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Discussion Starter #1
There is an interesting discussion on a German Sax-Forum. The question was: what distiguishes the sound of vintage saxes from the sound of modern horns?

General opinion so far seems to be that although different horns (or makes of horns) sound distinctly different, there is no specific sound that can be attributed to a certain period of saxophone manufacturing.

In other words: There ist no "vintage sound", just different sounds of different horns.

What do you think?
 

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If you can find a modern saxophone playing as a Chu please call me and I will buy it :)

Stan
 

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Stan said:
If you can find a modern saxophone playing as a Chu please call me and I will buy it :)
I hope he'll correct me if I'm wrong but the way I read it, Claus is not saying that for every vintage horn sound there's an exact modern equivalent, he's saying that there is no one definitive "vintage" sound and no one definitive "modern" sound, rather it simply comes down to different horns and you cannot specify from tone alone what period a horn comes from. In other words Claus reckons your Chu has a "Chu sound which happens to be vintage", rather than having a "vintage sound that happens to be Chu". He's not at all trying to say you'll find a modern equivalent to your Chu.

I haven't the experience of vintage horns to know if Claus' theory holds, but I'd be surprised if there wasn't at least some trends of difference in tone between a vintage sound and a moden sound, because manufacturers tend to work to the concepts and requirements of the musicians and music of the time, using components and methods of the time, so it would make sense that there would be at least a degree of "vintageness" or "moderness" in a horn's tone, but to what degree that would hold I really don't have the experience to say.
 

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I think more and more that the distinctive Vintage Sound in a horn is given by a Vintage Style horn player! Seriously. I have been on a mouthpiece hunt for a long time and, although I hear diferent sounds from different pieces or horns, I hear also that after a while one horn player plays his or her sound on almost any horn or mouthpiece (that doesn't mean that horns or mpcs have no influence on the sound it only means that sound is largely generated in one's mind and that this sound in your mind is the one you will adjust to in the long run) telling me that a lot has to do with the way we play or the way we think music should sound. My technician plays with any horn or mouthpiece with a 20's buzzy sound....really amazing.....my teacher plays his heavy subtoned style on any horn or mouthpiece, nuances are there to pick up and the player will hear them more than anyone else, but I grew to think that a very large chunk of the sound is you, not the equipment you play (again I am not saying that equipment plays no part in this). Yesterday I went to show a piece (a Metal Jazz alto) to a player who played a S80 (which a very different piece than the metal Jazz altough both from Selmer) he couldn't, and I couldn't do that either, detect any real differences between the two.

I have a Martin alto 1963 and a Selmer Super action II alto 1999 and at first they sounded very different , then, after a while, with the same mouthpiece the both sound very similar.....it is me.....


The question is why does a modern player sound as he does (different from a saxplayer of that era) with a sax or a piece that was conceived many decades ago? (in my opinion he plays contemporary if that is his style or old school if that is his style although oone might argue that old style horn players will also play old style vintage instruments)

The answer is probably: Because his mind tells him that he has to play in a different way, with a different style and a different sound.
 

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Rick Adams said:
I hope he'll correct me if I'm wrong ....
No need for corrections - that was exactly what I wanted to say.

I have three Martins and two Bueschers which I like very much but I couldn't put my finger on it if I was asked what tone quality "vintage" horns share that cannot be found in modern horns.
 

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I heard somewhere that sax manufacturers generally have used
different brass compositions to brighten the sound to fit more
with the modern music environment.

I have no idea if this is true or not.

I am much in agreement with what Milandro says.

But then, I see top players such as James carter, Joe Lovano,
Joshua Redman, seeking out older horns for the sound,
even though the ergo's and intonation may be less than desirable.

I think Claus and Rick are probably closer to the truth.

Some horns just sound good, and it has nothing to do with their age.
 

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kavala said:
Some horns just sound good, and it has nothing to do with their age.
Great words! I have been a very experienced professional photographer for 25 years. At a certain point I discovered that using a certain camera influenced my way of working because the different kind of equipment has a typicity that one can use to enhance certain aspects of your art. The same, I feel, it happens with horns. My Martin RMC 1963 is very different in construction and mechanics than my SA 80 II, there are also other differences of course but I find that the longer I know the Selmer, the more I can get it to play close to the Martin and perhaps otherwise.

Vintage horns have metal that cannot physically be very different than modern ones but they are different.Nevertheless you can sound old or new on any horn.
 

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kavala said:
I heard somewhere that sax manufacturers generally have used
different brass compositions to brighten the sound to fit more
with the modern music environment.

I have no idea if this is true or not.

I am much in agreement with what Milandro says.

