All profit supporting special needs music education and Help Musicians
Tutorials

Saxophones Can lacquer affect the tone of an instrument?

Andante cantabile

Senior Member
Messages
695
I sometimes come across the view that unlacquered instruments have in some cases a sound that is different to a lacquered instrument of the same sort. Of course, it is possible that I simply misread things.

But, if I indeed understood the matter correctly, I ask myself why this should be the case. Perhaps we are agreed that the sound of the saxophone is made internally by way of a mouthpiece and an excited reed. Today I looked more carefully at the conical tube of my two tenors, and neither of them seems to be lacquered on the inside. They seem to be identical in this respect to unlacquered instruments. So, from this perspective, one would expect unlacquered and lacquered instruments to sound the same if they were equal in every other respect.

I realise that even saxophones of the same model can show minute differences which, if appreciable enough, could have an effect on the sound. But that is not what we talking about. I also quite understand that some players like the look of an unlacquered instrument better, and that to me seems to be a matter of personal choice.
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,802
I can't hear any differnce between an unlaquer or a laquer one. But a silverplated sax can have a differnt tone.

Are there any differnce between the tone and the sound of a sax?

Thomas
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
This is going to be a good one...

I did a lot of reading about accoustics a while ago. A fundamental assumption is that the body of the instrument is rigid enough to not deform under the effect of the sound waves inside. Questionable whether or not lacquer would do to a well constructed sax.

I also tried to find out what effect the material of the body has on the reflections of the sound waves inside the instument (e.g. does a wooden body reflect differently and so change the sound - an example would be wood vs Silver flutes ). There's virtually nothing on this either, although I did find one paper which was an expensive download, so decided not to buy, cos thee wasn't enough in the precis to show whether it would help or not. One point which was made on internal reflections is that sound waves are longitudinal, i.e. they travel along the body of the sax, not from side to side, so the effect of reflections was small and confined to tone holes and some effects at bends.

But there's no denying that the body of the sax vibrates as you play it, and although the level of vibration appears to be too small to create sound outside the sax, it clearly is driven by the ai vibrating inside - and so there must be some effect on the sound as the sax vibrating is removing energy from teh ai column inside the sax. And lacquer must affect that vibration, so affect the energy absoption. They did a lot of work on Stradiaius' instruments, and some think the varnish he used had an effect - but body vibration is an inherent part of a violin's sound production, unlike a wodwind.

Another aspect is the smoothness or roughness of the inside of the sax - and this does have an effect. It'd be interesting to take a sax that isn't cleaned and is messy inside, do a detailed sound spectum analysis across a few players, then clean the inside and repeat the analysis. Could do the same with lacquer. and Silver.

Given that we're often chasing very subtle differences between different instruments' sounds, I think there's a good possibility that lacquer affects the sound, but... Whether it's audible or significant is another question.
 

Jules

Formerly known as "nachoman"
Messages
4,622
can of worms this one.... from where I'm sat, technically speaking the answer is no lacquering doesn't effect tone, why should it(?). However- there are noticable differences between say a Mauriat 66R and a Mauriat 66R-UL... its consistent across multiple horns and, in the shop, folks who don't know there may be differences seem to pick up on the same small response/tone changes that I've spotted. Are manufacturers make subtly different instruments and not letting on? Is it the finish? Is it all in the mind?..... who knows!
 

Stephen Howard

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,952
One factor that often gets overlooked in such debates is that in order to play a sax you have to pick it up and handle it.
Consider a handbell....a small brass or bronze bell attached to a wooden handle. When the bell is swung by the handle it produces a resonant note.
If the bell was picked up by the bell itself and swung, all you'd get would be a dull thunk.

So, when you pick up and play a horn you have both hands on it. Plus you also have a number of leather-clad felt discs, which are pressed down against the body in a variety of combinations.
If there's any benefit to be had from resonance of the body, handling the sax would destroy it immediately.
But what about a mid C#?
Well, this is a note you can play without any hands on the horn...and so this note should resonate the most. But it doesn't.
Try it - play a mid C# with the horn hanging from the strap, then play another one with your hands on the horn. There'll be no difference.

This is the 'killer' for the resonance theory. It's impossible to argue that there's a resonant effect without explaining why significant dampening has no effect on it.

I very much suspect that this all began when someone took their horn in for an overhaul and decided to have the lacquer removed. When the horn came back it played rather better than before - and the connection between the improved sound and the removal of the lacquer was made. The connection that was overlooked was that the horn had been fixed and no longer leaked.

Another simple test is to take a packet of Blu-Tack and break it up into a handful of marble-sized balls. Play the horn for a bit, take note of the tone, then stick a few blobs of Blu-Tack on it...see if there are any changes to the tone.
Try the same test with a wine glass (a truly resonating 'instrument').

