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Discussion Starter #1
Trying to decide between a straight Selmer Serie III (solid silver) and the Yani SC9937 curved soprano (also solid silver). Will be playing all styles of music.

Can I please have input on straight vs curved soprano for tone quality, strengths, weaknesses, etc.

It seems most people think the Yani has more consistent quality than Selmer. Selmer has the reputation (good or bad).

Thanks all. Great site.
Grego
 

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Grego said:
Trying to decide between a straight Selmer Serie III (solid silver) and the Yani SC9937 curved soprano (also solid silver). Will be playing all styles of music.

Can I please have input on straight vs curved soprano for tone quality, strengths, weaknesses, etc.

It seems most people think the Yani has more consistent quality than Selmer. Selmer has the reputation (good or bad).
I played a Selmer Series III silver-plated soprano for many years then replaced it with a Yanagisawa SC992 when Yanagisawa finally updated the left-hand pinky cluster (last year I replaced the SC992 with the SC991S because I like the look of silver). That right there says quite a bit.

The quality of the Selmer is fine. All horns require a bit of maintenance due to cork and felt compression. But I have noticed that the corks and felts tend to fall off on Selmers.

Playability, the Selmer was fine also. Actually, if I were to buy a currently-in-production straight soprano, I'd test drive the Selmer again for sure. My Selmer was a GREAT horn. It's just that the curved--man, the curved--was the way to go for me. Something about the immediacy of sound from the upward pointing bell. Makes me play better--makes me want to play better. It's like a muse!

Btw, are you sure you want/need the solid silver? I personally don't think it buys you anything. I tried a solid silver Yanagisawa soprano long ago and I remember it playing more or less the same as the regular brass models. Just trying to save you some of your hard-earned cash.
 

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I have a SC992 and am really happy with it, the old Mark VI soprano has been resting in the closet ever since I got the curved one. My opinions on curved versus straight sopranos in general:

Common advantages of the curved soprano:
1) Small size = portable
2) Better reflection of sound back to the player (easier to hear what you play)
3) Easier to place microphones, one is enough for curved, two may be needed for straight horn
4) Probably better ergonomics (or only different?), more comfortable to play.
5) Funny looking

Proposed demographics of the bent soprano. It may be good for:
1) People who travel a lot
2) People who play with loud bands, or in noisy locations, or with poor monitoring
3) People who play gigs where microphones are used
4) People who have muscle/joint problems? Kids? People with small hands?
5) People who have humour

Cheers
 

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I think the tipped bell sopranos look the coolest. Clearly that's the leading factor in any instrument purchase, eh?
 

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Grego: Much has already been discussed on SOTW about your question. I suggest you peruse the whole Bb Soprano thread for more in-depth information.

I have both styles of soprano and have played almost all of them from vintage to modern. I prefer straight but love my SC902 (curved Yanagisawa).

I had a silver-plated Serie III (the operative word is HAD).
I now favor my S992 (purchased after my Serie III was purchased but while I still owned the Serie III), along with my 1928 Buescher TT straight.

I've played solid-silver Yanagisawas (not the Selmers) and wonder why anyone would go the extra expense when in MY opinion, the much more simple Yanagisawa S901 (fixed straight neck in lacquered brass) may be the best soprano among new sopranos.

Specifically, I hear no difference when I play silver-plate, solid silver, lacquered brass, and bronze. And from the audience's perspective, I don't think even the experienced among us can tell the difference among straight sopranos, curved sopranos, and tipped-bell models. DAVE
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks for the valuable input everyone. I'm still wondering if anyone thinks, as a general guideline, the tone balance in a straight soprano is any better than a curvie.

I did find the curvie a bit more comfortable to hold. I agree with Dave that it is very hard, if not impossible, to tell the difference in sound among the different metals, although to my unconditioned ear the silver did sound a little darker.
As for the solid silver, I just love the beauty of it - good example of a fool and his money I suppose, but life is short (or some such irrational argument) and I have no other vices. . . . er, except motorcycles, photography, archery and rowing. Damn!! no wonder I can't retire.

