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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi everyone.

I've recently purchased a 1931 Conn Transitional 12M. On the whole intonation is ok, but the middle octave E-F# (that is, an octave below the palm keys) is very sharp: 35-40%. I know these notes are generally sharp on saxophones, but this seems extreme.

I've tried several large chambered mouthpieces, including vintage Conn Steelay and Eagle, and a Brendan Tibbs metal mouthpiece.

I use a slack jaw when playing, and an open throat, as I also play a '31 Conn bass (which doesn't suffer from this problem at all.)

The sax seems to have relatively high pad heights.

I know that 12M's are somewhat notorious for their intonation, but are they usually this far out on those notes? I've read many, many SOTW posts on the subject, but they generally seem to refer to the upper end of the 2nd octave being sharp, due to small-chambered mouthpiece/embouchure problems.

One interesting thing I've found is that pressing the low C# while playing the problem notes flattens them to much more manageable tuning. This is unintuitive to me because pressing the low c# actually opens a pad, but hey - saxophone acoustics are complicated.

I'm in the UK, and a long drive away from any tech I know that's competent with these vintage 12Ms.

Is this a known issue? Is it a key heights issue? Should they be higher or lower?

Thanks in advance

Paul
 

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Is this a known issue? Is it a key heights issue? Should they be higher or lower?
Yes, it can be a trouble spot on vintage Conn bari saxes. Play the problem notes and gradually depress the keys below them. If this solves the problem, then lowered key heights can help. However, it might make your lower notes flat. You'll likely have to compromise somewhat, and play those trouble notes with a looser lip.
 

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On the whole intonation is ok, but the middle octave E-F# (that is, an octave below the palm keys) is very sharp: 35-40%. I know these notes are generally sharp on saxophones, but this seems extreme.
My main 12M has a sharp "E" with some of the mouthpieces I use. Not just sharp, but also a bit wild and uncentered - hard to "lock in." I found key height adjustments to not be beneficial for this. I'm guessing that low "E" is fine, in which case a crescent wouldn't work, either - the octave would still be too wide.

Generally I add the low Bb key to the fingering and that helps it lock in better. Some oboists use the same fingering to tame their sharp "E" and this is what prompted me to try, years ago. While I don't have to do this on my saxophones, adding the low B improves the F# and G on my oboe...might work on your 12M...

All of this becomes necessary only when I use a small-chamber piece on my 12M. If you're using vintage Conn mouthpieces and having this problem, I'm wondering if there is some kind of issue (dent, etc.) within the bore higher up on the body tube. A distortion in the loop at the wrong spot could be partially responsible...

I know that 12M's are somewhat notorious for their intonation, but are they usually this far out on those notes? I've read many, many SOTW posts on the subject, but they generally seem to refer to the upper end of the 2nd octave being sharp, due to small-chambered mouthpiece/embouchure problems.
Apart from what I've outlined above, I find 12M's to have pretty solid pitch until you start to use small-chamber mouthpieces.

One more thing that probably isn't responsible but is easy to check: play a long tone on "E" and release the octave key while keeping the pitch in the second octave. If the pitch is improved, check the body octave pip.

Hope this helps...keep us posted...
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks guys for those ideas

Yes the low E is fine. Adding the low Bb helps, but I'd hoped not to need that with a large chamber piece

If you're using vintage Conn mouthpieces and having this problem, I'm wondering if there is some kind of issue (dent, etc.) within the bore higher up on the body tube. A distortion in the loop at the wrong spot could be partially responsible...
This got me thinking. There are no obvious dents, but when replacing the neck cork, I noticed that the neck has been extended by 5/8". I know a lot of 12M users have this mod done, but since I'm happy with large chamber pieces, I'm going to remove it and see what happens - I'm guessing the Conn engineers had good reasons for keeping it short.

One more thing that probably isn't responsible but is easy to check: play a long tone on "E" and release the octave key while keeping the pitch in the second octave. If the pitch is improved, check the body octave pip.
Thanks for that tip - It didn't make any difference to the pitch, so I think the pip's ok

I'll let you know what happens with the neck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Ok, I said I'd post an update, and I think I've sorted the problem.

First of all, removing the neck extension made no significant difference to any of the intonation that can't be explained by inadvertent variation in my embouchure.

When I mentioned that the pad heights were relatively high, I hadn't paid enough attention to the bell pads, which were all quite low. Posts here plus my own tests convinced me that the height of the bell pads are actually critical to notes further up the scale. I opened the Bb, B and C pads to almost full, and it made a massive difference! Not only were the low notes now in tune, but the problem middle E reduced from 35% sharp to about 17% - similar to most saxes and easily lipable down.

That middle E still feels unstable - the tone's not great but if I hold down the C# left pinky while playing it, the tuning centers on zero and the tone opens right up. I'd be interested to know if other 12M players have the same experience. Holding down the Bb has a similar effect on tone, but doesn't change the tuning much since I opened up the C pad.

It would be great to devise some automatic mechanism that opens up the C# while pressing the RH middle finger, but it would be complex (C# would have to close again when you finger D). I know that some old bass saxes close the Bb when pressing the octave key - this is obviously why.

I've tested the various mods by recording a chromatic scale into Cubase, the using Cubase's own function for measuring the intonation. I kept pretty much the same embouchure throughout - the one that gave the best tone. It's a great test as you don't know your tuning while playing and aren't tempted to compensate. With the exception of low Bb (Sharp), the middle E and F, I can now get the whole scale well within +/- 10 cents with no significant embouchure change. I think I can make a few minor adjustments to improve the problem notes further, but for now I'm going to play and enjoy this fantastic horn!
 

