmart is also a wholesale retailer. Thus, this company also sells clarinets and other instruments from brands that make them in bulk.
These brands often ship their products from mainland China, which is notorious for making bad quality instruments. So, you should avoid buying your clarinet from brands that Walmart may promote.
Most of the clarinets Walmart sells either use plastic or some other synthetic material that may or may not resemble wood.
So, the sound that this instrument produces is not as rich and heavy as it is supposed to be, but somewhat airy and shallow as if blowing out of any old tube. Thus, such clarinets are not a good investment.
You should also avoid sears in a similar vein if you want to get yourself a high-quality clarinet. Sears may have some different brands that they carry compared to Walmart and Costco, but most of them are shipped from China.
Thus, it is highly likely that they may not be of the best quality in terms of sound and raw material. So, just generally avoid cheaper wholesale retailers who sell musical instruments.
Conclusion: Where to Buy Clarinets From?
If you want to get yourself a good clarinet, you may have to spend some money on getting it from a local music store or from a well-reputed brand.
Some of the good brand names are YAMAHA, Buffet, Leblanc, and Selmer. These brands never produce in bulk and are mostly custom designed. So, they are very high quality.
The general guide for what clarinet brands to avoid is anything that looks, feels or sounds cheap. This would include the price, the body, and the literal sound that the instrument makes.
Anything that is sold at below $300 is considered cheap, and the assumption is that such a brand may not have used the right materials to make the clarinet.
But that does not mean that they are not great for you and your situation. You can snag a $100 dollar beginner clarinet but probably not the best sound and quality.
Additionally, suppose the sound is not heavy enough, or the body is not heavy in terms of weight. In that case, you can conclude that the instrument may be of low quality. And thus, you may want to avoid such a product.