Yamaha Saxophone YBS-61end plug model stl

YBS_61 end plugI’ve discovered that in the 6 months since I began my adventure with my home 3D printer that I’ve become more intolerant on those minor annoyances that we just casually ignore in our daily lives. Now I have to print and  fix everything I can instead of buying replacement parts. It’s an exercise in modeling, spacial awareness, and engineering. In short it’s fun! Since the mother of invention is necessity I began to replace the missing end-plugs on my horns. This is modeled with Tinkercad and the STL file is linked below. You cna scale it to fit your horn or just edit the .stl file.

Print details:
Material used: 4 – 7m [depending on shell thickness]
Print time: 34 minutes [depending on your printer settings]
Infill: 25% or more
Layer height: >.2 [it’s an end-plug so high levels of detail aren’t needed.]

Yamaha YBS-61 end-plug | .STL file zipped for delivery

 

Theo Wanne Durga 8* small

Theo Wanne Durga 8* Baritone mouthpieceWhat would you expect from a mouthpiece costing as much as vintage horn? Does a high price equate to high value for the player? To answer these questions and more I took a Theo Wanne Durga mouthpiece for a spin and was surprised at how I felt afterwards.

Initial response: When I open the zippered pouch this piece comes with i was immediately surprised at how heavy the mouthpiece is. It is a monster or brass, gold, and steel. It easily out weighed every mouthpiece i had in my drawer even the stainless steel ones. This thing had heft and the gold plating appeared thick and luxurious. If feels well thought out and the attached ligature was intuitive and simple to use. For me the tip opening of 8* (.115″) blew just a bit too large and out of my comfort range. A 7* (.105″) might be a better fit for me. You can really put a lot of air through these mouthpieces.

Durga_reduced_9

Design: The design has some modern and some vintage aspects that are not like any modern piece I’ve played in the last few years. The baffle on this mouthpiece is very high and long. To this Theo added scooped inner side walls. This has the effect of adding volume to a space that is already being squeezed. Scooped side walls are a very vintage trait and not usually seen on modern mouthpieces. The baffle and long floor drops in what Theo calls his ‘True Large’ chamber. On nearly all mouthpieces the chamber is somewhat indistinguishable from the bore. On this piece there is what Theo calls his ‘Power Ring’ in the bore. This separates chamber from the bore and is a unique feature for certain. What effect this has I can only accept his explanation but it does seem at first glance to separate the chamber from the bore and focus the air pulses through the mouthpiece.

While i usually prefer pieces with a larger mouth feel this pieces slim profile is easy to adapt to. The bite plate is user replaceable. Yes, you can actually replace the bite plate. This little innovation should be celebrated and ultimately imitated as this will improve the long term enjoyment of the mouthpiece

Tone: Here’s where the surprises began to appear. I have seen Tim Price’s endorsement of this mouthpiece on YouTube and to be honest he can make anything sound good so I took that with a grain of salt. So I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I expected brightness beyond compare and what I was greeted with was indeed some brightness but balanced with a warmth and focus. i was so surprised i moved it from my Yamaha bari to my vintage Keilwerth bari. It sounded just as punchy and deep as before if not slightly more more. There was still edge and projection but there was a core that i hadn’t expected.

I suspect the careful engineering of those vintage styled scooped sidewalls are to blame. Brightness and projection are easy to do but to add some body to that same tone is difficult and I think Theo and team did that. That said I did two rehearsals, Big band and Rock/Ska and received approving looks but this piece didn’t blend as well in  the sax section at big band. I tried a few other reed combos but I need just a pinch more edge removed. Perhaps more traditional Vandoren reeds may have helped. For the rack/ska, this was deadon perfect.

Ligature: The ligature features an easy to operate thumbscrew and a H shaped pressure plate. It is attached to the body of the mouthpiece using a type of set screw. You can purchase additional pressure plates from Theo’s website. While play testing the ligature in different position I’ve found that the center position works best for me.

Value: This piece is priced near the very top range of the mouthpiece pricing. Priced at $850 from Theo’s site and about $100 less from Musicians Friends. That’s not to say that his prices represent the extremes. Ted Klum’s solid silver alto mouthpiece sits at $1,100. Yes, a grand for a new alto mouthpiece to which the materials are likely half the cost. But back to the Durga,  the used market is where this piece really climbs the value scale. If you can find a used one under $500 I’d recommend getting it. It might be the last piece you ever buy.

TAKE AWAY: I really enjoyed playing this mouthpiece. It was guts, loud and had great depth of tone for its design. I want more than anything to recommend this piece to everyone but I can’t. If you can afford this piece then buy it and I’m sure you’ll love it. If you can’t there are other great options at half this price.   I am hoping that Theo will eventually replicate this design in hard rubber at 50% of the price. I’d buy it at $350 – 500.
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PPT Power 8* Baritone Mouthpiece

pptEnvisioned by Pete Thomas, actualized by  Edward Pillinger, and refaced by Norbert Stachel; this PPT mouthpiece lives up to its ‘Power’ moniker. But is this particular piece I’m reviewing actually representative of the model as  conceived by Pete? I suspect that it’s not quite the same as factory spec.

