There comes a point in many clarinetists’ lives when your trusty B-flat isn’t enough anymore. Maybe you’re tired of transposing in orchestra (cool it with the A clarinet, Tchaikovsky!). Maybe you want to play the Mozart Concerto in the original key signature. Or maybe you’ve decided to continue your musical studies into college and beyond.
Whatever the reason, owning an A clarinet is a requisite for any serious clarinetist. Many of the greatest masterworks of orchestral, chamber, and solo literature are written for the A clarinet. Professional clarinetists are expected to own and play on both B-flat and A clarinets for auditions, recitals, and performances.
But when should you purchase an A clarinet? And how do you choose which one you want? Where do you even find A clarinets??
Like any major investment, buying an A clarinet requires careful consideration. Here’s my advice on selecting the right A clarinet for you:
Do I need an A clarinet?
If any of the following situations apply to you, you should consider purchasing an A clarinet.
- Music majors at university. If you are majoring in music (performance, education, or other music related field), you should have your own A clarinet.
- Advanced high school students. This is especially true if you are planning to continue clarinet in college. Perhaps a graduation present?
- Clarinetists who regularly perform with orchestras, chamber groups, or other ensembles requiring an A clarinet.
When should I buy an A clarinet?
- at the recommendation of a clarinet professor or private instructor
- late high school or early college
Where can I buy an A clarinet?
- Local music stores
- Clarinet dealers (in person or online)
- Online dealers. Many dealers allow you to order a few trial clarinets, test them, pick your favorite, and return the rest. This is great if your local music stores do not have a large selection.
- Social media. There are dozens of clarinet groups on Facebook and other social media, and this is where many professionals and other experienced players sell new and used clarinets. Make sure to finalize all shipping and payment details ahead of time to avoid any miscommunication.
- Local music students. Ask around at universities, orchestras, music stores, band programs, youth orchestras, churches, estate sales, yard sales, pawn shops, and anywhere else somebody might be looking to get rid of their A clarinet.
Which model should I buy?
- Go pro. Clarinetists who are buying their first A clarinet have typically reached a high level of performance, so you should be buying a professional level A clarinet. For this reason, many companies do not produce student or intermediate A clarinets.
- Make a matched set. It’s ideal to have a matched set (meaning that the A clarinet is the same make and model as your B-flat) so you can quickly switch back and forth without having to adapt to vastly different equipment.
- My recommendations:
- Buffet Crampon R13 (which I have always used and consider to be the gold standard) or any other Buffet Crampon professional model
- Selmer Privilège or any other Selmer professional model
- Other notable brands: Backun, Yamaha
Other things to consider:
- Do not be in a rush to buy an A clarinet. This is a major investment, so do your research and test as many clarinets as possible to decide which is the best fit for you.
- Know your prices and do price comparisons to get the best deal.
- Avoid buying step-up or student models. I get it – clarinets can be expensive! But if you have reached the point in your musical career where you need an A clarinet, go for an advanced or professional model. Avoid plastic student models in favor of wooden professional models. If you buy a step-up model now, you will just have to buy a professional model later, ultimately costing you more money.
- Be careful if you buy used. As with buying any used instrument, make sure that the A clarinet is in proper working condition and will not require extensive repairs (repairs = more $$$).
- Upgrade your B-flat. If you are still using a student or intermediate model B-flat clarinet, you should consider upgrading so that you will have a matched professional B-flat and A clarinet (nobody ever said that playing clarinet was cheap!).
After you have your A clarinet:
Congratulations! You’re now the proud new owner of an A clarinet! Before you run off to practice Mozart, here are a few more things to keep in mind:
- Break it in properly. New clarinets need to be broken in to avoid cracks or damaging the wood. For the first few weeks, play only 10-20 minutes at a time and swab regularly. Remove any moisture and be careful that it is not exposed to drastically different environments (temperature, humidity, altitude, etc.).
- Learn its tuning tendencies. Clarinets share some general tuning tendencies (high C# will almost always be sharp), but each clarinet has its own peculiarities. As you break in your new A clarinet, take note (pun intended) of its unique tuning tendencies. Recurring tuning problems can often be improved by a qualified repair technician (such as by raising or lowering the keys). Many clarinetists have the register tube of their A clarinet replaced to improve stuffiness in the “Pines of Rome” A on their new A clarinet.
- Review your transposition. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with transposition between C, B-flat, and A. Make sure to carefully read all music so you don’t play the passage on the wrong clarinet!
Recommended equipment to go along with your A clarinet:
A new clarinet calls for new equipment and other gear! Here is some suggested equipment to get the most out of your new A clarinet:
- Double case and case cover. I use the standard Buffet attaché case and Altieri case cover, but other popular brands are Marcus Bonna and Bam.
- A clarinet barrels. Not all barrels are universal, meaning that your B-flat barrels might not fit your A clarinet, and vice versa. It’s a good idea to have a variety of barrels in different measurements (for both A and B-flat clarinets) so you can easily adapt to different tuning situations. I like Buffet Crampon barrels – I use the Moennig – in 65 and 66 mm.
- A ligature that won’t slide. Make sure that you are using a ligature that will stay in place when you switch between your B-flat to your A clarinet. I use the Vandoren M/O Gold, which offers a beautiful sound with great flexibility and zero slippage. (You shouldn’t need a different mouthpiece for your new A clarinet, but feel free to upgrade if it strikes your fancy!)
- Portable clarinet stands. If you don’t already own one, get a portable stand so you aren’t stuck holding your A clarinet on your lap in orchestra. I use the portable K&M clarinet stand, which can be disassembled and stored inside the bell of your clarinet in its case.
I hope that this information helps you during your search for the perfect A clarinet!