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Sharp second octave notes

jrintaha

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Now that I've been recording some stuff, I've really been struggling with a couple of notes on my tenor. Second octave (that is, with octave key pressed) A through C to be exact, C# to a much lesser extent but still sometimes a bit problematic.

2nd octave notes from D to G# pretty much spot on, the whole 1st octave plus bell notes pretty much spot on, but 2nd octave A to C very very sharp. So sharp that as I try to adjust them down with my embouchure, the notes start getting really shaky and bad sounding, as just lowering my larynx and raising the back of my tongue is not enough, and I have to start reducing lip pressure on the reed so much that it's barely enough to produce a tone. Without the octave key, I can bend down the C# to a B without the tone suffering, just by adjusting my airstream, larynx, and tongue position.

What are my options here? I've tried pushing in the mouthpiece and relaxing my embouchure even more, but then the 2nd octave notes get really stuffy, and A through C# almost impossible to play in tune, as they get so stuffy that it feels like the horn is blocked up altogether. Pulling back the mouthpiece makes the problematic 2nd octave notes slightly more workable, but then high D through F# get very flat, as do the 1st octave A through C#.

I'm guessing adjusting the key heights of the upper stack keys might bring some sort of workable compromise, but I don't want to try that out just yet. Could this just be that the A is not well vented enough, and the resulting stuffiness (which I suppose carries over to B, C and C# to some extent) causes me to automatically tighten my embouchure to produce a decent tone?

I've tried cleaning the neck octave pip, making temporary adjustments to the pip and key with partially covering the pip and raising the octave key with my finger, to no avail.

Or should I just write it off to being a cheap G4M tenor and go buy a Yamaha?

Cheers,
Jori


Edit: addendum: I have no such problem with my Vito (made in Japan by Yamaha) alto. I imagine the alto should be even more susceptible to player-induced intonation problems, so I'm not entirely buying that option either...
 
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Pete Thomas

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What happens if you play the upper register without the octave key?
 

jbtsax

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I am assuming high G is in tune and produces a good octave with low G. First I would check the upper stack key height relative to the lower stack. Slowly press the A key and see if it engages the Bis key immediately or if there is some "lost motion". If there is lost motion, then the upper stack is too high. Next view the upper stack keys from the open side. They should all be in a straight line as you go down. Oftentimes the G keycup is higher than the rest as a result of the long lever attached to the G touchpiece being bent down by too much finger pressure.

If the key heights are out of adjustment, I would advise fixing this first before chasing other solutions also known as "chasing your tail" when the source of the problem is unclear.

Another factor that comes into play is playing too high on the input pitch of the mouthpiece. This can have the effect of exaggerating any inherent intonation problems the saxophone has to begin with in terms of sharp notes. The mouthpiece and neck apart from the saxophone should be a concert E.

You didn't mention what mouthpiece you were playing that produced these intonation problems. A mouthpiece volume mismatch is another somewhat remote possibility. Another cause could be an incorrect taper of the neck. Too small a taper from the tenon to the neck opening will produce very sharp upper register "short tube" notes. Curt Altarac has an article in a past volume of the Saxophone Journal on how to make a "neck liner" to solve this type of problem.
 

Colin the Bear

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What are my options here? I've tried pushing in the mouthpiece and relaxing my embouchure even more,

If you're sharp shouldn't you be pulling out?



Or should I just write it off to being a cheap G4M tenor and go buy a Yamaha?

Mine plays in tune


...

If you're sharp pull out the mouthpiece and push up the lower notes. Maybe a slightly harder reed.
 

jrintaha

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Thanks for your responses, everyone. I'll try to answer them coherently.




What happens if you play the upper register without the octave key?


The 2nd octave plays well in tune if I just overblow the 1st octave notes to the 2nd harmonic. No issue there.




I am assuming high G is in tune and produces a good octave with low G. First I would check the upper stack key height relative to the lower stack. Slowly press the A key and see if it engages the Bis key immediately or if there is some "lost motion". If there is lost motion, then the upper stack is too high. Next view the upper stack keys from the open side. They should all be in a straight line as you go down. Oftentimes the G keycup is higher than the rest as a result of the long lever attached to the G touchpiece being bent down by too much finger pressure.


The G + octave is well in tune, and I don't have any problems getting the 2nd octave G and G# in tune. I do get the warbling into the next overtone for those two notes if I try to play very very quietly, but I gather that's something that happens to a lot of people.