Grego
 

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Grego: The only way to decide that (tone balance) is to record yourself then listen to the horns as an audience does - from in front. The feedback received by the player is totally skewed because of the bell coming back at the player with the curved sops. I've recorded with both designs and believe me, if I didn't recall what I'd used, I wouldn't have the foggiest idea about the horn's shape. They sound the same to me from out front. And that goes for others playing both designs. I hear no difference. DAVE
 

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I once met Bob Wilbur and asked if the great, rich sound coming out of his soprano was because it was a curved, rather than straight, model. He pointed at his lip and said "kid, it's all right here".
 

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There is a measurable acoustical difference in the sound of a curved saxophone compared to a straight saxophone of similar manufacture and bore design. The extra curvature, from both the neck and to a lesser extent in the curvature of the bow, creates more resistance which acts as a modest harmonic filter, changing the sound. In an experiment I did some years ago on two Buescher sopranos made in the same year, one straight, one curved, the difference was literally measurable. As I have recorded on both straight and curved horns, I very much hear the difference.

As it turns out, the material of which the saxophone is made has either none, negligable or unmeasurable effect on the tone quality. From an purely instrumental point of view, it is all in the bore and the mouthpiece. From an aesthetic point of view, it really does start with the player's tonal concept and their tone production skill to effect that tone through the saxophone. It is here that the aural effect to the listner of the proximity of the tone coming out of the upturned bell can have an additional influence.

Paul Cohen
 

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The last thing I want to do is get into a p-match with Dr. Cohen. I've read his numerous articles in Sax Journal, I have read previous SOTW entries about scientific research on the tonal qualities of straight vs. curved saxophones, and I accept what he posts about that.

But from MY perspective, I don't hear it - and I never have heard it. Before anyone criticizes my ability to hear things (as has been done before), let me say that I hear okay. Oh, years of gun-shooting may have taken its toll on my high-end hearing ability but I am not deaf. I know what a well-played soprano sounds like, even if it ISN'T me playing it.

I am NOT trying to put myself at the same skill level or playing level as Dr. Cohen, either. I admire the man and have great respect for him.

I've heard good players on both designs. I've recorded on both designs - have owned and played a straight alto alongside my regular altos, too. Except for the lower bell on a straight alto, the thing sounds like an alto from out front.

While scientific tests may show a difference, I seriously doubt that 99% of us could identify a curved saxophone from a straight one from behind a curtain. Could Dr. Cohen do so? Probably, but few others could, making the desire to buy a curved sop over a straight one because scientific tests show a difference is silly, in my view.

Buy a curvy because you like the individual horn, or need a compact travel companion, or you need the volume heard by the player in loud environments - not because a scientic study shows a difference. No hard feelings to Dr. Cohen, either - I thought I should clarify my position. DAVE
 

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Grego said:
I did find the curvie a bit more comfortable to hold. I agree with Dave that it is very hard, if not impossible, to tell the difference in sound among the different metals, although to my unconditioned ear the silver did sound a little darker.
Heh. "a little darker"? Silver is supposed to make horns brighter! At least that's what people believe.

If you see the silver horns as works of art, then that is a valid reason to buy them. But please, know that sound is not a valid reason to buy solid silver. While looks are up to the horn, sound is up to the player.
 

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SaxyAcoustician said:
...... is not a valid reason to buy solid silver.........
Wish silver saxes were solid silver, SaxyAcoustician, I'd melt all my old siver 'fixers' down and get rich ! Never found any here that didn't have brass under the plate. Well, just to prove there's always the exception, maybe except a King with it's solid silver neck and bell ? I should be so lucky to own one of those !

To quote Dr Cohen, it's possible that "the aural effect to the listner of the proximity of the tone coming out of the upturned bell" can also have a very marked effect on the player as well. I've always found that the average listener (an a lot of players, too) can't even tell when I go from an edgy metal mouthpiece to a dark ebonite one.

In fact a favourite party trick at home is to ask friends to tell me what they think of an expensive vintage wooden clarinet I've just bought, which I play in another room, but then I come back in with the tatty metal marching clarinet that I've been playing.... Even with musicians amongst them, very few can tell the difference. Over 95% of the time, the only real difference is in the players ear, measurable or not, and the fact that a (perceived) different sound or feel can often lead to a different style of playing. A variation on the 'placebo' effect, maybe ?
 

