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The Following is an Independent Review of the new Ridenour Lyrique low C Bb bass clarinet by David Spiegelthal,
a bass clarinetist who also has the advantage of being an engineer.
Please note that since this review we have improved the bass even over the bass that Mr. Spiegelthal
tested in 2012, making it even more mechanically substantial, better in tune, and beautiful in every respect.
We believe the Lyrique bass is a world class instrument, playing, sounding, and tuning the equal of
wood basses costing thousands of dollars more, with the added advantage that the bore will remain stable
in all sorts of playing condition and the clarinet will not crack. Pure natural hard rubber is superior material for
all clarinet building, but especially so for the bass clarinet.
Date: 2012-04-13 01:30
Ted Ridenour (Tom's son) was kind enough to send me, free of obligation, the latest version of the Ridenour "Lyrique" low-C bass clarinet to try out. In return I promised to give it a thorough review and provide him with my impressions. I thought it was rather daring of the Ridenours to allow me to speak my mind about their new baby with neither censorship nor strings attached, as I am a certified Skeptic Curmudgeon, but clearly these are fearless people, and quite confident in their product. So, here's what I wrote:
Design and construction:
• The instrument is nice and heavy and very solidly built, and the finish and workmanship are excellent in those areas visible to the public eye, though a little bit rough in those hidden areas that only a technician is likely to see.
• Minor design nit: The relationship of the bell key to its operating lever on the lower joint is not quite perfect, so the bell must be rotated about 15 degrees to the left to keep the operating arm from slipping off when low-C is played.
• Matters of preference: I’d prefer the neck angle to be a bit steeper (more vertical) and with maybe a tighter overall S-bend, to get the instrument body closer to the player. I found the instrument trying to move away from me while I was playing, so that I had to use a neck strap even when seated and using the floor peg. Also, the three thumb keys for the low-D, C# and C require a lot of travel, and personally I would accept a greater force requirement on these keys in trade for less travel, but no doubt there are other players who prefer or need a lighter touch and are willing to accept the longer ‘throw’ of the touchpieces in return.
• Regarding the three thumb touchpieces for the lowest notes, they are nicely shaped and rounded, a huge improvement over the original model of 5+(?) years ago, which had standard Chinese-design rectangular touchpieces with painfully sharp edges.
• The alternate (left-hand) low D spatula in not just a nice feature, it is a necessity on this instrument because the arcs of travel and relative positions of the low D and low C# spatulas make it nearly impossible to slide from low D to low C# with the thumb (the thumb has to be lifted completely off the first key to reach the second one). I personally prefer the German-style configuration (also used by Amati) of four ‘thumb buttons’ arranged in a little square for the low Eb, D, C# and C, as any one of those notes can fairly easily and smoothly be gotten to from any other of them – but again this is a matter of taste.
Intonation and tone quality:
• The sound is very good in all registers, though it felt just a little bit thinner and less focused than I’d like. This perception is more in the ear of the player than the audience, though, based on my having recorded the Ridenour back-to-back in a number of musical passages against my personal bass clarinets (using the same reed and mouthpiece); on the recordings the sound of the Ridenour bass is nearly indistinguishable from that of my #1 Boehm-system bass (a 1930s-vintage Kohlert with a homemade low-C extension).
• Only one note on the instrument sounded fuzzy to me, that being the ‘normal’ throat F# played with the l.h. index finger; whereas the alternate fingering using the two lower r.h. side trill keys was clear as a bell. Both fingerings were in tune. The often-problematic ‘pinch’ throat Bb was nice and clear, and spot-on in pitch.
• Intonation: The lower chalumeau and extended-range notes were a bit variable in pitch (details to follow), but from chalumeau F all the way into the altissimo the instrument was dead on with just two minor deviations in the lower clarion. Here are the pitch results I got (averaged over a few trials, and at an overall pitch level of A-440):
Low C: +25 cents
Low C#: -10 cents
Low D: +20 cents
Low Eb: -10 cents
Low E: +10 cents
Low F through throat Bb: +/- 5 cents
‘Long’ clarion B and C: +10 cents
Clarion C# through altissimo high G: +/- 5 cents
Keeping in mind that I haven’t played any of the “big-4” bass clarinets (Selmer-Paris, Buffet, Yamaha, Leblanc) in a couple of years, I have to rely on memory as to how they felt and played. Based on my recollection, the new Ridenour bass clarinet is very reminiscent of my favorite Big-4 bass clarinet, the Selmer 67. The Ridenour even resembles the Selmer in key cup design and such, whereas the early Arioso low-C bass (of which I bought one of the very first production units) was really just a hard-rubber knockoff of the Yamaha design – one which I didn’t like that much.
The current bass clarinet is an enormous improvement over the original model. I can’t speak for full-time professional symphony bass clarinets or soloists as I’m neither by any stretch of the imagination, but I would guess that the vast majority of bass clarinetists at any level of proficiency would be very happy with the new Ridenour instrument. If I were not already over-equipped with good bass clarinets, I’d be tempted to whip out my credit card and take one home.