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How to... Choose the best beginner clarinet

Written by Adam Smith16/11/23

Plastic v Wood: Which material is right for you?

When looking around for your first clarinet, one of the first decisions you’ll face is the choice between plastic or wood. Typically, a beginner will be encouraged to opt for plastic, however each material has its own set of advantages, and it is important to make an informed choice…

Plastic clarinets

  • Budget: Plastic clarinets are, in general, the cheaper model. This affordability allows beginners to explore their interest in the clarinet without a significant initial investment. A suitable plastic clarinet will start at around £150-£200, such as the JP Instruments JP021 student clarinet outfit – a great starting point for young beginners and schools.
  • Durability: Plastic is highly resistant to temperature, humidity changes, and moisture. So, when you ‘forget’ to clean it or the instrument is left in a drafty school cupboard, it isn’t the end of the world.
  • Low maintenance: Without the need to oil or condition the instrument, the plastic clarinet is definitely the hassle free option.

Wooden clarinets

  • Sound quality: This is where the primary difference lies. For someone just about to start lessons, the more nuanced tone given by a wooden clarinet may not be worth the price. However, for someone who is has been playing for longer, with an interest in producing the best sound possible, the wooden clarinet could be a better option.
  • Investment: While they are initially more expensive, starting at around £900-£1000, wooden clarinets can be a valuable long-term investment for serious players. For example, the Buffet E12F, usually a ‘step-up’ between the beginner and professional models is the perfect choice for the more serious beginner looking for an investment.
  • Craftsmanship: Lathed with skill and precision, the level of craftsmanship can be appreciated as players progress.

Limited keywork alternatives

Lightweight with a simpler key system, limited key clarinets, are ideal for smaller hands. Without the full key system, they are quickly grown out of so I would not recommend for beginners starting private lessons looking to progress quickly. However, for full class lessons in school or as part of a music service, these are a great way to start students playing woodwind earlier.

A great example is the Howarth Junior Plus – the simplified keywork is perfect for smaller hands whilst still capable of a 3 octave range!

The clarinet outfit: What should I get?

Beginner clarinets should be supplied as an outfit with some essential items to get you started. Here are a few things that each outfit should include:

  1. The clarinet: Of course!
  2. A case: A hard or soft case – anything protective that keeps the instrument safe during storage
  3. Mouthpiece: A suitable mouthpiece is typically included with the clarinet. The Yamaha 4C mouthpiece is a prime example of a beginner mouthpiece, and is included in the Yamaha YCL255S student clarinet outfit.
  4. Ligature and Cap: These components hold the reed in place and protect it when not in use. A beginner model will usually have a metal ligature with a plastic or metal mouthpiece cap.
  5. Reeds: At least one reed should be included with the outfit. However, due to their fragile nature, I would recommend purchasing a few additional clarinet reeds. The Rico box of 10 in strength 1.5 is great place to start.
  6. Cleaning accessories: The outfit should come with cleaning swabs, cork grease, and possibly a polishing cloth so you can keep your instrument in proper working condition.

Additional accessories to consider

While the outfit provides the basics, some additional accessories should be considered before starting your first lesson.

  1. Metronome: Although most players will use an app on their phone, some may prefer the analogue nature of a physical metronome,
  2. Tuner: Without repeating the same point as above, a physical tuner can help reduce digital distractions.
  3. Clarinet stand: A stand provides a safe and convenient place to rest your clarinet when not in use. However, you should ALWAYS clean and pack your clarinet away in its case at the end of every practice session or lesson.
  4. Music stand: An adjustable music stand is essential for holding a sheet music at a comfortable height, promoting proper posture from the start.

Buffet and Yamaha: The most popular beginner models

Now you have an idea of what to look for when purchasing your first clarinet, let’s go through a few examples of the most long lasting and popular brands on the market. Both Buffet and Yamaha have been at the core of beginner to professional woodwind manufacturer for decades and for good reason.

The Buffet Prodige student clarinet outfit

Launched in 2016, the Buffet Prodige is the perfect choice for beginners. Many professional clarinettists today will have started on its predecessor, the Buffet B12, which was a favourite amongst teachers for many years. Now, the Buffet Prodige has improved on the design with a poly-cylindrical core and brand new ‘Urban Play’ mouthpiece, making it easier for beginners to produce a sound. Although not the cheapest option, it offers a safe, reliable choice that will last.

The Yamaha YCL255S student clarinet outfit

This entry-level Yamaha student clarinet now comes with 5 years extended warranty. The latest in the YCL200 series, it is robust, lightweight, and easy to maintain – everything you would want in a beginner clarinet. With the added benefit of being a Yamaha instrument, you know you are starting with a certain level of quality afforded to all Yamaha instruments.

Some alternative choices

A fantastic budget option that is very popular in schools is the JP021 clarinet outfit – an ebonite clarinet for beginners, it comes with everything you need to start playing and even features an attractive wood-grain finish. Jumping up in price slightly, the Jupiter JCL-700S clarinet outfit is produced using composite ABS plastic and fits in a similar category to the Buffet B12 and the Yamaha YCL255, plus Jupiter is a trusted brand in the world of beginner woodwind. And finally, if you are looking to invest a little more and start on a wooden clarinet, for beginners you can't go wrong with upgrading from the YCL255  to the Yamaha YCL450S clarinet. A solid grenadilla wood body with silver plated keys, it is more than twice the clarinet (but also twice the price!)


In short, spend some time deciding what you want from the clarinet first. Decide on your budget and using some of the considerations and recommendations above, you’ll find a clarinet perfect for you!