Hutchen 2017 / LJ Hutchen
20June2017 update: I am reviewing this year's model 4216 LJ Hutchen Ebonite (hard rubber) Bb clarinet which hysonmusic.com sells today for $249. My 2017 review uses this blue font.
This is the third time I have asked Hyson to review their line of clarinets, and for a third time, Hyson Music granted my request. To be fair, this also means that they knew that the clarinet they sent was going to be reviewed. In contrast, WWBW.com did not grant my request a few years ago to review their Allora clarinet. So this year I bought one for $149, and after reviewing it, returned it. I do not sell Hutchen clarinets and have nothing to gain in reviewing this instrument. I am satisfied if I can help a few parents shopping for clarinets for their kids.
[The pictures to the left are from the 2011 review, where I said:] This Chinese hard rubber clarinet is currently sold (as of December 2011) via Amazon.com, Hyson Music, http://www.ljhutchen.com, and http://www.pauleffmanmusic.com. The reviews seem to be quite enthusiastic. Paul Effman is the sponsor/designer of the instrument, and the one behind all of the sales outlets mentioned above. Paul generously allowed me to review this instrument.
[27Feb2014 update: Note that the Hutchen line has been updated with the LJH-CL3 reviewed here. The CL3 made of plastic, and I liked the intonation better than this hard rubber model (which I first reviewed in 2011).] [2017: I no longer find the plastic CL3 model at the Hyson music site.]
The new Hutchen clarinet (left) has the logo marked on the left hand joint as well as on the bell. (Unfortunately the logo on the bell was turned down in the picture above.) Other recent Chinese clarinets I have reviewed had the logo only on the bell. The left hand joint passes my suction test easily. The right hand joint gets a C+ grade on the suction test. It keeps suction for a few seconds, and this is enough so that the instrument will play with good response. Serial #none The 2017 clarinet has a serial number! (pictured above) Wow! Even Ridenour Lyrique clarinets don't have serial numbers!
Barrel: 62.4mm (This short barrel is typical for Chinese hard rubber instruments.) // 63.9mm This is better than the 62mm barrels common on many Chinese instruments.
Bore LH joint top: 14.6mm // 14.78mm
Bore LH joint at bottom: 14.6mm This is NOT poly-cylindrical. // 14.6mm The new clarinet IS poly-cylindrical, and it is great that it has a medium bore much like the Ridenour clarinet.
Intonation results taken when playing loud and not lipping. See how to interpret these results on the Model Comparison Page.
For the 2011 test, I pulled very slightly, about 0.2 mm at the barrel. Do not pull in the center for this horn!
2017: Pulled 1.5 at the barrel and 1.3 at the center tenon.
Intonation summary: This qualifies as (almost) professional level intonation. This is primarily seen in that the Chalumeau register from D down to A is not way sharp like intermediate clarinets— of which the 2011 clarinet is a good example. A little skilled tweaking could make this Excellent Professional Level Intonation! The first place to tweak would be to raise the low F and mid-register C. (Such undercutting should be done by experts who know what they're doing.)
Tone: Great. Response, great. The test above was made with my normal Chedeville Prime mouthpiece.
Key work quality: As the Hutchen ad says, this really does have “heavy duty forged keys.” The Hutchen keys don't bend nearly as easily as Berkeley clarinet keys (which are like those found on cheaper clarinets).
These two pictures compare the second side trill key from the Berkeley clarinet (left) and the Hutchen clarinet (right). Berkeley key work is soft, made out of pot metal that bends easily. The Berkeley keys have a nobbley or speckled appearance on the underside. Berkeley keys are slightly thicker in order to compensate for it being made of inferior pot metal. Note also that the screw holding the springs are different sizes. The Berkeley keys have a small screw holding the springs that I think will cause problems, especially because the fine threads are screwed into soft metal. The head of the screw for the Hutchen key is bigger, and I did not take the screw out to examine it further.
Note here a comparison of the screws holding the left hand D key— which is the same key that extends to the bridge between the joints. The Berkeley screw is on top, and the Hutchen screw is on the bottom. Either style of screw will work. The Berkeley screw has a smaller-than-normal slot and no head. Headless screws are good for adjusting any unwanted play in the mechanism, but it is a potential problem that the head of this screw is so narrow. Careless work will ruin the slot.
