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Beginner Warbling low C - cured by putting mpc can in bell?

Woland

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Austin, TX
I keep getting this slight instability on low C. I can do everything right - embouchure, air pressure etc - but when I play long note somewhere along the line the warbling starts - it comes and goes. If I put mpc cap in bell I can eliminate it. I suspect that at some point I will be able to completely control it (this is 4th month that I am playing after 30+yrs break) but perhaps it is some issue with my tenor? It was in the shop couple days ago - so there should be no leaks.

Edit:
OK so after I posted I found these two:
"Try this: Play low C softly and while holding that note add the G# key. If the low C seems to have more "resistance" it means that the G# closing arm from the F# needs adjusting. A general rule of thumb when a bell note is hard to play is to look for a leak about half way from the tip of the "missing cone" to where the note vents. This is often in the area of the side Bb or the G#."

And:
"I have to use a wine cork full time in the bell of my Ref54 if I want to play anything lower than D quietly. I have just accepted it as part of the character of the instrument. I have other necks that ameliorate the issue (but do not fully cure it) but those necks also change the octave relationships which I do not like so much.

Also, keep the neck swabbed out, as the neck fills with condensation/spit the problem gets worse for me."

Hmmm.... Interesting idea - and I can use good bottle of wine ;-)
I checked my neck today - it was quite reddish inside - I do not think anybody every tried to polish it inside. I clean in thoroughly after practice by this is 70yo sax so a lot of folks down the way (although I owned it for half of its life).
 
Last edited:

Stephen Howard

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If you've got a warbling low C it's going to be down to one of three reasons.

It's possible to come across horns that have naturally unstable low Cs - but I've only ever seen one...and while the player could get the C to warble, I couldn't. It was an old Selmer - which he eventually cured by having someone fit a permanent baffle in the bottom bow (same principle as chucking a cork down the bell).

More likely is a lack of air support. This is soley down to technique - and as a returning player there's a good chance that you're not quite 'finding the note'. Lots of long note practice is the cure for this.

And most likely is that there's a leak.
Sad to say, putting a horn in for repair isn't always a guarantee that the thing's been fixed properly. I've been working on a Yamaha tenor that's been through three (three! Count 'em) other repairers before ending up on my bench...and it leaked liked a sieve.
If you've had a horn fixed and you're still having issues - take it back. Any decent repairer will walk you through the work that was carried out, and should be able to demonstrate that the problem isn't the horn.
You can do some checks yourself - check out these two articles:

Testing for leaky pads on woodwind instruments

Making and using a leaklight

As for tales of condensation etc. affecting the low notes, they're usually complete rubbish.
A small leak in a horn will leave it in a 'borderline' state. The sax is a pretty unstable beast at the best of times, and while a minor leak might not stop it dead it'll mean that the slightest thing could tip the instability over the edge. Temperature, humidity, playing position. reed quality, mouthpiece position...all things that normally have little or no effect will now push the horn into warbling.
 

jonf

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I've heard the bottle cork thing as well. However, if I'd spent £5k on a sax and was told I'd have to put an item of household refuse in it in order to play it, I'd want to exchange it for a sax that worked properly.
 

Woland

Member
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Austin, TX
(...) More likely is a lack of air support. This is soley down to technique - and as a returning player there's a good chance that you're not quite 'finding the note'. Lots of long note practice is the cure for this.

And most likely is that there's a leak.
(...)
A small leak in a horn will leave it in a 'borderline' state. The sax is a pretty unstable beast at the best of times, and while a minor leak might not stop it dead it'll mean that the slightest thing could tip the instability over the edge. Temperature, humidity, playing position. reed quality, mouthpiece position...all things that normally have little or no effect will now push the horn into warbling.

Thanks Stephen - great info. I just got the horn back from the shop yesterday - need to spend more time playing - I also moved from Yamaha 4C to 5C which may have some effect - the initial impression is that it helps with issues like accidental hitting of harmonics. But I am not sure about the role it has on warbling - it was there too with 4C.
I understand the concept of instability - "borderline state" and horn going between different solutions to acoustics equations at the slightest change in initial/boundary conditions. Putting the cork in probably eliminates possibility of some of those solutions so it forces stability. I will have it looked at by another tech.

