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Is the Buffet B12 clarinet worth the asking price?
It can be a tough buying decision, I know. And frankly, I’m in no position to make it for you outright. After all, I don’t know your particular situation or who you’re buying a clarinet for.
But I can share with you everything relevant from my experience to help you decide for yourself.
This model hasn’t been in production since 2016, having been replaced by Buffet’s latest Prodige model. But the B12’s been such a popular choice among musicians that I felt compelled to cover it in detail here. As you’ll see, it has quite a few impressive features that make it the ideal student clarinet for some students and not for others.
The Buffet Crampon brand
Buffet Crampon is certainly one of, if not the, most respected clarinet brands in the industry. Founded in Paris, Buffet has been making woodwind instruments since 1825.
Buffet makes clarinets ranging from the student level all the way up to the professional level. And their longstanding quality workmanship and warranty make it one of the most trusted brands in clarinets worldwide.
Key criteria for rating the Buffet B12
Let’s talk about what specifically you should be considering before buying the Buffet B12—or really any clarinet for that matter.
- Rich, consistent sound
- Quality metalwork
- Smooth fingering
- Decent mouthpiece
- Limited accessories included
If you’re at all budget conscious—and I know I am—then no doubt price is a major factor in your buying decision.
And not surprisingly, given the prestige of the Buffet Crampon name, the B12 isn’t a cheap instrument. When this clarinet was still in production it was priced at the higher end. Expect a new model, if you can still find one for sale, to cost around $1,000.
But you may be able to find a Buffet B12 clarinet used and in good condition for just a few hundred dollars. This is one way to get a great instrument at a bargain.
Of course, if a few hundred dollars is more than you’re hoping to spend, there are several other decent student clarinets available for less.
Before you go shopping for a clarinet at the lowest possible price, there’s something you need to know about play-ability, or ease of play:
Some student clarinets, especially the cheaper variety, are harder to play than others.
Why does this matter for someone’s first clarinet?
Have you ever assembled a complicated piece of IKEA furniture? Let’s say you mistakenly used the wrong type of screws for part of the project and then had to disassemble that part and start again.
Pretty frustrating, right?
Now imagine the same experience, but this time the components are poorly built and don’t fit together properly. The screws bend when you try to insert them. And the instruction manual doesn’t quite match the product.
Those differences would probably discourage you from ever buying from IKEA again, or at least from doing your own assembly.
Starting out with a hard-to-play clarinet can be a similarly trying experience. Yes, it’s normal to stumble with technique in the beginning—some persistence is required when learning to play any instrument. But when a clarinet fails you because it’s poorly made, that can be very discouraging indeed.
That’s why many students who begin with an instrument that’s not easy to play give up early in their learning.
One reason the Buffet B12 is a great clarinet to start on is it’s highly playable. It’s responsive and relatively easy to produce a sound with. The keys are smooth, not rigid, under the player’s fingers. And while some may prefer a heavier instrument, this model’s lightweight body makes it easy to handle.
This model also includes an adjustable thumb rest, which helps with handling for a range of players with differently sized hands.
So, while the Buffet B12 clarinet is more expensive than many other student clarinets available, it’s certainly easier to learn on as well.
3. Clarinet durability
When we talk about clarinet durability, we’re mainly talking about three main features of the instrument:
- Body – made up of the barrel, upper joint, lower joint and bell. These are the larger parts of the instrument, usually made from either wood or plastic, that fit together.
- Keys – metal levers that open and close the tone holes with movement from the player’s fingers to change the tone of the instrument.
- Pads – these are the air-tight pieces that attach to the keys and form a seal over the tone holes when closed.
The Buffet B12 student clarinet has a body made from ABS resin. This makes for a lightweight instrument and one that’s relatively durable.
Unlike the wooden variety, this model is more resistant to changes in temperature or humidity. It’s a fine choice for playing indoors or in an outdoor setting like marching band. You’d just want to avoid leaving it someplace like in a car in summertime where it could melt or warp.
The Buffet B12 has quality keywork. Many student clarinets selling around the $100-200 range have flimsy keys that can easily bend with normal use. Whereas the nickel-plated keys on the Buffet B12 are sturdy and solid.
Forming the seal on the tone holes of this model are double fish skin pads. You should expect some regular maintenance or replacement needed with these but nothing out of the norm. These are decent pads and few musicians have complained about air leaks out of the box with this clarinet.
As long as it’s handled with care, you can expect this instrument to last several years or more.
