Jupiter Baritone SaxophoneWhether you are new to the baritone saxophone or just discovered its sound is your voice and want to play one we can all use a bit of advice when it comes time to pick our axe. The same advice given for choosing the smaller horns apply to the baritone with a few exceptions and baritone specific constraints. In the end choosing the right baritone for each player will be a matter of personal taste but with a bit of guidance you can be confident in the choice you are making.

What kind of music do you want to play?

The baritone is a versatile horn though not used in all genres it can be push to play in almost any musical setting. What makes this question important is that some genres of music make use of the Low-A note that nearly all modern baritones are built down to. This Low-A is the a C2 on the piano. This is a heavily used note in big band arrangements after the 1950’s. You will sometimes find the bari doubling for or adding warmth and buzz to bass trombone lines. Funk, pop, gospel, and just about everything other than classical music will call on the bari to play that Low-A.

Low-A vs Low-Bb debate

There have been many claims that adding a Low-A changed the baritone and that a true bari only goes down to Low-Bb. The baritone great Joe Temperley has on more than one occasion stated he felt the Low-Bb horns had a better sound. He wasn’t the only person to make such claims in the musical world. It’s the MBS blog opinion that the build quality and design of the horn that makes more a difference in tone than the presences of a low-A tone hole.  With that said, if you are used to doing overtone exercises on the smaller horns you will find that the overtones on the low-A horns feel very different. The overtones feel identical on Low-Bb baris as they do on all the other saxes. It shouldn’t be not a deal breaker. So enter your bari search with an open mind.

Vintage vs New

Vintage horns can be a great value for the player who wants a quality horn but does not want to buy a new horn, can’t afford it, or thinks the vintage horn has something modern ones don’t.  There are dozens of brands of horns from yesteryear and each has a fanatical following promising players that  their particular brand and models are the finest example of the baritone sax ever made. Some players will buy anything with a particular brand name on the bell. But even those sought after brands and models can have serious play-ability issues.

Vintage horns can have difficult ergonomics to get used to. things like spread finger touches, flat side keys, low or high palm keys, inline tone holes, and pinky tables that are far from the other touches can make for a difficult horn to play well. It’s been stated on more than one forum that the player has to ‘get used to the horn’. Getting used to poor ergonomics is not a wise choice if the player wants to remain injury free. Especially young players still developing their technique. Instead, playing and testing a vintage horn for comfort and fit to your individual anatomy is a much better.

Newer horns benefit from decades of refinement and a better understanding of ergonomics that wasn’t really considered before the late 50’s.  Most newer saxophones have ergonomics based loosely or specifically on Selmer, Yamaha, or Keilwerth keywork layout. These setups are similar and have proven the test of time. Nearly any person will find horns with these setups to have a more comfortable feel under the fingers and in some cases a more balanced feel on the strap or harness. Where some players complain is the tone and robustness of the construction. With some players claiming that modern horns have a tone that lacks soul or heart. Sterile or uniform is anther description used for some modern horns. This is rather subjective so take comments like those with a grain of salt.

East Asian, North American, or European?

In the last 20 years horns from China, Taiwan, and now Vietnam and India have entered the marketplace. At first these horns were suitable only for students and in some cases not even that. These horns were at the time poor copies of name brand horn. Many still are copies but the quality of these copies has improved.  This negative impression continues in the minds of many players, especially those who haven’t played a modern Taiwanese horn. Horns from Taiwan like P. Mauriat are quality instruments worthy of consideration. Many European makers are manufacturing their student line horns in Chinese factories. Conn-Selmer produces it’s Prelude line in Mainland China. As does Yamaha with the Advantage line. These are good quality horns that will serve their student players great and prepare them to move to a more feature rich model as their skills improve. I recommend not discounting the Asian import horns just because of their country of origin.

Buy online or in person

This is a hard topic for me as a full 90% of my baritone saxes and gear was purchased online and 100% of my clarinets. My flutes, piccolo and 2 of my saxes were purchased locally from local shops or other players. With that caveat out of the way i support both methods of purchase. The online marketplace opens the buyer to horns they couldn’t see any other way though you can never be sure of what you’ll receive or how it will play until you’ve committed to the purchase.

