Phil's Rant about Chinese clarinets
[Apr2014 update:] This is an area that has changed a lot since 2008 when I started clarinetpages. I used to say
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. Definitely stay away from the clarinet-shaped objects listed at the bottom of the page. See the Clarinet Shopping Advice page for my top recommendations, including the brand that I now sell.
DON'T buy counterfeit Buffet B12s that are located in China, the ones where you can buy the clarinet for $17, but the shipping is $150. Please see my notes below. Please help us by reporting such auctions! For more information and how to report such auctions, please see this page: Counterfeit Buffet B12
Also watch out for
listings like this one:
2010 Model Bb Clarinet w/ Case + YAMAHA Care Kit !!!!!!
The material below is old and needs to be updated.
2019 summary: The main things to know about Chinese clarinets is that
- the quality is improving yearly.
- Stay away from old ones as they are more likely to be un-improved.
- The cheap ones are often still junk.
The clarinet being sold by this company is a Chinese instrument with the name Merano. Only the cork grease and swab are made by Yamaha!
DON'T buy from AliExpress.com, based in Hong Kong. They are selling Buffet B12s for $163 with free shipping. If you read their fine print, they at least admit that it was made in “Tianjin China (Mainland).” The Yamaha YCL250s they are also fakes and made in the same factory. I can tell from the pictures that neither of these products is authentic.
Chinese instruments are improving. I want to lay out the truth, as I see it, about these instruments that are flooding our markets.
NEW: I have reviewed the Mainland Chinese LJ Hutchen (hard rubber) and the Taiwanese Jupiter 631. These are acceptable and inexpensive horns for beginners, but probably not for intermediate students. Of the two, I would give slight preference to the Jupiter models. I can also say that the Portland clarinet could be OK for beginners, if you happen to find a lightly used one. If you can find a good used and reconditioned major brand plastic clarinet (top of that page), it is still probably a better deal in the long run.
[update 21Dec2013: Don't buy an Opus USA!]
One of the problems with Chinese clarinets is that you can seldom find unbiased reviews of them. They change the names that they stencil onto them every few months. I think this is deliberate. Also, I have noticed that the eBay sellers keep changing names also. Too much negative feedback, open a new eBay account. See my pages about the Borg and Mannheim clarinets. (They knew instruments with Chinese names wouldn't sell!) On the other hand, some of the better ones might be being sold under the name Allora. I haven't had a chance to test these, but they are being sold by well-known companies.
- The quality is improving. I was recently given a very good Chinese clarinet, made of hard rubber, or a composite with high rubber content. It plays virtually as good as my Ridenour Lyrique. It has no name, but the case looks the same as the Beifang.
- Hard rubber is an excellent material for clarinets, giving these instruments a nice dark tone. (See the Ridenour page.) I prefer the tone of these composites over the older hard plastic or Resotone instruments. I suspect the rubber may be from recycled tires. One maker is also making a wood composite.
Drawbacks to consider:
- Many, (perhaps most) woodwind repair shops will not work on Chinese instruments. Ask your local music store about repairs before you commit to buy a Chinese instrument.
- The Chinese key work tends to be soft. It can be OK if you are careful. But for beginning students, count on the keys getting bent in the first year. You WILL need to take it in for repair. (But see the point above this!) If you don't have a repair shop, just buy two, so you can switch to a new one when the first becomes unplayable.
- Intonation may be WAY off. I think this is improving. So if you are buying Chinese, get a new one. I warn people to stay away from all older Chinese plastic clarinets (except Ridenour 147). Buy an older one, and you have about a 98% chance of the intonation being out of whack. I am going to try to review as many new models as I can. If there is no impartial review, make sure you have a proficient clarinetist play your new instrument with an electronic tuner right after you get it. Return it quickly if it doesn't play in tune. (Another supporting opinion can be found in the first four paragraphs Here.)
- The tone holes with rings are often not molded right into the keyed joints. Instead plastic inserts are glued in for the ringed tone holes. Sometimes these come off. (See the Borg page on this.) If this happens, the clarinet is completely unplayable. I notice that my Ridenour Lyrique also has these tone hole inserts, but in a different style.
- Consider that Chinese clarinets have very poor resale value. Consider a reconditioned wooden instrument may be a much better deal.
- I am a more than a little sceptical about unsubstantiated claims that a particular brand is “School Approved.” What school system? Was their evaluation unbiased? In NW Arkansas, many band directors are requiring the best brand names.
