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They Will be Heard! Clarinet Suppliers Embrace Innovation While Honoring Tradition

Christian Wissmuller • August 2019Roundtable • August 11, 2019

Photo by Bob McEvoy

The saying (joke) when I was in school band was that, “Clarinets are like ninjas. You can’t hear them, but they’re there!” While these woodwinds’ distinctive timbre and comparatively subtle sound may sometimes get a little “lost” amidst their more brash B&O brethren, they’re a vital component of orchestras, concert bands, jazz ensembles, marching bands, and any of a number of other genres. As the other joke from my school days went, “Without clarinets, life would B♭!”

We recently touched base with five major clarinet vendors to get the skinny on what’s hot with this market segment in 2019…

What is your brand’s current top-selling clarinet model?

Brian Petterson: Looking across the Yamaha clarinet line, student-level instruments used in dealer rental programs provide the greatest sales volume. The YCL-255 model is the first clarinet many students will play. However, the intermediate YCL-450N and professional level YCL-650 are also best sellers in their respective categories. At the artist level, the top seller has been the Custom YCL-CSVR clarinet for the last half-decade!




Joel Jaffe: In terms of total units, the Backun Alpha Synthetic BH Clarinet, which is quickly gaining popularity in markets where wooden intermediate clarinets were once standard.

Matt Vance: In our professional line, the R13 remains “The Legendary Choice of Professionals” and far outsells any other model, although the Festival, Tosca, and Tradition models do very well for us. In terms of sheer quantities, the Prodige and E11 student clarinets are our best-selling clarinet models, overall.

John Richardson: The JCL1100S is currently exceeding our scheduled expectations. With the added features it is well received by educators encouraging students to move forward from their beginning instrument.

Scott Campbell: Our top selling student models are the Selmer CL301 and Leblanc Vito (L7214), our top selling step-up clarinet is the Leblanc Serenade (L225N), and our top selling professional clarinet is the Selmer Paris Presence (B16Presence). The Presence, in particular, has seen steady growth recently for several reasons. The Presence is known for its incredible tone and intonation. Additionally, its growth is due to, what is becoming common knowledge, its consistency and reliability. Presence clarinets have gained a reputation of playing wonderfully “right out of the box.” There is added confidence when teachers can recommend an instrument and know that the student will have a great sounding, reliable tool to enhance their playing at the professional level, right out of the box.

Have you been observing any significant trends in the clarinet market – be it materials used, sizes or features preferred by players, et cetera?

JJ: Previously only popular in Spain and Italy, we are seeing growth in orders for clarinets with the optional AH/EH lever, to facilitate advanced fingerings. As well, market acceptance of woods and materials other than Grenadilla, continues to expand. Backun Cocobolo wood barrels and bells continue to set the standard in the market, while our patent-pending CG Carbon Custom Clarinets represent the future for hybrid synthetic/wood instruments.




MV: It seems consumers are gravitating back to more traditional equipment and features. There was definitely a bump in aftermarket accessories in different materials, radical designs, et cetera in the 2000s, but we have seen a trend back to original barrels, bells, and historically popular models and set-ups.

SC: There is always a need for innovation. With greater research and development we are able to find ways to improve instruments. But it is always a fine line between innovation and tradition. We are a traditional market and, at times, with too much innovation and changes, advancements may not be generally accepted into the marketplace. However, not innovating refuses to be part of today and provide greater quality and benefits to the performers. We try to find a balance between innovation and tradition. General observations from the marketplace is a greater open-mindedness to materials being used, other than only traditional granadilla wood. This is in part due to the desire to minimize the issue of cracking that can be a threat when using such natural material. We feel that we have hit a perfect balance between tradition and innovation with our new line of Selmer Paris Evolution clarinets, launching this early Fall.

JR: The younger educators and advancing students are looking for features that not only help with sound and intonation, but also facilitate natural and relaxed hand positioning. Our clarinets address this with the raised and offset third finger C/G tone hole. This keeps the left hand in a relaxed state at all times.



BP: We are noticing trends focusing on innovations related to instrument materials and their availability and sound quality. The availability of Grenadilla wood and the global trade laws that govern its transport are top of mind as we plan for customer needs. Yamaha introduced the Duet+ line to provide high quality, durable instruments that sound excellent and resonate like a solid wood clarinet. This combination of old-world craftsmanship and technological advancements makes the YCL-450NM less prone to cracking and yields better sound production. Duet+ now extends across our clarinet and oboe lines and are now best-sellers.

What approaches have you noticed successful clarinet dealers adopting when it comes to selling, promotion, display techniques, and the like?

