Saxophones A scruffy 84 year old alto -v- modern horns

Stephen Howard

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I think oversised resonators gives the sax more "volume and bigger" tone. Some techs like them.. Others don't.
The question to ask is "If oversized resos bring such benefits, then why don't all the horn manufacturers fit them as standard?".
It's not like they're expensive, so there really shouldn't be any reason why they don't fit them.

Let's face it, who doesn't want more volume and a bigger tone - especially if it comes for free?
But here's the thing...every physical change you make to a horn results in a change to the performance, and you can only go so far before you push the parameters beyond the design of the horn.
Want a low action? Sure, just pop some cork on the key feet - but you'll reduce the venting, which'll have a knock-on effect on the tone and the tuning.
A high action? Again, this will lead to instability and some tuning issues.

In other words there's always an offset, and the people who make horns know exactly how to balance out the inevitable compromises.
An excellent example of this can be found on older Yamahas, particularly the purple logo models. Most of the reflectors/resonators are of the standard size - but a few select keys were fitted with oversized ones (low D, Eb and low C# - if memory serves).
You could say that the larger reflectors were there simply to prolong the life of those pads that take a lot of punishment (certainly true of the low Eb) - but the low D doesn't, and neither does the C#. And what of pads further up the horn that really take a beating?
Could it be that the larger reflectors were fitted in order to compensate for a fall-off in the tone around these keys?

You also have to take into account the accumulative effect of any modifications, and how it affects the overall balance of the tone across the scale.

I liken it to lowered cars. The designers spend years working out all the geometries - and then the technical team spend months running the prototypes around test tracks...and then the QC bods rig the cars up on jigs and test the things to destruction. And when they're happy, they put it into production.
And then a spotty oik whips out and replaces all the springs and bushes and completely alters the geometry - which works fine when they're simply rolling around a track, but tends to pitch the car into a tree when they're nipping down the shops.

I can tell you why a lot of techs don't like modding vintage horns - and it's because they know the mods can have negative effects. This leads to the clients coming back with complaints of tuning problems and uneven tone, if not instability across the range. They tend to see it as a fault of the craftsmanship and expect the repairer to spend more time (for free, thankyouverymuch) 'getting it right'.
And they feel obliged to try. At least the conscientious ones do. Those with fewer scruples will tell you you just need to 'play it in', or that 'other players have no such problems'.
If you've got any sense you soon wise up and realise that there are a lot of players using perfectly standard horns who just want them to work properly.

All the players I've come across who have a huge, powerful tone all have one thing in common - they've all spent a lot of time working on it. No fancy gadgets, no esoteric tweaks - just years of working on getting the best out of their horns. And if you've ever played alongside our very own Pete Thomas, you'll know exactly what I mean.
 

jbtsax

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This comparison of "player's perceptions" is from a study conducted by Pauline Eveno.
  • Saxophone 37: with plastic resonators
  • Saxophone 38: with no resonators
  • Saxophone 39: with plastic resonators
  • Saxophone 40: with metal resonators
Average ratings of the brightness (in black), ease of playing (in grey) and evenness (in white) for the four saxophones.

The conclusion drawn was that while there is virtually no difference between plastic and metal resos the same size, the player's perceived a large difference when playing the saxophone with pads without resonators. For many years all "vintage" saxophones had pads without resos.

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thomsax

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There were some new saxes (ROC) that were availble with oversized sterling silver resonators. I have just oversized resonators on Martin Comm saxes (from -38-62) so I can't say how they works on other brands. A Martin HC Commettee with resonators makes difference compare to plain pads. The key heights on Comm saxes are also low. Some techs say old Martin were "underpowered"?

1. A plain leather pad without resonator/reflector absorb energy?
2. A sterling silver resonator gives no plating trouble?
3. An oversized resonnator expose less of the pads and the pad last longer?
4. An oversize resonator keep the pad flat?

The size of a resonators is also bigger today as they were in the 50's. But the Magna resontor was rather big? An original pad to a 1959 "The Martin Magna Tenor". They didn't called them for resonators or reflectors. They called them for "Tone Boosters".
magnaputor.JPG
 

altissimo

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leicester
As someone who plays a high baffle Lawton BB mouthpiece on a 1952 Martin Indiana alto I'd say that I get the best of both worlds - the power of the modern mouthpiece and the fatness of the Martin - also the Indiana seems to tame the brightness of my mouthpiece which would be unbearably bright on a modern sax, there's an underlying warmth that I would be hard to get from a Yamaha.
I've not tried oversized resonators, but when it needs new pads I might consider it

The Indiana fits me perfectly... Years ago a session musician told me 'never buy an instrument unless it feels like it's yours' and of course I've disobeyed that dictum numerous times, but Martins of any vintage always feel friendly and welcoming and sax technicians usually smile when you open the case..
I've tried a lot of horns over the years and been tempted, but when I get home and give the Martin a go I know there's nothing better for me. This doesn't stop me looking.
Some modern saxes feel limited in how far you can push them, but the Martin will take any amount of air and responds happily to whatever I throw at it - and I can worry tenor players with that big fat sound.
The ergonomics suit me perfectly too.

