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Saxophones Straight Soprano Good, Curved Soprano Bad

nigeld

Too many mouthpieces
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Once upon a time . . .

About 4 months ago I bought my first soprano saxophone. It was pure GAS - I had bari, tenor and alto, and I wanted the full set. I tried holding a straight and a curved soprano, and the curved felt more comfortable, so that’s what I decided to get. I had heard people say the sound is a bit more direct with a straight, but I didn’t think this would matter much for a beginner - comfort seemed more important.

I bought an Elkhart 300 (Taiwanese) curved soprano sax on eBay and I have had a love/hate relationship with it ever since. I find it hard work to blow, and I have difficulty with the bell notes (motor-boating). I have kept going, but it hasn’t been enough fun, and I would have given up on sop if it wasn’t for my teacher’s encouragement. Initially there were some leaks, which didn’t help, but these have been fixed. And I have a good mouthpiece, so that’s not the problem.

The soprano is probably always going to be an occasional instrument for me - my favourite sax is tenor, and the one I mostly play at the moment is baritone, so unless I can get to the stage where I can pick up the soprano and fairly soon make an OK noise by my standards, it’s not worth bothering. (I am fully aware that this expectation may be unreasonable, but I didn’t get where I am today be being reasonable!) And I think I can make an OK noise on a good day (my teacher tells me I can), but it feels like hard work blowing the thing.

Then a short while ago I was in Dawkes shop, trying out baritone mouthpieces, and I thought I would find out what it feels like to play a different soprano, so I asked to try some. (I thank the staff in Dawkes for their helpfulness and patience.) So first I played a straight and then a curved Yanagisawa 991. The straight Yani was wonderful - easy to blow and with a lovely clear tone - perfect. It was how I had hoped a soprano sax would feel and sound. I want one! But the curved Yani felt stuffy and harder to blow in comparison - in fact it felt just like my curved Elkhart.

The difference between straight and curved surprised me - I had assumed that there would be very little in it. Even the tone on the curved Yani seemed stuffy compared with the straight one. (I know that things might sound different to a listener 10 feet away, but frankly I don’t care - I care about what it sounds like to me.) Obviously it’s possible that I was comparing a very good straight Yani with a less well set up curved one, but it got me speculating about whether straight saxes are easier to play than curved. I think the difference I noticed is what people call “resistance” - the curved sax was more resistant than the straight one. And I realised that I really, really don’t like a resistant sax.

I can’t justify the cost of a Yani for very occasional use, so while I was in Dawkes, I also tried a curved Elkhart Deluxe, which I liked more than the curved Yani, and a straight Jupiter 500 series, which I didn’t like at all - it seemed thin and weedy compared to the Elkhart.

In my search for the perfect soprano that doesn’t cost much, I decided to get a second-hand Elkhart Deluxe straight soprano. I ended up buying a “tick logo” Sakkusu in the Cafe Yard Sale. (There is a long Cafe thread about these being more-or-less the same as the Elkharts.) It’s not a Yani, but it is definitely easier to play than my curved Elkhart 300, and I think it has a clearer tone. I can play bottom C and Bb without difficulty and it doesn’t feel as if I am blowing into a paper bag. Intonation is not as precise as the 300 - it’s wayward at the top if I’m not careful, but it’s controllable.

I find that a fully straight soprano feels a bit uncomfortable, but the curved neck makes it OK for me, and the keywork on a straight sop somehow feels a bit more spacious that a curvy one. (It’s not - I checked them side by side.)

Caveat: I’m a newish and not very good saxophone player, and I have only been playing soprano for 4 months. It is very probable that an accomplished player will have a different view of the merits of curved and straight sopranos. But for me, at the moment, it seems that straight is easier and more satisfying to play than curved.

So, based on a statistically-insignificant sample of 4 saxes, I have become a convert to the straight soprano and I feel it is my duty to preach to the unenlightened curvy-worshipping masses. If you are like me - just getting a soprano for a bit of fun, then my advice, for what it’s worth, is to get a straight one, possibly with a curved neck. You know it makes sense!
 

jonf

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Betelgeuse
Thanks for posting that, it made for interesting reading. I own both curved and straight, and have had sixten sopranos over the years, five curved, eleven straight. I actually like both, and the straight I currently have is the very first sop I bought, back in 1985. It's a Buescher true Tone, it has frankly horrible ergonomics but a lovely tone. My curved is a generation 1 Bauhaus Walstein. It has soft easy-bend keys, and tends to sticky pads in a way my Yanagisawa alto and tenor, and my Yamaha alto have never done. However, it does have a really good tone, and I like playing it.

