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Last updated: January 31, 2021
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The clarinet is an extremely popular instrument to learn, encouraged in schools and by parents all over the world. The reason this is that it is not the most expensive instrument, combined with the fact that getting to grips with the basics and playing a tune is relatively simple, compared to many other instruments.
You may be looking for the best clarinet to give as a gift, to encourage a new skill for your children or just to finally pick an instrument to learn yourself. This forgiving instrument may be the route to go down.
In this article we go over which model is best for a variety of different clarinet players (or aspiring clarinet players). Our reviews are based on a variety of aspects, including the key of the instrument, the materials it is made of, any accessories it comes with and who it is suitable for. For instance, a cheaper clarinet made of resin may be more suitable for a beginner, whereas a wood model may be better for a professional.
In composing our in-depth reviews, we have not only formed our own opinion on the products, but we have aggregated many of the consumer reviews online. Make sure to read our buying guide at the end, as it covers everything you need to know when choosing the best clarinet for your needs.
This clarinet is a very sturdy, well-made model which has proven popular among beginners, but also those who have been playing a while and are looking to step up their abilities.
The CL-300 utilizes a standard Boehm design, meaning it has 17 keys. This is great for beginners as it is very much the standard size for a clarinet. This model is in the B flat key, which, again, is very common for these instruments.
Many users have commented on the projection, and listening to this instrument, you can’t help but be impressed by the clarity and tone, as well as how loudly the sound rings out.
This clarinet is made mainly from Ebonite, which is technically a type of rubber with very durable properties. The Ebonite does a good job of keeping a pleasing tone, and many clarinets made from higher quality wood (at a far higher price) are often less agreeable to play
Another reason this is a great student clarinet is the fact that it comes with plenty of accessories. It has reeds, gloves, cork grease and a cleaning cloth included, but most impressively it comes with a case, which the instrument neatly disassembles into.
Though the tone may fall slightly short if you are a professional, this fits the bill of being the best all-round clarinet, which is shown in the huge amount of favorable reviews. For beginners and intermediates playing and recording on a smaller scale, the CL-300 is a great, affordable option.
What we liked:
Standard Boehm 17-key design
Wonderful tone and projection
Ships with a case and other accessories
What could be better:
Made from Ebonite rather than wood, which could potentially affect tone
This clarinet is designed to be a step towards a professional model. In fact, in terms of its sound quality, clarity and playability, you could argue that this is a professional clarinet. This is not made of wood, though. Instead, the YCL-255 is made out of an ABS resin, with a simulated wood grain effect.
A professional clarinet of similar design could cost many thousands of dollars, and realistically this is possibly the closest you can get, at a fraction of the price. Though not made of wood, this can be beneficial if you are playing outdoors, and helps add to the durability of the product – your clarinet will be less prone to any breakage, should you accidentally drop it.
Many reviews from professionals, clarinet teachers, and, of course, beginner players, have praised the YCL-255 for its gorgeous sound. This is ready to play out of the box, with a high-quality Yamaha 4C mouthpiece included, so you don’t need any additional items in order to begin.
The instrument components connect together tightly and easily. It has a carry case included to ensure it is safe from bumps and scrapes. This clarinet even has a totally adjustable thumb rest which is suitable for players of all shapes and sizes. With some clarinets, hand size can hinder your progress.
If you are serious about the clarinet and are looking for something which has a professional feel, without spending thousands of dollars, this could well be worth your consideration.
The CL-400 is marketed as an intermediate clarinet, and a step up from many of the beginner models which can be picked up under $200. This is more expensive, but for the extra money you are getting that little upgrade in quality, especially when it comes to the finish of the clarinet.
A high-quality Bari mouthpiece and impressively elegant Rico H Ligature, as well as durable silver-plated keys, are examples of the extra finesse rarely seen with beginner models.
The tone and resonance of this clarinet are also quite impressive, with some reviewers comparing it to models which are far more expensive. The tone could perhaps be slightly improved with a wooden body, but for an intermediate model, this certainly offers value for money.
Durability is not compromised, either. The ABS construction is quite standard for this price range, and means your instrument is waterproof as well as quite hard-wearing. The keys have been upgraded from the beginner models, too. The CL-400 offers silver-plating instead of nickel, which is more hard-wearing.