PS. Just bought your "Saxophone Manual" great book.
PS2. Following on Collins suggestion - is there any rule that would say that sax that is in tune (position of mouthpiece on neck) - is less prone to warble?
 

Colin the Bear

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If you're pulling or pushing the reed out of its comfort zone it will try to get back. Try experimenting by pushing in a little and playing lower on your embouchure or pulling out and playing higher. It's easier to bend the upper register down so pushing in a little to get the lower register right and comfortable settles the horn.

JBT talks about the volume of the mouthpiece equaling the volume of the missing cone. Mouthpieces have different internals. Some like a position that is slightly out of tune but in tune with itself. Lipping it in becomes a habit once you're used to it.

I think adding adding an object inside the bow alters the internal volume and if by chance it's the right size it will balance things.

Old saxophones used to be played with a large chamber mouthpiece. Your mouthpiece may have a small chamber so upsetting the volume balance thing.

You pick up all sorts of things on here. Some you understand and some you just have to...go with the flow.
 

Woland

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101
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Austin, TX
One more data point - I tried 5C with cane reeds today Rico 1.5, Rico Jazz Select 2S and Vandoren 2. All three were more or less warble-free. The reported warbling was with Legeres. Might be some crossection of parameters with Legeres that brings horn close to "borderline state". I also suspect that plastic reeds are just "too perfect" they generate broader spectrum of frequencies and therefore they are easier to end up in unstable state. Cane reeds - due to imperfection of material - damp a lot of frequencies. Maybe it is for the better - Legeres are easy but they do not have typical sax tone - for my ears at least - a bit too bright. I read people having intonations issues with them and it seems to be also my case - I think I get better intonation with cane - even if I have to work a bit harder. I will check Vandoren 1.5 next.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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With reeds, be aware that the strengths across brands, even within the same makers ranges, are not necessarily equivalent.

When I first started I had a lot of problems with G. Getting the mouthpiece in the right place helped a lot, but a change of mouthpiece finally got me through the problem.

When you're checking for leaks, also check for regulation issues. These can cause a lot of problems when you play, but are often missed. G#, Low B/Bb, etc.

Also look at how you play, for instance I had problems with notes not coming out recently, was me touching the LH palm keys cos of not curling my hand properly.

Lots of good advice in the posts above, but so many variables that your case may not be covered. The good thing is that by trying things out, investigating, thinking, you learn a lot about how the sax works and how you interact with it.
 

jbtsax

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The warble on a saxophone is basically the overtones that are out of tune with one another fighting for control of what Arthur Benade calls the "regime of oscillation". The word that describes this condition is called "inharmonicity". A common cause of inharmonicity is when the length of the saxophone does not match its taper. A good example of this is when the mouthpiece of a straight soprano isn't placed far enough on the neck. Another cause can be when the volume inside the bell bow is too large. It is these cases where dropping something down the bell or soldering a patch can remedy the situation.

On the lowest notes of the saxophone the fundamental is weaker than the first and second overtones which allows them to "fight for control" when they are different pitches. On notes above the lowest notes, the fundamental is the strongest and can force the out of tune overtones to get in sync with frequencies that are whole numbers of itself.

It may be possible that a leak somewhere higher in the sax can cause an overtone to move out of tune, but I have not had that experience myself, nor have I found that discussed in the acoustic literature.
 

Woland

Member
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101
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Austin, TX
With reeds, be aware that the strengths across brands, even within the same makers ranges, are not necessarily equivalent.
(...)
When you're checking for leaks, also check for regulation issues. These can cause a lot of problems when you play, but are often missed. G#, Low B/Bb, etc.

Also look at how you play, for instance I had problems with notes not coming out recently, was me touching the LH palm keys cos of not curling my hand properly.

