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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
If your sax is giving you thumb pain problems, it could be hand positioning, but it could also be the saxophone's fault.

After years away from playing, I'm recently starting practicing 2-3 hours a day for the past three months. Strangely, I've been having a lot of thumb pain in both my right and left thumbs, especially with one of my horns. That is, my 1950s Martin tenor has been giving me a lot of right and left thumb pain, but my 1970s Mark VI tenor doesn't.

It seems that one cause of the pain may have had to do with the different locations of their neck strap rings. One post on this website mentioned that some vintage horn strap rings might be placed a bit high because the manufacturers were presuming the horns would be played seated (like in Big Band) more than being played when standing. That also would explain why the 25-year older Martin hung at a teeth-chipping 15 degree angle when it hung from my neck, but the Mark VI hung at a more reasonable 30 degree angle.

One quick fix for this (and to test whether neck strap positioning was the problem) was to use a heavy-duty zip tie to attach a ring screw to the horn about 28mm lower and 4mm to the right of the original (see photos of my I-almost-flunked-metal-shop craftsmanship below). After a couple weeks of testing this out, this 30 cent fix seemed to take care of much of my thumb pain.

For a second, more permanent solution, I was going to have my technician move the strap ring on my horn. Then I found a really cool three-ring neck strap holder from Steve Goodson's Nation of Music that I asked my repair technician to solder to the horn without removing the original one. It's $30, but it is really sharp and will give me a lot of flexibility. The top ring will be at the 18mm mark, the second ring at the 28mm mark, and so on. I also kept the original neck strap ring on it.

Should anyone else be looking for a thumb pain solution to playing a vintage horn, this might be one to consider. Let me know if you need an extra zip tie or ring screw. I still have 9 of each left over.
Sax Ring emergency  thumb strap IMG_5380.jpg
Sax Ring IMG_5381.jpg
 

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Hook the strap under a bit looser snap tie and save yourself 20-25 cents.

But if you insist on the ring, spring another nickel for a brass one as a guard against electrolysis.
 

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The big thumb pain reliever for me was switching away from a stretchy neckstrap. Once I didn't have to lift and stabilize the horn so much, my thumbs were barely doing any of the work and my hands could focus on operating the keys, which is pretty low strain.

I can definitely see how getting the horn to hang in a more natural position would help as well.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
The big thumb pain reliever for me was switching away from a stretchy neckstrap. Once I didn't have to lift and stabilize the horn so much, my thumbs were barely doing any of the work and my hands could focus on operating the keys, which is pretty low strain.

I can definitely see how getting the horn to hang in a more natural position would help as well.
That's a super great suggestion. I've been using stretchy Neotech neck strap because I thought it be better on my neck, but I never imagined it might be also be contributing to thumb pain. Do you use a harness, or is there a brand of neck strap that you've found that you'd recommend? Thank you very much.
9961
 

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That's a super great suggestion. I've been using stretchy Neotech neck strap because I thought it be better on my neck, but I never imagined it might be also be contributing to thumb pain. Do you use a harness, or is there a brand of neck strap that you've found that you'd recommend? Thank you very much. View attachment 9961
That's exactly the one I moved away from. I've used a few non-stretchy straps and my favorite one I've used long-term is the Just Joe's gel strap, though I have had good first impressions of the Boston Sax Shop Newbury Deluxe, which I wrote a novel on in another thread here, so I'll spare everyone the details this time.

I used to use a more affordable Pro-tec but I can't remember the model name. It had no stretch and was quite comfortable. I also see they make a Leather "Less stress" strap with and without the "comfort bar", which look quite a bit like the Just Joe's and BSS straps, respectively, for a bit less money. I haven't used them, though.

I think Neotech also makes non-stretchy versions of their neoprene padded straps, if I recall correctly. The material sewn to the back is non-stretchy. I think I had one of those for a while. That neoprene material is comfortable against the skin, for me, at least.

For me, a non-stretchy strap lets me hang the horn where I want it and then my hands don't have to bear that weight. But some people like the stretchy straps, so it's clearly a different strokes for different folks situation.
 

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Raise the horn on the strap so the mouthpiece enters your mouth without having to duck your head or lift the horn with your hands; then swivel the neck in the horn and the mouthpiece on the neck so you don't have to do anything with yoru two thumbs other than gently steering the mouthpiece to you.

Cost $0.00
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
the thumb should never hold the saxophone, only ever direct it away from the body, It is only a fulcrum, the lever is the strap
That’s an important point that I wish I had known a few months ago. It wasn’t a problem when I was was playing sporadically, but it’s now shown up big time with my Martin. The way I was holding it might have been further compounded by it’s about angle. Thanks.
 

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cheers, maybe also important to discover what happens when you don’t use the neck but the shoulders to support the weight , to that purpose I’d recommend the saxholder, it has changed my life, if you otherwise like the straps more, than I’d go for a Just Joe. I own both.
 
