What To Look For When Buying A Clarinet

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Are you looking for a clarinet for your youngster who is starting out in band this year?  You can go to a music store and get the cheapest plastic clarinet that is new and shiney and pay $200.00 or you can take that same $200.00 and get a really great sounding but older clarinet off of Ebay.  If you know what you are doing, your child will never know the difference as far as looks go.  That same $200.00 clarinet from Ebay can look just as great as that cheap plastic new one.  But you need to know what to look for to get your money's worth.

You can get a great Selmer Bundy clarinet for under $50.00 and spend $150-$200 to get it repadded, recorked, and shined up at your music store and it will play great.  You can send it to a repair person that operates from Ebay for under $100.00 but check his feedback to make sure that he isn't lying about his work. 

With any clarinet that you buy, always check the seller's feedback before you bid, unless you are within driving distance from the seller.  Ebay can only refund the buyer up to $175.00 if you do not receive the instrument or if the seller grossly misrepresents the clarinet and won't refund you back your money if you send it back to him.  If you pay through Paypal, keep in mind that any item comes under the $1000.00 protection plan only if the seller has a good selling reputation established with Paypal.  If it comes under the $1000.00 protection plan, you will see it in the seller's description. If it is not stated in the seller's information, then you are not protected.   Don't ever buy a clarinet from a zero or low feedback seller or a feedback score under 98%  seller, where the total is going to be over $200.00 because you are not protected over $200.00 in case of a fraudulant seller.   

What kind of clarinets are good to look for?  Buffet, Yamaha, Selmer, Leblanc and Conn are good clarinets.  If you are looking for clarinets because you are a collector, it might be fun to get a 50 year old clarinet and fix it up to see what it will sound like, but a newer one is better for a child in band.  An old clarinet will be more likely to have cracks and keys that will be hard to find replacements for in case of broken or lost keys. 

The most important thing about a clarinet is that all of the pads have to seal and be air-tight.  Even one hole that is not air-tight will render the clarinet unplayable. A new shiney plastic clarinet that costs $60.00 might work for a week or two, but will probably not hold up as well as an older Leblanc Vito or Bundy.  The clarinet has to play from the bottom to the top.  The keys have to be properly padded and corked or the keys will clink when being played and be distracting.  The keys also have to be properly aligned over the holes or the clarinet won't play so it can't have bent keys. Even a cheap Bundy will sound good as long as the clarinet is padded properly.  It may not sound as good as a professional $2,000.00 Buffet R-13, but it will sound good.   Does the clarinet come with a good case or will you have to buy a new one?  Does it come with a good mouthpiece and what kind of mouthpiece does it include?  If the clarinet does not play well and it is properly sealed, the problem is probably the mouthpiece.  Not all mouthpieces work well.  You may end up having to purchase a new mouthpiece for the clarinet and new ones cost anywhere from $20-120.00 or more at a music store or you can buy the same mouthpiece from Ebay for the fraction of the cost, but again, check the feedback score of any seller. 

These are some of the things that you need to look for in any clarinet that you are interested in: 

 Who is the maker of the clarinet? Buffets and Yamahas have a higher retail value than Bundys but may not sound any better but the other kids might be more impressed if your child has a Buffet or a Yamaha instead of a Bundy.

 Is it wood or plastic? Wood clarinets are usually considered better clarinets than plastic clarinets but plastic is good for a beginner student because it will withstand more abuse like getting rained on and plastic clarinets don't crack.  They can break, but they don't crack like wood does.  Plastic can be washed off, if it gets dirty.  If you are unfamiliar with clarinets, you need to check several auction sites who are selling the same clarinet,  because many sellers either deliberately or by mistake will say a clarinet is wood, when many times, it is a brushed plastic. Buffet B12's are never wood, but many times, they will be listed as wood.  Buffet Evettes made in Germany are almost always plastic and Evettes made in France are made of Grenadilla wood.   

