Sax on the Web Forum banner

1 - 20 of 109 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,901 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
Stop Playing Your Mouthpiece with your Eyes! And Stop Playing Gear Using Myths Instead of Your Ears!

Since I came into the mouthpiece and saxophone business in 1982, many others have followed. I came in just behind Dave Guardala who was the first one to popularize machining a mouthpiece from solid brass. Before that Yanigasawa did it. After doing custom work for a few years I went back to school to study engineering and bought all the machines, including a Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) milling machine to help me produce a line of my own mouthpieces but I have to admit, they weren’t all my own design. I followed in the footsteps of my predecessors like Otto Link and the Meyer Brothers who were the standards in the industry but these old designs lacked volume and the ability to play the altissimo register easily.
In this time and after meeting with many sax players I discovered that a large number of players I worked for judged and chose their equipment based on myths started by other players, hype, individuals and businesses with idiosyncrasies, neurosis, personal gain and greed or other sax players endorsements of certain products that they didn’t even use and now fueled by the internet and inexperienced players touting such and such. I don’t remember who said this but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Judging a mouthpiece or any other piece of gear or by anything other than its own merits and reality and anything other than your personal senses of it is your imagination that can cause great confusion but to put these things aside and to do that requires a clear mind unencumbered or influenced by neurosis, the mind or outside influence is not an easy thing to do. It requires introspection.

Fueling this approach to things I’ve seen this relatively new wave of mouthpiece “techs” toil and obsess over extreme minor cosmetic flaws in a mouthpiece and who claim that two or
three thousandths of an inch is crucial which plants seeds on insecurity in players minds. It is not. Different reeds, rooms and mics will make varying changes in sound, not a few thousandths of an inch or what amounts to a cosmetic flaw! Recently on this sax forum I was heavily criticized by one of these so-called experts with less than half my experience “making” mouthpieces and probably half my experience playing. He said something to the effect that my mouthpieces were junk or garbage and that they were terrible but overlooks the fact that many players are still using them today such as Karl Hunter, Ernie Watts and “Blue” Lou Marini. Mike Brecker had a few as did numerous others and the one thing I never heard from any of the great players I worked for was that there was a defect in them, not one in thirty-seven years but this new era of CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) mouthpieces has spurred a rumors that if your mouthpiece is not perfectly symmetrical that it’s somehow defected or not sufficient to play. The most famous tenor mouthpiece of all time, the Otto Link had cosmetic flaws yet our most beloved players used them. I played a mouthpiece once, an Otto Link that had a crooked facing going two ways throughout the radius that played exceptionally well and it's owner sounded wonderful on it..

A neck or lyre screw or widget isn’t going to make a difference in your sound! About thirty years ago a known player and teacher started expounding that changing a lyre screw can alter your sound. He taught at a prestigious music school and roped many students into this esoteric way of thinking. When I met with him and looked at his mouthpiece’s I noticed he had drawn an arrow in the inside of the them. When I asked him why he had done that he said “to show the air which way to go”. This is indicative of how ludicrous it’s gotten and it’s the human condition. It’s a sickness, made worse by people’s addictions to the internet and forums. This teacher went on to be an “adviser” to an extremely famous funk player convincing him that applying small amounts of scotch tape to his sax altered the sound among other things too silly to mention. Of course, this could have been perpetuated by the cocaine they were using but nevertheless it influenced a great number of young aspiring players and this infuriates me because it distracts what could otherwise be great players from their primary objectives.

The Steinway piano is a myth, one of which I bought into (yes, I was a sucker too), created by Steinway using really good marketing techniques. In fact, Steinway rates third among new pianos in the bible of buying pianos, “The Piano Book” by Larry Fine but Steinway is still the most popular piano among many aspiring pianists and pianists who can afford one because of the many endorsers that Steinway managed to gather. And Steinway’s marketing strategy of telling their customers that their pianos go up in value is a lie. I witnessed this at a Steinway workshop at Steinway Hall where I saw a saleswomen tell a potential customer that they go up in value along with a brochure with charts and graphs and they were exposed in the NY Post and the NY Times on this piece of marketing strategy. This type of deception is common these days and a musician’s gear is no longer judged purely on its own merits.

The Mark VI saxophone, although an excellent horn is a myth ushered in by the wave of great players who switched to them when they came out because they were superior to what they had. Ask yourself if on a recording you can tell if a player is using a Mark VI or good Taiwanese horn and be brutally honest.

One myth being furthered by the internet and the industry is that mouthpiece ligatures make a difference, they don’t. In blindfold tests done in my studio saxophone players couldn’t tell the difference between two different ligatures of different designs. That’s because the differences between reeds or he placement of the reed is so great that it cancels out something as small as a thing that just holds the reed on the mouthpiece and I’ve found that the best ligature is one that holds the reed to the mouthpiece securely, not loosely or relaxed in order to enable it to vibrate more. John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and all the sax players that made history used stock ligatures and my although limited experience taught me that standard two-screw ligatures are best because of their consistency in securely tightening down the reed, not for the way they alter the sound but people are making ligatures with new designs to make money. It’s about business, something this author never embraced very well because money was not my priority, maybe a foolish mistake.