This clarinet is most appropriate for: Anyone, even advanced players! A student using this instrument will encounter no physical obstacle to his learning. Because the Hutchen brand is relatively unknown, this clarinet will not have a great resale value. But the quality is fantastic, and there is no reason this instrument cannot be played by several generations of students— just like other quality student clarinets.
Condition issues noted: None. The C+ grade for the sealing of the right hand joint is not affecting how this plays.
Additional signs of quality: 1. This clarinet comes with a hard shell case with sturdy latches. I actually like the soft sided lightweight zipper cases that sell so cheaply nowadays. But there is no doubt at all that a hard case protects the clarinet better and will last longer.
2. This clarinet comes with a USA-made acrylic mouthpiece. The one I tested here plays with good intonation. It plays like it is a bit more open than my normal mouthpiece. So with my reed, it played with more resistance, and that made the pitch a tiny bit lower. I would need to push in to play in tune with the supplied mouthpiece. This mouthpiece will work great for beginners. A more open mouthpiece can make beginners using soft reeds sound better. Hyson's mouthpiece is way better than the two Chinese mouthpieces I tried recently with the Berkeley and Allora clarinets. However, when students reach the intermediate level, they will be advised to move up to a hard rubber mouthpiece.
3. The adjustable thumb rest has a ring on the top, which will be very handy and secure for young students using a neck strap. This will mean they can use almost any standard neck strap.
Left, Berkeley pot metal key. Right, Hutchen good quality steel key. Note the speckled appearance on the underside of the Berkeley key.
Bottom line: The $249 Hutchen clarinet is worth the difference in price with $149 clarinets like the Allora, and cheapie Amazon clarinets such as the Windsor, Medini, and Lazarro. The Allora proves to be poorly designed, and the Hutchen is well designed and has been produced by people who know how to maintain design tolerances. I can confidently state that— assuming that both the Allora and the Hutchen have some variation in quality, that a good Allora will never come up to the quality of a normal Hutchen clarinet, and a lemon of a Hutchen clarinet will never be as bad as a normal Allora clarinet. The Hutchen clarinet earns my top recommendation for parents on a budget.
2011 Intonation summary: This is pretty good intonation. It is will work fine for beginning students.
It is a bit weird that there is flatness around clarion F, G and A, but one can lip those up. The Chalemeau D is way sharp. The tone hole is offset, just like my Ridenour clarinet. I took out my Ridenour and tested that I wasn’t just playing weird today. Nope, the Ridenour plays much more in tune. I always start testing in the lower register, and when I saw sharpness there, I pulled in the center. However one cannot do that with this horn! It makes the clarion G and F intolerably flat.
Key work quality: Looks good, but I am not going to bend things to find out more. The crowfoot extension (below right pinkie) is a generously thick 2.9mm. The thumb rest looks very secure and thick. The pads on this new instrument came seating well.
This clarinet is most appropriate for: This is a good beginner horn and one can get it new for a little over $200. Because of intonation being somewhat unusual in the Clarion register, and the sharp Chalemeau D, other major brands of beginning clarinets are still better. I do like this being a hard rubber horn, like my Ridenour. This instrument is way better than some Chinese plastic and hard rubber clarinets I have seen. A couple of other advantages: Mr. Effman makes sure that the Hutchen is being sold with a better than average case and a good mouthpiece.
Information from Justin Varuzzo, who works for Paul Effman Music:
I just had this email forwarded to me from Mr. Effman. I handle all internet sales / relations, so he passed this onto me. I’d appreciate the opportunity to send you a sample for review. We have an excellent student clarinet, and believe there is nothing else in the price range that matches the quality. Obviously your very familiar with Chinese instruments, factories, etc.
One thing that always set us apart from the rest is we set the instruments up ourselves here in the US. Many companies simply move boxes, and you would find huge variances if purchasing some well known Chinese “name-brands”. In the end we’re not claiming to have a product that is somehow magically far better than some other similarly priced Chinese instruments, however by setting up each and everyone we do have an incredibly consistent product and are able weed out any instruments that don’t make the mark.