DISCLAIMER/REMINDER: As a general rule, the sound you get from any mouthpiece is dependent on a number of factors. These include the players physiology, the horn, the reed chosen, the mouthpiece and most importantly the players sound concept. The sound concept is the internal tone each player hears in their head. If you prefer a darker tone then no matter what your body will find a way to darken the tone. Consider how Don Menza can sound like Webster, Coltrane, and Hawkins just by hearing the sound in his head. His well practiced body then makes changes to give him the desired tone.

DESIGN: This piece is made of a beautiful translucent resin created by Ed Pillinger called Onyxite. The eye catching material makes it stand out immediately. As soon as I had this piece on my horn the other sax players in the big band had questions. The barrel shape of the body is larger than your typical Berg Larsen but smaller than a vintage pickle barrel bari piece. As I had to default to a Rovner ligature though the Rico H provided by the mouthpieces owner worked fine the Rovner gave a bit more grab on the reed.

The modifications to this piece were done very well. Norbert Statchel clearly knows his way around refacer’s tools. The table was flat and the tip rail was even and smooth. The level of craftsmanship used in the modifications was quite high.

TONE: Having listened to Pete play his on YouTube I was geared up for a full bodied experience. I prepped myself to enjoy the warmth and presence of a Otto Link on steroids combined with big helping of Berg Larsen tone. What I actually got when I paired it with a few reeds choices was a bit more towards Dukoff Power chamber combined with Rico Metalite with a pinch of Runyon Bionix. In other words it was bright, loud and somewhat hard to control.

On close examination I believe what has happened is that in opening the tip of the mouthpiece the floor of the piece was brought closer to the reed and shrinking the area behind the tip rail. This area is of prime influence to the tone of a mouthpiece. So instead of adding a bit of rollover to the area behind the tip to warm the tone it looks to have been left the same as created. since the person I borrowed the piece from purchased it already modified it is not possible to know if the option of working the baffle was available and not selected or never considered.

PPTmodNorbert

Reed friendliness: I usually use Légère reeds or as of late Forestone reeds. This mouthpiece was a bit unruly with the Légère but worked well with the Forestone and Rico Jazz Select Unfiled. The larger tip opening required me to use a half step lower than my normal strength in order to get responsive articulation palm notes that were not out of tune.

VALUE: As this particular piece as modified does not work well for me I can say that original PPT  mouthpieces are an excellent value. Whether you buy them new or used they seem to be under represented in the marketplace. Also adding to their value is the fact that Pete Thomas donates all profit from direct sales from his site to charity. This act of giving increases the value of these piece tremendously. Pete’s Fundraising Information Page

TAKE AWAY: The original PPT as purchased at Pete’s page may be one of the top 10 value per dollar spent on bari mouthpieces. This modified piece however is an acquired taste. It’s loud to be certain and quite powerful but forget about playing this piece in a big band. This is a power player and can fend off electric instruments as well as any charging predators. (please don’t attempt to defend yourself from a charging predator with a saxophone).

 

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Drake Vintage Resin Contemporary Crossover II Mouthpiece
Drake VCCBII mouthpiece

I had been searching for this Drake mouthpiece for years in the tip opening that I prefer when one fateful day a Facebook post lead to a purchase and a fantastic revelation. Did I need an new mouthpiece? Of course not, I was quite happy with the Jody Jazz DV I’d been playing for the year prior. But when that piece came along I just new I had to jump on it. Yes, GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) still effects me, though I do still play the same Yamaha horn I have for over a decade now.

DISCLAIMER/REMINDER: As a general rule, the sound you get from any mouthpiece is dependent on a number of factors. These include the players physiology, the horn, the reed chosen, the mouthpiece and most importantly the players sound concept. The sound concept is the internal tone each player hears in their head. If you prefer a darker tone then no matter what your body will find a way to darken the tone. Consider how Don Menza can sound like Webster, Coltrane, and Hawkins just by hearing the sound in his head. His well practiced body then makes changes to give him the desired tone.

My first impression when it arrived was of how beautiful the baffle was finished. The transition from the tip rail through the baffle and into the chamber were smooth and even. The transition from the chamber into the back bore and shank was gently rounded and is a wonder to behold. The mouthpiece offers almost no resistance to airflow due to its smoothed and streamlined interior.  It is clear from even the most cursory examination of the mouthpiece internals that a craftsman has spent a lot of time on the piece.

From the exterior the piece has Drake’s signature and logo cast deeply into the mouthpiece barrel and a brass ring to decorate and strengthen the shank. The beak is a slim scoop-bill beak that I feel a doubler could jump into rather quickly. And especially quick if the doubler already plays a Drake piece. The beak has a tenor type mouth-feel which is very comfortable.