Another factor that comes into play is playing too high on the input pitch of the mouthpiece. This can have the effect of exaggerating any inherent intonation problems the saxophone has to begin with in terms of sharp notes. The mouthpiece and neck apart from the saxophone should be a concert E.


Have to check this just to be sure. Edit: the way I normally play and normally keep the mouthpiece I get a slightly flat concert E.


You didn't mention what mouthpiece you were playing that produced these intonation problems. A mouthpiece volume mismatch is another somewhat remote possibility. Another cause could be an incorrect taper of the neck. Too small a taper from the tenon to the neck opening will produce very sharp upper register "short tube" notes. Curt Altarac has an article in a past volume of the Saxophone Journal on how to make a "neck liner" to solve this type of problem.


The same thing happens with Rico Graftonite B7 (chamber: medium, tip opening: .105", facing length: 24 mm), Metalite M7 (medium M chamber, .105" tip opening, 24mm facing length), no-name stock mouthpiece, Vandoren V5 T27 (unknown chamber size, 0.070" tip opening, "flat baffle, small bore, and a normally shaped chamber"). The problem is perhaps less pronounced with the Vandoren, but I don't like the feel or sound of it, so I don't really use it any longer.


If you happen to know which issue of the Saxophone Journal has Curt's article, I may consider buying it if all other options fail.


If you're sharp pull out the mouthpiece and push up the lower notes. Maybe a slightly harder reed.


My understanding is that there's two ways you can be sharp in the upper notes: the mouthpiece is pushed in too far (obviously), or the mouthpiece is pulled too much back, and by compensating for the flatness of the lower notes, you overcompensate and go very sharp on the short tube notes, which are much more susceptible to embouchure adjustment-related pitch changes. So I tried both ways. Pulling out the mouthpiece makes the 2nd octave A through C# better, but the 1st octave A through C# go so flat they're hard to play right, and the high D through F# go so flat they're almost unusable.


Using a harder reed makes the bell notes a bit too difficult to play, so that's not a good option either. Currently mostly using a Fibracell 2.5, though I tried a Legere Classic 2.5 and Legere Studio 2.75 for good measure, and they didn't have any noticeable effect on the problem.




One thing that did not occur to me yesterday is that with the 11 or so months I've had this saxophone (the previous G4M tenor I bought in the summer of 2012 developed a fault and they replaced it in December), the neck has become increasingly loose. It was a good fit at first, but now I've noticed that I can rotate the neck even when the clamp is screwed in snugly (that is, not so hard that it would bend). I can play down to low Bb with little difficulty, so it's hard to believe it could be leaking. I smeared the neck joint with a hefty amount of grease and tested again just to be sure, but it didn't have any noticeable effect. Could it still be something in the neck joint?




Thanks,
Jori
 
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jbtsax

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It is Saxophone Journal Volume 36, Number 3 Jan/Feb 2012. The article is entitled Repair Demystified Correcting Intonation. You didn't report back on the key height of the upper stack. I'm still curious about that variable's role in this issue.
 

jrintaha

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You didn't report back on the key height of the upper stack. I'm still curious about that variable's role in this issue.

Sorry, didn't remember to check that part, as I only had a few minutes with the sax. There's about half a millimeter of space between the A key's cork buffer and the Bb keycup. It also looks like the A keycup is so very slightly higher than the others. I guess the first thing to try is to add a bit more cork under the foot that links the A key to the rest of the upper stack, and see how it works.

Much obliged once again!
 

jrintaha

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Finally had the time to go over the upper stack. I put some extra cork under the A key linkage foot, and it got a bit better. I also noticed that the C# cup is set a bit lower than the others, and it being better in tune than A, Bb, B and C, I guess I could raise it a bit higher, making it more sharp while keeping the rest of the top stack the same, then pull back the mouthpiece a bit more, and sand the corks on the feet of high D through F# to sharpen them in order to get them in tune with the mouthpiece pulled further back.

I also noticed that my G# is slightly flat, and could be improved, hopefully without having to re-regulate the lower stack and the Bb linkage. Should be possible, because the arm that closes G# is mounted on another, slotted and angled arm that's mounted on the lower stack pillar, and you can adjust how far on the slotted arm the G# "closing arm" is, thus having the possibility to slightly adjust the distance the "closing arm" travels. As long as I raise the open position of the arm enough to bring G# in tune and use the adjustment screw at the end of the "closing arm" to keep the closed position the same as it is now, I shouldn't need to touch the regulation of any other keys.

