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Yamaha YCL 250 clarinet
Origin: Japan
Guide price : £370
Date of manufacture: 2002
Date reviewed : April 05

Description : Yamaha's current student model, superseding the excellent YCL 26.

Yamaha YCL250 clarinetFor 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 knocks.
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.

YCL250 thumb restThere's 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 reserved 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.

 

Yamaha YCL250 caseThe 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.

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