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 Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: Kalashnikirby 
Date:   2018-02-19 15:06

Let me start of with stating that I now believe these materials can make a wonderful sounding instrument. When I was lend a Vito "Resotone" Alto, I really liked the sound, despite all its flaws, and a wooden Selmer counterpart I'm now allowed to play on isn't *that* much better, though the responsiveness and eveness of the scale are in a different league (apart from other improvements, of course), but one can cleary tell that a well-made "plastic" instrument could have tons of potential - only to this day, I've heard of no such instrument, except for Ridenour, though his clarinets don't sport forged keys and such either.

But what's the difference between ABS and Ebonite? Is one better than the other? Are there any particular reason as to why Ridenour offers Ebonite sopranos and basses, but Backun and now Kessler opt for ABS?
Can there be any differences in terms of intonation and responesiveness?
Theoretically, I believe Ridenour's claims that Ebonite is makes for a more accustically accurate instrument - wouldn't this be the case with ABS even more??

Best regards

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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: Clarineteer 
Date:   2018-02-19 15:26

Check out the Vito V40. Should surprise you in every way.

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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: jdbassplayer 
Date:   2018-02-19 19:46

ABS is a very common type of plastic that is generally found in student instruments. Unfortunately most ABS instruments are cast meaning the bores have poor accuracy, however some manufacturers make made excellent ABS clarinets.

Ebonite, also known as hard rubber is derived from the sap of rubber trees. Rubber instruments are often finished in the same way as wooden instruments (their bores are reamed and lapped) and are generally of better quality than plastic instruments.

Both materials have similar densities and surface finishes. This means that if two instruments are made identically, one from ABS and one from ebonite, they will play identically. The only reason I say ebonite is better is because there are professional ebonite instruments, but as far as I know there are no professional ABS clarinets.


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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: Kalashnikirby 
Date:   2018-02-19 21:54

That's interesting, I didn't know ebonite was not casted.
Consequently, the Kessler and Ridenour bass should sound similar
The Gear4music "Rosedale" labeled one at 1,4k€ would be a total steal then.
Thanks for the Infos guys.

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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: ClarinetRobt 
Date:   2018-02-19 22:35

I always thought Tom’s instruments are from a natural substance, ebonite or hard rubber vs from a man-made substance through careful consideration. The natural material is closer to grenadilla acoustics than a thermoplastic resin.

intuitively that makes since to me. I achieve better acoustics with my Ridenour compared to a plastic model. As the technology improves and makers do a better job, I’m not surprised this is not an absolute anymore.

~Robert L Schwebel
Mthpc: Behn Vintage, Lig: Ishimori, Reed: Aria 4, Legere Euro Signature 3.75, Horns: Uebel Superior, Ridenour Lyrique

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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: jdbassplayer 
Date:   2018-02-19 22:42

It depends what you consider a "natural material". Generally ebonite is considered an "engineered material" even though it is derived from natural sources. Technically you can also make plastic from natural substances too.


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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: seabreeze 
Date:   2018-02-20 00:15

Plastics derived from plant rather than petroleum sources are sure to be an intrinsic part of any future society dedicated to environmental health and rational approaches to sustainability. Henry Ford was on the right track when he made his car from soybean-based polymers (though his motivations may not parallel those of ecologists today). But the overriding concern in the "green chemistry" field of plant-derived plastics is to put the polymers back into the cycles of decomposition provided by nature. Now, when plastic are discarded, they wind up lasting for geologic time spans in landfills and oceans and other places where they either do no good or create much pollution mischief. Plant plastics would behave more like plants themselves and simply decompose back into their constituent elements when buried in the soil, just as paper, cardboard, grass clippings, watermelon rinds, chipped tree bark and branches, and other plant refuse does.

Plant plastics would be susceptible to change by bacterial action, natural weathering, oxidation and other natural forces of decomposition. But who wants to compost their clarinet to provide nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous for their garden? We want musical instruments to last, to be somewhat immutable rather than mutable in resisting the forces of nature.
Considering how diverse the plastics industry is--some plastics even have thermal properties that can resist very high temperatures, certainly some niche could be found that uses plant input to make a long lasting "natural" plastic for musical instruments. But then the question arises, "look, we've derived this plastic entirely from benign plant sources, but since we made it long-lasting, will it not become the same non-decomposing environmental hazard as traditional plastic when it is time to discard it?