What model is it?  A student model will cost much less than a professional model. Many sellers will tell you who the maker of the clarinet is but won't say what model it is and that is probably because it's a student model and they are trying to trick a newbie into getting a cheaper model at a very inflated price. They do this by putting very high prices on their clarinets but with very little description. Also, don't be fooled into bidding on a clarinet just because you see a lot of bids.  Click on the bids and if you see numerous zero and low feedback bids, chances are that the seller is using shill bids (against Ebay rules but hard to prove). 

Many people who are selling instruments don't know very much about what they are selling.  They might have bought the instrument at a garage sale, an estate sale or maybe they might have inherited it.  They may list the clarinet as a Buffet because it has a Buffet mouthpiece or a Buffet case.  They may list it as a Noblet becaue they see a Noblet mouthpiece.   If the listing is unclear, you need to make the seller clarify every detail about the clarinet, especially if you are spending more than let's say $50.00.   

 Does the clarinet have any cracks or repaired cracks?  Some sellers consider a clarinet not to be cracked, if the cracks have been repaired. Find out from the seller if the clarinet has been repaired.  If the clarinet has cracks or repaired cracks, it is not as valuable and should sell for a much lower price than a perfect clarinet and you may be able to pick up a really geat-playing clarinet for your child at a fraction of the price of a perfect clarinet but make sure from the seller that the cracks do not make a difference in the way the clarinet should perform.  Something that is very expensive to fix that may interfer with performance is if there are major chips in the tenon joints so you may want to steer clear of those particular defects.  Also, very experienced players feel that to "band" a crack, takes away from the performance of the clarinet, so if the clarinet has a repaired crack, you may prefer a clarinet that has been professionally repaired by "pinning" rather than by banding. Except for professional players or clarinet collectors, you most likely will never be able to tell the difference between a perfect-looking clarinet and a less-than-perfect-looking clarinet.  The most important thing to keep in mind if you want your child to enjoy an instrument is to buy the very best one that you can afford.  If he or she starts out with a really great instrument (even though less-than-perfect-looking),  they will enjoy it so much more than one that they have to struggle with and are much more likely to stick with it.    

How old is the clarinet?

What is the serial number? Do the serial numbers match on the middle keyed sections?

What condition are the pads and corks? Will it need repadding and recorking soon?

What is the going price on Ebay for similar clarinets? You can find this out by going to completed auctions, but check for similar features as the one you are interested in buying.

Does it come with a mouthpiece and what shape is the mouthpiece?

Does it include a good case or is it falling apart and does the case smell from being down in a musty basement? 

Always check the seller's feedback.  Look for sellers with a very good feedback score or sellers that have the Paypal $1000.00 protection plan. They can be trusted. Never spend more than $200.00 on a clarinet from a seller with zero or a low feedback score unless you are within driving distance from the seller and you can inspect the clarinet yourself before you pay him or her.  

Ask the seller questions if the description is not clear.  Keep his emails if you purchase the clarinet until which time, you have received it and are sure the seller fully described it to the best of his ability.  If a seller does not want to return your emails, it is usually not a good idea to buy from him.  Trustworthy sellers return emails to make sure you know what you are getting.   

Check shipping charges.  Some sellers sell their clarinets really cheap but charge huge amounts of money for shipping and if you get ripped off by a seller, Ebay doesn't refund you any of the shipping charges. 

When it comes to bidding on a clarinet, if you can't be at your computer at the very end of the auction, bid the highest amount that you are willing to pay for the item and let it go if you don't win the auction.  There will always be more clarinets that come up in the future and you might even get a better one at a lower cost. 

 If you get a clarinet and you are disappointed in the way it looks and plays, you might be very happily surprised if you take it to a shop.  A lot of times, they can work wonders with something that you might think is a hopeless piece of junk. 

 Pay for the item as quickly as possible and always communicate with the seller.  Give him your address and phone number in case they need to get in touch with you for any reason. 

Don't expect perfection.  Most sellers don't know that much about musical instruments and are only giving the best description that they know how to give. 

Don't forget to leave feedback as soon as possible.  Don't give a negative or even a neutral unless you have exhausted every effort to resolve a dispute. 


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