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Beginner Motorboating on a Tenor


Daydream Believer
County Limerick Ireland
I was able to try out my, pre-loved BW TS-Y tenor Sax for the first today (some may have seen the thread in Yard Sale) as the Yamaha 4C mpc and some reeds (Vandoren ZZ #1.5 and #2) arrived.

The only new bit of kit I omitted to buy, and I did think about it, was a ligature, choosing instead to use the metal one in the case that comes with the BW's (having immediately discarded the BW mouthpiece). I have a BW alto and haven't used that mpc or lig with it, so I'm not sure why I didn't order a Rovner for the tenor when I was on the phone to Martin at Woodwind and Brass.

I have to say that I think I got a bargain with the TS-Y, and that I don't suspect for a second that there is anything wrong with the instrument.

But I am having a lot of problems hitting clean notes, anything in the first octave is difficult and anything below G is nearly impossible. I get lots of sqeaks, second octaves notes without the octave key played and a tremendoues amount of "motorboating" - chugging sounds on F and lower.

The confusing part is that it was impossible to get a decent note when I first fitted the mpc and reed (ZZ #1.5) and then I adjusted the BW lig (tightened it and moved it up the mpc) and it got much, much cleaner. I was hitting low C and Bb and B with no problem earlier today.

I went back to work and tried again later this evening and it sounds like I'm in a motorboat at the back of a motorboat procession, with the lower notes, and I'm squauking my way down from middle B! I changed the reed to a #2 and it was Ok for literally a few notes and the trouble started again. I went to the alto and hit all the notes cleanly - and I was half hoping not to, assuming it's my embouchure.

I have been back to Martin and ordered a Rovner lig. I am hoping this is the issue. Any thoughts?

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Sounds like you've got a leak problem. My Hanson chugged like a good 'un on low d when I got it.
My tech Stuart sorted a leaky pad out and it was spot on.

Have your sax checked over for leaks, it's worth spending a few more quid if only to know it's you that's the problem and not the instrument.

Frustrating isn't it.
I would suggest taking the sax to an experienced tech for a check over. Sometimes something very simple can cause the problems you are experiencing. For example, it is not uncommon on saxes with a high F# for the post to get bumped forward causing the back of the pad to leak. It is a quick and easy fix, but a big leak in that location wreaks havoc with how the instrument plays. I am certain the ligature has nothing to do with it.
Thanks for the 2 replies, so far. I was hoping it wouldn't be a leak, but something may have got knocked in transit. The nearest recommended tech (by my Sax teacher) is a 200 mile round trip, but I could do with getting out of the house for a day!

I wil give him a call in the morning. As suggested, it will be worth giving it the once over anyway.

Agree with the others, but do check it's not lack of play in the octave mech, and that you're not accidentally pressing lightly on the LH palm keys when you play. Get your teacher to test it as well.
Agree with the others, but do check it's not lack of play in the octave mech, and that you're not accidentally pressing lightly on the LH palm keys when you play. Get your teacher to test it as well.
I would agree that it's possible I was pressing the palm keys but can't be sure - but I am aware of it more (and it does cross my mind when playing the alto).

Interestingly, I had noticed that the octave key was/is sitting slightly to one side between the posts on the crook, when I took it out of the case. But it wasn't hitting the posts when it was rising and falling as far I could see. The pad is slightly off centre on the pip, but this may not be causing any real issues.

Stephen Howard's excellent Haynes Saxophone Manual shows how to seat the key fully and I tried it last night - and it does seems to be playing much better now, with full rich notes right at the bottom end.

Plus, I've learned some new sax terminology - for example, a pip is not only found in an orange. :thumb:

I have found a tech only 1 1/2 hours drive away now and he's got a good, long reputation, so I'm taking it to him today for a service - and at least I'll know it's fully set up and the rest is down to me.

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Some keys and pad cups don't sit central or symetrical and can work fine where they are. If you look at any pad there will be a mark in the leather where it seats. You you can tell if the cup or key has moved by checking that the marks on the pad, mate with the pip or tone hole. It's best to not try to fix that which is working. No matter how it looks.

The clever bit with the saxophone isn't the closing of holes with a leather pad, it's the inter connectivity of it all. Doing one thing, makes one or two other things happen elsewhere. It's this interconnectivity that can give problems and the plethera of moving parts can be overwhelming to an unfamiliar eye.

Things can get bumped out of position in the case, even with the most gentle of handling Bits fall off or wear away. Springs can snap or rust away and become loose and so it's a good idea for any player to get familiar with the workings of their instrument. A simple thing like a missing piece of cork or a displaced spring can make an instrument unplayable and it will cost a fortune to keep returning with these minor faults to the technician.

I believe Gladys Knight is looking for some new pips
Actually Gladys Knight converted to the LDS faith and is frequently a featured soloist with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She is now referred to as "Gladys Knight and the MoTabs. :D
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