The Stradivarius violin is a myth. In several blindfold tests when compared to newer violins among top violinists the newer violins were preferred:
“French researcher Claudia Fritz has been gradually debunking this notion. In a 2014 experiment, she found 10 world-class violinists who blind-tested old and new instruments and could not reliably tell them apart—and, when pressed, tended to prefer the newer ones.”

And among listeners:

"The results are unambiguous," Fritz and her colleagues write. Whether the player was performing solo or with an orchestra, "Listeners found that new violins projected significantly better than those by Stradivari. Moreover, listeners preferred new violins over old by a significant margin." We’re talking multi-million dollar violins!
For a more detailed explanations see:

https://psmag.com/education/debunking-the-myth-of-the-miraculous-stradivarius

Where does the equipment merry-go-round end? How’s your theory? How’s your piano playing? How’s your knowledge of harmony? Ask yourself these questions before spending your countless dollars of unnecessary gear, money that can be spent on a great teacher or in the practice room. Take what you like and leave the rest. Everyone have a bright day! Phil Barone
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,310 Posts
I told you before that I preferred the Bechstein Grand Pianos :) One of my uncles has an original Stradivarius violin but I believe it is in a display case and any wooden instrument that is not played will deteriorate and develop a pack of wolves..
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,016 Posts
I don't think Steinway is a myth. I'm sure you can find a few nicely rebuilt classics around NY to see what the "thing" is all about. Be on the look out for a well kept Baldwin R and L from the 50s.

But I hear ya on cosmetic imperfections.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,901 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
I told you before that I preferred the Bechstein Grand Pianos :) One of my uncles has an original Stradivarius violin but I believe it is in a display case and any wooden instrument that is not played will deteriorate and develop a pack of wolves..
I heard they're great pianos but I've never played one. I have completely rebuilt Hamburg Steinway A grand now and I gotta tell ya, I miss my Yamaha upright. Phil
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,901 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
I told you before that I preferred the Bechstein Grand Pianos :) One of my uncles has an original Stradivarius violin but I believe it is in a display case and any wooden instrument that is not played will deteriorate and develop a pack of wolves..
I heard they're great pianos but I've never played one. I have completely rebuilt Hamburg Steinway A grand now and I gotta tell ya, I miss my Yamaha upright. BTW, while Bechstein was a great piano back when they first came out and probably a great piano now they went through a bad period when they were pretty awful and they really screwed up when they supported Hitler apparently. Phil
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,589 Posts
Phil, I must say I don’t agree with many of your ideas in prior postings in SOTW but this one is spot on!
Thanks for taking the time to write it.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,901 Posts
Discussion Starter #7
I don't think Steinway is a myth. I'm sure you can find a few nicely rebuilt classics around NY to see what the "thing" is all about. Be on the look out for a well kept Baldwin R and L from the 50s.

But I hear ya on cosmetic imperfections.
I bought a completely rebuilt Hamburg A after playing a jillion pianos a few months ago and I miss my Yamaha U3, just an upright. The Yam had a complex sound and was bold and not as bright as people seem to feel but it was an exceptional piano and I tried to buy it back but it was gone. It was definitely a better jazz piano. I'm still getting used to the Steinway so maybe I have to work a little harder or learn how to play it but I never thought it would improve my playing like some people do. It was a gift to myself for turning 60. Herbie recently switched to Fazioli from Yamaha and Chick plays Yamaha. The Piano Book rates Fazioli and Bosendorfer over Steinway and Andreas Schiff plays a Bosendorfer. I saw him play a few months ago and it was pretty incredible but he can play anything. So much is endorsements when it comes to pianos but I read that Steinway is suffering. I went to Steinway Hall and an A was $90,000 for what was a brighter piano than my A. I paid less than half of that for my A and I thinks it's a better piano. Phil
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,016 Posts
I have a 1957 Baldwin R for the past 40 years. It has had its share of famous endorsers. I've been looking at pianos recently as it is due for a rebuild.

I'm sure you put the diligence into choosing a piano. What size is the Hamburg?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,901 Posts
Discussion Starter #9
I have a 1957 Baldwin R for the past 40 years. It has had its share of famous endorsers. I've been looking at pianos recently as it is due for a rebuild.

