The Buffet E11 – The clarinet with an identity crisis

No name is more known in the clarinet world than Buffet. From student to teacher, amateur to professional, almost every clarinet player has at some time played on a Buffet clarinet. One of the most popular models is the Buffet E11. The first model offered by the maker made from Grenadilla wood, this clarinet was commonly referred in the USA as Buffet’s “Intermediate” model. However, in Europe, the clarinet was also known as a “Student Wood” model. While these terms mean different things depending on who you asked, the simple fact was that the E11 was easy for any student to move to from their plastic student model (Buffet or not) and get a noticeably improved tone.

Identity Crisis
In the past few years, there have been availble 4 separate versions of the E11 Bb clarinet. As you can imagine, this can become quite confusing even for those “in the know”. Sadly, there has been much misinformation as to what really was going on with the E11 out there that it has led me to write this post to try to help clear things up.

The Good ‘ol Days – Made in Germany
The original Buffet E11 was made in Germany. Most people are really ONLY familiar with this model of E11 as it was the longest in production. These clarinets were made in Germany with production outsourced to a company called Schreiber. Schreiber was the company that Buffet also used to manufacture the student B10 & B12 models as well as the student and intermediate Buffet Oboes.

This version of the E11 is the version that 99%+ of people are referring to when they talk about an E11 clarinet. They had silver plated keys, a screened on (no imprinted into the wood) Buffet-Crampon logo (that says Paris in the logo as Buffet-Crampon is based in Paris) and used a 64.5mm length barrel. They will be stamped on the back of the instrument “Made in Germany”.

“E11 France”
In 2009, Buffet completed the purchase of the old Leblanc France factory (as Leblanc has moved all production to the USA). This factory was bought with the intent on moving E11 production away from an outsourced company and manufacture it 100% under the control of Buffet. Buffet pulled E11 production away from Schreiber effectively discontinuing the German-made E11 in favor of the E11 France.

It is important to note that only the E11 Bb clarinet production was pulled from Schreiber. E11 clarinets in the key of C & Eb as well as B10, B12 and the student and intermediate oboes all remained with Schreiber in Germany. The E11 in the key of A did have a small batch that was produced in France but primarily kept E11 A clarinet production with Schreiber in Germany as well.

Buffet had ample supply of the German-made E11 to last well over a year (at least in the US) so the E11 France didn’t actually start popping up in the US until sometime in 2010.

The E11 France was a completely different design than the Schreiber made E11. The E11 France was equipped with silver plated keys and a 65mm barrel.

E11N (made in France)
With the E11 France also came a higher price. Buffet did also release in their catalog in 2010 a clarinet labeled as the “E11″. This was simply the E11 France but with nickel-plated keys rather than silver plated keys and was put into a woodshell case vs the backpack case of the E11 France. These instruments were other wise identical.

The market benefit of this instrument was that this version of the E11 was less expensive to the dealer and also was not allowed to be advertised for sale on the internet. This allowed local dealers to offer a new Buffet E11 that was the same instrument as the E11 France but at a reduced cost for their local customers.

However, this model was only made for a VERY brief period of time.

The fall of Schreiber
Schreiber continued production on the clarinet that they had previously been making as the Buffet E11 but instead marketed them under their own brand name. Distribution was set up in the USA under Gemstone. Schreiber modified the design with a wrap around style register key so that it was something that set them apart. However, the US market wasnt very keen on this odd looking key mechanism and best to my knowledge, this clarinet never really took off.

Schreiber then released the “Limited Edition” models which in the end, were the exact same clarinet as the clarinet they had made for Buffet as the E11 in every way shape and form. The only difference was the logo in the end. Sadly, this was too little too late. The economy had taken its toll on Schreiber and in the end, Schreiber-Keilwerth (the full company name) filed for insolvency (Bankruptcy) on March 15, 2010.

Schreiber continued production under the supervision of a court appointed administrator. Below is an excerpt from the press release from Schreiber explaining why they filed for insolvency:

The Company Directors cited the following reasons for placing the Company into Administration, the impact of the financial crisis, specifically narrow opportunities to bring credit funds to support the Company through this period. Dr. Armin Eckert explained, “the credit supply to our company was via a bank who through the financial crisis can be described as a ‘bad bank’, this caused us many problems over the past few months. The characteristics of a bad bank include that the bank seeks to minimize its own risks. As a consequence over recent months the bank sought to reduce our cash supply and as a result no sensible working environment could exist within our company. The seasonal weak months of January and February coupled with limited cash supply led the Directors of the company to place Schreiber and Keilwerth into administration.”

On August 1, 2010 Buffet announced that they had purchased Schreiber-Keilwerth out of insolvency court.

Buffet no longer has to outsource production of any of their clarinets. All models whether made in Germany or France are now made by Buffet. This has also introduced a new interesting ripple into the E11 construction… could Buffet bring back the German-made E11?

There are many people who I have talked to that didn’t love the change to the E11 France. I personally also preferred the German-made version (personal preference).

A Blast From the Past!
Buffet has discontinued the E11N (made in France) and replaced it with the E11N (made in Germany). That’s right, now regardless of which flavor of E11 you prefer, French or German, both models are now in production.

The new (old) E11N fills the same spot that the previous French iteration did. It is not allowed to be sold or advertised online. It is also only available in nickel-plated keys with a woodshell case. It is also a lower cost option for stores to offer their customers.

Recently, we received our first batch of the new (old) E11N made in Germany. I can say 100% that it is exactly the same clarinet that the original E11 was before 2009. I will note that the toneholes on the new (old) E11N (made in Germany) (gets confusing doesn’t it) are finished better than we have seen in a long time on any wood clarinet from that factory. The batch that we received needed very little work to make perfect but still player well even before our fine tune adjustments.

I am a little disappointed in the case used on this newest version. Granted, the case is OK, but I thought the exterior material and the hardware (latches and handle) look a little on the cheap side. However, considering that it is the version of the E11 that I prefer and the cost savings, I wont complain too much.

Update
Buffet has now discontinued the “E11 France” and has replaced it in their lineup with the new E12F (read my review here). So now, all is as it should be… the E11 is made in Germany (though still not allowed to be sold online) and the E12F has improved on the E11 France’s design to offer a new level of clarinet.

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