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Buffet or Yamaha?

25th August 2021

We’re often asked about the difference between Buffet Clarinets and Yamaha Clarinets. Each brand offers a range from student to professional. In this blog we take a look at the two manufacturers and their Clarinets and consider if you should choose Buffet or Yamaha?

Beginner Clarinets

Since the early 1990’s Buffet and Yamaha have both offered high quality ABS plastic beginner Clarinets. For many years the Buffet B12 was the top-selling model. Whilst the Yamaha was well made, some Teachers preferred the ease and tone production of the Buffet. However, a lot of these Teachers also played Buffet professional models so there was some brand loyalty already in place.

In the early 2000’s Yamaha introduced a new model called the YCL-250. This was the beginning of Yamaha’s ascent in the clarinet beginner market. Within a few years we were selling 50/50 Buffet and Yamaha in the student Clarinet range. The two current models (Buffet Prodige and Yamaha YCL-255S) both offer the beginner clarinet player a reliable and easy to play option. They both have very similar specifications such as an adjustable thumb rest, lightweight bell and silver plated keys. Either model would be great to start on and can take the player to Grade 5/6 level.

Buffet Prodige vs Yamaha YCL-255S Differences?

  • The Case: Both are fabric style with hard shell and padded interior. The Buffet does benefit from backpack straps. The Yamaha has a single shoulder strap.
  • The Mouthpiece: The Buffet now comes with an ‘Urban Play’ mouthpiece which is their latest student model. The Yamaha comes with the 4C which is the #1 student clarinet mouthpiece on the market.
  • The Sound: This is quite subjective! Some Teachers feel the Buffet is slightly warmer sounding, whereas the Yamaha has a nice brightness and a little more projection.

Upgrade / Intermediate Clarinets

Both Buffet and Yamaha produce a range of intermediate wooden clarinets, priced from around £750 to £2,000. This range is also referred to as the ‘upgrade’ market. For the vast majority of advancing players this range would offer you a wooden Clarinet that can last for life. The wooden instruments offer a richer, fuller tone with added projection compared to student ABS plastic models. Each manufacturer has their own production methods which involve more steps than a student model.

So, which is best in this range? Buffet or Yamaha? The stats again are very close. Buffet offer 3 main models in this price range; the E11, E12F and E13. The two most popular of these are the E12F and E13. This is because they offer the biggest change in quality vs a student instrument. Both have a beautiful tone and will really feel like a big step forward from a student plastic Clarinet. The Buffet E13 has been, and is currently, the #1 upgrade wooden clarinet on the market in terms of sales.

The Yamaha upgrade wooden Clarinet range consists of the YCL-450 and YCL-650. The 450 is often tested and compared against the Buffet E12F. The YCL-650 is more on par with the Buffet E13 and these two are often high on the Teacher recommendation list.

All of the above models are of a high quality and it would be wrong to say one is better than the other. The sales show a very close split between the brands. Arguably the Yamaha clarinets are slightly better made and more reliable, but some Teachers and players prefer the tone of the Buffet models.

Professional Clarinets

The professional range has seen the biggest growth in models in the last 15-20 years. Before 2000 there were just 2 or 3 pro models by each brand, nowadays there are a vast quantity of professional options. Buffet offer 10 different professional clarinets and Yamaha have 5. The professional models range in price from just over £2,000 to £7,000.

What Makes a Clarinet ‘Professional’?

Put simply it’s down to the quality of materials, the production methods and the initial research & design. The wood quality and how it’s machined will affect the tonal resonance. The interior bore design will affect the tuning and response. There are also some extra pieces of keywork on professional models which allow players to have alternate fingering options.

Buffet or Yamaha?

As mentioned, there are a large number of model options in the range. Historically Buffet sold more professional clarinets than any other brand, however in the last 5 years we’ve seen Yamaha nearly catch-up. In certain price points of the professional range Yamaha now actually out-sell Buffet at Dawkes. Let’s take a look at just a couple of the most popular upgrade models:

Buffet R13 & RC Standard and Prestige

The Buffet R13 and RC models are the ‘classic’ professional wooden options from the French company. The two models vary in their internal design which means they offer two different sound qualities. They are available in ‘standard’ specification or ‘Prestige‘ specification. The Prestige models feature higher quality wood, with multi-step bore processes for an enhanced quality of tone and response.

Even though Buffet offer some other professional models; Divine, Tosca, Festival, Vintage, Tradition, Legende they are all primarily based on the bore designs of either the R13 or RC. In general the R13 side of the Buffet ‘family’ is a little brighter and more focussed, whereas the RC models are a little richer and broader.

Yamaha YCL-CSGIII

The introduction of the Yamaha CSG-III professional Clarinet is what really turned the market upside down. Within 2 years of it’s release it was outselling Buffet R13 and RC models at Dawkes. Leading UK players such as Micheal Collins and Nicholas Carpenter have chosen the CSG-III because of it’s rich, mellifluous tone and fantastic intonation across the range. There are various model options including a gold plated keywork version, and also one with the additional low E/F tuning correction lever – this is especially useful on A Clarinets.

How To Choose?

Where possible we advise testing instruments in person and back-to-back. Here at Dawkes Music in Maidenhead we have a range of testing rooms that you can pre-book and play test Clarinets against each other. This way you will find what’s best suited to your playing style and your sound preferences.

If you can’t visit us we also offer 14 day home approval options. This scheme allows you to compare models from the comfort of your own home to find the right instrument for you. Just contact us if you have any questions about this scheme.