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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm probably about to pull the trigger on a Buescher Big B baritone. Unfortunately I'm buying online and haven't played it or any horn like it. I'm getting a little worried about the vintage bari "pickle barrel" mouthpiece intonation issues I've been reading about here, where old baris only play in tune with very large chamber old-style mouthpieces. Those mouthpieces seem to be limited in options and also limited in tone - leaning heavily toward muted low-pass-filter kind of sounds. I know most of the discussion is on Conn 12Ms - anyone know about a Big B?

I may be just fine with a huge-chamber old piece for much of my playing - I do like the cool, gruff Mulligan sound. However I also have interest in a crazy loud crazy bright brass band sound. On tenor for that sound I have a Rico Metalite M9 and it's great - I give our trombonist a run for his money. Could I get the same piece on bari, extend the shank, and expect a horn in tune?

So my question is what are the odds I could play in tune across the horn with a modern medium chamber mouthpiece with the shank extended so I can pull it out far enough? It seems that there are two factors at play: the total length of the horn from tip to end of bell, and the volume of air contained in the mouthpiece after the end of the neck. Pulling out the mouthpiece makes both factors larger, right? Honestly I don't understand what's going on in the chamber of the mouthpiece and whether volume matters to tuning irrespective of the length of the tube. If you keep the tip-to-bell distance the same but increase the chamber volume, does the pitch drop? Does it drop evenly across the horn?

Additionally, I'm interested in mouthpiece recommendations. Are there any large chamber pieces that have a somewhat brighter modern sound? As far as old-style giant chambers, I've found the Clark Fobes Nova but it seems a little... meh. Gotta say the "symphonic band" language doesn't sell me. Can anyone say otherwise? I know Syos is controversial around here, but I did come across their Dayna Stephens bari model, which purports to have a "giant" chamber. That would work, right?
 

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You are going to have to try some variations over time as your embouchure and Reed choices gets dialed in.

What you should look for is the intonation of the high note palm keys vs the low bell notes. If a large chamber mouthpiece has sharp high notes and/or flat low notes when the mid range is in tune, then this indicates that you may get better intonation from a long length medium chamber or small throat mouthpiece.

The other factor to watch out for is tip opening. Wider tips can sound great but you may get tired playing on them after 30-60 minutes. Then your intonation control gets bad and you scoop notes and waver. It is easy to not take in enough mouthpiece and bite the palm key notes sharp. Then some player try harder and harder reeds to compensate. Some pull it off but just be aware of this. You might get better results from medium tips, medium reeds and relax the embouchure and take in more mouthpiece when playing the entire range of the sax.
 

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You are going to have to try some variations over time as your embouchure and Reed choices gets dialed in.

What you should look for is the intonation of the high note palm keys vs the low bell notes. If a large chamber mouthpiece has sharp high notes and/or flat low notes when the mid range is in tune, then this indicates that you may get better intonation from a long length medium chamber or small throat mouthpiece.

The other factor to watch out for is tip opening. Wider tips can sound great but you may get tired playing on them after 30-60 minutes. Then your intonation control gets bad and you scoop notes and waver. It is easy to not take in enough mouthpiece and bite the palm key notes sharp. Then some player try harder and harder reeds to compensate. Some pull it off but just be aware of this. You might get better results from medium tips, medium reeds and relax the embouchure and take in more mouthpiece when playing the entire range of the sax.
 

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You are going to have to try some variations over time as your embouchure and reed choices gets dialed in.

What you should look for is the intonation of the high note palm keys vs the low bell notes. If a large chamber mouthpiece has sharp high notes and/or flat low notes when the mid range is in tune, then this indicates that you may get better intonation from a long length medium chamber or small throat mouthpiece. If you get the opposite problem on modern mouthpieces, then try fat short ones like a Caravan.

The other factor to watch out for is tip opening. Wider tips can sound great but you may get tired playing on them after 30-60 minutes. Then your intonation control gets bad and you scoop notes and waver. It is easy to not take in enough mouthpiece and bite the palm key notes sharp. Then some players try harder and harder reeds to compensate. Some pull it off but just be aware of this. You might get better results from medium tips, medium reeds and relax the embouchure and take in more mouthpiece when playing the entire range of the sax.
 

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All things equal, a bigger chamber piece will play flatter. That means you're going to shove it further on the neck.

