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Beginner Sax Beginning alto sax - Advice on mouthpieces and reeds

McAldo

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Carshalton
Hi everybody,

I have been lurking on the forum over the last days, looking for info about saxes for beginners.
Today I finally bought my first sax from ebay. A Jericho Alto, which accordingly to some old review and several opinions on forums is quite free blowing and reasonably in tune.
I am crossing my fingers. The one I am getting is supposedly in good conditions but it was bought from new new the end of 2015, so quite a few years after the review above was published. I passed on a Sakkusu, which I understand is a more established brand, to get the Jerico, so I can only hope quality stayed reasonably good over the years.
I played some other reed instruments and some flute in the past, albeit badly, so hopefully that should help me a bit learning the alto.

I know that it is very common for beginners to ask here about mouthpieces and reeds, and I read quite a few threads on the topic, but I would really appreciate if someone could give me an opinion about my options.

Mouthpieces:

I see that the general advice is to go for yamaha 4C ad 5C. From what I read, give I like a bit of a warmer sound, I should perhaps go for a 5C.
However, I also read very positive opinions about

the Bari Alto Exprit II
Bari Alto Saxophone Eb Mouthpiece Esprit II (Round Chamber)

the Ruyon 22
Runyon 22 - Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece - Sax.co.uk - The Worlds Leading Saxophone Specialist

I will be studying jazz, as that is what I do with my other instruments, and probably try and play some melody over classical pieces I normally play on guitar. I guess I am mainly after a warm tone, not too edgy, and a mouthpiece which is not too challenging to start with but versatile enough to learn in a few years the whole range of the instrument and some bending and vibrato without struggling too much.
My favourite sax player always was Sony Rolllins, but I doubt I will be chasing after that kind of sound as a clueless beginner on an alto.

Given the above, which mouthpiece would you suggest to try?
I will probably bring the instrument to a shop for a a checkup, not sure if they are generally ok with letting customers try different mouthpieces?


Reeds:

I have some experience with soprano and tenor reeds on bamboo instruments, which require a different lip positiion than a sax. I used very soft reeds, 1.5, mainly cheap but reasonably good one, and I liked some Alexander tenor 2.
I guess on the sax I should first start with a 2?
By any chance, is there any vendor who sell mixed packages to try different strengths?

I see that Marca Jazz for alto are well liked by some here, and well priced, so I was thinking to give them a go
Marca Jazz alto saxophone reeds

I was also considering trying Legere 2 or 2 and a 1/4
Inconsistencies with reeds used to drive me bonkers.
Also I work from home and fit instruments practise in my short breaks between shifts. So, a reed which allows me just grab the instrument and do my 15 minutes of exercises without fiddling too much would be great.
Just, does using a synthetic reed make any difference when learning technique?

Strap:

Now, perhaps this is the dumbest question ever, but, are all straps the same, pretty much? Provided they are not so cheap that they will break landing your horn on the floor, I mean.

Thanks for reading, I really hope someone will stop by to give me some advice
 

Jeanette

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I will probably bring the instrument to a shop for a a checkup, not sure if they are generally ok with letting customers try different mouthpieces?

Most shops will let you try mouthpieces..

By any chance, is there any vendor who sell mixed packages to try different strengths?

Howarths and sax.co.uk do sell individual reeds to try but some can be inconsistent so don't write off a reed manufacturer on just one reed.

No not all straps are the same, some offer more comfort :)

Jx
 

kevgermany

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Too much focus on kit. You're about to find that most of the sound comes from you.

Yes, get the sax checked/set up. Jericho's are ok, but like any sax should be serviced at least annually.

Any of the mouthpieces you mention will be fine. As for reeds, it doesn't really matter. People obsess about them, but it's more a case that they blame reeds, rather than learning to play what you have. Try a 2, work with it, if it's too soft go up a half. If it's too hard, go the other way. On those mouthpieces, pretty much everything will work well. Rico orange box, for instance. Just be aware that the strengths are a guide and vary between brands and the reed types within a brand. Vandoren tend to be half a strength harder than many others.

