Like anything in the world, clarinets come in many price ranges. If you’re considering purchasing a clarinet, you may be wondering how much they cost.
After all, if you’re getting a clarinet for your third-grader’s first year in band, you don’t want to spend thousands on it. And if you’re playing with the Boston Pops, you want quality, and you’re willing to spend some money to get the right one.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the different factors that affect the price of a clarinet and how much you should spend depending on whether you’re a beginner just starting out or a pro looking to upgrade. So, if you’re curious about how much a clarinet costs, read on!
Quick Answer: The Price of a Clarinet
The price of a clarinet can vary depending on the type and quality of the instrument. But, to give you a rough idea:
- Beginner clarinets can start as low as $200 and go up to $1,000.
- More advanced players could look at a clarinet in the $1,300 to $2,800 range.
- Professional players typically look at a clarinet priced above $2,000.
But what makes this clarinet cost more than that one, and how much of a difference is there, really?
What Factors Affect a Clarinet’s Price?
While you can cut corners on some things and get by, a quality clarinet isn’t one of them. Like anything else, you get what you pay for.
The two main factors that affect a clarinet’s price are the materials from which it’s made and the manufacturing process.
Clarinets have long, cylindrical bodies adorned with keys, keyholes, and a mouthpiece on the business end. What you make the clarinet from affects the price, the tone, and the lifespan of the clarinet you choose.
Higher-quality materials will raise the price, but that doesn’t mean that a clarinet made from lower-quality materials is a flawed instrument.
Related: For more information on the different parts of a clarinet, click here.
Most student clarinets consist of plastic. It’s usually a strong and durable ABS plastic, but it’s still plastic. Your higher-grade horns will be made from wood.
Why would you want plastic other than cost? Well, a plastic horn isn’t as affected by weather as wood. If you’re planning on playing your clarinet in a marching band, you’ll be playing outside, subjecting your horn to heat, cold, damp, and even rain or snow.
Those things can make wood shrink and swell, severely impacting the horn’s performance.
Plastic clarinets are also a bit lighter than wood ones. Suppose the clarinet is for a child just learning. In that case, a heavier horn may prove more challenging to hold for long periods of playing during band rehearsal or home practice. And if they don’t play the horn often and for more than a few minutes, they won’t learn the instrument.
Wooden clarinets cost more than plastic ones mainly due to the woods used. No one goes to the lumberyard, grabs a yellow pine 2×4, and takes it home to make a clarinet.
The woods used— no matter what kind of wood— are more porous than any plastic, so environmental factors like heat and humidity will affect these clarinets much more than a plastic horn.
Instead, three main kinds of wood get the most use in clarinet construction:
- Honduran Rosewood
Grenadilla is a common clarinet wood. Also called African Blackwood, the grenadilla tree produces dense, strong wood.
But it’s getting close to being endangered, and it only grows in southern hemisphere parts of Africa. Put those together, and you’ve got a recipe for an expensive wood.
Its durability is its best quality. As a very dense wood, grenadilla is quite resistant to moisture, which means it won’t swell in humid weather as much as other woods.
It’s also unlikely to crack. A crack in a clarinet is a death blow to the instrument and the chief reason clarinet players need to replace their instrument.
Cocobolo comes from Mexico. While it’s closer to an American clarinet maker, it’s expensive wood because it’s in high demand. Its best quality is the sound it produces.
A cocobolo clarinet has a more mellow tone than one made from grenadilla. Cocobolo may not be for you if you’re a player who prefers a more in-your-face tone, and the sound a musician wants for themselves is subjective.
This wood is not as durable as grenadilla, as it’s more porous and therefore more affected by weather and temperature changes. It’s not as strong, either, so it’s more likely to crack than grenadilla.
The main drawback to cocobolo isn’t cost, though. It’s that it can cause allergic reactions. Your mouthpiece won’t be made from cocobolo, but keep in mind that you’ll be touching the body with your hands. If you are allergic to this wood, a reaction will manifest as poison-ivy-like symptoms on your hands and fingers.
Honduran rosewood appears explicitly in instruments for its tone. It’s a very resonant wood, and many marimbas have Honduran rosewood keys. The resultant sound is rich and robust. A clarinet made from it offers similarly rich tones.
It is the most porous of the three most common kinds of wood, making it the most prone to humidity and weather changes. Also, it’s a soft wood, making it more susceptible to damage from wear and tear. Incidentally, that softness also makes it more challenging to work with during manufacturing, as it can be easily damaged.
Rosewood is rare, so it’s expensive. However, players looking for a specific tone might choose Honduran rosewood despite the material’s relative lack of durability.
Two materials make the difference in how a clarinet’s keys affect its cost: nickel and silver. You get one guess as to which one makes an instrument more expensive.
On a less expensive clarinet, you’ll find keys made from nickel and plated with the same material. Higher-quality keys consist of an alloy of silver and nickel with silver plating.
While the materials make a difference in a clarinet’s performance, an arguably more significant factor is the construction of those keys. When the manufacturer builds and affixes the keys to the instrument, they can ensure that the keys seal properly and remain tight.
Loose keys produce noise when pressed, so tighter keys allow less distraction from the instrument’s tone.
As we’ve alluded to, how a clarinet gets made affects the price. With a plastic clarinet, a manufacturer is likelier to mass-produce the instrument.
The process leads to uniformity across a brand’s line of clarinets (one clarinet will play and sound exactly like any other one from the same company).
