There are several materials used to make clarinets. They include; plastic, wood, metal and rarely, ivory.
The clarinet also referred to as Clarinette in French or Klarinette in German, is a woodwind musical instrument with a single reed commonly used in orchestras and brass and military bands. This instrument has five major parts; the mouthpiece, bell, upper and lower joint and barrel. These parts are generally made of various materials such as hard rubber, wood or cane. In this article the materials used to make clarinets are discussed in depth, so read on to learn more.
Wood is among the most common material used to make clarinets. The various types of wood used are; Cocobolo wood, Grenadilla and Honduran Rosewood.
Cocobolo is a highly demanded, expensive tropical wood, originating in Mexico, used to make clarinets. Cocobolo clarinets are reasonably durable and they are famous for the soft, pleasant sound they produce, which is mainly described as intimate. However, Cocobolo clarinets are prone to cracking and are easily affected by conditions like humidity and temperature. Also, these clarinets do not project as much, therefore, they are not dependable when required to play loudly.
Additionally, one of the major downsides of Cocobolo clarinets is that they may cause allergic reactions to some players, although not all players are allergic to this wood. Generally, Cocobolo clarinets have good quality and are durable provided that they are cared for properly.
Grenadilla (African Blackwood)
The majority of wood clarinets are made from African Blackwood and it is thanks to this heavy wood that clarinets get their dark, unique colour. It is worth knowing that there are various trees under the African Blackwood genus, like the Mozambique ebony, East Africa ebony, granadilla and black cocus. The Grenadilla tree specifically, only grows in Southern and Central Africa and due to its rarity, it is expensive.
Grenadilla clarinets are denser and more durable compared to clarinets made with other materials. Also, unlike other wood clarinets, Grenadilla clarinets are less porous, thus they are unlikely to be affected when exposed to excess humidity.
Although Grenadilla produces great quality sound compared to other materials, it is mainly used due to its low porosity and durability. Most woods are highly porous and thus easily become waterlogged, making clarinet manufacturing with these woods difficult. Even though the quality of sound that a clarinet produces is more dependent on its craftsmanship rather than the material used, most professionals attribute the great sound quality of Grenadilla clarinets to the Grenadilla wood.
Clarinets made from Honduran Rosewood are popular for their acoustic capabilities. These clarinets are known to produce a rich and resonant sound. However, Honduran Rosewood clarinets are less durable than Grenadilla clarinets and they have relatively large pores which promote water absorption, eventually leading to cracking.
Despite the rich sound Rosewood clarinets are known for, some players complain of poor intonation and claim that these clarinets “wear out” after playing for some time. Additionally, Honduran Rosewood clarinets are expensive due to the rarity of the Rosewood wood, especially after the Honduran Rosewood poaching epidemic in 2011 and 2012. Nonetheless, Rosewood is still commonly used but not as common as Grenadilla.
Plastic is commonly used in beginner or student clarinets. Plastic clarinets are the cheapest and light, which is perfect for the younger players. Also, plastic clarinets are not affected by conditions like temperature and humidity, therefore, they are reliable when being played outdoors.
However, plastic clarinets are known for being low quality, not because of the material, but because they are poorly constructed since they are meant for beginners. Hard rubber, a form of plastic, is also used in making clarinets, especially for mouthpieces.
Plastic clarinets made from resin are not as common but they also exist. Despite there being a possibility of having high-quality resin clarinets, existing resin clarinets are of low quality due to mass production. For a beginner player, a hard rubber plastic clarinet is a great option.
Metal was more commonly used to make clarinets in the 20th century than it is today. Metal clarinets quickly caught on since they are resistant to cracking and are not affected by weather conditions, making them great for marching bands.
The mass-produced, low-quality metal clarinets tarnished the reputation of the high-quality metal clarinets made with materials like silver. Also, with the arrival of plastic clarinets, metal clarinets quickly fell out of style. This is because plastic clarinets offered the same perks metal clarinets offered, but for a cheaper price. Today, metal clarinets still exist but it is rare to see them being used in performances.
The table below has summarized the main materials used to make clarinets, their pros and cons and who they are recommended for.
|Plastic clarinets.||Lightweight, not affected by conditions like humidity and temperature, durable and cheap.||Due to mass production, they are typically of low quality.||Beginners.|
|Grenadilla clarinets.||Durable, produces great sound, rarely affected by weather conditions.||Expensive.||Intermediates and professionals.|
|Honduran Rosewood clarinets.||Produce rich sound and are durable.||Expensive, may be affected by conditions like humidity, have poor intonation and may wear out with time.||Intermediates and professionals.|
|Cocobolo wood clarinets.||Produces high-quality soft and pleasant sound.||Expensive and may cause allergic reactions.||Intermediates and professionals.|
|Metal clarinets.||Durable, reliable and cheaper compared to wood clarinets.||They are typically of low quality due to mass production.||Intermediates and professionals.|
The most common materials used to make clarinets are wood and plastic. Generally, high-quality clarinets are made of wood and are typically used by professionals while the cheaper clarinets are manufactured from plastic and are mainly meant for beginners.
Which material is the best for a clarinet?
This depends on who the clarinet is meant for, whether it’s for a beginner or a pro.
How much are wooden clarinets?
The price of wooden clarinets depends on the manufacturers since different companies offer different prices.