For example, I’ve played a Selmer Mk6 alto that as a real dog of a horn that was purchased online mostly due to the name and once sold was non-returnable. It was not the finest example of the Selmer brand due to some intonation issues that made playing it a chore. The owner of the horn lamented the purchase and said if he’d played it first he most likely wouldn’t have purchased it. The pressure from other players, the brand name and mystique all contributed to him making this purchase. He later put it back on ebay and made his money back. He ended up with a killer Super 20 from a local shop that he won’t part with short of death.

Buying from a local shop generally means you’ll pay more for the same horn. The shop keeper has overhead and the local market determines the prices. Where you pay more initially I believe the initial cost of ownership is lower as most shops offer a limited warranty even on used horns and many offer a limited service contract. My local sax shop offers a year warranty and very reasonable prices on cleaning and tuneups.  This peace of mind is not something you get from most online purchases. I recommend that players start locally or at least consult with a local trusted shop keeper for advice even on a online purchase. My tech has warned me away from bad online purchases that I thought were good deals but his trained eyes explained the real estimated repair costs.

Buying Basics:

  • Set a Budget before you begin looking.
  • Choose either Low-A or Low-Bb (hint: Low A will be more versatile in today’s musical landscape)
  • Choose Vintage (Pre 1970’s) or Modern (1970’s to Present)
  • Consider being brand agnostic to open your opportunities
  • Contact your local repair shop or independent retailer for their inventory
  • If buying locally play the horn for an hour or more. Let it warm  up and settle in your hands.
    • Bring your mouthpiece, reeds, and neck strap/harness with you when you play test.
  • If buying online, negotiate a return policy before completing the transaction
    • Request images of the package pre-shipping and take images of the box immediate on arrival. Documenting condition of the packaging is critical to damage claims and can give repair techs a clue to how a damaged horn was treated in the box
  • Once you buy the horn play it, play it, play it.

S80 C** rendering of 3D printed saxophone mouthpiece

Otto Link PAtent 1,803,268Whenever i hear a young musician asking for opinions on what their first mouthpiece upgrade should be when moving from a classical setup I find myself suggesting a proper rollover baffled mouthpiece. While it won’t have the pizazz of a high cliff baffled like a Guardala or the novelty like a Strathon Adjustone, what it will have is the flexibility to allow a young player to find their personal tone.

What is the baffle of a mouthpiece and why does it matter? The baffle is the part of the mouthpiece between the tip and the throat or chamber of the mouthpiece. This area has the most effect on the fundamental tone the player gets. More than the material, finish, or brand of the horn. While the tone concept starts in the mind and ears of the player the first physical manifestation of the tone starts just after the tip of the mouthpiece.

The baffle, in general, comes in 4 basic designs with all others being derivatives of these four.

Theo Wanne baffle Chart

Image: from theowanne.com

Flat

The first is the flat baffle. This is usually found in classical pieces like Selmer S-80, S-90, Soloist, Vandoren Optimum, and many other classically oriented mouthpieces as well as a few Jazz pieces like the Theo Wanne Ambika. These generally have a focused and even tone. The mouthpiece doesn’t seem to color the tone as much. Kenny Garrett is a great example of how intense and jazz a flat baffle can sound.

Example

Step

Image: http://doctorsax.biz/JumboJavaT95new.htm

Second is the Step baffle (shelf baffle, table baffle, cliff baffle, etc.) which is characterized by the baffle rising quickly to be closer to the reed that a straight baffle. It focuses restricts the air-stream blowing through it and, by the laws of fluid dynamics, increases it speed through the restriction. Step baffles tend to be great with altissimo as the design seems to emphasize the higher partials in the tone. This leads to a brighter tone with more projection. There is an endless stream of high step baffle players, myself included,  as it’s probably the most popular at the moment but Michael Brecker, Mike Phillips, David Sanborn, Nick Brignola, and many others give great examples of brighter high baffled sound.

