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Discussion Starter #1
OK, I figured the title would at least give the gist of the issue, so please let me explain my situation. I have been perusing this forum for weeks, although I have not joined until today. I have read a LOT about brands, tone, finishes, etc and of course as with any highly passionate groups of people there are a LOT of passionate answers that are diametrically opposed to one another. Still, I managed to glean enough to avoid the more obvious pitfalls of purchasing a new horn. But, my situation is a little unique so I thought I would ask for some more specific advice.

I have arthritis, bad enough that I am disabled as a result of it. Fortunately, so far the damage to my hands is very small. The problem runs in my family, and my mother kept from losing her manual dexterity by crocheting. I believe that keeping my hands active doing something that requires a lot of dexterity will be key to retaining function. But, like anything else, it needs to be something you like doing and will actually do, rather than a therapeutic measure that you hate and will tend to put off. Which is why I am looking at the possibility of taking up the sax again.

Once upon a time, in the misty, uncertain past, I played tenor sax in school. At the time, I had a nice Bundy, which was stolen years ago. I actually miss noodling around on my horn but never had the funds to replace it until recently. I will need to purchase a new horn, but with the dizzying array of options I am torn as to how to go here. On the one hand, I will not be playing in a band so I that removes a lot of requirements, but by the same token, I do have some specific issues I need to cover, so I will throw out what I need, and hope that you can help me pinpoint the best way to go.

First of all, my clumsiness is an issue. My hands are still pretty OK although getting less flexible, but I will need to find a fairly solid horn that does not dent if you sneeze on it. Secondly, again I am really REALLY out of practice, and while I have not lost dexterity yet, my hands have lost some strength, so ease of manipulation is important, and that can only be managed so far by adjustment. Some instruments are just stiff... Thirdly, cost is an up in the air thing, and I am open to discussion here. I am teetering on the concept of buying an inexpensive horn from eBay (cheap Murano etc, I know enough to stay away from Cecilio) to see if I can even manage this any more, and then buying a good one if it turns out that this is a Good Idea, (and giving the crap horn away to some kid who thinks they want to play) or just going ahead and buying a good one from the start, and if it doesn't work out then I can sell it on eBay or craigslist. I am still in the really larval stages of the selection process, obviously. But I'd rather have the input up front, and carry it into the selection and purchase.

Here is what I know: The finish needs to be lacquer. I can't manage the polishing that a raw brass or silver plated instrument requires. I don't know about nickel, maybe someone can speak to me about how much care that finish requires. I saw one that was black chrome; striking looking instrument but I know nothing about that finish or how it would hold up either. Color is not particularly relevant. Tone... I know there is a lot of heated commentary on which finish, brand etc has better tone and for what purpose, but all I am going to be doing is noodling around with my jazz collection, at home, while my Better Half is at work. The brand name is completely unimportant to me; in other words I am not a 'fan' of a specific brand name, they are all on the table. And, it is hard for me to get around, so I don't want a finicky horn that needs to be serviced constantly.

So: Comments would be appreciated about which brands are really durable and forgiving of klutziness, and pro-con of getting a real cheapo to make sure I can even do this anymore and then passing it on vs getting a decent one to start and then having to sell it if things don't work out...

I appreciate the time and expertise of those who choose to answer. Thank you for letting me join your group.
 

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Don't worry about the finish so much. You don't really need to polish silver or even raw brass, as long as appearance isn't all that important. And it really doesn't affect the sound much, if at all. Do you know what horn you want (soprano, alto, tenor, bari)? I am guessing a lighter, smaller horn like soprano or alto would be a better bet with the arthritis.

It sounds like you are on a tight budget, so I would suggest seeing what JayeSF on here has - he tends to have vintage horns in playable condition (very important) that tend to be good values. He has a website: www.2ndending.com, but typically has multiple horns not listed. And he is good to deal with.

I don't know that much about new horns, but it seems like the ones that get consistently good reviews/comments on here tend to start around $800 or $1000 or so: Bauhaus Walstein, Barone, Kessler, etc. I would avoid the cheap eBay horns.

If you get a used horn in playable shape, chances are you will be able to sell it for about what you paid. Any new horn you are going to take a loss on.

For used horns on a budget, you may want to check out King Clevelands, Conn 16Ms (tenor), French or US or Japanese made Vitos, Yamaha 23s, stencils by major makers, etc.
 

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I played tenor sax in school.
Are you looking for a tenor? If I were you, I'd stay away from the super cheap junk horns. If alto floats your boat, this might be an opportunity: http://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?164140-FS-Yamaha-YAS-52-Alto-Plays-Great-Priced-Right

If you decide to give it up, you could resell, perhaps only at a minor loss.

