No amount of learner enthusiasm will make up for a poor quality beginner clarinet.
A cheap clarinet may save you money now, but you are unlikely to develop fast enough while using it. Instead, it will hold you back.
That said, the clarinet doesn’t need to be expensive. Features that come to mind when you think of clarinets in general may not even be necessary for student clarinets.
This article will guide you through what you should look for in a student clarinet before rounding off with reviews of 5 of the best clarinets for beginners available on the market.
First, let’s make sure we are all sailing in the same boat.
What is a Beginners’ Clarinet?
A clarinet is a musical instrument in the woodwinds family. The instrument has the shape of the piccolo or flute, but with a flared bell.
Same way as you play the saxophone, flute, and recorder, you make music with a clarinet by blowing air through the instrument’s mouthpiece.
That air pressure creates vibrations within the instrument and these are discharged as a musical sound through the bell.
The Bb soprano clarinet is generally considered the ‘normal’ standard. It is also the most versatile and the easiest to play for students.
Beginner clarinets are intended for people who are learning the instrument. These are clarinets made from more durable plastic and hard rubber materials that can withstand possible rough handling by inexperienced learners.
The instruments also require minimal tuning, which makes them easier to play than pro level clarinets.
Use of cheaper but durable materials and mass production techniques also guarantee budget friendly prices. The lower prices save parents from investing large sums of money in an instrument a child may not take up for the long term.
We want to discuss what you should consider as you shop for a beginner clarinet. To ease us into that discussion, let’s retrace the history of the instrument.
Brief History of the Clarinet
We owe the invention of the clarinet, at least what we know it to be today, to a German named Johann Christoph Denner.
But, even though Denner’s work was groundbreaking, he did not actually invent the clarinet himself.
Denner, in fact, improved an instrument that people were already playing - the chalumeau. His seminal work involved adding two keys and improving the shape of the chalumeau’s bell. This increased the instrument’s musical range by two octaves, which was significant.
These improvements altered the sound and playability of the instrument so much that people immediately took notice. Soon popular composers were replacing the chalumeau with the clarinet.
There would be further improvements to the instrument, like the leather covered keys introduced by Iwan Muller in 1812 that made it easier to add more holes and keys to the instrument.
While there is a lot of positions regarding the origins of the clarinet name, the commonly accepted etymology is that the name derives from clarinetto, meaning little trumpet in Italian.
The earliest version of the trumpet was known as the clarino in Italian. As the chalumeau was smaller than the clarino, people reckoned the new instrument sounded a lot like a small trumpet.
How to Choose the Best Clarinet for Beginners
Reading this, you may be asking yourself why there should be a best clarinet for a beginner in the first place.
There are actually several reasons for this.
One reason is that professional level clarinets aren’t friendly for learners. They are tough to play because they aren’t tuned to the more common Bb key, and students starting with them can easily feel discouraged.
But, more important for many people, pro level clarinets are expensive, costing up to 10X more than a standard beginner clarinet.
There will be a lot of trial and error while you are still learning, which can lead to chipped reeds and other learner related damage.
Caring and maintaining wood clarinets also dictate a level of maturity, which makes them less ideal for young learners.
Plastic Beginner Clarinets are Best for Both Young and Adult Learners
A beginner clarinetist is any person learning or playing the instrument for the first time, who could be a young child in elementary school or an adult set in their career.
For this reason, most people would be skeptical about sinking several $1,000s in an instrument only for the young learner to later decide clarinet isn’t what they want to specialize in.
Even if they end up falling in love with the instrument, entrusting a young child with the care a delicate wooden instrument that costs so much may not be so smart.
Clarinets with ABS resin or hard rubber bodies may not have the warm tones and response of wood clarinets, but they have greater resilience to harsh temperatures and are often a lot stronger, which is something parents in particular are most concerned with.
Unless you are going to buy your child a cheaper plastic instrument for practice and marching band (which is what they are mostly going to be doing anyway) it is better to hold off on the wood clarinet until later on in their training.
After all is considered, plastic clarinets are the most pragmatic way of introducing young learners to the clarinet.
Even for adult learners who can afford and may deem it is best to buy a pro wood clarinet from the word go, it is still best to start off with a plastic beginner clarinet as they are easier to play and care for.
Besides, until you have played clarinet a while and have advanced your skills on the instrument, you won’t be able to tell the difference between a beginner plastic and pro wooden clarinet from playing the instruments yourself.
But aren’t there wood beginner clarinets?
Indeed there are. But while those may give you a warmer and more focused tone, it is worth noting these instruments will require a higher level of care. You will not want to be doing marching band practice with them.
Beginner Clarinets are Designed to Introduce Learners to the Basics of the Instrument
Much of what you will be doing as a beginner is stuff that needs a hardy instrument that does not need any careful handling.
