Pro tips to select a new clarinet

Selecting clarinets at Henri Selmer Paris

Buying a new clarinet is an exciting event, but it can also be overwhelming. There are so many different options available today, which is why I’m here to help!

(This article is intended to help current clarinetists upgrade and select a new clarinet. If you’re buying your first clarinet, check out my complete guide to buying your first clarinet.)

Here are my pro tips to help you select a new clarinet:

Narrow it down

  • Do some preliminary research. Before trying anything, grab a coffee (or preferred beverage) and spend some time looking into the different brands, models, and price points. This will give you a better idea of what options are available and of interest to you, and it will also help you become familiar with the pricing.
  • Make a list of what you’d like to try. Once you’re more familiar with brands and models, write down any that you’d like to try. If you’re struggling to decide, I suggest listening to recordings to get a general idea of what each instrument sounds like – just keep in mind that sound is unique, and each person will sound different, even if they play the same clarinet. To find recordings, check out a brand’s social media channels and/or artist roster for linked videos.
  • Contact music stores or companies to arrange a trial. Depending on inventory, you might have to arrange trials at different stores. If you are ordering from an online dealer, be sure to familiarize yourself with their trial and return policy.

Play-testing clarinets

  • Try one new variable at a time. It can be tempting to try new mouthpieces, ligatures, clarinets, and more all at once. Fight this urge and only change one variable at a time – in this case, the clarinet. Be sure to use your normal mouthpiece, ligature, and reed combination when testing clarinets to have a better idea of how you’ll sound on each horn.
  • Play the same thing on each clarinet. You’re free to play whatever you feel comfortable playing on each clarinet, but I always use scales as a control measure to better compare clarinets. I recommend playing a 3-octave F major scale three times – the first time loud and slurred, the second time soft and slurred, and the third time loud and articulated. This will give you an idea of how the clarinet sounds across the registers both slurred and tongued at different dynamic levels.
  • Find the right balance between sound and feel. Sound and feel are the two of the biggest factors in selecting a new clarinet. A clarinet might sound amazing, but if it feels difficult to play or is too resistant, it probably isn’t your best choice. Conversely, if a clarinet feels great but doesn’t have the sound quality you desire, it’s not a good fit for you. Make sure the clarinet you choose both feels great and sounds excellent.
  • Know what to listen for in the sound. Is the sound even from top to bottom? Do any notes stick out? Is the sound rich and resonant? Is the tuning consistent? (You should use a tuner when testing clarinets.) Does this match or enhance my sound concept?
  • Know what you can and cannot change. Some things, such as key tension and tuning on certain notes can be adjusted by a qualified repair technician (more on that below). The innate sound of the clarinet generally cannot be changed, so be sure to keep this in mind when narrowing down your selection.

Making a decision

  • Record yourself. If you’re testing clarinets alone, you can listen to the recordings to get a better understanding of how the clarinets sound. You can also send the recordings to friends and teachers for outside input, if needed – it’s nice to have another set of ears available. (Pro tip: Don’t tell them what clarinet is on each recording – humans are inherently biased, and brands/models/other identifying features can influence decisions. I rename recordings to “Clarinet 1,” “Clarinet 2,” etc. before sending to friends so they can give an unbiased opinion.
  • Request an extended trial. If you’re still undecided, ask the dealer/salesperson if it would be possible to have an extended trial. This would allow you more time to play on the clarinet in your normal practice/performance space. (Be sure to follow all trial rules and return policies.)
  • Don’t be in a rush. Buying a new clarinet is an investment, so you should feel completely happy with your decision. Take your time and allow yourself the chance to try all the clarinets you’re interested in trying so you can choose the best clarinet for you.
  • Trust your gut. Music is such an abstract art, and a lot of it can’t be vocalized. This is especially true when describing clarinet sound or feel. If you play a clarinet that resonates with you, take note of what your musical instinct is trying to tell you.

Next steps

Congratulations, you’ve selected a new clarinet! Here are a few more things you should do next:

  • Break in your new clarinet properly. Check out my article on how to break in a new clarinet so you don’t experience any issues with your new clarinet.
  • Have your clarinet set up by a qualified clarinet technician. Once you’re accustomed to the new clarinet, consider having it set up by a clarinet technician. This can include things like adjusting key tensions, adjusting key heights, and other customizations to better suit you and your performance needs. Check out my advice to setting up and customizing your new clarinet. (Pro tip: Some vendors include a free clarinet set-up with purchase, so be sure to inquire about this during the sale.)
  • Record the serial number. Always make sure you keep a copy of your instrument(s)’ serial numbers somewhere safe. You should also consider getting your clarinet insured, just in case.

I hope this article helps you select a new clarinet!

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