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As for the actual topic, I don't know what people mean when they write "free blowing". I take it to mean that a sax takes lots of air, but that isn't really what I'm seeing above. I'm not sure I understand "dark" or "warm" either.
 

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Selmer Balanced Action Tenor Saxophone, Powell Flute
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Interesting topic. My list of what makes an instrument more or less resistant is as follows. I'm assuming that we are taking the mouthpiece and reeds out of the equation. As well as the fact that everything is seating and the horn is in perfect playing order.

1) ID at the cork end of the neck and the tenon end.
2) bore taper of the neck. I've talked with some guys about this at length that actually make musical instruments (BAC) and there are two different tapers that are common. Standard and French taper. Supposedly, the French is more resistant. I never dived into it to much after my time with them, but it was interesting.
3) Rolled or Straight tone holes - I play the same neck on both tubes everyday at the shop as we build horns (hundreds of times by this point) and the Rolled Tone Hole horns are always freer blowing. There is much less to push against. My theory is that the RTH act like mini bell flares.
4) Size of the Bell Flare.
5) Key Heights.
6) Mass of the instrument - ribs vs post etc. Probably the most controversial on my list, but post horns always seem to just have less to push on.




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For me "resistance" means something you have to "push against" in order to produce a certain level of volume or intensity. The less resistance, the less breath support (pressurized air) it takes to achieve the same level. Another way to say it is some instruments require less "energy" to play than others. I think it is easy to get hung up on semantics on a topic like this one. For example: Is free blowing the same as little or no resistance? I don't know.

My interest is primarily focused on what principles of acoustic design make one saxophone more "free blowing" than another played with the same set-up?
If we want to (try to) apply scientific method to discover what makes a "free blowing" instrument, we'd better have a very precise and objective definition of what "free blowing" is.
For some, it is a low counter-pressure, but I think it's wrong because some (bad quality) flutes are not always "free-blowing" and, conversely, some large chamber mouthpieces can both be free blowing and have some counter-pressure.
The power (energy per unit of time...) needed to get the instrument to speak may be a better definition. And this power is the product of the pressure by the air flux. Can we all agree on this definition?

Added later: it would be useful to distinguish the behaviour at pp and at ff. The definition I try to give above is clearly about the behaviour at pp. But for some people, a resistant instrument is one that fights back when they want to play very loud! There are links beween the two aspects but they are not to be confused. The behaviour at fff is even more mouthpiece-dependant.
 

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The most free blowing instrument I have ever played was the YAS-875EXII. This leads me to believe it's a combination of everything mentioned. Proper bore size, harmonics balanced evenly, and balance of construction.

Fwiw, free blowing to me is just least impedence to achieve tone and response. Resistance is an impedence to achieve tone/response, so yes, I find them correlating.
Be very careful with "impedance". A reed instrument operates at a peak of impedance. The higher (and narrower) the peak, the more free blowing the instrument will be!
Using "impedance" and "resistance" as synonymous in this context is a recipe for disaster if we want to have a scientific discussion.
 

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I don't think the saxophone world is ready for this discussion. First, terms need to be defined objectively. Then data needs to be not just gathered but published about the design of various saxophones and measurements taken using instrumentation of quantifiable effects. Then multiple players can test various instruments in a controlled setting and we'd start getting somewhere.

Right now there's so much mythology floating around it's hardly worth trying to think about these issues because half of what you're trying to integrate is widespread myth, for instance all the people who think they recognize a 'big bore' in a given saxophone's sound.
Completely agree. It will be difficult to have a discussion anchored in reality. For example, for those claiming that instrument X has a "large bore" and instrument Y has a "small bore", it would be nice to provide measurements. If it is just ear-say, free blowing instruments will certainly be called 'large bore" and more resistant instruments will certainly be called "small bore" and the whole discussion will be an exercice is self-reinforcing perception.
A thought provoking fact: M. Postma
(go to measurements>bore profiles) has measured the bore of about 70 saxophones. For the Buescher 400 tenor, he has found that the bore is really smaller than the average (and smaller than "french" tenors).
 