Quite a nice challenge for just the right chemists and chemical engineers to work on-- not exactly child's play.

Post Edited (2018-02-20 03:04)

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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: Tony F 
Date:   2018-02-20 02:12

One of the advantages that ebonite, or hard rubber, has over wood is that it can be machined with greater accuracy and it is more stable with regard to temperature and humidity. They will not crack.

In their day Boosey and Hawkes made all their professional and intermediate level instruments in both wood and hard rubber and they could be bought in either, the hard rubber instruments coming with nickel plated keywork and at a slightly higher price than the wood instruments.

Hard rubber instruments were widely used in military bands, which might be required to serve anywhere from arctic conditions to the extreme tropics. I have examples of the B & H Emperor and 926 Imperial in both wood and ebonite and I personally prefer the sound of the ebonite instruments.

One of the disadvantages of ebonite instruments is their tendency to discolour with age, but there are effective methods of correcting this. My Imperial was a delicate shade of olive green when I bought it for $30, but it is now the correct shiny satin black.

Tony F.

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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: kenb 
Date:   2018-02-20 04:08

"In their day Boosey and Hawkes made all their professional and intermediate level instruments in both wood and hard rubber and they could be bought in either, the hard rubber instruments coming with nickel plated keywork and at a slightly higher price than the wood instruments".

Tony F., your post sparked some reminiscences:I remember playing 2nd to a very fine 85-year-old expat British clarinettist named George Paris here in Sydney in the mid '70s. George had a lovely pair of ebonite B&H clarinets with sleeved barrels. He'd ordered them from B&H and the conductor Hamilton Harty delivered them when he came out from London on tour in the mid '30s.

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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: Barry Vincent 
Date:   2018-02-20 05:26

I have Tom Ridenour's Bb and C Ebonite Clarinets and they are excellent. However, I doubt that the highly vulcanized rubber is sourced from the rubber tree which is the origin of the white soft rubber. More likely Ebonite rubber is a petroleum product which is also the origin of motor vehicle tires. I've also noticed that Ebonite Clarinets are somewhat heavier than plastic ones.


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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: Caihlen 
Date:   2018-02-20 05:29

Anyone know the composition of the Backun Alpha clarinets?

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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: clarnibass 
Date:   2018-02-20 10:10

AFAIK Ebonite is a registered name for a product (like Delrin) and not the general name for it, but it is probably used as a general name too (like Delrin, Rubbermaid, etc.).

Another question is whether it is natural rubber or synthetic, though both are processed materials.

Hard rubber and ABS just have somewhat different properties but are also similar in some ways like any two "plastics". I really don't know what clarinet uses natural rubber or synthetic, good idea to ask the maker/seller.

ABS is a very common material for many products, like tools, maybe toys, etc. I can't remember if it's more common with cheaper tools or not.

Re the accurate bore from machining vs. molding, there are molded plastic products that are made by far more accurately than any clarinet.

>> intuitively that makes since to me. I achieve better acoustics with my Ridenour compared to a plastic model. <<

You are probably comparing two different clarinet, no? This makes the comparison of the material impossible.
Hard rubber was originally made to compete with wood, probably to make a cheaper alternative. I think that's why it was called Ebonite (to sound similar to Ebony).

Just because a material is natural or a "copy" of wood doesn't mean it would be better for clarinets... or anything. There are tons of processed and man-made materials that are much better for many things than "natural" materials (considering only the practical reasons). Wood isn't necessarily the best material for clarinets in some theoretical ideal existence. The best material might have not even been found or invented yet.

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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: Ursa 
Date:   2018-02-20 12:38


I have had several plastic and ebonite instruments in my studio in my quest to find the best "no worries" clarinet for playing anytime, anywhere.

In my experience, it's folly to compare instruments based on body material alone. I tend to classify plastic-bodied instruments into three categories:

1. Machined bore: Models such as the Vito V-40 or 7214 have a precisely machined bore, as would be found on a wooden clarinet, and have the potential to be fine clarinets once put into top playing condition.

