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I’m not an experienced soprano player by any means, but I did have one for a short while up until recently.
Mine was a simple Jupiter 547 model that I scored for $350 Australian dollars.
On the advice of many on SOTW i started out using a Yamaha 4c with 2.5 Rico reeds.
Intonation was absolutely rubbish with this set up.
And it wasn’t any better with a Morgan Vintage in a 5 tip either.
But once I decided not to listen to what everyone else said, and got an Aizen 7* and started using a Rico 3 reed it all changed.
Suddenly intonation was far far better and didn’t require super human effort to keep it that way.
Not implying that you should go out and get a more open tipped mouthpiece and stiffer reeds, but also don’t assume that because small tips and soft reeds have worked for some, that they will for you also.
As stated it is also possible that the horn really is the main issue based on the fact that you were relatively in tune on the other soprano, but I’d get some more players to test it and see whether they find is as problematic.
 

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Discussion Starter · #22 ·
Good that they take returns, but wouldn't the return shipping costs be close to the value of the instrument itself?

Granted this is always a risk when buying cheap Chinese saxophones.
No way - this was USD $500 and shipping will only be about USD 15. It helps that australian shipping rates are not exhorbitant like american ones! But it wasn't a cheap chinese sax like the Lade ones.
 

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Discussion Starter · #24 ·
ONE thing, just to cover the bases: check if perhaps BOTH octave key cups are inadvertently opening simultaneously; it could be that a mechanical issue is making the octave notes go whackj..

if not....12 cents is nothing. I mean quite honestly - if I were a sop player and my horn was 12c variable up and down....I would be pretty darn satisfied.

20 cents could possibly be made better by mouthpiece, embouchure, maybe some tech adjusting. (Made better = brought into 10c variable range).

30 cents off ? ....either the player has fairly significant embouchure issues (which you say you doubt), or the horn is a dog.

I actually wonder if you experimented with mouthpieces on the Artemis whether you could bring its variance into single-digits (?) If I were a bettin' man, I'd say yes.
Thanks for that - there are other issues with the artemis including starting to fall apart, but I think I can make it work for a bit longer. I've also just discovered I can increase the thickness of the cork on the key feet on the palm keys to bring notes above high C# into tune. This I will do as those are the worst on this sax. At least that might tide me over for a bit longer while I work out what to do for a straight. I want a straight one anyway if possible.

Yes both octave cups are working correctly - i.e. one at a time, I checked.
I think the fact that I physically cannot get it less than 20c out even with a whole lot of concentration and playing with my embouchure, when I can get the artemis to 12c, means it's probably not just me. I have a friend's brand new yani to try tomorrow to check that theory out.
 

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Discussion Starter · #25 ·
I'm not an experienced soprano player by any means, but I did have one for a short while up until recently.
Mine was a simple Jupiter 547 model that I scored for $350 Australian dollars.
On the advice of many on SOTW i started out using a Yamaha 4c with 2.5 Rico reeds.
Intonation was absolutely rubbish with this set up.
And it wasn't any better with a Morgan Vintage in a 5 tip either.
But once I decided not to listen to what everyone else said, and got an Aizen 7* and started using a Rico 3 reed it all changed.
Suddenly intonation was far far better and didn't require super human effort to keep it that way.
Not implying that you should go out and get a more open tipped mouthpiece and stiffer reeds, but also don't assume that because small tips and soft reeds have worked for some, that they will for you also.
As stated it is also possible that the horn really is the main issue based on the fact that you were relatively in tune on the other soprano, but I'd get some more players to test it and see whether they find is as problematic.
Thanks for the advice. I'm definitely going to have a play around with all my reeds and some different mpcs tomorrow, where someone else can also play it for me.

It is not uncommon for "experienced" clarinet players to play too high on the mouthpiece pitch when they go to saxophone. This can be especially true when playing a straight soprano which has the same size mouthpiece and feel of a clarinet. The clarinet plays near the top of its mouthpiece pitch, the saxophone does not---meaning that tightening the embouchure raises the pitch before the reed closes off. This problem is exacerbated when the mouthpiece is tilted down at a 45° angle like on clarinet rather than entering straight into the mouth or at a slightly downward angle.