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Clarinets, once set up properly, can play easily from low e / eb to g4 way above the staff. The cylindrical shape of the
Clarinet makes this possible. I would think that the "plumbing" of a Sax would be a factor in whether or not it is
free blowing. The example of the Clarinet shows how much the bore, taper etc. can be an influence. I think very little has to do with the materials i.e. brass vs bronze vs silver. I do think the material does influence the sound, though.

The mouthpiece / reed has much to do with free blowing. Try a Conn Eagle mouthpiece.
They can be had in the Alto version for as little as $10.00 on Ebay. Lot's of resistance, however, played with a really soft reed gives you the 20's and before sound.
I'm not sure the ability to play way into the altissimo is necessarily a function of an especially free blowing instrument vs another.

But it is true That a true cylindrical clarinet design - say a '30s Buffet - will be a bit freer playing than a polycylindrical model like the R13 and its derivatives. Pretty sure that accounts for the differences, but the earlier Buffets also had thinner walls and that gave the sense of greater resonance, which I bet could be interpreted as being low/high resistance too.
 

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So does a free blowing sax require less breath support or does it require more? And ... does everyone mean thing same thing when referring to breath support? Or does the following apply to that too? I assume it does.

it would be useful to distinguish the behaviour at pp and at ff.
 

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So does a free blowing sax require less breath support or does it require more? And ... does everyone mean thing same thing when referring to breath support? Or does the following apply to that too? I assume it does.
I think a free blowing horn requires less breath support. BUT the player shouldn't become lazy and breath support is still very important.
For me, breath support is giving a constant supply of air, at exactly the right pressure for the dynamics and the register...
 

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Speaking Tenors, I've had VI's that were very resistant and then a 123k that was really free. Same experience with 10m's and S-20's. Most S-20's I've played were very free but I owned a mint 380k that was the most resistant blow I've ever played. Changed necks and It didn't matter, go figure.
 

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Tenor: Eastman 52nd St, Alto: P. Mauriat 67RDK, Soprano: Eastern Music Curvy
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Be very careful with "impedance". A reed instrument operates at a peak of impedance. The higher (and narrower) the peak, the more free blowing the instrument will be!
Using "impedance" and "resistance" as synonymous in this context is a recipe for disaster if we want to have a scientific discussion.
If you feel the need to nit pick sure, but how that's not how I meant it, and it's synonymous with hinderance, obstruction, hamper, handicap, interfere with, disrupt.... or just impede by definition:

"delay or prevent (someone or something) by obstructing them; hinder."

As in anything impeding on the ability to make sound...
 

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If you feel the need to nit pick sure, but how that's not how I meant it, and it's synonymous with hinderance, obstruction, hamper, handicap, interfere with, disrupt.... or just impede by definition:

"delay or prevent (someone or something) by obstructing them; hinder."

As in anything impeding on the ability to make sound...
I'm just stating that in acoustics, impedance has a very precise definition.
 

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If you feel the need to nit pick sure, but how that's not how I meant it, and it's synonymous with hinderance, obstruction, hamper, handicap, interfere with, disrupt.... or just impede by definition:

"delay or prevent (someone or something) by obstructing them; hinder."

As in anything impeding on the ability to make sound...
It's not a nit pick because the term is already in use in this field, so introducing a usage of the term with the broader meaning will create confusion.
 

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I'm just stating that in acoustics, impedance has a very precise definition.
It's not a nit pick because the term is already in use in this field, so introducing a usage of the term with the broader meaning will create confusion.
Makes sense, but I didn't think of this as an acoustics discussion, but I'll remember this definition now, thanks

Contextually though, one should still be able to tell my intention, vs that definition
 

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Discussion Starter #36
A few years ago when I worked in the repair shop of a music store, being the "saxophone guy" the store owner brought me 8 professional model alto saxophones to "audition" and report back to him my thoughts and preferences. I've related this story before, but a short summary is that the first few times going through the saxophones I was drawn to the ones that were the most responsive and easy to blow. As I played through the group again and again, I found myself preferring the sound of those that made me work harder with my breath support. In other words giving me something to "push against". They seemed to play with a "deeper/more resonant sound". They were all excellent saxophones, but I was surprised at how differently some of them played.

