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Discussion Starter #1
Background:

Bought a Martin 1939 Handcraft Standard a few months ago and have been having a ball with it. It's my only tenor. It plays easy, big bottom end, sounds nice in "whisper mode". So what is the problem, you ask?

Early on, just for fun, I quickly recorded myself playing it. I spent no time with mic set-up etc, just a quick test. It sounded nasally, thin. But I chalked it up to my impatience with the recording set-up. As the weeks/months have gone by, I've started to wonder how the horn sounds to a "listener", not me standing behind it and playing it (which to me ears sounds good). I once again recorded myself last night - this time spending some time and effort on the recording set up. Result? Some passages still sounded thin, nasally, almost "bassoon" or "kazoo"-like. Other passages sounded ok, even fine.

To cut to the chase, I'm wondering how much weight to place on this. I play almost exclusively "old-school" jazz standards....and I know people say "Oh Martin's are great for rock n' roll". I know in the hands of a professional, any horn can sound fantastic in any genre. But I'm not a professional. I consider myself "decent". So...I'm wondering if I start messing with reed/mouthpiece combo's (which may or may not help), or, perhaps....start to look for a different horn. Based on what I heard of myself, I would like a warmer, more focused sound with less edge and bite. But still be able to attain volume and projection. My alto is a Selmer Super Action 80 Series I, and while I won't say I want "that" sound, perhaps something closer to it.

So I'm curious. Have any of you experienced what I have (basically, that you sound "different" than you thought you did, and what actions did you take to rectify the situation?
 

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Yes, I've been there - many times. If you are generally satisfied with how you sound while playing, then I'd look elsewhere other than your horn/mouthpiece/reed set-up.

I'd consider using a better microphone (not that I know anything about what you are using now). From my recording experiences, I've found that the type of microphone AND the location from where it records your horn is critical to accurate replay.

Some time back, a fan used to record our band while sitting right in front of me. He had one of those hand-held recorders with a mic that focused on the loudest sound (there's a term for such a mic - is it omni-directional? I don't recall), which you can imagine was my soprano. Not only did my horn dominate the recordings but it sounded awful - harsh and edgy. (Pause for the wisecracks . . .)

On other occasions I've been recorded (including in recording studios) where my horn did not dominate the ensemble and had a nice smooth tone. The best of those recordings (the most natural) was when the recording mics were at least 10 feet away from my horns (soprano saxophone and clarinet, with NO mix-down).

I've always been one that believed that sound needed to travel a bit to be heard at its most pleasing sound. So, make sure your recording mic is not one that focuses on the loudest sound AND put it a distance away from your horn. Maybe that will make it sound better to you. DAVE
 

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Mynfirst thoughtnother than setupmwas also the wuality and technique of recording.

...then again, go back and record again, after working on those difficult passages, make an effort to articulate clearly and use good breat shoport. You just might sound crappy during certain passages. Its easy to think you are hearing yourself...and parts may sound great...but the fact its extremely difficult to listen objectively and play at the same time.

Dont feel bad...you have discovered something important on to improvement.

My hunch is if only parts sound bad its you...and you can fix that.

BTW. martins are not just rock or blues horns...and anyway, that reputation came about in much later models.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
The mouthpiece is a Morgan .095. I tried a couple Otto links (1 metal and one rubber, a .100 and a .105 I believe) and the Morgan was by far the easiest and best sounding of the 3 to my ears.

The mic is a Blue "Bluebird". It's not super expensive but it was like a $300 mic (I write and record stuff). But I'm not an expert at mic placement. I was about 5 ft. away with the mic turned at an angle. I may futz with this some more tonight. But I do think "some" of what I am hearing is actually what's coming out of the horn.
 

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The mouthpiece is a Morgan .095. I tried a couple Otto links (1 metal and one rubber, a .100 and a .105 I believe) and the Morgan was by far the easiest and best sounding of the 3 to my ears.

The mic is a Blue "Bluebird". It's not super expensive but it was like a $300 mic (I write and record stuff). But I'm not an expert at mic placement. I was about 5 ft. away with the mic turned at an angle. I may futz with this some more tonight. But I do think "some" of what I am hearing is actually what's coming out of the horn.
Just as important, and maybe even more important than, the microphone is the room in which you're recording. If you're getting a lot of reflected noise, it will sound terrible no matter how expensive your microphone is. I remember I used to do these recordings (on a ~$200 condenser mic) in a small, treated practice room where I went to school/worked and they sounded beautiful, top to bottom. I moved into a house and tried recording in a spare bedroom, where it sounded absolutely horrible on exactly the same setup. High notes really strident and thin, low notes really boomy. Even after a significant investment in sound treatment, I still cannot get the recordings to sound anywhere near as good as those practice rooms. The mic can be a factor, but yours should be fine for basic recording and I wouldn't think about upgrading before you rule out other factors for what you're hearing. I recorded some practice sessions on a Blue Snowball (in a good space) and they turned out pretty good.

Also it might help to upload some recordings to soundcloud or youtube or something and post them here, so people can hear what you're hearing.
 

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I wasn't so much interested in the quality of your recording mic (which of course, may be a consideration) or the price you paid for it as much as how it worked - the system that focused on the loudest noise OR the ability to record all of which it heard at the same level it heard it. Like I said, when I was recorded with one of those focus-on-the loudest mics, the result was awful. DAVE
 

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The mouthpiece is a Morgan .095. I tried a couple Otto links (1 metal and one rubber, a .100 and a .105 I believe) and the Morgan was by far the easiest and best sounding of the 3 to my ears.