With that said, we have improved some of the issues many other comparable instruments suffer, and this where Paul’s time in China, at the factory has resulted in improvements in our clarinet. Paul has done things with mouthpieces, cork thicknesses, pip sizes, and other subtle things that have improved intonation. We have greatly improved key strength, have built a custom heavy-duty bridge key, and other things to create a more durable clarinet with students in mind.
It’s also most important to know how this started for us, Paul Effman Music Service is a nationwide music educator that servers over 500 schools and 15,000 students. In the late 90’s we started to experience a problem with students dropping our programs after coming in with poorly made instruments. Paul set out to find an inexpensive instrument that could compete without impeding on the ability of a student to learn. He has been relentless over the past decade in improving the product (for example, our LJ Hutchen clarinet has come in an American made case from day one). We simply could not, and still have not found a suitable case that compares to the old Artley case that we still use today.
One thing we also do is market the instrument honestly. This is not a Yamaha YCL-250, and it is not a Buffet B12, or a Selmer USA 1400 (CL-1), or a Vito. All of those brands are $500+, and we sell these for less than half the price. These are designed for beginning students as a great alternative to renting, and will get most students into high school without issue (4-5 years exp). Obviously, if children progress they will need to consider more expensive alternatives (250’s, 450’s, B12, E11’s, etc).
We’ve also found markets vary. As you are probably aware in most parts of Texas it is the norm for rental shops to rent beginners E11’s and YCL-400AD intermediate wood clarinets. This is unheard of in New York markets (where we are located). We would never encourage any parent calling from one of these school districts to purchase an LJ Hutchen as a great alternative. Quite the opposite, we are also authorized Yamaha, Buffet, and Conn-Selmer dealers so we have just as much incentive (if not more) to sell a $1400 E11 over a $220 LJ Hutchen.
Finally, our service is simply beyond any student manufacturer without question. 90% of our repairs are completed within 24-hours, with most being repaired and turned around in the same day! This even puts us ahead of most local repair shops that usually run about a week for a repair. We always pay shipping to get the instrument back to the customer, and any problems within 30-days we pay shipping both ways or simply exchange the instrument for a new one.
We also have two fully stocked repair facilities, parts are always available and rarely ever on backorder, and we ship most parts same day.
To answer some of your questions, our clarinet is made of hard-rubber (heavy duty ebonite). Unfortunately the terms ebonite, resonite, resin, ABS, and others all seem to be used “at will” nowadays, devaluing the actual meaning of any of the terms. I’m not at liberty to say the specific factory that manufacturers the LJ Hutchen clarinet, but it’s one that manufacturers a respected, brand-name clarinet. I’m going to look into the bore, I’m by no means an expert and don’t have this answer off hand.
In terms of dealer-net pricing, we actually had worked very hard over the first half of the 2000’s building a dealer network. Ultimately, we found a few years ago that it was more trouble than it was worth and decided to cancel all dealerships. We now sell exclusively through out site, and have a deal w/ Amazon. However, even with Amazon, we find much more control in providing support when we have a direct link to a customer. As a professional educator, I personally was able to prevent 9 out of 10 returns on an instrument, as most of the time a problem is a chipped reed, a ligature is not assembled correctly, a trumpet valve is turned, etc. Once we become a wholesaler we lose that personal connection and it is unfortunate, which is ultimately why we scrapped the dealer network.
One last thing I will reiterate, is Paul is always looking to improve this product, and always open to ideas that could improve the product. If you find shortfalls please know that we take it very seriously and will relentlessly pursue correcting or improving them. On a side note, we do have a wood clarinet that is being manufactured (made of Ebony), and will be available 1st quarter 2012 that blows away anything in its price range!
We have quite a hectic week going into the holiday, can we touch base next week and arrange to get you a clarinet sample?
Paul Effman Music
And from Paul himself:
Other companies buy as cheap as they can and end up turning killing music for countless students.
Ten years ago my students were showing up with pink flutes and yellow clarinets purchased at Costco.
I started LJ Hutchen so that children would have affordable instruments which would not inhibit their progress.
Many of the people who buy my instruments are also part of a nationwide educational program which I founded
If my instruments are problematic, I am endangering music education.
Sounds corny but this comes from my heart.
I am a guy who has taught and played for 45+ years.
My clarinet factory works with me when it comes to subtle changes.
I welcome input from qualified sources.