SYOS

Saxophones How much difference is there between brands?

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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What characteristics do those of you who "obsess" over the qualities of saxophones in a similar group think are the most significant.
It would be especially interesting to hear from repair people, instrument makers and longtime owners of many instruments, but the inevitable jokes and stories are all good.
Well, let's see...there's:

~Tone
~Blowing Response
~Mechanical Response (and related ergonomics)
~Intonation
~Quality of build (related to reliability/longevity)
~Quality if Finish
~Aesthetics

For me, the top two have always been Tone and Build. To me, it is the Tone which gives a horn its particular 'signature'.

However, Tone is of little use IF the horn Build is such that it has to be taken into the tech 3x/year for significant adjustments and corrections.

Intonation, IMHO, has always been an 'issue' which I think is overtalked. I have worked up over 1500 saxophones, probably 66% vintage, 33% modern. The vast majority had really NO intonational problems at all...this includes old 1920's split-bellkey models all the way up to contemporary new horns.
Yes, some older models tend to have more 'flex' to their intonation, but for me this is part of the 'sax experience' and really, is quite controllable and easy to dial into with a little playing time on the horn, and proper mouthpiece choice.
And quite honestly, a LOT of older models are as straight-arrow intonationally as any Yama or Yani. And...guess what ? ...a LOT of modern models can require as much intonational-dialing into via embouchure as an old model. So a lot of this is, IMHO, myth...

Blowing response - this is a BIGGIE and often gets left out of conversation unless you start talking to pretty experienced and serious players, but it is a significant aspect to what may make a horn model GREAT as opposed to just OK. This is one place where the entire horn becomes elevated, IMHO. This is where a model's greatness may be defined.
How does the horn respond to subtle changes in the players blowing/embouchure ? Can color and variation be coaxed out of the horn ? When you blow into it, is it as if you have to work to make it come alive ? Or is it like grabbing onto a moving train which is leaving the station ? (as in...it is almost telling you...."let's GO, buddy, I'll take you there !" Super 20, Conn Artists, Buescher 'Crats, Martin Committees, Holton 23X and 24X series, Keilwerths, Selmers, Borganis, R&C's, B&S's, Beaugniers, German Kohlerts, the better Pierrets, Yama 82's, Yanis, Eastmans, to name a few....they have this quality.

(A fellow on the other Forum made a really interesting statement recently, which describes this dynamic. I am paraphrasing, but it went like: "when I pick up my XX model, I play it and I feel I can do anything I want with it...when I pick up my YY model, I play it with the feeling 'OK, what is it gonna let me do ?" )

Build Quality - after Tone,
of utmost importance. THIS is where MOST contemporary horns fail, oftentimes miserably (and I do NOT just mean cheapies....there are some very popular models and brands which have pretty high pricetags which fit right in this category, shockingly. (I will refrain from naming them, just to avoid starting a shootout).

But THIS is where many horns cannot pass muster. And THIS is the sort of thing which a new owner cannot really ascertain. It is a TEST OF TIME element, often. The horn, off of assembly line, may start out in quite good tack from the standpoint of regulation, lack of key play, etc. But will it hold up to normal/moderate playing ? Or higher-frequency playing ?

How good is your horn if, again, you have to bring it to your tech 3-4 times a year because it keeps getting leaks ?

Some horns, new and frsh out of box, already exhibit ridiulously poor precision of build. Others start of pretty 'tight', but their mechanisms, etc just are not fabricated well enough to keep in good, reliable regulation. There are even some brands (now we are getting into the cheapies) which, quite honestly...are just gonna get to the point where after a couple of years of moderate playing, they have moved towards unrepairable (or "the repair is gonna run more than the horn is worth, and there's no guarantee after the repair it won't need it again in a year").

Finish and Aesthetics - matters not to me at all....although (with due respect to those who get hooked on this stuff) I pretty much hate bling and faux antique finishes....just gimmicks. As far as Bare Brass, I personally fail to understand the draw (unless someone has fallen for teh whole "bare brass gives the horn a better tone because it allows the naked metal to resonate more' malarkey. To me, you are just buying yourself upkeep problems.