What you need now is something that works, so you can concentrate on learning to play - fingers, embouchure, breath control.
 

garrobito

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131
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Alameda, CA, USA
My suggestion is a vandoren al3 with 2.5 reeed zz jazz vandoren.
It's a good starting point. I would suggest you avoid yamaha 4c.
Good luck and welcome!!
 

nigeld

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Congratulations on your new sax!

It's definitely worth getting your instrument serviced as soon as possible. It can make a huge difference, even if there are no obvious faults.

If you live near London, then you can try out mouthpieces at Sax.co.uk or Howarth. We all have our own favourite. I've never tried a Bari or a Runyon, so I can't comment on them. Yamaha is a safe bet, and a lot better than the mouthpieces that come with many saxes, but I've never been keen on them personally.

With regard to reeds. I think it's worth buying a few in different brands and strengths to try. Sax.co.uk sell individual reeds, so you don't have to buy a whole box. I tend to buy them in pairs, in case one is bad. Note that not the strengths are not consistent across brands - so a Vandoren Blue strength 2 is roughly equivalent to a Rico Royal 2 1/2. You can find a comparison chart on the web. My advice would be not to try synthetic reeds like Legere at the beginning because they are very expensive and the reed strength you use may change in the next few months.

Straps vary a lot, so it's worth finding one that is comfortable for you. I think the most comfortable support is a Jazzlabs Saxholder - it takes all the weight off the back of the neck. My next favourite for alto is a Rico padded strap.
 

jonf

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I saw the Jericho on eBay - I actually made the opening bid. Looks good, a quick once over by a technician and you should have a sax which is more than good enough to learn on.

Of the mouthpieces you mention, I'd go for the Bari. The Yamaha ones are fine, but I have found the Bari to have the most character and more flexibility to produce different sounds than the others. I have played all three, and much preferred the Bari. I thought the Runyon was very dull (unlike some of the other Runyons, which are real rock 'n roll screamers).

I'd suggest starting with 2 strength reeds from Rico, or D'Addario as they are now known. Get the basics of tone production, then experiment.

On the subject of slings, one you get to a certain level they all just work, and differences are about personal comfort preferences. One thing I would point out is that Neotech ones are a bit elastic, so the sax boings up and down a bit. This drives me mad, I personally prefer it to be held firm at the level I set.
 

Colin the Bear

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You will be replacing the mouthpiece you start with, once you get going. How long will depend on how quickly you build your chops. This in mind I would go for the Bari Esprit II. It's a good starter piece, easy blowing, consistent and very cheap. When you find who you are on the saxophone and what you want and need, you'll be in a better position to decide for yourself what best fits you.

You will sound awful for quite a while, especially if this is your first woodwind instrument. There is such a lot to learn and coordinate.

Try several different reeds. Pick something that plays easily.
It will be several years before you develop a warm tone. It will be decades before you play fluent jazz. No rush. Enjoy the journey.

A great player will sound great on whatever they play. Four hours a day for a decade or two is a good base to build on but still may not get you there. Play because you like playing.

The saxophone demands that you be a better all round musician than many other instruments.
 

jbtsax

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As the embouchure begins to develop, mouthpieces designed for beginners work best. Yamaha 4C, Fobes Debut, and Hite Premiere are all good choices. These mouthpieces are more forgiving and allow a good tone right from the start with a 2 1/2 reed. Once control is achieved throughout the range of the saxophone, then it will be the time to look for a more open mouthpiece with more volume and flexibility.
 

jonf

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As the embouchure begins to develop, mouthpieces designed for beginners work best. Yamaha 4C, Fobes Debut, and Hite Premiere are all good choices. These mouthpieces are more forgiving and allow a good tone right from the start with a 2 1/2 reed. Once control is achieved throughout the range of the saxophone, then it will be the time to look for a more open mouthpiece with more volume and flexibility.
I don't know whether you've come across them, John, as I don't think they're currently marketed in the US, but the Bari Esprit is also a pretty close mouthpiece, very suitable for beginners. I haven't measured on with my calipers but I'd guess slightly wider than the Yamaha 4c, but not by much.