Tone: As for the design intentions of Mr. Drake I’ll  have to let him speak for himself. I use this piece in big band, jazz combo, and Ska band. This piece does all of these things well. Also, the design looks original and distinctly different from anything else. So many manufacturers are busy trying to replicate the sound or feeling of vintage pieces that unique and novel takes on sound are ignored or buried. The tone is a bit thinner and buzzier than I prefer with the synthetic reeds i usually prefer. The warmth returns in force when a quality cane reed is used. This is a slight negative as I prefer synthetics so I see a little more experimenting with synthetics in my future.

Drake Contemporary crossover II Baritone Mouthpiece

This is taken from his website:

Featuring an innovative chamber design, these mouthpieces will give the projection and “punch” that you are looking for.  The medium reverse taper / venturi chamber is ideal for massive projection, while still maintaining a depth and balance in the overtone series.  Each of the mouthpieces features the same chamber design with variation in the baffle angle and floor slope to meet the exact tonal preference of the player and the type of Bari they are using.

You will find that these designs are well suited for everything from the Big Band setting to Funk, R&B and Jazz

Value: This is where i am flummoxed. Such a fantastic hand finished mouthpiece is being sold at great prices and they are hardly mentioned at all. Plenty of pros play these pieces and occasionally they end up in the used marketplace but I feel they are under represented as a whole. This piece is not priced as affordable as a Morgan or RPC but also not as expensive as a Ted Klum, Jody Jazz or Theo Wanne. With that in mind as a mid priced  ($251 – $400) mouthpiece it is a great bargain in the mid 200’s used and less than $400 new.

Reed friendliness: This piece is somewhat unique in that the facing is quite friendly to reeds. From Legere to Rico Orange box cane reeds, nothing stands in it way. I’ve play #2 Marca’s and Rico’s on it all the way to Vandoren blue box #4 and it played well.  The sweet spot for me is in the 2.5 range but I think i will be moving a half up to reduce the higher partials in the sound.

TAKE AWAY: Would I buy this again? Absolutely, it’s a handcrafted piece with great depth of tone and flexibility. I recommend trying one if at all possible before buying your next bari piece.

VAndoren Universal Harness

If you play a lot of baritone you may eventually find yourself cursing the weight of the horn. Whether it is a low-Bb or low-A horn the weight is still something you are reminded of every time you hang the horn from your neck. For some the weight can cause stooping or improper posture of back aches. I’ve even heard it questioned as to whether kids in middle-school should be allowed to play the hefty beast for fear of affecting their rapidly growing bodies.  After playing nearly all of the commercially available harnesses I’ve finally spent the big bucks and decided to try a semi-rigid option.

First lets start with the materials. This harness is a combination or 4 different materials: plastic, leather(?), silicone, foam, and nylon. The rear support sliders are a strong and flxible plastic. At the base of the support the nylon webbing waist strap is attached.  The shoulder hooks, at the top of the back support sliders, are made of jointed plastic with firm foam to cushion the shoulders. From the hooks a nylon cord runs through a plastic “V” to the hook which attaches to the horn. A short elastic string is included that attaches the hook to waist belt to keep the hook from moving out of position when you unhook your horn.

The build quality of this strap is fantastic. It is the quality you may have come to expect from Vandoren products. The monochrome black finish is perfect for disappearing into clothing.The horn hook is the twisty wire type  and works well. The size I purchased has a waist band that is adjustable and should fit wastes down to child size and up to a 34″ but with the included extension you can fit up to a 38″ waist.  The harness comes in handy neoprene bag and should fit in the bell of most tenor and baritone saxophones. This piece of hardware is well thought out and the finish is excellent. There are no sharp edges, misaligned joints or loose hinges. For the expense you should expect nothing less and they delivered.

Sure, it is pretty to look at but how does it work in practice? This is not the type of strap you toss on in a hurry and get playing as quickly as possible. This harness requires several steps before you can hang the horn off your body. Unfolding and preparing the harness takes about a minute to  get ready. The steps I take are straight forward but take more time. steps for me are as follows:

  1. Remove the harness from bag
  2. Flip multi-segment shoulder hooks over from resting place on support bars
  3. Unclasp the waist belt
  4. Insure the limiting cords on the back supports are not caught in the any other parts
  5. Spread shoulder hooks open and drop over head
  6. Pull back support arms down to waist level and connect waist strap
  7. Attach elastic chord from waist strap to horn hook to keep hook in place as you attach the horn
  8. play horn

Once you are attached and playing you adjust with the large “V” shaped adjuster. The Adjuster is asymmetrical, theoretically to keep alignment when a player play the horn while seated. Because they styled the adjuster after themselves some people may not like it.

The Pros:

If it works for you then it’s a magical experience of near zero gravity baritone saxophone playing.

