Though they tend to be easier to buy than to play, there are still a few things to keep in mind when searching for your first (or second, or third) clarinet. Shopping for any instrument can be frustrating, but it can also be an envigorating and fun experience.
Parts of the clarinet
Before you do anything, set a budget for yourself. Keeping this budget in mind when you deal with salespeople and independent sellers will be indicative of the fact that you've done some research, know what you're looking for, and how much people in similar situations are paying for it, so it will lessen the likelihood of said salespeople trying to take advantage of you.
If possible, bring along your teacher or a friend who's an expert on the instrument. Though you may have done your research, the fact of the matter is that you've never shopped for a clarinet before. Having someone on-hand who has experience with clarinets will not only keep you from buying something inferior, it will also improve your bargaining position.
No matter what you do, make it a point to go out and try a handful of clarinets in person. Shopping on-line may yield better prices, but there's no better way of hearing differences in sound and figuring out what you need than playing a few for yourself. This is also a great way to beef up on your knowledge about the subject, making your purchase an even easier one.
New vs. Used
Buying a new clarinet merely guarantees that the pads are brand new and that the instrument has never been played before. This doesn't make the purchase any easier, though. More often than not, new clarinets are in need of breaking in. If you're buying for a beginner, this may frustrate them and deter them from playing.
Used clarinets are a difficult endeavor, as well. Buying used can yield some great bargains, but as with any used instrument - buyer beware. There are a few things you can check a clarinet for before you buy.
* If it's made of wood, check for any cracking. The price should be reflective of the condition the instrument is in.
* Check the padding. If any of them seem dry, they can be replaced, but again - price should be reflective of the condition.
* Also be sure to check the cork. If any is missing, it may be impossible to connect the pieces of the clarinet. However, this is also a simple fix.
* The materials used will always be reflected in the price. Plastic clarinets will be cheaper than those made of wood, so buy accordingly.