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Is the Buffet Prodige Clarinet expensive? Is it hard to play? Does it live up to the quality of the Buffet Crampon name?
These are just some of the questions you may be asking yourself if you’re curious about this current Buffet B-flat clarinet. And while I’m not here to dictate which clarinet is best for you, I will help you answer these questions and more to help you make the best choice for yourself.
So, is the Prodige the right clarinet for you? Let’s find out.
The Buffet Crampon brand
Buffet Crampon is perhaps the most well-known brand in the clarinet space. The company was founded in Paris in 1825 and continues to enjoy high regard among student and professional musicians alike.
Buffet produces a wide range of wind instruments at the student, intermediate and professional levels of play.
Why did the Prodige replace the B12 model?
Since the early 2000s, low-cost instruments manufactured in places like China have flooded the market. This has forced long-standing dominant players like Buffet Crampon to lower their costs in order to stay competitive. In my view, the growth of e-commerce has been another contributing factor as more new musicians shop online for the lowest price.
Buffet moved some of their manufacturing to China in response. The company now has their own facility in China to handle processes like padding, plating, keywork and assembly. Factories in France and Germany continue to handle body joint molding, precision drilling for tone holes and other acoustic-critical processes.
The resulting Prodige model has been great for clarinetists. The Prodige offers similarly great quality at a much lower price—a new Prodige typically costs 30-40 percent less than a new B12.
Key criteria for rating the Buffet Prodige clarinet
There are several factors I recommend you consider when purchasing a new clarinet. Whether you’re buying an instrument for yourself or for someone else, these criteria will help you decide for yourself whether the Prodige is the best model for you.
- Rich, consistent sound
- Quality metalwork
- Smooth fingering
- Decent mouthpiece
- Slightly expensive
- Limited accessories included
Price is a good consideration to start with because it’s an easy disqualifier if you happen to have a tight budget. And at around $620-650, the Prodige certainly isn’t priced at the lower end for beginner clarinets.
But as mentioned above, this model is much less expensive than its predecessor the B12. And a new Buffet Prodige clarinet is typically 15-20 percent less expensive than the next best-value student clarinet in our list, the Yamaha YCL-255.
While this clarinet is priced toward the higher end, I do feel the higher price comes with a commensurate level of quality. But if this price is way outside what you can afford, by all means, check out some of the lower-priced models instead.
This next point is one that sometimes surprises new musicians. Here I’m talking about how easy it is to play one clarinet relative to others.
A student clarinet that’s relatively easy to play will help encourage the student to continue learning. But one that’s harder to play can often discourage the same student from progressing with the instrument.
A clarinet’s materials and workmanship, weight and size and other factors contribute to how easy or difficult it is to play.
For example, the Buffet Prodige clarinet has an adjustable thumb rest, which makes it easier for musicians with differently sized hands to comfortably play. It also has a key ring which lets musicians hang the clarinet from a neck sling so they don’t tire as easily from holding it.
Like many student models, including the B12, the Prodige clarinet is made from lightweight ABS plastic. This makes the instrument easier to handle than professional wooden models.
One relevant change from the B12 model is the switch from the traditional double fish skin pads to white leather pads on the keys. And though leather pads do have some advantages, without proper care and cleaning they can get sticky over time and require repair (related: How to Clean and Maintain Your Clarinet).
Overall, the Buffet Prodige clarinet is one of the easiest to play in its class. And many clarinetists will immediately feel the difference when switching from a lower-end model.
3. Clarinet durability
Durability is always a factor with a new clarinet. But it matters most when considering who will be playing and in what sort of conditions.
Dropping or mishandling a clarinet can often cause cracks in the body, bent keys and other damage that require expensive repairs or replacement. And a young child, for example, is less likely to handle their instrument with care.
Pay similar attention to clarinet durability if the instrument will be played outdoors. As in the case of marching band, for example, outdoor humidity and temperature can lead a wooden clarinet to warp or crack. So while a wooden body tends to offer a warmer sound, a plastic body is the more durable and sensible option in such cases.
The Prodige is an overall durable Buffet student clarinet. Its ABS plastic body is more forgiving to rough handling. And you won’t have the same problems with warping that are likely with wooden models.
Buffet’s move from fish skin pads in the B12 model to white leather pads in the Prodige is a positive in this area. Leather is typically the more resilient material while still providing a strong seal when playing. And you can expect these pads to last a few years or more before needing replacement.
Buffet has kept the same great workmanship with the keys. So, while many of the lower priced models has flimsy keys that bend easily, the keys on the Prodige should feel sturdy but still move fluidly with normal play.
