Professional Hard Rubber: Ridenour Lyrique 576BC
These clarinets are designed and hand finished by Tom Ridenour. And this is the Bb clarinet that I play.
From 2009 to 2016 I sold some clarinets for Tom Ridenour, but I no longer do that.
Why hard rubber? Well, it's the same material as good mouthpieces, so why not carry the same material farther down the instrument? Hard rubber clarinets are respected for having a nice dark tone. The material is not as expensive as hard wood, is natural and environmentally responsible, and it has good qualities of being easy to machine to exact measurements and it isn't so influenced by temperature and moisture. The Lyrique is a custom instrument built personally by one of the most experienced clarinet craftsmen in the world. If you want a great sounding professional clarinet, seriously consider the Ridenour line over ANY wood clarinet. Listen to Tom's video fact vs factoid: the case for hard rubber or read Tom's article on the Grenadilla Myth.
My new instrument [July 2009] is a Lyrique RCP-576BC. (The final C on mine is stamped below the logo.) No serial number is marked.The instrument came with two barrels: 64.2mm and 64.95.Bore: 14.8mm at the top of the left hand joint, and 14.6mm at the bottom of the same joint.Bottom line: I like it! The Lyrique is appropriate for advanced musicians and professionals. The instrument has a lovely dark tone and wonderful intonation.
The key work on the Lyrique key work seems to be quite hard, but I haven't tried actually bending it yet. The crow foot between the right hand low F# and E keys is seriously thick. It's not going to bend out of adjustment. The keys themselves don't seem that thick. [Update: 28Jul2015] The key work is very hard to bend. Ridenour keys are going to stay in adjustment very well, and even withstand most kinds of harsh treatment.
The Lyrique has plastic tone hole inserts for the ringed tone holes.
The register key is famous for being ergonomic. To me this is not a huge advantage. I don't feel I have trouble with traditionally shaped register keys.
I appreciate the thumb rest being adjustable. [June2012 I enjoy using the Ridenour thumb saddle. I didn't think that I would when I looked at the description. I find that my right hand is more relaxed when using it. There is a real difference in feel, since that hand bears the weight of the instrument.]
Some vintage instruments were also made of hard rubber. Several are reviewed under Older Composites. I find that instruments made from the same mold as the Emil Jardin are very nice in tone and intonation.
The Lyrique is so far different from any older hard rubber instruments that it deserves a special category!
Sherman Friedland has some very insightful comments about the Lyrique in his December 5 2008 post on his blog. He loves the horn overall. [14Aug2013] Sherman added comments comparing with Buffet here.
Don't miss Tom's Instructional Youtube videos.
I just restored a 1960-vintage Boosey & Hawkes "Imperial 926" hard-rubber clarinet, and it was a gem --- played as well as any clarinet I've tried, bar none, and better than a wood Symphony 1010 model I renovated two years ago. My personal orchestral Bb/A clarinet pair is a couple of hard-rubber Couesnon clarinets, probably dating from the 40s or so, and my bass clarinet (the best-playing low-Eb horn I've ever played) is a late-50s hard rubber Kohlert-Winnenden. My Eb clarinet, which plays very well in tune, is a humble little olive-green hard rubber M. Lacroix probably from the 30s or 40s. The point I'm trying to make (with little success?) is that hard rubber instruments can be as good as, or even better than, their wood equivalents. My experience with older clarinets has been that over long periods of time, hard-rubber clarinets hold up better than wood ones (as long as one can live with the olive-green or olive-brown color they almost invariably turn). Their bores and toneholes maintain a smooth, polished surface finish much better than wood over the years, and generally they don't crack unless dropped or hit against a hard surface. I wish modern manufacturers would take another close look at hard rubber (a.k.a. "ebonite") as an alternative to grenadilla for all their clarinet lines. I have a 1959 Kohlert ad which shows that back then they offered their alto and bass clarinets in both hard rubber and grenadilla versions, for about the same price (the wood ones were slightly more expensive, but not by much) --- I'd love to see that happen again.
What do you do for hard rubber that turns drab olive in color? Here's the answer from Tom Ridenour:
Get some good black shoe/leather stain (not shoe polish, but stain that will soak in). Apply it, let it dry and then rub it down.
The rubber does not change colour. The black dye leaches out; natural rubber is white/ivory coloured.
Here are comments about Tom Ridenour's clarinets from Sherman Friedland's blog:
I came to know William Thomas Ridenour about a dozen years ago. Having experienced playing on wooden instruments for a quarter of a century, the familiar feeling of the lack of its stability, waiting for wood to warm to its correct pitch, Performing live CBC concerts in cold Montreal churches,performing as Principal in Milwaukee, I felt quite familiar with the vagueness of the instability of wood. I was looking for an instrument that would be stable in very changeable temperatures. I was looking for a clarinet made of a stable material, much more stable than any wood.
The clarinets were uncanny in that they were as in tune as any clarinet I had ever played. They were more stable in pitch than any clarinet I had ever tried and they were made well. The keys did not break or even bend and I came back again and again , testing them on my tuner, but even more , on my ear. I began taking them to rehearsals to receive comments from colleagues who knew my playing . What I heard from others was "it sounds the same". It certainly felt the same although it was much easier to tune than my other instrument, which, at the time was a Selmer Series 10.
Toms ear is totally unique. He not only hears the sound, the very vibrations made by his own clarinets or any other, but he has amassed the expertise to discern minute differences in pitch and timbre, and has amassed the expeience of being able to correct easily errors in construction.
There are those who profess these digital skills, but none to the degree to which this sensitive and highly intelligent designer..
Ridenour is also a philosopher, understanding not only music, but the knowledge and desire to produce instruments of remarkable quality, through the utilization of hard rubber, which unlike grenadilla and similar woods , is not only plentiful, but is much more easily stablized, stabilized to a much further degree than any wood.
Having the ear and the ability to manipulate the material correctly and the philosophy and desire to make this more consistent material available to a larger group of interested people, Ridenour is aware of the economic realities of todays world, the great diminution of available playing positions, indeed orchestral positions an/or any performing position.
Hard rubber clarinets, though excellent— even superior, are very easy to criticize. If you play your ebonite clarinet for your teacher, they will immediately compare the two prices— the rubber being a third of the cost, and the hard rubber will lose to the price. [meaning: People will discount the quality just based on the lower price. False reasoning.]
Repair persons make similar judgments for the same reason, Hard rubber is virtually trouble free and wooden clarinets tend to be finicky. "If it ain't wood , it ain't good" is an easy comment to make. [Again, false reasoning.]
While the C clarinet of Ridenours is probably his best and most frequently used professionally, the Bb and A are less so. There is a Principal player in Scotland who plays them, but none within the US. Somehow you feel better at an audition with an instrument costing as much as ten thousand dollars, than one that costs $1500 which plays better in tune.
I have found the Ridenour instrument to be as good or better than any other clarinet of any other material.