THE CONS:

This thing takes time to hook up. Prior to this i used Neotech harnesses and straps and they were 10 seconds on and 10 seconds off. Very simple even if not as robust as this bit sax kit as Neotech’s tend to stretch over time. Next issues is that it is sometimes hard to slide the “V” adjuster up and down the chords. The friction is good but sometimes it’s a bit too  much. The shoulder hooks present the next issue. The front portion of the shoulder hooks are a neoprene like material with canvas webbing but the back half is hinged plastic with a dense foam rubber pad.  Here the sides of the back half of the hook frequently dig into my shoulders. I have meaty shoulders so that might be part of the problem.

The waste band also has an issue. If you wear a belt then the positioning the lower strap below your belt at waist level is easy and it will stay in position fairly well. If you don’t wear a belt then you might find the lower strap climbs up waist thus limiting the benefits of the device. This especially bad while seated. I tried threading the waist band through my trouser belt loops but that became uncomfortable as the back supports wanted to pull the rear of my pants open giving me a “plumber’s crack” and as you might expect the trombone players didn’t appreciate the view.  Lastly, the expense of the thing is a con. I paid full retail at $150 for it and i I honestly think it’s more of a $80 premium piece.

 

TAKE AWAY: Sadly I just couldn’t get it adjusted to fit my unique 2 arms, 1 head, and 1 waist anatomy.  If possible go to a local shop and try it on before buying it.

For my birthday I decided to gift myself a couple lessons with a musician that I have admired and in many ways fashioned my own playing style after. He’s been in the jazz scene for decades and recorded with just about everyone of note for the past 40 years. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I emailed him and setup a lesson. It was very expensive compared to what pro lessons cost in my area. For example, I have 2 extremely famous national touring jazz saxophone artists in my home town that charge 1/2 of what this Pro charges. But I was happy to pay what it took to be able to learn from a music hero of mine. What I got for my time and money was a peek into the life of a really experienced jazz musician and the person behind the album covers.

 

We scheduled over an hour of playing time virtually. Like most people who give online lessons he uses Skype. I’ve never been all that happy with audio quality of Skype but I decided to hookup my MXL condenser microphone and Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface and dialed him up. I was quite internally excited to have one on one access with a musician for whom I owned nearly his entire solo discography. After introductions and some long anecdotes I played through a tune then he played a bit.

 

First thing that caught my attention was that his tone was huge! Even through Skype’s mediocre audio quality the sense of size and depth was clear in my studio headphones. I tried not to giggle when he took his turn on charts as I was so surprised that he sounded so large even when he wasn’t trying to blow the house down. The second thing was that his versions of standards had a few different chords than iREalB or the Realbook I used. This is a recurring theme as I’ve played with other professionals who complained that these sources either oversimplify traditional chord chords changes or just flat have them wrong.

 

Now a few days before the lesson began I emailed him my background, playing weak spots, some tunes I was working on, and what I wanted to get from the lesson. I admit the list was expansive but I was planning on buying multiple lessons if the first was a success. During the lesson we had lots of down time as he hunted down charts or pulled up an old recording. I could tell he was winging it.

 

In some ways I was hunting for the secrets of his style. Hoping that a few lessons would give me insight into his approach to playing. The technical how’s and why’s of his unique musical vision. What i got in addition to some brief playing moments were tales from the road, some details of his health.  If I didn’t communicate my needs in a way he understood then I may have been the  problem.

 

What I learned from him directly:

  • Memorize the melodies of the tunes, don’t be dependent on the Real Books
  • Embellish the melody
  • Don’t be afraid to arpeggiate the chords
  • Play with recordings of your favorite artists. Try to mimic them exactly.
  • I have a Mulligan type vibe when I play

What I learned from my experience:

  • I have a Mulligan type vibe when I play 🙂
  • I need spend more time with all of my chords especially dim and half-dim chords
  • I need to send him the charts ahead of time.
  • I need to be a bit more firm about keeping the lesson moving and the anecdotes more brief.
  • There is no secret sauce, no mojo just practice and time.

 

TAKE AWAY: Neither one of us was truly prepared for the experience. While I enjoyed the personal anecdotes and reminder of musical fundamentals I didn’t feel like I had accomplished all that we could have in the time I paid for.  What I experienced about personal tone will stick with me though.

In 1929 Adrian Rollini sat down to pen what could be considered the earliest treatise on the bass saxophone for the Melody Maker Magazine. It was authored only a year after Rollini made the trip across the pond to play with the Savoy Ballroom band as lead by Fred Elizalde. This would be a short run for Rollini as he left the band in 1928 and returned to the US. Throughout his career Rollini defined and refined the roll for the bass saxophone in the hot jazz band. Of course he wasn’t the only person playing the bass saxophone but he was widely known from his time with Bix Biederbeck.

In the articles linked below Rollini touches on the major parts of bass saxophone ownership and paying. In fact much of what he describes still holds true today nearly 86 years later.

 

Click Adrian’s image to download the complete Articles
Adrian Rollini with bass saxophone

His vibrato is decidedly not modern but his approach to baritone saxophone exemplifies the fresh and dynamic qualities which describe a modern bari sax player. In this series of videos Tim Sullivan, a great player himself, interviews the legendary Joe Temperley. In the process, Joe shares everything from his approach to vibrato and tone to his early life and experience on the road with Duke Ellington.

