Buying a Clarinet Pt. II

Mr. Friedland, I have been searching the net for a clarinet and several makes/models keep popping up. I hope you can educate me as far as which brands are better than others. Please compare the following with what our local Jr. High School recommends (Buffet E-11 and Yamaha YCL34): Normandy, Artley, Bundy, Selmer Model 100, Vito, Blessing, Bundy Selmer, Bundy Selmer 577. Our Jr. High is also requesting wood instead of plastic. I have been searching the classified ads and auctions over the net. I know to ask for things like: age, cracks, blemishes, reconditioned. Is there anything else I should be asking? The above makes/models are all that are available to me; not all the descriptions had model numbers. Another question I have is what is Ebonite and Resonite? Does that mean that the clarinet is a plastic one? I would appreciate any help you can give me on the above as I am very confused. Thanks!

Thank you so much for your very interesting question concerning “lines” of clarinets, materials of manufacture, and the general implications thereof, vs.. the actualities of the entirety. As a clarinetist of 50 years I feel quite safe in presenting an unfettered opinion.

All of the instruments you mention in your second paragraph are essentially the same in quality: Normandy, Artley, Bundy, Selmer #100, Vito, Bundy Selmer, Bundy Selmer 577. Now they do have different reputations: Leblanc makes Vito and Normandy. They may market Blessing, essentially a brass instrument company. Artley is a flutemaker. The Selmer 100 may be a wooden clarinet, and the Bundy 577 also made by Selmer has a good reputation. Bundy is a lesser Selmer.

Since I represented the Selmer Company for many years and was a clinician for them, and also wrote articles for the “Bandwagon” magazine, a Selmer production, I am going to tell you that Selmer makes as good a student instrument as there is. But so also does Leblanc which makes Vito and Normandy. Buffet I think less of in the student line.

I happen to own and play presently a set of Leblanc “Opus” Clarinets, frightfully expensive, but the best instruments I have played. That is the top of the Leblanc line. All of the top of the line instruments in Buffet, Selmer and Leblanc are excellent; these three major companies making student clarinets are very good indeed.

As to plastic verses wood, there is no comparison … meaning just that. The difference cannot be told, and in inexpensive wood, plastic is much better: it doesn’t change pitch with temperature as badly as wood, and it doesn’t normally ever crack. Ebonite and plastic are the same, or too close to call, and really relate to the time that Ebonite was nicer-sounding than plastic … a euphemism if you will.

I have given demonstrations behind a curtain using wood and then plastic. The listeners could never tell the difference. You buy a very well-finished wooden instrument, one with undercut tone holes for focus and for tuning and a specially chosen one off the line that will give you better response and pitch holding throughout all dynamic ranges … but these are not instruments for a Jr. High School … you are not interested in paying 5,000.00 for a clarinet, right?

A much more intelligent idea than wooden instruments is a fine well-made mouthpiece, or make every student purchase his or her own mouthpiece and make them buy the same one. Make them buy a Selmer Paris mouthpiece, with one of the following three “facings”: HS*, C*, HS** … that is all, no others. In that way you will be assuring reasonable intonation throughout the section. If there is some teacher that insists on Vandoren B45 or something like that, well, that is okay as well, but Selmer Paris has an amazingly good reputation for their mouthpieces with students as well as more advanced students. The mouthpieces will make a much bigger difference than a cheap, though wood clarinet. You should not march with wood … never.

Now as to where you shop for instruments, I suggest a large company, like the Woodwind and the Brasswind in Indiana; perhaps they will have a website. You could even go to Selmer, Leblanc and Buffet directly. Why not? All you will receive from auctions and the like will be “lip service” What will they say? “A wormy wooden instrument with keys half rusted and half gone terribly out-of tune, and not worth two ears of moldy corn?” No, go to a company with a reputation to protect. I am assuming that you are purchasing for a school … more than a few instruments. Go right “to the top” You will be surprised how well you are treated.

Anyway, it is getting on to 3 AM and I had better stop. Good to talk to you. Good luck with all of your clarinet purchases. Remember a good mouthpiece is worth three or four rotten old clarinets. Do NOT buy “used” or from an individual. Do NOT buy cheap, not necessarily anyway. The best student clarinet out there the last time I tried was a Yamaha 34, I believe, really free-blowing and a good instrument.

If you need further assistance, let me know. A half a century teaching and playing and I would like to pass on what I know.

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