Another strength of the Buffet B12 clarinet rarely found in other student models is quality sound.
Most student clarinets tend to sound a bit muffled. And many will sound out of tune as the player moves into higher or lower registers. But this Buffet student clarinet stands out as having a rich sound and proper tone throughout different ranges.
…the B12 produces a remarkably consistent tone, with stable tuning across the range. There is a slight tendency for it to sound a tad ‘boxy’ on occasion, and perhaps some notes are less rounded than others – but this is really only noticeable if you’re a more advanced player. It’s certainly a lot better tonewise than many of its competitors.
The Buffet B12 clarinet can produce some subtly imperfect sounds. But you won’t find the inconsistencies in tone that distract in an ensemble. This student clarinet plays beautifully in a trained pair of hands.
5. Commitment to playing clarinet
Here I suggest you consider the person you’re buying a clarinet for. How committed are they to learning to play clarinet?
Learning to play an instrument takes time. And progressing beyond the beginner level with clarinet takes self discipline.
This isn’t a point I would normally stress highly with one of the cheaper student clarinets. But a new Buffet B12 clarinet isn’t one of those cheaper student clarinets.
This model is a dream to many passionate beginner clarinetists. But it can go underappreciated to someone with only a passing interest in clarinet.
And I hate to see people spend several hundred dollars or more on a beautiful instrument that ultimately ends up collecting dust in a closet. So, if you’re not confident the person you’re buying it for is really committed to learning for at least a couple years, I’d suggest passing on the B12 for now.
6. Accessories included with the clarinet
What’s included with a new clarinet is typically a minor consideration. Many of the cheaper student clarinets come with plenty of accessories to get you started. But most of these are poor quality ones that you’ll probably want to replace anyway.
Having said that, even the cheapest accessories can be better than none for the absolute beginner clarinetist who may not know what they need to buy upfront. And a new Buffet B12 clarinet usually won’t include much else other than a single reed and perhaps a carrying case.
The good news, if you’re buying a used model, is that your Buffet B12 may include some decent accessories. And if not, you can generally expect to purchase everything a beginner will need to begin playing for around $20-30.
At minimum, you’ll want to have cork grease to help with assembly and disassembly and some decent reeds (Rico size 2.5 reeds are great for new players). Picking up a book that covers the basics of clarinet can also be helpful for beginners. Essential Elements for Band is an excellent series that many music teachers and band directors use.
7. Manufacturer’s warranty
This last point won’t be relevant if you’re buying a used Buffet B12 clarinet. But since we’re talking about the Buffet brand and how to rate clarinets more generally, the manufacturer’s warranty deserves some attention here.
Any kind of warranty is a nice feature to have, especially for more expensive instruments. The more expensive the clarinet, the more risk you’re assuming when you buy one. The warranty helps limit this risk like insurance by covering the cost of replacement or certain repairs should the instrument arrive defective or become damaged later.
If your $500 clarinet breaks within a week of buying it but is covered by warranty, you may be mildly inconvenienced as you wait for repairs or a replacement.
But without a warranty, you may have wasted $500.
This is one way you may be misled by lower-priced models. You may think you can save money by buying a less-expensive model, which is often true. But many of the cheap clarinets are flimsy and easily break. Not having a warranty can ultimately cost you more if you need to buy a replacement than if you’d bought a decent model at the start.
Original buyers of Buffet clarinets get a 2-year warranty that protects against manufacturing and material defects. So this may be one reason to seek out a new model, if possible.
For a quick look at the details, here are the specs of the Buffet B12:
- Bore: Polycylindrical
- Key of: Bb
- Fingering: Boehm
- Body material: Brushed ABS plastic
- Pads: Double skin
- Key material: Nickel silver
- Plating: Nickel
- Mouthpiece: Buffet stock mouthpiece
- Barrel length: 65mm
- Case: ABS case
- Tone holes: Straight tone holes with tapered undercut
- Thumb rest: Adjustable with strap ring
The Buffet B12 student clarinet is dream come true for any passionate beginner clarinetist. Its rich, crisp sound, durable body and keys and quality warranty from one of the most trusted brands in the industry make it a great choice.
But quality obviously comes at a price. This is not a cheap instrument. And if you’re looking for a beginner clarinet for someone who may not be committed to playing for a couple years or more, this isn’t the one for you.
On the other hand, if the musician in question is passionate about clarinet and wants to jump in with both feet, the B12 is an excellent choice. This clarinet can offer great value to the dedicated student for several years or more.