What do you get when you combine ½ of a cows worth of leather, brass rivets, zippers and foam? A Gard Bags baritone saxophone gig bag of course.
Gard Low “A” American Model, Black
Gig bags are colloquially called “repair man’s best friends” but in careful hands and under ideal situations this type or protective case can be both protective and convenient for a musician who has to carry their horn long distances by hand. For example, it is not uncommon for me to have to park my car several blocks from a venue if playing downtown. As you might image I would never leave my horn unattended at a venue for load-in. After many a strained shoulder, pulling, carting and carrying my Yamaha bari’s coffin case I needed something more convenient.
Convenience was judged on a few criteria specific for my needs. The first is that it had to offer reasonable protection from minor transportation bumps. Secondly, it had to close securely and remain closed while be carried. Thirdly, it had to have lots provisions for easily carrying it when the horn is inside. Fourthly, the case and horn had to fit into my very small cars only available space, the front passenger seat.  Fifthly, the empty case had to fit into a storage crate in a small closet at my home.
Because my bari spends the majority of its life in either its stock Yamaha case or on its stand in my home I wanted a case that offered enough protection that the act of driving to the gig wouldn’t misalign keys or tweak long rods in any way. The case features padding between 2 and 3 inches thick in some areas and will compress enough to absorb some minor impacts. The foam is much more forgiving than the Styrofoam material in the original case.
If you’ve never felt the weight of an original Yamaha case, with its wood construction and aluminum trim, you would be surprised at how much it weighs without the horn inside. This is needed to provide adequate protection to the horn but the problem is that the latches and handles become failure points over time. On my case I’ve had many latch failures in the past 8 years. First the center latches have pulled their rivets out due to the center handle placing flexing stress on the long face of the case and the center latches are closest to the handles. The popped off one at a time then I re-riveted them with backer plates and still the latches would get loose and become unsafe in 1 year. The same with the end handle, over time the vinyl covered blued steel handle would break at the attachment screws after 5 years. I’m on my third handle now.
This bag has very heavy duty brass zippers which slide smoothly and remain closed when slid to the closed position even with the weight of the horn inside.  As a secondary safety feature the grab handles have a Velcro strap which can bind them together and prevent the horn from falling backwards out of the case unnoticed.
Carrying this case is as easy as grabbing the grab handles or using the included leather carrying strap. The grab handles are suitably thick and are comfortable in the hand. The included leather sling strap has brass hardware and there are leather tabs covering both sides of the brass clips. This detail means that the brass clips will never grab or mark your clothes. This is a welcome touch if you find yourself in a suit and tie to play a ska show. There are  sets of “D” rings on both sides of the case which allows for a 3 methods of attaching the straps, vertical on either side or crossing from opposite pairs of rings. Crossing opposite pairs makes carrying the case horizontally over a shoulder easier .
I often get ribbed for driving a small car and playing one of the largest instruments in the band, the upright bass player is the only person for whom I sympathize and who understands my plight. The Yamaha case is simply gigantic. It offers generous amounts of space for accessories with a large triangular cubby at the bell and a long multi-segment cubby running 4/5’s the length of the body tube. All of this real estate comes at a cost. To transport my horn I have to place it in the passenger side seat with its bow in the foot well then buckle it in. While this is safer than strapping it to a trunk rack it does mean I can’t bring my significant other to a gig unless we travel separately.  This case is shaped and fits the horn snuggly and only occupies on ¾ the space that the stock case does. This still means that I can’t take my mate with me but at least I can see out of the passenger side window easier and more safely.
Lastly, I live in a small Townhome and space is at a premium. The need for everything to have a place and simultaneously be in its place is great. This case has been folded and unfolded a number of times will no ill effects to the leather or foam though in all honesty I’ve begun to hang the case on a cheap hanger in the spare closet. The case is so light that it will not break a cheap department store hanger. This leaves the case accessible for whenever it’s needed.
Another feature to note is the rain cover which is included. The little poncho fits perfectly in the small pocket they’ve sewn into the main pocket. This allows the protective cover to be accessible at any time regardless of the nature of the flying liquid. The rain cover is made from nylon and should be washable in the event a rogue beer should be spilled upon it.
TAKE AWAY: This case is a good value and will provide many years of use. It will not protect like a proper hard sided case but with great care you can utilize this case and keep your big baby safe.

 

Love your repair guy/gal?

There is a relationship that people outside of the musical arts may have have a difficult time understanding. It is the love-hate relationship between the musician and the tech who keeps their instrument in playable condition. The musician must leave their beloved and personally valuable tool of expression in the hands of a trusted technician to restore form, function, and capability. This can take hours to weeks depending on the techs workload and severity of the repair needed.

