Review: STL Ocarina’s 6-hole and 12-hole Ocarina

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You’d be hard pressed these days to find someone who hasn’t at least heard of the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. With the countless re-releases and the popularity of emulators, chances are most gamers on the planet have enjoyed (minus the water temple) what is considered to be one of the greatest games ever made. One of Link’s most important items is the Ocarina of Time, which he uses to travel through time, summon rain and call his noble steed, Epona.

Well the folks down at STL Ocarina sent me a few ocarinas to play around with and while I wasn’t creating any rainfalls in my bedroom or having a horse show up at my door, the ocarinas turned out to be a fun, easy way to create some beautiful music.

Looks

Let me start off by saying that when I un-boxed the two instruments, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. What awaited my eyes were 2 beautifully painted ocarinas. The 6-hole ocarina is shaped like a potion and has a shiny red colour scheme, and the 12-hole ocarina is painted a solid blue with a chrome band around the neck containing a nice yellow tri-force. Both ocarinas came with songbooks, the 6-hole songbook seemingly aimed at getting you to grasp the basics of  playing simple notes in sequence. The 12-hole Ocarina came with a Legend of Zelda songbook, whose songs were mapped out with easy to read tabs.

In short, both Ocarinas looked absolutely stunning, and STL Ocarina did a fantastic job of styling them with a Zelda theme in mind.

Design & Feel

Picking up the 6-hole ocarina feels a little odd, especially considering I have normal, human-sized hands. While my hands don’t feel overly cramped, it takes some getting used to. The blow hole is intimidating and confusing at first, but with a little practice, it is second nature to get a clear, solid note out of the ocarina.

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The 12-hole Ocarina requires some getting used to as well. It requires you to grip it with one hand from underneath and the other on top as shown below: However, this Ocarina feels much more comfortable to hold.

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While the beautiful ceramic construction enhanced both the looks and the sound of the ocarinas, it made it difficult for me to play them over any other surface but my bed for fear of dropping and shattering them. While I didn’t make it a habit to drop my trumpet or my saxophone when I was a kid, the ocarinas definitely have a “fragile” factor to them, which isn’t exactly a flaw with their construction per say, but during practice I did always have the “Oh shit don’t drop it” thought in the back of my mind.

The ocarinas are advertised to be easy to clean and maintain and while for the most part this is true, the mouth piece will get dirty VERY fast. While washing the mouthpiece I also noticed that some of the colour would fade over time, so it’s important to be very careful while cleaning.

Sound

Walking around a few conventions I have seen countless amounts of people walking around with plastic ocarinas. While these Ocarinas are most likely less delicate then the one I was given, their sound can’t keep up with the more expensive, higher-end ceramic models. While playing the ocarinas (using the correct mouthing technique of course) I’m able to get solid (and surprisingly loud) notes. There is a pleasing lack of ‘airiness’ when playing, something that others may gripe about with lower end plastic models.

The 12-hole Tenor Ocarina has a range from A4 to F6 including all flats and sharps, while the 6-hole range is C5 to E6. Both have impressive ranges which will allow you to play all of your favourite Zelda songs. The ocarinas serve a dual purpose which is that they cater to both beginner musicians (such as myself) and more experienced players. STL Ocarina customers have an impressive online forum of sheet music and tabs for not only Zelda songs, but for anything ranging from Katy Perry to Indiana Jones.

Once again, my one gripe in this category is something that cannot be helped or changed due to the nature of the instrument, but new players should take heed that there is a hidden complexity in playing the higher notes. Not only do these notes require you to push more air out into the ocarina, you must also allow more holes to open which may result in having to essentially “let go” of the ocarina. This causes the weight of it to shift to one side, making it difficult to press down on the remaining holes and affecting the sound quality.

Overall

Both ocarinas made it simple to learn a bunch of Zelda songs, while still remaining complex and tricky to master. They would make a great gift or purchase for any Zelda fan and would be a welcome addition to any Link cosplay.

To recap, here is a quick list of pros and cons:

+ Ocarina construction and looks

+ Sound Quality

Fun, approachable instrument for both beginner and advanced players

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– Feeling of being overly cautious due to the ‘fragile’ nature of the instrument

– Mouthpiece can get dirty very quickly

– Higher notes require awkward hand positioning

 Grade: A-

Both Ocarinas are available for purchase through the STLOcarina website, the 6 hole Ocarina goes for $22.99 while the price for the 12 hole tenor is $74.00.

Keep an eye out for the video review, coming soon to a computer screen near you!

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photo credit: Xavier Garnier

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