As for the bore - this is where it's at, and a clean bore will give you a cleaner sound.
This is extremely easy to demonstrate by simply giving the bore of the crook a clean with vinegar.
This removes the coating of gunk that forms on the bore walls and returns the crook to an 'as new' state.

Regards,
 

Pete Thomas

Chief of Stuff
Commercial Supporter
Messages
13,975
But what about a mid C#?
Well, this is a note you can play without any hands on the horn...and so this note should resonate the most. But it doesn't.
Try it - play a mid C# with the horn hanging from the strap, then play another one with your hands on the horn. There'll be no difference.

This is the 'killer' for the resonance theory. It's impossible to argue that there's a resonant effect without explaining why significant dampening has no effect on it.
I totally agree this is quite close to what I would think of as a good proof (for the layperson), especially when comparing to a wine glass with blue tack.

I also agree with what acoustic science is out there, ie I think that lacquer, plating and body material have no discernible affect on the sound of a woodwind.

BUT (with devil's advocate hat on)

Have you tried the same thing with a string instrument such as a guitar or violin? A violin is held by the neck of the instrument so the body can resonate. Presumably most people think a violin body does resonate and so stopping that would affect the sound. So why do violinists tuck the body under their neck, often with a dirty great cushion held against it?
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,802
There can also be a diffence between how the sax is laquered!

The old way to laquer a sax was with cellulose laquer + thinner + retarder (+ gold colour). The saxbody and the parts was spray on several coats in a ”warm” and closed and room.

Today most manufactors use an expoxy type laquer. A mixture laquer, reducer, (colour) and catalyst. The saxbody and parts are spayed on ”cold” and ”baked on” in 93- 121 degrees Celsius. (An old bake owen (no fan) is fine). This method gives a harder coat comparing to the oldfashioned way. Also more durable.

Some techs, players … says that the expoxy type laquer is affecting the tone!!! I don’t know. I’ve re-laquered some King student saxes (”Happy Saxes”) with Ferree’s Perma-Laq (expoxy type laquer) with good results. I couldn’t hear any differences when I was playing them comparing to the un-laquered!! The difference was that I could charge more the golden shinny Kings!!!!

Thomas
 

Stephen Howard

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,952
Have you tried the same thing with a string instrument such as a guitar or violin? A violin is held by the neck of the instrument so the body can resonate. Presumably most people think a violin body does resonate and so stopping that would affect the sound. So why do violinists tuck the body under their neck, often with a dirty great cushion held against it?
The debate among string players about such things has been going on even longer that that amongst wind players.
It's a very different setup, but there's an interesting difference that's worth highlighting.
If you were to take a hacksaw and cut a slit into the body of the sax, and then tape that slit up - the horn will play just fine, as before. If you did the same thing to a violin or an acoustic guitar it would have a marked effect.

Regards,
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,802
Send me a PM if you want to read a Swedsih stydy called : Modelling Perceptual Dimensions of Saxophone
Sounds
. Intersting reading.

As I have said before, I think the bore and taper and tonhole placement on the conical bore determind the tone of a sax. Also the method how the toneholes are made affect the tone (drawn, hardsoldered or softsoldred). I think you can't do so much about the tone. You can just adjust the toneheigt and keyheights without rebuilding the the horn.

I think he sound of a sax is: mpc-reed, sax construction incl resonators/reflectors, how the sax is setup (keyheights ... ) ... even keynoise or different reed, diffent mpc .... all this gives a sax it's sound! This is more a personal thing.

Thomas
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
BUT (with devil's advocate hat on)

...

Have you tried the same thing with a string instrument such as a guitar or violin? A violin is held by the neck of the instrument so the body can resonate. Presumably most people think a violin body does resonate and so stopping that would affect the sound. So why do violinists tuck the body under their neck, often with a dirty great cushion held against it?
Well, it's only the edge that's under the chin, and that's being held still by the sides of the body anyway. Most of the vibration is happening way from the edges. Never actually sutdied the physics, but that seems reasonable to me.
 

jazzdoh

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,284
This has been discussed many times with varying opinions.
I myself believe there is little to no difference between the finishes,although like Jules i have heard the difference between the lacquered and unlacquered Mauriats.
When i bought my mark VI several years ago from woodwind exchange i tested about 10 mark VI`s and my wife was horrified that i picked one with about 15% to 20% lacquer remaining ugly looking but the sound was fantastic compared to the other horns,whether it was the lack of lacquer or whether it was just a great mark VI i don`t know.
Recently i just had the VI overhauled and decided to have the remaining lacquer removed and it sounds even better but i presume that its the new pads and overhaul thats improved the sound and not the removal of all the lacquer.
I have horns with lacquer,black plate,silver plate,and unlacquered but i happen to think the unlacquered horns look great but again thats only my opinion.