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It should be noted that "party tricks" of using curtains or different rooms for tests fundamentally changes the acoustics of the experience for the listener. It is as if a graphic equalizer is grafted on to the listening experience, and is completely different from the intended direct listening environment of either live or recorded performance.

And it is no doubt true that a percentage of listeners may not be able to hear subtle timbre differences between instruments. But that is not a reason to denigrate the experience and opportunity for those who can hear the difference and for whom that difference is important. That these changes exist, both psycho-acoustically (upturned bell) and with acoustic certainty is reason enough to encourage such tonal pursuits, and not dismiss them.

A crude analogy exists for me in painting. I love paintings, but my perception of subtle color variation is not that strong. Painter friends of mine become very excited - animated - over the most minute change of color shading in their work, a change that I either can not see or barely perceive. They say it fundamentally changes the entire painting and adds a dimension otherwise lost. Because I don't see it, should I suggest that the changes don't exist, then recommend that the painters remove 20 color shades from their pallette? Even though I don't see it, part of the enhanced depth of their expression may still trickle through to me, without my being consciously aware.

Back to the saxophone. In my own soprano experience, the difference in sound came first, then 10 yrs later came the science. Tone is an integral part of my musical world, and much time is still spent in its cultivation and refinement. As I introduce these concepts to colleagues and students in a meaningful environment, (no "party tricks") most can hear a difference. Whether they choose to play a curved soprano or not is a different story.

Paul Cohen
 

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I was play testing my curved True Tone soprano along with a straight model. The curved just seemed so much more alive and vibrant... until I played the straight model facing into a wall. Then they both sounded the same. When comparing, make sure you test the straight ones in this manner.
 

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Mr Cohen - I was in no way denigrating "the experience and opportunity for those who can hear the difference and for whom that difference is important" - neither was I "dismissing them"...

I was merely expressing a somewhat light-hearted personal opinion based on nearly half a century of searching for the perfect (for me) playing experience, as I am also one of "those who can hear the difference and for whom that difference is important" - perhaps I should have known better than to comment, with all that life experience under my belt ;)
 

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This has turned out to be an interesting thread, eh wot?

I forgot to include in my last post (about scientific testing vs. what I hear), that I own two Buescher TT straight sopranos in silver-plate - and both were made in the same year (about 5000 numbers apart - 1928 if we can trust the various serial number lists). They both play well and sound good.

To MY ear, there is a distinct difference between those two similar sopranos, but again, I'm sure the audience 1) couldn't tell the difference and 2) the audience doesn't care. True, they have different pads/resos (the "better" one having Selmer-like plastic resos and the "lesser" one having snap-ins), but honestly, who knows WHAT makes one different from the other?

I cite this situation because of Dr. Cohen's comment about playing a curved and straight soprano from the same year and manufacturer. My two straight sopranos from 1928/Buescher have differences; I am not yet convinced that any back-to-back comparison of similar saxophones is a valid example of how one's shape makes a difference. ANY two saxophones will differ.

I'm guessing that to authenticate the claim that curved saxophones are tonally different than straight saxophones, one would have to test hundreds of samples, It might make for an interesting doctoral thesis. Has this been done?

I've also owned two curved Yanagisawa sopranos at one time (SC901 and SC902). At the same time, I also had (have) a straight Yanagisawa S992. All three were different (subtly) but like I said before, as the player of the two curvies, I don't offer myself as an objective tester.

I strongly believe the audience wouldn't know the differences. And who can say why these three saxophones had different sounds? The SC902 was used on a recent recording session - it is the one that merely sounded like me when I listened to the recordings. Not curved, not straight, just me.

My last recordings were done on my '28 TT - I swear they sounded the same as the earlier session with the SC902. This is another example in contrast to Dr. Cohen's discussion about shape making a difference.

I agree with Grumps - that when I play against a hard surface with a straight sop, I hear things in the sound that are missing when I play out to an audience (or even by myself in an open room). I suspect those tonal issues will dissipate over distance and when the sound reaches the listener, those sound-issues will have disappeared. With my curved sop, I hear the same tonal issues as I heard with the straight sop against a wall, because the curved sop's sound comes right back into my face.