I would suggest seeing what JayeSF on here has - he tends to have vintage horns in playable condition (very important) that tend to be good values.
If you decide to get a vintage horn, make sure it has manageable ergonomics. Some of them are less comfortable to play than modern instruments (although you will find people who insist it's not a problem).
 

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Discussion Starter #4
The more I read, the more I am leaning to purchasing a nicer used instrument. I'd like to get another tenor, but artstove may be right that the alto might be easier for me to handle now. I do not want a straight soprano though, although I guess a curved one would be OK. I'm not really too tight on price; looking in the $800-1200 range, I figure I should be able to get a serviceable horn in that area. I just know that the economy is kind of bad at the moment, so I might be sitting on this for a while if it turns out that it is beyond my abilities any more, which makes me a bit leery of spending $2000 and finding out after a week that it's making me hurt to use it. Thank you for the comments, it all helps in adjusting the sails, so to speak. I have even considered renting, but most rental contracts are for at least a year, and I will know in a month or less if this is going to work or not. I worry about the position I have to be in to use the horn, as much as I do about the hand issues; it may be that I won't be able to manage the flexibility in my back and neck, but I want to give it a try, heck who knows it might even help.
 

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$800-1200 should get you a perfectly good horn. I would agree with saxmusicguy to make sure that the ergonomics, especially on older horns, work for you. Since ergonomics are highly personal, trying them in person is best; buying from someone with a return policy is next best. Maybe find a store (or a teacher or a friend) that at least has an alto and tenor in stock (even if it is not the horn you want), just so you can see how the size/weight of each feels.

Edit: that Yamaha does look like a pretty good price, and their ergonomics and resale value tend to be good. I personally don't like how Yamahas sound, but it would probably be a relatively low-risk way to start.
 

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That Yamaha has a GREAT price. About the only way to get a better horn for that kind of money is to steal it.
Also, I own a mix of Yamaha and Selmer saxes, and I think you could play that Yamaha for an awfully long time before you find something you like better.
 

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If I had arthritis the first consideration for me would be the action.

I would want a light action with the keys not being too far away from the toneholes and the finger pressure required would be minimum.

The only sax I've got like that is my Selmer Mark VI Alto but there must be other less expensive ones around.

My Yamaha YAS-21 takes a fair bit more finger pressure to shut the toneholes and the keys are a fair bit farther away from the toneholes than my Selmer Mark VI.

Same goes for my Jupiter which requires more finger pressure than my Yamaha and has the keys a fair bit away from the toneholes and requires a fair bit of finger pressure to close the keys.

My Chinese Largo Tenor has a light action with aluminium springs, not really as near as good as my Selmer Mark VI's action but not bad at all.

Spring tension and tonehole height can be adjusted by a tech but tonehole height is one of the factors in a saxes intonation tendencies as well and differently designed saxes seem to be designed to have different tonehole heights as standard from what I've seen but I'm not an expert on this.

I really think that you would have to actually try the sax out before buying it to see if the action and ergonomics are ok for you.

Buying blind on the net could be hit or miss.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Good info Saxpiece, and thank you. The internet is pretty much my only option though, local Craiglist has nothing and there is only ONE local store, and they don't have anything decent or they want six times what they are worth. I'm not paying $1500 for a beat up YTS23, as a single example. ;o) The salesperson haughtily informed me that I just 'had no idea how much a good saxophone cost. It's a YAMAHA!!' like that isn't the most common used sax on the planet... I told him to save the story for some parents with a kid starting out who didn't know any better. Soooo, I am unfortunately at the mercy of the 'net.

The fingering input is exactly what I am looking for, and thank you for that. My hands are pretty OK right now but it may be a factor later, and I was actually looking at a Jupiter so that is good to know. It all helps! thank you guys a LOT for helping!
 