Example

Scooped

The third is the scooped or what I call the inverted rollover baffle. For this piece the area behind the tip opening of scooped out. This leaves what I call a black hole for good tone. I’ve found these to be resistant and generally lacking the high partials that give the saxophone it’s characteristic tone. You’ll find these old timers on ebay as the super vintage pieces. The scoop baffle is usually paired with scooped side walls and a monstrous chamber. You will be mistaken in thinking that this design would make a good classical piece. They have nearly no projection, tend to play somewhat flatter, and for all the real state they need inside the body of the piece has to be very large compared to more modern pieces, post 1940. These pieces have their place but i can’t explain where that is in the modern musical landscape.  *edit* Rico Graftonite has a slight concave area behind the tip.

Example

Rollover

Drake Mouthpiece Son of SLant

Drake Son of Slant Mouthpiece

Lastly, is the roll-over baffle. It combines a raised area behind the tip and a long flat area just after that. It’s almost a combination of the cliff baffle and the straight baffle. This amalgam of the best features of both is why i think it should be recommended to students as their first upgrade as they enter the jazz world. The raised section behind the tip speeds up the air through the opening boosting some of the high partials while the long flat baffle behind it aids in creating a consistent tone across the registers.  This combo gives the player the ability to brighten or darken their tone at will without considerable effort. A mild change to close the oral cavity can give a brighter tone than the straight baffle or with a relaxed oral cavity you can darken the tone to a vintage sub-tone sound.  Chris Potter is a great example of a killer rollover mouthpiece tone, though his vintage Otto Link likely has a higher rollover than more modern links the effects are still obvious.

Example

While the oral cavity makes a difference for all mouthpieces the amount of the effect is dependent on the mouthpiece type. Trying to darken a small chamber step/cliff baffle piece just by opening out oral cavity is possible but will likely be tiring and the effect much less than with a different baffle shape. The effect can go the other way too, as trying to brighten scooped baffle piece is nearly if not completely impossible with the oral cavity.  So clearly it’s a case for the right tool for the job. I do believe that most aspiring musicians looking for their first upgrade will likely not need to sound like Sanborn or even Garrett. Instead, steering them towards a mouthpiece with immense flexibility and directing them to listen to the great rollover players before them can lead them to a lifelong love of the rollover and possibly the last mouthpiece their ever buy.

PS:

As this is a baritone site i have to discuss this from a bari point of view. I think baritone players have a lot of leeway when it comes to the upgrade path.  I think a Otto Link Tone Edge is a good first step towards to the more powerful rollovers as you can get from makers like: Theo Wanne Mouthpieces, RPC Mouthpieces, AM Mouthpieces, 10M Fan Mouthpieces, and many more.

Marching band: If a student is compelled to play bari sax on the marching field then 3 things should happen. First, the band director should be punished. The bari is a delicate horn despite its size and it’s voice will never carry as far as a higher pitched instrument. Secondly, you should correct any young bari player who think’s it makes you tough to march the baritone. That’s bullshit, it just risks injury as even the best harness can only do so much for a developing body. Lastly, the student should be steered to the lowest step baffle piece they can get. A Berg Larsen 1 or 2 baffle at a comfortably open tip opening. Pair this with a plastic coated reed and the player could possible coax the best sound and best volume available to the big horn.

Concert Band/Classical Performance: A Selmer S-80, S-90, Rousseau, Vandoren Optimum and many other straight baffled pieces are inexpensive and allow the player to assume the role as support to the low wind the bari is ususally written for.

Big Band: Here’s where things get wacky. A good rollover will help the student blend yet still offer the punch during a solo section.  Once the young player goes to college they may wish for a bit more power and upgrade to a cliff baffle but if they talk to one of the custom makers listed earlier they will likely find that the maker can make them a rollover that gets most of the power of a cliff/step baffle.  At the end of the day blending with the section trumps most other tone based concerns.

Learn more about mouthpiece baffles at Theo Wanne’s website

3D printed Baritone saxophone mouthpiece

Can a mouthpiece 3d printed on a home machine and created from a file found on the internet actually be playable? The short answer is a remarkable, maybe! As you might imagine there are quite a few caveats to print and play sax mouthpieces and I’ll touch on those shortly.

