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 Testing A LOT of clarinets reviewed
Author: thereallukasj 
Date:   2018-01-22 00:37

So yesterday, I tried many many clarinets. I will be giving a short review then a score and later, compare winners. Some of the the better performing ones I did not score as high on my initial test but realized more qualities as I played them more and then compared them. All testing was done on a mouthpiece I made as well as on a Clark Fobes San Fran 2m*. The mouthpiece I made I prefer but just to make sure my testing was thorough, I used both. I also played using the default barrel on all clarinets and than switched to my aftermarket barrel (brand unknown all it says on it is "France").I played slow scales, fast scales, low scales, clarion and altissimo scales, varied dynamics, played jazz, slap tongues, growling, bending notes on all instruments to get a really good feel.

WARNING:All of these reviews are for the purpose of distributing information, not to anger ANY fan of ANY particular brand. All clarinets are in proper working order at the time of testing. All numerical scores are out of 10. All testing was done at Tim's Music in Sacramento, Ca on their Clarinet Day when all clarinets are highly discounted, and mouthpieces, reeds, and accessoried are half off! Price will not be factored into the ratings and scores, just the instrument's performance.

I started my testing with my clarinet, the Leblanc Pete Fountain. (It would be an understatement to say that I'm looking for an upgrade). Lots of resistance, blunt tone, and unimpressive response. Score of 7.25

Next up was the Leblanc Serenade which I tried with and without an Eb lever. More free blowing than my clarinet but similar response. It would not take my aftermarket barrel that I tried (it worked on other clarinets). Score of 7.75

The Buffet E12f had more resistance but amazing response and great tone. Felt very well built and was a pleasure to play. Score of 9.75

The Backun Protege Cocobolo had a slightly more mellow sound than the other clarinets I tried. It felt free blowing with an ok response. Score of 8.25

The Backun Protege Grenadilla had a good sound was free blowing and had great response. Score of 9

The Backun Beta was very impressive and touted a very comfortable amount of resistance, great response and a very covered sound (not to mention a low price). Score of 9.5

Next was the Selmer Seles Prologue which was a bit too resistant for my taste with an ok response. Score of 8

I was excited to try the Buffet R13 Prestige, but to me (in other words, don't be offended Buffet fans, you have some good victories coming up) had a very resistant upper register and altissimo. Score of 7.5

The Selmer Seles Presence was that instrument I didn't want to stop playing. Perfect amount of resistance with an incredible response. I would have rated this higher, however my one complaint is that I noticed the key rings felt large making it difficult to cover the tone holes on one or two fast runs. Score of 9.75

I loved the Buffet Tradition which I tried in Bb and A. Both could play incredibly well at high dynamics. It felt similar to the standard R13's I tried but much more of a pleasure to play. Had a very rich and somewhat playful tone. To me, this instrument sounded the best of all but was not quite as easy to play as the E12f or the Presence. Score of 9.5

I tried several Buffet R13's in both Bb and A. Some were much better than others. My favorite R13 had a good resistance and a good response but I had to find a certain embrochure to hit really high notes (did not have to do this on other clarinets). Score of 8.75

Next up was a very lightly used Buffet Limite (if I'm not mistaken, it was discontinued and is now called the E13 but is the same instrument) had less resistance and was one of the clarinets I could have effortlessly played all day like the Presence, E12f, or Tradition. Very impressive response. Score of 9.5

Next up was a Jupiter 1100 series wood clarinet with an Eb lever. It had an Airy sound and I could not push much air through it. Score of 7.5

Now for the clarinet fight to the death! These are my top picks and I compare them side by side. Any of the clarinets in this section, it would be a privilege to play in any setting as they are all amazing.

Buffet E12f vs Protege Grenadilla. The E12f felt easier to play and had a more mellow calming sound with better response. E12f wins.

Selmer Seles Presence vs Buffet E12f. The Selmer had better response and a more refined or clear sound. However the E12f feels better under the fingers. This was a very difficult choice as they were so similar and had good and bad traits but the E12f was a bit fuzzy in the lower clarion. HOWEVER, as mentioned earlier the key rings on the Selmer are just a hair uncomfortably large, for me that is (Another disclaimer is that I have rather large, thin hands so just factor that in when I make comments about the key rings). Also the E12f is less expensive and feels better built. This would nearly be a tie but I will give the win to the Presence as we are not including price as a factor.

Selmer Seles Presence vs Buffet Tradition. The Selmer is easier to play but the Buffet has a better sound and feels slightly more solidly built, not trying to say the Selmer is not solidly built. Here was another tough choice, playability vs sound. They are both amazing in both categories but each has a lead in a category. I prefered the Presence, BUT if you prefer sound over playability then the Buffet is for you. Both these horns were so similar that if it were an issue of price, I would be inclined to buy the Presence in a heartbeat. My pick is the Presence as the winner.

Selmer Seles Presence vs Buffet Limite. The Limite feels the better built of the two clarinets. It has smaller key rings than the Selmer which made it easier to play rapid runs. The Selmer had a clearer sound. These clarinets had identical response and resistance. The differences are so minute for this final battle. The Presence has lost its first battle against the Limite. The smaller key rings of the Buffet Limite were very attractive while touting the same response and a perfect amount of resistance.

