Want to purchase a used clarinet? Sources you may not have thought of

Meri Dolevski



Before purchasing my current instrument, I went though a rather long (4 month) search for a good, used, professional-level clarinet. I also noticed that several people wanted to purchase used clarinets, particularly intermediate or professional-level ones. For these reasons, I decided to write this article on sources for used instruments.

This article looks at the different resources to search for a used instrument, as well as the pros and cons of each method. I give a rating of the quality of instrument you are likely to find, from 1 to 5 (1 being an instrument which is beyond repair, 5 being a instrument which is like new), along with the word "Up", meaning finding an instrument will likely be at the number indicated or better, or "Down", meaning the number before it is the best you will likely get from the particular resource.


Music Conservatories



Students at music conservatories, whether beginners or advanced students, are often taught to take care of their instruments properly. Because

students are at such a wide range of abilities, and there are always at least several students in a year either wanting a better instrument, or who

decide to quit playing, you will likely find a good instrument, in good condition, particularly with beginner/ intermediate models. Price, too, is

also quite good; you might find a good beginner’s instrument for $150 or a good intermediate for about twice that amount.


You will probably not know that any used instruments are available through this means unless you know someone affiliated with the

conservatory, or advertise on their bulletin boards.

Quality: 3 1/2 Up.


University Faculties of Music



Particularly good if you are looking for a professional-level instrument; many students in music faculties own one. A used instrument may

become available, either because a student decides that they no longer want to play, or are buying a new instrument. Like instruments from music

conservatories, they are often in good condition, and it is possible to find a top-quality clarinet for under $1000. You do not really have to know

someone who teaches clarinet—but you need to be willing to approach the instructors for the particular instrument you would like to purchase.


It shares all the problems of finding an instrument through music conservatories, but finding an instrument through music faculties contains two

additional con factors: you will have to have patience in finding an instrument, as it can take at least two months to find an instrument this way,

and that there are generally only a few good periods: April-May, August-September, and December-January.

Quality: 4 Up.


Your local private teacher



Often private instructors know of students who are selling their instruments well before they are advertised as being for sale, especially those that have a large number of intermediate-level players. Since private teachers often consult parents on what makes of instruments are reputable, and often try out the instruments with students before purchasing, the instrument is likely to be a good one. Prices can often be negotiated as well. Relatively short period for finding a good instruments.


Instruments available are usually beginner or intermediate-level instruments. You also have to be willing to contact the private instructors in your area directly, perhaps by finding out who the good private instructors are in your area through school music teachers or looking through conservatory and music faculty calendars.

Quality: 4 Up


Woodwind Instrument and Supplies Stores



Used instruments from specialized music stores, such as those that focus on woodwinds, tend to overhaul instruments, or at least make necessary repairs before being sold. The time factor in finding a used instrument this way is often much shorter than finding one through a conservatory or a music faculty; it often takes not more than one month for an instrument to turn up, and you may find two or more of the same model. You do not have to know anyone or approach a certain department; all you have to do is pick up the phone, and ask for price quotes of used instruments for different models.


A little more expensive than finding an instrument though a music conservatory or a music faculty. (professional-level instruments usually start at $1200.)

Quality: 4-4 1/2 Up.


Music Stores: General



If used instruments are available, they tend to be for the beginner or intermediate student. Prices are quite reasonable, ranging from $200-$800.


The instruments may or may not be reconditioned or repaired; even if they are reconditioned/repaired, many general music stores do poor repair jobs. If you want to buy an instrument though a general music store, you are best to place a deposit on the instrument, and have a highly competent instrument repairer look at the instrument, and then tell you whether it is worth purchasing. Difficult to find professional-level instruments.

Quality: 3 Up


Barter Shops



If you do find a shop that is selling one, the cost is often very low, in part because most sold are beginner’s quality.


Sometimes you will not be able to try out the instrument. The instrument is likely be in poor shape, perhaps beyond repair or have a poor tone.

Even if the instruments are in good condition, minor problems are almost never repaired. Sometimes, too, the instruments may be stolen, particularly if it is at least an intermediate quality of a reputable make. If you choose to buy from one of these places, having the instrument looked over is a MUST.

