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Author Topic: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C  (Read 855 times)

Offline windydankoff

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I'm starting a new topic (my first) to share my experience with hard rubber C clarinets made in China. This includes the Ridenour Lyrique RCP-570C (made over there, and tweaked in Texas, so they say). I have one that I bought new in April 2016.

Summary: I am giving a very quick review of the Lyrique, then moving on to the "songtailun" (STL) that I bought from eBay and received a week ago. I the new STL better! In fact, after about a day's work (I'm an amateur technician), it's really REALLY good. I loved the Lyrique, and performed well on it, but I'm going to sell it now. The STL is better all around, more consistent, and fits my hands better.

Ridenour fit and finish is mediocre. And, it wasn't tested or treated with any critical care. A couple of corks were too squishy so I had to replace them. I had to fine-tune a few toneholes too, and trim down the top of the socket of the lower joint to bring its top notes up in pitch (and close an inner gap). To acommodate my size-Large hands, I did some key grinding and bending around the L pinkie low-note keys to gain clearance, and made the L&R sliver keys narrower. It would be better for somebody with small hands.

Now, here's my review of the Song Tai Lun (STL) clarinet. I in late June 2017, and got it 2 weeks later. Cost was $149 + $49 postage to USA. It is listed on eBay as "New Advanced C key clarinet Ebonite Good material and sound". I figured it might be OK as a spare instrument, and maybe I would get lucky. The eBay seller is called "songtailun". The photos on eBay are watermarked STL. I saw similar listings from two other sellers, showing watermark STL or SONGWEI and some identical photos. The packing slip listed my shipper as Wei Song. Therefore, I believe the are all the same item. Perhaps my vendor is the original manufacturer? or one step away? Anywei, here is my review:

I wrote this detailed review as a way to thank STL / Songwei for selling an amazing instrument. I took it out of the case (a nice one), put my favorite Bb mouthpiece on it, and WOW! I was amazed by the rich sound and the quality feel. I have big hands (man’s glove size Large) but the keys fit perfectly. (On my other C clarinet, they do not.) The thumb rest is adjustable and has a big soft rubber cushion.

The body is hard rubber (ebonite), not plastic. It is great for the sound, and won’t crack. The pads are fine leather! They are fitted perfectly, every one showing perfect tonehole impressions. Thin pads are used where needed, to make the ring keys close comfortably. This is good attention to detail. The cork work is good, and glued strongly. I adjusted some keys a bit, and found the metal to be medium-hard. They won’t be bent easily. The tenon joints were super-tight. I greased the corks AND the inside of each socket, and left it assembled. After a week, the corks compressed enough but it’s still a bit too tight. In future, if that tight, I will sand corks before first greasing.

It did need some fine tuning. I found the C#/G# (left little finger) was a flat. I undercut the hole a lot to bring it up. The B/F# “sliver” key (right hand, between 2 and 3) needed a small undercut. Bb/F was playing sharp so I glued in material to make the right 2 hole smaller. Low F/C was flat so I undercut the hole a bit (3rd hole from bottom). Maybe they will correct these in the future. I made other adjustments especially to the 2 upper trill keys, but they may be highly individual and influenced by my mouthpiece and emboucher. On the workbench, I found the keywork to be mechanically precise. The screws and rods are high quality. Only the top 2 trills have a bit of play, partly because they share one rod.

I love the C horn! The sound is bouncy and very expressive. It’s great for the E. European Klezmer and jazz, using standard C music!. The Lyrique C cost me $1200. This one sounds better, fits my hands much better, and the workmanship is better! So again, it played well right out of the box but it’s best to take it to a good repair technician for adjustments. This is true with ANY clarinet! I feel blessed to have such a wonderful horn. I'll be happy to compare notes with others here. How about some other brave soul order the A horn from songteilun? (It's $10 cheaper!) Be sure to write.

Kissing the Black Muse!
Windy
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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2017, 08:24:28 PM »
Great review! If possible, could you post some pictures of the clarinets in question, as well as the areas of undercutting you did.

Gracias!
David Watson of the original The Clarinet Pages

Offline windydankoff

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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2017, 09:39:52 PM »
I’ll take some pix and post them soon, Dave. Meanwhile, I’ll comment on my method of undercutting, which seems to work just fine. I used to make flutes from wood and bamboo, and tune them very well. That’s how I learned to do this. I have round files in a variety of sizes. If a hole needs 5 cents of sharping, that may be adequate. Most effective is to round off the inner edge on the upper side of the hole. But a bit of effort to round the entire edge slightly is worth an extra minute. I use the files backwards - drawing them OUT to cut. Better control that way, and it pulls some debris out of the hole. Chainsaw files are great for this. I grind a notch and break the shank off and then grind a rounded end. That is inserted into the hole so it cuts on the draw stroke.

