Does the type of ring on the clarinet and/or clarinet barrel
make any difference?

The simple answer is "yes", but what that difference is is not so easily explained, and is usually not the same for everyone.  As in everything, we have the player first, then the mouthpiece, reed, ligature and clarinet.  Since these things are so different, it is very hard to say the wood ring plays a little more freely and has a richer, darker sound than the metal rings.  Great for player “A”, while for player “B” the metal rings vibrate more freely. So both are good, it just depends on the player and what the player is looking for in a barrel or clarinet. 

We make AV Prestige clarinets and barrels with either metal or wood rings, and trying to figure out what the difference is can be time-consuming.  I am now playing an AV Prestige clarinet with metal rings and a barrel with wood rings. What does that mean?  Well, it's what I like this week…. I like both metal and wood rings, and I think it depends on the attitude of the day, as to which is best for me. Both have great features and both can be played anywhere or in any group or style of music. 

When I try different mouthpieces or reeds, I tend to like different barrels…. So we can make ourselves crazy.  I am now playing a barrel I really like and it makes practicing very enjoyable. However, I keep a wood-ringed barrel and a metal-ringed barrel in my case at all times.

One important thing I know is that you should not make decisions if you have just played in a bad group or are having a bad day. These conditions can just lead to bad decisions.  The clarinet is hard enough to play on a good day and we do not need to make changes to our equipment on a bad day.

Try many things and choose what you like…  listen to the opinions of others if you must, but choose what you like…. You will be playing the instrument or barrel and you and you alone will have to live with your choice.

How important is it to play the same instrument?

This is very important not just to play the same instrument but to use the same mouthpiece and reeds also.  Every instrument, mouthpiece, ligature and reed plays differently.  The main thing we do not have real control over is the reed, it will always be different each time we play the instrument. So keeping the same instrument, mouthpiece and ligature will help us learn what our equipment can do and what we need to work on playing.