We Know: All About Buying a Clarinet

How are clarinets made and what are the differences in materials?
Clarinets are made primarily of wood with metal keys and key mountings, and depend on the vibration of the reed in the mouthpiece to make their sounds. Student clarinets are often made of a composite material or even a plastic resin, which is easier to take care of but has a very inferior tone.

Professional clarinets are separated from other clarinets by the type of wood used in their constructions, generally an African hardwood like grenadilla. Many are made of Honduran rosewood. Surprisingly, one manufacturer makes very good-quality professional clarinets from a composite mixture of plastic resin and wood chips. The differences between the construction is generally in how the instrument sounds and in how humidity affects it. Composite instruments generally have a lower tone quality, but they are also very resistant to humidity and temperature.

What are the kinds of clarinets?
The B-flat clarinet is the standard student clarinet and concert instrument. Other clarinets in use are the bass clarinet, the A clarinet, the E-flat clarinet, and the alto clarinet. Most of the others are used only in large orchestras. If you learn on the B-flat clarinet, it doesn't take long to master the others.

What should I look for if I want to buy a used clarinet?
Used clarinets can be an excellent choice if you inspect them carefully before investing. If the clarinet is made of wood, examine every inch of wood to look for cracks, warps, and any other flaws that might have been caused by dampness or water. Next, examine the keys and the key anchors to ensure there are no loose wires or any damage to the keys or anchors. Finally, put the clarinet together and take it apart a couple of times. It should slide together reasonably easily, but be stiff enough that it holds together once put together.

What should I know about caring for a clarinet?
Clarinets are delicate, particularly the ones made of wood. A clarinet should never be put away wet, but always be carefully dried. The keys should be wiped down with a dry polishing cloth after every use, and the instrument stored in the case designed for it. You will need to use cork grease on the joints, but you should never use any oil, solvents, or anti-corrosive products on the clarinet.

A clarinet should never be subject to extremes of temperature, and when you first buy the clarinet, never play it more than thirty minutes per day; the wood must season, or it could crack on you down the line. If you do have cracks forming, take it back to the dealer immediately to have it repaired; the tone quality won't be affected if you take care of it right away.

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