On soprano saxophone the mouthpiece pitch commonly given is C concert. The pitch can be lower to get more of a jazz sound, but it should not be higher. Playing too high on the mouthpiece pitch on any saxophone can contribute to the upper register playing sharp. Something else that can cause sharpness in the upper register is playing on a stiffer reed. These are some of the other variables that can affect the intonation besides the brand of saxophone and type of mouthpiece.
Thank you - I have found that the softer reed is better at least for the lower notes. I'll test myself on the mouthpiece and see what I get.

I have wondered if my clarinet embouchure is part of the problem, because of course on clarinet one does tighten up the embouchure when one goes up the range. I'm trying to train myself out of doing that on sop. But even when I relax my mouth so much it's ridiculous, it's still not coming down to less than 20c difference. Perhaps I need to tighten up on the bottom more and pull the mpc out further?? there's a thought.

The fact that you're a clarinet player and using extremely soft reeds on the soprano tells me you're probably using the wrong embouchure (biting too hard) and not providing enough air support (pressure). Very soft reeds make this impossible. Also, a sax embouchure is very different than a clarinet embouchure.

A friend of mine has 3 curvy Taishans, and I've played all of them. No intonation issues whatsoever. This is in line with many reviews on this site that also claim these horns don't have intonation issues. So given my personal experience and the experiences of many others that I've read, I maintain that there is nothing wrong with the horn.
Curvies are often a lot better than straights, so I've been told several times, about a variety of brands, so that might be part of the difference.

As for the reeds - I'm only using very soft reeds because it seems to respond better. Lots of low notes not coming out at all, or having to blast the thing in order to get notes to come out when I tried to use a higher one. I use vandoren classical 2.5-3 on the curvy. I just grabbed my daughter's size 2 reeds when they wouldn't work on this thing - normally I would be using something much harder. and I have tested the intonation on the higher vandorens - it's no better.

That's certainly a pretty good test. Now go find a 3rd player (who plays some soprano), have them test it as well. If they feel the horn is wonky intonationally, then indeed it's the horn, not the player.
That's another part of the plan - will do.
 

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Well, there seem to be a lot of strange data points here.

"the 'artemis' soprano is wearing out"... Huh? My Buescher soprano is nearly 100 years old. No, it's not "wearing out". I will readily accept the possibility of poor quality pads and corks falling off due to inappropriate glue. In that case, you just need those things fixed.

"Curvies are often a lot better than straights, so I've been told several times, about a variety of brands, so that might be part of the difference." well, no, as far as I can tell curved and straight sopranos are equally prone to whatever design compromises have to be made.

"As for the reeds - I'm only using very soft reeds because it seems to respond better. Lots of low notes not coming out at all, or having to blast the thing in order to get notes to come out when I tried to use a higher one." Sounds like your horn is full of leaks and you're pinching on the high notes. Get that fixed first.

"I have wondered if my clarinet embouchure is part of the problem, because of course on clarinet one does tighten up the embouchure when one goes up the range. " Even though it's in the same pitch range and a single reed, the soprano saxophone is a SAXOPHONE not a metal clarinet, and the embouchure is extremely different. If you have a hard well-established clarinet embouchure I would suggest spending a year playing tenor to get the very different sax emb. imprinted then going back to soprano. Also, read the chapter on proper embouchure formation in Larry Teal's book.

Have you engaged an actual saxophone teacher for some lessons on embouchure and how to blow through the thing (not at it)? I doubt very seriously that the Chinese instruments you're describing, which are copied from well respected instruments, have major inherent defects of intonation. Every time I've been handed a saxophone that supposedly "has awful intonation", once I put a proper mouthpiece on it and blow it properly, it plays well enough in tune for reliable professional use. (I have played instruments with terrible mechanisms, horrible key placements, or a thousand leaks, but rarely any significant intonation defects from design.)
 

