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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Well, this has turned out waaaay longer than I expected - but maybe you'll enjoy to read about a small-scale mouthpiece vs. horn odyssey and a bit of personal musical discovery.

Recently I got a 201xxx TT alto tuned up & put in excellent playing condition. It's a later series TT horn with the front-F and crescent G# key; the horn's in super physical condition; all snaps present, my tech tells me it's had so little play you could polish it up, put it up for sale and call it a "new" horn. All original white pads; tech had to replace two small ones. The spring action's a bit stiff; he advised me to just play it for a while, because the horn's had so little play the springs may limber up after some use.

So. Lately my main alto piece has been a 50's Brilhart Tonalin #2. I had the shank reinforced; mouthpiece tech told me it measured to .070, but to me it "feels" bigger than my old Meyer 5M/M, which is supposed to be .071. I've been playing the Tonalin on a Martin Centennial alto, where it's a good match; it puts a nice edge on the sort of velvet spread that horn gets. I'm playing Rico Jazz Select #3S reeds on it.

I actually found the mouthpiece in the case with a '30's Aristocrat alto, but I was a bit worried how it would play on the TT. The Tonalin's not exactly a buzz saw, but it's "racier" than the large chamber micro-baffled mouthpieces Buescher designed for the TT; I wondered if the Tonalin would drive the intonation screwy above high A & in the palm keys, and otherwise play a little hinky on the TT.

Um. No!! [rolleyes]

Now my tech was bragging on the horn before I got it back from him; he thought the horn was exceptional, and he's a Super 20 alto man. Plays a Meyer; uses that to test horns.

The Tonalin plays great on this horn. And the horn is marvelous. Response is just immediate, Bam!!, loud or soft.

That Centennial alto is a punchy horn, and it's set up with oversized plastic dome resonators (which are - !! - bright purple. It came to me that way).

This True Tone is no less responsive, it speaks right up all over the horn. The palm keys play with an absolutely wide-open full tone, not pinched off or strained. I'm not much of an alternative-fingering top-tone high altissimo player, but the few notes above high F I know popped right out.

Intonation is solid. Now sure: get above high A and hit the palm keys, you find it's not as "locked in" as on modern horns. But keep pressure on your embouchure even like Mr. Teal schools us to, and your note is right where it should be, give a take a few cents. Yes; if you squeeze it's easy to rocket it sharp, but I think that's a flaw in the player, not the horn!! :tsk:

And using the Brilhart I'm getting a concentrated tone with more "core" than most altos I've played. Like it would be impolite to point the bell right at someone, I might flip off their toupee. In this it is a very different horn from the Martin. I think I could take it out back this evening when the bats come out and totally mess with their sonar. This horn is downright -- pugnacious.

Which is funny, because I think people tend to characterize the TT horns as sort of tame, sweet and old fashioned. Classical cats like 'em. Wedding tone. And Buescher horns certainly can get a unique, sweet, round tone.

Also, on this horn I think the Brilhart mouthpiece is sort of blasting through the horn's sweeter qualities. So, I reached for my Meyer 5M/M. Couldn't find it. Picked out an old "Steel Ebonite" Woodwind Company J5 mouthpiece, which has a medium-small Meyer-esque chamber and a noticeable tip baffle. A medium lay, I guess; but the tip opening is pretty narrow, probably something like .067. I put on a hard reed, and -- it played great on the TT. Same easy response up and down. Same density and core, but!! - it did bring out more sweetness in the tone. A little more, I don't know, elasticity or springiness around the edges. I can't decide what I like better. Gotta find my Meyer to try on it.

And now, if you're still reading, it gets really interesting.:mrgreen:

Very recently I picked up a H.N. White "King" alto, a late one made soon before the Voll-True horns came. Pretty neat little horn. It came with a hard rubber "Vocotone" mouthpiece that looks like it must be a Buescher blank.

I've got a Buescher alto mouthpiece from the same era as the TT. It's one of the mouthpieces that has no markings but Buescher in a dotted oval on top.

The outside dimensions of this "Vocotone" are almost exactly identical to the Buescher. There is a slight difference in the radius of the ring at the shank-end. Beak on the Buescher maybe a shade narrower, rail-to-rail. Facing and tip openings barely differ. Internally, similar floor depth, (non)baffle, big round chamber. The "Vocotone" chamber walls are actually scooped out a bit more than the Buescher piece. Tip and rails on both of them are actually pretty narrow.

