Buying Your First Clarinet

"The best sounding plastic clarinet is a wood clarinet"

Which one?

Clarinets come in many keys for specific uses, however you will be buying a Bb clarinet to start your learning.

How does a clarinet work?

The player blows air into a mouthpiece which has a reed (piece of shaped cane) placed underneath and attached by a clamp known as the ligature. The mouthpiece is then attached to the barrel, which connects to the top of the clarinet body. The moving air causes the reed to vibrate and the vibration travels down the tube of the clarinet and out the bell (and other holes along the way). This vibration becomes the sound of the clarinet. As the player depresses the keys, or the fingers cover the holes in the correct combinations, the clarinet sounds the required note.

Which material is best?

There are four main materials that clarinets are made from. Be aware that a good quality ABS Resin clarinet will be a far better instrument than a poor quality wood instrument.

The cheapest clarinets are made from simple plastics. The material is very hard, but usually is also very brittle. If the clarinet is accidentally dropped, it is likely that part of the body will break, and the instrument will not be worth repairing. Generally, the keywork mechanisms will be made from softer metals, and the manufacturing standards will be of less quality, to keep the price as low as possible. These clarinets generally will go out of adjustment very easily, and will make learning more difficult. It is likely that you will regularly hear an annoying squeak or sqwark when the instrument is going “in and out” of fine adjustment. In any case, the tone will be “harsher” than those made of resin or wood.

ABS Resin
Better quality entry level clarinets will be made from this class of thermoplastic which is a mix of polymers and a variety of resins. This material is extremely durable and has higher impact strength. Often the body will be finished with a brushed effect to make it look more like black wood. Jupiter ABS resin clarinets, in particular have a nicer sound, are easier to play and are much more mechanically reliable than cheaper plastic models.

Synthetic / Hard Rubber
Not to be confused with ABS Resin, this material used by Backun for their Alpha model clarinet, provides excellent sonic capabilities, exceptional tone and doesn't restrict learning or skill development. The price is not much more than an ABS clarinet which makes this the best choice for students. Backun’s Alpha also gives professional players an instrument that they can confidently use for performances where a wooden instrument might not be appropriate.

Most wood clarinets are made from Grenadilla which is an African Blackwood. The colour can vary from very dark to black (not ebony wood used by some makers in past decades). As the supply of premium woods become rarer, some manufacturers stain each part so that the clarinet looks like it has been made from one “block”. Others are made from exotic hardwoods like Cocobolo which has a beautiful and colourful grain. High quality wood clarinets are generally made in France or Canada. Typically they will sound warmer, richer and more solid than the other instruments. They also require a higher monetary investment, so they are often “step-up” or professional quality instruments rather than your first instrument.


The “not so good” News – very important!

Being a mechanically based musical instrument, if the quality of design, materials or making is poor (read: unreasonably cheap) then the clarinet will be much more difficult to play, even when just starting out. Then, it’s lack of ability to keep functioning correctly over time, will eventually turn you off trying to play. There is no doubt that far too many people have given up on playing clarinet as a hobby, social activity or career just because they didn’t have a fair chance to start with – like anything else, you need good tools to do a good job! … Buyer beware! – make sure that you buy your clarinet from a dedicated woodwind and brass music store.

How do I know which brand and model clarinet to choose? Where do I start?

Confused by varying information and opinions on which brand and model to buy? Stop worrying about brand names and model numbers, just think about quality and suitability first. Different brands and models of instruments, mouthpieces, reeds and ligatures suit different individuals.


As a dedicated specialist store, we sell, guarantee and support quality brands and models knowing that the most suitable instrument (for you) in your price range will give you a great chance of success in learning and enjoyment. You are then provided with ongoing support by our in-store technicians to make sure that your musical investment keeps working correctly and efficiently.

The Music Place stocks new, secondhand and vintage clarinets… The best brands and models, all of the time!

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