I appreciate Alain Gen joining the discussion and defining some terms and referencing M. Postma's work. To add to the discussion, I have attached a study by Dr. Gary Scavone from my collection of acoustic papers that contains some information that pertains to this topic. For those who are not familiar with Gary Scavone, this is a part of his biography from Wikipedia:

He studied classical saxophone at the Conservatoire National de Région de Bordeaux, France, with Jean-Marie Londeix in 1989, sponsored by a Fulbright scholarship. In the summers of 1987, 1988 and 1990 he played as a street musician in almost every major European capital together with Dan Gordon.
 

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If I look at the opening on the neck (the mouthpiece end) on my two saxes, a late 50's MK 6 and a mid 60's 10m, the neck on the Conn has a noticebly larger opening. Playing both saxes, the Conn definitely can get louder with the same setup, but the Selmer to me sounds more.....IDK.....refined, maybe? I know, a most unscientific assessment.......
 

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Not just bore size, but also bore taper. Fwiw, this is from the Kessler Music website:
Yamaha offers 2 models in the “Custom” line with the Custom EX and the Custom Z. A common question with customers is “what’s the difference?!”. There is a common misconception that the Z is a “jazz sax” and the EX is a “classical” sax. In reality, they are both equally equipped for all musical styles and genres. The difference in these 2 models is the bore taper.
  • Custom Z – This is a bore that expands at a quicker pace in the body tube. This produces a free-blow that offers a broader tone and quick response.
  • Custom EX – This bore has a less drastic expansion. This will allow for a little more tonal compression leading towards a bit higher resistance but a more complex, mellow tone.
The misconception comes from Yamaha, as they marketed the Z as their jazz model. As far as the Z being free blowing I would say no, it is not. I play tested two 82Z altos and found them both to be very resistant and actually quite stuffy. When I played the 62II it projected well and was very free blowing. So I bought the 62 instead.
 

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A gajillion years ago I made a field trip to Roberto’s in NYC to try to get a handle on why my 5-digit Mark VI alto wasn’t making it for me: it was a hard blow, resistant in a way that made the horn feel “dead.” They had a lot of VI altos on hand and I had the joint to myself (it was first thing on a Saturday morning), and I experimented with trying different VI necks on my axe.

The results were shocking to me: my resistant horn became a free-blowing joy to play with certain necks; as I recounted here in a previous SOTW discussion, “my take is very nearly that the neck just plain makes or breaks the horn. A nice, free-blowing later horn, and a resistant early one, almost entirely swapped personalities when the necks were swapped. I left there thinking that if you got a VI alto with a "good" neck, you'd love your horn and understand the VI mystique; and if you got a "bad" neck, you'd wonder why it just wouldn't sing for you.”
 

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This could get pretty cerebral pretty quick, there are so many puzzle pieces. I would think things like post on body key work versus ribbed construction or mini-ribs would make some difference. Annealing of the brass and thickness / qualities of the lacquer must affect it too? I would think neck design and bore dimensions / bore taper would be huge. Comparing one horn to another for “free-blowing” response seems like a fool’s errand because they would have to be regulated the exact same way to compare. When a horn is too resistant for me I usually just drop a half size down for reeds to get an easier response. Unless it’s a real lemon.
Just for the record, neither lacquer nor ribbed vs. non-ribbed makes any difference. The body of the sax is rigid enough in any case to resist any vibrations that would be large enough to make any acoustic difference. The only factors that matter are geometry and smoothness of the walls.

"Free-blowing" is not a very precise term, but has, I think, two main components, and that is a correct bore taper (or actually series of bore tapes) that align the impedances in a way that they are near in harmonic relation. I could get more detailed if anyone wishes, but basically the farther the bore is from the theoretical ideal conical shape, the more the impedances are misaligned, causing a loss of energy when a note is sounded. So for a given cone angle, alignment of the tube impedances will cause that bore to be more efficient and thus more responsive.

But cone angle also makes a difference. A narrower bore, as a rule, will have a brighter sound weaker in lower partials, with more control at the top. A wider bore will have a more "rounded" sound with easier response at the bottom. Any sax, no matter how poor the bore, is going to be more free blowing than an oboe, due to the much larger cone angle.

There is another important factor, and that has to do with sharp edges in the bore, which cause turbulence and limit maximum output. However this is generally not an issue with saxes, where tone holes are extruded rather than cut in the tube.
 
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