SYOS

Intonation Tendencies and Sax Bore Design

kevgermany

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Rhys, that article was fascinating, got me looking through others. Then I came across this, not sure if you've seen it: http://www.john-robert-brown.com/snake-davis.htm

Take a look part way down, next to the photo - he talks a little about the effect of the bell length on intonation of the lower notes on Mk VI altos.

Thought struck me - assuming what's said is right (and there's precious little detail) - does your Mk VI have this affliction, and are you unconsciously compensating for it - and thus finding other instruments difficult which don't have the problem?
 
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rhysonsax

rhysonsax

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Rhys, that article was fascinating, got me looking through others. Then I came across this, not sure if you've seen it: http://www.john-robert-brown.com/snake-davis.htm

Take a look part way down, next to the photo - he talks a little about the effect of the bell length on intonation of the lower notes on Mk VI altos.

Thought struck me - assuming what's said is right (and there's precious little detail) - does your Mk VI have this affliction, and are you unconsciously compensating for it - and thus finding other instruments difficult which don't have the problem?
Hi Kev,

Thanks for the pointer to that article - I vaguely remember it from when it was in the CASS magazine but didn't remember the technical talk about saxes and MkVI altos.

It's not clear to me, but I think that when the article mentions "the intonation of the low notes" it means the bottom ocatve, and so the low Bb, B, C and maybe C#.

I know that Selmer alto MkVIs had some variation at the bottom end, but thought that was the bow design rather than the bell length. Some eras of MkVI altos suffer from "gurgling" low down and Selmer had to fix it with a baffle down in the bow. I had to do that myself for my low A MkVI alto, but weirdly enough the gurgling didn't affect everyone who played that instrument.

I don't think I am doing any compensating on the MkVI that is messing up on the Mauriat or Keilwerth. Because when I play on Grassi, Buffet, Walstein, Dolnet and my Grafton there is no such tuning problem.

It's a mystery, but one I'll probably have to put down to the weird way I am built or the peculiar way I blow.

Rhys
 

Morgan Fry

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Rhys, if you're playing relatively in tune on two drastically different mouthpieces on many instruments, and playing very sharp at the top end of one, this really sounds like a neck/mouthpiece matching problem. Yes, your chops make some difference, but you can change the size of the upstream resonator (vocal cavity) by altering your tongue position and shape. The biggest difference w/r/t pitch is made by how much you "bite" or pinch the reed.

There are two things you have to match to match a mouthpiece to a saxophone -- the mouthpiece has to have both the volume of the missing cone section and its resonant frequency. Both are very troublesome to measure, and will be different for every player because of differing amounts of reed compliance (the travel of the reed counts as chamber size, and differs depending on how much you restrict the vibration of the reed).

If you match the volume pretty well, the horn will play in tune up to about a B above the staff. Above that, the resonant frequency of the mouthpiece has a greater influence on the pitch (as it affects higher harmonics more than the fundamentals), pulling it up or down depending.

So try a neck with a steeper taper. Or a smaller chambered, longer mouthpiece. But any instrument that has difficulty playing in tune with standard equipment is a problem IMO.
 
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rhysonsax

rhysonsax

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Stephen Howard is more likely to know what the issue may be than I would.
I just noticed this extract in Steve's Haynes Manual, under the heading of User Error (I hope he doesn't mind me quoting it directly)
Look on any one of the many saxophone forums on the Internet and you'll see many hundreds of posts from players complaining about having difficulty getting certain notes, or playing in tune. Quite a few of these will be from players who have brand new instruments, or who have had work done to their instrument to remedy a problem without success. This is because there comes a point where the instrument can do no more and it's down to the player to make things work.

Typical complaints include notes breaking up around upper G, warbling low notes, tuning problems between octaves and various unexpected squeaks and squawks - and the solution to these is not endless hours of tweaking the mechanism but good, honest, old-fashioned practice. By building a good technique coupled with correct breathing and a stable embouchure, many of these problems simply disappear.
I know what he is getting at, and I'm sure it applies to me in some respects, but I really think there is something going on related to my physiology as well - there is such a marked and consistent contrast between the tuning behaviour on Selmer and similar instruments, compared with Mauriat and Keilwerth horns.

I hope that my small-chambered Vandoren V16 arrives soon and helps to overcome this tuning issue. Otherwise the Mauriat may have to be moved on, possibly in favour of a Yanagisawa.

Rhys
 

Stephen Howard

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It's not uncommon.
I like to think that after all these years of playtesting a huge variety of horns, I have a 'universal embouchure'.
It's hard to explain, but to me it feels like I play a couple of notes on a horn and there's a whirring of cogs and whatnots as the old brain thinks "Up a bit, down a bit, as you were...".

Every now and then though I come across a horn that just doesn't seem to want to work for me - and it can sometimes be quite an expensive brand.
This is the cause of all those posts from people who say "Yamaha/Selmer/whatever? Pah! They don't play in tune". It's nonsense, of course - but for them it's true.

