stlreview-3For a while now, STLOcarina has been touting one of the only Ocarina of Time replicas on the market – that is, until Songbird Ocarinas came out with their OoT Ocarina.  But recently, STLOcarina has moved toward a new path in Zelda ocarina innovation, creating two of what I believe to be the most interesting and worthwhile ocarinas around. And they look just like rupees.

Fortunately, STLOcarina was nice enough to send me their full Zelda ocarina lineup. Let’s see if I’m nice enough to give them the thumbs up.

Video Review

You’ve Found the Ocarina!

Ah, the Ocarina of Time. Lookin' good!

Ah, the Ocarina of Time. Lookin' good!

Of course, the first ocarina I’m sure you’ll want to know about is STL’s Ocarina of Time replica. I’m not going to focus on this as much – it’s similar enough to Songbird Ocarinas’s version that you can check out my review of that and get a good feel for how it performs and works. There are a few key differences from Songbird’s version, of course:

  • The coating of paint is super-smooth, without a brush stroke in sight.
  • The color of paint is also significantly darker and cooler (more green).
  • The two small half-step holes are in slightly different locations.
  • The mouthpiece is longer on STL’s ocarina.
STLOcarina's and Songbird's Replica Ocarinas

STLOcarina's and Songbird's Replica Ocarinas

I’ve found that STL’s ocarina is much more difficult to control than Songbird’s. It’s easier to go very sharp or very flat with STL’s model. For someone more experienced with an ocarina, you could potentially use it to avoid moving your fingers around as much. But it will just give a beginner a lot of frustration.

I also find the longer mouthpiece ugly and awkward to use. This is my personal take on the design, of course, and I know that the longer mouthpiece is closer to the Ocarina of Time’s official design from Nintendo. That said, I also fault Nintendo’s design of the ocarina. Songbird’s mouthpiece is smooth and small and its size made sense to me – STL’s is so gargantuan that it almost gets in the way of playing the instrument.

I was also disappointed that STLOcarina’s version simply used a golden strip of tape to make the golden ring around the mouthpiece. While the Triforce is embossed, it’s not embossed nearly enough, and the line where the tape begins and ends is clearly visible.

The price between this and Songbird’s ocarina are one and the same, so it’s all your personal preference to pick which you like most. I prefer Songbird’s because it’s a bit more comfortable and I enjoy the smaller mouthpiece; you may prefer the larger mouthpiece and better dynamic range of STL’s.

That said, the instrument performs as it should, so I’ll stop talking about it here and focus on the real stars of this review…

Cutting the Grass

From left to right: 1 Rupee, 20 Rupees, and 1 American Rupee

From left to right: 1 Rupee, 20 Rupees, and 1 American Rupee

In any Zelda game, you receive rupees when you cut down grass. Though they’ve always varied in size – some the size of Link’s pink finger, other the size of his full hand – I never imagined I’d be playing one of them as an instrument. These rupee ocarinas feel like they just popped out of the ground.

I mean that in two ways: They’re incredibly well-made and have the same smooth coat of glaze that STL’s Ocarina of Time replica has, and they’re so new to me that I have no idea how to play them properly. The Ocarina of Time replicas are usually a breeze to jump into, because to play them requires only knowledge of where notes are in a major scale.

But the rupee ocarinas are six-hole ocarinas, not twelve. So you only have half the number of holes to play what you want, meaning there becomes quite a lot of fumbling around. Even with STL’s nice provided guides to playing each note in a scale, it’s a challenge. And STL is gracious in the materials they provide to help new users become adjusted to playing six-hole ocarinas.

When you open the box – and after being bombarded with more packing peanuts than you can imagine – you’ll invariably notice how it looks. STLOcarina’s glazing philosophy is a bit different than Songbird’s, and results in a much different construction. STL’s policy is to throw away any ocarinas that show brush strokes or defections in the glazing, so each ocarina you get will be the same, perfectly-smooth surface.

The strangest thing was to find out that these perfectly-smooth surfaces are all painted by hand. I was so sure they had been machined when I got them; I would have bet money on the fact. Nevertheless, the flawless coating is cool and shiny, making these rupees look great.

But like all instruments, it’s not about how they look – it’s about how they play. So, how do these sound?