Background:

I’ve been heavily into 3d printing for a few years. From building my own machines to ready to print machines, I’ve been involved in the community. I toyed with the idea of 3D printing a sax mouthpiece but my design skill limitations made that an unlikely possibility unless someone else made the design. then a few years ago i learned of students at the TU Delft were using acoustic principles, 3D printing and professional saxophonists to test designs. I was enamored that this was being pursued in a serious and researched way. I suspect that it was some of these students that would go on to form the saxophone mouthpiece company SYOS.

After a few years I had forgotten about 3D printing a mouthpiece until Mark at 10MFan mouthpieces released his then new models Robusto and Merlot as 3D printed versions. They were made of a metal rich material and quite heavy. The were hand finished by Eric Falcon.  I purchased 1 of each the instant he said I could. They are smooth, heavy and play precisely like their machined from hard rubber cousins. This drove me back to the search for a 3D printable baritone mouthpiece and i finally found something that looked like it would work.

Mouthpiece:

S80 C** rendering of 3D printed saxophone mouthpieceFrom first glance this piece should be quite easy to recognize. If you have play classical music in school then this rendering should being back memories of the Creston Sonata. The designer based this design from the Selmer S-80 mouthpiece complete with square chamber.What stood out for me was the facing curve look deliberate and familiar. This means nothing until it’s printed but there are many other mouthpiece designs that have good intention but no knowledge behind them.

I printed the mouthpiece initially in gray PLA plastic which is generally considered safe for use in the mouth.  The printer I used is my genuine Prusa I3 Mk3. This printer is considered on of the best and most advanced printers. It is tuned and produces fantastic results on everything it is tasked with printing. I printed in a low 0.3mm layer height and 20% infill. If these terms don’t make sense i’ll sum them up as layer height refers to the thickness of each layer of plastic that is stacked to make the mouthpiece. The infill refers to how much empty space there is in the walls of the model. In this case a 20% infill mean a 80% hollow interior.

Test print #1:

3D printed Baritone Saxophone mouthpieceThis piece was coarse to the touch because I printed with a really low resolution. When the mouthpiece completed printing and was removed from the plate i remove any lingering plastic detritus that stuck around and then slapped a reed on it. I chose a #3 Rico V5. I found that strength can play on almost any mouthpiece. The designers attention to detail was perfect as the mouthpiece immediately played. The tone was a bit airy as the table to reed seal had many small leaks due to the coarse layer resolution. Despite this it played and responded mostly like the S-80 should. Bolstered by this discovery I set out to print a better version and improve playablilty. The next step will be higher resolution. With high resolution come longer print times.

 

 

Test print #2:

3D Printed Baritone saxophone mouthpiece The original print took about 6 hours to print. The predicted print time for this mouthpiece at the highest resolution the printer can make was around 14 hours. I didn’t want to wait so I choose yet another resolution a bit toward the higher resolution but not quite the finest. 8 hours later i was holding a higher res version of the same piece. This time mouthpiece sounded much better. The finer resolution meant the facing curve and table have much smaller layers visible. The meant that the airy sounds was drastically reduced. The mouthpiece was much closer to the performance of the stock hard rubber S-80. I had no issues with intonation with the piece and it was quite reed friendly. It had the warmth and slight reediness you can get from a slightly too soft reed on a S-80. Over all i was impressed and so was the sax section ahead of rehearsal that evening.

Test print #3:

(FAILED)

 

 

Playability:

Believe it or not these pieces play quite well and I think with a touch up on the facing will play every bit as good as the original. The model creator did a good job modeling this mouthpiece from scratch and with only a digital calipers and ruler from an original piece.

Results:

Could this piece be printed by a band director for his bari players and save a few bucks? Sure, but the band director would need to be able to face this piece or at a minimum clean up printing artifacts. The print does present some unusual challenges but experienced 3D printer users achieve a quality output from even the most modest of printer. I recommend printing this piece using a SLA printer for the highest quality with minimal layer lines.