However, it leads to lower-quality instruments. Not every piece of plastic, wood, nickel, and silver will fit perfectly. Since mass production often involves robotics and automation, no person stands over and observes the construction of each instrument.
Mass-production lowers costs because it saves on labor costs, but it usually involves using cheaper materials, too. Again, cheaper doesn’t automatically mean bad, but it almost always indicates lower quality.
On the other hand, a clarinet hand-built by a professional clarinet maker involves much more time for which you’ll need to pay that manufacturer.
But in making your clarinet, that same manufacturer can build it to your specifications, allowing you to choose the wood and other materials. They’ll tweak the keys and joints to ensure a perfect fit.
But you’ll pay for it, for sure.
Clarinet Prices and What To Expect
Since there are variables in materials, manufacturer, and a player’s needs and preferences, we have lots to consider when choosing a clarinet. While price probably shouldn’t be the only factor in your decision, it can certainly give an idea of who will benefit from clarinets in different price ranges.
Unless you’re looking at a used clarinet, most instruments under $200 will be of low quality and will not last very long. You’ll likely be looking at a plastic body (although metal clarinets were the rage in the latter part of the 20th century) that’s been mass-produced.
Expect leaky joints eventually and keys that don’t seal perfectly. Lower-quality clarinets like these will incur repair costs that probably make it worth your while to pay more for a clarinet that won’t need so many visits to the shop.
Related: Check out our list of cheap clarinets here.
$200 – $500
This price range is good for a horn that will serve the beginner well. It won’t be a clarinetist’s lifelong instrument, as the player will outgrow it. Still, a clarinet under $500 should work well for learning and playing in school band settings.
Related: For more options, see our list of beginner clarinets here.
$500 – $1000
An intermediate player will benefit from a clarinet costing between $500 and $1,000. You’ll find an instrument in this price range made of higher-quality plastic or wood. You will also notice a marked improvement in the instrument’s sound due to the better materials.
$1000 – $2000
We’ll only consider buying a clarinet this expensive if we are serious about the instrument. The price range rules out beginners because what if you don’t like playing the clarinet?
You’ll find rosewood and grenadilla woods in the bodies of these clarinets, and they will be well made. This price range can buy an instrument for a clarinet major to play throughout college and graduate school. A freelance clarinetist would enjoy this price range, too, as he’ll have a quality instrument he can depend on from gig to gig.
Above two grand gets you a clarinet made from wood by a person. Few, if any, automated processes will have gone into the construction of this instrument. A clarinet of this quality is for the professional player who makes his living solely from playing music.
If you are the first-chair clarinetist in a major city’s symphony, a horn of this quality will work well for you. However, if you’re marching in your high school marching band, this horn is overkill and prone to potential damage.
Other Clarinet Types and Their Prices
While most clarinets are B-flat instruments and are the straight, black clarinets everyone thinks of when they think of this instrument, there are other kinds.
Like many other instruments, there are alto, bass, and other clarinets. Some clarinets are E-flat instruments, too.
Each of these variations will affect the instrument’s price, and the rarity of these other clarinets will make them more expensive.
Related: Read more about the different kinds of clarinet here.
How much does an Alto Clarinet cost?
An alto clarinet is slightly larger than a B-flat clarinet, with a bell on the bottom that turns up to project the sound. It’s an E-flat instrument and is one of the rarer types of clarinet.
Expect to pay a minimum of about $2,000 for an alto clarinet. You can also find high-quality alto clarinets for prices in the low five figures.
How much does a bass clarinet cost?
Another E-flat clarinet, the bass clarinet, is large enough that players must rest it on the ground to play it. It’s too unwieldy and heavy to hold with just your hands. Student models start at about $2,500, and that’s just the starting point.
You can find student bass clarinets for as much as $7,000. A professional model can run between $13,000 and $15,000.
How much does a contrabass clarinet cost?
Enormous and producing very low pitches, the contrabass clarinet is quite rare. It’s played while standing up and is taller than the tallest clarinetist. There isn’t a student model of this horn because it’s a specialized instrument and not often called for in musical compositions.
Expect to pay prices starting at about $6,000. They can also cost more than $30,000.
What is the most expensive clarinet in the world?
The most expensive clarinet is generally considered to be Selmer’s Paris 41, the Cadillac of contrabass clarinets. It is made from rosewood with silver-plated keys and leather pads and retails for nearly $40,000.
How much does a used clarinet cost?
Used instruments, as a rule of thumb, cost about 50% less than their brand-new counterparts. Factors affecting the price of a used clarinet include the condition the horn is in, the brand (some brands hold resale value better than others), and the seller’s motivation.
We all know that one person who can find a lost Monet painting at a garage sale and get it for a quarter of the price. Those finds are out there for clarinets, too, but you probably shouldn’t count on finding them. But if the seller had a student clarinet that they played for a semester years ago, it could still be in great shape, and they might just want to get rid of it.
But the 50% guideline is probably your best bet in terms of budgeting. Be sure, though, to inspect a used clarinet well. If you’re new to the instrument, take someone knowledgeable with you.
That’s it for now. We hope it helped to answer your questions about the prices of clarinets.
As you can see, clarinets can dramatically vary in price, depending on the type of wood used and other factors.
If you’re looking to buy a clarinet, it’s important to do your research and find the best one for your needs.
There are many great options out there, so don’t be afraid to shop around until you find the perfect one for you. Thanks for reading!