The Sound of Rupee Music

As my music professor would say, “Those aren’t good for chromatics.” Actually, he did say that, and in specific reference to the rupee ocarinas. I don’t believe he said that because half-steps can’t be on pitch with these instruments, but rather because you need to hunt for all the hole configurations.

This sheet of paper helps... a bit.

This sheet of paper helps... a bit.

I can’t fault this to the ocarina, however – all six-hole ocarinas function this way. Which is why my music professor would take a look at it and make the blanket statement he did. Not to mention that wearing a little green rupee around your neck attracts a lot of attention.

Nevertheless, these little instruments sound great – arguably better than the Ocarina of Time replica. The hole placement is perfect and I had no trouble controlling pitch or moving my fingers around to do so.

Both the large and small ocarinas are meant to play in the key of C (their lowest note should be a C). While this was true of the smaller soprano ocarina, my tenor rupee ocarina started at a D – so I was playing in the key of D the whole time. Sure, with dynamic range I could start at Db, but it was a little disconcerting to hear it start at D when I expected a C. In choir, being a whole-step sharp gets you some strange looks. In an instrument, I can only expect that it’s wholly unacceptable, especially since you can’t tune an ocarina after it’s been made.

That said, it still sounds good – it’s just not in the right key. Honestly, after a while it didn’t bother me, since I’m not exactly playing this in an ensemble, and I doubt any of you are either. So, your most favorite Zelda songs will either sound a whole-step higher, or you’ll figure out the fingering to finagle the correct pitches. No big deal. But once you get it, make no mistake – these instruments sound great and dynamic range is easy to control.

The Final Verdict: Yea or Nay?

To buy or not to buy? That depends largely on your change-hunting skills.

To buy or not to buy? That depends largely on your change-hunting skills.

They sound good, they look good – and they’re ocarinas, for Pete’s sake – like all other ocarinas, I expected to be writing this section declaring that they’re a fortune to purchase and that only the most enthusiastic hobbyist should pick one of these up.

Unfortunately, I don’t get to write that. These rupee ocarinas don’t just look and sound great, they’re also dirt cheap. You could afford these by literally running out into your yard and cutting grass down (try it; you’ll make your parents happy and feel a little bit like Link).

The large tenor rupee is $22, and the small soprano rupee is $11. Let me repeat that: $22 and $11.

At a price like that, I see no reason not to snag one and just give it a shot. It makes these ocarinas the most affordable Zelda replicas on the market and, at their quality level, I was honestly a bit taken aback by the price. They’re fun to carry around, and fun to play – especially the soprano ocarina, which will fit anywhere for sure.

In fact, you could pick up both of these for the price of a single six-hole ocarina at other stores. So if you’re on the fence about tossing out a benjamin on an Ocarina of Time replica from Songbird or STL, these rupee ocarinas make a wonderful point of entry into ocarina owning and playing. Although they’re a little more convoluted to play than the twelve-hole Ocarina of Time replicas, time will lend you aid in learning to play.

All of these ocarinas are available directly from STLOcarina’s online store.

Other Stuff in the Box

Four songbooks with ocarina-specific tablature are available

Four songbooks with ocarina-specific tablature are available

On top of the ocarinas, I also received several songbooks. These are clearly intended for beginners and offer number-based notation for certain songs. Being able to read traditional sheet music, I was really confused by the notation and wished they had provided some more normal music. However, I can see how a beginner would benefit, since reading normal sheet music is also confusing until you figure it out.

The four songbooks I have include:

  1. Zelda Songs for Ocarina
  2. Zelda Songs from the Twilight Princess for Ocarina
  3. Songs from Final Fantasy for Ocarina
  4. The Art of Ocarina

Each include the same notation, and the Zelda booklets are what we really care about here. So, I’ll say it: Why the heck didn’t STL provide the Windfall Island music? That was the one song I wanted to play! Case in point: The books offer pretty much every Zelda song of note worth playing, except Windfall Island.

Last but not least: We’re holding a Giveaway!

Thanks to STLOcarina’s supreme generosity, they are providing ZU with enough ocarinas to fill a truck with. Or enough for two prize winners. That’s about the same. So, we’re starting a new Bank of Hyrule contest!

You can find out about the prizes (obviously ocarinas and sheet music) here.

We encourage everyone to enter for their shot at winning some ocarinas and sheet music. Good luck to all!