If a more drastic adjustment is needed, like on the STL instrument, then I start with a 1/8” shank burr, like a Dremel bit, or similar obtained from a jeweler’s supply. It’s a cone burr, largest at the bottom, about 1/4” major diameter. I get best stability chucking the bit in my drill press, on a medium speed. I hold the clarinet in two hands and move it around the make the cut. I don’t handle the arm of the drill press. Instead, I hold the clarinet in two hands and move it around the make the cut. I start with the drill off. Insert it into the tone hole, into the bore, past the hole, then turn on the drill press. Sometimes I use a foot switch, keeping both hands on the horn. Then I grind away at the inside edge. Again, mostly the edge toward the top of the instrument. After that, I may use a file to smooth it off a bit. I don’t think the texture matters.

One caution is to try to minimize accumulation of cutting debris. Blow it out with compressed air or something, use a swab, whatever, so cuttings don’t stick to the pads etc.

If I need to drop the pitch of a hole, I use thick superglue (CA adhesive) to glue in a little square of thin cork. It’s easy to add more or trim it back to adjust, then I coat it (if it’s visible) with black nail polish.

I’ve gotten pretty good using electrical tape and/or contorted fingerings to test tunings without putting keys back on. Sometimes I give up on that and put the keys back on, but usually take them off again at least one time to fine-tune.

For a tuner, I recently found the smartphone app “Panotuner”. It’s my favorite, but there are others. On my iPhone 6, the response is so fast, I can play a scale or melody at a medium tempo and get a reading on every note! It’s a good way to observe tuning “in context”. But my ear is now developing better as well.

To grind a key to reshape its surface, I use a jeweler’s buffing motor with a Cratex rubber abrasive wheel (3 inch) on one end, and a 6” felt buffing wheel on the other end, with polishing compound.

To stiffen a cork that’s too soft, I apply thin CA adhesive using a pin-point applicator (from Jeweler’s supply). It soaks in and hardens the cork. Somewhere on the cork is the end-grain, which is absorbant. I like CA for corks, better than rubber contact cement. Trouble is, old contact cement must be absent or it turns to goo with CA. I scrape it off and sometimes rough the nickel surface with a diamond file. That’s all, good night.
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Offline philpedler

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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2017, 06:47:44 AM »
Hi Windy!

Fantastic information! Great ideas!

A question about the C clarinet: My Ridenour C clarinet was flat on the Bb throat tone (regular fingering). I had Tom R look at it for me, and he could not get it significantly better. He proposed that I use the side fingering. (He is very good at getting to the side Bb fingering and could do it way smoother than I can most of the time. Yeah, I know, I need to practice it!) So my main question is, is the regular Bb throat tone on the STL different/better than the Ridenour C clarinet?

Thanks for sharing this!
Phil

Offline windydankoff

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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #4 on: July 22, 2017, 08:17:14 AM »
I get a very good thumb-Bb on my Ridenour Lyrique C. Strange that Tom couldn't get it better. It is slightly dull compared to the side-Bb, but in some passages it flows more naturally. I would reject any instrument that couldn't do it.

The STL was disappointing at first, in that regard. I removed the key and found there was a micro-burr slightly restricting the top of the hole. I cleared that and it helped a little, but not enough. The hole is smaller than the Lyrique, so I tried to enlarge it slightly with a round jeweler's file. No luck. The inside seemed to be plated and resisting the file. Then I went to a cylindrical carbide burr on my drill press, holding the instrument in too hands to control the cut. I cut a round the hole VERY slightly. Shazaam! I get a wonderful thumb-Bb! The timbre transitions well with the side-key B and C (after I surgically dialed them in – that's another topic I want to bring up in Forum).

The hole remains a lot smaller than the Lyrique hole. The position and length of the tube look the same (to the eye). And yet, it's a bit better for the Bb! The STL's high clarion is more clear and stable than Lyrique. Lyrique has a register hole that is larger than normally seen on Bb clarinets. It may be part of a compromise in attempt to improve the thumb-Bb. I believe I found the reason why STL is better in that and in upper clarion. The barrels have a smaller bore than Lyrique. The top of the upper joint has a slightly LARGER bore that quickly tapers down to being equal. This must be the reason for its superiority. It allows a normally sized register hole to work really well for both jobs. I think the design is practically perfect, but they failed to prevent plating from coating the inside of the register stem.

Incidentally, I learned from a Ridenour Youtube (watched a lot of them!) that the thumb Bb is helped by a cork pad that is well rounded to allow air to flow out easily. That's absolutely correct, as I found it to improve some Bb horns I've worked on. The STL has a nicely rounded kid-leather pad. It's fine! Even with the key removed, there's no improvement to the thumb-Bb. It seems to be perfectly optimized, once the plating(?) is removed from the hole. That result is what tipped me over into a love affair with the STL. Plus, the perfect feel of the keywork (after spring loosening). It feels more crisp and precise than the Lyrique.