The winner of the 2018 clarinet battle is the Buffet Crampon Limite! Like any good ending, theres always something missing. The Buffet Limite is no longer made and is now the same instrument but dubbed the E13. The E13 can be currently purchased new but I cannot guarantee that it will have the same great playability and sound qualities of the Limite. For this reason the Selmer Seles Presence would also be a fantastic choice for a clarinet upgrade.

Next are my ratings after further playing the top picks. 1st Buffet Limite, 2nd Selmer Seles Presence, 3rd Buffet E12f, 4th Buffet Tradition, and 5th Backun Protege Grenadilla. (All these clarinets performed very well and I would be proud to own any of them)

As another disclaimer, the Backun Beta was not in the final match up of my top picks because the store I was at had sold them all! The Beta would have been my 5th place pick bumping the Protege Grenadilla to 6th. The most purchased clarinet was the Backun Beta as a new Beta was $995 on this clarinet discount day. Great price, plays great. What more could you want!

I hope you enjoyed my review(s),
Lukas Johnson

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 Re: Testing A LOT of clarinets reviewed
Author: Kalashnikirby 
Date:   2018-01-22 02:12

Always great to read actual reviews on clarinets!
Interesting how the relatively cheap E12F ranks among the best clarinets in your test - but I've always thought that their quality varies quite a bit.
The Seles series seem to be very well received, but how can a manufacturer gain a significant market share? There's so many good clarinets out there already!
IMHO there are actually nicer sounding horns than the Tradition, but I could only test one so far.

Best regards

Reply To Message
 Re: Testing A LOT of clarinets reviewed
Author: GenEric 
Date:   2018-01-22 02:44

Thanks for the extensive review! I had a lot of fun reading it. This just goes to show that even an intermediate horn can beat some professional horns worth twice the price. The lesson learned is that you must try before buy. The next time I get a horn, I'll definitely go to a music store instead of buying online. Who knows what secret gem might pop up!

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 Re: Testing A LOT of clarinets reviewed
Author: Toolaholic 
Date:   2018-01-22 05:24

No Yamaha’s. Thanks for posting. I enjoyed your reviews.

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 Re: Testing A LOT of clarinets reviewed
Author: thereallukasj 
Date:   2018-01-22 05:55

I'm glad you guys enjoyed reading! Dear Christian, I must have gotten two lucky Traditions but one of them was slightly better. The largest quality difference I noticed was in the six R13's I tried. Some were worse than the Serenades I tried and the best one I tried felt similar to the Protege in Grenadilla but I marked the R13 lower because of the quality differences. I wanted to try some Yamaha's (specifically the YCL-650) but unfortunately the store is not a Yamaha dealer. I started playing an old plastic Yamaha and I remember that clarinet played great all those years ago. I also recently played a YCL-450 and was very impressed. After playing just the 450, it makes me think that the higher end pro Yamaha clarinets might have dominated this list if they were at the store.

Lukas Johnson

Reply To Message
 Re: Testing A LOT of clarinets reviewed
Author: nellsonic 
Date:   2018-01-22 12:56

Looks like you had a nice time - and thanks for the entertaining report, but..... how was the intonation?

Reply To Message
 Re: Testing A LOT of clarinets reviewed
Author: richard smith 
Date:   2018-01-22 18:41

over many years I played many clarinets. I kept 5 of the ones I thought best in terms of blowing resistance and intonation. They were Ridenour TR147s, tuned and adjusted by him.

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 Re: Testing A LOT of clarinets reviewed
Author: Ed 
Date:   2018-01-22 22:27

Interesting that you mention that you think Buffet is better built than Selmer. I have not played any of the recent instruments, but over the years any Selmer I have played or owned seemed really solid and extremely well designed and built.

Reply To Message
 Re: Testing A LOT of clarinets reviewed
Author: Johan H Nilsson 
Date:   2018-01-22 22:39

The Seles Presence Bb is underrated. I have tried 6 or 7 different copies and they tune very well and consistently.

As always, a test like this is between individual instruments of models. To test models, one would need at least three copies of each.

Reply To Message
 Re: Testing A LOT of clarinets reviewed
Author: thereallukasj 
Date:   2018-01-22 22:44

As stated above, the Selmers do feel great and very ergonomic. But the E12f does feel a bit more solid. The R13's did not feel as solid as the E12f or the Presance. To me, the Backun Beta played great, but I felt it did not feel as good under the fingers as many other more expensive horns did. As Dave Kessler mentioned to me, he said the E12f is a great playing clarinet WHEN it is setup correctly and I feel Kessler and Sons is a great place to buy as they test the clarinets and make adjustments. Best horn for a budget would be the Beta. Then the E12f for a larger budget and lastly the Presance for the $3500 range which is directed to compete against Buffet's R13 (not much of a competition if you ask me). The quality of R13's varied a shocking amount, more then I would have imagined and the best one I tried felt similar to the Backun's Beta. I tried 6 R13's and one R13 Prestige.

Lukas Johnson

Reply To Message
 Re: Testing A LOT of clarinets reviewed
Author: thereallukasj 
Date:   2018-01-22 22:56

Also, I misspelled the Selmer Seles clarinet. It is Présence and not Presance. I was spelling it as I heard the name said as I don't know French.

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