STL C Clarinet
Article by Windy Dankoff.
Clarinet courtesy of the Windy Dankoff Collection.
Maker: Song Tie Lun (STL)
Place of Manufacture: China
Approximate Date: 2016/2017
Material: Hard Rubber
Serial Number: ----
Editor's note: Clarinetpages.net is not affiliated with, nor sponsored by Song Tie Lun (STL).
Summary: I am giving a very quick review of the Lyrique, then moving on to the "Song Tie Lun" (STL) that I bought from eBay. 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 accommodate my large hands, I did some key grinding and bending around the left hand pinkie low-note keys to gain clearance, and made the left and right sliver keys narrower. It would be better for somebody with small hands.
Now, here's my review of the Song Tie Lun (STL) clarinet. Shipped from China, it took 2 week to arrive. 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 "songtielun". 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? Anyways, 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# key (left little finger) was a little 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 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 around the hole VERY slightly. Shazaam! I get a wonderful thumb-Bb!
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 video 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.
The rounded edges of all the STL leather pads may also contribute to the superior upper clarion. The 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.
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.