One thing I don't like, is playing a straight with a curved neck. When I play straight I hold it straight out like a medieval trumpet player. Just shows that all players are different. I guess I play sop on average about once a week (and I play every day barring exceptional circumstances) and I always enjoy playing them.
 

Alice

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Thanks for posting your experiences with both here. It's a question I've often wondered about myself. Are there any pro players who prefer the curvy sop? What do they sound like in comparison to the straight players? I know of at least one person who was going away for a few months and was unable to take his alto with him because of the extra baggage and weight but couldn't bear the idea of not having a sax at all, so toyed with the idea of getting a curvy sop simply for that reason. He doesn't play sop at all, neither does he enjoy listening to it but didn't want to have withdrawal symptoms from not playing anything.
 

nigeld

Too many mouthpieces
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I'm quite aware that I am not well qualified to give an opinion, but I thought it would be worth recording my experiences while they are still fresh. I had imagined that straight and curved were pretty much the same to play, but I am personally finding it easier to play the straight sop. My point is that other cafe members should not just assume that curved and straight feel the same to blow. Cafe members are, of course, well able to decide how much heed they take.
 

Alice

Psychedelic
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Jan Garbarek is the obvious one...
I honestly wouldn't know, I have heard of that name and have probably listened but not seen video footage to know what it was being played.
 

Jeanette

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It's always useful to hear other's experiences. I love my straight sop with fixed straight neck. We always recommend trying as many as you can when buying but it isn't always possible :)

Jx
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Straight for me - with a curved neck. I think the curved sop looks like a toy. Feels like one too. I've had straight and curved sops. 2 of each. Didn't notice any difference in blow-ability, once set up properly. One thing I did notice is that some leaks seem to make them a lot more resistive/harder to blow. I'd love a better straight sop, but can't justify the money. The current Jericho is more than Ok.
 

jimmylh

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Warner Robins, Georgia USA
Interesting. I'm jumping into the sop ring soon and already decided on a straight one. I've read similar observations in the past, plus curved neck versions cost more, especially ones with two necks. My sax teacher plays a cheap Yamaha and sounds great on it. I've picked out a Yamaha 475.
 

jimmylh

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Warner Robins, Georgia USA
It just dawned on me that the OP might have talking about curved sopranos and not just curved neck models. Duh on me. :oops:
 

jazzdoh

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West Midlands
Hate to buck a trend but Its curved soprano for me,bought my Yani SC901 about 12/13 years ago moving from a straight and its a wonderful horn,free blowing and sounds great,its the one with the left sided bell keys.
I changed because of health reasons and although I've tried over the years a few straight and curved sop's non has sounded like mine.
My advice for any prospective soprano buyer is to try straight and curved and make your own mind up.
 

BigMartin

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Manchester, UK
Only difference I've noticed in my very limited experience is that straight sops feel nicer in the hands, curved ones are easier on the right arm for long sessions.
 

jbtsax

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Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
A professional player who plays a curved soprano who comes to mind is Michael Stephenson who plays with the New Century Saxophone Quartet.

 

Colin the Bear

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Curved sop feels more like a saxophone to me. The weight is on the sling, which is important for my right thumb. I can't say I've noticed any more variation in sound between straight and curvy than individual players. It does get comments. They stop when you play. Looks very nice on the end of a stand of Bari, tenor, alto and sop with a clarinet on a peg at the other end.

A straight sop wanders in and out of my want list about the same as a straight Alto and a BbBass. Now a straight Bb bass would be a sight to behold.
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
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I used a Yanny curved soprano for many years. A great horn, with many advantages compared with my previous YSS 62R. Bot horns were selected carefully, and I still regret selling the YSS.
As colin says, the curved felt more like a saxophone.

But then I moved to my current straight Sequoia and it feel more "saxophone" than the curved Yanny, so there is probably no rule about straight/curved.

I recently tried to go back to the Yanny for a gig, and my usual soprano mouthpieces were simply wrong on that horn, while the old Berg/Pillinger that I had at the time was much better. I left the curvy at home, eventually.

Curved is much better when you have to deal with microphones.
 

Sue

One prosecco, two prosecco, three prosecco - floor
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I prefer the curved sop too. I play a Yani and for me it's perfect. I too play every day and the sop probably twice a week. The things I love about it are the ergonomics, the tone and the intonation and I think it's really cute.

I'm pretty sure Snake Davis is another pro who plays a curved soprano. I have two friends who are both outstanding classical players who will only play straight ( no curved neck). They are pro musicians.

It wouldn't do for us all to like the same things. We wouldn't have anything to argue with our nearest and dearest over
 
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