$14,000 vs. $2,500: what horn should you buy?

I get so many questions from people asking some form of

I’m going to college and need a horn, will a student model do? Or do I need a pro model?

or

I just came back to the bass clarinet after 40 years. I never plan to play professionally. Do I need a professional horn? Is it worth the money?

I’ll just TL;DR right here: If you can afford it, I think you’d be better off purchasing a pro horn.

Long answer:

I understand that a $14k investment is significant. It’s a lot of money, to be sure. And, you can definitely get by with a $2,500 student horn and have a lot of success—many people have reached out to me since I made my Kessler review a year ago to tell me that they got one, and that they love it. That makes me happy.

Of course a Kessler, no matter how good, is not going to approach a Buffet or Selmer. Even Dave Kessler would tell you that.

But here’s one reason to consider a pro bass clarinet purchase you may not have thought about: they increase in value. Even more than clarinets, which hold their value and you can (usually) get out what you put into them, bass clarinets are rarer, and the secondary market is much more aggressive. I’ll say it again: they increase in value. It’s supply and demand: there are much fewer pro bass clarinets floating around.

Two give you two examples: I bought a new Selmer Model 33 bass clarinet in 1985 for $2,250(!). This is the instrument I took to college as a freshman (Thanks Mom and Dad!) In 1998 I sold it for $5,000. I sold it because I bought a Selmer Model 37 bass clarinet in 1996 for $4,200. That one I sold last year for $12,000.

In my estimation, as grenadilla wood becomes more rare—especially the large pieces needed to make bass clarinets—these values will continue to rise. On the other hand, student horns, no matter what brand, do not increase in value. A quick search of eBay will prove that out.

But hey, let’s say you buy the a pro horn, but decide you want to play the kazoo professionally. With a pro horn you will get your money back if and when you decide to sell. With a student horn, you won’t.

So again, if you have the money to spend, buying a professional model horn isn’t the worst investment in the world.

Michael LowensternComment