Internal intonation (the horn being in tune with itself) is based on the distance of each tone hole from the tip of the mouthpiece. When you push the MP further on the neck, the short tube notes (palm keys) will be sharped relatively more than the long tube notes (lowest notes). If the distance from the MP to high F is say 14" and the distance to low C is 48", and you push in 1/2", you've sharped the high F by 3.6%, but the low C by only 1.04%.

The tone hole positions on the saxophone are designed based on a certain total length. If you change that length a large amount, the tone holes won't be in the right place any more. This is commonly seen on older horns used with small chamber pieces, that the player, tuning to a note like middle G, has to pull way way out; then the plam key notes are flat and the lowest notes are sharp.

An extreme case of this is the "high pitch" saxophone built to a pitch of A=452 instead of 440. You can pull out and pull out, but you'll never get it to play in tune with itself because the tone holes aren't in the right place.

Of course, every note on the saxophone is flexible, so small corrections are assimilated; and even with large corrections you can learn to play it in tune - more or less - but there are other issues. You may find, for example, that it's difficult or impossible to access the altissimo register. You may find that some individual notes are wildly out of tune while the ones next to them are fine. You may find that certain notes have a distressing tendency to squeak.

I had all those issues with my 12M when I played a Vandoren MP with small round chamber (and extended shank) and they all went away with a Meyer MP. Also, the "in tune" position of the Meyer was about an inch further in (distance measured from the tip of the MP to the octave vent, or any other convenient feature).

That said, you do NOT have to play a "dill pickle" type piece that sounds like you're blowing into an old gym sock. Anything with a chamber the size of the bore, or bigger, will do. There are very many largish bore mouthpieces with high baffles. (Dukoff, Jody Jazz, Brilhart Level Air). There are also very many largish bore mouthpieces with rollover baffles that offer the flexibility to play bright OR dark (Otto Link). I don't recommend the Meyer for brighter sound because although I get great results, I've got a wedge in mine and most people don't want to get into that.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
All things equal, a bigger chamber piece will play flatter. That means you're going to shove it further on the neck.

Internal intonation (the horn being in tune with itself) is based on the distance of each tone hole from the tip of the mouthpiece. When you push the MP further on the neck, the short tube notes (palm keys) will be sharped relatively more than the long tube notes (lowest notes). If the distance from the MP to high F is say 14" and the distance to low C is 48", and you push in 1/2", you've sharped the high F by 3.6%, but the low C by only 1.04%.

The tone hole positions on the saxophone are designed based on a certain total length. If you change that length a large amount, the tone holes won't be in the right place any more. This is commonly seen on older horns used with small chamber pieces, that the player, tuning to a note like middle G, has to pull way way out; then the plam key notes are flat and the lowest notes are sharp.

An extreme case of this is the "high pitch" saxophone built to a pitch of A=452 instead of 440. You can pull out and pull out, but you'll never get it to play in tune with itself because the tone holes aren't in the right place.
Thanks for the reply. I think I understand - a larger chamber adjusts the total pitch without changing the "scale length" of the horn, and thus its self-intonation. Is that right?
EDIT: To make a guitar analogy, tuning by moving the mouthpiece is like tuning a guitar by moving the bridge (thus changing the scale length and throwing all the frets out of tune). The closest sax equivalent to the tuning pegs on a guitar adjusting string tension without changing length would be adjusting total internal sax volume without changing length, which could be achieved with mouthpiece chamber size (which also affects tone and other factors, but we're just talking intonation here). That might not be right at all, but that's what I meant to say.

That said, you do NOT have to play a "dill pickle" type piece that sounds like you're blowing into an old gym sock. Anything with a chamber the size of the bore, or bigger, will do. There are very many largish bore mouthpieces with high baffles. (Dukoff, Jody Jazz, Brilhart Level Air). There are also very many largish bore mouthpieces with rollover baffles that offer the flexibility to play bright OR dark (Otto Link). I don't recommend the Meyer for brighter sound because although I get great results, I've got a wedge in mine and most people don't want to get into that.
My favorite all-purpose tenor piece is a Jody Jazz HR 7*. It feels really versatile and I like the "pointiness", that is, the angle of the beak as it feels in my mouth. I'm not sure what the right word is. Is the bari version of that mouthpiece in the category of "largish", in your experience?
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
You are going to have to try some variations over time as your embouchure and Reed choices gets dialed in.

What you should look for is the intonation of the high note palm keys vs the low bell notes. If a large chamber mouthpiece has sharp high notes and/or flat low notes when the mid range is in tune, then this indicates that you may get better intonation from a long length medium chamber or small throat mouthpiece.

