Sax Key Action (how it affects tone)

TonyMoroney

Member
Messages
94
Location
Richmond, VA, USA
Hi All,

Long story, but I'll summarise my question first:

How low can action on a horn be before it becomes detrimental to the sound of a sax.

I realise that the question is highly subjective, but like guitar (too low an action causes fret buzz) there must a universal rule of thumb that says "this is too low"? Would really appreciate feedback from the sax techs on the forum!

I was in a London sax store this weekend and tried a Mauriat Curved Sop, which I worriedly took to one of the audition rooms in the store and played; this is the first time I've ever played a curved sop and I was quite concerned after the tales of curved sop intonation being more difficult to tame than Alto or Tenor. Unusually I had wifey with me (she's not normally present for sax porn!), anyway I picked it up and blew, went up and down a scale or two, she told me there and then I could buy it of I wanted it. After checking her temperature, and making sure there were no obvious signs of head injury I asked for her to clarify.

She told me that the sound I produced with the instrument was much more fluid, smooth and slick, and made me sound more like I'd been playing the horn for 5 years instead of a year or however long I really have.

I decided not to walk out of the store with it, but instead take a day or two (being an analytical kind of guy) to understand what was different, and why this was so different to my other horns. I eventually decided that the key work felt more "solid" and the action was much lower.

When I got home I confirmed this, the action on my other horns was significantly higher, and it would seem that when I see an note and the signal is sent from my brain to my fingers to shut the key, when the action is particularly high, sometimes it can introduce a sufficient delay to make the note timing "off". I thought that this is something I just have to learn to build into my playing and deal with as a part of my growth as a player becoming familiar with the instrument. That is until I played the Mauriat!

So can I get the action lowered on my other horns?? Am I imagining all of this? Will affect my sound in a negative way?

Sorry for the novella, it's all a bit confusing to me right now, incidentally the store will probably be calling me back this morning to ask if I want the horn, but I'm holding off for at least the next few hours while I contemplate my navel; especially if I can make my other horns feel as smooth, fast and positive as the Mauriat.

Cheers

T>
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
Hi All,

I eventually decided that the key work felt more "solid" and the action was much lower.

When I got home I confirmed this, the action on my other horns was significantly higher, and it would seem that when I see an note and the signal is sent from my brain to my fingers to shut the key, when the action is particularly high, sometimes it can introduce a sufficient delay to make the note timing "off". I thought that this is something I just have to learn to build into my playing and deal with as a part of my growth as a player becoming familiar with the instrument. That is until I played the Mauriat!

So can I get the action lowered on my other horns?? Am I imagining all of this? Will affect my sound in a negative way?

Sorry for the novella, it's all a bit confusing to me right now, incidentally the store will probably be calling me back this morning to ask if I want the horn, but I'm holding off for at least the next few hours while I contemplate my navel; especially if I can make my other horns feel as smooth, fast and positive as the Mauriat.

Cheers

T>
It's an interesting question to be sure. I recently bought a R&C saxello which has a very light and positive action - much lighter than my 66RUL tenor. I also asked a similar question in another thread but never really got any answers.

The saxello is so much easier to handle and to work the keys than the tenor and I too would like to get the action/spring tension lightened on the tenor though I suspect it requires careful adjustment as it will affect the tone if it is too low. I suspect the small size and lack of weight (comparably) of the sop helps too.

Guess it needs to go to someone who knows....... that's be Griff in my case!
 
OP
TonyMoroney

TonyMoroney

Member
Messages
94
Location
Richmond, VA, USA
It's an interesting question to be sure. I recently bought a R&C saxello which has a very light and positive action - much lighter than my 66RUL tenor. I also asked a similar question in another thread but never really got any answers.

The saxello is so much easier to handle and to work the keys than the tenor and I too would like to get the action/spring tension lightened on the tenor though I suspect it requires careful adjustment as it will affect the tone if it is too low. I suspect the small size and lack of weight (comparably) of the sop helps too.

Guess it needs to go to someone who knows....... that's be Griff in my case!
Yup, I'm hoping for a reply from either Griff or SH, for me it wasn't so much the tension, but more the gap or "travel" of the keys, the other thing I noticed was the keys had more of a positive click when closing than a loud hollow "clop" that my current horns do, although I suspect that had more to do with the smaller body and holes of the Sop.
 

visionari1

Senior Member
Messages
1,606
Location
Out in the Countryside of Nelson NZ
Hi Tony, interesting dilema you have their, wifey and all...........I'll comment further down.....


Hi All,

I had wifey with me (she's not normally present for sax porn!), anyway I picked it up and blew, went up and down a scale or two, she told me there and then I could buy it of I wanted it. After checking her temperature, and making sure there were no obvious signs of head injury I asked for her to clarify.

She told me that the sound I produced with the instrument was much more fluid, smooth and slick, and made me sound more like I'd been playing the horn for 5 years instead of a year or however long I really have.



Jimu comments:
Is your wife an expert in Saxophone sound?
What Mouthpeice/reed combination were you playing?
The Practise room ambience, could have an impack here?
Was your mood particularly fluid, smooth and slick?. Even the weather has an effect, in my opinion!

A wise move to ponder the purchase of the fluid, smooth slick Sop.
I personally doubt all that could be up to only the action, although I haven't played alot of saxes I did trial a Soprano Mauriat a few months ago (a straight one) and although faster in it's action, than my old Conn Alto, it didn't seem to be a flyer (for me)

In summary, irrespective of your wife's musical talents, the first gut reaction is usually correct.... so good luck in the search for more fluid, smooth and slick sounding saxes.

