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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I recently acquired my first tenor (having played only alto and bari) and have been struggling with tuning and intonation. The horn is a 1953 Pan American that I won in an auction and immediately sent to George Jacobs (Jayelid here on SOTW - great guy to deal with btw) and the horn is in good shape. It came with the original white Pan Am mouthpiece, but seemed to play very sharp up and down the horn. After some helpful emails from George and reading several posts here I concluded the problem was mostly me and decided to just work with the original piece, focusing on relaxing, opening my throat, airstream etc. that helped a bit but it never got me “there”.

So yesterday I tried out several pieces at the Local Sam Ash:
Esm Heaven - didn’t expect it to tune well and it didn’t
Brilhart Ebolin 7* - thought this would be in the right ballpark, but nope
V16 metal (first gen chamber) - literally falling off the neck to be in tune
Woodwind Melliphone Special - close, but not a pleasant tone and had a huge gouge in the left rail
Selmer LT - tuned farther on neck than anything else I had tried, so I took it on trial.

I played it a good bit last night and it played easily, almost effortlessly. Tuning/intonation VERY manageable and easy, bigger fuller tone than stock piece, reed really seals to the table better than any piece I have ever tried on any horn.

BUT, I am going back today because I realized I jumped at the first piece that tuned easily. I want to try a rubber Link, a metal Link and a Jody Jazz HR.

So what should I expect? Similar ease of tuning, possibly farther on the cork? Bigger, thicker more robust tone, more body? I really want to unlock as much potential from the horn and myself as possible. I currently am the only horn in a quintet playing jazz standards (Real Book stuff) and use both alto and bari.

On alto I play an 18M from the 1980s with either the stock mouthpiece or a modern Meyer 6. My bari is a King LeMaire (Amati stencil) that I believe is from the 1970s and I typically use a modern Otto Link Tone Edge 6 (though I mess around with a Morgan 8J occasionally.

Thanks in advance.

**edit** I should mention that I realize I want or should be looking for a large chamber, low or no baffle piece. Also, my budget is roughly $200.
 

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You could try a Link Super Tone Master (STM) with ‚long body‘ - they typically go further up the neck and would give you a sound that a lot of people prefer (Link is very common for tenor).
A Bigband colleague of mine has similar problems with his SA80II.
Cheers, Rudolf


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What about Morgan’s? C or L chambers specifically?
Both are great. Yes, I have actually owned and played several of each on tenor.

Contact JunkDude.com.


Back to your issue: When you say won’t tune, or sharp across the horn, is that because they are falling off the length of the neck, or that the cork is too compressed, too small in diameter? Do you know how to use plumber’s tape (teflon tape) to build up the cork?
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Hi Dr.G,

The cork was too small, so I did use plumbers tape. But even with that the piece was barely on and after a bit could even wobble. I suspect I could attempt to lengthen the shank as some have done with pvc and epoxy, etc. Of the mouthpieces I tried in the store , most were maybe on the neck 1/4” and still played sharp, with the v16 literally on the very end and nearly falling off as I played it. Most of the pieces fit the cork without the plumbers tape, or just a thin layer. I thought about getting the cork changed out, but it was in really good condition and I thought I would wait until I made sure if I was going to continue using the stock piece (though I do realize the stock piece would probably work better with a better fitting cork)
 

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How far does the neck insert into the MPC to get in tune? On a tenor you need at least 3/4 inch. Some of the older horns have very short necks and unless you have a really good cork, it is almost impossible to get them in tune. If the neck cork shows wear or is overly compressed, the best bet is to have it recorked. With the vintage horns, I recommend staying away from the Valentino corks, they tend to be too elastic for the short travel on these horns and don't provide enough mechanical stability. One thing you can try is raise the neck in the tenon to compensate, not best practice but it might tie you over. Otherwise look for a long shank MPC, it may be a bit try and error.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
How far does the neck insert into the MPC to get in tune? On a tenor you need at least 3/4 inch. Some of the older horns have very short necks and unless you have a really good cork, it is almost impossible to get them in tune. If the neck cork shows wear or is overly compressed, the best bet is to have it recorked. With the vintage horns, I recommend staying away from the Valentino corks, they tend to be too elastic for the short travel on these horns and don't provide enough mechanical stability. One thing you can try is raise the neck in the tenon to compensate, not best practice but it might tie you over. Otherwise look for a long shank MPC, it may be a bit try and error.
Of the pieces I have tried, the Selmer LT goes on the farthest at maybe half an inch...others were less. The LT did appear to be the longest piece that I tried. I have been in touch with Dave at junkdude and might be trying some Morgans in the near future.
 