But with that said, we DO want a good, quality finish....not lacquer which wears or discolors quickly, not a faux finish which 'rubs off' in areas which are commonly touched, not cheap plating which begins to show its bras beneath within a few months of new ownership, etc...

Whew...done (for now)
 
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randulo

randulo

Playing alto 2 ⅓ years
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Its a pretty broad wuestion that will lead to more travel rather than less.
And if you ever had your wuestion broadened, you know how painful that can be!
Thank you, I'll be here all week.

Interesting about design, which poses yet another side issue. When will the design change significantly? When there's a new alloy, for example? (Or plastic?) What if the tension on the pads changed something in the sound?
There's a guitar strap, for example, that bends notes when you push the guitar down. Maybe some day, a saxophone will be made that adds a whole dimension like this? On topic, that might make a brand jump out from the bunch.
Or they could just make a C# saxophone or add a multi-position like the EWI have. How cool would that be, as long as the rest played normally. (Yes, altissimo is sort of that.)
 
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randulo

randulo

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How good is your horn if, again, you have to bring it to your tech 3-4 times a year because it keeps getting leaks ?
I like your whole, thoughtful answer, and this particular point is right on. True of most anything you purchase, you want it to last until it somehow gets physically broken! Then you want to be able to get it repaired.
 
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JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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1,560
And if you ever had your wuestion broadened, you know how painful that can be!
actually...once you get used to it...it becomes kinda pleasurable, in a way... :oops:

...but I digress.....


Interesting about design, which poses yet another side issue. When will the design change significantly? When there's a new alloy, for example? (Or plastic?) What if the tension on the pads changed something in the sound?
There's a guitar strap, for example, that bends notes when you push the guitar down.
Very INTERESTING question. Because I get, at times, questions from prospective buyers along the lines of "but will I have to learn different fingerings on a vintage horn ?" They are asking in earnest (partly because, again, the whole modern vs. vintage keywork thing gets THAT overstated on the www that intelligent folks can actually be led to believe this).

I point out: If Rudy Weidoft were alive and playing today (wouldn't that be cool ?)...and he picked up the latest Yamaha...it'd take him about 20 seconds to get it under his fingers. Likewise if, ohhhh....I dunno...name your favorite pro under 30 years of age....picked up a 1919 horn, it'd take him/her about 20 seconds to figure out how to navigate it decently.

Very LITTLE has actually changed in the basic design, really.

Now there are folks like Jim Schmidt, who over the years has had some really radical, sometimes brilliant, sometimes just 'interesting', ideas he has actually put into limited production...which REALLY 're-thinks' the horn. I think his re0though key fingering system is nothing short of genius, actually.
Not the first time this has been done to some extent.

Think of Beaugniers efforts with their "Rationale/System" keywork...Pierret with their Sylvester model horns...there have been some otehrs which sip my mind right now...youa re not familiar with these ? That is because they, from a marketing standpoint, 'failed' rather quickly....

But thing here is....the sax/woodwind community is VERY...VERY...conservative and resistant to changes in design, really. I remember digging up some old Jim Schmidt threads when he was introducing some of his new products/inventions....
Holy cow, the strafing and aggressive replies he received to his ideas was really shocking to me. The funny thing being, his metal JS pads, which received no shortage of ridicule when he was developing and introducing them, are now considered a top-notch product.
But I think there IS a lot of player and academic resistance to new ideas in sax design.
 
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randulo

randulo

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An old Steve Allen joke, the 1960's version of "That's what she said". Allen wrote several jazz tunes and was a smart comic. He also played Benny Goodman in that movie, but I digress, truly.
 