I'm sure you put the diligence into choosing a piano. What size is the Hamburg?
Dave Brubeck played those and I'm sure it's a fine piano but maybe not worth rebuilding unless you really love it. Don't make the mistake I did, keep an open mind and play a lot of pianos. It's an A, 6' 1"and it's from 1906 but I injured myself so I'm not playing much.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,310 Posts
I heard they're great pianos but I've never played one. I have completely rebuilt Hamburg Steinway A grand now and I gotta tell ya, I miss my Yamaha upright. Phil
Yes, I hear you on the Yamaha. I had a 19th century Boesendorfer, kind of second tier but I loved it. Couldn't take it with me across the pond though but I found somebody who really appreciated it so I gave it away
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2014
Joined
·
4,901 Posts
Totally agree with your assessment. My "red pill" moment when I was looking to upgrade from my Armstrong alto back in Highschool. I was looking to improve my playing by purchasing "a pro saxophone". Much to my surprise, the multi thousand dollar Serie II and III horns still made me sound like...me. Granted, the intonation was a bit better, and the keywork was greatly superior on the Selmers, but it did not improve the skills that I had at that point. I eventually decided to save a few thousand dollars, found a Conn NW that I still play, and spent hours on the shed improving me. Since then, I've "upgraded" that alto to a Yamaha 21. :lol:

Equipment that is in bad repair, or a mouthpiece/reed combo that isn't matched to the player and/or each other will hold one back. Outside of that, making music is an art form. Stressing out over equipment will not make one a better player.

However, collecting and flipping equipment is also a fun hobby that many enjoy.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
918 Posts
There are a few points in your writing which could be elaborated upon. The Scotch tape thing, for example. Easy to see how you discount its effects, as everyone knows the tape has to be of heavier grade, such as duct tape.

As you say, it's the bible, and Larry Fine's book is a must read for anyone who plays or just enjoys piano, not only those shopping for one.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,016 Posts
Dave Brubeck played those and I'm sure it's a fine piano but maybe not worth rebuilding unless you really love it. Don't make the mistake I did, keep an open mind and play a lot of pianos. It's an A, 6' 1"and it's from 1906 but I injured myself so I'm not playing much.
I have encountered an A (I think although might have been an O) from that vintage. I'm sure you will grow to love it. I recall a remarkable sustain and very pleasing tone.

Again, I hear you in the rebuild. It will likely exceed the value of the instrument when done. It may be more valuable to me as a trade in on something already rebuilt.

All the best with your new piano and speedy recovery to your injury.
 

·
SOTW Columnist, Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
23,016 Posts
Well said Phil. I don't know much about pianos so can't comment there, but all the rest of what you said sounds right on to me. It seems a lot of people are looking for magic, and buy into all kinds of supernatural nonsense. These days we seem to be going backwards toward the dark ages when science, critical thinking and reason was suspended and superstition, belief in magic formulae and the supernatural reined. The line between reality/facts and fiction/conspiracy theories is being blurred and erased. Perfect conditions for grifters and con artists to thrive, as we can see at all levels of society.

And yes, when it comes to sax gear, beginners are a prime target. Hopefully most of them will find a good instructor who can give them truthful guidance.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
819 Posts
I, based on my signature below, have very inexpensive saxes, becuase i just started playing in the past 4 years (and that was Bari only).
I have updgraded mouthpieces, as a first step, because i felt i should put my money where it mattered first.
After finding mouthpeices that i really liked the sound of (yes, looks played into it, but for me, i wanted a mpc that stayed out of my way, and sounded great....to me.

The practice I have put in over the past year in earnest has been the best thing for the sound I hear.
So now, as I look for new horns to 'upgrade to', because i have the $ and I love this hobby, I focused my efforts on tenor.
I read and read and read and listened online and got all sorts of impressions...then i went and played a few different horns, and everything changed from those impressions.
Being a scientist by day, I figured i would approach play testing wtih some Hypotheses...which were proven wrong, AND THAT IS OK. The hard part I think for some is being honest with yourself.
When i was playtesting, another guy in the shop saw a black lacquered MK VI (yep, it was terribe, there is another thread about it here) said "oh man, I bet that black lacquer makes that sound so dark"...i wanted to slap him, but he was much bigger than me, so I just snickered inside.
In the end, I took some turns and decided to test some more horns because i did not prefer the Yani's OR the MK VIs i tried.
For me, the NEW SA80 Series II was amazing, amazing enough to make me want to play the Ref 36, 54, and Series III....and try a few others.

I used to play trumpets and folks said all the same dopey mythilogical things about lacquer, lead pipes, bore sizes, bells, etc....some accurate, some crap.
I had a Martin Committee trumpet for about 3 months and hated it.
The ones I settled on my trumpet tech hated, I didn't care, I loved the sound out of them.

Long story longer.....you will never stop the myths for the folks that live by them, nor will you stop companies from selling to them.

As far as Steinways, Strads, MK VIs, Martin Committees....at the time of their beginnings, they were amazing, and amazingly marketed and their brand equity lives on far beyond their actualy ability to compare to some modern day competitiors.
It is badge value, like Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, Prada, etc...they don't make products that are THAT much better, they just market them better to people that look for badge value, not actual value.

Great post Phil!
 
1 - 20 of 109 Posts
Top