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Could tightening indeed be part of the problem but in a reverse way? Could your embochoure be to loose at the low end? Your comment on tightening up for high notes makes this a possibility. Depending on how you tune you might have the lower end spot on but then would be way of with high notes. Ever tried to tune so your upper register gets manageable and to tighten up you embochoure a bit for the low end to bring it up to pitch? There is an article from Yamaha written by one their endorsers about tuning a sax. Here you go: http://www.steveduke.net/pdf/mouthpiece-placement.pdf. He is talking about pitch center and where to place the mouthpiece to have the best compromise between low and high register. In essence his advice is to tune to low B and check the tuning on midlle and high B, the arguement being that you can lip down easier the upper register than lip up the lower one. There is kind of a sweet spot but there is still some room for adjustment though. I sometimes tune to low B but the upper register is to high (YSS-675 Yamaha). In consequence I pull out a bit, thighten my embochoure a bit for the low notes and have the upper register in tune. Might not be feasible on your instrument, but would still be worthwhile trying.

Alphorn
 

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Discussion Starter · #28 ·
Well, there seem to be a lot of strange data points here.

"the 'artemis' soprano is wearing out"... Huh? My Buescher soprano is nearly 100 years old. No, it's not "wearing out". I will readily accept the possibility of poor quality pads and corks falling off due to inappropriate glue. In that case, you just need those things fixed.

"Curvies are often a lot better than straights, so I've been told several times, about a variety of brands, so that might be part of the difference." well, no, as far as I can tell curved and straight sopranos are equally prone to whatever design compromises have to be made.

"As for the reeds - I'm only using very soft reeds because it seems to respond better. Lots of low notes not coming out at all, or having to blast the thing in order to get notes to come out when I tried to use a higher one." Sounds like your horn is full of leaks and you're pinching on the high notes. Get that fixed first.

"I have wondered if my clarinet embouchure is part of the problem, because of course on clarinet one does tighten up the embouchure when one goes up the range. " Even though it's in the same pitch range and a single reed, the soprano saxophone is a SAXOPHONE not a metal clarinet, and the embouchure is extremely different. If you have a hard well-established clarinet embouchure I would suggest spending a year playing tenor to get the very different sax emb. imprinted then going back to soprano. Also, read the chapter on proper embouchure formation in Larry Teal's book.

Have you engaged an actual saxophone teacher for some lessons on embouchure and how to blow through the thing (not at it)? I doubt very seriously that the Chinese instruments you're describing, which are copied from well respected instruments, have major inherent defects of intonation. Every time I've been handed a saxophone that supposedly "has awful intonation", once I put a proper mouthpiece on it and blow it properly, it plays well enough in tune for reliable professional use. (I have played instruments with terrible mechanisms, horrible key placements, or a thousand leaks, but rarely any significant intonation defects from design.)
By wearing out - I mean wear in the barrels, and pads wearing out - hard to re-seat because they were sadly put in with contact cement. It's had a patch up job but I was told that it'll only go another 6-12 months heavy use before it'll need an overhaul that costs more than double what the instrument is worth. Two different techns have advised this and I trust them both. It wasn't exactly a well made sax in the first place.

Several technicians and players have told me straights are more likely to have intonation issues. Your experience may be different but it's what I've heard. One told me that selmer took 50 years to make a straight sop that played in tune. Myth or true - I don't know!

No leeks that can be seen by me or technie. I think it's probably got more to do with the fact that I am trying not to play too loudly and I have to really gun it to get the low notes out with a hard reed. Playing in a small house with neighbours nearby, I'm trying to avoid that!

I did spend a year playing tenor... an average of 5-8 hours per week. and now have been on sop and tenor mixed for the last 9 months. No I haven't had a sax teacher (I did have one brief embouchure lesson from one, and a friend is an Amus on sax and he gives me tips too, but nothing ongoing formally) I was focussing on clarinet lessons but I did have an idea in the back of my mind to get a lesson from an experienced teacher. Put that on the list too.

