Yamaha YCL650 clarinet
Guide price: £1000
Date of manufacture: 2005
Date reviewed: March 2006
Yamaha's new version of the YCL64, bridging the
gap between the high end amateur models and the low end pro range
It's not really noticeable from the picture, but the first thing that
strikes you about this clarinet is the glorious colour of the wood. Ever
since clarinet makers started using exotic hardwoods (as opposed to European
Boxwood) to make clarinets there seems to have been an unwritten law that
all clarinets must be black - save for those made from obviously different
woods, such as Rosewood and Cocobola.
This has led to the regrettable practice of staining 'blackwoods', given
that so few blackwoods are actually all that black naturally.
I've always felt this to be a shame - and a real pain in some cases, as
the dye can sometimes come off when the body is oiled - because it disguises
the natural beauty of the wood's grain.
Top marks and drinks on the house then to Yamaha for using an unstained
Grenadilla for this range of clarinets.
No two examples will look the same, and when you open the case you get
this immediate sense of the instrument being organic, alive, individual.
I warmed to it straightaway.
But looks aren't everything, so I was keen to see if the clarinet was
really as good as it looks.
Build quality is of the usual legendary Yamaha standard, everything is
neat and tidy. There are no rough edges on the body, and the pillars and
fittings are well made and fitted.
About the only distinguishable feature is the profile of the barrel, its
slightly dumpy look makes the clarinet look...dare I say it...cute?
The clarinet shares some of the handfinishing techniques as applied to
Yamaha's CS-V range of clarinets, and this includes some undercutting
of the tone holes (a process of shaping the tone holes to give more stability
and precision to the note) and a few other tweaks with regard to the bore.
The keywork is well made, and finished with silver plate. I was pleased
to see locked pillars for the low E/F cluster - these are particularly
prone to working loose down the years - but a bit disappointed that they
didn't go up as far as the lower ring key, where they're often needed
The point screws are proper points, which ensures that the action that
uses these screws can be adjusted to take up any wear over time.
The whole thing is topped off with an adjustable thumb rest, which is
always a handy addition.
have chosen to use a pin and socket
arrangement for the left hand spatula keys (E/F#). I'm not a fan
of this arrangement as it requires the use of some padding material
in the socket to keep the action from rattling, and it never seem
as precise in feel as the standard stepped key design.
On the flip side, you don't get that key bounce that you can get
with the stepped design if it's not set up properly.
I'm at least pleased to report that the pins are metal, and not the frankly
absurd nylon affairs seen on the Buffets
and other makes. These keys might get rattly if you don't replace the
padding regularly, but at least the pins are unlikely to break halfway
through a gig.
The setup was average, the action being slightly on the hard side. This
was easy enough to tweak, and brought the action a nicer, more coherent
The padding was reasonably good. I often find that new clarinets have
problems with the low E/F key pads, ranging from slight inaccuracies in
the regulation between the two keys through to outright leaks due to bad
pad seating. All that was needed here was a slight adjustment to the F
key cup angle. It's always worth having a professional setup done on a
new clarinet, it can make such a difference.
mentioned earlier that this clarinet has some extra tweaks to the bore
to aid tone production and tuning.
The only one that's really visible is inside the bell.
Looking down the bell you can see a distinct rounded groove cut into the
upper end. Given that the bell really only comes into play on the lowest
notes (and the lowest of the upper register) it's a fair bet to assume
this modification is to help the tone and tuning of the low E/mid B notes.
In playing I found the low E to sound slightly strange in comparison
with the other notes. I think I'd describe the tone as slightly boxy.
Having said that it was quite hard to determine whether this was a good
or a bad thing, as many clarinets get quite boomy on the lower notes.
I actually quite like that boominess, and I suppose over the years I've
learned how to anticipate it and adjust my embouchure depending on whether
I want to accentuate it or back it off.
Perhaps this groove takes the choice away, and leaves you with a more
evenly matched set of low notes. As with all matters tonal it's entirely
down to personal choice, but I'd recommend a careful assessment to see
whether it matters to you or not.
Other than that I felt the clarinet was nicely balanced between dark
and bright tonewise. Yamaha clarinets have always felt to me to be quite
sprightly in terms of tone, with oodles of clarity - and the 650 seems
to retain that punch but doesn't run into excessive brightness. I was
quite pleased with the response over the throat A - it seemed very clear
and open, so much so that it took me a while to get used to it. Yamaha
describe the tone as warm, and I suppose in terms of their previous models
it could be called that, but overall it doesn't quite have the 'gravitas'
of more expensive clarinets...but then it doesn't have the price tag that
accompanies that complexity of tone.
The tuning is as you'd expect, nicely balanced throughout. The clarinet
works well with the standard mouthpiece supplied, but it really does deserve
something a little more advanced.
The action feels nice under the fingers, the tweaks to the springing
really helped to speed up what was already quite a fast and responsive
action, and I can't see many players having any real problems with the
The case as supplied is tiny. Really tiny.
I think it has to be about as small as I've ever seen for a Bb clarinet
- and there's precious little room for anything other than the instrument
and a few reeds, plus a tub of cork grease. There's very little padding
either, so I wouldn't say this is a case that's designed for a life on
the road. That said, it's small enough to fit into the average overnight
bag or backpack.
The very best thing about this clarinet is the price. It's a superb instrument
for the money, ideally suited for the dedicated amateur or the casual
pro - and many experienced players will find it has all they need without
having to break too far into the four-figure bracket. Pricewise it competes
directly with the equally good Buffet E13 and the Leblanc Esprit. I wouldn't
like to have to choose between the three in terms of quality, but you'd
be foolish if you tried the other two and missed out the YCL650.