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randulo

randulo

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Meanwhile, on an adjacent channel, there's this interesting post:
The comments are on weight and the fact that as silver is precious, the build should be done with more care.
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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There's a guitar strap, for example, that bends notes when you push the guitar down.
There's a guy in Portland, a custom guitar builder, who came up with a radical notion - he believes the typical 'slabs' of wood used for electric guitar and bass bodies should not be slabs, but rather curved to mold around the body/torso of the player. Very interesting stuff. Again, almost too interesting to be accepted on a popular scale. But this is where innovation can come from.
The comments are on weight and the fact that as silver is precious, the build should be done with more care.
Also, keep in mind, this product is automatically gonna be aimed at a high-budget buyer...so making sure everything is really dialed-in, design and fabrication-wise...SHOULD be part of the complete package there.
 

CliveMA

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Dvorak (layout designed to minimise movement) vs QWERTY (layout designed to slow typist so mechanical keys on original typewriter don't jam) keyboard market reality is same reason why sax keywork stays same: there is significant player skills investment in existing layout such that a design much more efficient will only ever be adopted by a fringe.
 
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randulo

randulo

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there is significant player skills investment in existing layout such that a design much more efficient will only ever be adopted by a fringe.
Yeah, I get that, but that's for old folks! That's a good metaphor, though. There were always a few people that liked DVORAK keyboard setup... and they were often on Linux - go figure! ;)
 

Stephen Howard

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I wonder if contemporary instruments are moving towards a form of homogeneousness in tone, spurred on by the necessity to cut manufacture costs, sourcing parts from the same factories and rise of the ultra-low-budget saxophone e.g. Ammoon?
It's not the horns that are moving there - it's the players.
Just about any Chinese factory will make a horn to your spec - provided you can front the cash and meet the minimum order quota. But retailers know that what they stock has to sell - and what sells is what the public wants.
Times have changed, and although there are plenty of horns from yesteryear up for grabs - the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of players are looking to embrace the fresh dynamism of the contemporary era, rather than hark back to a time when waistbands came halfway up your chest.

There are a few outliers, however. Keilwerth continue to lead the field in 'heavy on the midrange' horns, and even companies like Trevor James have dialed back the 'contemporariness' somewhat - and then there's Mauriat...who go for the sawn-off shotgun approach (make as many models as possible in the hope that someone, somewhere, will buy one). Conversely, Yanagisawa have upped the 'zing' on their latest horns.
And, of course, you have the Italians...who've always done 'their own thang'.

Should 'warm and woolly' become the new norm, you can bet your last Rico Royal that manufacturers will be tripping over themselves to produce horns that match this criteria. But, realistically, we're not living in the post Parker/Getz era - but rather the post Sanborn age...and the horns of the day will naturally reflect this influence.
I don't mind this at all - I feel it's a lot better than being glued to a tonal philosophy that peaked in the 18th centrury.
This is the 'killer feature' of the sax - its tone is complex and versatile enough to 'follow the fashion', or the individual.

I'll say this much though - it all pales beside the tone of an original Adolphe sax...for which the only word that fits the bill is 'ethereal'. There's a nascent movement to get back to this tone - but my personal feeling is that it won't have a broad enough appeal to make it more than a niche product. It's a shame, but business is business at the end of the day.
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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It's not the horns that are moving there - it's the players.
Respectfully disagree.

If 90% of available new horn options are of a 'modern toned' paradigm....and the 10% which are not are priced quite high, out of the range of, say, 75% of sax buyers....it is not the sax buyers who are creating a 'demand' for that particular sonic quality.

They are simply being left with choices which happen to inhabit that paradigm.

Matter of fact, if anything I would argue that the demand exists and is increasing for contemporary models which have somewhat reasonable price tags and which possesses some of those sonic qualities. Some companies have (truly) tried to create and provide models which lean in that direction while keeping their pricetags in range of most folks.


Times have changed, and although there are plenty of horns from yesteryear up for grabs - the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of players are looking to embrace the fresh dynamism of the contemporary era, rather than hark back to a time when waistbands came halfway up your chest.
Interesting comment.