The mic is a Blue "Bluebird". It's not super expensive but it was like a $300 mic (I write and record stuff). But I'm not an expert at mic placement. I was about 5 ft. away with the mic turned at an angle. I may futz with this some more tonight. But I do think "some" of what I am hearing is actually what's coming out of the horn.
Just to play devil's advocate, you are not running through an equalizer that you set up for something else and simply forgot about and now it kills your sound? Happens all the time. Go to a different room and play there without your standard setup and just use your phone to record, then you should be able to narrow things down a bit
 

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Mic placement can play a major role in the "timbre" of the sound. Remember that all of the overtones above the "cutoff frequency"---approximately F#3 travel past the toneholes and go directly out the bell. If the mic is placed in a direct line close to and in front of the bell it is picking up more of these high frequencies and fewer of the lower frequencies that are dissipated through the open toneholes. Notice sometime how many "smooth jazz" players perform with a mic that goes directly into the bell. That surely must be a part of what helps to produce the tone quality that is characteristic of that style of music.
 

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I agree with all of the above, I think its quite possible that your recording set up might be the issue and not your playing. Be it the room, or equipment, phasing issues, pre amps, DAW etc. I think the room makes a huge difference for horn recording, it's common to use one room mic and one close mic then blend them to get a natural sound. A lot of the recording I've done has been like this. Some engineers like to record in a really dry room and add the reverb in post production which works too.

Plus there's always that cringe we get listening to ourselves, like hearing a recording of our own voice (Do I really sound like that?!). I think you get a pretty accurate idea of your sound by playing up against a wall. Try that, see if you like it?

Do you have an iphone? If so, put it a foot or two away and try recording it using the "Voice memo" functions. I'm being serious, you can get a pretty decent natural recording from an iphone, obviously nothing you could use professionally but it never seems to go too horribly wrong either. You can also easily try out a few rooms like this too
 

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The mouthpiece is a Morgan .095. I tried a couple Otto links (1 metal and one rubber, a .100 and a .105 I believe) and the Morgan was by far the easiest and best sounding of the 3 to my ears.
Did you record yourself using the Links? And if so, did they also give you the kazoo quality to your sound? Is the Morgan an Excalibur?
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Update: I did a little more recording this morning, on limited time. The results were quite a bit better (still not "perfect" or a "thats it!" moment). I moved closer to the mic and offset it less (obviously turned down the input gain). At least it was encouraging. Now I am thinking "OK, work on my tone, embouchure and breathing etc. and maybe I can get to this 'better place' without a horn upgrade".

To answer a few questions.....I double checked, no EQ or other unwanted effects. No I never recorded myself with the Links.

Maybe i'll try the Iphone thing just to see, it's a good idea.

More recording tonight!
 

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Well, first of all, the Martin Handcraft tenor should sound gorgeous on classic jazz standards if you are looking for that kind of sound; it was designed right in the height of that era.

Second, Morgan makes a variety of different mouthpieces. For that horn I would go with a link or Meyer like MP. The big selling Morgan MPs are very Meyer like, and I'm betting that's what you have.

Thirdly, if you are primarily an alto player, you will need to learn how to take a tenor sized breath and put a tenor sized air stream through the horn. As a baritone specialist, I see this all the time when players of the smaller saxes double on baritone; they are able to get all the notes to come out, but they have a weak buzzy sound and little projection, which they try to fix by using a high baffle grass cutter duck call mouthpiece which makes the sound even more buzzy and nasal but doesn't provide any more real usable sound or projection. Trust me on this, if you are coming from years of alto playing you need to spend some time on tone development, preferably blowing long tones ppp to fff and back to ppp outdoors in a field without any walls bouncing the sound back at you.

All that said, I would take the results of a quicky recording with a block of salt. I have had these come out sounding truly awful.
 

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You do not need a horn upgrade. Dont start spending money. Phones are typically awfal for recording if that is what you mean in your earlier post. Like I said, if part of what you are doing sounds fine and the other part does not its you...which is not a bad thing...it just means more conscious work on tone production until you get a consistent tone you want.

If it was easy everyone would be able to do it....so in all likelihood no one would find it important. Its a journey.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Recorded last night, big improvement. But Turf3, you may have nailed it. Although I did play tenor for 3 years in high school (I learned on alto like most everyone), that was, uh.....a long time ago. When I retook up sax after a 40 year layoff, its been all alto till I got the Martin late last summer. Funny too, because I just watched a youtube video on long tones and plan to start doing more of that! Definitely my breathing and airstream is part of it. Last night I played to "Lady Bird" and it started to sound "on". Part of that is my comfort/enjoyment level with that song - that said, some passages still sounded weak and warbly, others MUCH better.

I forget which Morgan I have other than its an .095. I couldn't play the Links nearly as well. That could be different now, but for the immediate future I guess I'll just stick with the Morgan.

Thanks for the good suggestions/ideas!
 

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I think it's primarily recording setup; I think it's little understood that a mic is more than essential, it is central; yes, decent room, neither dead nor super-reverberant. Nobody listens to me, but the best sax mics are the U87 fet clones (modded) which are popular on ebay, and many are quite surprisingly good (I had one for sale here recently, there was no interest, and then I came to my senses and took it off the market). 2nd most important is a decent preamp. The only recorders I have seen which do NOT need an external preamp are the Tascam 680 mkII and the Zoom Livetrack series. If you have something else, best cheap boards for preamp sound that I have heard are the Zed series.

Just my (very experienced) opinion,
 
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