Thanks. I am aware of discrepancies - some reed manufacturers have comparison tables e.g.:
Strength Charts | Légère Reeds
This way I know that Legere 1.75 is roughly equivalent to Vandoren 1.5 and Rico Select Jazz 2S is softer than Legere 1.5.

I am still figuring out terminology (like "regulation G#") but I remember seeing it mentioned in Troubleshooting section of Stephen Howard's book.

Good point with palm keys - I keep a small mirror in my rehearsal space (walk-in closet) so I can check my playing. Although mostly it is so I do not start developing "sax face" (equivalent of "guitar face") - my teacher makes fun of me and says "if you want to be cool sax player you gotta keep those eyebrows in place when you attempt high notes" :w00t:
 

Stephen Howard

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PS. Just bought your "Saxophone Manual" great book.
PS2. Following on Collins suggestion - is there any rule that would say that sax that is in tune (position of mouthpiece on neck) - is less prone to warble?

Generally speaking the mouthpiece wants to be around three quarters of the way on the cork. On an alto that means it's on about an inch or so. It's not a hard and fast rule....more a general starting point.
It's easy to test. Just push the piece on a little way (quarter of an inch) and play the horn - then push it on an inch and play again. You'll hear and feel how much more responsive the horn is.

Glad you got the book - check out the section on testing for leaks....comes in handy more times than it should.
 

Targa

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Although mostly it is so I do not start developing "sax face" (equivalent of "guitar face") - my teacher makes fun of me and says "if you want to be cool sax player you gotta keep those eyebrows in place when you attempt high notes" :w00t:
Playing the high notes it's not my eyebrows staying in place that worries me.
 

Woland

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101
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Austin, TX
The warble on a saxophone is basically the overtones that are out of tune with one another fighting for control of what Arthur Benade calls the "regime of oscillation". The word that describes this condition is called "inharmonicity".
Thank you very much for the pointer - I found his "Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics" book on Amazon. Looks like a nice read (my background is in physics). Fascinating topic.
 

BigMartin

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my teacher makes fun of me and says "if you want to be cool sax player you gotta keep those eyebrows in place when you attempt high notes" :w00t:
If you're a cool sax player, you don't attempt high notes, you just play them. I am not a cool sax player (yet!), but by this measure I'm a lot cooler on baritone than on soprano ;).
 

jbtsax

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Thank you very much for the pointer - I found his "Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics" book on Amazon. Looks like a nice read (my background is in physics). Fascinating topic.
I am glad you joined the forum. Perhaps you can be a resource for those of us without a physics background trying to understand some of the acoustics literature. The study that addresses "inharmonicity" in saxophones directly is Some Aspects of Tuning and Clean Intonation.
 

Woland

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Austin, TX
If you're a cool sax player, you don't attempt high notes, you just play them. I am not a cool sax player (yet!), but by this measure I'm a lot cooler on baritone than on soprano ;).
I hear ya. I am getting there - it is just a question of faith I guess - believing that if you press those keys note will come and not expecting failure. I keep noodling in upper part of normal range - C to F as part of my normal practice - that way I put less pressure on my self to hit the note on time etc. Step by step I will colonize the CtoF land.
 

Woland

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Austin, TX
I am glad you joined the forum. Perhaps you can be a resource for those of us without a physics background trying to understand some of the acoustics literature. The study that addresses "inharmonicity" in saxophones directly is Some Aspects of Tuning and Clean Intonation.
Thanks for compliment although I was physicist/applied mathematician in my previous life - last couple decades I am just a software trench digger. And as always - thanks for the pointers !
 

BigMartin

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I am getting there - it is just a question of faith I guess
Not faith, practice. The faith comes from knowing you can do it because you've practised it a thousand times. I find it kind of funny these days to think about how uncool the road to becoming cool is. When I was young I used to envy the cool kids. Now I see someone do something cool and I think "You've been working on that for weeks, haven't you?" and smile to myself. One of the compensations of aging, I suppose.
 
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