2. Moulded high-precision bore: A relative newcomer to the scene, models such as the Backun Alpha and Yamaha YCL-20 have very precisely rendered bore surfaces and tone hole undercutting, and can be fine playing instruments as well.

3. Moulded bore without much finishing: Finally, we have instruments such as the Bundy 1400 and Artley 17S that are built with an emphasis on keeping costs low. Bore surfaces may be compromised with flashing lines, uneven finish, waviness, air bubbles, and the like. These instruments may play well in spite of this, but--in my experience--a discerning player would have a much greater chance of finding satisfaction with an instrument from the above two groups.

Even with all this, there are other factors to consider. The plastic used to make the Vitos tends to expand and contract to a greater degree with changes in temperature than what I've encountered in other plastic instruments, so one has to set up the action on these with a bit more "slop" in the works to avoid binding keys.

Ebonite instruments can deform if exposed to high temperatures. An ebonite instrument left sitting outdoors on a hot sunny day can warp, destroying it. I don't take my Ridenour clarinet outdoors if it's warm and sunny--it's not worth the risk.

At the end of the day, wood, plastics, and ebonite all have their drawbacks. You really just have to try the instruments for yourself, and choose whatever is the most intelligent compromise for your particular situation.

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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: richard smith 
Date:   2018-02-20 23:57

no detectable acoustic difference . See Jeans book.

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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: shmuelyosef 
Date:   2018-02-21 00:32

Regarding hard rubber being 'natural' and plastics not...Ebonite (hard rubber) is made by adding inorganic materials like sulfur (and other 'secret' agents) to natural rubber and then applying a carefully engineered heat treatment. That is the same as most plastics except the processing is generally subtractive (distillation) and the heat treatments include catalysts and/or reactive additives to create new molecules. Keep in mind that petroleum is a 'natural' existed long before humans began exploiting it and tar has been used in structural/functional applications for eons.

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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: Kalashnikirby 
Date:   2018-02-22 00:16

Thanks for the influx of posts and sheer amount of knowledge on this topic.
As hinted by others, my aim was not to find out which of the materials was more sustainable - and we certainly shouldn't be deluded by those claims of ebonite cointaining "natural rubber" that this is a synthetic material - but to understand the differences and reasons as to why they're not used on top instruments.
That being said, current developments in the clarinet industry however do not at all hint towards a (IMHO eventually) necessary substitute for grenadilla. Buffet's greenline concept only arised from the idea of processing grenadilla chips. Relative to the big names, Ridenour and some other synthetic instruments still dwell in total unimportance. Here in Germany, no instrument builder of renown would even consider the idea of making their instruments with something other than grenadilla (expect for offering even rarer tone woods).
The Vito alto still sounded nice, despite probably being a cheap, inaccurately casted instrument, as the bore is very rough.... all I'm hoping for is for Buffet or Yamaha to take one of their high end models bore concepts and transform it into a really good synthetic clarinet.
But as a musician told me when he toured in China, a large clientele there would avoid buying instruments that were "too cheap", simply because of the notion that these could not be real professional instruments.

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 Re: Ebonite vs. ABS
Author: seabreeze 
Date:   2018-02-22 02:15

No one can read the future. Remember that there was a time when boxwood was the preferred material for flutes and clarinets. No so today. And Mozart's and Brahms' clarinetists rode from one concert to another on horseback or in horse drawn carriages. Not so today. I would not discount rubber as a serious material for clarinets even at the highest pro level. And let's not forget Backun's latest CG wood clarinet clad in carbon fiber. Yo-Yo Ma has a cello made mostly of carbon fiber, and he and it are certainly serious world class.

Many people are looking at what 3D printing might soon make possible, and Brad Behn, the excellent mouthpiece maker and reed designer, has been working with some prototypes for a clarinet that he intends eventually to produce in rubber.

Thirty years from now or less, clarinetists may be traveling from job to job in autonomously driven electrical and fuel cell vehicles powered by photovoltaic energy sources, and their instruments may be made of rubber, carbon fiber, or even some metal alloy if flute makers decide to leap into the market.

Players then may laugh and say "remember when we all played those wooden things? And had to drive cars that spewed carbon monoxide?"

Who knows?

Post Edited (2018-02-22 02:41)

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