Brian
 

gladsaxisme

Try Hard Die Hard
Subscriber
Messages
3,409
Well here's my two penneth.I believe that every thing effects the end tone produced by the sax in one way or another because if it didn't every single sax on the planet would sound identical if they were played by the same man with the same set up,and they just don't it's as simple as that.and this thing about the bells and holding them is a real red herring because it's a completely different thing that is going on there, it's the metal of the bell vibrating that causes the air to vibrate and make the sound which is completely different to air being made to vibrate by passing over a reed and then travelling down a conical tube to be influenced by every thing that happens to it on it's journey,ie the vibrations of the metal of the instrument what ever that may be,the air passing various tone holes and pads made of various materials and wether or not someone may be holding that sax and then the enviroment that the sound eventually escapes into they must all play some part in the eventual tone produced by any sax,well that's my opinion anyway...john
 
Last edited by a moderator:

old git

Tremendous Bore
Messages
5,545
Kev's point about internal finish. Highly polished might not be the way to go. When racing sailing dinghies we were advised that the lowest drag was achieved with a one molecule boundary layer adhering to the hull as water molecules slide over themselves with less drag than a polished surface. The same occurs in aerodynamics so go for an internal matt finish.

Perhaps zinc would be best alongside my Whitworth Titanium Ligature Setscrews.
 

Stephen Howard

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,952
Well here's my two penneth.I believe that every thing effects the end tone produced by the sax in one way or another because if it didn't every single sax on the planet would sound identical if they were played by the same man with the same set up,and they just don't it's as simple as that.and this thing about the bells and holding them is a real red herring because it's a completely different thing that is going on there, it's the metal of the bell vibrating that causes the air to vibrate and make the sound which is completely different to air being made to vibrate by passing over a reed and then travelling down a conical tube to be influenced by every thing that happens to it on it's journey
Thing is, there are no two identical horns - and even two horns that are as identical as makes no odds will show differences when played. This is why it's good practice to try out a number of examples of a horn you're buying...so that you pick the one that works best for you.

Yes, the handbell analogy is a red herring - as you say, it's a completely different way of producing sound...which begs the question "Why then do some people seem to think a sax works in this way?"
Closer to the mark is the theory that many factors affect the tone as it passes down the bore of a horn. Minute differences in the bore will do this...the curves around the tone hole bases, ripples in the bore, lumps and bumps over joints.
I'm afraid it all boils down to dull old mathematics.

Regards,
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
Kev's point about internal finish. Highly polished might not be the way to go. When racing sailing dinghies we were advised that the lowest drag was achieved with a one molecule boundary layer adhering to the hull as water molecules slide over themselves with less drag than a polished surface. The same occurs in aerodynamics so go for an internal matt finish.

Perhaps zinc would be best alongside my Whitworth Titanium Ligature Setscrews.
Any solid surface in air will have a layer of gas adsorbed onto it anyway, no matter how clean or well-polished. One of the things they learned on the first space walks was that the astronauts gloves and boots tended to stick to the surface of the spacecraft because there was no gas layer there to "lubricate" the contact interface.

Remember that educational film in the Simpsons? "Imagine living in a world without zinc...".
 

Stephen Howard

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,952
Oi! Retired (or is that unemployed?) mathematician here. Mathematics is beautiful. It just takes a bit of getting into. Like, say, bebop.
I agree, completely - it was a way of bringing home the point that what makes a horn sound the way it does isn't something 'ethereal'...it's just 'fizziks' (innit).

Regards,
 

gladsaxisme

Try Hard Die Hard
Subscriber
Messages
3,409
Thing is, there are no two identical horns - and even two horns that are as identical as makes no odds will show differences when played. This is why it's good practice to try out a number of examples of a horn you're buying...so that you pick the one that works best for you.

Yes, the handbell analogy is a red herring - as you say, it's a completely different way of producing sound...which begs the question "Why then do some people seem to think a sax works in this way?"
Closer to the mark is the theory that many factors affect the tone as it passes down the bore of a horn. Minute differences in the bore will do this...the curves around the tone hole bases, ripples in the bore, lumps and bumps over joints.
I'm afraid it all boils down to dull old mathematics.

Regards,
Hi Stephen

I wasn't trying to knock you in any way I was justa little surprised the bell thing was brought ino the argument. getting back to the original question about the lacquer, my point is that everything including lacquered or not is likely to influence the eventual tone in some small way...john
 

Stephen Howard

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,952
Hi Stephen

I wasn't trying to knock you in any way I was justa little surprised the bell thing was brought ino the argument. getting back to the original question about the lacquer, my point is that everything including lacquered or not is likely to influence the eventual tone in some small way...john
And this is where the bell analogy becomes relevant. The entire body of a handbell acts to produce a sound - if you applied a coat of lacquer to it, it would have a noticeable effect.
The sax isn't a resonating instrument, what determines the tone is what goes on inside the bore.
Maybe Pete and I should get together one day with a saxophone, a mic and a bag of quick-drying cement...

Regards,
 
Saxholder Pro
Help!Mailing List
Top Bottom