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Beginner Squawking lower A - Is it me or the machine?

Jill

New Member
Messages
5
Hullo,

I have a tenor sax which was made in China... No, don't run away; it actually works!
I've never played, nor even handled a saxophone before, and so I didn't want to invest a lot of money on what might turn out to be the wrong instrument for me. I found this one for just over £200 at Gear4music.
(That £200 includes a tough GRP case, one reed, an uncomfortable neck strap, and one of those furry sausages whose name I forget, off hand.)

After I bought it I had two semi-professional musicians check it out, independently (ie - at separate times). Both were appalled at the idea of a Chinese sax and said that I may as well throw it away... but on meeting it, and playing it, they both declared that it worked perfectly well and made a good sound.
I noticed that they both squawked quite a lot, but they said that it was because they weren't used to my mouthpiece. Both said I should chuck the mouthpiece and get something better - but neither made any particular recommendation, so I'm still using the Chinese one.

To my astonishment, I found that I can actually blow the thing quite well, and can run up and down the scale from low C to the upper octave (eventually - after I'd found the octave key). I love it! However, I can never get a clean A.

At first I thought it must be me - and it might be - but I can now get the other notes cleanly almost every time, and yet I can never get that A.

I can't figure it out. If there's something wrong with the pads then surely the G, and the lower notes, would also be affected?
So, do I need to blow differently for the A?
Maybe it's something totally obvious and I'm so dumb I've overlooked it...

I'm in Africa now, and there's no one around to whom I can take the sax for inspection.

Looking forward to your replies
Jill
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
The stigma with Chinese saxes has mostly gone. Some excellent stuff coming from there.
Really a technician should check the sax out, but trying a different mouthpiece is not too expensive.

Can/did the experienced players try it with their own mouthpieces?

Cheap options for a good mouthpiece substitute are Yamaha 4C/5C/6C, Rico Royal B5/B5, Runyon 22 (can't remember which tip).

Have fun, Africa's a great place. Great people, great music.
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,219
Mouthpiece wise a Rico Royal B3 is probably a better size - best price in UK is with www.rapidreeds.com (about £15 or so) and Runyon 22 in tip opening 6 (available with www.sax.co.uk or www.saxheaven.com - about £37) Squeaks often come when reed is not well fitted or when keys are not sufficiently well pressed, so air escapes. It may well be the mouthpiece in that case and you do need to maintain an embouchure where you have a frown on your face to seal any air that might escape.
 

Jill

New Member
Messages
5
Hullo Kev; Hullo Tom,

Thanks for your advice.
No, the experienced players didn't have their own mouthpieces with them, which was a pity.

Actually, i've realised now that I can get that A when I first begin to play, but after a very short while, when my mouth has become just a little bit tired, I can't get it any more. (And really it quavers more than squawks.)

I thought I might try testing the key for leaks, as described here - http://www.shwoodwind.co.uk/HandyHints/LeakyPads.htm
and mentioned elsewhere on this site.
(I haven't tried it yet cos I don't have any cigarette papers or thin cellophane.)

If it's not that, then I think it must be user error - which is good news, because it's cheaper to fix! So, i'll try grimacing, as you suggest, Tom.

And i'll read up on mouthpieces, bearing in mind your advice. I'm afraid that at the moment it doesn't mean much to me as I can't understand why one mouthpiece should produce a different sound from another (although I suppose that some might fit my mouth better).

Jill
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
Jill, stephen's site is great and he's a well respected member here as well. Try his stories for some light and amusing reading.

If you're going to use the feeler guage method, Anything like that will do - even strips cut from one of the thin 'hard' plastic bags that are more like tissue paper. Cigarette paper won't work if it gets wet or too damp. And watch for the gummed part. If you've a torch bulb, tape and some wire and batteries, you could rig up a leak light, which'd also do a good job. May be quicker for you than than getting cigarette papers.

If it only happens once you start getting tired, it could be all the factors, but you're clearly a part of it. Practice helps a lot.

Have fun, let us know how you get on.

Different mouthpieces produce different sounds because of the internal shape. Try theo wanne ' site for more info.
 

Jill

New Member
Messages
5
That's an interesting idea - but if there is something wrong with one key wouldn't it affect the paying of all the notes that use that key?

I've just spent an entertaining twenty minutes studying the "jewellery" on the Theo Wanne site that Kev recommended. Very pretty, but most of them cost quite a bit more than my saxophone; however, I did learn a lot, so thanks for that.
I think I'd better stick to plastic or wood, because it sounds as if the metal ones are a lot louder. Not that I mind loud, myself, but I live with three other people, on a small boat...

Now I'm off to study the cheaper ones, on the other sites that you mentioned.

Jill
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
Jill, I wasn't suggesting that you get one of his expensive mouthpieces... But there's a reference section on the site that explains all the parts of the mouthpieces and how they affect sound.
 

jeremyjuicewah

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,890
Hi Jill. I bought and still have a chinese alto. Its accurate and has good tone and I've been told by people who know more than I do that these things are made with such precision now that they are better than some old classics. To play that is. Dont drop it though. I have done this twice.Worst was when I picked up the case and it wasnt locked. The sax spilled out and a couple of posts bent and its still not right and probably never will be. I get by cos its low C that's sticky and I can get round it. I'm told that a good one is much stronger so will try to buy one this year, and not drop it for at least five years more. I'm relatively new at fourteen months and when I get tired, which creeps in after about forty minutes or so, everything goes wrong. Have to pack up and go back to it later.
Best wishes
Mike
 

angie54321

Member
Messages
35
Hullo,

I have a tenor sax which was made in China... No, don't run away; it actually works!
I've never played, nor even handled a saxophone before, and so I didn't want to invest a lot of money on what might turn out to be the wrong instrument for me. I found this one for just over £200 at Gear4music.
(That £200 includes a tough GRP case, one reed, an uncomfortable neck strap, and one of those furry sausages whose name I forget, off hand.)