I'm not actually sure where the OP is based, I'd guess in the UK from his or her written style. The Fobes Debut is not widely marketed in the UK, although it can be bought from Howarths, in London (fine shop, BTW). The Hite is much easier to find, and the Yamaha can be found anywhere, of course. I've tried the Hite but not the Fobes, and the Yamaha, of course. I'd still pick the Bari. It is also ludicrously cheap. Must give the Fobes a try some time.

As an aside, I've also tried the soprano Bari II, and though it even better than the alto version. I still prefer my PPT soprano, but not by much!
 

jbtsax

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Thanks. I have one on order to try.
 
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Seeing as you're playing alto I'd swerve the runyon 22 from sax.co.uk as it's for tenor :D

Yamaha 5c are decent mouthpieces, nicer tone than the 4c. Reed wise a vandoren zz 2 has a good vibe to it. They are slightly softer than a rico 2 (equivalent would be 1.75).
 

garrobito

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It will be several years before you develop a warm tone. It will be decades before you play fluent jazz. No rush. Enjoy the journey.

A great player will sound great on whatever they play. Four hours a day for a decade or two is a good base to build on but still may not get you there. Play because you like playing.

Decades?? really?? I gonna be dead before play soundly then...:rofl::rofl::rofl:
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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Straps: altos aren't too heavy, so I find a basic sling works OK for me. However for tenor, I need something with better ergonomics and use either a Cebulla or Jazzlab saxholder, which distribute the weight better
 

Alice

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IMG_0998.JPG
Decades?? really?? I gonna be dead before play soundly then...:rofl::rofl::rofl:
Now I know why I see so many skeletons playing jazz in New Orleans especially during Mardis gras.
 

tatooandy67

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168
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As a beginner I'm comfortable with a Yamaha 4c and vandoren blue #2, as for a sling I use the one supplied with the sax, as the alto isn't too heavy it's reasonably comfortable and you quickly get used to the weight, enjoy your new sax
 

McAldo

Member
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69
Locality
Carshalton
Most shops will let you try mouthpieces..

Howarths and sax.co.uk do sell individual reeds to try but some can be inconsistent so don't write off a reed manufacturer on just one reed.

No not all straps are the same, some offer more comfort :)

Jx

Thanks Jeanette!
I managed to order some single reeds from reedsdirect, even if I had to call them up for that. Good point about the risk of discounting a good brand due to duds, I'll keep that in mind.
By the way, congratulations on the forum interface, it's very usable compared to your average forum (sorry, random, non sax related, thought).
 

McAldo

Member
Messages
69
Locality
Carshalton
Too much focus on kit. You're about to find that most of the sound comes from you.

Yes, get the sax checked/set up. Jericho's are ok, but like any sax should be serviced at least annually.

Any of the mouthpieces you mention will be fine. As for reeds, it doesn't really matter. People obsess about them, but it's more a case that they blame reeds, rather than learning to play what you have. Try a 2, work with it, if it's too soft go up a half. If it's too hard, go the other way. On those mouthpieces, pretty much everything will work well. Rico orange box, for instance. Just be aware that the strengths are a guide and vary between brands and the reed types within a brand. Vandoren tend to be half a strength harder than many others.

What you need now is something that works, so you can concentrate on learning to play - fingers, embouchure, breath control.

I know, I spent quite a lot of time looking at kit and accessories, but in the end skills trump all the rest. Many years ago, I spent some time selling bamboo instruments on behalf of an artisan. I like them a lot, and spent lots of time trying to learn and play them well, but I always thought in the back of my mind that I was not progressing a lot because the instruments were limiting me.
I would tell people that, "they are fun to play, but with limits".One guy, after I said so, casually picked the cheapest, tiniest one. And blew my head off playing bebop on it, just like that. Suddendly, that instrument had acquire three octave range, overtones that I never knew existed, and seemingly perfect intonation (to my bad ears, that is). He left remarking that 9 holes were unecessary, one could do with 5.
Another random guy asked to try a bamboo flute and then started casually playing barocco on it, with a tone and a vibrato which I found simply unbelievable.
You can't buy that, granted.