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My 1930s Bundy baritone (a 12M stencil without rolled tone holes) has exactly the issue with middle E mentioned here - sharp and unstable tone. Opening low C# works the same as well and I use that a bit. I can generally get around the problem with careful voicing that becomes automatic with practice, but if I haven't played baritone for a while I struggle.

One thing that I found helps a little is to not have the neck fully into the socket, it's out about 2mm - so the octave mechanism still just works. My theory is that it changes something about the proportional position of the octave pip. I'm not sure if this is placebo effect or real though...
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
One thing that I found helps a little is to not have the neck fully into the socket, it's out about 2mm - so the octave mechanism still just works. My theory is that it changes something about the proportional position of the octave pip. I'm not sure if this is placebo effect or real though...
I think you may be onto something there - it has a similar effect on mine. It's hard to know whether I'm compensating with embouchure or not, so I'm going to do a load of scales with and without pulling the neck out and see if it's measurable
 

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I would like to pile on:

I've been playing the same 12M baritone, as a baritone specialist, since 1984. I thought I was the only one who used the low C# key to flatten and stabilize E and F. (On my horn, the middle E and F are particularly sharp and unstable, and the low E and F have a little bit of it too.) As mentioned above, fiddling with key heights had little to no effect (although my bell key heights are OK, whereas the OP's turned out to have been set too low).

For many years I played on a Vandoren hard rubber piece which has too small a chamber. I liked the sound, but the altissimo was not there, the E/F problem was noticeable, and there were some other funky tuning issues. Plus I had to pull it out so far that I ended by extending the mouthpiece. When I changed over to a Meyer hard rubber with a small wedge, the altissimo came right out, and the E and F became much more stable. I also modified a second Meyer by hogging out the chamber; that one ended with too much chamber volume, so in order to get say middle G in tune, the palm keys were way sharp and the bell keys were way flat. I think the E/F instability problem became worse with the too-large chamber also, but I am not sure about this.

The conclusion from this with respect to the E/F issue is that there is a right chamber volume. Too much or too little are both NG.

Because mouthpieces all have different shank lengths, the amount it goes on the cork is not a good guide. What I do is measure from the tip of the MP to a feature on the neck (usually the octave vent). Then one can compare correctly. For example, when I was trying out MPs in the cycle that ended with the Meyer, I found that to tune to middle G, the Vandoren small chamber piece had to be a lot further out, as expected. The Meyers had to be pushed further on. I found a Jody Jazz mouthpiece that I liked pretty well, but its shank was so short that even though the distance from MP tip to octave vent was about the same as the Meyer, it was still barely hanging on the neck. So don't let the variation in shank length fool you.

Finally, I have found that ( and this is probably very much an individual thing, but you should check it out anyway) the E/F sharpness/instability is much worse with an old weak reed. In fact, when I played on a smaller chamber piece this was one way I could tell it was time to toss a reed.

I would suggest to anyone with an old Conn to check out the Meyers. I play alto, tenor, baritone Conns, all from 1945-1948, all with Meyer hard rubber mouthpieces. I have never ever had any trouble with both volume and penetration of sound when needed on alto or tenor, and on baritone once I put the small wedge in. I find that the intonation with the Meyer mouthpieces on these Conns is superb. Unlike what I have seen with some other MPs.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I'd love to try a Meyer out - can you tell me what model/tip opening you use?
Did you make the wedge yourself or is it commercially available?
 

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Glad I found this thread! I play a 1941 12M with rolled tone holes for years now. I use a Meyer 6* on it currently, play all Ladies, alto and tenor...(sop if I get my hands on one). Yes the Middle E and F are unstable and always sharp..on the 10M and 6M to a degree as well in my experience. I just always tell my self, that saxophones don't play in tune, we play them in tune...or not...but I'm going to try the low C# trick discussed here, and check my bell pad height to maximize the ease intonation control! Happy compensating out there!
 

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I use #9 Meyer on baritone (#8 on tenor, #7 on alto, all with "medium" chamber, although I am thinking of trying a large chamber for alto if I start playing a lot of alto again). Used to use Vandoren 2.5 reeds, often shaved, and now I mostly use La Voz med. hard, usually shaved, after a friend gave me about 25 boxes of them (this for bari, still use the Vandorens on alto/tenor/soprano).

When I was trying out MPs, I tried a Runyon with a removable "spoiler" which has a plastic piece that works as a wedge. This part comes right out of the MP, so I put it in the Meyer to try. The Meyer was a little "tubby" and needed just a little more edge, and the Runyon wedge did it. So I copied the dimensions in plastic and used clear silicone adhesive to install it. I don't have the piece here with me, but I sketched out about what I think it looks like and I think it's about 17 mm long (the side that rests against the roof of the MP) and the height about 4 mm. Imagine a triangle, one side = 17 mm. One side about 13 mm. One side about 6 mm and the thickness about 4 mm. I used a piece of clear plastic (probably acrylic/Plexiglas, but might be polycarbonate) that I cut from an old windshield scraper and then filed down to size. The width of course was made to fit snugly into the MP. I think the end about 5 or 6 mm from the tip rail. The "steeper" side faces down into the interior of the MP, so the "longer" side is closer to parallel to the underside of the reed. Good luck, it was pretty tedious making the part without a belt sander.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I'll try it out and report back here. Thanks for taking the trouble to give such detailed info - I really appreciate it!
 
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