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Painful thumbrests

8916 Views 35 Replies 23 Participants Last post by  hallkat
From time to time I see complaints about the thumbrests on vintage horns, and I thought I'd share what I've learned about differences between modern and vintage ergonomics. Maybe it can help you if you deal with some of the same issues I did.

The silver sax on the left is a modern Yamaha, with what we've come to think of as a "normal" thumbrest. The beauty queen on the right is a 60's Conn 10M. Chief amongst complaints with 10Ms are the "vintage," or "tortuous" thumbrest, and the neckstrap hook position, placed in the ideal spot to remove your front teeth. The complaint is that these vintage thumbhooks cause pain, are not ergonomic, or are poorly designed. I claim that these are well thought out, well placed, and problems arise when someone comes from playing a modern horn to a vintage one. The issue is that the two horns are meant to be held differently.

I think of the difference between the two as holding a book, and holding a can of beans. I suppose you can substitute any canned product. If you look at the shape of your hand holding a book, you'll notice that your thumb is flat, with the tip of the thumb slightly curved:

Thumbrests on modern saxes are designed to be used in a hand position like this. The hook comes over the knuckle, and you can apply pressure to get the horn in position.

Vintage horns require the can of beans method. Notice how the thumb curves around the can, and the tip is bent in toward the can:

With the hand on the horn, the hook sits just past the knuckle, and the pad of the thumb tip rests on the body of the sax.

I think, given the way the two horns are balanced, their respective thumbhook designs make perfect sense. On modern horns, the horn's unsupported position is more horizontal. The player pushes with his right thumb to get the horn in playing position, so that the horn is more directly in front of the player. This can be a more natural playing position when you are standing.

A vintage horn will balance unsupported more vertically. This is where you can lose your teeth if you're not careful. While standing, the natural position is for the horn to be a little off to your right.

If you're used to playing modern horns, and try to keep it straight in front of you, you're asking for thumb problems. Playing while seated, though, it is a very comfortable position. The horn need to only be lifted slightly away from the player's body; this is why the vintage thumb position makes sense to me. Pure speculation here, but I think this is the root of the difference: as styles of music changed, sax players went from playing in dance bands, seated, to standing in front of jazz combos. Or at least that's how the conception of the "sax player" changed over time.
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Very, very useful (especially for us self-taught sax maniacs), thank you!
Lots of good points. I did , however, buy the Ton Kooiman Forza thumbrest because I didn't like the Selmer VI thumb rest position and it's (the Forza) great for me. It forced me to do a more "can of beans" grip which apparantly is more comfortable for my long fingers.
I always thought the high strap ring position was a holdover from the early 1920s sax stands, which hung the horn more or less upright from a hook on a tripod base.

My solution to mouthpiece bites is to bring the horn down with my left hand. This seems to have been common practice in the pre-modern era.
Lots of good points. I did , however, buy the Ton Kooiman Forza thumbrest .
Any idea if it's still possible to get one of those and from where?
Any idea if it's still possible to get one of those and from where?
Forum member -88- sold them awhile back.
Send him a pm.
Forum member -88- sold them awhile back.
Send him a pm.
Thanks for all the info.
Any idea if it's still possible to get one of those and from where?
Howarth of London sell those. The most uncomfortable thumb I have is on my 1927 King Saxello . My King curved from the same era is much better.
Howarth of London sell those.
Thanks, Michael, I'll check that out. By the way, I'm really enjoying that piece I got from you. With a good reed, it sings like a dream.
@lhoffman Your analysis makes a great deal of sense. Thanks for taking the time to put this together so nicely. I'm going to try that grip on my Conn and Buescher.
I remember years ago my instructor at the time played my tenor and said " it wants to be held to the side" makes sense now... c. 1961 Buffet SDA. I agree with the sitting versus standing theory.
That is a very good explanation of what I have discovered. I recently became the proud recipient of a very nice Selmer SA80 Series II tenor as a birthday gift. It has the original neck and definitely "wants" to be by your side. The Super 20 seems more comfortable out in front.
Hey , thanks for taking the trouble to think this through. It makes sense, for the tenor. Now what about the alto and bari? Anybody have any input on them?
This does make sense. I never thought about the reasons why, but my Buescher (tenor) thumbrests are more comfortable than the standard thumbrest on my MKVI, which is kind of surprising. I now have a Forza on the VI and that one works great. but yeah, I think you have to hold the vintage horns a bit differently than the modern horns. And there are probably some differences between some brands, modern or vintage.
Just to elaborate on my post. The tenor is of a size where some people feel more comfortable playing it out in front whilst others play it more to the side. The alto is of course smaller, so more play them out in front. Now for the bari, I've never seen anybody play it out in front, not for long anyway.
With my Conn 12M. I still have to lower the ring strap and enlarge the pearl octave thumb-rest to feel comfortable. Especially, for my left thumb. Otherwise, the Conn cobra exerts quite a lot of pressure on my left thumb.
Good post and my conclusions as well. I generally move strap ring and thumbrest on Conns --alto and tenor--to a more 'contemporary' position.
Interesting ideas. I have small hands, so I still grasp my modern saxes like you grasp the vintage. I like the weight on my thumb to be behind the knuckle similar to your vintage hold, and that's where my big thumb callus is. Consequently, I use extra-long thumbrests on my 'Selmer-type' saxes, and I rotate them all the way to the right. I don't have any horns with fixed thumbrests, but I do have a couple of Martins with adjustables. Those are a different system, but I manage to still get them in approximately similar positions to my Selmers. Speaking of calluses, I also have them on both hands from the side keys and palm keys.:)
Okay, this makes sense to me, too. And perhaps it explains why my right hand is never comfortable playing my tenor. I play a Yamaha 62II, which looks like the silver/modern horn you used in your comparison (could be the same???), and I play mostly sitting down (in a community band).

My thumb really wants to be on top of the key that is above the thumb rest (by this, I mean that my thumb wants to be exactly where the key is), and perhaps just a bit further away from the horn...more in a "can of beans" position. Is there a way to accomplish that with a modified thumbrest? The wierd thing is that my hands are not large at all...I would say they are small to average-sized female hands, which makes me wonder how men with large hands could possibly be comfortable playing this horn. But maybe it's the stand up vs. sit down thing. I love the horn, but would really like it to be more comfortable to hold in my right hand.

The more I think about it, maybe what I really need is a second strap ring, a little higher on the horn so the horn is in a more upright position, which would eliminate my need to "push" the horn with my right thumb. But if I were to do that, how much further up the horn should that second ring go? An inch? Two inches? Let the technician decide?
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