Guide to Buying a Wood Clarinet – Buffet E11 vs. E12F vs. Selmer CL201 vs. Yamaha YCL-450N

Buffet E11 vs. Selmer CL201 vs. Buffet E12F vs. Yamaha YCL-450 vs. Yamaha YCL-450N

A Guide to Buying a Wood Clarinet at the Intermediate Level

In a world where options are plenty, there is much discussion of which products to buy and why. Here at Hyson Music, when buying a wood clarinet we like to make your purchasing process as easy as possible. We want to inform you of everything you need to know before making a purchase. We want you to feel comfortable, but most importantly, leave happy with the decision you make. Two common questions that we hear often is “Which wood clarinet is better?” and “Which wood clarinet should I buy?”.

We will discuss a few of the popular options for buying a wood clarinet at the intermediate level while examining the similarities, differences, and our recommendations. Purchasing an instrument is a very personal decision. We have the opportunity to have watched hundreds of people in our retail store play several models, examine different options, and ultimately make a choice of what instrument is ‘the best’. It’s no surprise that on the same day someone says “This is a horrible clarinet and plays out of tune!” someone else says “Wow, I’ve never played a clarinet that is so easy to play and has such spot-on intonation”.

It’s also important to consider the importance of the mouthpiece, reed, and ligature. If you’d like to learn a little more about intonation, see our last article “Intonation: Good vs. Bad vs. Hype vs. Reality” here:

Here is our guide to buying a wood clarinet:

Buffet E11

Buffet E11 Clarinet

The Buffet E11 intermediate clarinet has been one of Buffet’s most popular intermediate models for many years. There has been some confusion with various models, and some drama between Buffet and the German factory that made the E11, but Buffet reintroduced the E11 a few yeas ago which is now assembled in China.

There have been some upgrades to the clarinet from the previous E11s, including the current model which has silver-plated keys, grenadilla wood body and barrel, and fish bladder pads. Overall, the E11 has been and continues to be the world standard of intermediate clarinets. Some of this is reputation is because the E11 truly is a stellar performer, but some of it is also because the top choice for professional clarinets, by far, is the Buffet R13 clarinet. Many clarinet educators enjoy the prestige and tone of the brand and prefer their students get a taste! If interested in this specific clarinet, give us a call us at 877-884-9766 to inquire more about purchasing one from Paul Effman Music – this model is not available online, however we offer certified preowned models on our website.

Selmer CL201

Selmer CL201 Clarinet

The Selmer CL201 is built to last. It’s an American made instrument by one of the oldest instrument manufactures still in business. It has nickel keys and is made of granadilla wood. Although there aren’t many different features or qualities that makes this clarinet different than any other on the list, it is still a Selmer instrument which has a terrific reputation in the music world and it’s the only intermediate clarinet in this article made in America. The Selmer CL201 is definitely underrated, but is an amazing instrument. Out of the box, it may be one of the best setup intermediate instruments available today. It should be noted the Selmer models tend not to hold their value in the used market as well as Yamaha or Buffet which are more popular, thus in-demand options. 

Buffet E12F

Open Case of Buffet E12 Clarinet Package

The Buffet E12F is similar to the Buffet E11 but of higher quality. It does cost a little more than the E11 but the price difference is definitely justified in the quality difference. The new E12F, Made in France, has been upgraded from its previous model and features high quality materials. It has been made based on professional level Buffet models, specifically the Buffet R13, but without the professional level price. Although the E11 is more popular among intermediate players, the E12F is definitely the better clarinet in our opinion. It’s a tough choice, but if getting the absolute best tone and playability while keeping under two thousand dollars is a goal, this instrument is a no-brainer. The Buffet E12F is available for a great deal here at Paul Effman Music.

Yamaha YCL-450

Yamaha has always been one of the companies that have maintained the standard for high quality instruments over the years which is why we have included the YCL-450 in the mix. Yamaha uses a hi-tech process in designing and manufacturing their instruments which rivals the quality of many professional clarinets, even though it is an intermediate level. Blue steel needle springs definitely give this clarinet a lighter touch, smoother feel, and quick key action. Silver keys give this instrument a great feel. This is the most popular intermediate clarinet if your child is not taking lessons with a clarinet teacher. Most clarinet teachers would recommend or prefer a Buffet model because most professional level players play on a Buffet. Many band directors have been won over by Yamaha’s stellar reputation for being the ultimate in quality and dependability, thus they typically recommend their students go with Yamaha. To purchase or learn more about the Yamaha YCL-450 you can find it at Paul Effman Music here!

Yamaha YCL-450N

Yamaha YCL-450N Clarinet close up of logo and barrel.

The YCL-450N is basically the exact same clarinet as the YCL-450 except is has nickel keys. What’s the difference between nickel keys and silver keys? For one, silver is more expensive. Some people prefer the feel of silver over nickel, although most players at this level will not notice a physical difference. More importantly, silver keys tarnish over time, however silver keys can always be polished to be made like-new again. Nickel is much more resilient to tarnishing, however it does ultimately oxidize, which is permanent. In the long run nickel keys will eventually look ugly, but this could be 10+ years out! I personally recommend most students save the money they would spend on silver keys (typically $150-$250 more) and instead purchase a high quality mouthpiece, like the Vandoren B45. This combination will have far more of an impact on the tone and playability of your new instrument than silver keys. To purchase or learn more about the Yamaha YCL-450N you can find it at Paul Effman Music here!

BONUS MODEL – Yamaha Allegro YCL-550AL

The Yamaha Allegro is only available in one of our our retail stores in Lagrangeville or Plainview, New York. The allegro series takes features from the professional level YCL-650 and trickles them down into a the design of the YCL-450. The allegro model has the benefit of having gold-plated key posts as well an industry-best 7-year manufacturer warranty!


All in all, the intermediate clarinets in this group are some of the most popular choices for players wanting an upgrade from a student clarinet. All wood instruments are a responsibility to the player and require maintenance and care to prevent premature failure of the instrument. Plastic clarinets are always recommended for younger students because they are much more durable. To learn more about what’s involved in caring for a wood clarinet, please read this article “Wood Clarinets in a Cold and Dry Climate – A First Hand Experience“: Buying a wood clarinet can be challenging, if you have any questions about any or all of these choices, you can give us a call at Hyson Music at 877-884-9766 and we will gladly answer your questions. Most importantly, always check with your music instructor or private teacher before buying a wood clarinet.