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Buying a used clarinet does not have to be a frustrating process. There are a number of tips for buying used instruments of all types, and clarinets specifically, that can help. One of the more important tips is to know the source, in order to get an idea of how the clarinet has been used. Another important tip is to shop around and compare prices instead of purchasing the first used clarinet that seems reasonable. Finally, it might be a good idea to learn enough about clarinets to spot any problems or flaws, or have it played or inspected by someone who can declare it a quality instrument.
Sometimes a used clarinet will come with a very low price tag. In this case, it may be extra important to know some of the history of the instrument. Buyers can find out how many owners the clarinet has had, how it was generally used, and its age. A clarinet played in a marching band will usually suffer more wear and tear than one played in an orchestra, for instance. Those used primarily by children will also often be given rougher treatment than clarinets used by adults.
There are several different types of instruments within the clarinet family, so it is important to be sure that the one for sale is the one that is needed. The B flat clarinet, for example, is the one most children use in school bands, and the one that it is generally easier to find used. Someone looking to purchase a used clarinet should be familiar enough with the instrument to recognize the type, and notice any obvious flaws; otherwise, it is important to have someone inspect the instrument who is familiar with clarinets.
It is also important to play the clarinet before purchasing, or have someone available to do so. A person shopping for a clarinet may want to bring a clarinet mouthpiece and reed, or at least bring a reed and some kind of antibacterial mouthpiece wipe, in order to test the instrument safely. It is important to look for obvious chips or cracks in the instrument. Likewise, a shopper should look underneath each key to make sure there is a pad in place as well.
The clarinet is a single-reed instrument, so something such as a cracked mouthpiece is much less expensive to replace than repairing a problem within the body of the instrument. The mouthpiece, the bell at the bottom and the barrel just below the mouthpiece do not have keys; as such, these are much less expensive to replace than the first and second joints, which contain all the moving parts and pads.
If the clarinet sounds airy or squeaks, it could need new pads or keys. In some cases, such replacements can cost more than the entire used clarinet. The cost of replacing old, cracked pads or bent keys can be quite high and should be factored into the total cost.
Like buying a used car, buying a used clarinet requires the same diligence. I wouldn't buy one without taking it to a band instrument store and having it looked over for needed repairs.
An older instrument will probably need to have the pads replaced anyway. Like getting a timing belt changed on a car, this is just routine maintenance after a certain amount of time. I'd also look at the cork on the ends of the barrels to make sure it's in good shape and isn't crumbling. This holds the barrels together and it needs to be in good condition to do its job.
I might buy a new mouthpiece anyway since they're inexpensive and take most of the abuse. Mostly, I'd have it looked at by a professional to see what needed to be done to the instrument.
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