But as you say, getting something that works is important, particularly at the start, when you never quite know if you are doing it right or not.
Thanks for all the advice, I am really looking forward to learning some sax :)
 

McAldo

Member
Messages
69
Locality
Carshalton
My suggestion is a vandoren al3 with 2.5 reeed zz jazz vandoren.
It's a good starting point. I would suggest you avoid yamaha 4c.
Good luck and welcome!!

Thanks! I just got some reeds, 2 and 2.5. They are Rico and Marca to keep it cheap this time around, but I'll give vandoren a go after getting a bit more familiar with the intruments.
And perhaps I'll try the al3 in a hop if I have a chance.
I read that it is a 'classical' mouthpiece. What does that mean exactly? Is it a mellower sound than more "jazzy" ones?
 

McAldo

Member
Messages
69
Locality
Carshalton
Congratulations on your new sax!

It's definitely worth getting your instrument serviced as soon as possible. It can make a huge difference, even if there are no obvious faults.

If you live near London, then you can try out mouthpieces at Sax.co.uk or Howarth. We all have our own favourite. I've never tried a Bari or a Runyon, so I can't comment on them. Yamaha is a safe bet, and a lot better than the mouthpieces that come with many saxes, but I've never been keen on them personally.

With regard to reeds. I think it's worth buying a few in different brands and strengths to try. Sax.co.uk sell individual reeds, so you don't have to buy a whole box. I tend to buy them in pairs, in case one is bad. Note that not the strengths are not consistent across brands - so a Vandoren Blue strength 2 is roughly equivalent to a Rico Royal 2 1/2. You can find a comparison chart on the web. My advice would be not to try synthetic reeds like Legere at the beginning because they are very expensive and the reed strength you use may change in the next few months.

Straps vary a lot, so it's worth finding one that is comfortable for you. I think the most comfortable support is a Jazzlabs Saxholder - it takes all the weight off the back of the neck. My next favourite for alto is a Rico padded strap.

Thanks!
I am in London, albeit quite far from the center and close to Surrey.
I might check first if there is any good sax shop around Sutton.
For my reference, what is typically the cost of a setup, provided not major fixing is needed?
The lady I am buying from said tha tthe instrument has been used very little, but it was perhaps never serviced, so it it probably still setup like it came from the maker.
I followed your advice for the reeds, and steered clear from the synthetic ones for the moment, thanks for that :)
 

McAldo

Member
Messages
69
Locality
Carshalton
I saw the Jericho on eBay - I actually made the opening bid. Looks good, a quick once over by a technician and you should have a sax which is more than good enough to learn on.

Of the mouthpieces you mention, I'd go for the Bari. The Yamaha ones are fine, but I have found the Bari to have the most character and more flexibility to produce different sounds than the others. I have played all three, and much preferred the Bari. I thought the Runyon was very dull (unlike some of the other Runyons, which are real rock 'n roll screamers).

I'd suggest starting with 2 strength reeds from Rico, or D'Addario as they are now known. Get the basics of tone production, then experiment.

On the subject of slings, one you get to a certain level they all just work, and differences are about personal comfort preferences. One thing I would point out is that Neotech ones are a bit elastic, so the sax boings up and down a bit. This drives me mad, I personally prefer it to be held firm at the level I set.

Hi, thanks for all the advice!
At first I was unsure whether I should go for the Jericho or a Sukkasu also closing for bids a few minutes after. Seeing how the Sukkasu ended up sold at nearly £120 more, which was a bit over my max budget, I am very gladI got lucky with the Jericho. Ebay at times is a bit strange, I have seen lots of things second-hand going for more than new, I guess it's the bidding fever :D

I went with your suggestions as for the moutpiece and the reeds. This afternoon I ordered the Bari and some rico and marca reeds 2 and 2.5.
How long do they last you, out of curiosity?
On my bamboo instruments, it was completely random, to be honest. I played at least 20 hours per week for work, plus practise. And some lasted me two weeks with a nice sound, others more like a day before developing micro cracks. Now, I'll be lucky if I manage 5 hours per week, but perhaps with an actual sax embochure they will wear out differently, not sure..

Good point on elastic straps being a bit exasperating when trying to keep the moutpiece always at the same angle, I'll steer clear of those, thanks!
 

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