The other factor to watch out for is tip opening. Wider tips can sound great but you may get tired playing on them after 30-60 minutes. Then your intonation control gets bad and you scoop notes and waver. It is easy to not take in enough mouthpiece and bite the palm key notes sharp. Then some player try harder and harder reeds to compensate. Some pull it off but just be aware of this. You might get better results from medium tips, medium reeds and relax the embouchure and take in more mouthpiece when playing the entire range of the sax.
Yeah, the Metalite M9 on tenor is definitely fatiguing after wailing for a bit. My favorite Jody Jazz HR 7* is much less so. Are tip openings equivalent across horn types? So if I like a 0.105" on tenor (the Jody), am I likely to get the same feel out of a 0.105" on bari?
 

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I had a Big B baritone once, and it was pretty mouthpiece-friendly. I had no problem using a smallish-bore modern mouthpiece. My impression was that the Bueschers are not as fussy as the Conn baris. But the left-hand pinkie table on a Buescher needs a strong finger - the keys are a lot heavier than a modern bari.
 

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Thanks for the reply. I think I understand - a larger chamber adjusts the total pitch without changing the "scale length" of the horn, and thus its self-intonation. Is that right?
EDIT: To make a guitar analogy, tuning by moving the mouthpiece is like tuning a guitar by moving the bridge (thus changing the scale length and throwing all the frets out of tune). The closest sax equivalent to the tuning pegs on a guitar adjusting string tension without changing length would be adjusting total internal sax volume without changing length, which could be achieved with mouthpiece chamber size (which also affects tone and other factors, but we're just talking intonation here). That might not be right at all, but that's what I meant to say.



My favorite all-purpose tenor piece is a Jody Jazz HR 7*. It feels really versatile and I like the "pointiness", that is, the angle of the beak as it feels in my mouth. I'm not sure what the right word is. Is the bari version of that mouthpiece in the category of "largish", in your experience?
There's not really anything you can do with a saxophone to make all the notes play an equal amount flatter or sharper, like what happens when you turn the tuning peg on a guitar. (Other than using a different gas with a different speed-of-sound; but that's kind of hard on the player.) Your analogy is accurate - though an exact analogy would be moving the nut of the guitar to tune.

This is why for example, flutes made from the Louis Lot model led generations of American flutists to conclude "flutes play sharp up top and flat down low and that's just the way it is." No!!! Those flutes (including the "golden age" Haynes and Powells) were copied from A=435 Louis Lot flutes, without changing the tone hole positions, and made to "kind of, sort of" play at A=440 by just chopping 1/4" off the head joint. Unsurprisingly, the short tube notes played sharp and long tube notes flat. When in the 1970s Cooper and a couple others recalculated the tone hole positions for A = 440, all of a sudden their flutes didn't play sharp up top and flat down low. Oddly enough, Theobald Boehm published the calculations for tone hole positions way back in the 1870s, yet Haynes and Powell resisted performing these very simple calculations throughout the 1960s.
 

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Hi!
It's actually the volume of the mouthpiece that will impact the tuning of the saxophone.
At Syos we calculated our volume to have all our mouthpieces in tune with new standard saxophones. So if you get a larger chamber on a Syos mouthpiece you will actually have a shorter mouthpiece.
We actually wrote a blog post on that subject if you are interested: https://www.syos.co/en/blog/gear/the-saxophone-mouthpiece-length
For old baritone saxophones, we suggest to go for a custom mouthpiece. So we can design the mouthpiece according to the type of sound and playing characteristics you want and then we will increase the length of the mouthpiece shank so that it will increase the internal volume and then get you a mouthpiece that will allow you to play in tune with your ol bari.
Hope that helps :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Hi!
It's actually the volume of the mouthpiece that will impact the tuning of the saxophone.
At Syos we calculated our volume to have all our mouthpieces in tune with new standard saxophones. So if you get a larger chamber on a Syos mouthpiece you will actually have a shorter mouthpiece.
We actually wrote a blog post on that subject if you are interested: https://www.syos.co/en/blog/gear/the-saxophone-mouthpiece-length
For old baritone saxophones, we suggest to go for a custom mouthpiece. So we can design the mouthpiece according to the type of sound and playing characteristics you want and then we will increase the length of the mouthpiece shank so that it will increase the internal volume and then get you a mouthpiece that will allow you to play in tune with your ol bari.
Hope that helps :)
Thanks for your response Nostris. That linked blog post was helpful, but I have some questions.

