Clarinet Makers (Professional Models)
The world of clarinet makers is much larger than most would realize. Thanks to the Internet and easier access to global markets, we now have access to greater variety and range of instruments than ever before. This guide is intended to introduce the serious student to the wide range of options available in professional-level clarinets.
Keep in mind that in our line of work, a huge bias exists in some areas that essentially pressures everyone to play a single brand or type of instrument, especially due to the market dominance of a single brand in past decades. I encourage you to keep an open mind and realize that the professional clarinet scene of the 1970's and 1980's is not what we are faced with in the 21st century, and there are many makers that craft superb professional instruments that can be used in all settings and all styles of music. Because we are based in the USA, the following list only reflects those makers who produce a Boehm system instrument, sell them in the USA, and are still currently in production. There are numerous small makers we have not covered here which will be introduced over time, although the subject of German (Oehler) system clarinets or even period clarinets is another field altogether!
Backun Musical Services - Canada
Morrie Backun and his team create incredible instruments that span an entire lineup from beginning to professional. Their top-of-the-line offerings are representative of the latest research and state-of-the-art manufacturing process. They are very near the top of the price range, but they are stellar instruments. The MoBa, Lumiere, and CG Carbon models offer unique playing characteristics for orchestral musicians, chamber musicians, and soloists. They do offer a "mid-line" professional instrument with more traditional clarinet characteristics, the Model Q that is very competitive with the Buffet R-13.
Buffet Crampon - France
The R-13 continues to be Buffet's best-selling professional model, although the modern production of the instrument does not have as high quality wood nor consistency in manufacture as their heyday in the latter part of the 20th century. There are a range of models available, including the R-13, RC, Prestige, Festival, Tosca, Legende, and Divine, although in most cases it is recommended to stick with the R-13 which is by far the most popular professional-model clarinet in the US market. The best value in used clarinets is in the R-13, which depending on age and condition can be found anywhere in the $1500-$2500 range.
Guy Chadash - USA
Guy builds a custom clarinet reminiscent of the older Buffet R-13 models from the late 60's and 70's, with much more attention to the crafting process to yield an instrument with superior intonation and response.
Luis Rossi - Chile
Rossi's instruments are unique in that they are not divided into upper and lower joints, but have a single one-piece body for better resonance and more efficient placement of tone-holes. Also custom-made individually, they incorporate numerous advancements in clarinet design that improve intonation and overcome condensation problems. They also have a less expensive entry-level professional model with a two-piece body.
Gao Royal - China
From play-testing these at several conventions, they are a nominally-successful attempt to duplicate the most positive aspects of their mainstream competitors. Available in the US for $2000-$2500, they cost only half as much as most other brands, and time will tell whether they see increased levels of adoption over time as they have only been on the market for a few years.
Selmer Paris - France
The Signature and Recital models from Selmer Paris are the most popular, although the new Privilege model is interesting. Selmer Paris has not had as much of a presence in the professional market here in the USA since they were dominated in the market 40-50 years ago by Buffet Crampon, but their earlier models like the 10G are still excellent instruments.
Uebel - Germany
A relative newcomer on the Boehm clarinet scene (they have made German clarinets for many decades), they have popped in with a very good line of clarinets at superb prices. The Zenit and Superior Bb instruments are the equal of any premium instrument out there, and the Advantage A is one of the best values in a key of A clarinet on the entire market.
Yamaha - Japan
Yamaha's best offerings for the USA market include the CSVR, which does everything a Buffet R-13 does but better at a lower price, the SEVR, which is more tonally flexible, and the CSG, which offers a unique tonal presence. Their quality of their products and fit-and-finish are superb, with an attention to detail that one just doesn't get from many other manufacturers. Traditionally, their products have been less costly as imports versus their European competitors.