BTW, the rounded edges of all the STL leather pads may also contribute to the superior upper clarion. Lyrique has synthetic pads with sharply square edges. STL pads really do feel like kid gloves. I was wondering if they should be treated against moisture, but I found that a bead of water just sits there. They are exquisite pads! They feel like they may have foam cushioning rather than felt. I think the maker is smart to use them as a labor-saver, as they take a beautiful impression even on the new instrument. (STL sells leather pad sets on their songteilun eBay store, BTW.)

I need to discuss the top two side ("trill") keys and how they are tuned well for B and C on some clarinets, and very poorly on others (including these two C horns). I don't get it. It must be for some other functions that I'm not aware of. Before I start another topic for that, please tell me if it's been discussed already somewhere. Those two side notes are very clear and stable on the STL, more than on Lyrique (after my retunings). I use 'em a LOT. So this is a mystery to me.
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Offline windydankoff

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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #5 on: July 22, 2017, 12:21:39 PM »
Continuing ... I am intrigued by the differences I measured between the bores of the barrels and the upper joint tops. To verify that they account for the improvements in the STL, I did an experiment. I exchanged barrels between the STL and the Lyrique (they fit fine). Both instruments got worse, sounding and feeling stuffy at the top. That helped confirm that the upper bore design is critical to the quality of the STL.

I also discovered why there is a little hole drilled sideways in the bells of these instruments. In that case, Ridenour got it better than STL, so I "moved the hole" in the STL. I'll write more about that later.

BTW, my favorite Bb clarinet is an old Ridenour 147 that I got cheap on eBay. The keywork is a bit shabby, but it sounds gorgeous and has great intonation. I attended a klezmer workshop recently and sat next to a lady with the high-end Lyrique. I was getting better sound (but subject to other variables of course, MP, reed and player). She handed me her $1700 horn and I found the keys to be just as sloppy as parts of my 147 and my Lyrique C. I'm not out to pass judgements here / just observations.
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Offline windydankoff

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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #6 on: July 22, 2017, 01:32:58 PM »
2 photos: Here is a lineup of my STL, Lyrique and a Bb for comparison. Next is the STL barrel after beveling off the sharply square inside edges edges.

With the STL, the first priority was to deal with very tight joints. The sharp inner edges on all joints were scraping off my grease and threatening to damage the cork. I fixed that in a matter of seconds and you can see the generous bevel. On the right is the "deburring tool" I used. This is a common mechanic/machinist item that is listed on Amazon and elsewhere. I ran it around twice. Each run-around yielded a perfect shaving as shown. It makes a big difference. The bevels are normal, and have no effect on the fit of the assembled instrument.

BTW I applied a flame to a shaving. The smell was faintly rubber, definitely not plastic!
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Offline windydankoff

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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #7 on: July 22, 2017, 01:50:59 PM »
Regarding the top photo above, showing 3 horns: On the Lyrique, the "sliver" keys are narrowed down, so I wouldn't hit them with my Size-L man's fingers. On both C horns I ground down the C#/G# side keys, to fit my little finger. On the STL, no problem there, and they work great.

On the STL, I rounded off the top and edge of the A key and the adjacent F# ring to give good clearance to rock my forefinger. You can see the yellow brass.

Lyrique: The left pinkie low-F key was angled such that my finger would slip off. I tried bending but ended up flattening it off and putting a piece of tape on it for now, to add some friction. It still doesn't feel perfect. The STL does!

Lyrique: The two adjacent left-pinkie low keys I had to shorten, to get finger clearance. (Same I had to do on my Ridenour 147). No other clarinet gave me this problem. STL perfect!

Both bells are pulled out for tuning. STL has an O-ring - 1 1/8" ID X 1/8" from Ace Hardware.

STL bell - I filled its original tuning correction hole and drilled a smaller one lower, to match the Lyrique, which got it better for low E.
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Offline windydankoff

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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #8 on: July 22, 2017, 01:57:28 PM »
Yours Truly!
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Offline windydankoff

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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2017, 12:09:30 PM »
More photos ...
Rear view STL vs. Lyrique: I use the Ridenour thumb saddles. My thumb needs to ride higher than normal, so I would need to re-mount a hormal thumb rest upward, even an adjustable one (STL came with an outstanding one). Easier for me just to glue this on instead (and put a dent in the case for it). The Lyrique "ergonomic" register key doesn't work any better for me than a standard one. See how the C#/G# pad cup on STL is tiny. Seems like a design error. I undercut and enlarged the hole almost to the top and it came up to tune (phew!).

Undercutting burr: For gross undercutting, where it fits, I use this Dremel-style burr that I got from a jewelers' supply. For more delicate work, I use finer or smaller burrs or round files. I know there are special tools for undercutting, but I get the results I want. I adapt files so I can draw them out to cut, rather than push to cut. It brings the chips out (and for wood, it breaks off the fibers instead of bending them inward).