While I don’t care for Tim Sullivan’s interview style he did succeed in getting Joe to loosen up and encourage him to dive into his stories.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

I have always been a huge Yoko Kanno fan even before I knew who she was. I heard her music in most of my favorite Anime growing up that when I became a musician I knew I’d have to learn her tunes. the first piece of her music and quite likely the first anime tune that really caught me was this piece Voices. it was in the anime Macross Plus. As a side note I, along with friends, role played the Macross saga during the early 90’s.

Here is my transposition of a version I found online for two voices. In this case it’s set for a baritone to play the lead line and the bass to complete the harmonies. The song is haunting and somewhat melancholic. I recommend playing this piece with “molto espressivo” and try not to rush it. Also, breath marks are not written so good breath support are important. Also I recommend practice this with a metronome set to what ever tempo you prefer. Keeping good time makes the retard at the end more dramatic.

 

Download [Score Baritone Bass]

The version below is nice if not just a bit slow.

The lyrics are included below.

Original / Romaji LyricsEnglish Translation

Hitotsume no kotoba wa yume
nemuri no naka kara
mune no oku no kurayami wo sotto
tsuredasu no

The first word was “dream”
From the middle of sleep
Which secretly accompanies
The darkness in my heart
futatsume no kotoba wa kaze
yukute wo oshiete
kamisama no ude no naka e
tsubasa wo aoru no
The second word was “wind”
Directing my journey
From God’s arms,
Fanning wings
tokete itta kanashii koto wo
kazoeru you ni
kin’iro no ringo ga
mata hitotsu ochiru
As if counting
the melting sorrows,
Yet another golden
apple fell
mita koto mo nai fuukei
soko ga kaeru basho
tatta hitotsu no inochi ni
tadoritsuku basho
Not even looking at the scenery,
There is the place you’re going
With merely a single life,
You struggle to reach that place
furui mahou no hon
tsuki no shizuku yoru no tobari
itsuka aeru yokan dake
An old magic book;
moondrops; the curtain of night–
Only a premonition of meeting someday
we can fly
we have wings
we can touch floating dreams
call me from so far
through the wind
in the light
We can fly
We have wings
We can touch floating dreams
Call me from so far
Through the wind
In the light
mittsume no kotoba wa hum ..
mimi wo sumashitara
anata no furueru ude wo
sotto tokihanatsu
The third word was “hum”..
Caught by straining ears
As I softly release
Your trembling arms

 

jjdvFor the record this is a re-review. The first time I sat down with a DV it was a DV 7 and my experience was less than amazing. I was only too happy to put this chapter in mouthpiece ownership behind me until a deal on an absolutely mint DV presented itself and I had to give it one more chance.

What’s different between this and the previous DV I reviewed? Not too much if you consider that Jody Jazz pumps these out of a CNC machine. Assuming the brass stock they start with is the same and there are no major variations in the production process the only difference should be the tip opening. I am certain some pedants will note that there should be a slight difference in the facing curve due to the slightly larger tip opening but without measuring I couldn’t tell. What made a difference for me was that my beloved Légère reeds just didn’t want to play nicely with my embouchure on this mouthpiece.

I tried slightly harder to slight softer in the classic and signature and just couldn’t find one that gave me the best response. What worked? Rico Jazz Selects 2.5 were just the ticket to make this piece sing. To be certain I covered my synthetic reeds bases I also tried my Bari brand synthetic reeds as well as Fibracell reeds. These were excessively bright as was the case with the Fibracell or muddy and unresponsive as with the Bari brands. Just for reference I own a full set of Légère for Baritone and bass of classic and where possible selects. For Fibracell and Bari brand reeds I own from 2 to 4 in reed strengths. In the end the natural cane was going to be the best option for this tip opening and my embouchure.

With all that said what can it do? Simply put it is a solid performer that is of medium brightness and really tight articulation. This mouth fell is close to that of a standard metal baritone piece. I found that I had to bring the corners of my mouth in a smidgen to accommodate the change from a rubber piece to metal.  After an hour of playing it the new embouchure position will feel natural.

Jody Jazz DV mouthpiece cap image CONS: I have found sub-tones to be more difficult to do with a full breathy tone. The best I could do has my intonation going much flatter as I sub-tone into the lowest notes. To contrast this I have no difficulties sub-toning with rollover style baffles  and maintaining much tighter intonation. This could be a assumption of the higher baffle and chamber design.  The mouthpiece cap is a let down. It covers the tip down to about 1.2″ or about 3cm. This leaves exposed 80% of the mouthpiece. Hard rubber mouthpiece resist the change in temperature from when you are playing to when  you are resting. If you slip a cap on you can keep a bit more warmth in the mouthpiece making it more comfortable to play coming out of a rest. The DV goes glacier almost immediately when you stop puting air in it. Come on Jody lets get a long leather cap like Vandoren makes. Lastly, the price is the other major con.

