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Amati 351 C Clarinet

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Clarinets have been deprived of all vestiges of coolness by recent history. A perennial favorite of band teachers on two continents, they’re well and truly loathed by most kids who reach the age of fourteen with two working lips. This is decidedly unfortunate – with a dark, liquid sound and a range of tonalities, clarinets are a unique voice, as long as it’s not obvious what’s making the sounds.

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It’s also worth noting that the clarinets most high school students are familiar with would be better suited for use as table legs. Professional, well-made instruments offer a much more rewarding experience than do horns from WalMart.

Traditionally, clarinets have been Bb instruments, in keeping with the key of other popular band instruments. While they exist, clarinets that play in C are relatively rare. For the most part, they’re either so cheap and nasty as to make their use even as table legs highly questionable, or grotesquely expensive and effectively unobtainable for most of us.

All this not withstanding, a C clarinet is a decided convenience if you’d like to play clarinet along with other C instruments. A C horn obviates the need to transpose written music, and makes the prospect of improvising with other C instruments the cause of a great deal less head banging and harsh language.

The Amati 351 C clarinet is an oddity, being neither nasty or expensive. With a current street price of about 700 dollars, it’s cheaper than many student Bb clarinets. It’s surprisingly well made, however, and if you ignore its competitive price, you’d mistake it for a professional horn.

The 351 C clarinet hails from the Amati Denak instrument factory in the Czech Republic – admittedly, somewhat removed from Paris in the perception of most reed players. The current Amati cooperative dates back to the late 1940s – they’ve been at it for a while.

I played the Amati 351 C clarinet beside my Buffet E12 Bb clarinet when the new horn first showed up – the E12 is a serious clarinet, with a serious price tag. With one minor catch, the two instruments were acoustically comparable. The Amati 351 was effortless to play, and it sounded like the voice of the gods when the gods are playing jazz.

The minor catch is that the Amati 351 clarinet ships with a dreadful styrene plastic mouthpiece, and it will sound like it was the prize from a box of Cap’n Crunch until you provide it with something more respectable. This is usually the case with professional horns – I presume that the manufacturers of these instruments assume that if you’ve been playing long enough to want one, you’ll have a mouthpiece you’re attached to.

The workmanship exhibited by the Amati 351 is impressive. It’s made of high-end grenadilla wood, with nickel-plated keys. It’s available with silver keys – albeit for somewhat more money – but unlike as with a flute, silver keys on a clarinet don’t contribute to its sound, and are just a way to get rid of some extra cash you don’t like the look of. It has double-skinned pads, undercut tone holes and blue steel springs.

It even comes in an unusually nice case.

While it’s usually considered to be a student instrument by the on-line retailers who sell it, the Amati 351 C clarinet would clearly be wasted on students, most of whom would probably rather be playing video games or Guitar Hero. This is a horn to be enjoyed by those of us who successfully avoided high school band class entirely. It’s a treasure to play, and despite decades of bad press, it really does look pretty cool.

Our Amati 351 C came from Woodwind and Brasswind, who had it in stock, and shipped it for free.

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