Honestly it's very hard to know what to make of it all. My technician's opinion that it's terribly bad and then my subsequent checks on tuner have thrown a significant spanner in the works, because I can't assume that it's "just me" when he is very experienced too. Or when the artemis works fairly reasonably well for me, tuning wise.
 

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Discussion Starter · #29 ·
Thanks Alphorn - I've been trying something similar. Tuning the low register a bit low so the high isn't as bad. Still have to fiddle a bit more with that idea tomorrow.
 

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Several technicians and players have told me straights are more likely to have intonation issues. Your experience may be different but it's what I've heard. One told me that selmer took 50 years to make a straight sop that played in tune. Myth or true - I don't know!

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Straight sopranos are much more prone to being held (incorrectly) like a clarinet. I think that's the source of the trouble a lot of people have with them. If you look at photos of Sidney Bechet, for example, you'll see that he held it straight out. Curved sopranos will inherently be held like a saxophone with the mouthpiece entering the embouchure horizontally not vertically.

I can't speak to Selmer's ability to make a soprano "in tune", but I have had three Bb sopranos and one C soprano made in the 1920s and they all played/play very well in tune (all straight). Again, if you get a good qualty middle of the road mouthpiece like a Selmer C*, or Selmer Concept, or such, and you hold the horn horizontally, and you use the "Larry Teal Wheel" embouchure concept, and you push the mouthpiece in far enough and play with a soft flexible saxophone embouchure not a tight rigid clarinet embouchure, and you put a saxophone-size air stream through it, I will suggest that your issues will largely go away.
 

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Discussion Starter · #31 ·
Cool, I will try that, thanks. Definitely I can hold it out further. Unfortunately the bent neck on this doesn't work (issues with octave actuator placement) so I can't use that, but if I got it fixed, I imagine that would make it easier to have more horizontal too.
Thanks for the mpc recommendation, I'll try one at the shop.

I think I'm hearing that all the wonderful mouth exercises I've done on clarinet are making my life harder now.... sigh.
Does one have to choose between being an excellent clarinet player and a good sop player? Or can one be both?
 

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Discussion Starter · #32 ·
I have a Taishan curvy and it had good intonation. No problems on three tenors either.
I'm not an experienced soprano player by any means, but I did have one for a short while up until recently.
Mine was a simple Jupiter 547 model that I scored for $350 Australian dollars.
On the advice of many on SOTW i started out using a Yamaha 4c with 2.5 Rico reeds.
Intonation was absolutely rubbish with this set up.
And it wasn't any better with a Morgan Vintage in a 5 tip either.
But once I decided not to listen to what everyone else said, and got an Aizen 7* and started using a Rico 3 reed it all changed.
Suddenly intonation was far far better and didn't require super human effort to keep it that way.
Not implying that you should go out and get a more open tipped mouthpiece and stiffer reeds, but also don't assume that because small tips and soft reeds have worked for some, that they will for you also.
As stated it is also possible that the horn really is the main issue based on the fact that you were relatively in tune on the other soprano, but I'd get some more players to test it and see whether they find is as problematic.
It is not uncommon for "experienced" clarinet players to play too high on the mouthpiece pitch when they go to saxophone. This can be especially true when playing a straight soprano which has the same size mouthpiece and feel of a clarinet. The clarinet plays near the top of its mouthpiece pitch, the saxophone does not---meaning that tightening the embouchure raises the pitch before the reed closes off. This problem is exacerbated when the mouthpiece is tilted down at a 45° angle like on clarinet rather than entering straight into the mouth or at a slightly downward angle.