VALUE CONSIDERATION: This thing is expensive even on a good day. I own horns that are the same value as this mouthpiece.  I argue that Jody Jazz is no longer a boutique manufacturer. As such i don’t feel I get the best value when comparing performance to price. That distinction goes to the RPC piece. For a modest sum you get a mostly-hand crafted piece that is made for you with your personal needs in mind. For a best value over all I’d say Rico Metalite ($30ish new) for a high baffle piece and a second hand Vandoren V16 (<$150) for just about every other non classical music need.

TAKE AWAY: If you are look for a paint peeler that can beat back an electric guitar then look elsewhere. This mouthpiece/reed combo is capable of full but not overly warm lows and powerful but not over shrill highs. All things considered it is a good buy when purchased used and can let others eat the immediate depreciation.

ponzol_editponzol1While on the hunt for a mouthpiece for a series funk and rock gigs I have upcoming I remembered a good friend and tenor player who loved his Ponzol pieces and played them religiously on all of his horns. With this in mind I headed over to my repair tech and perused through his over 500 mouthpieces until I found a Ponzol. With that in hand I headed home to give this high baffled super piece a shake down. I was very surprised with what I discovered.

DISCLAIMER/REMINDER: As a general rule, the sound you get from any mouthpiece is dependent on a number of factors. These include the players physiology, the horn, the reed chosen, the mouthpiece and most importantly the players sound concept. The sound concept is the internal tone each player hears in their head. If you prefer a darker tone then no matter what your body will find a way to darken the tone. Consider how Don Menza can sound like Webster, Coltrane, and Hawkins just by hearing the sound in his head. His well practiced body then makes changes to give him the desired tone.

Sound: This piece is darker than expected with a dark reed. It is a medium brightness with lots of higher harmonics when paired with a dark reed. This is fine but when I paired it with a bright reed it seemed to amplify higher harmonics buzz and left me sounding a little hollow in my recordings. This could be because of my horn, embouchure, my mood that day, or the reeds. It could have been all of those factors or none, but I didn’t not care to play this piece with reeds that edged towards brighter sounds.

Ponzol Custom baritone mouthpiece

Construction: Ponzol makes his pieces on CNC machines then hand finishes them. This piece has all the signs of having been finished by hand. There are very fine sanding marks in the baffle and bore of the pieces. The proof is obviously in the pudding when it comes to quality finishing. In general, the worse a final facing is the harder it is to find reeds that work and squeaks can be a recurring problem. This mouthpiece offered a perfect feeling facing, mild resistance and never squeaked.

Mouth feel: This piece is made from Delrin, “a engineering thermoplastic used in precision parts requiring high stiffness, low friction and excellent dimensional stability.”* What this means is that it is smooth, strong, and has an excellent mouth feel. The piece is very slim, feeling like a tenor hard rubber mouthpiece. It is very easy to play for even the smallest of mouths. Also, the material feels almost exactly like traditional hard rubber to the vibrations you feel in your head from the mouthpiece will feel about the same.

Reed friendliness: Since this is determined by the quality of the facing and condition of the mouthpiece I give this high marks for reed friendliness. It played every synthetic and natural reed I could toss at it. It did seem to have a sweet spot for 2 – 3 reed strength when paired with my embouchure.  A Jody Jazz DV 7 on the other hand requires me to play a 2.5 to 3.5 strength so the difference in facing designs

TAKE AWAY: This is a nice mouthpiece and would, in my opinion, serve someone who wants more power and *umph* from a moderately raised baffle piece without the paint peeling qualities of a piece with truly high baffle piece. If you prefer pieces which offer little to no blowing resistance then you may prefer a Jody Jazz or similar which offer almost no resistance. But if having a little something to blow against is your preferred feeling then you will like this piece even more.

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*Wikipedia

EGR stock photoWhen several feet of beautifully braided wire are wrapped several times around a form and secured you have the makings of a unique and interesting handmade ligature. How does it work? How secure is the reed to mouthpiece fit? Can it be adjusted easily and repeatably? Can it withstand the rigors of the bandstand? These are the questions that I ask of any ligature I get. Now, that I’ve had one for the past several weeks I have the answers to these questions.

Before I begin I have to reassert that I do not feel that ligatures make much of a difference in the sound of a saxophone short of the placebo effect. That said, they do make a difference in how a player interacts with the instrument. How a mouthpiece is to play and how hard the player has to work to get their desired tone can also be effected by a poor fitting or poorly designed ligature. Ultimately the ligature just has to stay in place and keep the reed positioned securely.

The ligature came in a small pouch within the retail box. This pouch while being a good storage option for some I found it to be not enough protection for the medium soft ligature. I prefer to keep formed ligatures like this on a mouthpiece with a cap. This way they will keep their shape and will not get crushed in a bari case or underfoot. Thing to note, the ligature did not come with a cap.  I recommend the generic flexible plastic cap that you can get cheaply from your local music store or online retailer. The best cap is one with a relief cut to allow for maximum compatibility. See the image below.