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Unless you're playing a straight soprano, your thumbs should bear exactly NONE of the weight of the horn. Period.

Your right thumb gently pushes a bit on the hook to raise the horn to near vertical, and it works with your left thumb to steer the horn to your mouth. That's it. The strap does the rest.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Unless you're playing a straight soprano, your thumbs should bear exactly NONE of the weight of the horn. Period.

Your right thumb gently pushes a bit on the hook to raise the horn to near vertical, and it works with your left thumb to steer the horn to your mouth. That's it. The strap does the rest.
Thanks for this great advice. I leaned to play on my own as a 30-year old adult, and I can see now that I picked up some bad habits. I'll focus more on (not) using the thumbs as you mentioned. You gave a great description how to make this work.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
cheers, maybe also important to discover what happens when you don’t use the neck but the shoulders to support the weight , to that purpose I’d recommend the saxholder, it has changed my life, if you otherwise like the straps more, than I’d go for a Just Joe. I own both.
Thanks so much for the ringing endorsements. After reading your post, I too bought both. I plan on using Saxholder for practicing at home, and JustJoes for playing out. Two thumbs up!
 

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What turf3 and Milandro described regarding holding the sax is spot on; the thumbs should be doing nothing more than keeping the instrument in the right position while your strap/ harness does the heavy lifting. I’ll add that the better your posture is, the better chance you’ll be successful in achieving this. Use a mirror or video yourself playing to visually observe your torso, neck, and head position and make corrections...you’d be amazed how big an instant difference straightening up, opening your chest, and picking up your head can make for your sound and decreasing fatigue.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
It might be worth trying the Jazzlab saxholder. For me, it feels like the sax is weightless and floating, freeing up tension in my hands and wrists, and making fingering faster.
That's a great suggestion. I just ordered one 3 minutes ago, and it should arrive in a week. That will be great if it miraculously makes my fingers faster, but I'm happy to settle for less thumb pain in the meantime. The fast fingers might take practice. Thanks so much.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
That's exactly the one I moved away from. I've used a few non-stretchy straps and my favorite one I've used long-term is the Just Joe's gel strap, though I have had good first impressions of the Boston Sax Shop Newbury Deluxe, which I wrote a novel on in another thread here, so I'll spare everyone the details this time.

I used to use a more affordable Pro-tec but I can't remember the model name. It had no stretch and was quite comfortable. I also see they make a Leather "Less stress" strap with and without the "comfort bar", which look quite a bit like the Just Joe's and BSS straps, respectively, for a bit less money. I haven't used them, though.

I think Neotech also makes non-stretchy versions of their neoprene padded straps, if I recall correctly. The material sewn to the back is non-stretchy. I think I had one of those for a while. That neoprene material is comfortable against the skin, for me, at least.

For me, a non-stretchy strap lets me hang the horn where I want it and then my hands don't have to bear that weight. But some people like the stretchy straps, so it's clearly a different strokes for different folks situation.
You Rock! I just bought a JustJoe neckstrap, and I see that only 7 minutes later he sent a non-automated email thanking me and saying he'd get it out tomorrow -- great old school service. You've been very helpful.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
What turf3 and Milandro described regarding holding the sax is spot on; the thumbs should be doing nothing more than keeping the instrument in the right position while your strap/ harness does the heavy lifting. I’ll add that the better your posture is, the better chance you’ll be successful in achieving this. Use a mirror or video yourself playing to visually observe your torso, neck, and head position and make corrections...you’d be amazed how big an instant difference straightening up, opening your chest, and picking up your head can make for your sound and decreasing fatigue.
That's great advice about aiming at better posture to begin with. It's easy to slouch when you're focusing. I love your "whole package" approach. I'm implementing it today! Thanks again.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Raise the horn on the strap so the mouthpiece enters your mouth without having to duck your head or lift the horn with your hands; then swivel the neck in the horn and the mouthpiece on the neck so you don't have to do anything with yoru two thumbs other than gently steering the mouthpiece to you.

Cost $0.00
Great advice. I've been guilty of both, but mainly lifting the horn (partly because my newly-retired neck strap would gradually allow the horn to slip). Yours is an easy fix, and in combination with a new neck ring, a new strap, and better posture, I think this will nail it. Thanks very much.
 

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I started having a similar problem a year or two ago with increased practice time. In addition to the pain I developed a lump on my knuckle. X-ray said it is a fluid sac which I sort of new because early on, sometimes I would squeeze it real hard and feel it squish. It grew and after a while I couldn’t fit my thumb in the thumb hole of my bowling ball.
After looking at things I figured out I was lifting up with my thumb and that probably wasn’t good. To stop I used the extreme solution of removing the thumb hook completely.
After 2 months there is still a small lump but I can bowl normal again. I was getting decent at the 2 finger technique though.
 
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