The instrument, of course needs to have a good tone and pitch, but that shouldn’t be your primary concern at this stage. You will be spending a lot of time on embouchure, which, by the way, you can learn with just the mouthpiece.
Less on clarinet tricks and intricate fingering techniques, your teacher will be concentrating you on the basic construction of the instrument and the science behind its sound.
So instead of looking too far forward, as a beginner you will want to spend more time mastering how to assemble the instrument out of the case, embouchure, and how to piece notes together.
Knowing how assemble your instrument will also give you a better appreciation of how rough handling when joining the different components can easily crack the instrument and cause air leaks that will render the instrument unplayable.
These are all lessons you would rather learn on a cheaper plastic instrument than a pro level wooden clarinet.
Clarinets Come With Many Replaceable Parts and Accessories
As a beginner there won’t be any need to sweat the small stuff.
Yet, there are many small parts and accessories you will still need to know about as you buy your first clarinet.
Seeing as you are buying new, familiarizing yourself with these accessories beforehand will help you check to see if all is in the box when your clarinet finally arrives.
Most of these small parts and accessories however concern the mouthpiece. If you are now up to speed with how to assemble the clarinet, you will know there must be mouthpiece shell itself, the reed, and the ligature that will hold everything together.
Most new beginner clarinets will come with the reed and ligature included. While some may encourage replacing the stock mouthpiece with a better one, for a beginner this is usually unnecessary.
What you may need to replace, however, could be the reed. But only if you find the one that comes with the instrument not to be as flexible.
Should you choose to buy your own reeds, it is best to buy several different brands and beginner sizes, and not a whole box of one type. This way you can test several before settling on one you find easiest to play with.
Another accessory you will want to make sure is in the case is the ligature. Without it you cannot put the mouthpiece together. But, for all clarinets that come with a mouthpiece, the ligature is usually included.
Other than the mouthpiece accessories, you will typically find the bore swab, cork grease, and mouthpiece cap also included.
The clarinet itself comes in five pieces - barrel, upper joint, lower joint, and bell - that you have to join before playing, and disassemble to stow the instrument away after use.
Beware of Dirt Cheap Options?
It is best to look at your beginner clarinet as an investment and not some disposable item you will throw in the attic after a few uses.
While there are many cheap student clarinets out there that will seem an attractive option, most won’t help you to develop to your true potential.
Whether you dream of being the next Artie Shaw or you just want to play for fun, a good quality beginner clarinet will encourage you (or your child) to fully explore the instrument and decide if it is what you want to play long term.
You are best served choosing the best student clarinet you can fit in your budget.
If you care for it well, you can even resell it for more money should you decide to try another instrument, because there is a chance it will be sounding better than it did as a new clarinet.
If you choose to go the pre-owned route, you may want to stick with plastic as those are sturdier and will likely be free of crack issues.
If you insist on wood, then you want to be thorough with your vetting and make sure it is more pre-loved than pre-owned. You may end up paying more on repairs if you are not careful.
The 5 Best Beginner Clarinet Reviews
|Jean Paul USA CL-300 Student Clarinet
|Gemeinhardt 2CN1 Student Bb Clarinet
|Yamaha YCL-255 Standard Bb
|Buffet Crampon E11 Bb Wood Clarinet
With so many options available, if you are a parent and have never played the clarinet yourself, shopping for your learner child’s first clarinet can be an exhausting process.
You could even be looking to take up the instrument yourself and are out checking the best student clarinets there are for adults.
Either way, you should be able to find something that fits both your budget and tastes in the options we have reviewed below.
We have made sure to select, across several price points, only instruments we trust won’t break and have to be tossed out after a few uses.
Let’s go shopping:
1. Jean Paul USA CL-300 Student Clarinet
You will probably agree that you can’t concentrate your shopping in the budget deals section and still get a beginner clarinet of acceptable quality.
My research informs me this Jean Paul USA CL-300 is probably the best deal you will get on a budget clarinet that is durable, is tuned right, and plays well enough for someone looking for a solid foundation on clarinet.
With a hard wearing ebonite body and nickel keys, this Amazon Choice beginner clarinet is a perfect fit for young band students.
Based on value alone, this clarinet can’t be beat.
Other Features and Benefits
- A time tested design that produces excellent playability and a great response,
- Comes in a light but strong carry case with handles on top and on the side that make it easy to carry,
- Includes a cleaning cloth, reeds, cork grease, and gloves,
- A generally good sound that will encourage your learning efforts,
- The Jean Paul Company has been commended for its exemplary customer service.
- A few buyers complained the metal keys tend to bend easily, which can cause leaks, so you will want to be careful when assembling and disassembling the instrument.
2. Gemeinhardt 2CN1 Student Bb Clarinet
The Gemeinhardt 2CN1 is not the most popular student clarinet.
