Buying a clarinet is a bit of an adventure, especially if you have little overview of the market and are not yet an experienced player yourself. But even experienced musicians take their time when choosing, try out many things and compare prices. To clear the darkness a little, we give you a few valuable tips to help you decide which instrument really suits you.
German clarinet or Boehm clarinet?
Before you buy a clarinet, you should already know for sure which fingering you want to learn. In German-speaking countries, including Switzerland and Austria, the German fingering is the most common. In classical ensembles, clarinettists who play the traditional fingering are usually preferred. So if you are aiming for a more professional career, you are better off with this fingering, at least in Germany.
Abroad, on the other hand, one hardly ever finds clarinets with German fingering, but almost exclusively Boehm models, even in the symphony range. In addition, the Boehm clarinet is more uncomplicated in some fingering variations than its German counterpart. Ultimately, however, it is all a question of practice and habit, which is why this point should not deter you from starting with the German fingering. One point that could deter you, however, is the different prices, which we will discuss later.
There are many types of clarinets: Find the right one for you!
You can find clarinets in all kinds of sizes and tunings. However, this does not mean that all of them are equally suitable for beginners or musically appropriate. For some clarinets there are simply more pieces that you can play on them or they fit better with the pieces that you already know. Here is a brief overview of the most affordable models.
- Buy an E-flat Clarinet
Of all the clarinets, the E-flat clarinet sounds the highest. In principle, it is as high as a sopranino instrument and the shortest of all clarinets, which is why it is also called the piccolo clarinet. As is the case with many small instruments, the sound can be a bit wobbly for beginners, which is why this clarinet is used more by advanced players. In addition to that the E-Clarinet ist pricy.
While you should calculate at least 2,000£* for a Boehm clarinet in Eb, you won’t find German e-clarinets for less than 3,000£* at all and tend to pay 4,000£*-5,000£* for entry-level instruments. This is not affordable for someone who just wants to try out the instrument.
- Buy a Bb-Clarinet
The Bb clarinet is (after the C clarinet perhaps) the beginner’s instrument par excellence and is ideally suited for taking the first steps towards transposing woodwind instruments. It has an average size, intonates more stably than most other clarinet models and can be used in numerous musical genres.
Since it is the most frequently bought instrument, it is also very affordable as a Boehm clarinet compared to other models. You can get a student instrument for around 300£*. Another advantage is that there is a lot of musical literature for the B-flat clarinet, so practising never gets boring.
- Buy an A-Clarinet
The A clarinet is the second most frequently played clarinet, especially in the symphonic range, as it is more suitable for some pieces for which otherwise an unnecessarily large number of accidentals would have to be listed in the score. Like the Bb clarinet, it also belongs to the sopranos and has a similar range, but it can still play the C-sharp, which the Bb clarinet cannot get down to without a low-Es connection. It also sounds a little warmer than the Bb clarinet. For this reason, both instruments are often used in performances, alternating depending on the piece and the need.
You can get a Boehm clarinet in A from about 900£*, a German A clarinet costs about 3000£* upwards.
- Buy a C-Clarinet
C clarinets are the only ones among the models mentioned that do not transpose, but whose sounding tone corresponds to the notated tone. This makes them particularly interesting for children who may have played the flute before but are not yet very good at transposing instruments. In this way, the playing technique can be learned with pieces that are already known without having to change anything about the fingerings. If there is further interest in the instrument later, the change to a Bb clarinet will not be too difficult, because both belong to the soprano clarinets.
There are not many models, but you can still find both German and Boehm designs starting at around 500£*.
- Buy a G-Clarinet
G clarinets are available in both soprano and low-G versions. The high G clarinet is only used in traditional Viennese folk music, also called “Schrammelmusik”. However, it is rarely made, at most by specialised instrument makers. The low G clarinet is found somewhat more often in shops, as it is used in Greek or Turkish folk music and thus enjoys even greater popularity.
However, a clarinet specially designed for Balkan music naturally costs more than ordinary clarinets. 3,000£* upwards are realistic.
- Buy an Alto-Clarinet
Lower than the A, Bb, C and G clarinets, the alto clarinet can be recognised by its distinctive metal bell, which is somewhat reminiscent of a saxophone. In fact, it does not sound at all dissimilar to the alto saxophone, which is why many alto clarinettists use the musical literature of the alto saxophone to have exciting practice material. If you enjoy the deep sound as an adult, you can be very happy with this instrument even as a beginner; children will probably find the instrument too unwieldy.
In terms of price, however, alto clarinets range from around 3,000£* upwards, which makes them unattractive for an inexperienced beginner who just wants to have a look, but relatively inexpensive for an enthusiast.
- Buy a Bass-Clarinet
The bass clarinet is almost exclusively bought by very advanced clarinetists or professional musicians. The instrument sounds very low, which is why it can rarely take over lead parts in pieces and rather serves to deepen the ensemble. Added to this is the sheer size of the instrument, which requires a certain stature and also a properly developed lung volume.
Nevertheless, you can find a good entry-level instrument for as little as 2,000£*, and prices are of course open upwards into the tens of thousands.
Buying a clarinet: 4 questions you should ask yourself about your dream instrument
1. Choose the right clarinet design
Decide whether you want to play a Boehm clarinet or a German system clarinet. Maybe talk about it with your teacher or with friends who already know the instrument better. In the next step, clarify which key you want to be able to play. Beginners are best advised to play the Bb clarinet, advanced players can choose A and Eb clarinets or perhaps a beautiful alto clarinet. Listening to samples on YouTube can also be decisive for the desired key, for example, some like warm alto or bass sounds better than the bright sound of the sopranos.