Quality: 2 1/2 Down


Classified Ads: Newspapers and Magazines



Price. Can be lower than instruments sold at music conservatories or faculties. Usually beginner or intermediate instruments; occasionally professional-level ones. Instruments sold through specialized ads (those which sell only musical instruments and supplies, which are primarily musical-instrument publications or publications for particular instruments, as opposed to the musical instrument section of the local or even national newspaper) tend to be of somewhat better quality.


Long waiting period. More difficult to determine the quality in general classified ads. A good sign is if the ad for the sale of an instrument is if the ad contains important details, such as the make of the instrument the model, and whether it has been repaired or overhauled recently. (within the past 5 years) For example:


Clarinet: 15-year old professional-level Selmer, overhauled three months ago. $850. (Phone number)


A poor ad might read:

Clarinet: Good condition. Mouthpiece, swab, cork grease. $250. (Phone Number)


Who would you rather buy your instrument from? The person writing the former ad probably knows what s/he is talking about; the latter person does not seem to—the details mentioned are not relevant to the instrument’s quality. In either case, get it looked over by a highly competent musical instrument repairer before purchasing.

Quality: 3 Down (general ads); 3 1/2 Up (specialized ads)


Classified Ads —Bulletin Board Services (BBS’s)



More likely to be of better quality than instruments sold through newspaper ads, as several BBS’s have at least a couple thousand users. Because of the number of users on BBS systems, there is likely to be a person who knows about instrument repair for specific instruments. Again, look at the way the person advertises the instrument.


Several people may want the instrument. You may also not get a reply for several days or more. Lack of consistency in quality, although reasonably-priced ones (depending on the quality), usually are reduced in cost from 30-40%; top-level instruments can be found with as much as a 65% reduction from its cost new. At these price reductions, the instrument is likely to be of fair to good quality. Have the instrument looked over after you place a deposit.

Quality: 2 Up.


Classified Ads: Internet



Depending on where the ad is placed (on a general classified ads page, an instruments for sale page, or a page selling a specific instrument, the quality of the instruments range from poor to very good. Those advertised on sites for specific instruments are likely to be at least of good quality; those advertised in general classifieds are more likely to be poor ones. On sites for specific instruments, you are more likely to find professional-level instruments.

Cons: Exchange rates and shipping costs.

Quality: 1 1/2 Up.


Garage Sales



About the only one is price, and ones sold are almost always beginner’s instruments.


No guarantee of quality; instruments sold are often beyond repair, or at least have poor intonation; but if you have found a half-decent instrument (no missing screws, springs, keys, and every other type of mechanism a clarinet has), the instrument could still be a bargain, even with the cost of repairs. Watch out, too, for the make of the clarinet: if it is not a Buffet, Selmer, Leblanc, or a Yamaha, be especially suspicious regarding quality. (although a few small manufacturers also make high-quality instruments) Rarely the reason for the low cost is because the person selling it knows almost nothing about the value of musical instruments—but you may get lucky.

Quality: 2 Down





The chances for finding an instrument of beginner, intermediate, or professional-level instruments are nearly equal. New instruments are sometimes sold here as well. You may also be the only person who wants the instrument, so you may purchase a top-quality instrument for $400.


You need to know whether the instrument is a beginner, intermediate, or professional-level model, as the model number or name tells you the level of player the instrument is designed for. (eg: Buffet E-11 indicates an intermediate-level instrument) The model name or number is likely to be your only indication of a fair price. Pay attention as to how the instrument is described before the auction; look for similar descriptions for those in classified ads. Used instruments, too, usually are not looked at for repairs or overhaul; have it checked out before purchase. More often than not, instruments are of reasonably good condition, particularly if an auctioneer is reputable.

There are two types of auctions: general and specific. General auctions occasionally have instruments for sale. There are sometimes auctions specifically for musical instruments. Musical instrument auctions are likely to be more competitive, instruments may sell at higher prices than at general auctions, but the quality may be better.

Quality: 2 1/2 Up.



There are many methods to searching for a used instrument. My purpose in writing this guide is to assist people wanting to purchase a used instrument. The best methods in finding a good used instrument are those overlooked by many people. Who knows? If you’re willing to ask or at least advertise, you may find a very nice used instrument from a music faculty or conservatory student or at a musical instrument auction.


About the Author


Meri Dolevski is a student at the University of Toronto. She has played clarinet for 9 years, and has written several unpublished articles on different aspects of music performance and composition.