Buffet E13 clarinet
Guide price: £1216
Date of manufacture: 2004
Date reviewed: December 2004
Buffet's mid-range model, aimed squarely at the
semi-pro or advanced amateur player
The 'just below a grand' mark for clarinets has always been an interesting
market - or at least it was when this review was written, and the E13
was just over £800. Now it's £1200+...so I suppose the statement
should read 'just above a grand...'.
Whilst there are some fine student instruments available for a great deal
less, and some even finer instruments to be had for a great deal more
- this particular price bracket has often thrown up some real bargains.
You might not get all the bells and whistles of a top pro model, but at
this price point you can expect a level of refinement that may well be
all you'll ever need. And it's a tough market, the E13 has to square up
to some mighty competitors from the stables of Yamaha and Leblanc.
For your money you get a nicely made clarinet in Grenadilla. I want to
sound a note of dissatisfaction here by noting that Buffet dye the wood.
I assume that this is because they feel the market expects a Grenadilla
clarinet to be black. It's a reasonable assumption, but not a terribly
brave one. It's a bit of a pain for us repairers in that when it comes
around to oiling the body, care has to be taken to ensure that the oil
mix doesn't contain a solvent that will strip the finish. In this case
the solvent is methylated spirits. Having said that, I've been asked by
clients to remove the dyed finish. What you end up with is a clarinet
that doesn't look quite so black - but then you do get to see the grain
and figuring of the wood, which I feel is a much nicer prospect. Some
additional finishing of the wood is worth the effort as it appears that
the dye hides a less than wonderful surface finish.
I assume too that the reason they have to use dye is that it's hard to
find wood of a certain quality these days. As the late Henry Crun would
have put it - " You can't get the wood, you know... ".
Whilst I'm venting my spleen about the wood I have to comment on the
tenon joints. They bind. This is a problem that seems to be specific to
Buffet. The tolerances of the tenon cheeks are too fine, with the result
that the slightest change in the moisture content of the wood means that
the joints bind and stick when you assemble or dismantle the clarinet.
The problem varies in severity, from a disconcerting stiffness to a full
blown locked joint - and don't underestimate the nuisance potential of
a slightly sticky mid tenon joint...trying to line up the mid joint link
keys with a stiff joint is an exercise in excruciating frustration, and
no amount of cork grease will help.
It's a problem that's been around for some time now, and it's about time
Buffet looked to sorting it out.
keywork is up to the usual standard, nicely made and well finished - and
comfortably laid out. No problems there, save for those dreadful
nylon pins on the left hand spatula keys.
I'm really dead set against these things - and the photo on the left is
a perfect illustration of why.
Yep, one of the nylons pins has broken.
Now, I can understand why they use them - and it's to keep the action
quiet. If you're going to use a pin and socket connection for the lever
keys (instead of the far more sensible stepped link) you have to find
a way to deal with the inherent noise that the (usually metal) pins make
as they rattle around in their sockets.
They have to be a loose fit otherwise they'll bind when the keys are pressed
- and the traditional way of silencing them is to wrap a little bit of
bladder pad skin around them. These days you're more likely to find a
small Teflon tube fitted over the pins, accompanied by a blob of silicone
Of course, you can do away with the need for bits of skin or tubes by
making the pins out of nylon - they'll still be a little bit rattly though,
and you run into the risk of the pins shearing.
All things considered I'd sooner have rattly metal pins than nylon ones,
which might break halfway through a gig.
There's an adjustable thumb rest fitted with an integral sling ring
- but it suffers from the same lack of tightness as on the B12, along
with the same issues as regards the sling ring.
nice feature is the use of locking pillars where fitted with point screws.
In years to come, as the wood swells and contracts, this feature will
pay dividends in keeping the pillars secure. As a maintenance note, it's
worth checking that these locking screws are secure - they can loosen
Likewise, the point screws themselves feature a nylon sleeve that helps
to lock them in place in the pillar - an excellent enhancement that ensures
the action will remain in regulation.
The setup was average. I had to adjust the angles of the low E and F
key cups. This again is typical of the Buffets, and points up the necessity
in having these instruments set up professionally.
The whole outfit comes with a very nicely specified case, though with
only room for one barrel. At this sort of level you can expect players
to want an extra barrel (either a longer or a shorter one, an possibly
a custom barrel).
There is an accessory compartment, but you'd be lucky to get a barrel
in given its width.
In playing, the clarinet blows freely - and with a level of refinement
that befits its price. Tonewise it has depth and evenness, even
over the throat A break. Whilst I would say that it lacks the power
of the true symphonic clarinets, it still has great versatility
- and mouthpiece choice can make gains in this area (the standard
piece supplied is adequate though).
The action feels smooth and positive, even better after a bit of tweaking,
and the rings in particular are nicely aligned.
All in all a very decent instrument that comfortable fulfils its remit
as a quality all-rounder. It's certainly worth checking out the competition
(such as the Leblanc Esprit and the Yamaha YCL650), against which the
E13 comfortably stands as an equal in terms of quality.