So what you're saying is that what I wrote above is incorrect and actually the only thing that matters is volume? So pulling out the mouthpiece such that 1ml of air is added to the "cone" is exactly the same as leaving the length the same but carving out an extra 1ml in the chamber? Somehow that doesn't seem right...

The article gives the equation f = V / 2(L+0.8d) for the resonant frequency of the saxophone "cone", where V is the speed of sound, L is tube length, and d is diameter. I raised my eyebrows at that because I seem to remember from physics class that the frequency of a pipe open at one end depends only on length and not on diameter (f = v / 4L). That's for a cylinder of course, but are you certain about that equation? If so I'm really curious to understand what's going on! My intuition on standing wave fundamentals is that it's all about length in the direction of the wave, and the diameter of the tube just has to do with amplitude and harmonics. This intuition leads me to think that the length (affected by in-and-out position of the mouthpiece) would be a much stronger factor in tuning than the volume (affected by in-and-out mouthpiece position and/or chamber size).

EDIT: I just had another thought I'd like some commentary on: what if the difference has to do with Low Bb vs Low A baris? And people casually conflate "vintage" with Low Bb. Clearly the two types of horn have different length and total volume, even if the other tone holes are in exactly the same position. Has anyone ever played the same mouthpiece on two identical horns that only have that difference (weren't Mark VI's made in both types)?
 

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Nope, if you pull the mouthpiece out it DOES NOT have the same effect as carving out the chamber and leaving the MP in the same axial position. I mean, in both cases there'll be a flattening effect, but if you pull way out you're changing the tone hole positions with respect to the tip of the MP, and if you make the chamber bigger and leave the MP in the same place, you aren't.

What really happens when you put a larger chamber piece on is that to tune at a note in the middle of the horn (say G - concert Bb on bari) you'll push in compared to the smaller chamber piece; and then the short tube notes will be relatively more sharpened than the long tube notes. If you go the other direction and make the MP chamber smaller, you'll pull out and the short tube notes will be relatively more flattened than the long tube notes. Making a long shank on a small chamber mouthpiece just makes it mechanically more stable on the neck. For the same axial position of the tip of the mouthpiece, the length of the shank that's filled with cork has NO acoustical meaning. It could be a foot long; it's still full of cork and neck.

And don't be fooled by how much cork is showing - measure from the tip of the mouthpiece to a convenient point on the neck. Every mouthpiece maker has a different shank length.

In theory you want a mouthpiece with the exact internal volume for which the horn was designed, and then when you place it in the design position on the cork, the horn will play as perfectly in tune as minor errors in tone hole position and the compromises of incomplete venting for some notes will permit. In practice any saxophone can tolerate a wide range of mouthpiece designs and pitch settings (from A = 435 to A = 445 is probably doable for most saxes), but the further you deviate from the setup it was designed for, the more compromises you're going to have.

Certain makes and models (Conn 12M) appear to have been designed based on a mouthpiece with considerably larger chamber than current fashion, thus play very sharp with smal chamber pieces. In my case (and I have 36 years experience with the Conn 12M) this is the case; but also, it's not just about the horn getting gradually flatter up the scale and sharper down low. The notorious incredibly sharp middle E and F simply went away when I changed from a small round chamber Vandoren to a Meyer, which I would call "largish medium" (the chamber is round and the same diameter as the cork bore). Similarly, the altissimo which had been stiff and unresponsive and out of tune, became easily accessible and much better in tune with standard altissimo fingerings (this makes a lot of sense, as altissimo uses weird fingerings to create register vents, and those vents need to be in just the right axial location on the tube with respect to the closed end). My propensity to squeak on palm key notes at high volume also disappeared (though that might also have been related to mouthpiece facing).

For fun I once hogged out the chamber of a duplicate MP to my main bari piece; tone was just about the same, but I had to push so far on that all my palm key notes got SHARP.

I also once had a Dolnet tenor sax where the sharp low register problem was so severe that someone had actually soldered in a crescent in the low B tone hole (I guess they just left low Bb sharp), and they had put a 3/8" extension on the neck. The mouthpiece in the case had a very small round chamber. When I started using a Meyer or Link or Selmer Soloist, the horn played well in tune after I removed the crescent and the neck extension.