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I'm 61 years old and have arthritis in my knee which requires me to practice sitting down at least half the time. Even on gigs I'll have a stool available to sit on at times.I also get sore shoulders- at the moment, my left one is hurting me. I have a little curving of the middle finger :tsk: of my right hand, which I think is arthritis related as it started maybe 7 years ago. I am 5'5" and my hands are small to medium size. Anyways, I mainly play tenor but it is much easier for me to sit and practice with my alto saxes than with the tenors. I really enjoy my Martin Indiana alto- '55 vintage- for not only great tone but ease of playing. These can be gotten fairly cheaply. I also have a '56 The Martin Alto- very light action. My '36 King Zephyr is a great player as well, and not too pricey in the marketplace. The '29 Chu Conn alto is a bit less ergo- friendly than the other two, but still workable. My Selmer Balanced Action is wonderful but expensive.
Anyways, back to the tenors. My easiest playing ones as far as finger related issues are the YTS 61 Yamaha, Selmer Mark VI, and a '53 The Martin, which I use most of the time due to its combination of tone, ease of playing and relative worth. My least user friendly tenor, due to the spread of the fingers (right hand) required and an uncomfortable left thumb button is my '50 Buescher Aristocrat 156. As a result of these issues, I play slower and when I'm done, my left thumb is sore. My other less than totally friendly tenor is a '29 Martin Handcraft typewriter model.. The neck strap ring position requires the sax strap to be real tight to raise the sax up to its correct position, and the right hand thumb hook spacing requires my thumb to spread a little too wide away from the rest of my fingers to support and finger the sax keys properly.
In conclusion, I suggest you get an alto since the fingering is usually lighter, closer and the horn isn't as heavy. If you really want a tenor, I would suggest a used Yamaha- either a YTS 23, 52 or 61 or even a 62 if you can get one within your budget-since they are readily available. Otherwise, you really are going to have to try horns out yourself to see what you like.The ones I mentioned work or kind of work for me, but what works for you may be different.
You might try visiting some grade schools or high schools in your area where they have horns they lend to students and try some out to get an idea what might work for you.
Good luck.
 

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Over the last ten years or so I've begun to develop some serious arthritic problems with fingers (especially on my right hand).

I play a number of different saxes, but Bari has been my primary horn for the past few years. Unfortunately I find it increasingly painful to play the bigger horns due to the necessity of stretching the fingers between keys as well as the amount of pressure (and distance) needed to depress the keys. The sometimes painful "bumping" of swollen arthritic joints in combination with individual joint pain brought about by depressing keys often cause me a moment of frantic hand release (generally accompanied by a vocal "$#%^&^%$"). Not a good thing, especially in the middle of a tune...

I find that playing a smaller horn, a soprano or sopranino, with a closer key arrangement and less distance to pad closure is a lot easier on my hands/fingers. I have begun shedding with a soprillo - just in case - and have pretty much giving up on my dreams of a contrabass. - In looking for an instrument you might want to consider an alto or even a soprano if you think your fingers may eventually develop some similar problems.

I do wish you well - and much good luck on finding a beautiful horn to play!!
 

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Is it swelling\pain or loss of motion that's your biggest problem?

If it's pain, you may be better off with an instrument like a soprano with less key travel. If it's loss of motion, you may find that you cannot grip the soprano or alto around the stacks without your palm hitting keys and Tenor is probably the best choice.

Either way, I would suggest a Yamaha or Yanagisawa set to a light action with perfectly seating pads. Poorly set up instruments demand more finger-force to close correctly, thus who you are purchasing from is an important consideration.

Not to nag, but are you pursuing treatment aggressively? Following doctor's directions? If it's rhuematic, have you consulted your specialist about getting a free trial of one of the biological drugs currently available?
 

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I developed a debilitating form of arthritis at a relatively young age (28). Unlike most forms of arthritis that develop slowly over time, this one set in hard and fast. From the first onset of symptoms, I was totally disabled within a few months. It affected my entire body, but my hands were almost totally useless. I could just barely close my fingers enough to grasp something about the size of a grapefruit or a softball, but I couldn't hold a pen to sign my name. Playing the saxophone was totally impossible. After years of aggressive treatment (and considerable misery in the mean time) I finally regained my ability to play the saxophone to a degree. It's still painful and I have nowhere near the flexibility or finger speed I once had, but I can at least play well enough to entertain myself in the privacy of my home...(sometimes).

As saxagenarian mentioned, how far you have to stretch your fingers will probably be more of an issue than key action or key height. For that reason, alto or soprano might be a better choice than tenor or baritone. I play both alto and soprano, and both still have their drawbacks as it relates to my arthritis. The weight of the alto is an issue for me. The vertebrae in my neck have degenerated significantly, so the weight of the alto hanging from my neck gets painful quickly. I often end up having to rest the bow of the alto on my knee (while sitting) to relieve some of the pressure from my neck, but it's not the best position for playing. The soprano on the other hand presents an entirely different problem. Since my hands are closer together, it causes pain in my shoulders and elbows from having to have my arms closer to my body. The arm position is more relaxed and more comfortable with the alto.

Since you may not know how different parts of your body are going to respond to a particular horn until after you've played it for a while, I would consider looking for a short-term rental situation if possible. You won't be obligated to keep it if you discover that it doesn't work well for you as far as your arthritis is concerned. It would also give you a relatively inexpensive way to sample a variety of horns (soprano, alto, tenor) before deciding which one is more suitable to your body. Once you've determined which one works best for you, then you can start looking for a horn to purchase.

Good luck...
 

