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(My Child/I) want(s) to start playing clarinet. What should I look for in a beginner's instrument? Should I buy or rent? Used or new?

There are a number of good beginner's clarinets out there - the Buffet B-12, Vito 74XX, Yamaha 34, and Bundy are the most popular, and are reliable entry instruments. There is also the new "Forte" clarinet (a sponsor of this site, also). I would not hesitate to recommend any of them as a starter instrument. I have heard nothing good about most Chinese imports; I'd stay away from them for now, though the quality is improving on some brands and they may be recommended in the near future.

The mouthpieces supplied on these instruments (and on most pro instruments!) are notoriously bad. There are a number of mouthpieces that are good matches for these instruments; the Vandoren 5RV, and 5RV Lyre are very common. I recommend (by virtue of actually trying two and reputation of the other) the Hite Premier, Pyne Polycrystal and Fobes Debut models. Pyne & Fobes are sponsors of this site, but I was recommending them before they became sponsors.

Buying or renting is a personal decision - I would personally buy, and not rent one. One of the above clarinets can be bought for around $450USD from any major mail-order company (for names see the Retail section). Even if the person loses interest in the clarinet it can be sold for near the amount it was purchased for; retailers tend to mark these instruments up $200USD or so, so a clarinet you bought for $450USD through a mail order house can be resold easily for $250USD or so if it hasn't been damaged. For the same reason I wouldn't suggest buying used - the price you'll spend will be close to what it would cost you to buy a new one. Let someone else (who hasn't done the kind of research you're doing by coming here) pay the depreciation! Along with that, many times the clarinet isn't in playing shape or is "barely" playable. There's noothing like a badly adjusted or leaking clarinet to dampen a beginner's enthusiasm for the instrument, since all problems will be blamed on the player rather than the instrument. While deals can be had, you'd need a reputable, trusted technician to look over and adjust the clarinet - irregardless of the promise in the ad that "the clarinet has been completely and thoroughly refurbished". Consider that a complete refurbishment can cost upwards of $100USD to perform ...

A plastic clarinet kept in reasonable shape, and provided with a good mouthpiece, can provide many years of fun. When/if the times comes to upgrade to a professional instrument, the plastic clarinet can be kept as a spare or "marching band" instrument.

Thanks to the following people for providing input:
Jennifer Dreispul
Roger Garrett
Dee Hays
Michael Norsworthy

Another Alternative (especially suited for young players)

Here's an alternative for young players (and for those wishing a very inexpensive C instrument):

"I am the producer/inventor (not technical) of the Lyons C Clarinet. This instrument has been available since 1991. It is a fully chromatic Boehm system clarinet with the same range as standard clarinets. There are no alternative keys so you slide the little fingers (pinkies) to go from Eb/Ab to C/F and so on - similar to saxophone low register fingering. It weighs less than one third of the weight of a standard student instrument. It is completely waterproof. The keys are replaceable by the owner. The intonation and tone is certainly no worse than C clarinets costing 5 times as much."

"It is primarily designed for young children. Besides the advantage to them of the lightness of the instrument, the right hand tone holes are considerably smaller and the pinky keys are nearer. An average seven year old child can practice for 30 minutes without thumb strain. Low G can be reached in the first lesson. Of course adults can play it. It could be particularly useful as an 'all-purpose' baroque instrument substituting for violins, flutes, oboes or recorders as needed. Any C part can be played without transposing (flute, violin duets etc.) and songs and hymns straight off the parts. It can be used orchestrally for C clarinet parts, not only to save transposition, but because the tone of the instrument, being acoustically based on an 1820 English clarinet, is a lot nearer what the composer (Beethoven, Rossini and many others) would have heard than the sound of a Bb clarinet transposing a C clarinet part."

"The cost is approximately $260 including shipping from England and delivery is about 2 weeks. I can be best be contacted by email."

Graham Lyons, usefulmusic@aol.com, http://www.firstclarinet.com.

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