Not all clarinets you can get are soprano clarinets, despite their commonality. There is the bass clarinet, which is a larger clarinet type with some distinct traits that contribute to its unique performance.
If you have seen a saxophone, picture a narrow version of it – that is what a bass clarinet looks like, but the performance is very different to other woodwind instruments. The tonal quality a bass clarinet has is similar to a soprano clarinet as it still uses a Bb key, but the notes are an octave below that of a soprano clarinet. This makes it ideal for numerous musical arrangements, ranging from blues and jazz bands, to the marching band, to a quartet, and even an orchestra.
However, getting a bass clarinet is not a walk in the park, especially if it is your first one. These clarinet types are more expensive than a standard clarinet, so knowing the best ones can be difficult if you do not know what you should look for. That is why we write this comprehensive guide, as it will give you some options to consider as well as some useful tips to use when purchasing the instrument – just like a seasoned buyer.
Best Bass Clarinets in 2022 – Comparison table
|Clarinet||Body material||Warranty period||Key system||Availability|
|Yamaha YCL-221II Standard Bass clarinet||Matte ABS Resin||5 years||20-key||Check here|
|Selmer 1430LP Bb bass clarinet||Resonite||2 years||17-key||Check here|
|Jupiter JBC1000N bass clarinet||ABS Resin||2 years||17-key||Check here|
|Yamaha YCL-622II Low C bass clarinet||Wood||5 years||24-key||Check here|
|Band Directors Choice bass clarinet||Ebonite||2 years||18-key||Check here|
Best Bass Clarinets in 2022 – A review
Yamaha YCL-221II Standard Bass Clarinet – best for intermediate and beginner players
Anyone who is an instrument enthusiast knows the high quality of Yamaha products, and the same case applies to the YCL-221II bass clarinet. It is a worthwhile choice if you are buying it for a beginner or student, although it produces the tonal output you would expect from a professional-level bass clarinet. It also plays excellently with a 2.5 reed, or a softer quality, thanks to its bright sound. What you may notice is the sharpness of its tuning, although you can adjust this issue by slightly pulling its neck out.
Its system has an arrangement of seven covered finger holes and 20 keys, and this gives an intermediate offering between bass clarinets of a 17-key and 24-key style. Its neck, bell, and keys have nickel plating that gives it its characteristic bright sound, and you can play it when standing or seated due to the comfortable neck angle. Its body is comprised of ABS resin, which gives it durability and resilience even in environments such as marching bands.
The most important quality of a bass clarinet is its tonal range – and this one is capable of going a full range up to Bb. This allows you to use it comfortably from your beginner days to your transitioning into a professional clarinetist, as it is versatile enough for multiple musical arrangements. The only problem it has is its use of the European 442 tuning standard, so it may pose issues if you try using it in performance ensembles. However, considering it includes a five-year warranty an affordability, it is a worthy bargain.
- It has a long five-year warranty
- 20-key system, making it ideal for beginners to intermediate clarinetists
- Is capable of playing down to the Bb keys
- Durable build
- Uses the European 442 tuning standard instead of the American 440 standard, so it may be tricky when playing in an ensemble setting
Selmer 1430LP Bass Clarinet – best in terms of performance
If you struggle to find a good bass clarinet that can be handled by players with small hands, the Selmer 1430LP bass clarinet is probably what you are looking for, as it works for band room use. Other than its excellent intonation, it produces a rich and deep sound – entirely thanks to its resonite composition. It is both lightweight and durable.
Its structure allows it to achieve free air movement as you play it, which makes it particularly attractive to new players. The design incorporates a body with a single joint, which eliminates the common issue of spanning joints in the keys. It uses a 17-key system as well, which is easy for clarinet players with smaller hands to play it, compared to the 24-key systems that some bass clarinets have. It also makes it quieter when you are playing a musically complex piece.
Although the instrument produces a full sound that many players will love, the main issue it has is the tuning – you might need to do some adjustments to achieve the best sound quality you want, as it is out of tune when you purchase it. Additionally, a neck strap will also be important to relieve some pressure off your thumbs as you play. The warranty will not cover the quality issues you may experience, so it is best to keep this in mind when buying it.