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Discussion Starter #15 (Edited)
Thank you again to those who responded! I have been away a couple of days and checked back in to find some really good information. I am exploring the possibility of a soprano at the moment; I am more worried, at least at the outset, with the weight of the horn and the position of my arms while playing and the stress on my shoulders than I am about finger spread etc. The only damage so far to my hands is the stiffness of my left index finger and that is a muscle issue not arthritis due to a deep knife cut across the back of it. So far the arthritis has not developed in my hands, although it is beginning to reach my wrists.

Holding the sax while using it is my biggest fear; I talked to George at 2nd Ending and he suggested either an alto or soprano for that reason. He also mentioned that maybe I could get a stand if I went with the tenor, I had not thought about that but it might be a really good option. Or, he has a really sweet looking little soprano that is a little under my original price range, but I am having some second thoughts about my initial purchase simply because I am afraid this may not work out long term. If I only have a little invested I can give it to a family member or local school without caring a lot. I looked into rental but nobody has a short term option in this area, which is why I have switched off after talking to George and others, to looking for a really inexpensive 'starter horn' to see if I can manage the weight and such, and then move up the food chain to something a bit more dressy if things work out. George is kind of between shops at the moment, so I won't be able to get back with him before the middle of August, and he wasn't sure he had anything ready yet that would work for me, but then I am not in a huge hurry. I am just really afraid of buying a used horn on eBay for a host of reasons.

Honeyboy, visiting one of the local schools is a great idea! I have friends at one of the local high schools, I bet I could handle a couple there, which would help a LOT to settling on the size issue. Thanks for that suggestion!

Saxagenarian, you and Honeyboy both touch on fingering issues, and this is really helpful to me. I am thinking, after talking with both of you, that I need to give up on the tenor completely and be thinking about an alto or soprano, because of not just the weight but also the fingering spread. Just because I still have a nice span now does not mean it will be with me forever. Thank you for that input!

JFW, thank you for your sweet concern. I have been seeing a doctor for the past 6 years, and I am on several of the more recently developed pain meds as well as fighting off the joint damage with glucosamine etc. Tests for RA have been inconclusive, but it runs in my family so we know it could become an issue. At the moment, it is an aggressive sort of osteo that has seemed to favor the larger weight bearing joints. (Started in the hips, has progressed to knees, shoulders, now the elbows...) and of course, trying to compensate for the pain that certain positions causes makes the back and neck hurt, it's all connected. This is one reason that George's suggestion of a stand interests me; it's possible I could find a position for the stand that takes most of the pressure off of my shoulders and neck, so that all I have to worry about is the fingering. So far (knock on wood) I still have good dexterity, and decent strength in my fingers. Hoping to keep that is why I am wanting to take up the sax again.

CooolJazzz, we may have a similar form of arthritis, at least the sudden onset is similar. Mine set in aggressively about 6 yrs ago (I was older than you though, I was 47) after an accident where my hip plate was split vertically in a REALLY bad fall. It started there, but has jumped to other joints seemingly overnight. However, luckily so far my hands have been spared. Still, I have significant issues with my shoulders, and your comments are making me think that maybe the alto is the way to go, since I don't have the neck pain issues but I do have issues with pain from the shoulders and what you describe from handling the soprano is exactly what I am afraid of long term. I wish I could find a short term rental option; I may do some sleuthing online and see if I can find a dealer that will SHIP a horn on rental from somewhere else since no one here does it. My greatest concern isn't how I manage it the first day, but how I hold up after a month, if it is going to cause pain from the repetitive motion, etc.

I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to answer my questions. You have given me some really useful input, and I think tomorrow I will go visit the school and see if I can handle a few horns to see what 'feels' best. When I finally end up with a horn, I will keep you posted how it works out! :line6:
 

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Joust...after I was able to start playing again (which was quite a number of years after the arthritis first set in) I definitely discovered that most of my issues were more about the wrist, arm, and shoulder positions while playing than it was about the finger movement. The finger spread on tenor or bari is also more about the position your fingers are in than it is about actually moving them up and down to depress the keys. If you're doing it right to begin with, there shouldn't be a tremendous amount of excess finger movement anyway, so it's the constant position of the various joints involved more than the motion. It's more painful for me to hold certain joints in a constant position for long periods of time than it is to actually move them.

As far as the soprano...I'm a very large guy, and that's part of the problem. It may not be as much of an issue for you if your frame is smaller than mine.

You mentioned having friends at one of the local high schools. If any of those friends are in the music department, you might actually be able to work out a rental arrangement directly from the school's inventory if they have any surplus horns that aren't being used. You may run into red-tape issues depending on the school system and how sticky they are about the rules, but considering that so many music departments are struggling with budget restrictions, they might actually welcome an arrangement that would put some cash into the department for a horn that would just be "sitting there" otherwise. Something like that probably wouldn't happen unless you "know someone", but since you do, it might be worth investigating.
 
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