About 16 years ago I had the opportunity to buy a Conn 6M from a pro player along with a Lawton mouthpiece - not just any old 6M, but a VIII in full nickel plate, the price was right, how could I resist?. He's very particular about the setup of his horns and I'd heard about having saxes 'opened up' but never seen an example of it...
I've played a few 6M's and they respond quite differently to my Martin - the altissimo fingerings are different and they're less forgiving.
Open up the action and this becomes more so - like driving a sports car set up for the race track you can feel every pebble in the road and it'll spin off out of control with any lapse in concentration,
It's an unforgiving instrument, grudgingly revealing it's secrets like a grumpy kung fu master. But practice hard and you enter a different world of dynamics and tonal variation - how far you open each key makes a difference.
I was told that Conn's are the best horns for multiphonics and when you figure out the different fingerings this may be true.

Alas the idea of walking down dark streets in unfamiliar cities late at night with such an instrument isn't something I'd care to do, so I stick with the Martin and enjoy turning heads with a battered old horn... and if someone does attack me I can beat them over the head with it.

I sometimes think I'd be better off with a Yamaha, they're great instruments and you can get spare parts for them, but they just don't feel right -too rigid and inflexible and the modern ergonomics make my arms ache.
With the Martin I feel like I can just grab hold of the end of the air column with my embouchure and make it do anything I want.
If anyone ever makes a modern horn with a 6M L/H little finger table, I'll be interested

I get the feeling that in the 60's and 70's you just wouldn't be taken seriously unless you played a Mark VI, but now I see a greater diversity of saxes - Evan Parker and Tony Bevan have ditched their Selmer tenors in favour or King Super 20's, Paul Dunmall and Gilad Atzmon have Steve Crow modified Conns and a number of younger players have New Wonder II's... I saw a young guy in London last year playing a Kohlert VKS and he sounded great.
Buescher True Tone's seem to be gaining popularity and you don't see many Aristocrats for sale any more..
 

Stephen Howard

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UK
There were some new saxes (ROC) that were availble with oversized sterling silver resonators. I have just oversized resonators on Martin Comm saxes (from -38-62) so I can't say how they works on other brands. A Martin HC Commettee with resonators makes difference compare to plain pads. The key heights on Comm saxes are also low. Some techs say old Martin were "underpowered"?

1. A plain leather pad without resonator/reflector absorb energy?
2. A sterling silver resonator gives no plating trouble?
3. An oversized resonnator expose less of the pads and the pad last longer?
4. An oversize resonator keep the pad flat?

The size of a resonators is also bigger today as they were in the 50's. But the Magna resontor was rather big? An original pad to a 1959 "The Martin Magna Tenor". They didn't called them for resonators or reflectors. They called them for "Tone Boosters".
1: Yep - the more leather that's exposed to the bore, the more dampening you're going to get.
2: Nickel silver reflectors are cheaper and have much the same properties. Plastic resonators even more so.
3: I'd say the jury's out on this one. It sounds as though a larger reflector would prevent more of the leather from being exposed to moisture and grime - but it doesn't change the amount of contamination that's thrown at the pad. The results in the crud being blown over the reflector to come to rest at the unprotected portion of the pad. This causes more saturation of the leather, which eventually passes through to the felt core.
4: A larger reflector can certainly assist in keeping the pad flat - but if it's been set correctly there should be no need to rely on much more than a small rivet in the centre of the pad.

Larger reflectors were around in the '50s - specifically those used on Gordon Beeson pads (Beeson's patent was filed in 1949). Given the variance in reflector size that I've seen on such pads, I suspect that oversized ones were an optional extra rather than a standard.
 

JoeG46

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11
Location
Wollongong, Australia
Re "polite instruments"
The director of two bands I play with habitually refers to "the polite Instruments"
In response I tend to refer to "the inoffensive instruments",
which some find offensive.
 

jbtsax

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I would like to share a couple of ideas I have learned from studying acoustic literature---reading between the math of course since I don't have a degree in physics or mathematics.

The quality or "color" of each tone we hear is based entirely upon its "harmonic footprint". That can be studied and compared visually by viewing a spectrograph which shows the fundamental and the strength and pitch of the various overtones or harmonics. The design of the mouthpiece, the cut and strength of the reed, the player's embouchure, oral cavity and air stream shape the "harmonic footprint" significantly more than anything else "downstream".

"Downstream" the interior geometry and surface inside the bore of the instrument primarily effects the amount of sound energy lost and the "harmonicity" of each tone. "Harmonicity" simply means how closely the frequencies of the harmonics match whole number multiples of the frequency of the fundamental. When there is close harmonicity, the instrument responds well and is easy to blow and takes less input energy from the player to produce the sound. When the harmonicity is far from ideal the instrument feels more "stuffy" and requires a greater input of energy from the player to produce the same result. Vintage saxophones that allow the player a lot of flexibility with the tone and pitch of each note do not have a high degree of harmonicity. Saxophones with good harmonicity have a tendency to "lock in" the pitch of each note. Brass players refer to this as "slotting" which gives more accuracy, but less flexibility.

Benade explains it this way. The fundamental and its harmonics cooperate to share energy and form what he calls a "regime of oscillation". This means that there is some "give and take" between the harmonics and the fundamental. Those harmonics that are not whole number multiples of the fundamental lose some of the energy at their peaks when they move to be inline and cooperate with the fundamental. It is this natural energy loss of the harmonics that makes the instrument less responsive and require more input energy from the player. Because some of the harmonics have given up their peak energy the tone becomes a bit more dull and lifeless. The illustration below from a handout in one of Benade's classes shows the out of tune harmonics peaks that are sharp compared to the whole number multiple of the fundamental represented as a dotted line. Those who would like to know more about "harmonicity" and woodwind instruments can go to this link: Some aspects of tuning and clean intonation in reed instruments J.P. Dalmont


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