The company offer a one year parts and labor warranty on the product, which shows that they are proud of the rugged design. The Jean Paul CL-400 is sold including a case to keep all the joints of your clarinet totally safe in transit, too.
What we liked:
Durable, weather-proof and hard-wearing
High quality parts including Bari mouthpiece and Rico H ligature
Hisonic Signature Series 2610 definitely has a professional look and feel to it. The build quality of this clarinet is very impressive and though it is made of ebonite, it looks like it could be a far more expensive model. Looks aren’t the primary concern, though. Especially when choosing a clarinet. The tone is very versatile, and is described by the brand as clear and centered. This means that it could be equally effective playing jazz or in a marching band.
This versatility is backed up by a good build quality, but perhaps most impressive is the exceptional case that this clarinet comes with. To find such a good value model with a rigorously constructed hard case is rare, and gives the Hisonic a real edge over many of the other products within this price range.
This model also comes with a one year limited warranty, meaning you have peace of mind for a year after purchase. The 2610 is a popular choice among students, and though the tone is pretty good, the design and build quality are the main draws for this instrument.
What we liked:
Comes with a great quality hard case
Versatile tone suitable for numerous styles
What could be better:
The tone is not as professional as some competitors
Not everybody is looking for the same thing when it comes to a clarinet. People are certainly all approaching this with different budgets, and in our opinion, the Lazarro 150-BK-L is the best budget option. If your child is just starting to learn the clarinet and you aren’t sure if they’re going to take to it, there is no need to waste money on expensive models with this affordable, yet fairly good quality option.
Not only does this include the instrument itself, with a good quality ebonite body and a decent enough tone for learners, it has all of the accessories you could need to get going. This is effectively a “starter kit”. As well as including a very handy second barrel, this also has a mouthpiece, reed, reed holder, cap, ligature, cleaning cloth, gloves and grease. It also has a soft case for carrying around, which offers a decent amount of protection.
Many reviewers have purchased this clarinet for their children. It is a popular choice among younger beginners as it is affordable, and it is available in a lot of appealing colors, letting kids choose based on their own personal preferences. This is another clarinet in the key of B flat, which is almost universally true for concert clarinets, and means beginners can get used to playing in the ‘standard’ way. However, Lazarro 150-BK-L is not likely to be played on any festival stages or in any big orchestral performances any time soon. It is not a professional model, but it is still a good option for many.
What we liked:
Comes with everything you need to get started, great for beginners
What could be better:
The tone is not as good as more professional models
Not made of the most robust materials
Things to Сonsider
Buying an instrument, especially if you’re new to the world of clarinets, can be a challenge – there are many features that you need to pay close attention to, as these ultimately determine the musical experience that you’ll be getting. Below, we’ve gone over the key specs that you consider before making your purchase.
Reasons to buy a top quality clarinet
There are many reasons to spend a little time considering which clarinet is the best quality choice for your own unique needs. Arguably, this is even more important for clarinet than it is for some other instruments, due to the fact that the clarinet has a lot of different parts which could easily break if the instrument is not well-made.
Of course, the tone of your clarinet is very important. Nobody wants to spend hours learning songs, only to be let down by the tone that their instrument creates.
Features to consider when choosing a clarinet
As with any instrument, there are so many aspects to consider before making a purchase. A clarinet has many different elements contributing to the sound, and it is vital to be aware of these features and consider them when choosing the right model for you.
Clarinets are one of many woodwind and orchestral instruments that are purchased in a certain ‘key’. The key is very often B flat, which is written as Bb. This has an impact on how the instrument is played, and which finger positions cause which notes to play – for an instrument in a different key the playing method would be the same, but the notes would be different.
The important thing is that the majority of instruments and many compositions are in this key, meaning this is the easiest tuning to look out for when starting to play clarinet. Every one of the instruments on our list of the best clarinets is in B flat, which is definitely not a coincidence.
Level of musician playing
The level of the musician who is going to be playing the clarinet is definitely something to consider when buying. A beginner should not be thrown into things with a $5,000 clarinet before they fully understand the instrument, and how to play and look after it. Not only could something get broken or mistreated, it could be a colossal waste of money if the aspiring player loses interest.