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Welcome to the world of Conn. I have a 1958 Conn Shooting Star 16M, which is a later version of the Pan American Tenor. I love this horn.....but one thing is very clear about it, it dialed in about 20 cents sharp when you use a normal modern mouthpiece. A lot of Conn enthusiasts are familiar with the issue.

I have the following advice:

1). Look for medium-large chamber or large chamber mouthpiece. I don’t think you will achieve your goal with a commonly stocked mouthpiece at a music store.. The medium chambers are very common nowadays, across the spectrum.
2). You need to avoid a small tip opening. I’ve never had anything under .080 play in tune on my Conn. My understanding is that the Selmer LT is a fairly small tip opening (.064) I am guessing it also has a medium or small chamber. I could be wrong about this, as my understanding of this mouthpiece is limited to internet searches.
3). My primary mouthpiece for my Conn is a MC Gregory 20M. Medium large chamber. Zero baffle. .085 tip opening. Very dark and classical. Centers quite nicely....doesn’t dangle off the end of the horn. I use a 2.75 reed....I do have to admit that this mouthpiece is rather rare. I bumped into it by luck. Mine is not for sale. I decided to purchase it after what seemed like hours testing out about 20 mouthpieces at PM Woodwinds in Chicago. It was the clear winner.
4). For a more Jazz oriented sound, I like the D’Addario D8M. It is about a .110 tip opening. I use a 2.5 reed. It centers nicely.
5). I also have a medium-large chamber Vandoren...a T75 that centers nicely on the horn. I don’t use this much, as sound is quite personal and my D’Addario edges it out for the tone qualities I am looking for.....but many people think Vandoren is the best. You might be able to find this one at a local music store. If not, send me a PM and I can work out a trial for you. I don’t play mine much.
6). Make sure you are playing reeds at the softer end of the Spectrum.

For additional ideas, it think it would be best to ask the administrator to move this post to a Conn Forum. Tons of Conn people have faced your challenge.

Even with all of this optimization, I had been playing the tenor for about 18 months before I could get these recommended pieces to play in tune consistently.
 

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One more note I forgot to mention (in addition to my previous post). Consider a mouthpiece that is designed for an older horn. I was once given the advice that you should use a mouthpiece that was designed during the era your horn was produced. I think that was pretty good advice.

Though Morgan’s are modern, I believe they design their pieces for vintage horns....so you might get a good fit. It seems to me that one of their L-chambers might fit the bill.....I don’t know their C-chambers. The best bet is to send them an e-mail, tell them your situation, and see what there recommendation is........though they might be our of your price range of $200 max.
 

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10MFAN MOUTHPIECES "Innovation over imitation"
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Hi, if you want to put down a deposit, I can send you a handful of tenor pieces to try out and you can see if any of those work for you. They are used pieces in good used condition and within your budget range.If you don’t like any of them, you’ll just be out the shipping cost, that’s it.

Just contact me if interested.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Hi, if you want to put down a deposit, I can send you a handful of tenor pieces to try out and you can see if any of those work for you. They are used pieces in good used condition and within your budget range.If you don’t like any of them, you’ll just be out the shipping cost, that’s it.