My drill press holds the burr while the clarinet is held by my two hands. My wrists rest on the table for stablilty and control. I may rock the piece around as well as up and down. At relatively low speed, I never get a spin-out (a common disaster using a high-speed tool in a hole). In scary-delicate situations, I use a foot switch to turn the machine on/off.

It's CRAZY how much re-tuning this horn needed! But the Lyrique needed some too. And it's well worth it. The STL plays deliciously! I got it as a spare. Now I will sell the Lyrique and get another STL as a spare! I may even sell some "finished" or offer this service to others. Anyone interested?
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Offline Windsong

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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #10 on: July 24, 2017, 01:11:49 AM »
I am reminded of a sign that hangs in my local body shop:

"PICK 2 OUT OF THE FOLLOWING 3:
1) Good
2) Quick
3) Cheap

You can have it good and quick, but it won't be cheap.
You can have it cheap and quick, but it won't be good.
You can have it good and cheap, but it won't be quick."

The time you have invested in the tuning of an off-the-shelf instrument you bought on a gamble has no doubt paid off, and is clearly extensive.  I am glad to hear (and surprised, based upon what I usually hear) that keywork is robust, and "tweakable".  I can only conclude that a good many folk, disappointed by the same horn's set-up and intonation, threw in the towel due to a lack of advanced tuning skills necessary to affect optimal playability, and low initial price.  If I nibble on one of these in the future, I may well contact you for some advanced tweaking services..
I have long been on the lookout for a quality, modern C in Boehm.  I had always assumed that this would take the form of an Amati 351, as I'll not likely ever have the dosh for a Patricola, but your review opens the field, a bit.

Klezmer is probably one of the hardest styles of clarinet to play well, with all the slurs and laughs.  I enjoy failing at it miserably, when time allows.  Giora Feidman and Matt Darriau (and a good many others) make it seem effortless, but it is most certainly not. 



The Clarinet Pages forum court jester, and expert bubblegum welder.

Offline windydankoff

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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #11 on: July 24, 2017, 08:43:02 AM »
Windsong,

If you were to order the STL C, keep in mind that mine sounded great right out of the box, except for a few notes' intonation. The feel was also crisp and precise, except for a few tight springs.  And the key layout feels extremely close to a normal Bb. So you know as soon as you get it, if it is worth the extra time or cost to refine it. I'm going to order another one. There is always a chance that the vendor may get an inferior batch in future. There are still 10 left (presumably) of this batch.
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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #12 on: July 24, 2017, 12:03:52 PM »
Get 'em while they're hot! There's only ten of them! Of course with a C clarinet, one doesn't expect that there would be thousands. I'm sure they can always make some more.  8)

Some assembly required, of course, as there is on almost any factory direct acquisition. I am guessing that is how they manage that price point. One wonders how with the gigantic difference between this one and the Ridenour in price. And then there are the warranty and service issues, etc., which I admit that I know little of either seller in that regard.

It's good that you could tweak the tuning and it causes me to wonder how consistent these are. Of course any evaluation starts with one example. One of the first things I check on a clarinet is how well the alternate fingerings check out below and above the break. Usually it can be made acceptable by adjusting the pad clearances. A near perfect match is possible so why are so many not so perfect in that way? Perhaps it's a design / workmanship issue and I really wonder if two of these or more would all need the same tweaks?

I have seen the same issues with almost every new musical instrument. The difference between the OK playing instrument and the really excellent playing instrument is often how fine the adjustments were made after it leaves the factory.
- Silversorcerer (David Powell) exclusively for Phil's original “The Clarinet Pages" forum

Offline windydankoff

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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #13 on: July 24, 2017, 01:15:27 PM »
I imagine Ridenour pays the same low range when they buy 'em from China. The $ difference stays in Texas. They claim to fine-tune every instrument, but I ended up fine-tuning my own Lyrique. They apparently drilled the hole in the bell (it's 3/32 inch, not metric 4mm). but otherwise, they sure didn't do much to it. It didn't even have grease on the corks when I got it. But then, some experts say it's a bargain at $1195!

It is what it is. And the "cheaper" STL? It is what it is. The price is simply what the market will bear, relative to the continent on which it is located. In a case like this, in my perception, it has no bearing on the quality. Quite the opposite.

My Lyrique C is on Craig's List now, for $750. It's still a good instrument ... and comes with a NAME!
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Re: Chinese C Clarinets / STL reviewed, compared to Ridenour Lyrique C
« Reply #14 on: July 24, 2017, 01:52:19 PM »
Regarding Chinese instruments and other $/benefit issues, and materials, Sherman Friedland's comments are interesting:
https://clarinetcorner.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/that-clarinet-mystique-is-a-mistake/
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