Mouthpiece Cap with relief cut

 

For test purposes I placed the ligature on a Rico Graftonite and Metalite mouthpieces. Because the material these mouthpieces are made of is durable I can discover rather quickly if the ligature will scratch a hard rubber mouthpiece. The reed I used for this test was a synthetic Bari brand baritone reed. This combo has a tendency to move around a lot with just about any ligature that is not made of leather.

Using the ligature could not be easier. The ligature has a top knot where the wires making up the ligature are brought to a knot and soldered together. With the knot on the top you slip on the ligature, which is tapered like the mouthpiece,  then slide the reed underneath it. Then cinch down the ligature by pushing it towards the bottom of the mouthpiece. It is best to do the procedure with the mouthpiece off of the horn as you will almost certainly push the mouthpiece down further on to the cork of the neck if you do it with the mouthpiece on the horn.

How well does this ligature do it’s primary function of keeping the reed secure to the mouthpiece? Surprisingly well when cinched down. The ligature can conform to the reed and mouthpiece slightly creating an interface that is secure without applying too much clamping force. Even when secured you can still adjust the left and right alignment of the reed on the mouthpiece.

I decided to run a utility test of how long it would take to remove and install a reed on this ligature while in a playing situation. When playing long gig I usually have to change my synthetic reed every so often. Armed with a stopwatch I asked a friend to time the procedure going from a playing state to a playing state after a reed swap. The results were not surprising. It took on average 14.5 seconds to remove the reed from the mouthpiece and to realign, cinch, and be ready to play with the EGR ligature. Compared to a Rovner Dark at 10 seconds, and a traditional 2 screw ligature at 13 seconds it was perfectly within a 24 to 32 bar break that I often find myself in on some big band charts. I will say that I am very familiar with both the Rovner and 2-screw ligatures so my time with them is based on years of practice. It is quite possible that I would see speed increases with the EGR if I spent more time with it.

Repeatability on this ligature was okay, better than the Rovner but not as repeatable as the 2 screw. Getting the ligature to the exact same spot after a reed swap was easiest with a 2-screw but hardest with the Rovner as I tended to unscrew them a lot more than necessary when removing them. The EGR ligature will only go so far onto the mouthpiece. After a few cinching down the ligature with naturally land at or near the same position depending on the reed. If the old and new reeds have the same thickness and profile then the ligature will land in almost the same spot every time.

With no moving parts this ligature will provide years of maintenance free operation. The only caveat is that if you intend to use this ligature that you should be careful using it on mouthpiece with soft finishes like gold. The wire is aluminum but if your mouthpiece is gold plated then it could put fine abrasions in it. This is purely speculation but I feel I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t raise concerns. As of yet I have not seen any abrasions on my non-metal mouthpiece yet.

 

TAKE AWAY: This ligature is equal parts saxophone jewelry and functional accessory. It clamps with just enough pressure to secure the reed without strangling it. I have just two negatives though. The first is the lack of a cap. If a cap were included I think it would have really made this an even better buy. Secondly, I’d love to have a way to tighten the clamping force beyond the normal amount when desired as some reeds respond better to more force. I say try one and see if it meets your needs.

 

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Vandoren Leather Baritone Ligature

Vandoren Leather Baritone LigatureLuxurious black leather accented with gold plated hardware and the second cheapest hook & loop fasteners you can find at your local craft store. This Vandoren ligature is an exercise in cost savings in odd places that I don’t think anyone really asked for. But despite the questionable design choices does it do the job it was intended to do?

For some players the idea of using a soft ligature is blasphemous. They tout the opinion that soft ligatures deaden the sound or removes higher harmonics from the tone. I’m not one to agree with this kind of thing considering the science behind saxophone tone production suggests that only a physical change to the bore, tone hole dimension and position, mouthpiece internal dimensions, and the individuals players anatomy have any discernible effect on the tone. With this said I do think the placebo effect is powerful and valid as any other possibility.  The construction of this ligature is likely enough to give anyone the perception of enhanced abilities.

Vandoren seemed to spare no expense when choosing the leather. It is thick, medium firmness, and luxurious feeling. The stitching is even as beautiful on the interior as the exterior. The craftsmanship is truly top-notch on this ligature. Where the evidence of account intrusion is visible is the means by which you attach the pressure plates. Vandoren chose to use hook-and-loop fastener as the interface between them. While this isn’t my personal favorite I was really disappointed that they didn’t use the industrial version. I question how long the loops will last and

Their attention to detail comes to a head at the adjustment screw. The thumbscrew is affixed to a threaded rod which is   reverse threaded on each end. When you turn the thumb knob the brass bars come together to pull the ligature against the body of the mouthpiece. The thumbscrew stays in the same position during the entire operation.  The Rovner and BG ligatures and the myriad of Chinese copies use a fixed threaded  adjustment  rod attached to one of the brass bars. When you turn the thumb knob is spins down the length of the threaded rod and pushes the non-threaded bar into the threaded one. The difference is that there is very little risk of your reed shifting as you tighten the ligature. Vandoren has a better system.