Just contact me if interested.
Thank you, that is a generous offer and I will definitely consider it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Ok, so I have been back to the store and tried out a few more pieces.
First off, I have done a lot of research and reading here on SOTW and elsewhere in regard to this issue with older horns and Conns specifically, so I knew basically what I was looking for. But even though conventional wisdom screams “large chamber”, “Link or Link-like”, I decided to keep an open mind and try various brands and styles...and basically whatever the associate threw at me. I had mixed results, but came away with the same LT for the moment.

Otto link STMNY (7 I think) on the end of the neck to be close to in tune
Otto link Tone Edge 6 (standard version), was ok, tuned maybe around 1/2” to 1” at most, but just didn’t do it for me.
Meyer 5, tuned in a similar spot to the Tone Edge, I liked the sound OK, but not enough to take it home
Jody Jazz 7*, this showed great potential for tone, but tuning was not there for me
Theo Wanne metal, maybe a Durga, no good at all for me
Beechler Bellite metal, no good For me
Vandoren Jumbo T75, not too bad actually, would definitely require some discipline from me

So, in the end I didn’t find anything that struck me as one to take home. I’ll hold the LT for a couple of days, but will likely return it.

I have been in touch with Dave at Junkdude and might be reaching out to 10mfan after his offer a couple of posts above.

Thank you all for the comments and opinions, keep ‘em coming.
 

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When I first started to play tenor (many decades ago) I experienced similar tuning issues. It came down to too much embouchure pressure and not enough mouthpiece in my mouth. Once I learned to take in enough mouthpiece and relax my jaw, the mouthpiece went farther on, tone improved and intonation was less of an issue. Side benefit - my alto sound and intonation improved as well.

If you have done any overtone exercises, I suggest trying to slur between B2 (LH index finger) and B1 (low B) overblown - place the mouthpiece where these two are the same pitch. Then learn to play with the mouthpiece in that position.
 

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You may want to try a Brillhart Ebolin / Tonalin / Streamline (they are very similar other than the color scheme and you can find them at reasonable prices), they work really well on my vintage horns.
 

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There are a lot of posts here which although well-intentioned are extraneous, because they have been made by people who do not play Conn tenors regularly. Really, the posts you should heed are #3 from turf3, #9 and #10 from Bjroosevelt and 10Mfan's post #11.

If I were you, I'd take up 10Mfan's offer. His handle tells you he KNOWS Conn tenors and plays them regularly. Also he's been some 30 years in the buisiness of selling used mouthpieces and for the last 6 or 7 years has been producing his own line of mouthpieces, some of which I use regularly on my own Conn tenors. (Ask him about his HR Robusto pieces, too.)
 

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10MFAN MOUTHPIECES "Innovation over imitation"
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Thanks Mike.
His budget is around $200, and I have plenty of used pieces well within that budget frame here.
If he can do $299, he can get into any of my 10MFAN mpc designs in the new orange Ultem.

(BTW, your BW Ultem is almost ready. I'll be in touch shortly).

All the best, Mark
 

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Hey OP, someone else pointed this out, but it bears reiterating:

You probably need to work on air support and oral cavity shaping to lower your basic "input pitch". I think a lot of people play tighter than they need to, possibly related to playing too open mouthpieces with too hard reeds and too short facings, thus requiring a lot of pressure. I know that on my Conn baritone my mouthpiece position has gone in a good half inch over the last ten years or so as I've played softer reeds and have worked specifically on getting an "open throat" feeling when playing. (Conn baritones are even more notorious than Conn tenors for having small bore mouthpieces hanging off the neck.)

Because I play tenor only intermittently these days (though on tenor I've played almost exclusively Conn since 1978), I can't document this same kind of effect on tenor, but would point out that nowadays when I play tenor it's on a Mexi-Conn 16M which is probably very closely related to your instrument, and I have found that a Brilhart Ebolin tunes at about an inch or so onto the neck - which is quite different than your experience. So I am guessing that you play a lot tighter than I do; I used to be there; so along with everything else, some work on "open throat" and tone building exercises is probably in order.