- It achieves excellent air movement during play
- Durable construction
- Proper tuning achieves a rich, full sound
- The 17-key system is great for smaller hands
- It may need tuning after you purchase it
- The two-year warranty is insufficient for its needs
Jupiter JBC1000N Bass clarinet – best for beginners
Jupiter are well-known among clarinet enthusiasts for their student-friendly instruments that use the best developments in their research, and that is evident when you see the JBC1000N bass clarinet. Rather than using a wooden body that is the usual case for most clarinets, its body is comprised of ABS Resin that gives it the benefits of durability alongside a rich tone.
Its range limits are its only issue, and this is what limits its usage capabilities. It can only go down to an Eb range instead of a Bb range, which makes it good as a foundational instrument for people who are starting off with the bass clarinet – but it will not work as well in most orchestral arrangements.
With that said, its use of a 6-ring and 17-key system is advantageous, since it is easy to play. Since it is using a two-piece body instead of a single piece body, some keys will be crossing joints, which eliminates some of the ruggedness you would get compared to some other bass clarinets. In some instances, the keys can tend to get stuck when they are dirty, so you will need to keep them clean to avoid the problem.
We love the sound quality this instrument offers, as it hints towards a jazzier and darker sound that you would hear from a professional bass clarinet. The reason is its reliance of silver and nickel, which reduce its maintenance needs and change the bell’s reverb qualities.
- It is easy to play due to its 17-key system
- It comes at a reasonable price
- The sound quality is deep and rich due to its nickel and silver plating
- Only has a two-year warranty
- It can only play up to the Eb range
- Its keys tend to get stuck
Yamaha YCL-622II Low C bass clarinet – best for professional players
If you are searching for an affordable version of a granadilla wood bass clarinet, the Yamaha YCL-622II is a worthwhile consideration to keep in mind, although it will still be more expensive compared to resin clarinets. It does have its unique traits though, with the most notable being its ability to handle various types of playing conditions – an impressive feat for a wooden instrument.
Its design and construction elements are unique. Silver platting dons the neck, bell, and keys, which contribute to its complex, dark sound that you would expect from a bass clarinet. The keys are comprised of an alloy of silver and nickel, which makes the durable without reducing the quality of its sound. It also uses a 24-key Boehm-style system, which you should note if you frequently use a 20-key or 17-key bass clarinet, since it can take some time getting used to.
The tuning is another important factor to be mindful of; many Yamaha clarinets use a European tuning standard, which can render them useless if you are playing in an American-style arrangement unless you do some prior tuning. However, you will like the long warranty, which shows confidence in its build quality.
- The silver plating contributes to its rich sound output
- Granadilla wood composition, which makes it durable
- It can play down to the Bb level
- Relatively affordable price, considering the materials it is comprised of
- Comes with a five-year warranty
- It uses a European tuning standard
- It requires practice, as it uses a 24-key system
Band Directors Choice Bass clarinet – best for buyers on a budget
It can be a struggle to get a good bass clarinet on a budget and still serves the needs of a beginner, but this might be your answer to the problem. It uses an 18-key system, which makes it easy for a beginner or intermediate player, as well as musicians who are transitioning from other woodwind instruments or have smaller hands.
Aside from its ebonite body construction, its bell, neck, and keys all have silver plating. What makes this interesting is that this is usually only in professional-level clarinets, so you can achieve dark tones from this clarinet that you may not expect. However, the ebonite body still has its limitations, all to do with the sound quality – a professional clarinetist may perceive, for instance, that the dark tone is more hollow than they like due to the material.
Its range limitations are also an issue, since it can only go down to Eb – therefore, orchestral play may expose its limits. This makes the instrument a difficult choice, as it cannot grow with the musician’s skill over time. Although these issues and its short two-year warranty are prevalent, you will not experience issues with its performance if you use it in a practice setting.
