Yamaha YCL 250 clarinet
Guide price: £279
Date of manufacture: 2002
Date reviewed: April 2005
Yamaha's ubiquitous student model, superseding
the excellent YCL 26
For many years now the student clarinet market has been dominated by
just two brands; the Buffet B12 and the Yamaha YCL26. That these two instruments
have achieved worldwide acclaim is a testament not only to the manufacturers
but also to the undoubted value of the student market. Make a mistake
here and you could lose a market share that dwarfs what can be gleaned
from the pro sector range.
So it follows that when changes are made to a leading brand they had better
be for the better, or there's going to be disappointment all round.
Yamaha claim to have made improvements in many areas, most notably to
the barrel and bell. These improvements aren't exactly visible to the
untrained eye, and the effects will only show themselves in the playing
(as we'll see later).
The body is made from a tough ABS resin and finished with a brushed effect.
Very nice it looks too, and should withstand the usual hard knocks the
average student instrument gets in its lifetime. My only note of caution
here is that this resin doesn't stand up that well to excessive heat -
and although that shouldn't be an issue it never hurts to remind people
not to leave their instruments locked up in cars on a hot day.
The keywork looks to have had a bit of a makeover. Yamaha keywork has
always been well designed and made, and the 250 makes no departure from
that standard. Everything is well laid out, unfussy and spotlessly finished.
The keys are strong too - and should resist all but the most severe of
The springs are the standard stainless type. These will last practically
forever - but the trade-off is perhaps a slightly less sprightly action.
Much can be done to improve the feel by having the springs correctly tensioned,
the factory setup is unnecessarily stiff.
The pillars and fittings are just as neatly made and finished.
The point screws are of the shoulderless variety - which means the action
can be adjusted to take up excess play in the keys as and when required.
The drawback of these is that they can work loose unless secured with
threadlock - but that's more an issue for the repairer. I does mean though
that you should never attempt to adjust them yourself unless you know
exactly what you're doing or you'll lock the keys up tight.
an adjustable thumb rest fitted as standard which incorporates a
sling ring. I've always been slightly sceptical about the use of
slings on straight instruments insomuch as the only time they really
work is when the instrument is held at a very low angle relative
to horizontal. This encourages a poor embouchure and bad posture
(I wouldn't recommend dropping the angle much below 45 degrees).
Having said that, I accept that for small children the weight of
the instrument can be an issue - though the 250 feels remarkably
light in the hands.
The thumb rest requires the use of a large screwdriver (or a coin, perhaps?)
in order to adjust it - but it does mean that it can be screwed up quite
snugly, which means the thumb rest feels secure...unlike some found on
other makes of clarinet.
I also noted that when assembling the two main joints, the sling ring
can get in the way. I'm forever showing clients how they have to be careful
not to foul the mid ring key link on the long F/C key touchpiece, and
on this clarinet there's now an obstacle to watch out for on the other
side of the lower body.
The review instrument came fitted with a set of quality pads. I hear
that these clarinets are fitted with synthetic pads as standard.
I've yet to see a synthetic pad that either worked or felt good
under the fingers - so I will reserve commenting on this aspect
until I've seen a 250 with this type of pad fitted.
The instrument is topped off with one of Yamaha's own mouthpieces. These
are rather better than you might imagine - indeed, I consider them to
be the 'industry standard' for students of both clarinet and saxophone.
instrument comes fitted in a new design of case, which looks very sleek.
It's designed to be stackable, which isn't of much use to the average
owner - though I suppose it would benefit shop owners, and might help
ease storage problems in school music storerooms (assuming all the clarinets
are YCL250s of course).
It's less sturdy than the older cases but well padded inside nonetheless.
It's also very light. I don't go a bundle on the lock mechanism - the
buttons are fitted to the inside of the handle base and require you to
compress both buttons with your thumbs whilst lifting the lid of the case.
Could be tricky for someone with small hands...and the buttons are by
no means easy to press home.
And does it play well?
Of course it does. I'm pretty sure heads would have rolled somewhere within
the Yamaha corporation if it didn't.
Yamaha claim to have used design features from their more expensive models
on this clarinet, and the result is surprisingly evident. The instrument
feels a tad more vibrant than its predecessor, I would even venture that
it's a slightly easier blow too.
Tonewise it seems quite precise and even across the range, including the
throat notes (A, Ab and Bb). The tuning is just as good.
It lacks some of the tonal 'gravitas' of the more expensive models, but
then that typically comes at the cost of ease of blowing - so it represents
an equitable trade for a student instrument. It's pretty close though
- perhaps closer than ever before.
As regards the competition - I've always preferred the YCL26 over the
Buffet B12 in terms of build quality, and the B12 over the Yamaha in terms
of feel and playability. The 250 moves the goalposts...on both counts.
All in all an excellent and worthy successor to the YCL26 - and an instrument
that can be recommended without hesitation.