But then, I see top players such as James carter, Joe Lovano,
Joshua Redman, seeking out older horns for the sound,
even though the ergo's and intonation may be less than desirable.

I think Claus and Rick are probably closer to the truth.

Some horns just sound good, and it has nothing to do with their age.
I am pretty convinced that if you assume intonation is accurate and the horns are equally well set up etc, and if you assume the player remains a "constant" rather than a variable (ie we forget about emotional factors and how good you are on the day etc, etc) AND if we do not allow for environmental considerations (ie where your playing, or even what the weather is like perhaps) then the principle things that affect the overall sound (in order of importance) are going to be:
  1. Player 60%
  2. Mouthpiece internal shape (ie NOT materials) 20%
  3. Neck internal bore (ie NOT materials) 10%
  4. Sax internal bore (ie NOT materials) 6%
  5. Other factors all combined 4%
I'm reasonably sure that the order is correct but those percentages are quite frankly complete guesses as I've only been playing a few months (although I've been a muscian of sorts for many years and this sort of stuff interests me a lot) and I haven't given it a lot of in depth thought before sticking them up. If anyone disagrees with the items or order or has better ideas of the percentages then I'm interested to learn what you have to say...

I'm also interested in asking the question, how much of a horn "just sounding good" is in the setup? ie maybe a good horn is one that doesn't necessarily have a great tone of itself, but it enables or even inspires you the musician to play at your peak.

Also, I think it is quite likely that a certain player might play differently on an old horn than a modern one because they are more used to one than the other or because they hold certain beliefs about one or the other that influence them unconsciously, and this might lead to thinking the horns sound different (as opposed to the person sounding different, if you see what I mean).
 

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One way to find out what makes the sound is to give (if you have chance) a monster player your horn and mouthpiece and tell him to play it for awhile.. I have twice had this experience. The latter case was that a monster pro player (who usually plays a MkVI with a vintage Link) borrowed my sax (Chicago Jazz Series and a current production Link) and my mpc when he was in town. I got a free ticket to that show and well.. as you can guess.. he sounded absolutely great and blew the roof off ;) So, it's the player IMO..

-TH
 

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-TH said:
So, it's the player IMO..

-TH
well my point is that, not only do they sound great but they sound pretty much like themselves on another horn......;)
 

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Just my opinion, I think the definition of a vintage sound would be a little more round and mellow. less high harmonics in the note and more of the lower harmonics. I think this is naturally achieved in the older horns because of the aging, oxidation and pitting of the INSIDE of the horn.As they age, the shortest wavelenghts of sound ( the highest harmonics) would be the most affected by this oxidation. the inside will become much rougher over time and will, in my opinion definitely smooth out the sound. that is why a new horn can never duplicate the sound of an old one even if you copy it exactly down to the metal composition and why horns seem to sound better over time.i think that's why we always reject the newest models as sonicaly inferior and it takes a while to be accepted by the old school guys.young folks usually are the first to buy the new models because they want a different sound. look at the Mark VII. widely rejected by the traditional selmer folks back when it was introduced but respected now. same with the series I and II. Once the horn ages a little the tone matures.
some manufacturers are trying ways to duplicate the vintage sound without the aging with different necks and angles, bell and bow size,stones on the neck, different finishes,etc. my barone and ponzol necks do make a difference and neither one is smooth inside.they give my new Yamhas an older, darker, rounder sound. i think maybe if they could put a textured finish on the inside of a new horn ( would take a lot of experimentation ) maybe they would get closer .
 

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Interesting Rick, I put a similar breakdown in another thread somewhere.
I added in the reed factor as well.

One thing I will add is that the person playing the horn hears the
differences more than the listener. I don't think you hear the differences
much with recordings. Maybe in a live situation sitting right in front of the player.

The differences can be profound from the players perspective,
but very subtle from the listener's.

Hence Milandro's argument. If you go listen to somebody, they will
sound pretty much the same, regardless of setup.
If you listen to any recording blindfold, can you say for sure,
"this is a Mk VI', or "this is a Conn". No I don't think so.
But you can say with reasonable accuracy, "that sounds like Cannonball".

Also I agree with Rick's point about how one feels at the time.

Sometimes certain situations will inspire me, and all of a sudden I
find myself playing with an entirely different sound on some notes,
because at that point in time it just sounded 'right'.
 

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kavala said:
I heard somewhere that sax manufacturers generally have used
different brass compositions to brighten the sound to fit more
with the modern music environment.
I have a 51 year old mark vi tenor and a fairly new Ref 54 LE tenor. Their sounds are about the same everything else being equal (piece, reed, room, time or day, me). If anything, the 54 is a shade darker.

Veteren players go for vintage horns because horns that have lasted that long and still play well have established their bona fides.

