Yes, wooden clarinets are more challenging to play compared to plastic ones. This is due to several reasons that include the more precise tuning requirements they have, the more challenges they present in upkeep, and the break-in period they need to lengthen their lifespan.
There are two main clarinet body types: plastic and wood clarinets. Each material offers distinct advantages and drawbacks and can be used more effectively in certain aspects. The general rule is that plastic clarinets are better for beginners, while wood clarinets are best for experienced players, but what sets each type apart? We look at these questions and more in this article.
What you should factor in when choosing between plastic and wood clarinets
Most wooden clarinets are made from Grenadilla wood, although some are comprised of other premium wood types such as rosewood. Wood is a durable material, but you must care for it as much as possible to preserve its integrity, such as protecting it from humidity changes that cause it to warp.
On the other hand, plastic clarinets are mostly made from ABS Resin, which explains the lower price ranges. However, this material is still quite durable and does not need as much upkeep as a wooden clarinet needs, so this makes it a better choice for younger players.
Most clarinet teachers and players will agree that beginners to the clarinet should play plastic models, while advanced and intermediate players should use wooden clarinets. This is due to the feasibility and price of each choice.
You can choose wood as you advance in your playing skills, as you will have mastered the basics of playing and will now look for models with better tone, intonation, and response. This is why wood clarinets are considered better choices for professionals, as they grow with the player’s skills and will not need to be replaced as quickly.
The environment you are playing in
If you are planning on using the clarinet in a place with noticeable temperature changes like the outdoors or during a marching band session, a plastic clarinet is always a better choice than a wood clarinet. Wood clarinets always need more care and consideration when you use them, so they will not fit well in extreme environments.
Pros and cons of different clarinet types
Wood clarinet pros
Better sound quality
The most distinct advantage wooden clarinets have over plastic types, despite the more challenges they present, is the more professional sound quality they produce. They always have a warm intonation and tone compared to a less professional instrument.
This is due to the improvements they showcase in their keys and construction quality, as well as the inherent tonal resonance the wood displays. The more quality the wood has, the better tone it will produce compared to mid-grade options, so not all wooden clarinets will perform in the same way.
Wooden clarinets tend to have a classic appearance that does not fade in quality even as they grow older, so some people may see them as fashionable options. Their exterior build has a beautiful finish and wood grain, making their appearance sleeker, but this also means they require more upkeep to keep them in optimum condition.
Wood clarinet Cons
Are quite pricey
For a beginner, you do not need a wooden clarinet as it is a very expensive investment to make. They also tend to be heavier, denser, and require more upkeep, which makes them a better choice for an experienced clarinetist that knows how to take care of their instrument.
Plastic clarinet Pros
Easier to learn
Plastic clarinets have a simpler composition, so this allows the player to learn clarinet-playing techniques and basics. They are also lightweight compared to wooden clarinets, and more durable – despite the lower quality they present in terms of their sound output in most cases.
However, not all plastic clarinets are equal. Some high-end models offer a more pleasant sound while retaining their ease of learning, making them great for hobbyists as well as young players participating in school and marching bands.
This is likely the best advantage of a plastic clarinet over a wooden one – they have a simpler key arrangement, making it easy for new players. The keys are also very durable, and will not be prone to losing their functionality as they get older, unlike a wooden instrument.
Plastic has a better ability to retain its shape even when handled roughly, unlike wood that is vulnerable to warping or cracking over time. This makes plastic clarinets durable while being affordable enough for many people, as they do not require as much initial investment.
Plastic clarinet Cons
A plastic clarinet does not produce as excellent sound quality as a wooden clarinet does, neither is their intonation on the highest level. This means they will limit the player’s progress eventually as they upgrade their skill, and you will need to replace them at some point.
Overall, plastic clarinets are much easier to learn and play compared to wooden clarinets, making them a better option for beginners. This is due to their body material, key arrangement, weight, and other aspects.
Do wooden clarinets sound better than plastic clarinets?
Yes, they do. Their wood composition gives them a richer tone, and some woods sound better compared to others.
Is it possible for a plastic clarinet to crack?
Yes, it can, although this is after a series of very rough handling, such as dropping it repeatedly. Plastic is a very hardy material, but it cannot withstand extreme roughness.
What is the best clarinet body material?
Wood is always the best option due to its density and resonant sound qualities.
How long should a clarinet last?
This depends on the body material and maintenance. The best wood clarinet types should last between 10 and 30 years if maintained very well, while a plastic clarinet has a 4 to 5-year lifespan.