In many ways musical instrument repair is like medicine. You bring the tech your sick and ailing instrument and they take it to their work bench and perform miracles. In the privacy of their work space they huddle over their brassy patient trying to determine if your description of the symptoms represents the problem as a whole or are part of a much bigger issue. Then after much careful work they pronounce the operation a success and call you to pickup your loved one and pay the price.

As baritone and bass saxophone players we have issues specific to playing the large horns. Issues like lower stack alignment because of the long rods and leverage points well away from keys they activate. Dents seem to appear like magic on the bow of the baritone saxophone. These are just a few of the “little” issues that seem to plague us big horn guys and gals. So what this really means is that your relationship with your repair person is even more important than what a small horn player may have.

In my experience I have found that baritone saxophone players are the most tolerant of issues with their instruments than any others in the saxophone family. Why are we more willing to deal with a stuffy note here or a warble there? Have a zip-tie holding on a clothes guard or key brace? Perhaps a piece of expertly placed duct-tape securing some important piece of the instrument? I don’t know too many gigging tenor or alto players who would tolerate make shift repairs for as long as bari players tend to. I am guilty of it as well, I have the dreaded Yamaha YBS-61 stuffy “G” issue which requires moving the octave pip. It’s not likely it’s going to get repaired soon due to my repair persons busy schedule and my need to play it.

Let us not forget that all repair techs are not created equally. First and foremost these people are business people and for the independent repair person this is their livelihood. Because there is always a shortage of top quality repair techs, repair prices can be all over the map depending on where you take your horn. Supply and demand is not the only factor in pricing or speed of repair. It can boil down to who you are. School band repairs make up the majority of my techs bread and butter repairs. Heaven forbid you drop a horn off on a day when they just received a load of bent keyed saxes , cracked clarinets, or sticky keyed flutes. Be prepared to park your baby in the repair black-hole for a couple weeks.,

So what do you do? If you are like me, you learn to make the repairs you can and leave the advanced stuff to the qualified tech. For example:  neck cork replacement should never be paid for when any sax player with a bit of glue, piece of cork, a strip of sand paper, and a razor can complete this job in less than 20 minutes. Gluing a key pearl back on a key is another easy fix which shouldn’t be paid for. By doing so we can avoid a backlog at the techs shop for simple repairs.

TAKE AWAY: If your tech is like mine then bring them a 4 pack of Guiness Draught and hope they can complete your repair in less than 2 months otherwise live with clicky keywork for a few more months. After all, who doesn’t like an improvised solo with self accompanied percussive effects.

Could your dream Baritone be made?

 I’ve asked this question on various saxophone forums but for the life of me I can’t what I did with the archived answers. So I’ll ask the question again, here and on twitter. What features would you want on a new baritone, or any saxophone for that matter, if you had access to a factory and the skilled workers to craft your dream horn? To be clear you can not go back in time and craft a Mark VI or any other vintage horn.

For me it would have to be a Low-Bb/A bari with:

    Selmer baritone saxophone image by Sylenius

  • Optional low-A Extension
  • Solid Silver Neck (optional but pretty)
  • Adjustable palm key risers (ala Keilwerth)
  • Adjustable Side key heights
  • Upper stack key guards (ala Conn 12m)
  • Fully Ribbed Construction
  • Full floral or Art Deco engraving
  • Multiple position Strap Hook
  • Case with wheel which tuck into the case when not needed
  • Case with 4 wheels that can be rolled standing up (ala roller luggage)
  • Case with a drop down foam panel to hold folding stand, music, and random bari stuff.
  • Optional slide/lock to fix the G# open during storage
  • User replaceable key pearls.
  • O-Ring instead of cork, neck cork. (ala Warburton necks)
  • Extra heavy bracing on Bow
  • Yamaha styled keywork
  • 5-10% thicker material (ala Martin’s or so I’m told.)  Some of the heaviest horns I’ve ever played were Martins.

What would you like to see on your newly built dream horn?

If you are like me and you find that nearly all gigs feature the not so optional 1/4 mile walk from parking to stage then you know how the weight of a baritone can make one arm longer than the other. I like how my Yamaha YBS-61 case protects it but it doesn’t feature wheels and is not strong enough to support the addition of casters. Trust me I’ve tried it.

My recommendation: Get a folding hand truck from the Home Depot.

This thing folds small to fit in the trunk of my tiny car and it can handle the weight of my baritone, stand, and whatever else I can attach that is less than 150lbs. The best part is that it cost under $30.

Storing mouthpieces and keeping them safe has been a bit of a trial for me. I like to keep favorite mouthpieces handy for different playing situations. I tried using a “spare” Crown Royal bag, spare socks, and a variety of original  mouthpiece boxes. These just haven’t been enough to keep them safe on the road. So in a moment of inspiration I came up with using the plastic tube and lid from an instant tea powder container and loading it with foam.

I always placed a clip off reed on mouthpiece to keep the ligature in the proper shape.

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If you look clearly you can see it fits neatly in the case and is as safe as possible.

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