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 Buying a Vintage instrument: Pro's or just cons?
Author: apaul001 
Date:   2018-02-01 02:00

I've recently fallen in love with the they-just-don't-make-'em-like-they-used-to mystique of the pre R13 Buffet. This happened as a result of a search I initiated for a very high quality instrument at a price within my reach. I found several 1940s-'50s Buffets available, with a wide variance in price and reported condition. Some very much as-is, provenance unknown, others reputed to be fully restored and functioning. Not surprisingly, I find the sellers of the restored ones to be quite eager to extoll their virtues: the dense, durable granadilla reportedly lacking in more recent models; the rich, dark sound I aspire to... etc. etc. I got ahold of one for free and investigated having it restored. For reasons I won't bore you with, it's not a realistic investment. The restorer offered to get in touch with me if he runs across a functioning Buffet meeting my specs. Then he added a statement that gave me pause: "I don't often have people asking for these. They're seldom worth the investment. They're played out. There are good reasons why people spend their money on newer instruments." Before going down this rabbithole, I had often heard that "clarinets don't appreciate, they depreciate." So, what say you, good people of the board? Am I crazy for pursuing this wish and should I give it up?

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 Re: Buying a Vintage instrument: Pro's or just cons?
Author: GBK 
Date:   2018-02-01 02:24

The statement "clarinets don't appreciate, they depreciate" is correct. Like a new car, new clarinets can lose 30% - 50% of the retail value in the first year.

Buffets do hold their resale value better than other clarinets, with some vintages (mid 1960's to early 1970's) considered far more desirable than others.

Always factor in the cost of a possible full restoration/overhaul with any used clarinet you are considering purchasing.

...GBK (still happily playing Buffets from 1965 - 1975)

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 Re: Buying a Vintage instrument: Pro's or just cons?
Author: Steven Ocone 
Date:   2018-02-01 03:42

I like working and playing on newer clarinets. The wood on some old clarinets can be fragile. Keys get worn and sometimes need rebuilding. Older clarinets tend to be too free-blowing for me. If a clarinet has spent most of it's years in a closet these issues may not apply. And these are generalizations. Any specific instrument may not have these issues. That being said, I work on plenty of older clarinets and they can be fine instruments.

Steve Ocone

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 Re: Buying a Vintage instrument: Pro's or just cons?
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2018-02-01 12:41

Don't be bogged down by the "I only paid XX amount for it. so it's not worth spending XXX to have it overhauled" if it's an older pro model and has potential.

A pro level clarinet is still a pro level clarinet even if it's 50+ years old. If you were to insure it, then the insurance value would be that of the current equivalent pro model and not that of a clarinet that can be bought for a similar price you paid for it.

If you didn't spend much to buy it and assume that's what you should value it for, then that's a massive underestimate and the replacement instrument would probably end up being some heap of Chinese crap going on the buying price alone, so the amount you initially bought it for is immaterial.

Not so long ago I had someone think their Yamaha piccolo with the current replacement value of around £1400 isn't worth having overhauled because they bought it used, but they did have their E13 clarinet fully overhauled because they bought it new.

Former oboe finisher
Howarth of London
1998 - 2010

The opinions I express are my own.

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 Re: Buying a Vintage instrument: Pro's or just cons?
Author: Kalashnikirby 
Date:   2018-02-01 12:59

Some older Buffets are really beatiful instruments. There are many fantastic Oehler horns (most renowned today, of course, Wurlitzers) that pros and teacher have kept for 30+ years. Some people in my Orchestra had their Yamahas for decades, and they still look great and play fine.
While the bore might warp over time, I suppose that a major factor is how much care has been taken of the instrument, something that previous owners (unconsciously) tended to euphemise when I bought from them, so far...

Best regards

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 Re: Buying a Vintage instrument: Pro's or just cons?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2018-02-01 14:08

apaul001 wrote:

> I've recently fallen in love with the
> they-just-don't-make-'em-like-they-used-to mystique of the pre
> R13 Buffet. This happened as a result of a search I initiated
> for a very high quality instrument at a price within my reach.