Similarly, a musician with years of experience playing a clarinet that costs $50 will also be a complete waste. Intermediate and professional players need a clarinet which suits their ability level, and can make the most out of the playing techniques they have learned.
Clarinet body and key material
The body of a clarinet is a very important detail. Not only is it vital for the rigidity and build quality of the instrument, it also has an impact on the sound. Many design factors will impact the sound, but generally wooden clarinets are considered to have a richer sound. However, this isn’t the most functional material, and is not waterproof. Products like the Yamaha YCL-255 are not made of wood – instead, high-quality resins are used. These still provide a good tone along with more durability.
The material of the keys is also something to consider, but it won’t impact the sound. This more to do with the overall build quality and feel of the instrument. The keys are how you interact with the clarinet.
The barrel is the part of a clarinet which connects the mouthpiece to the rest of the body. Playing a Bb clarinet will normally mean a 66 millimeter barrel. The barrel has a big impact on carrying the sound, and alterations in its length may cause a different tonal quality or pitch. Generally, you will only be looking for an alternative barrel size if you find your clarinet is either constantly sharp or constantly flat.
Carrying cases are a big deal for any instrument, but especially so with clarinets. Each joint needs to be properly protected and clarinet cases should be designed with this in mind. Some of the soft cases are okay, but in general, a hard case will give you far more protection from the conditions and from the bumps that can occur when traveling.
The bore itself is the column within the instrument where the sound is generated. Whilst it is crucial that it is good quality, the key consideration for players is keeping it clean and well-protected. The bore can be subjected to humidity issues and a lot of moisture. Many bores should be regularly treated with oil to stop it from warping or even cracking.
The reed, inside the mouthpiece, is where your mouth interacts with the clarinet to create a sound. Reeds are just thin pieces of wood, but with a big impact. They come in ‘strengths’ from one to five. Five is a strong and clear sound while a one would be softer.
Most beginners start somewhere around a two, as the lower ‘strength’ reeds are easier to play, certainly for beginners.
This is something a newbie player can experiment with.
Warranties on instruments don’t tend to be the longest. No matter how well-built an instrument is, it can be subjected to the rigors of touring and practicing all the time. If you can get a warranty on your clarinet it is likely to be just one or two years, but this is still very welcome. Having a warranty protects you just in case anything goes wrong or if you purchase a defective model.
How to care for your clarinet
Clarinet care can extend the lifespan of your instrument and keep it playing at its full potential. This should not be overlooked. A few simple steps can help you look after your clarinet.
Periodically grease the cork joints with special cork grease when they get dry.
After use, remove the mouthpiece and use a clarinet swab to remove any moisture from the barrel and interior of your clarinet. Replace the swab regularly.
Clean your mouthpiece with a mouthpiece brush from time to time. This can be done with warm water.
Wipe your clarinet keys with a polish cloth to remove oil and other buildup. Brushing between the keys with a smaller sized brush can also help.
Regularly take your instrument to a specialized instrument shop to get it looked at.
While renting a clarinet is an option, a purchase may be preferable if you can afford it. Even if you are unsure if you will use it long term, instruments have a second hand market meaning you could sell it on if needed. At least with a purchase you own the clarinet and don’t have to return it.
Buying an intermediate clarinet is usually fine in terms of features and playability, even if you are a beginner. Just have a think about what you can afford and whether you expect you will stick to the hobby before making a long-term purchase such as this.
Your reed decision should be based on how you want the clarinet to sound. The higher ‘strength’ (rated from one to five on a scale) means more clarity and power to the sound, but can also be tougher to play. Many beginners opt for lower strengths which are simpler.
If we were going to judge based on sound alone, the Yamaha YCL-255 is perhaps the most professional sounding model we’ve listed. It has a beautiful tone and is well made by a manufacturer who really knows his stuff. Short of spending thousands, this may be the nicest sounding clarinet.
There are other considerations in choosing the best clarinet – not just sound. The Jean Paul USA CL-300 gets our highest rating. The sound of this model far outperforms the price range, and the fact that it comes with some brilliant accessories and so many top customer reviews cannot be ignored.
Another product which we really like is the Lazarro 150-BK-L, which is very impressive for an affordable product. While it is not going to cut it if you are recording a seminal album or performing in front of thousands, for beginners this truly is one of the very best choices available.