2. The clarinet size that fits your body
Small beginners, like children, can buy specially designed instruments that accommodate the ergonomic conditions of their hands. That is why some beginner clarinets have adjustable thumb rests. This can also be of interest to ladies with delicate hands, regardless of age. It should not be a hassle to reach the tone holes or keys. If it is too strenuous and your hand cramps, you should look for another clarinet. But there are also caveats with regard to the stature and strength of the player. A bass clarinet is too big and difficult to play for beginners and children, the Eb clarinet is small but technically very demanding. Therefore, a C or Bb clarinet are more suitable.
3. Which materials do you prefer?
A more haptically oriented point when you want to buy a clarinet is its material or finish. Most clarinets are made of dark grenadilla wood and therefore look very noble. However, there are also alternative types of wood or even clarinets made of metal or plastic. The latter should be discouraged (in most cases, if they are very cheap) because their sound is not particularly full-bodied. Metal clarinets are also not a beginner’s instrument, but rather intended for special musical expression and therefore not quite cheap.
The keys and keys should either be made directly of silver or, if alloy, lacquered to prevent premature wear.
4. Test many clarinets and pay attention to the playing feeling
Many say that one of the most important and at the same time most diffuse characteristics when buying a clarinet is the feel of the instrument. We therefore strongly advise you, regardless of whether you buy the instrument locally or on the internet, to try out several or a sufficient number of comparable instruments in one price segment and to rely on your gut feeling as to which instrument subjectively sounds and feels best to you. The enthusiasm for music and the joy of playing your clarinet will motivate you more to play regularly than the knowledge of the brand or the price of the instrument. It should feel right to play it.
Buy a used clarinet
Of course, it is also possible to buy clarinets second-hand. If the budget is tight but a brand instrument is still desired, it can make sense to keep an eye out for a good offer. However, some caution should be exercised, especially when it comes to private sales by amateurs (e.g. via Ebay). A good alternative is to buy second-hand instruments from certified music shops. These often buy up old instruments, repair them and sell them on with a warranty. This way, you can be sure that the instrument is intact and that repairs have been made by a professional. Good online addresses are for example:
If you do want to venture into the private second-hand market, here is a checklist of points you should check on a used instrument before you buy it:
What do I have to consider when buying a used clarinet?
Buying second-hand instruments from private sellers should be treated with caution. It is advisable, for example, to ask your teacher to look at the instrument with you in order to prevent bad purchases. In our checklist you can read how to recognise that the clarinet is intact, well maintained and suitable for you.
Rent a clarinet
A last good possibility to get an expensive instrument without spending several thousand euros at once is hire purchase. This involves signing a rental contract with a music shop for a new (unused) instrument of your choice. The contract provides for a monthly fee that serves as a down payment on the instrument. You can either pay off the instrument in this way or pay the remaining amount all at once after a few months. If you find out beforehand that the instrument does not suit you and your playing habits, you can easily cancel the contract within one month (or the period stated in your contract). The instrument will then be returned in good condition or you can choose another one that suits you better.
Clarinet manufacturer: A large market
Clarinet manufacturers from Germany
The instrument market can be divided into three segments: very cheap, medium-priced and expensive. In the beginning, when you are not sure if you want to play the clarinet in the long term, it makes more sense to borrow a good instrument from your music school or a specialist shop instead of jumping into the market completely unprepared. But when you are ready to buy your first clarinet, it helps to have an overview of the most important manufacturers. In general, you should know that the price categories for clarinets vary greatly depending on the construction. Clarinets with a German fingering system are produced less frequently than those with a Boehm mechanism and are therefore much more expensive.
Clarinets of the Boehm design are particularly inexpensive. Here you can already find models from 100£*. With an investment of up to 600£*, you will find a really good instrument that will accompany you successfully for some time.
With German construction, the cheapest instruments range from 500£*-1,000£*. Many beginner clarinets cost up to 2,000£*
- Buffet Crampon
In the middle price segment, Boehm clarinets range between 500£*-1500£*. The instruments are of exceptional quality and are designed to meet the needs of advanced players.
A more advanced clarinet of the German construction can cost between 2,000£* and 5,000£*, partly because it is sold less often.
- SeleS by Selmer
High Price Clarinets
Almost all manufacturers produce extremely expensive professional instruments in addition to their student and successor models. For a high-end clarinet you pay about 5,000£* to over 10,000£*.
Keep in mind: Often the most expensive instruments do not come with a mouthpiece. This should be taken into account as an additional expense before buying.
- Martin Foag
- Oscar Adler
- F. A. Uebel
FAQ: Buying clarinets made easy
A good clarinet can be found in both the lower and expensive price segments. The most important criterion besides the workmanship is whether the instrument is in tune. If the notes played deviate too much from the actual tuning of the instrument, it is not a good clarinet. With a Boehm clarinet, you can expect a good instrument from 500£*, with German clarinets, it rather requires a price from 1,500£* to be better than normal beginner clarinets.
As a beginner, you can safely buy a simple and not too expensive instrument if you are not yet sure whether you want to stay with the hobby. Boehm clarinets are already available for 100£*, but we advise you to buy an instrument for 200£*-300£* in order to have something decent. German clarinets are unfortunately much more expensive, you will spend 500£*-1000£* for a student instrument. The only difference between Boehm and German clarinets are the fingerings, otherwise the instruments sound the same in the same pitch. Otherwise, we always recommend starting with a B-flat clarinet.
While beginners can get by with just a few hundred euros, professionals who play for renowned orchestras, for example, spend on average at least 5,000£*, more likely 7,000£*-10,000£* on their clarinets. These instruments are of course insured, otherwise the risk of loss, theft or accidental damage in everyday life would be far too great.