Plastic Clarinet Reviews
[Apr2014 update:] This is an area that has changed a lot since 2008 when I started clarinetpages. I used to say this:Clarinet Shoppers: Be sure to read the Chinese Clarinet Page. Some are OK, most are NOT.Now many of the Chinese instruments have improved. My brief recommendation is this: If you are buying a Chinese clarinet, only get a new one and buy a recommended brand or a brand sold by a well-recognized music outlet.
[Apr2014 update:] Somewhat outdated:
Non-Chinese major brand recommendations (and not in any particular order):
- Vito Resotone clarinets at one time were regarded as the “band director's favorite.” The throat tones are not as sharp as Bundys, and the key work is extremely well designed and sturdy as can be. This is a great instrument for a beginner. Vito's are very easy to recondition, so I often sell these. I also like the headless pivot screws on Vito clarinets (shown at the bottom of this picture). This makes it easy to snug up any extra play in the keys.
- Ridenour RCP-146 is currently being sold by Tom Ridenour. I highly recommend it, although I have not actually tried one. It comes with a hard rubber barrel, and the rest of the instrument is plastic. However model 147 clarinets are not recommended by Tom Ridenour himself. More information will be posted on the Ridenour page. One difficulty is that the painted logo will wear off, and the horn will look like myriads of other Chinese instruments. Only buy one of these if you trust that the person selling you a 147 is trustworthy. I currently play a Ridenour Lyrique 576B, which is made of hard rubber.
- The Yamaha 20 and higher numbered models are good-playing instruments with good intonation.
- The Buffet B12 is quite good. And its cousin, the Evette plastic is not bad.
- The Accent clarinet I worked on seemed to be identical with the Buffet B12.
- [New Forte clarinets are no longer available, but I highly recommend buying them if you see a used one. See the Forte page for more information. June2011] I really like the B-flat Forte Clarinet. This is the best plastic clarinet I have ever found. They key work is excellent, and the instrument is better in tune than my Buffet R-13! See forteclarinet.com. I bought and very happily used this instrument for two years. I sometimes travel with a clarinet in checked baggage, and this will not crack no matter how hard the luggage compartment freezes. I did not like the plastic mouthpiece that comes with the horn. I also found some leaks in the original goat-skin pads. That was probably a fluke, since I bought one of the early demonstration models. I loved the tone and easy response of the Forte.
Not as good:
- I think that the Artley plastic instrument is pretty good. It is well made, but the intonation is not as good as Vito.
- Bundy: The most popular American plastic student clarinet is the Bundy. They are OK, but I don't like them. Way back in 1959, I started on a brand new Bundy. The throat tones were way sharp, and by the time I was in Jr. High the keys would quickly bend out of adjustment. (NOTE: I don't find that problem in their newer models. The Bundy keywork is strong enough, but not as sturdy as the Vito.) There are more Bundy clarinets in USA closets than any other brand.
- Armstrong plastic clarinets are nicely made but too sharp.
- Check for reviews in the side if the one you are interested in is not found in this list.
What about the tone on plastic clarinets?
The tone is fine from a listener's point of view with almost any material. If you have a good reed, good mouthpiece and barrel, the rest of the clarinet could be made from garden hose, and most listeners would not know. It's the player who can feel the difference! Differences in clarinet tone are hard for an audience to hear, even with metal clarinets. However, see my page on Barrels.
Are wooden clarinets more fragile than plastic ones?
Wooden and plastic clarinets are often fragile in different ways. I see a lot of plastic clarinets that have been broken at the joints. The whole male end of a tenon joint will break off inside its mate. It's the sort of thing that happens if someone stands a plastic instrument on its bell. It doesn't take much to make it fall! Wooden instruments can crack with the grain, but hardly ever break off cleanly like plastic horns. (A crack in a wooden instrument can often be repaired.) Key work differs in quality for both plastic and wood instruments. So it seems that plastic instruments are not played in marching bands because they are more durable, but because, if you break one, it's not worth as much to replace.
Why are clarinets traditionally made out of grenadilla?
Tom Ridenour's article has convinced me that the answer is NOT that grenadilla is what sounds best or what artists asked for! Grenadilla Myth by Tom Ridenour
NOTE! This method of cleaning should only be used on the older style plastic clarinets. If you do this with a hard rubber clarinet it will ruin it.