Jenny Ziefel's Clarinet and Saxophone Studio

Buying a Clarinet or Saxophone

A musical instrument is more of an extension of a person than a device, so it’s important to match the instrument to the player. Different people have different sound concepts and anatomy, so it isn’t a one-size-fits all situation. To make matters more complicated, there are counterfeit instruments in addition to the legitimate companies. In general, a super-cheap sax or clarinet is probably junk unless it’s a used horn that is a reputable brand and plays well.  Always try the instrument and don’t be afraid to return it if it doesn’t work for the player. 

Here is some guidance by instrument family for finding the right fit for your clarinet or saxophone player.


The most common clarinet for band is B-flat clarinet. There are other sizes and keys, but this is the workhorse. It needs to be at a modern pitch level (there are some very old instruments that don’t work with today’s bands) and to suit the player. Plastic clarinets are cheaper and lighter and good for small players, beginners, and playing outdoors. Wood clarinets are the standard in orchestras and good bands, but there are some composite (wood and epoxy essentially) clarinets that are professional level instruments. Here are some general guidelines:

—Used clarinets are the best bang for your buck. Clarinets are like cars—they depreciate as soon as you drive them off the lot! 

—New clarinets and clarinets that have not been played in years need to be broken in gradually (15 minutes/day for 5 days, 20 minutes/day 5 days, etc.), so you do not get instant gratification with a new instrument. They are more likely to crack (if they are wood) when played excessively right out of the box.

—A good clarinet in poor repair will be outplayed by a mediocre clarinet in good repair.

—Try many instruments and pick the right one for you—not the right one for your teacher. Teachers can give certain guidelines to eliminating lemons, but in the end the choice is up the the player.

—You need to play test the instruments WITH A TUNER to check the overall intonation and the 12ths (see Jenny for how to do this). If the 12ths are NARROW, the clarinet is a lemon—if only an occasional 12th is narrow it’s still in the running. You also need to do decrescendos with the tuner to make sure that the pitch is “lippable” 

—Test low/high, loud/soft, tongued/slurred in every combination.

—If the clarinet passes the tuner tests and feels right for you, go for it! If not, there are other fish in the sea.

Good plastic clarinets include: Buffet B-12 (I own one of these for outdoor gigs), Yamaha, Backun Alpha, and newer Jupiters.

Good wood clarinets include: Buffet R13 (especially late 1960s-1970s vintage-newer ones are different and not quite as cool); Buffet Prestige, Festival, Legends, Vintage, Traditional, and probably other models as well; Selmer PARIS series 9 or 10 or Privilege; Leblanc LL, Symphonie, Opus, Concerto; Yamaha CSV and CSVR, Royal Global (Firebird or Polaris), some “stencil” clarinets—ask Jenny for specifics.

Cheapest clarinets: Plastic used (especially Buffet B12), Leblanc (wood), Noblet (wood—very intermediate level not recommended for most players).

Bass Clarinets

Selmer PARIS bass clarinets were the standard for decades, but Buffet and Royal Global have now caught up to them. The best bang for you buck is a used Selmer Paris low E-flat bass. It doesn’t have the low C (which is a bummer), but works for most things.  IF you need a low C, try a Royal Global new bass clarinet. Good plastic horns include shiny Bundys, Jupiter, and SOME Yamahas.


Buying a saxophone is more complex than a clarinet. While used saxes are cheaper, some vintage saxes are the most expensive on the market. The holy grail for a jazz saxophone player is a Selmer Paris Mark VI or Balanced action which go for 5 digit numbers of dollars. A more reasonable option for most people is a used newer instrument or a new horn. The most important thing you can do is to try a bunch of saxes, narrow down your preferences, then play them with a tuner to make sure that they are close. Then, go with the one that feels best in your price range.

Here are some good choices:

Pro-level: Selmer Paris Series II or III, Mark VII; Yamaha 62 or Custom Z, Yamaha YBS52, Yanigasawa after 1990, Tenor Madness, Trevor James, etc. These are very expensive.

Vintage: Aside from the Selmers, which are really expensive, if your musician wants a vintage horn, these are the good ones: Conn 6M, 10M, 12M (made before 1960), Martin (especially The Martin), Couf (altos are really good), SML (Strasser Marigeaux), King (tenors are especially good), some stencils (ask Jenny about these).

Good intermediate horns: Yamaha intermediate instruments, Jupiter made in the last 8 years

Good bargain horns: Yamaha YAS 23, Bundy (not Bundy II)