I think it helps to think in terms of compromises. Every horn is built with them. If you make a horn bright and projecting you might stand a better change of making the tuning more even...if, say, you make it full and rich it might end up a bit wild in the tuning...if you go for a full, loud sound you get some instability in note production etc.
What you have to do is match up the compromises that best suit your own.

Regards,
 

Pete C

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As I understand it, saxophone tuning is always a compromise and different manufacturers have used different tuning schemes. I had a lot of tuning problems with my Mauriat 66 when I first started playing it, having come from playing a Selmer Ref 54, and remember getting some very searching looks from the trumpet player I was working with at the time. This no longer seems to be an issue and I haven't changed mouthpiece or reed strength or anything. I think I have just learned to play the horn in tune (or enough in tune). I was with Iain Ballamy one time when I first got the Mauriat and he blew through the range against a piano and remarked straight away that it used a different tuning scheme to Selmers, though he didn't see this as a problem, just something the player has to learn to control. I think there may be a difficulty if you want to switch between horns all the time.

Pete
 

koumou

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But he is famous for saying his saxophones are P.Mauriats but cheaper. So I can't see how one of his necks would help.
I would not say that, but I'll say that the pads and resonators aside, his vintage line is identical to the Walstein Bauhaus M2, and the Thoman custom line big bells.
 
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rhysonsax

rhysonsax

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My small chambered Vandoren mouthpiece came yesterday and I had an extended blow with that. It made the intonation problems even worse ! The D1 to F1 were quite flat (say 15 cents) and the D2 to F2 were really sharp (say 25 cents).

Aha, I thought, let's try my largest-chambered alto piece, which is an Otto Link STM. That was just appalling. The low notes played a whole semitone flat and the sound quality was awful. It made me wonder whether the STM was in fact a tenor piece rather than for alto !

Looks like I just don't suit this Mauriat horn and I will have to give up on it. Maybe I will try to trade it for a Yanagisawa or a similar horn - any takers ?

Rhys
 

Nick Wyver

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It made the intonation problems even worse ! The D1 to F1 were quite flat (say 15 cents) and the D2 to F2 were really sharp (say 25 cents).
That was just appalling. The low notes played a whole semitone flat and the sound quality was awful.
Maybe I will try to trade it for a Yanagisawa or a similar horn - any takers ?

Rhys
With your sales technique you should have plenty of takers. :)))
 
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rhysonsax

rhysonsax

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With your sales technique you should have plenty of takers. :)))
What I meant to write was "Mauriat PMSA-60 in nickel silver, in as new condition, superb professional horn".

Or maybe, as you often see in the small ads "Mauriat PMSA-60, not much use". :)))

Rhys

PS I'm sure it will be great for someone, just not me.
 

kevgermany

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I guess 'professional horn' means that only a pro has the ability to play it in tune >:)

Sorry Rhys, now you've been called on it, the only option is some poor unsuspecting person on the devil's junkyard.... :w00t:

Or I could make a charity offer based on it's value as a wall exhibit... Say 20 plus postage.... :)))
 
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rhysonsax

rhysonsax

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What I really have to do is take Pete up on his kind offer to blow on this particular horn and see whether it's the Mauriat or me that's the problem. I know where my money would be !

Rhys
 
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rhysonsax

rhysonsax

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I have made an intonation chart for this Mauriat horn. Playing with a nice SR Tech Legend mouthpiece, I recorded some long tones in a random order and this is what I got.

The data was exactly as it happened first time, so I haven't gone back to try again with any particular notes that look as though they might be rogue points in this dataset.

The second octave seems sharper, especially from D2 to F2, but what does it all mean ?

Rhys
 

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Nick Wyver

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Good grief! That looks terrible. I guess you're not looking at the tuner as you play? You just recorded a load of long tones with your ear as a guide and then checked the tuning later?

Interesting idea though. Perhaps I'll try it on mine.
 
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rhysonsax

rhysonsax

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Good grief! That looks terrible. I guess you're not looking at the tuner as you play? You just recorded a load of long tones with your ear as a guide and then checked the tuning later?

Interesting idea though. Perhaps I'll try it on mine.
After tuning up the horn in the mid range I turned the tuner off and played a whole load of long tones in a random order using my usual embouchure, as fixed as possible. I wasn't trying to tune with my eyes (no tuner) or my ears (random notes with random intervals and no comparison pitch from another instrument). It sort of works for the range F#1 to C#2 where the tuning is OK (and this covers the area where I had originally tuned up), but outside this it's all over the place.

Maybe I'll try the same experiment on my Selmer and see what happens.

Rhys
 

phooesnax

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MY BW Bari is dead on with the stock mouthpiece and was terrible with my Meyer 5<which was always great on other horns>. Sold the Meyer and happy with the stock.
 
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rhysonsax

rhysonsax

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Wanting to do the best I can on intonation charts (see my previous post with attachments) I remembered seeing something in Ernest Ferron's book "The saxophone is my voice" and more good stuff in Wyman's PhD thesis "An acoustical study of alto saxophone mouthpiece chamber design". I wanted to see what they have to say about capturing the intonation data and making an intonation chart, but they also say interesting things relevant to the discussion of intonation in general and spread octaves in particular.

