Buffet B12 Clarinet
Origin: France, though manufactured elsewhere in Europe? (www.buffet-crampon.com)
Guide price: £395
Date of manufacture: 2002
Date reviewed: May 2002
The " Industry Standard " student clarinet?
Features brushed "Luraton" (that's plastic to most people) body,
adjustable thumbrest with integral sling hook
This is a student clarinet with a noble lineage. From its earliest guise
as a wooden instrument produced by Boosey & Hawkes under the model
name of Regent it has seen successive development, radical changes in
design and even a change of corporate and model name - but it remains,
arguably, the world's leading student clarinet. And justifiably so. For
sure, a student instrument will rarely possess the finesse and flexibility
of a professional instrument but the days when such an instrument was
regarded as something you traded up from as soon as possible have long
In its latest incarnation the B12 possesses a few advancements - some
good, some not so good.
Top marks go for the addition of an adjustable thumbrest. About half the
student clarinets that pass through the workshop have rubber cushions
fitted to the thumbrest. Students with small hands often find it difficult
to line their fingers up over the lower joint finger holes, the addition
of a thick cushion under the thumb helps to correct the angle of the hand
- and an adjustable thumbrest means this clarinet can accommodate a huge
range of hand sizes.
As you can see below, the thumbrest has a little ring attached to it.
This allows for the use of a sling, which provides extra support for the
weight of the instrument - particularly useful for very young beginners.
call me Mr Picky but I found that the locking screw doesn't entirely
lock the thumbrest - and although the amount it can move is small
I found it nonetheless annoying from time to time. Also, the sling
ring doesn't line up down the body of the instrument - which may
lead to certain sling hooks imparting a slight tendency to want
to swing the clarinet out of line with the player's body. The addition
of a nylon collar on the ring thread would ensure a secure lock
to the thumbrest and allow the ring to be set inline. A small point,
I grant you, but one that's relatively simple and cheap to fix.
My biggest criticism goes to the use of nylon pins on the left hand spatula
keys. If you're not sure what these are, check out the article on lever
keys. The reason this B12 came into the workshop was because the nylon
pin had sheared off the low E spatula key.
I really can't see what advantages this design has over the far simpler
'stepped key' design - which is far more solid and gives a much better
feel to the action.
The body is made from a tough nylon composite, and whilst I accept that
the 'holy grail' of student clarinets has to be weight (or lack of it)
I still much prefer the feel of a slightly heavier instrument. The old
Regents were of a good weight - though the body material was inclined
to be a tad brittle. If you drop a B12 it won't crack...though you might
mark the body.
Extra care needs to be taken with regard to environmental temperature
with the B12 as the body material will melt or deform at relatively
low temperatures (so don't, whatever you do, leave the instrument
in a car in the summer...which is bad practice for any instrument
In normal use though the body will withstand the rigours of the
clumsiest child...even if the keywork won't.
The keys are up to the usual Buffet standard. I've always been a fan
of the feel of Boosey/Buffet clarinets, and the new B12 is no exception.
Though not quite as refined as professional model keys, they are nonetheless
well finished, sturdy and smooth under the fingers.
A very real improvement is the use of shouldered point screws. The B12
previously used parallel points which
although provided a constantly adjustable action were difficult to set
just right due to the inherent expansion and contraction of the body material
and were inclined to work loose unless well secured with threadlock.
The new screws perhaps represent a standardisation across the Buffet range
and provide the B12 with a much more stable and secure action, and will
save you money on repairs and servicing in the long run (and I'll see
less loose keys).
My last beef remains one that the student Buffet range has suffered from
since its inception...the seating of the pads on the lower joint.
I suspect that when Buffet fit the pads they use a system of clamps to
set the pads. What then happens is that the pads expand afterwards, which
results in leaks appearing at the front of the low E, F and lower ring
key pads. It's the first thing I check when a B12 comes into the workshop
- and it's rare to find one that doesn't have a problem here.
Buffet would be better off adjusting the angle of these key cups (or use
a thinner pad) and just not bother to set them...chances are they'd turn
out many more fully working instruments than they do now.
My advice is to ensure that the store you buy your clarinet from has
PROPERLY set the instrument up...or take it to a repairer straight after
purchase and have it checked.
Given that very few students will know whether or not their instrument
is working properly this is quite a serious problem. The picture below
(spatula keys removed) shows the 'trouble spots'...check the pads using
the cigarette paper test.
As for playing, the B12 produces a remarkably consistent tone, with stable
tuning across the range. There is a slight tendency for it to sound a
tad 'boxy' on occasion, and perhaps some notes are less rounded than others
- but this is really only noticeable if you're a more advanced player.
It's certainly a lot better tonewise than many of its competitors.
The mouthpiece seems to divide opinion. Some players and teachers swear
by it...others AT it. Personally I feel both camps have a valid
point. I would say that the mouthpiece has its limitations but is
more than adequate for beginners - and the clarinet will benefit
further from a better mouthpiece once the student gains some experience...say
a year or so after starting.
The case provided is well built and sturdy, with room for reeds and grease
To sum up then, a fine student instrument that's built to last. It suffers
from poor setup on the lower joint but this is easily rectifiable,
and once in tip-top shape is capable of providing everything a student
will need...and for many players it may well be all they'll ever