On soprano saxophone the mouthpiece pitch commonly given is C concert. The pitch can be lower to get more of a jazz sound, but it should not be higher. Playing too high on the mouthpiece pitch on any saxophone can contribute to the upper register playing sharp. Something else that can cause sharpness in the upper register is playing on a stiffer reed. These are some of the other variables that can affect the intonation besides the brand of saxophone and type of mouthpiece.
The fact that you're a clarinet player and using extremely soft reeds on the soprano tells me you're probably using the wrong embouchure (biting too hard) and not providing enough air support (pressure). Very soft reeds make this impossible. Also, a sax embouchure is very different than a clarinet embouchure.

A friend of mine has 3 curvy Taishans, and I've played all of them. No intonation issues whatsoever. This is in line with many reviews on this site that also claim these horns don't have intonation issues. So given my personal experience and the experiences of many others that I've read, I maintain that there is nothing wrong with the horn.
That's certainly a pretty good test. Now go find a 3rd player (who plays some soprano), have them test it as well. If they feel the horn is wonky intonationally, then indeed it's the horn, not the player.
Could tightening indeed be part of the problem but in a reverse way? Could your embochoure be to loose at the low end? Your comment on tightening up for high notes makes this a possibility. Depending on how you tune you might have the lower end spot on but then would be way of with high notes. Ever tried to tune so your upper register gets manageable and to tighten up you embochoure a bit for the low end to bring it up to pitch? There is an article from Yamaha written by one their endorsers about tuning a sax. Here you go: http://www.steveduke.net/pdf/mouthpiece-placement.pdf. He is talking about pitch center and where to place the mouthpiece to have the best compromise between low and high register. In essence his advice is to tune to low B and check the tuning on midlle and high B, the arguement being that you can lip down easier the upper register than lip up the lower one. There is kind of a sweet spot but there is still some room for adjustment though. I sometimes tune to low B but the upper register is to high (YSS-675 Yamaha). In consequence I pull out a bit, thighten my embochoure a bit for the low notes and have the upper register in tune. Might not be feasible on your instrument, but would still be worthwhile trying.

Alphorn
I read that article - loved it, very helpful thank you. I do feel like it was a page too short though - where's the bit that tells you how to lower your pitch centre????!!!
 

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Discussion Starter · #33 ·
Well it's official, she's going back.
I played a 6 month old yani and all intonation was within 5c.
On the TaiShan I tried following the article above's advice to tune the mouthpiece to the low B, then see what middle and high B does - it said that most people have a pitch centre too high and this will mean that middle and low B are both sharp if you tune to low B. If that had happened to me I would have been prepared to cop the idea that it's somewhat my faut, but in this case, when low B is in tune, middle B is 35c flat, and high b is about 10c sharp. Same if I tune to low C. I've tried 3 different mpcs, including a yani one, and 4-5 reeds, all the same. It was slightly better when held straight out in front of me, but only marginally. There's no way that this is "just me" when there is such wide variation and I can get another one in perfect tune with basically no conscious mouth adjustment. Band director agrees. And I think I found a Selmer within my budget just last night, so hopefully that's an exchange in the right direction!
 

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Well it's official, she's going back.
Smart move. Sometimes folks here will have others jumping through hoops if only to reinforce their own beliefs. If a horn ain't right, it's better to let go when you can than put in additional time, effort and money that will ultimately be wasteful.
 

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No way - this was USD $500 and shipping will only be about USD 15.
My mistake, that's a great international shipping rate

N USD $500 a....! But it wasn't a cheap chinese sax like the Lade ones.
Well $500 is certainly cheap (whether or not there are cheaper), and I thought we were discussing a Chinese made instrument. But cheap and Chinese do not necessarily mean a bad instrument IMO, I've known some very good cheap Chinese saxophones, for example the Academy Jericho. But there are probably a whole lot more bad ones than good ones I'm sure.

Sadly, as you are returning this one, it obviously isn't one of the few good ones.
 

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I'm one of the people who said Taishan was good stuff, so I'll give it a shot. First of all, it's worth keeping in mind that most musicians refer to the soprano sax by the nickname "the agony stick." The soprano is inherently pushing the acoustical limits of saxophone design, as is the Bass and ContraBass. I got the Taishan Baritone, and I love it, have no problems with intonation. Still, I know it can be horribly frustrating when your axe isn't doing what you want it to. I feel ya!