- Some Chinese clarinets are available in various colors, but I doubt that your student will think it is fun for very long to have a yellow or purple clarinet!
Advice: If buying at an auction site, check the feedback carefully. The trouble with feedback is that people write them when they unpackage the beautiful new instrument. These instruments all look great! Don't buy from a seller unless they have a few hundred feedback entries. Be aware that eBay has slanted their system to help sellers. Negative feedback is forgotten sooner than positive feedback. I recommend that you spend a little time searching for feedback entries that match the type of instrument you are buying. Click on the sellers name, then on the right side of the scrolling feedback window, click on the tiny link that says, “See All.” You will often find a few where more qualified people have given important information. On eBay, you can also click on the Red Negative button, and you will just see the negative comments.
Interesting information from Kaiyu in China:
Thank you for quickly responding. I will try my best to answer your questions. My English is not good... [PhilPedler: Kaiyu's English is actually quite good, but I have corrected a few places below.]
"Are all Chinese clarinets made in the same factory?"
That is obviously wrong. There are a lot factories which make clarinets. Some are well-known companies and others just small workshops. I think that the bigger the brand, the more results in Google searches.
"Where is the factory?"
Beijing, Shanghai, etc. A lot of cities have musical instrument factories.
"What is the real name of the clarinets in China? (Beifang?)"
I think Beifang is just a factory name. It means “north.” It's not a brand.
If you can please send me some photos, I will check for the real name.
"What brands of Chinese clarinets are actually sold in China? "
XINGHAI means “Star Sea,” is made in Beijing. That is maybe the foremost clarinet band in China, and my first clarinet also in 1992.
BAILING means a kind of bird, and is made in Shanghai.
And there are others. I don't know much about them. In the bbs, the people [Chinese clarinetists] talk lot about Buffet, Yamaha, but no Chinese brands. That's a shame for us, speaking as a Chinese person.
"I am interested in the Chinese hard rubber clarinets and also in the wood composite clarinets."
I have never heard of Chinese factory making hard rubber clarinets before, only bakelite and ABS plastic. I am not sure if the Bakelite is hard rubber or Ebonite. Maybe those who make hard rubber clarinets just sell them overseas. That is too bad to us. If you have pictures, please send some to me.
Chinese players believe that only wood clarinets will have good sound, and more expensive the better. But I think that's is wrong for clarinet, right? I know hard rubber also is a good material to make clarinet. But other people don't think so, so they won't buy it for intermediate or pro level. That's too bad.
And I don't know who can help you with the rest questions, because Chinese clarinetists usually don't use Chinese clarinets.
My questions to Kaiyu:
Do you notice a difference in the key work of the Xinghai and Bailing clarinets?
Which of those two makes the clarinets in colors?— sea blue, green, red, white, pink, etc.
Mostly, I would like to know who made the Ridenour TR-147 clarinets. And what names they use to sell them in the United States now.
I think that a Bailing bird would be the same as a Lark. Is that right? It is a kind of small bird that people like because they sing songs.
I didn't understand what you said in the last e-mail about bakelite. For us, bakelite is an older kind of plastic, the kind of black and heavy plastic that the earliest phones were made of. (1930s to maybe 1940, before phones came in different colors.) I would not be interested in any of those. But I wonder if what you are calling bakelite is really the same stuff as what we call bakelite. Or is what you are calling bakelite actually pressed wood?
Glad to see your mail, I will do my best to help answer your questions.
About the Bakelite clarinets, just about calling [Phil: pronunciation] , in Chinese it sounds more like a kind of wood, like "rubber wood." But actually it is hard rubber. And we don't distinguish hard rubber or plastic. I thought the Selmer Resonite also is hard rubber, but it's plastic. Maybe the rubber will fading, but plastic will not?
And BAILING it just is "Lark," made by an old musical instrument company in Shanghai. I still have one, bought in 1997, when I restarted playing clarinet in September this year, it worked fine. It only had a register key leak. And the key work is not bad, not soft, although not good for polishing. Good for beginner.
Here are 2 links, one for old Xinghai and the other is Lark:
You can see their keys are different.They don't have colorful clarinet products. But now Xinghai looks like change the key to buffet style. I remember my first Xinghai also is like the old one.
