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Buffet R13 clarinet header
 

Buffet R13 clarinet
Origin: France
Guide price : £2100
Date of manufacture: 2004
Date reviewed : March 2005

Description : An entry-level professional clarinet.

Buffet R13 clarinetIt seems a little odd to refer to the R13 as an 'entry level' professional clarinet. For many years it was the mainstay of the range along with the RC, but in recent years there's been a trend towards 'super professional' models. Everyone's at it - Yamaha with their Custom range saxes superseding the 62, Selmer with their Reference series saxes and Recital clarinets- and now Buffet with their Prestige range.
And yet the R13 still hold its place as one of the most popular and widely used clarinets of the day.

With good reason too.
The combination of price and build quality, coupled with its tonal characteristics make it a hard act to follow at any price.
It's an elegant looking instrument - nice clean lines and an uncluttered design.
I assume the wood is dyed (unstained wood comes in on the Prestige range), but on this particular instrument it was a great deal less obvious than I've seen on other Buffet clarinets. The body itself is well made, with neat edges and a good finish.
I've commented before on problems with the tenon joints on Buffet clarinets in my E13 review. The R13 exhibited the exact same problem with sticking joints. As per the E13, the tenons needed a light skim to cure the stickiness.

The keywork is well built and excellently finished in silver plate. I've always been a fan of Buffet/Boosey keywork, and the R13 is no exception. The keys fit comfortably under the fingers, and the design of the ring keys makes it easy to slide when you need to. The action itself is very responsive after it's been altered from the traditionally stiff factory setup.
The low E and F key pads needed some resetting - it's unfortunately common that these two pads rarely seat from new...ditto the lower ring key pad. It's always worth checking these three pads even if you feel you're happy with the performance of your clarinet - the difference can be remarkable for the sake of spending a few pounds on the fix.
In the hands the clarinet feels nicely balanced. This is something you only tend to notice when someone mentions it, or when you hold a clarinet that isn't. It's features like this that make it worth spending the extra to get a better clarinet - it means less fatigue when playing. An adjustable thumbrest completes the body setup.

The fittings are good too, and I was pleased to see locking plates for the point screw pillars on the lower joint, as per the E13 again. These pillars are inclined to work loose over the years (as the wood contracts slightly), and locking plates are a far more elegant solution that having to mess around shimming out the pillars to make them tight again.
The point screws are all proper points, and are fitted with a nylon collar that holds them secure in the pillars.

Buffet R13 spatula pinsBy far and away my biggest reservation about the keywork relates to the use of nylon pins on the left hand lever keys.
I freely admit that this is something of a bugbear to me, first mentioned in my review of the Selmer Prologue.
Regrettably Buffet now use these pins right across their range (haven't yet seen the Prestige) - and it's bad enough to find them on a student instrument, but on a professional clarinet it's just asking for trouble.
If you don't personally think it's an issue then I suspect it's because you've never had one of these pins bust on you. I've done a handful of replacement jobs now - and whilst that may not seem like all that many when you consider just how many R13 owners there are out there, it's still unsettling to know that there's an inherent weakness in the key design. It's an accident waiting to happen.
You could say that there should never be an occasion when you press these keys down hard enough to shear the pin.
That's a fair comment - but it makes no allowance for fatigue or defects in the pin.
It also doesn't take into account the fact that someone who plays an R13 is likely to be of a certain standard, and at that sort of standard you can expect a significant amount of passion and vigour in the playing. You might trip lightly over the keys when playing something Romantic, but when faced with a powerful dark symphony there's a good chance that the sheer range of expression required will find its way onto the action. Hit a low E at fff following a brisk and tricky cadenza and it's only human nature that you'll want to give it your all, and that's bound to show up as an increase in finger pressure. All that stands between you and catastrophe is a dinky nylon pin.
It's the kind of tension Hitchcock built an entire career on!

The case supplied is sturdy and well padded.

There's no doubting the quality when you play the instrument.
In terms of build there's not a great deal (on the surface) to distinguish the R13 from the E13 - but tonewise it's more complex than its cheaper brethren, and more evenly balanced. It also maintains its tone as you go into the extreme upper register (where many cheaper clarinets start to show their limitations).
I felt the clarinet had a fair degree of resistance in blowing. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, provided that there's a payoff - and the payoff here is evenness of tone. Many more free blowing clarinets can be quite 'shouty', particularly in the upper register. It's a preference thing, and whilst I like a clarinet that's a touch easier to blow I didn't feel that the R13 was a clarinet I couldn't warm to in time. Curiously enough I felt it stiffer to blow than the cheaper E13.
It's versatile too, responding well to a variety of mouthpieces and maintaining its definition between notes. This is no mean feat if you're using a very open mouthpiece with a warm tone.
If I have one reservation it's that I didn't think it was as 'playful' as some other top-end clarinets I've played. I think this is the price of the R13's stability - and again that's very much a personal preference thing. That's not to say that it doesn't have character, but I would suggest that it comes across as being capable yet reserved rather than flirty and willing.
That could explain why the R13 is the clarinet of choice for a great many classical players, whilst the jazzers seem to lean towards models from Leblanc and Selmer.
I noted no significant problems with tuning (or non that I felt couldn't be attributed to my playing) though I did play slightly flat on the supplied barrel with my testbed mouthpiece. This is easy to fix with a shorter barrel - and again it's something that varies from player to player.

All in all a very good professional instrument. Were it not for those dreadful nylons pins it would have been excellent.

 

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