I think it depends a good deal on why you're looking for an older instrument. People comb EBay for old Centered-Tone Selmers and old B&H 1010s because they're looking for playing qualities that are different from those of newer clarinet designs. The R-13 with its polycylindrical bore was created to solve specific intonation problems. A pre-R-13 had (I'm told - I've never played one) some unique characteristics of tone and response that changed with the R-13 design.

If you're looking for a clarinet that has the characteristics of the older instruments, then searching for one of them makes sense. But if you're looking for a high quality instrument at the lowest price possible, probably not so much. An older instrument can be brought back to very playable condition, but if it's sold at a really low price, it will almost certainly cost more to restore than a newer one.

You can find used R-13s from a later time - '60s or '70s - for very reasonable, but not dirt-cheap, prices that are still very serviceable and are more likely to have been continuously maintained, so may need less initial servicing. You'll be under the cost of a new instrument - even a modern R-13. If you aren't specifically interested in the qualities of pre-polycylindrical Buffets, those may be more practical for you.


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 Re: Buying a Vintage instrument: Pro's or just cons?
Author: shmuelyosef 
Date:   2018-02-02 05:39

My experience has been that unless you are a qualified woodwind technician, it is hard to acquire any professional level clarinet in tiptop condition for less than $1000. For example, take the case of the older Selmers (Series 9 and Centered Tones) that I'm quite familiar with. You can often find them for <<$500, but they have flaws, repaired cracks, old keywork with screw heads damaged, missing or cracked original barrel, dead case. Each of these sorts of things either 1) reduce the value and the probability that you will get a lifelong horn that is trouble-free and/or 2) increase the cost of a total professional overhaul.

e.g. a $500 horn might require a $600 overhaul, a $700 horn might need a $300 overhaul, and any example >$1000 should be coming with a fresh professional overhaul from an identified, reputable shop with a guarantee and return policy.

A horn that just needs to be cleaned up, repadded, some keywork tightening, and you don't need logo restoration, 9-year soak in magic oil, etc...there are shops that can do a GREAT job for $400 plus roundtrip shipping if you don't live near one of these.

If you are willing to spend $1500 or so (still very cheap for a top level pro horn), you can often find spectacular deals...even on ebay. At this level I have seen the following recent, restored to like new condition from great shops:
- Leblanc Opus
- Selmer Series 9
- Selmer 10G
- Selmer Signature
- Yamaha YCL-72 and YCL-62
- Yamaha YCL-CSG
- more R13s than you can shake a stick at...pun intended

Here is a pointer to an eBay search that shows recent actual sales of clarinets

Post Edited (2018-02-02 05:41)

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 Re: Buying a Vintage instrument: Pro's or just cons?
Author: fromsfca 
Date:   2018-02-02 06:42

I typically buy used clarinets...my current horns are a 6 year old Yamaha csg custom, wonderful section horn, and an older Leblanc opus 2 (2003?) my jazz horn. Both were in like new condition.

I had a fully restored Selmer centered tone (full boheme) that was killer, which I regretfully sold.

Respective purchase prices were 1,800, 1,400 and 1,500.

I don’t personally get the buffet thing, though I played an S1 for many years.

Point is, there are excellent used pro level horns available for very attractive prices.

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 Re: Buying a Vintage instrument: Pro's or just cons?
Author: TomS 
Date:   2018-02-02 22:09

Not sure how the current market is ... but my last wooden R13 purchased in 1996 for about $1600.00 brought $1600.00 in about 2012 ... I think the street price at the time was about $2907.00 when I sold it. Now, this was an exceptionally playing clarinet and a friend that was a professor of clarinet re-sold it for me ... he might have assured the good resale value ...

I now play Ridenour's hard rubber clarinets and R13/greenline. Would like a CSVR in a composite ...

I eschew wood, except for reeds ...


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 Re: Buying a Vintage instrument: Pro's or just cons?
Author: Zacharywest158 
Date:   2018-02-09 01:10

My A clarinet is a Buffet R13 from 1974 and is in the 150xxx serial range. I had the instrument completely restored three years ago, and it plays wonderfully. Not sure if you could say its better or worse than some of the newer Buffets, but it works well for me. Maybe I just got lucky.

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 Re: Buying a Vintage instrument: Pro's or just cons?
Author: jcm499 
Date:   2018-02-10 11:06

This is an interesting question.