I agree with the post about Bob Wilber. I truly admire this guy as a player - his style is what appeals to me. I know he's played straight and curved sops and while I've listened to his recordings many times, I can't tell what he used on them. I suspect he used a vintage straight sop on the SOPRANO SUMMIT sessions (because that's what is pictured on the album covers - but hardly proof). I have a video of his BECHET LEGACY group and he used a vintage curved soprano. He sounded like Bob Wilber to me.

I am not denigrating others ability to hear what I don't hear. But I DO suspect that those who say they hear differences may be influenced more about what they see than what they hear.

Thanks to Dr. Cohen for joining us here. DAVE
 

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My two penneth. In the last six months I owned a solid silver Yana straight and a Selmer silver plated Series 3. They were both well set up. The Yana I took back after a trial.It just didn't feel resonant or project well. I didn't like the way I sounded on it. My V1 with the same set up was far superior in every way except ergonomically. The SP Series 3 was much more to my taste than the Yana and with the curved neck was very comfortable although very heavy on the right hand. I thought the response was much better with the straight neck though not as comfortable to play. Again I much preferred my V1 except for the ergos. Why are modern Selmers so heavy?
I now have a King saxello as well as my V1 and it is a great horn .
If I was buying a new horn new I'd try a plain brass Yana straight or curved although most new saxes don't appeal to me at all. They feel like they were designed by computers. I'd like a Buescher TT ideally curved which tonally I think blows all the new stuff away.
 

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I am amazed at the insistence of "I am sure", "I believe", "I suspect", as a rationale for dismissing other people's experiences. Believe what you want, but do not try to make them the experiences, past or future, of others. My experiences with what audiences hear, and how it matters, as well as what my colleagues experience and how it impacts how they perform with me are my experiences, and establishes a validity that eventually raises the music-making level in the music I play and record.

I was waiting for the acoustical measurements to be challenged. Every experiment can come under a higher degree of scrutiny, especially if one wants to disagree, challenge or disregard the results. In other posts I went into more detail, but this experiment was also done on a pair of Conn sopranos and Evette Schaeffer sopranos, and even a Buescher straight and curved alto! (Pads and setup were original except for ripped pad replacement.) The results were similar with a certain range of higher frequencies greatly reduced. Also, measuring other Buescher straight sopranos gives a similar frequency read-out (not identical) but with a strong presence of the frequency that is reduced with the curved soprano. Is this rigorous scientific experimentation? Hardly, but the measured consistency combined with years of empirical experience certainly reinforce each other, so that neither one can be ignored, or dismissed.

I have recorded several works with soprano saxophone over the years on four different sopranos; silver plate curved neck Yamaha YS62, MK VI (early) and two different Buescher curved sopranos. In my lectures and presentations on saxophone literature, these are often played along with much other music by different players. Students and colleagues almost always can tell when I am playing (for better or worse) because I sound like me. And many of them can reliably discern which recordings have the curved instrument. There have been a few times in my chamber music playing, especially with strings, where I had to have a straight soprano for rehearsal, followed by my concert curved soprano. Almost without exception have these very sensitive, professional artists commented to me about the enhanced blend, consistency and more viable tone in all registers the curved had over the straight. Their sense of how the tone could/should work was far more rarified and subtle than what I am used to for myself. For them it made the chamber experience more viable, more musical, more to their standards.
These are great lessons I have learned, and from beyond my own limited sphere of only what I hear.
It may very well be that these differences are small and make up a very small part of the music-making experience, but the whole of our artistic endeavors is based on the culmination and refinement of many such tiny refinements into a uniquely defined and moving experience. I am reminded again of my painter anecdote in a previous post in this thread.

As I continue to refine my tonal concept and become better at my internal tonal imagery, I can produce 99% of the sound I want on almost any instrument. But I prefer to use equipment - reeds, mouthpiece, instrument, - whose acoustical design is in accord with my own tonal interests. As has been experienced over and over with myself, students and colleagues, there is a real difference.

Paul Cohen
 
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