MV: For student clarinets, direct contact with educators has been our most successful approach with the Prodige and E11 student clarinets. Once educators and clarinet teachers are able to play-test these models and experience the quality first-hand, it becomes obvious why they need to adopt those instruments for their students. Our artists are also crucial in helping “spread the word,” with our student clarinets. Of course, utilizing social media has become an essential component in marketing our instruments and much of that involves dealers. We recently started a new social media campaign called #WePlayProdige, which utilizes our artists in videos play-testing the Prodige student clarinets. The next step in that campaign is to directly involve our dealers in making their own videos with customer participation. Hand-selection of instruments by our artists for dealers has been a very successful promotion for our professional clarinets. Whether selected through one of our division managers, at a conference or trade show, or directly in Jacksonville at our North American Headquarters or at our New York Showroom, the hand-selection from a Buffet Crampon artist adds a certain level of prestige and draw for customers looking for the clarinet that suits them best. This process is not just limited to our specialty shops; more and more school music dealers are taking advantage of our world-class roster of artists to find clarinets for their inventory.

JR: Stocking a variety of product that will appeal to every player in the market is what dealers are expected to do. This along with a reliable student rental product spells success for dealers.

BP: Successful retailers have knowledgeable sales staff that understand the products and the market as a whole. Being a “trusted advisor” to customers – and not just trying to rush to close a sale – can impress customers by establishing a relationship. Trusted advisors are also able to coach musicians through the purchase and even make informed suggestions about mouthpiece and reed choices that work well with the instrument of choice. They can inform customers about important concepts like production consistency and the need to try an instrument before making a purchase. Though a relationship begins many times with a sale, it is cultivated over time by providing high levels of service, repairs and technical adjustments.

SC: Successful clarinet dealers display a “forest” and variety of clarinets. When choosing clarinets, an industry standard is to try several of a certain models. Aside from having a larger display to choose from, dealers who build strong relationships with clarinet influencers in their area and collaborate through events, both educational and pro selling events, are successful.

JJ: Having a skilled woodwind technician on staff is vital to earning the trust of clarinet players. As well, maintaining a wide range of products in stock for customers to try is essential in this age of immediate gratification. If a dealer doesn’t stock the product, the customer will find it somewhere else.

Any recent clarinet releases or upcoming clarinet models you’d like to draw MMR readers’ attention to?

SC: Absolutely! We are elated to share that in early Fall we will be launching our new Selmer Paris Evolution line of clarinets. The Evolution line will be available for the Presence, Signature, Recital, and Privilege models. By using modern and innovative manufacturing techniques we are able to create clarinets with greater stability, longevity, acoustic response, and best of all – no more cracks! This is accomplished by continuing to use the same prime-grade granadilla wood we always use as our primary material. This is a project that has been tested over the last two years with amazing feedback and results and we cannot wait to bring these to the public.

JR: I am not at liberty to say in this early R&D stage! However, I can tell you that anything Jupiter does in the future will be a result of something clarinetists are looking for.

JJ: Backun and Eastman are developing a hybrid synthetic/wood clarinet at an affordable price, packaged with one of our popular Vocalise Mouthpieces designed by Richard Hawkins.

BP: Yamaha recently introduced the YCL-SE Artist Model clarinets here in the United States,

to great artist acclaim. These premium-level instruments play beautifully and have a stunning, elegant look due to the pink gold-plated highlights. One hallmark of Yamaha as a company is our investment in research and development. There is virtually no downtime at the worldwide network of artist Atelier facilities. The world-class technicians and designers on staff are constantly looking to improve what Yamaha offers all levels of clarinetists.

MV: We just debuted the new version of the Tradition professional clarinet. Originally introduced in 2016, the new version retains the cylindrical bore of the original model, but now features premium unstained African blackwood, a low F correction key, and plated posts. It also still offers the two key-plating options of either nickel or silver, and comes with two barrels. The Tradition is definitely our best value in a professional clarinet.

What are your expectations for this market segment in the coming months?

BP: The clarinet segment is strong and growing, and we expect to see continued demand for premium quality instruments for the foreseeable future. In the late summer and fall, we plan to reinvest in supporting dealer sell-through efforts by offering promotions and programs that include strong sales tools. This supports back-to-school activities, the industry-leading Step Up to Yamaha fall rebate program and a host of other exciting promotions within our premium Shokunin Select and Select dealer program.

MV: We are watching the market very carefully, of course. Although the economy overall continues to remain robust, consumers seem to be more and more conservative when considering purchases beyond “the essentials.” With this said, we expect the growth and acceptance we have seen for our Prodige student clarinet and the new Tradition clarinet to continue in the months ahead. In conjunction with the Martin Frost Foundation, Buffet Crampon has established itself as the main partner providing vital financial support and will donate instruments to the foundation. Buffet Crampon will donate 2€ to the Martin Frost Foundation for each Prodige, E11, E12F, and E13 clarinet sold. More information is at We continue to provide the best value for our loyal customers while giving them the world’s best clarinets. It is a very delicate balance and we never take for granted the historical devotion from musicians all over the world we have enjoyed for over 190 years.

JR: I look for the market to be more diverse in its acceptance of brands. There are high-quality instruments being made by many manufacturers and it is only a matter of time before they are being recommended by emerging educators.

JJ: Orders for Backun clarinets far exceed current capacity and we see no sign of this slowing down.

SC: We have seen a steady increase in clarinet sales over the last year. This is thanks to the great products being manufactured, our wonderful family of artists and educators, and our supportive dealers. We expect to see a continuation of this growth in the coming months.

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