It's still perplexing though, how the lower register A to C can be so well in tune while the octave A to C are so sharp. But I suppose if I can get the situation to having a slightly flat low register top stack and slightly sharp octave register top stack, I can compensate with my embouchure.
 

Pete Thomas

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It's still perplexing though, how the lower register A to C can be so well in tune while the octave A to C are so sharp.

It is extremely common, usually caused by the top octave pip, hence my reply above.

Adjusting key heights on the upper stack can be a nachtmare.
 

jbtsax

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In reviewing Curt Altarac's Multi-Pip Experiment, it appears that your solutions are to decrease the diameter of the neck octave pip opening, lengthen the octave pip tube, move the neck octave pip closer to the tenon, or all of the above to lower those pitches. A skilled tech should be able to unsolder the existing pip and replace it with one with a longer tube and smaller diameter hole. Changing its location would be more involved requiring a patch and modifying the neck octave ring.

There is a sequence that techs uses when adjusting the key heights of the upper stack. Once the lower stack is regulated and the adjusting screws on the arm extending from the F# are adjusted to close the G# and Bis (in that order), that sets up most of the key heights of the upper stack. At this point the procedure is as follows.

- Adjust the A key to close the C key.
- Adjust the A key to close the Bis key.
- Adjust the cork on the foot of the A key so that there is no "lost motion" before it contacts the Bis.
- Adjust the cork on the foot of the B key so that there is no "lost motion" before it contacts the backbar of the C.

The goal is to have everything "regulated" without any "lost motion" in the system. Once these relationships are set up, the only way to lower the upper stack more is to lower the bottom stack keys which lowers the Bis key at which time cork needs to be added to the foot of the A and B key to remove lost motion. The height of the F key on the bottom stack sets up the entire process.

The G key is independent of the other upper stack keys and its height is adjusted by bending the arm that closes the octave key.
 

jrintaha

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In reviewing Curt Altarac's Multi-Pip Experiment, it appears that your solutions are to decrease the diameter of the neck octave pip opening, lengthen the octave pip tube, move the neck octave pip closer to the tenon, or all of the above to lower those pitches. A skilled tech should be able to unsolder the existing pip and replace it with one with a longer tube and smaller diameter hole. Changing its location would be more involved requiring a patch and modifying the neck octave ring.

I actually already tried experimenting with the diameter of the neck octave pip opening by using different sized blobs of blu-tack. It didn't work, because as soon as the pitch started coming down, the octave notes, especially octave A, started to become stuffy. A temporary tube lengthener will be easy to make, I'll have to see if it makes a difference. If it does (without making any notes stuffy), I'll get someone to change the pip. Thanks for the idea.
 

kevgermany

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There is a sequence that techs uses when adjusting the key heights of the upper stack. Once the lower stack is regulated and the adjusting screws on the arm extending from the F# are adjusted to close the G# and Bis (in that order), that sets up most of the key heights of the upper stack. At this point the procedure is as follows.

- Adjust the A key to close the C key.
- Adjust the A key to close the Bis key.
- Adjust the cork on the foot of the A key so that there is no "lost motion" before it contacts the Bis.
- Adjust the cork on the foot of the B key so that there is no "lost motion" before it contacts the backbar of the C.

The goal is to have everything "regulated" without any "lost motion" in the system. Once these relationships are set up, the only way to lower the upper stack more is to lower the bottom stack keys which lowers the Bis key at which time cork needs to be added to the foot of the A and B key to remove lost motion. The height of the F key on the bottom stack sets up the entire process.

The G key is independent of the other upper stack keys and its height is adjusted by bending the arm that closes the octave key.

John, that's the clearest, most concise description of this that I've heard.

Couple of comments...

1 the clearance between key and tonehole is affected by pad thickness
2 the clearance between key and tonehole is affected by pad setting

So a pads that are too thick, or not correctly seated in the cup (too much shellac) will sit lower, but this would tend to flatten the upper stack notes.

Not sure, but I think lowering the key heights on the whole sax will tend to flatten the upper stack more.