After I bought it I had two semi-professional musicians check it out, independently (ie - at separate times). Both were appalled at the idea of a Chinese sax and said that I may as well throw it away... but on meeting it, and playing it, they both declared that it worked perfectly well and made a good sound.
I noticed that they both squawked quite a lot, but they said that it was because they weren't used to my mouthpiece. Both said I should chuck the mouthpiece and get something better - but neither made any particular recommendation, so I'm still using the Chinese one.

To my astonishment, I found that I can actually blow the thing quite well, and can run up and down the scale from low C to the upper octave (eventually - after I'd found the octave key). I love it! However, I can never get a clean A.

At first I thought it must be me - and it might be - but I can now get the other notes cleanly almost every time, and yet I can never get that A.

I can't figure it out. If there's something wrong with the pads then surely the G, and the lower notes, would also be affected?
So, do I need to blow differently for the A?
Maybe it's something totally obvious and I'm so dumb I've overlooked it...

I'm in Africa now, and there's no one around to whom I can take the sax for inspection.

Looking forward to your replies
Jill

Hi Jill
sounds like you and I have a very similar sax - mine came from Fortissimo Instruments. I had my first sax lesson yesterday, and got my teacher to check out my sax. She was quite impressed, she tested it with her own mouthpiece and said it made a decent sound (so I can't blame the instrument if it doesn't sound right - damn!). She said it's a good, well made, sax for a beginner.

(And my A is fine.....)
 

Dick Hamer

New Member
Messages
5
Hi Jill, The cheaper chinese ones can work fine, the downside comes when it comes time for repairs/servicing, which then seems pricey in relation to the cost of the horn. - The keys are made of poorer quality metal, and will bend more easily. So handle with care, and hopefully have a good few years of trouble free blowing. I'd invest in, or make, a good pull through/swab - you need to get the moisture out of the sax, the big fluffy thing, a pad saver - (wrong name for it!) just re distributes it, and can also leave fluffy bits all over the springs and keys. Yamaha 4C is ideal to start off I reckon.
Cheers
 

Justin Chune

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,045
A friend used to sew tapes into his sax case and tie them together when the sax was inside. This was to stop the sax falling out if the lid opened. He got the tip from a pro player who had seen too many instruments spill onto the floor. Velcro would be the easy way to do that job these days.

Jim.
 

1954pip

Member
Messages
124
hi i to am a new player, when i got my sax it had a wide tip mouth piece and had trouble blowing a note,(to wide a tip) i asked about on here they said try yamaha 4c, they are quite a good mouth piece and they are very reasonabley price,
i have got quite well since i got it if you look on ebay youpick themup quite cheaply.
allthe best
pip
 

Jill

New Member
Messages
5
Thanks for all of your advice, and it's good to know that other people are managing to make music on a cheap Chinese sax.
I hope they don't put Yamaha et al out of business. Hopefully it's just a case of allowing a few more people to take up the instrument. I know I couldn't have afforded to splash out for a Yamaha student sax.

I'm always rather precious about lying the saxophone down carefully, but I hadn't thought about the possibility of dropping it out of the case!
My other problem is that I have to protect it from the salt sea atmosphere, which is very corrosive. Stephen Howard's manual says oil the moving parts - so I will. When I can find time....

No, I guessed you didn't mean me to think of buying one of those fancy golden mouthpieces, Kev. It was very interesting reading that site (Theo Wanne). Thank-you.

Today I tried the pad test, with a piece of cellophane, and I found that the top key (B) grips like mad, but that none of the others do. The A grips the least well, but not significantly less than the others.
Since I don't know how much they are supposed to grip this has left me none the wiser! So, I think i'll just leave well alone for now.

I'm now in Mindelo (Cape Verde), where there is said to be quite a good music scene, so I shall have a look around and see if I can find a friendly saxophonist, and maybe he/she will be able to try my sax with his/her mouthpiece.

Thanks for your help
Jill
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
On the seal/grip, on most keys it's dependant on how hard you close the keys... With a light touch, you should be able find even grips on the feeler all round the pad. Get used to applying and holding a gentle, consistent touch to the key.

Look for uneven pressure/grip from front to back, side to side and in between. Where two pads are closed by the same key, both must close at exactly the same time.

On the keys held closed by a spring test using spring pressure only. These are especially sensitive, because you can't compensate for a slight leak by pressing harder.

Another place that's a problem can be the neck - if this is loose/wobbly, leaks will occur here as well.

If there is a leak, either get a technician to adjust - or do it carefully yourself, but be aware there's quite a lot of practice/skill involved and at first you'll probably make things worse, rather than better.

Might be worth sending another member, Martin a pm, and ask if he does anything special about sax care.
 

jeremyjuicewah

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,890
That is a top tip from Justin about strapping the sax in. It was horrible to realise what I had done when it spilled out onto the floor. I have been worrying a bit about the consequences of a tiny lapse in concentration on a more valuable intstrument. As someone else said it cannot be worth having a cheap sax overhauled and I dont want to send it away anyway till I have another one to play.
 

Jill

New Member
Messages
5
Thanks for that, Kev.

I met a guy yesterday who knows a sax teacher, so I'm hoping i'll be able to get him to look at it.
I might even be able to have some lessons, if we can cope with the language barrier. (The people here speak a Portuguese creole.)

Jill
 
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