Ernest Ferron: The saxophone is my voice (see first attachment)

It is impossible to do good work on a musical instrument by conjecture. An objective basis is necessary, or at least a directional framework which permits a person to understand what is done and why a particular result is or is not obtained.

Regardless of the desired result, the first thing to do is to make a tuning chart which will reveal an instrument's inherent intonation flaws, or those fairly frequently caused by a particular mouthpiece, or those equally often resulting from the musician's morphology.

The saxophone will sound full and rich when the octave relationships are exact and the upper harmonics lined up, meaning that their frequency must be as close as possible to a whole multiple of the fundamental's frequency.

If the octaves are out of tune, there is little chance that the instrument will respond well.

A tuning chart must never be made in a dead or sound insulated room, any more than a reverberant room. First of all, play the instrument for about ten minutes so that it will be warm. To do precise work, the room temperature should be 20 deg C / 68 deg F and the surrounding hygrometry 60%. A tuning chart provides a real plan of action for the repairer. Reading it gives immediate and sure information about the type of work needed to be done.

Make the measurements with the help of a high quality tuner (which is not so common) or with a stroboscope. The musician plays facing away from the machine so as to not be influenced by it, and lets the instrument speak without the slightest pitch correction.

It is preferable, if not indispensable, to use a rather soft reed. Above all, do not play a chromatic scale. Instead, go through the octaves, for example low Bb, then middle Bb, the high Bb. Next play low B, then middle B, and then high B, etc...

It is wise to try each note twice, once rising from the lower note, and once descending from the higher note, to avoid attacking the note directly. This work is rather tedious and demands very good concentration from the musician.


Wyman: An Acoustical Study of Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece Chamber Design (see second attachment)

Pitch charts constructed for a range of alto mouthpieces by averaging the recorded pitches played by a range of musicians on their own alto saxophones (nine different Selmers from serial # 14,600 to 173,322) for eleven selected test pitches. The test protocol is given in an appendix and identifies the pitches to be played (Bb, F, A, C#2, D2, F2, G#2. A2, C#3, F3 & Bb4) at mf dynamic level. Pitches played in three different orders (ascending, descending and mixed order for greatest disassociation). Musicians were instructed to "play all pitches with your mind directed toward the production of a good resonant musical tone. Do not be primarily concerned with playing in tune. Try not to think of the pitches in relation to each other as in a melody for you will then try to play each pitch in tune."

Here are a few extracts from the thesis document that I found particularly relevant and interesting:

Octave spreading generally increased as the length of the bore being used decreased. Figs 56 through 59 show the charcteristic octave spreading for each mouthpiece. Mouthpiece E was superior to all others in minimizing octave spreading. [Mouthpiece E was a "Meliphone Special"]

Each length of tube used has its own ideal spot for the placement of this venting hole. The intonation and quality of the "overblown" tone depends upon the proper placement of this hole. Since it is impractical to have a separate hole for every note, a single hole is made to do service for several adjacent notes. The location of the hole has to be a compromise and is not equally staisfactory for the pitch and quality of all tones. The farther the hole from the ideal spot, the sharper the "overblown" pitch tends to be.

The saxophone uses two venting holes. The first serves for the chromatic tones between d2 and g#2 while the second serves for the notes from a2 upward. The lowest notes served by each venting hole are the sharpest in pitch, i.e. d2 and a2. "Overblown" tones in the second register are generally slightly sharper than a true octave above the same tones in the lower register.
[Ref. to Benade at this point] The player must bring these tones down to correct pitch as he plays.

Fig. 49 shows a comparison of the shortest and longest mouthpiece chambers used in this study. The extension of the conical walls of the neck is shown as well as the extra volume in shading. Although the two mouthpieces are in correct tuning position on the saxophone neck, one mouthpiece is about 0.8 inches longer than the other. [Mouthpiece A was a Martin and mouthpiece C-1 a Berg Larsen rubber]

The pitch flexibility of the saxophone allows for considerable modification of the pitch by the player. The author found that it was possible to play all of the mouthpieces in tune for all notes. Some of the mouthpieces tended to be sharper than others for tones in the second register, but they could be played in tune with a little extra effort. The intonation characteristics of a mouthpiece are more easily corrected by the player than are tone quality problems caused by mouthpiece design.

The intonation tests .... were designed in such a way that the player was disorientated tonally. This was done in an effort to obtain pitches that were in an unlipped state. The reader should bear in mind that tones in the charts of this chapter appearing to be very sharp would not be as out-of-tune in a melodic context.


The eleven tones used for this test were carefully chosen to include notes which generally tend to be out of tune on the saxophone.

******************************************

What this all makes me think is that my own attempts at intonation charts were probably not as outlandish as they appear to me, as some good studies show significant intonation deviations as well.

I think that I should stop chasing a mouthpiece that locks onto perfect intonation on my Mauriat alto sax, recognise the imperfections of any saxophone (especially in the second register) and open up my ears.

What do you think ?

Rhys
 

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