On bodged saxes the key arms may have been bent to adjust for pad problems. This really needs a good tech to confirm/rectify.
 

jbtsax

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John, that's the clearest, most concise description of this that I've heard.

Couple of comments...

1 the clearance between key and tonehole is affected by pad thickness
2 the clearance between key and tonehole is affected by pad setting

So a pads that are too thick, or not correctly seated in the cup (too much shellac) will sit lower, but this would tend to flatten the upper stack notes.

It is not quite that simple. Pads that are too thick for the keycup will hit first in the back. The (wrong) way to solve this is to either float the pad to have more protrusion in the front, or to bend the keycup. The right way, of course is to install a pad of the correct thickness for the instrument.

Say that pads that are too thick have been made to work using one of the (wrong) methods above. You are correct that the distance between the pad and the top of the tonehole is made smaller by the added "protrusion" of the pad beyond the keycup. However, this is not a given since the key can easily be raised by either removing cork from its foot or by bending the foot upward making it vent and tune the same as a pad of the correct thickness.

Not sure, but I think lowering the key heights on the whole sax will tend to flatten the upper stack more.
I am not sure either, but my guess is that the effect will be the same. I will do some research and get back to you on that idea.
 

jrintaha

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Now that I've adjusted the A key to a correct height the upper stack is more uniform and easier to control. I made another attempt at modifying the neck octave pip with blu-tack and this time it worked - the difference was that this time I put the piece of blu-tack on the side that's closer to the neck tenon. There's a bit of added stuffiness on the upper stack notes, but I can work around it with stronger air support. Now the 2nd octave lower and upper stack notes are far closer in feel to each other. Previously it felt like there was a big gap between G# and A.

I also adjusted the arm that links the lower stack to the G# cup (plus slightly cut the felt in the G# key foot) so that the range of motion is larger, and G# is more in tune now. I also replaced a few corks and felts in the lower stack while I was at it, and now it's a lot quieter. Oiled a couple of joints that weren't moving nicely. Now the whole sax feels less clunky, and the keywork is decidedly quieter. It's funny what you get used to when something degrades gradually.

I feel the sax is much better now, thanks for the help everyone.

Cheers,
Jori


PS. Wouldn't desoldering the neck octave pip, sanding its sleeve and sinking it a bit further into the neck (and adjusting the octave key accordingly) also roughly approximate a longer octave pip? Even though it would not lengthen the distance the air has to travel, it would increase the resistance the air has to overcome to go through the pipe.
 

Colin the Bear

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Well done.

We are so lucky to have a wealth of technical and applied knowledge on here. I think I've learned more about the saxophone in the short while I've been on here than in several decades playing.

Thanks chaps
 

kernewegor

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I'd like to echo Colin. This thread is very informative - as is Cafe Saxophone generally!

Apart from minor tweaks now and again I've had nothing as puzzling as this with my G4M tenor since I got it last December.

I had a brief problem early on when a piece of cork mysteriously fell off - soon diagnosed and fixed.

The cunning use of tiny bits of folded selotape or electrical tape can sort missing corks out temporarily. I always have some and a little screwdriver and tweezers in my case on the principle that if things are going to go wrong they will when you are least prepared...
 

Pete Thomas

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In reviewing Curt Altarac's Multi-Pip Experiment, it appears that your solutions are to decrease the diameter of the neck octave pip opening, lengthen the octave pip tube, move the neck octave pip closer to the tenon, or all of the above to lower those pitches.

I spoke to Curt about this at Namm last year, mentioning thatI'd managed to solve the sharp A and above just by using a different neck. In my case was a neck that fit the tenon, but thick metal so slightly narrower bore. He agreed that is also a viable way to fix this issue, provided you are happy that the new neck has either not altered the sound or else improved it.
 
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jbtsax

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That is good to know. Curt has also written some articles about how the cone angle effects the tuning of the octaves. This is also mentioned in "The Saxophone is my Voice" by Ernest Ferron. As the body tube cone angle decreases and the tube becomes more cylindrical, the overtones become farther apart (wider intervals) until as a cylinder the octave stretches to become a 12th (octave and a 5th).
 

Nick Wyver

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As the body tube cone angle decreases and the tube becomes more cylindrical, the overtones become farther apart (wider intervals) until as a cylinder the octave stretches to become a 12th (octave and a 5th).
Which is presumably why baritone altissimo fingerings differ from the rest.
 

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