Others will no doubt have more to add......

cheers

Jimu:mrcool






I decided not to walk out of the store with it, but instead take a day or two (being an analytical kind of guy) to understand what was different, and why this was so different to my other horns. I eventually decided that the key work felt more "solid" and the action was much lower.

When I got home I confirmed this, the action on my other horns was significantly higher, and it would seem that when I see an note and the signal is sent from my brain to my fingers to shut the key, when the action is particularly high, sometimes it can introduce a sufficient delay to make the note timing "off". I thought that this is something I just have to learn to build into my playing and deal with as a part of my growth as a player becoming familiar with the instrument. That is until I played the Mauriat!

So can I get the action lowered on my other horns?? Am I imagining all of this? Will affect my sound in a negative way?

Sorry for the novella, it's all a bit confusing to me right now, incidentally the store will probably be calling me back this morning to ask if I want the horn, but I'm holding off for at least the next few hours while I contemplate my navel; especially if I can make my other horns feel as smooth, fast and positive as the Mauriat.

Cheers

T>
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
Yup, I'm hoping for a reply from either Griff or SH, for me it wasn't so much the tension, but more the gap or "travel" of the keys, the other thing I noticed was the keys had more of a positive click when closing than a loud hollow "clop" that my current horns do, although I suspect that had more to do with the smaller body and holes of the Sop.
It was unfortunate that I wasn't able to have any input into how Griff set up my tenor as I know he prefers this but it is due for a tweak and I'm sure it can be set up to better suit me.

Having checked the sop again, the gap is less but then I guess proportionally it would be. I'd bet we're talking 'minor' adjustment here and the tenor pad to tone hole gap will be wider on tenor than sop anyway.
 

Mikec

Member
Messages
201
Location
Buckinghamshire, UK
I changed from a Jupiter to a Trevor James and then to a Bauhaus tenor for exactly the reason that the action was lower, lighter and more positive and therefore I felt I played much better and a little faster. My intonation is also much better, but that may be for other reasons. In other words I find the action of a sax is crucial to my playing. One other comment; Mauriats aren't cheap, I would certainly hope to sound better if I bought one!
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
I changed from a Jupiter to a Trevor James and then to a Bauhaus tenor for exactly the reason that the action was lower, lighter and more positive and therefore I felt I played much better and a little faster. My intonation is also much better, but that may be for other reasons. In other words I find the action of a sax is crucial to my playing. One other comment; Mauriats aren't cheap, I would certainly hope to sound better if I bought one!
I have no problem with the Mauriat at all but with hindsight and after playing the saxello, I think I would like it set a little lower and slightly less sprung if that is possible.
 

Steve M

Member
Messages
34
You can lower the action a certain amount. If you do it too much you'll effect the tuning between registers. Clarity of the notes can be affected if the keys are too low so you have to work within the boundries of what works in that particular instrument. I've found some saxes that just work with wide open keys.
It's true that lowering a key will affect the next one up but when you're lowering the whole action it's more an issue of keeping the register in tune.
 

Linky Lee

Member
Messages
182
Location
Salisbury, UK
As people have mentioned altering the venting on a key will directly effect the semi-tone above it, and if you alter it so much it can even begin to influence the semi-tone above that.
If however you are altering the entire action proportionally then you will need to make sure the octave keys vent at the right amount to keep both registers in tune with each other. With a significant lowering of the venting this could cause problems with the octave mechanism such as putting play in the mechanism, or causing it to require a large movement to vent completely which can hinder mobility and make jumping down the octave a bit clumsy.

I think you can alter the venting a little bit here and there if some keys are distinctly higher than others but beware of it's affects upon your tuning.

I would recommend getting the instrument sent to a decent technician and having a solid 'standard set-up'. This should iron out any unusual key heights, and leaky keys and hopefully any pads that aren't working too well.

Once you know your horn is in good shape to play properly practice scales, arpeggios etc. to a metronome. Pay particular attention to articulation and slurring.

Practice daily until you can slur a few scales (and the chromatic scale) over the range of the horn in various tempos and rhythms (start with each note as a crotchet then as quavers then triplets. Once you can do that build the tempo up).
Start slower than you think is necessary!

I've started doing some of this to improve my speed and technical ability as well as get to grips with the scales. I hadn't realised how inconsistent the tempo of my scales were!
 

Steve M

Member
Messages
34
If however you are altering the entire action proportionally then you will need to make sure the octave keys vent at the right amount to keep both registers in tune with each other. With a significant lowering of the venting this could cause problems with the octave mechanism such as putting play in the mechanism, or causing it to require a large movement to vent completely which can hinder mobility and make jumping down the octave a bit clumsy.
I would question how much the octave keys affect tuning. If you play an upper register note then close and open the octave key, the note isn't really altered. Perhaps if the hole has been opened up it might make a difference, but as the hole isn't a tonehole its affect should be limited.
 

Linky Lee

Member
Messages
182
Location
Salisbury, UK
Through tinkering I have found it to have an effect upon the horn. Though that doesn't mean it's going to be the same on every horn or affect the pitch consistently either.
I've frequently found the split between the keys in the upper register is out on some cheaper horns I've owned/played and a few adjustments has helped bring this in line.
 

Steve M

Member
Messages
34
Through tinkering I have found it to have an effect upon the horn. Though that doesn't mean it's going to be the same on every horn or affect the pitch consistently either.
I've frequently found the split between the keys in the upper register is out on some cheaper horns I've owned/played and a few adjustments has helped bring this in line.
G to A tuning issues are usually down to the G key height.
 
Top Bottom