Also, once you shove that MP further on and learn how to play it in tune at A = 440, you'll also find that individually wonky notes get a lot better and altissimo becomes much easier to access. Any saxophone is designed for a specific "sounding length" (the distance from the tip of the MP to the end of the bell) and the bore and all the tone holes are adjusted based on that fundamental design dimension. The closer your MP position is to the design dimension, the better everything will work.
 

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Since I worked on the horn, and playtested her here using my usual testers (all contemporary)...Meyer 6 rubber, Brilhart Ebolin, and Hite Premier.....all of which indicated I had the keyheights dialed in pretty well; I might suggest at this point you actually consider having a tech lower the keyheights just a tad to flatten the horn up and down.

I think it would ultimately be a cheaper solution, and also less time-consuming & probably less frustrating ... that spending a lotta time on a Great Mouthpiece Search, IMHO.

The tech would simply have to have decent knowledge of keyheight adjustment without choking the tone of the horn. In the case of most Conns, there is a relatively wide allowance on 'em for being closed or opened without it negatively impacting the tone.

By perhaps simply adding a 1/64" or even a .3mm piece of sheet cork to most of the feet; and maybe installing new bumpers at the C and bellkeys (all in all probably an hour or so of work)...your problem would likely be resolved and you could start using a wide range of 'pieces, chosen for the sound they provide as opposed to being chosen solely for location on neck cork.....

This might well be a situation where, as Turf and Skeller touch upon, as primarily an Alto player your natural blowing proclivities are just not aligning with this Tenor as currently set-up. This can be solved by really working on the things they mention, or it can be solved by seeing if there's room in the horn adjustment.

Just my 2 cents. You have, I think, gone thru enough mouthpieces at this point where it is fair to conclude that if there is flexibility on the horn setup to drop the keys a little (if memory serves, there is), you should now move on to trying that.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 · (Edited)
Thank you all for your responses.

I have been aware of Conn mouthpiece matching issues since before purchasing this horn, and have read extensively on the issue. I have worked, since receiving the horn, on loosening, relaxing, opening my throat, air stream, air support, etc. It did have an impact, as noted in my original post, and did help me get closer but it is still not there. I am not by any means expecting a mouthpiece to do all the work or make everything perfect - I believe the right mouthpiece is one that makes things easier to where playing becomes more natural and less of a struggle. That is the difference between the stock piece and the LT at the moment - while the LT does not necessarily facilitate the tone I am after (still figuring that out) it brings tuning and intonation in line enough that I don’t have to worry about it with every note. At least it did for the couple of hours I was able to play it so far. I can play more freely because I don’t have to keep checking the tuner, it is pretty consistently in tune across the horn. I can relax and just play, which is ultimately what I want.

Now, as to sound/tone, I am probably all over the place in terms of what I like, but if I had to list players whose tones I prefer it would be early King Curtis (Coasters years), Herb Hardesty, Maxwell Davis, Hank Mobley, and Joe Cabral of the Iguanas....of course I listen to others and enjoy and appreciate them but if I were to try and emulate anyone’s tone it would be somewhere in this list.

I have no preference when it comes to material - metal, rubber, plastic, resin, etc.

Lastly, I do realize that I need to spend significant time with whatever piece I choose...I‘ve done that with alto and bari and have attempted to do that with the Pan Am piece. I have simply “pushed in” and tried to change my pitch center, relaxed my embouchure loosened my jaw, opened my throat like I was in the middle of a yawn, focused on pushing air from my diaphragm, played long tones, intervals and overtones. I saw marked improvement, but have hit a wall - I can’t relax my embouchure or jaw anymore and actually produce a tone, I’ve made my throat sore from opening it as much as possible while playing. I wanted to wait to get a new piece as long as I could and liked the idea of playing the original, but I also want to feel like I can play with other instruments comfortably without constant worries about playing sharp. I will likely finally take George’s very sound advice and have a local tech check/adjust the key heights before going further down the mouthpiece path.

Again, thank you for all the responses.
Heath
 
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