With the holiday shopping season upon us, I thought it would be a good time to repost this blog entry, for the sake of unwary clarinet shoppers!
I buy most of my horns on eBay and have learned, through long and expensive experience, to examine every instrument with a fine toothed comb before purchasing! I've received cracked clarinets, plastic instead of wood clarinets, broken clarinets, clarinets with damaged or missing keys or rings, and even a clarinet that was made of pieces of 3 different clarinets! So, based on my experience and some of the customer horns I've been seeing lately (also purchased on eBay) I'd say its time for an eBay buying tutorial!
First, I'd restrict my buying to the US and Canada unless you are fluent in another language and can afford to risk the high shipping. Mistakes can happen with overseas communication, and it can be much harder and more expensive to force a return if things aren't as represented!
Second, look at feedback: while feedback can't tell you everything (with one negative, ebay's current policy of basing it on only the last year's transactions can make a small seller look worse than he/she is) it is a good place to start. Numerous negatives/ neutrals and unflattering comments about misrepresented condition, poor communication, and high shipping can be a tip off that you aren't dealing with someone who is professional or honest - best to move on; lots of fish in the sea.
Third, what does the ad show and tell you? Is it full of sharp pictures and copious details or a few badly taken pictures and a very skimpy description posted from a mobile phone? Is the person obviously knowledgeable and informative about the instrument, or just a garage sale picker looking for a quick sale at the highest price?
Fourth, is there a return policy? Honest, knowledgeable sellers know that mistakes can happen, especially if they are selling something that they are not familiar with - I had to return a clarinet just a few weeks ago, as the ad failed to show or mention that the upper half of the bridge key was broken off and missing! Luckily, she was honest and pleasant about it, but I haven't always been so lucky...
To be continued!
Where these are of interest and, indeed, come into their own, is for the player on a budget! The internet and Craigslist abound with old wood clarinets of low price and unknown provenance and many of them, after restoration, are good to excellent players.
Some are brands lesser known in America, like Couesnon, Malerne, Moennig or Rampone - good players all, when properly restored. Others are the true stencils, many made by the same companies or even by Buffet, Selmer, or lesser known workshops of high quality (like Thibouville Freres).
Some can be identified by comparison with keywork: Buffet and Thibouville in particular have easily identifiable keywork, if you know where to look. Some can't be identified at all (like the aforementioned Nameless Albert system) but are fine players nonetheless, especially if they have pro features like extra keywork, post lock-downs, metal lined tenons, solid alloy keys, and leaf springs.
Generally, they can be purchased for $25-85 and overhauled for $300-400. A good playing, wood clarinet for a final price of $485 or so tops? Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus! I've restored dozens of these for satisfied customers and purchasers worldwide, and there are lots more out there. Go find one and spend the other two grand on something useful!
I receive a lot of requests for valuations, and many of them are for 'stencil' instruments. I've explained it often enough, so I might as well explain it to you, too!
A stencil clarinet (or sax, trumpet, or other band instrument) is one that is manufactured by one maker for sale by another, or by a music store, catalog, or wholesaler. Some, like this old Albert system, have no logo at all. Others will have a made up brand name: Silvertone, Vocotone, American Professional, etc.
As the maker is not identified on the horn, serial number lists are often inconsistent or non-existent, and one brand name will be produced by different makers in different countries over a period of time, so attribution is uncertain! This can be bad news for the yard-saler who picks up a neat old wood clarinet for $30...only to find that, in its current, unplayable condition... it is worth about $30. Collectors rarely have interest in these horns, preferring famous makes and models, or oddities of construction, fingering, or decoration.
To be continued...
The Licorice Shtick Blog is the creation of the Vintage Clarinet Doctor, a Winston Salem, NC based woodwind instrument repair shop specializing in vintage and antique clarinets, saxophones, and the occasional flute.