But what you can bank on is the brand’s long and proud tradition of making flutes and piccolos of very high quality.
In fact, the brand has served the American market since as way back as 1924 and its history can be traced several decades earlier to Markneukirchen, Germany, where founder Kurt Gemeinhardt first set up shop.
The 2CN1 was designed by professional clarinetists to ensure it conforms to the highest standards for both playability and tone.
Other Features and Benefits
- An strong ABS resin body with a wood-like finish guarantees years of repeated use,
- A signature bore design with inset and undercut holes ensure sweet sounding tones across the range,
- Forged nickel-plated keys give you an airtight seal to prevent air leaks that often cause note distortion,
- A made-in-America mouthpiece that comes with a cap to protect your reeds,
- Comfortable key work with durable steel rings and a thumb rest,
- Good quality but you may need to change the reeds to improve playability.
3. Yamaha YCL-255 Standard Bb Clarinet
It is remarkable that Yamaha is able to cultivate a reputation for quality and reliability while making literally every musical instrument in commercial production.
This unshakable devotion to quality instruments is evident in the Yamaha YCL-255, which is the brand’s entry level clarinet.
The body, barrell, and bell are made from ABS resin material, which ages slowly. The instrument maintains its intonation whether you play outdoors, indoors, in humid, cold, or in hot conditions.
The bell was, in fact, recently redesigned, which has made it lighter and has added a resonance chamber that’s improved the instrument’s intonation considerably.
Other Features and Benefits
- The lighter, redesigned bell produces a warmer, more consistent tone and makes the clarinet easier to handle,
- A built-in neck strap ring enables uses use of a strap that reduces thumb and hand tension for inexperienced learners,
- The adjustable built-in thumb rest also improves player comfort,
- Uses Valentino key pads that are reputed for their tight seal, which prevents air leaks,
- Uses a tough ABS resin with a wood like finish for durably gorgeous looks.
- Its great all round quality comes at a considerably higher price.
4. Jupiter JCL-700N Student Clarinet
The Jupiter JCL-700N is trusted for its reliability and just about justifies its price, which may be right at the top of the average beginner’s budget.
It isn’t a wood clarinet, but that isn’t necessarily a handicap for a student clarinet. In fact that adapts it to outdoor conditions that wood clarinets just won’t handle that well.
The JCL-700N spots features you will commonly find on more advanced clarinets and will suit advancing learners who prefer an instrument they can play for a while before they have to upgrade.
Other Features and Benefits
- Robust construction and a tough ABS resin body that guarantees durability,
- French style off set trill keys prevent excessive moisture accumulation to ensure your clarinet continues to perform at its peak,
- With a smooth matt finish and nickel plated keys, nickel/silver bell ring, the clarinet is made to please the eyes too,
- A C/G key riser, undercut holes, and an adjustable thumb rest all ensure maximum player comfort,
- Longer barrel lowers pitch to give you a warm, rich, and reliable sound,
- It isn’t anything much more than a student instrument, but it hasn’t attracted any bad reviews so far.
5. Buffet Crampon E11 Bb Wood Clarinet
The Buffet E11 is one of the most popular learner clarinets ever made.
But there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the clarinet. While the clarinet is generally classed as an intermediate instrument in the USA, in Europe, where it is made, the instrument is actually known as a student instrument.
The confusion doesn’t end there. There are several versions of the instrument, with different models made by Buffet itself in Germany and in France and another for which production was outsourced to another German company.
However, all production appears to have been brought back in-house, under the Buffet brand.
Despite the model’s storied history, it is a fabulously well made instrument. One of a few student models made from Granadilla wood, the clarinet is free blowing and produces a beautiful tone
The E11 is ideal for adult learners seeking their first taste of a wood clarinet at a smaller cost.
Other Features and Benefits
- The blackwood body produces a warm, focused sound,
- A fixed thumb rest that improves playability and provides added comfort,
- Stainless steel key springs ensure precise key movement,
- Comes in a backpack style hard case that’s easy to carry
- A silver plated cap, sample reed, and silver plated cap is also included
- Maybe be too costly and too delicate to buy for juvenile learners.
And Our Pick Is…
The instrument’s quality is exceptional, with focused beginner clarinet features steeped in signature Yamaha quality.
Your budget is the only thing that should get in the way of this choice. If that's the case, the Jean Paul USA CL-300 and the Gemeinhardt 2CN1 are worth a look as options.
The Jupiter JCL-700N is also a solid choice, while the Buffet E11 is the safest bet for those for whom a wood body is an absolute must-have feature. For the overall pick, however, there isn’t much standing in the way of the Yamaha YCL-255 as the best clarinet for beginners.
Then again, you can only agree after you have sampled the clarinet yourself.