It's been a while since I owned and played a sop, but I do know that ANY new horn requires a break-in period. By that, I mean that YOU have to break yourself in. Our whole skillset is about committing things to muscle memory and it's a decidedly uncomfortable experience when everything you've trained your body to do is suddenly wrong. If you've ever driven a car with the steering on the opposite side of the car from what you're used to, then you know what I'm talking about.

Yes, a mouthpiece can make a HUGE difference in the intonation of a saxophone. If you think about it, the baffle, chamber, and throat of a mouthpiece all change the amount of air being displaced, which will affect the intonation. I suggest you find a way to try out a few mpc at a store if you can. They don't always have to cost a fortune, but I've NEVER seen a blank (shipped with the horn) mpc be worth the match it would take to set it on fire. I suppose maybe the stock C-star that comes with a Selmer would be the exception, but that mouthpiece is so closed off that I can't even play it. There's every reason to assume that the mouthpiece that was working right with your last horn isn't going to be a good fit for the new one (though it sounds like you were struggling with that one, too.) It can take a bit to fall in love with a new horn, even if it's a MK VI.

The first thing I did with my Bari was to take it to my techie, and ask him to just go over it and put it as right as possible.

Rico makes one of their plastic mpc for sop for under thirty bucks. I found the alto and tenor versions of their Metalite series to be a reasonable stab at a professional-level piece for a student price. They make a high baffle one with a large chamber, and another with a roll-off baffle, if memory serves me correctly. There are other budget options out there.

In short, I suspect the horn isn't as much at fault as you think right now. I think it's a bit too early to tell, and worrying isn't going to make it easier. Just keep blowing the thing, and figure out a way to find a used mpc or something. Ask a pro friend if they have any old ones laying around that you could demo. You might also need a different strength reed or a different ligature to bring the horn into focus.

Did it come with two different necks? If so, experiment with those as well.

Finally, my favorite Soprano Sax joke: Q: "What's the range on a Soprano Sax?" A: "About 50 feet if you've got a decent arm." Ba-da-dump! Thanks, folks, I'll be here all week! Be sure to tip your bartender!
 

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True, but there is also usually a "honeymoon period" with a new axe, and it's worth pushing through a bit of resistance, just to make sure. I'm familiar with the Taishan Bari, which I LOVE (for the price.) I admit, it's a heckuva lot easier to lip a bari up and down than it is a soprano.
 

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Rule #1, never buy a musical instrument without trying it first! It becomes a crap shoot at best. And yes, I learned this the hard way as well. But after a couple of failures I vowed never ever to buy a cat in a sack again. Now, I know that perhaps you don't have a large stock of instruments in your location to choose from so you may be limited to online purchasing and such, but there are dealers that offer return policies. It's imperative to inspect and play a horn before you pony up your hard earned cash. The same goes for mouthpieces as well. Online retailers will take them back with usually a small restocking fee.

There is plenty of great saxophone advice here on SOTW but the only way to guarantee satisfaction is to play test everything. I play a Morgan 7-J on soprano with a #2.5 anything reed. It might be the worst set up for anyone but me, but it's one I tried before I purchased it.

Lastly, I don't understand all this lipping up and down business. I was always instructed to open and close my throat to navigate through the horn, that the embouchure and lip pressure should stay the same. But what do I know, I've been playing 50 years and I'm still an amateur.
 

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Hello all,

Chinese stuff can be very hit or miss, though in general, they are getting better. I picked up a 'Largo' curved soprano for A$300 and it's a beauty. It's obviously a copy of a Yanagisawa, but it plays really well. I had one issue with a slightly sticky pad, but that's about it. I like playing it more than my straight Selmer. Intonation on a sop can be a challenge though, even on the best of horns!

Cheers! :)
 
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