"It's not that I like old things; it's that I like good things."
-- Banacek

There is, however, a distinct vintage player sound (Ben, Dexter, Prez, Hawk, Zoot, Jug, etc.). Only a few contemporary players seem to go for that sound.
 

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much as a different cue won't change a pool players style or the way he plays patterns on the table, he will tell that the cues hit different and fell different and actually get a different result with the exact same stroke on a different cue.certain cues fit players styles better than others, ie, a stiffer or more flexible shaft.
a sax is the same, a different horn won't change the way a players plays his style or patterns but he will tell you that it responds differently and sounds different and may play different with the exact same setup.certain ones may fit a players style better then others. but to us it will still sound like him, but with subtle differences in tonal quality.
In the big band i was in Tony Faro has a SBA Selmer 38xxx and a Conn Naked lady gold plate that he switches back and forth as is constantly fixing leaks and using rubber bands to hold it together. He sounds like tony no matter what horn he is playing. I can here a substantial difference in his tone and its shape but he still sounds like tony.
when he played my Z ,again, a different sound but he still sounded like tony. BTW, he loved the Z. But being 76 years old he doesn't want to buy a new horn or even overhaul his old ones.
 

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Al Stevens said:
There is, however, a distinct vintage player sound (Ben, Dexter, Prez, Hawk, Zoot, Jug, etc.). Only a few contemporary players seem to go for that sound.
Yeah! Exactly! And that is beacause they were playing a different tone and different tunes which they played back then in the style of the times and which fitted those player's ears at that time when the did that.

I seriously doubt that any oxidation (inside or outside) has the ability to change the sound of a horn I am fairly convinced that most of it is just the legend we like to attribute to one horn or another and to vintage horns in general.

I'm just back from a 2 hour practice. I integrated some tests today in my practice, I was testing different mouthpieces and different horns. I am trying to determine if I can use to a benefit other mouthpieces on my horns and switch these mouthpieces around to see what happens with my two altos. I am also trying to decide whether I want to keep both my Martin RMC committee and my Selmer SA 80 II or not.

I can most definetly hear a deep difference between several mouthpieces and my favourite is and stays my Otto Link STM 7*, it is very open ( a straigt tube without almost any baffle at all) and I can oly play it with a relatively soft reed 2 or 2,5 Alexander DC but I like it to bits it has a very hollow sound (might sound a crazy definityin but that's what it sounds to me and I love it). If I play it on the Martin I get a great combination, If I play it on the Selmer the sound is almost the same but the intonation is absolutely superb far superor to the Martin and the Selmer modern mechanics are definitely better than the Martin but.....I am going to keep the Martin and maybe loose the Selmer, the Martin is just better and I do not know why. Oxidation? My horn is a relaquer! It has a mellow moaning sound which I crave in my blues playing .....the Selmer has power and if I would play in a big band I would go for it (with a Selmer Metal Jazz which I also own...) but I don' like playing in a big band and I don't like big band music.....decision, decisions.......
 

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Nothing much to add here. I think you guys said it all.......especially the "it's the player" part. I will say one thing I've noticed about vintage vs modern horns, and this is a very unscientific, subjective comment, based on a rather limited data set: I've played Bueschers (tenor & alto), a Conn (tenor), King (tenor), and MKVI (tenor), all of which I consider vintage, and for modern horns, Yamaha (tenor & alto), Yani (tenor & alto), and a couple Selmer tenors that I only tried in the shop.

The vintage horns seem to be more flexible in tone quality. More "malleable" somehow.

Like I said, this is just a tendency I notice and it could be totally in my head.
 

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JL said:
The vintage horns seem to be more flexible in tone quality. More "malleable" somehow.

Like I said, this is just a tendency I notice and it could be totally in my head.
JL, by flexible do you mean for instance that when trying to get a sweet or mellow sound on a ballad or pushing a bit when needed a vintage horn will have a bigger 'range' to do so, where a modern horn might have the tendency to stay closer to it's core sound.
 

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More flexible literally. I think that because of some sort of design difference that it's easier to bend notes on the older horns. Not that you can't on newer ones, but it's just easier on the older ones.

ALso re: "oxidation and pitting of the INSIDE of the horn"
this probably affects airflow in a subtle way just as dimples on a golf ball create turbulence and allow it to slip through the air more easily. Perhaps irregularites in the body do something like this.
I've seen areas inside some mouthpieces where a deliberate little gouge has been made. Even in a brand new Guardala New Crescent that is otherwise perfectly even and symmetrical. This may be done for the same reason? Something not scientifically analysed and understood but simply recognized by designers that it has a positive effect. My Barone neck has some scratchings inside that I have wondered about for these same reasons.
 
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