- Very affordable
- It uses an 18-key system, making it easier to learn
- The package includes a ligature cap, mouthpiece, and leather casing
- The silver plating gives it a darker tonal output
- The ebonite composition, which results in a hollow sound
- It can only play down to the Eb range
Buying guide for the Best Bass Clarinets in 2022
If you are purchasing a bass clarinet for the student or beginner level, the most essential factor is the durability and playability – you may not need one made from the best quality materials or one that is the best sounding clarinet you have heard. Professionals, on the other hand, may need an instrument that has specific attributes that they know will work best for their sound.
When you first see a bass clarinet, you may mistake it for other orchestral instruments, which is understandable as they look similar to each other. However, not all clarinets are the same, and different bass clarinets will have their distinctions in terms of how they sound and feel compared to each other. This fact makes it essential to know what to look for when buying them, and how each factor impacts their playing.
- Their key
When selecting any bass clarinet, the first factor you must consider is the key the instrument can play down to. For clarification, this means the lowest tone that it can play, not the key the clarinet is in, because many Bass clarinets are in the same Bb range as a soprano clarinet.
Most bass clarinet options you will get in the market can play up to Bb or a low C, especially professional clarinets. For context, a low C is similar to the upper or mid-range of a bassoon, so getting a clarinet that can play in this range allows you to get greater flexibility from the instrument and use it in more orchestral arrangements.
However, playing these parts proficiently will require practice from your end, although you may find some Bb bass clarinets being capable of achieving lower notes through adding more keys.
There are other bass clarinets with a narrower range of up to Eb, and you will know them because they tend to be shorter and more affordably priced. These options work better for people who are starting off learning the bass clarinet, but they are limited in their usage.
- The key system used in the instrument
In a clarinet, the key system involves the rings, finger holes, and levers, and they control the movement of air throughout the instrument, as well as the notes you play. In a bass clarinet, the tonal output is greatly influenced by the key system, even more than a soprano clarinet, so the key system variations are greater – some have a 17-key system, others use a 20-key one, and some have 24-key systems.
Different key systems will work for different clarinets, so there is none that is better than the other. The most important factor is your comfort levels and what you are used to playing, as this will determine the key system you prefer. It also helps to choose a similar system if you want to transition from one bass clarinet to another, so that you do not need to relearn how to play the instrument.
- Body composition
Ebonite is a less common material used to make bass clarinets, although it is cheaper. However, it tends to produce a hollow sound, so it cannot work beyond a serious intermediate player level. On the other hand, ABS resin is a composite of rubber and plastic that mimics wood qualities while offering durability and affordability.
The best bass clarinets are made from wood, especially granadilla wood. This is because wooden types are dense and smooth, which results in a balanced and brilliant, rich sound. Adding the silver-plated keys, this gives the instrument a rich, orchestral-quality sound.
Different bass clarinets will use either silver or nickel plating. Most beginner and intermediate ones use nickel, since it is relatively cheaper and more durable, while silver is used on professional bass clarinets because it has a darker, smoother tone that many orchestral arrangements want. However, silver has one disadvantage – it tarnishes very quickly. Therefore, if you want it, you must maintain and polish it as regularly as possible.
Is bass clarinet more challenging to play than a clarinet?
Not necessarily. It has larger keys, so you will not struggle with cramped fingers as you might experience on the soprano clarinet.
What is the difference between a 24-key and a 17-key clarinet?
These will determine the comfort levels you experience when playing the instrument, and how you can play it. A 17-key clarinet is easier to learn, but it is limiting when you need to play complex pieces, while a 24-key one is more challenging to use, but is better at putting inflection on certain keys and allows you more freedom in musical playing complexity.
Which bass clarinets would be best for a beginner?
In this case, you want a bass clarinet that is affordable, easy to play, and durable, so you will likely lean towards bass clarinet made from ebonite or ABS Resin, alongside nickel plating. It is also best to choose Bb clarinets, as you can grow with them as you advance in your skills.
We hope that this guide will help you make a solid choice when you are buying a bass clarinet, and helps you find some options where you can start looking.