Trialing clarinets

Unfortunately I’m not sponsored by Buffet Crampon (hear that, Buffet, give me a call) so unfortunately I don’t have a steady stream of the newest and finest instruments being sent to me to trial, showcase and recommend to others.

This becomes a bit problematic for when students ask me what clarinet they should buy so they can upgrade from their Yamaha C1, Plastic Le Blanc Vito or heaven forbid, some crusty no-name brand from who knows where that one wonders how they even got into the clarinet making game in the first place. Still, you’d be surprised how well some of those instruments play.

In the last while I’ve had a student buy the (now discontinued) Le Blanc Cadenza at a highly cut price (NZ $2900). Apparently knocking $2000 off the price is the best way to move stock along. Unfortunately this instrument suffers from a few fuzzy notes because there’s probably not enough clearance on the keys. Regardless, it’s a decent sounding instrument and the wood grain looks fantastic.

I’ve also had a few students buy Bliss clarinets. They seem okay but one has had the key-work go a spectacular black colour. It was like a ninja clarinet given the lack of metal join rings creating uninterrupted black wood from top to bottom. They should probably make them like that; it would be like the clarinet equivalent of not putting any lacquer on a brass instrument.

Another student recently borrowed a Buffet E12F and E13. Both sounded okay but again, they suffered from the same fuzzy-key issue because pads aren’t allowed to rise high enough above the tone hole. Why KBB Music would let a clarinet leave the shop on trial without making sure it’s sounding as good as it possibly can is a mystery to me. It’s very off putting when slowly going up a chromatic scale and it goes “dah, dah, dah, dah, fffsst, dah, dah, phsssttt, dah…”

Both these very expensive clarinet did this.

Last weekend I finally dragged myself to KBB to try out those clarinets again and there was no issue. Yes, their trial rooms were a bit generous in their acoustics but the fuzz definitely wasn’t there. Either KBB fixed them or their shelf models weren’t the same ones going out on loan. Therein lies the issue of buying clarinets. You really have to try before you buy and there’s no guarantee that the one you’re going to buy off the internet for a bargain price is actually going to sound the same as the one you tried elsewhere. Hopefully any fix is just a $400 mechanics bill away (ouch) but there’s no guarantee. A shop should at least do their darnedest to remedy obvious faults first, though, assuming they actually want to make a sale.

The Buffet E12F and E13 sound and behave almost identically, which in some ways is disappointing because you want the E13, that costs $1000 more, to instantly differentiate itself with better quality tone and response. To their credit I suppose, Buffet have created a commendable E12F with equal response across the whole range and the higher registers sound with ease. The main difference between the two is the staining of the wood and a bit of extra attention to the key work and metal styling (i.e. the bell has the metal protecting ring) on the E13; it basically looked better without actually sounding (much) better. Really though, a grade 5+ student couldn’t go wrong with an E12F, especially at the price difference (NZ $2145 vs $3145).

I also tried a $10,000 Buffet Tosca.

I didn’t buy it.



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