The Confusing History of the Buffet E11 Clarinet

The Confusing History of the Buffet E11 Clarinet
Updated October 2022

This post was last updated on October 29, 2022 to add additional information on the newest versions of the E11 Clarinet – Dave Kessler

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

Since 2008, there have been 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 West Germany and was made with nickel plated keys. At some point in production, the German made Buffet E11 was transitioned to silver plated keys, though I do not have the exact date for this transition. Most people are really only familiar with one of these two variants of E11 as it was they were the longest in production. The production of these clarinets were outsourced to a company called Schreiber-Keilwerth. Schreiber was the company that Buffet also used to manufacture the student B10 & B12 models as well as the student and intermediate Buffet Oboes.

For most people, when they discuss an E11, the version that they are usually referring to is the silver plated key model, made in Germany, with 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”. This model was discontinued and replaced in 2009.

“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. In 2010, Buffet released 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. These French made “E11” models would be identifiable as they will be stamped “Made in France” rather than “Made in Germany”.

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 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… would 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).

Out of the Ashes…

Shortly after the purchase of the Schreiber facility, Buffet discontinued both the “E11 France” and the the French made “E11”. These models have both been replaced. The French made E11N was replaced almost immediately after the Schreiber acquisition with a German Made E11N – basically, the original E11 that was discontinued in 2008 but with nickel plated keys (in the USA).

The “E11 France” had issues of its own that also helped in its discontinuation. This model was replaced with the E12F clarinet. This model has the bodies made in France, but the keywork, assembly & padding done in Germany. While the E11N is still not allowed to be advertised online for sale, it is available through any authorized Buffet dealer (I might know one…). The E12F is available through all authorized Buffet retailers online and in store (read my review of the E12F here).

More Changes in 2022… Made in China?

The world has seen many changes in the last few years, and the music industry is no different. Many of the major manufacturers have either made investments in facilities of their own in China or cultivated partnerships with factories in China.

In 2022, we received our first batch of the newest generation of Buffet E11 clarinets that had a bright gold “Made in China” sticker on the body of the clarinet. The student model Buffet clarinets were already using China in manufacturing as of 2016 (read my post on the Prodige & Premium student clarinets) so it is not a new thing for Buffet to outsource to China.

However, considering the general belief among consumers, teachers and technicians about Chinese manufacturing, I reached out to Buffet for some additional information. According to Buffet, the wood bodies are still made in Germany and there is no acoustical design change to these bodies. These finished wood bodies are then sent to Buffet’s facility in China for keywork, assembly and padding.

The finished product looks identical to the last batch of 100% German made E11 clarinets. They were built and assembled at least on par and the padding was actually perhaps a little better than the last German E11’s we received. Granted, I don’t have a large enough sampling size to say that is because of the change in country of padding/assembly, but the quality was at least as good.

How to Identify your E11

The easiest way to tell which generation you have is on the back of the body of the clarinet. Buffet has historically engraved “Made in Germany” or “Made in France” on the back of the E11 clarinet. Note, this is NOT part of the logo on the clarinet which displays “Paris” as part of the corporate logo for the brand. You have to look at the back of the clarinet (usually near the serial number on the lower joint). Best to my knowledge, the only one that will not have a “made in” engraving is the recent 2022 version with the hybrid German/China manufacturing. These do not (at the time of this update to this post) engrave anything about where the clarinet or parts are made. Instead, these simply have a gold sticker on them when they are new stating Made in China.