Most clarinet students begin playing with a plastic instrument. As they advance, however, graduating to a higher-quality wooden instrument is an essential step in helping them develop as clarinet players. Buffet Crampon offers several instruments that are excellent choices for growing clarinetists.
The R13 model is considered Buffet Crampon’s “flagship” model. They have been producing it since 1955 and it is used by about 85% of clarinet players (by sales) in the world. These clarinets feature a poly-cylindrical bore, which helps create the modern clarinet sound with a lot of “ring” and projection.
R13 clarinets are made of African blackwood (also called grenadilla or mpingo), which is the standard choice for clarinets and oboes. The keys can be silver- or nickel-plated, they are available with a left-hand Eb key if desired, and the thumb rest is adjustable to maximize the player’s comfort and to enable to use of a neck strap if necessary. The pads are bladder pads.
Additionally, R13 clarinets are available as “Green Line” instruments, which is a polyresin that uses grenadilla scraps from production to produce a very stable instrument body, resistant to cracking. This is especially useful in very cold and/or dry climates. R13 instruments are about twice as expensive as E11s or E12Fs, but many students choose to upgrade to the R13 if they are interested in pursuing music studies beyond high school. An R13 is an instrument that, if well cared for, will serve a student well throughout their studies and into a professional career.
The E11 model is a frequent choice for young clarinetists. It is a free-blowing instrument, designed with a slightly larger bore so that sound production is a bit easier for a developing player. It is made of African blackwood. The E11 uses the poly-cylindrical bore design developed for the R13 and silver-plated keys and bladder or double-fishskin pads. These instruments are a great choice partly because they are more affordable than many other models.
The E12F model is similar to the E11, but was designed with a particular emphasis on ease of play (free-blowing) and accuracy of tuning. It is billed as “setting new standards for young musicians”. The instrument is also made of African blackwood with a poly-cylindrical bore and features silver-plated keys and leather pads. The thumb rest is also adjustable, like the R13. The E12F differs in price only slightly from the E11, and so it is also an affordable choice.
The best way to select an instrument for upgrade is to play several options. Many local music stores carry Buffet Crampon instruments; Lisa’s Clarinet Shop hand-selects all of the instruments they offer for sale, and their selection can be explored here. Lisa’s Clarinet Shop has several storefronts across the US and will mail instruments for trial anywhere in the country. It is possible to order an instrument directly from Buffet Crampon as well, and their website offers information and specification about each of the instruments they sell. Whatever method is selected for purchasing a clarinet, it is important to try it out first, play it for other people (ideally, with a clarinet teacher), and play it with a tuner to double-check its consistency.