Here is 1 other style key clarinet:
And about the Chinese clarinets sold on eBay, I think they are both products of small companies. Beifang means nothing, maybe just a seller ID. And they have same key work is possible, because more equipment is needed to make keys. So they buy from another company who only makes the keys. I will never buy this kind of clarinet because the quality is unstable.
And about Ridenour TR-147, sorry I can't find any information from Google in Chinese. But I found that Tom Ridenour was been a technical adviser in one Chinese woodwind factory in Tianjing. I think maybe the factory oem the Ridenour clarinet. The factory sells the "BETH" clarinet in China. I saw that the key work is not the same. I sent an email to the company, and I hope that will help.
It's really ironic that Chinese don't like Chinese clarinets so much. Even now there are have some real good one in www.taobao.com, which is like eBay. But we always choose more expensive ones like the Buffet, if we have the money on hand. That's social phenomenon not only with clarinets, but more. I saw the story on your web site about one guy who chose a Lyrique clarinet over a Tosca. That's real shock me. And I know in China, every student uses a Buffet in music college, at least an R13. And for beginners, people on the bbs recommend Buffet B16. They cost more than $400. I heard that a lot people have complained that the B16 is worse than the B12. They changed some[how in] connect[ing the] key[s] to plastic!)
How do you compare Buffet B12 and Selmer Signet Resonite? I like the Selmer, but I can't find it on your site. Only signet 1400.
And I saw you recommend the Legere reeds, but they can't found in China. I see them sold on eBay. But they are really expensive. For the same price I can order 10 Vandoren reeds, but only one Legere. And it won't last for ever. I can adjust the crane reeds by myself. I can 2 reeds for at least 1 month. So I wonder in your opinion: Which one is more economical? Thanks.
Here's how to distinguish between plastic and hard rubber. I realized my Chinese clarinet (not the Ridenour, but the one just like the Beifang) was hard rubber when I drilled a hole in the bell. I always put a hole in the bell of clarinets that I actually play. When I drilled the hole in the bell, it smelled like rubber, and the inside was brown in color. So another way to do the same thing without making a hole is to take some fine black sandpaper and sand a little on the bottom of the bell. You won't have to sand very much. Does the dust from sanding look brown on the black sand paper, and does it have a rubbery smell? If so, it's hard rubber. If the dust is black and there is no rubbery smell, it's plastic. You might test the sanding method in the tenon joint of an old hard rubber mouthpiece as compared to a plastic mouthpiece.
About tone hole inserts:
Previously I thought that one could tell the difference between Chinese hard rubber clarinets and plastic ones by the presence or absence of tone hole inserts. This turns out to be wrong. However there are two different styles of tone hole inserts. There are button-shaped tone hole inserts like on the hard rubber Borg and plastic Fever clarinets. And there are straight inserts like on the Ridenour Lyrique.
The Fever clarinet has button shaped tone hole inserts that flare out at the base.
The Ridenour clarinet has tone hole inserts which do not flare out at the base where they enter the body.
I take it that you are young. Are you still in college or are you a music major?
I am 28 now,and I am QC in shipyard at Hangzhou. Hangzhou is a very beautiful city, have Westlake and Longjing tea.
Thank you for the tip to distinguish between plastic and hard rubber. And I will pay attention to the tone holes.
I found that the BETH clarinets have 2 models. One is 14.85mm bore size, just like the Lyrique. But the best model is 14.65mm. All is made of hard rubber. And I didn't receive the email about the Ridenour 147 from company yet. So maybe I will make a call later. Because I have been on a business trip for a long time, so I will try make comparison when I finish trip, maybe next month.
Here is the picture of the Beth clarinet:
And about the B12s on eBay from China, I know they are counterfeit.
Arioso makes a model like the Lyrique. And I found a seller who worked before in the OEM factory, and he is selling some Arioso clarinets.
Brands not to buy:
Here is the list I have moved from the Clarinet Shopping Page. Please check for pages for each model grouped under this page. Some of these may not deserve to be on this list if I haven't had a chance to actually review them. Again, I would distrust older models. Some of these are models that are no longer selling new on eBay.
- First Act
- Bouree ($107 new)
- Pro quality Sterling
- Opus USA
- Brand New clarinet $79
- Mendini by Cecilio, in various colors, $89.95
- Lauen (seems to be just like the Manheim)
- Lazarro, in varous colors, $104.99
- and many more. Stick with brands with a known reputation or reviewed at this web site.