Some people seem to believe that advances in technology and acoustics allow for more precise manufacturing of better-optimized clarinet designs, which results in progressively similar instruments. Others, as you said, believe that the quality wood today does not match what was available to previous generations of craftsmen, who also put more love and care into their handwork than modern craftsmen (or machines) do. I don’t have much knowledge of manufacturing techniques or acoustics or wood, so I can only relate my opinions formed by playing modern and vintage clarinets. I’m not so sure that clarinets have “improved” over the decades, but I do think they have changed to suit different preferences and styles of playing, which introduces a different set of compromises. My impression is that many players until the latter parts of the 20th century used lighter, freer blowing, more flexible setups. They cared deeply about timbre and projection, especially before amplification was so widespread. (Compare a recording of Artie Shaw playing with his big band to a recording of Eddie Daniels playing with for instance Gordon Goodwin’s big band and you’ll hear how much quieter Eddie plays). Players today seem to prefer heavier, more resistant, and less flexible setups, with the result that they put a greater emphasis on an instrument that “plays well in tune” since intonation is harder to adjust with embouchure and voicing on their setups. Players of yesteryear using, on average, lighter and more flexible setups, may have cared about this less because they could adjust intonation more easily. They were willing to make that sacrifice for the thick beautiful projecting sound those instruments are known for today. Most modern professional instruments, on the other hand, have sacrificed that sound for more even intonation out of the box.

As far as clarinets wearing out or “blowing out,” we believe a lot of mystical things about the clarinet, but when it comes down to it the clarinet is really a pretty simple instrument mechanically. I don’t see any reason why a horn in good shape won’t well, or any reason why a horn in (reasonably) bad shape can’t be put back in order.

I’m reminded of all the vintage microphones still in professional use. Haven’t microphones improved drastically over the decades? Well, they’ve gotten more accurate, not necessarily better. Accurate isn’t always what you’re going for. It can make the difference between a singer sounding like a rock god or just a guy singing in a room.

I myself play mostly a Selmer Centered Tone circa 1959, and I don’t seem to have the intonation problems (flat bottom F, wide 12ths, and so on) that people complain about with older model horns. I would recommend continuing your search for a killer vintage horn. Fortunately, clarinets are cheap enough and small enough that you can have both modern AND vintage instruments at your disposal.

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 Re: Buying a Vintage instrument: Pro's or just cons?
Author: clarnibass 
Date:   2018-02-11 12:34

There are good and bad clarinets from just about any decade. I recently had a clarinet from the 40s that had tone and intonation as good as any modern clarinet.

Statistically, new(ish) clarinets are more likely to be better, though some older clarinets already had "natural selection" in a way, but not necessarily.

Re older clarinets having a rich tone missing from new ones, that's complete BS.

In some ways new clarinets (in the last few decades, and it keeps advancing) can (and often are) made in more modern ways that can be more accurate... but sometimes it's not really true.

Certain things required much more care to make accurately back then, so it's more of a way to get the same accuracy cheaper or faster, rather than better.

Some design features are definitely significantly better now, but to be honest clarinets had very little changes compared with most things so the difference isn't huge.

In some ways design changes, even if advertised as improvement, are done mainly to reduce manufacturing costs. Examples are the Buffet pivot screws (with plastic sleeves) or the Selmer sprung bushings in the hinge rods (on saxophones).

An annoying problem I find too often on new clarinets at least from one company, is misalignment of posts, resulting in binding keys when rod screws are tightened and/or you can see the key move while tightening the screw.
Another is low quality pads that often tear in less than a year.

Far more important than new/used/age is the condition and the specific instrument.

Post Edited (2018-02-20 10:13)

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 Re: Buying a Vintage instrument: Pro's or just cons?
Author: DeletedUser 
Date:   2018-02-20 10:02

I buy nothing BUT vintage Buffet Crampon - I only have 3 but my take on it is if the wood was to crack it would have cracked already - I have one made in 1936 or 37 and it cost 165 dollars back then. That is about 2300 today. I also have one made in the late 1800s Albert systems too that needed nothing be a repad and minor cleanup. So spending 3000+ on a new clarinet is not worth it unless you are making that kind of $$ - So give these old instruments a chance - they care a part of history.

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