So, why not try it out on the TT? I picked out a hard reed to match it and set it up.

Well, it was like the horn had transmogrified into a completely different instrument. A completely different, excellent instrument!!

An aside (sorry!): I don't play wide tip openings on alto. Can't really bear anything over .075. Just not my thing. Tonally, I lean to the dark (jazz) side anyway, and I almost never play reeds much softer than medium. The Rico Jazz Select 3S reeds I've been using lately are actually pretty firm. So, I don't usually have too much trouble playing a mouthpiece with what is today considered a very narrow tip opening, and usually I can get good volume out of them.

Further, over the years of vintage horn swapping I've collected a nice array of fifty and sixty year old iron hard reeds from all kinds of makers, mostly defunct. I find hard reeds play way better on really narrow tip openings than soft reeds do. So, I found a nice ramrod stiff reed to put on the "Vocotone".

Playing it on the True Tone was, for lack of a better word, a revelation. First of all, if Buescher did make stencil this "Vocotone" piece for somebody, they didn't slouch on it. Somebody applied a good facing. It Plays with perfect ease.

But it was weird - the tone and sound was radically different. Now, the responsiveness of the horn was right there as before, but that "core" I was going on about? Totally gone, or rather, spread out through 360 degrees.

When I first started playing I had the strange sensation (I am not putting on here) that the tone wasn't coming from my horn. It sounded like somebody was playing it right behind or beside me. De-centered. It's hard to describe it. "Ethereal", maybe. But not soft or hollow, very full and very big - the horn was pumping out a huge, room filling sound that seemed to come from everywhere rather than one concentrated spot.

In other words, exactly nothing like what was going on with the Brilhart. If the Brilhart made the horn behave like a laser-pointer, concentrating all that tone and forcing it mostly one direction, the "Vocotone" was like -- (to completely mix both metaphors and wave-form energy) -- sonar without the "Ping!", an instant 360 degree sonic sphere.

I know little about classical sax playing or the techniques employed, and I don't listen to much of it. But, I thought to myself, "this must be what the classical players, and the Rascherites, are getting after". And, it was a wonderful, beautiful powerful sound.

I had tried out the Buescher mouthpiece before (on other horns); and for a while I had a Buescher "400" tenor mouthpiece that produced sort of the same effect on my 400 tenor. I don't know, maybe my chops were weaker back then, or maybe it's a case of right-horn-right mouthpiece, because I never got anything like this before. And I haven't even tried the actual Buescher alto piece on it.

Anyway, it's a win, like having two horns in one!!

That said -- it's not really a tone I'm after. I started playing saxophone for the jazz, and that's already got a rich palette of tonal possibilities. I was thrilled to be able to get that unexpected sound, and I'm intrigued, but it wasn't like getting smacked down on the road to Damascus. I won't be making a big change in my tonal concept.

But, I feel like I understand the instrument better than I did before. I mean, the well's even deeper than you thought it was!!

Toasts to Messrs. Sax and Buescher!!

I started playing sax later in life than most players and I have limited larger ensemble and band experience. Blending with a bunch of horns hasn't been something I've had to worry about; maybe if it had been I would have encountered this general tonal possibility earlier. In any case, better late than never. And you never do stop learning.
 

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Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2013-
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Nice post. Thanks for taking the time.
 

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Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2007-
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That's some great info.

One of the great things about these TT altos is the consistency of tone throughout the range. The tonal characteristic are very similar rather I am playing the lower notes or the highest through the palm keys.
 

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Distinguished SOTW Member/Logician
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I've always found my TT alto rather mouthpiece friendly; especially compared to my Zephyr alto. I've always preferred the Meyer type alto pieces and have used an RPC 90 rollover for years now on my TT.
 

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Distinguished SOTW Member
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
That's some great info.

One of the great things about these TT altos is the consistency of tone throughout the range. The tonal characteristic are very similar rather I am playing the lower notes or the highest through the palm keys.
That's definitely true of this particular TT horn, especially in the upper register & palm keys. That property was even more pronounced -- and effortless -- using that "Vocotone" mouthpiece.

By the way, I keep writing "Vocotone" because that's how it is stamped on the mouthpiece, quotes and all!!
 
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