Upgrading Your Beginner Clarinet
Been playing clarinet for a few years and start to feeling like your instrument is holding you back? You most likely started playing clarinet on an entry-level student model made of plastic or ABS Resin. Student models are designed to be lightweight, hardwearing, and not as sensitive to temperature change. All of these features are great when you are a beginner. However, a plastic instrument will never allow you to achieve that resonant, dark, rich, warm sound a wooden clarinet will provide. So, if your playing is advancing and your technique is developing, it’s time to develop a true clarinet sound on a wooden instrument.
The wood traditionally used for clarinet construction is Grenadilla, also known as African blackwood. This varies in colour, from very dark brown, to black. Some manufacturers use exotic hardwoods like Cocobolo, which varies from lighter brown to very dark brown/black.
You do need to be careful with wooden instruments and protect them from extreme temperature and humidity changes as this can cause cracks in the body. It can sound a bit scary when you read all the information out there, but really, they are not difficult to care for with some common sense and some guidance from your local music store.
Yamaha, Buffet, and Backun produce quality wooden clarinets at a range of price points.
The Yamaha YCL450M (Duet+) Clarinet is a great choice for players looking to upgrade. It has the same bore size (the inside cylinder) as the YCL255 student clarinet, so it will feel remarkably similar to play when transitioning to a wooden clarinet. It also has an ABS resin coating in the upper joint, which makes the instrument more durable and less susceptible to the effects of humidity and temperature without affecting the warmth of the sound. The 450 has straight cut tone holes, making it easier to produce a sound.
The Yamaha YCL650 is an excellent alternative for those who are serious about their clarinet performance but need to watch their budget. The specifications of its bell, barrel, tone holes, and other features are very close to those of the Yamaha Custom SEV model. Its sound is warm, round, and deeply resonant. Made of carefully select and seasoned Grenadilla wood, the YCL650 features tapered tone holes, which are undercut by hand for precise intonation and optimal projection. Its beautifully sculpted keys have been regulated by master artisans for perfect balance.
The Buffet E12F model is derived from Buffets' professional models and made in Buffet Crampon’s French workshops. The key assembly and quality control are carried out by the German factory in Markneukirchen. It is made from unstained African Blackwood which has been treated and lacquered and features leather pads. The E12F is easy to play, reliable, and accurately tuned.
The Buffet E13 model is made from the best pieces of Mozambican Grenadilla wood. It has all the technical characteristics of Buffet professional clarinets, including silver keywork and plating, blue steel springs, screwed-in pillars, threaded screws, leather pads, and natural cork lining the joints.
The Buffet R13 model is one of the most popular clarinets with professional players around the world. Made from stained Grenadilla wood, the R13 shines in all performance contexts, from orchestra to chamber music.
Crafted in Canada, the Backun Beta clarinet is gaining popularity worldwide with its unique bell and barrel design. Made from unstained, naturally-aged Grenadilla wood, its comfortable blowing resistance makes transitioning to this instrument a breeze. Ergonomic keywork and synthetic pads make this one of the most responsive intermediate clarinets available.
Caring for Your Wooden Clarinet
The start of a wooden clarinet’s life requires a certain amount of ‘breaking in’ before it can be played for long periods of time. This means playing the clarinet for short periods of around 15 minutes in the first week and swabbing to remove moisture inside the instrument after every practice session. The duration of practice sessions can be gradually extended and the clarinet should be broken in after following this process for one month. Wooden clarinets also need to be oiled - a process which is demonstrated in the video below.
Although wooden clarinets have special care requirements, the enhanced sound quality a player with a few years of experience can produce will make upgrading a worthwhile experience.