First off - you have referenced the vintage era with solely a negative attribute (and a somewhat ridiculous one - although that is how my dad wore his :rolleyes: ). I understand, tongue in cheek and all, but still....if I connected a brand new model to existing in the era of Botox....that wouldn't give a whole lot of regard to the model of horn....

Secondly, you intimate that older instruments do not possess some sort of "dynamism" which is appealing to players.

Now- as a purveyor of refurbed vintage instruments - I would counter: Vintage has become desirable and popular again precisely BECAUSE they possess elements of performance which folks cannot find in the vast majority of contemporary offerings. Sound, for example, IS the #1 desirable attribute which leads folks to vintage saxes.

So again, I would not agree that the 'vast majority' of players are 'looking' for that 'modern', 'dynamic', 'fresh' tone.

But rather, it's the sonic paradigm which is most readily available to most players. And happens to be the most profitable for asian factories to produce.
 
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Pete Effamy

Senior Member
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@JayeNM I'm with you on a lot of your post.

Intonation, IMHO, has always been an 'issue' which I think is overtalked.
Completely agree. I've never talked about intonation when talking to buddies about their horns.

Blowing response - this is a BIGGIE and often gets left out of conversation
It really does.

"when I pick up my XX model, I play it and I feel I can do anything I want with it...when I pick up my YY model, I play it with the feeling 'OK, what is it gonna let me do ?"
I never fancied myself much as a tenor player until I played my present horn - straight away it sang back to me the exact input of dynamics and inflection I felt as though I'd been putting in to my other tenors for years and got back maybe 70%. It wasn't me after all.
 

Pete Effamy

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2,197
So, for me, it's got to be tone and response way out front. Build quality is something we'd all love to be fantastic, but I'd rather have a horn that did everything I asked from a playing point of view and maybe needed a bit more looking at. To use the analogy of a racing driver - all he cares about is having a fast/driveable car. It can break after the chequered flag.
 

CliveMA

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Yeah, I get that, but that's for old folks! That's a good metaphor, though. There were always a few people that liked DVORAK keyboard setup... and they were often on Linux - go figure! ;)
On the contrary, it is every young person that can touch type on a dreadfully inefficient QWERTY keyboard. Most old people are two-fingered typists or computer illiterate. Almost all have never heard of Dvorak.
 
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randulo

randulo

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Almost all have never heard of Dvorak.
DVORAK was talked about in the early days, circa 1979-81 when only nerds had computers. There were drivers to change your keyboard layout. But your point is well-taken.
 

CliveMA

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Between groups, Chez Taylor reviews Yamaha tenor saxes (student 280, entry pro 62, top-of the line and jump-off point to Yani/Selmer 875) and finds substantial differences in tone, volume, intonation, ease of full-tone low notes, ease of subtone, ease of high notes, ease of altissimo with the 875 having everything feel like "part of her" and the 280 "having to really work hard" on all aspects.

BTW, Chez' own horn is Selmer Series II

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Tvpxs4Y_gI
 

CliveMA

Member
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DVORAK was talked about in the early days, circa 1979-81 when only nerds had computers. There were drivers to change your keyboard layout. But your point is well-taken.
Yes, but pre-existing typewriter conventions were adopted for punched card operators and doomed the computer keyboard to QWERTY due to existing investments in data entry skills (by 1960!) The cost of retraining to an objectively better technical setup doomed any change at a business case level.

Similarly, there are so many existing sax players (the market) that already use the Selmer-SBA style key layout that technical innovation has to be tiny increments or won't be adopted (by the market) eg tilting spatula keys (a tiny change that is somehow still controversial).
 
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randulo

randulo

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It seems to me that different keys (shape, pearl,...) could exist for a same brand and model? Or do they already?
 

Jazzaferri

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I can only speak with broad experience on one brand but I was pretty amazed at how 30 horns that are supposed to be the same could be as different as they were.

They shall all remain nameless but a decent mid priced horn line.
 
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