The only downside I found with the Prodige clarinet in terms of durability is the standard nickel coating on the keys, which tends to wear faster than silver coating. On the other hand, silver coating is more costly and needs to be regularly polished to combat tarnishing.
Quality sound not only makes a clarinet more pleasant for the listener, but also contributes to easier playing for the student.
Most student clarinet models produce a sound that’s a bit held back and muffled. They’re also generally harder to maintain tuning with across registers—a common source of frustration for novice musicians.
But the Buffet Prodige clarinet’s quality sound is exceptional among student models. Its reworked bell gives improved sound projection over the earlier B12. And a textured bore gives it an even tone across a wide range of notes.
The leather pads also give this model a warmer sound overall than comparable models with traditional fish skin pads.
The Prodige does not disappoint… Beautiful sound, good response, even at this price point. This one should be at the top of your list for consideration when you’re looking for an instrument for a beginner for sure.
Paula Corley, author of So You Want To Play The Clarinet and faculty at Texas Lutheran University’s School of Music in Seguin
5. Commitment to playing clarinet
Plenty of people mistake a fleeting interest in clarinet with a committed passion for it. And it’s a shame seeing people spent lots of money on a beautiful instrument only to see it go neglected.
That’s why understanding the level of commitment a person has to playing clarinet is crucial to knowing which model is best for them. Have they any experience learning to play another instrument? Do they tend to stick with hobbies for a while, or do they quickly jump from one interest to the next?
The Buffet Prodige clarinet is one of the best student models available—both in terms of quality and overall value. But it’s probably not the best choice for someone with a fickle personality and no prior musical experience.
By the same token, the Prodige could be a great choice for someone who’s shown interest in the clarinet for some time.
6. Accessories included with the clarinet
If you’re a first-time buyer with little idea of what accessories are needed to get started, having all the basics included with your clarinet can be helpful.
Many clarinets priced under $200 will include accessories like gloves, a cleaning kit, a carrying case, a clarinet stand and even a basic lesson book. Manufacturers sometimes include them with the clarinet to make buyers think they’re getting more value. But in reality these extras are often poorly made.
Which reed is used, for instance, has a huge impact on clarinet performance. And the ones commonly included with clarinets usually aren’t great, if not unusable. Luckily, reeds are also one of the cheapest parts to replace (I recommend Rico size 2.5 reeds for new players).
Don’t expect a full array of accessories with the Buffet Prodige. At minimum, it typically includes a carrying case, a cleaning kit and a reed, depending on where you purchase it.
Curiously, Buffet developed a new model mouthpiece for the Prodige called the Urban Play, which students may find easier to play with. Though some musicians have preferred to buy a better mouthpiece from the start.
I’d suggest educating yourself on the parts of a clarinet and relevant accessories if you’re unfamiliar. But don’t let the Prodige’s relatively limited accessories scare you. You should be able to buy everything you need that isn’t included with a new clarinet for around $20-30.
7. Manufacturer’s warranty
A warranty can offer a lot of value and help offset the cost of a clarinet in the event of damage or quality issues.
Many lower-end student clarinets will save you money upfront as compared to a nicer model. But if your clarinet breaks early on, the cost to repair or replace it can soon exceed what you would have paid for a more durable, nicer model.
A warranty can protect you from these kinds of unexpected costs. And with the Buffet Prodige, you get both a nice clarinet that should last several years or more and Buffet Crampon’s 2-year guarantee that protects against manufacturing and material defects.
Here’s a quick rundown of the product specs for the Buffet Prodige clarinet:
- Bore: Poly-cylindrical, textured
- Key of: Bb
- Fingering: Boehm
- Body material: Co-polymeric ABS plastic
- Pads: White leather
- Plating: Nickel
- Mouthpiece: Urban Play, black
- Case: Backpack or ABS case
- Tone holes: Straight tone holes with tapered undercut
- Thumb rest: Adjustable with strap ring
The bottom line: Is the Buffet Prodige clarinet your ideal choice?
The Prodige is one of the best Buffet B-flat clarinets ever produced and a serious contender among student models. With it, Buffet has balanced affordable pricing with great overall sound, quality workmanship and even tone.
Maybe the price is too high for you, or you doubt the passion of whoever you’re buying it for. If so, I’d suggest you check out our ranked list of best student clarinets by value for a suitable alternative.
But if the Prodige is within your budget and you know it will go to loving hands, this model may just be the perfect choice for you.