The good news is that the scuttlebutt has Buescher baris not so sensitive to mouthpiece design as Conns, and also good news is that there are very many high baffle bright sounding pieces with largish-medium (as, chamber dia. = cork bore dia.) chambers, and also there's something like Links where the chamber is actually a bit larger than the bore, and with their rollover baffle you can make a Link sound like whatever you want it to.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Thanks for your detailed response turf3. I think I understand everything you're saying here and it's in line with my intuition. Unlike the SYOS post, which appears to be... wrong? At least partially.

It makes sense to me that a horn would be designed for a particular mouthpiece that "completes the cone", so to speak. Reading from the UNSW sax acoustics reference:
We have not mentioned the effect of the mouthpiece. First, we note that the bore is not a simple cone: it is a cone truncated at a comfortable diameter to take a mouthpiece. This truncation affects the tuning: informally, we can think of it as making the pipe slightly like a cylinder, which stretches the frequency gap between resonances. This means that, unless compensated, it would stretch the interval between registers to over an octave. Now the geometry of the mouthpiece is a little complicated, but one contribution to the acoustic response is that it compensates for the 'missing volume' of the cone. Indeed, its volume (when added to the effective volume of the reed) is comparable with that of the missing cone. The compliance of the mouthpiece reduces the acoustic impedance spectrum over a range near about 1 kHz.
Clearly it's a bit more complicated than just having the right volume, but that does seem to be one component of it. I wonder if what we really need is for each sax manufacturer to publish details of the mouthpiece they designed for, or at least its internal volume past the neck when placed at the designed total length (bell to mpc tip). Basically just telling us what the missing volume of the cone is for their bore design. Seems like a stretch to ask for such standardization, but tip openings seem sorta-kinda standardized with the number scale, so maybe it's possible? Then each mouthpiece maker could publish numbers that would make it easy to match a piece to a horn, getting both the length and cone volume right. Seems like it would be easy enough to measure internal volume using water.

Does that make sense to you? Regardless of how unrealistic it is!

Another thought: when we're talking about the mouthpiece matching the "cone" volume, we're talking about a few ml of volume here and there in the mouthpiece, right? So does that mean that a dent in the body of the horn that subtracts, say, 7ml of volume from the cone would have the same effect? I assume a dent in the neck would affect the whole horn and a dent in the bow would affect only the longest tube notes.
 

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I have no data, but it seems that the closer to the tip of the reed the greater the effect - more so than one would expect just based on difference - a few thousandths of an inch on the MP baffle, versus a half inch deep dent on the bow. It also seems like once you get into the neck, past that huge step from the ID of the MP to the ID of the neck, small dents are much less important than you might think.
 

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No data here, just practical experience. I have had a Big B for many years. At one time, I had a vintage Gregory Hollywood Master that dialed in perfectly. In modern pieces, an Otto Link Tone Edge with a medium tip works great intonation-wise without hanging off the tip of the cork. I currently use a Lamberson 7DD and the tuning is damn near perfect at an ideal position on the neck. On the other hand, the Runyon Quantum and new STM I tried to use were sharp sharp sharp, no matter what mods I tried. Hope that helps.
 

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I know Syos is controversial around here, but I did come across their Dayna Stephens bari model, which purports to have a "giant" chamber. That would work, right?
I would still think you would need a longer shank, as the mouthpiece likely is made for modern baritones. It would help a lot, if SYOS actually included a clip of Dayna Stephens playing baritone as opposed to tenor on their website. I have nothing against SYOS, quite the opposite, but I wouldn't buy a custom model. Seems there are two many variables and it is completely up to SYOS what you receive, which may not be what you want.

For my old Conn, I have a PPT signature with extended shank, which has worked absolute wonders for the intonation.
 

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I have actually owned and played an old Buescher baritone, and I can tell you it was not very fussy about mouthpieces. A modern Link TE or similar will be great, and there’s no need for the huge chamber Caravan or Rascher unless that’s the sound you want.
 

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When I bought my vintage baritone I thought that like you I was going to need a large chamber to make this Bundy Special sing but
after trying those pickle barrel pieces and it playing so flat I went to Berg Larsen HR and a RPC copy by BO mouthpieces that is a high baffle piece and it is
outstanding for intonation, contemporary tone and ease of play.
 

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People playing Big B baris in classical quartets will tell you the exact opposite of what most posters are reporting here: that they won’t play in tune without a barrel chamber (“gym sock” style).

I haven’t played a Big B but I do own a split bell 1935 Aristocrat. It too is very mpc friendly.
 
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