Where this ligature really proves its worth is when you compare it to Rovner and BG ligatures. The included pressure plates give the effect of have 3 different soft ligatures in on box. The leather pressure plate is most like a Rovner MKIII ($43) which according to Rovner is best for classical music. The rubber pressure plate is most like a BG standard ($45) which BG says is good fro anything. Lastly the metal plate is most akin to the BG Revelation ($35). So if we add it all up the Vandoren Leather ligature ($69) is not a bad deal if you would otherwise have purchased the 3 previous ligatures for a combined total of $123 not including individual shipping.

Vandoren Leather Ligature pressure PlatesVando_pplates1_1080

TAKE AWAY: It’s a ligature and it’s only job is to anchor the reed to the mouthpiece firmly but allow the reed to operate unencumbered. This piece does this but the gimmick of swappable plates isn’t worth the additional expense over a Rovner MKIII or the BG Revelation. Also ,the plastic cap is utilitarian at best, the leather cap is really the nicer option.

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YBS-61 bottom half

Yamaha YBS-61 From 1974 through 1984 Yamaha created what I and many others consider one of the best baritone saxes ever created. It’s tone is clean, clear and with minimal coloring from the horn. Simply put this horn and all Yamaha horns from this point forward, allows the saxophone to sound like the musician playing it. With a Yamaha you can sound like yourself and in turn develop a unique sound that is identifiable. Many other baritones have a strong inherent  tone that can be colored by the musician but will always sound like itself. Conn 12m and Selmer Mark VI’s tend to have “the tone” and is usually identifiable as what it is regardless of who’s playing it. Mind you there’s nothing wrong with that if it is a sound that you like but Yamaha gives their players blank slates to paint with.

The YBS-61 and subsequent models all feature Yamaha’s nearly perfect ergonomic keys system. From the location of key touches, side keys, and palm keys to neck angle and low-a key placement, Yamaha set the standard for playability. If you’ve ever played a vintage Conn 12M then you too must have wondered just how large of hands people in the early part of the 20th century had. The key touches are nowhere near comfortable for people with average hands let alone children or smaller adults. The key touches are aligned in an almost straight line which is in no way ergonomic. The palm keys touches are no better either. The are all in the same plane which doesn’t match the natural arch of the hand while playing. Let’s not forget the right hand side keys. The high F/Eb key is flat across its touch and provides no natural resistance to movement across it’s face. This means you can easily overshoot it during a particularly difficult passage.

It should be said that few of these particulars are unique to vintage baritones. Virtually all vintage horns has one or more of these issues from the 1910’s through 50’s. Some manufacturers started addressing ergonomics earlier than others. That said, Yamaha really has set the standard for quality key work and excellent tolerances. Currently it’s all the rage on Chinese import baritones to add double key arms to the low notes from low C down to low A. Yamaha’s key design is very strong and thus requires no double arming to get the required strength not to flex when in use. When in proper adjustment Yamaha low A mechanism is robust, light, and very quick despite have multiple points of motion. In later models Yamaha would adopt the double arm on the low C which it appeared to have borrowed from Yanagisawa horns.

All of this praise does not come without some condemnation. While the horn is well made and functions beautifully the same cannot be said for the case. As you might already know, time is the true test of any design, and the case latches failed. The weight of the horn is enough to make the latch screws pull through the case material. Without a backing plate the latches and handle were eventually going to give in to the inevitable pull of gravity. While the latches/handles represent a functional issue my only other complaint is that where they give you lots of room to store items within the case they did not include overs for the various compartments. If the item you place in the compartment is not snug then it may very well end up in the bell. There’s nothing quite like fishing a mouthpiece cap from the body of you horn during warm up for a gig.

The horn is not without its share of problems, some more nit picking than actual. First is the lack of coloration of the tone. While for some this blank slate offers infinite possibility for others it is the polar opposite. They complain that the Yamaha has no soul or personality. They wax poetically about the 12M’s gutsy tone, the Buescher 400’s Deep bottom end, or the Selmer’s sonorous middle and top register while accusing the Yamaha’s tone of being very vanilla. Are any of these assessments correct? It’s up to the player to decide.

Structurally the -61 has some shortcomings. The sheet metal guards are somewhat soft and easily bent with even a slight knock. I get that the guard is supposed to absorb impacts but it seems a bit too soft. The palm key heights are not adjustable on any Yamaha saxophone. This has been a common feature on Keilwerth horns for years and would facilitate better form for players with larger hands. lastly the largest and most egregious fault in the early YBS-61’s is the lower octave vent.

The lower octave vent, the vent which opens between the A and G break, is in the wrong location. The as-built location on the body 1/4″ down from the top main body connection does not allow the A,G#, G notes to speak cleanly in the second register. One or more of these notes will feel hesitant or sound slightly fuzzy because of this. Some players claim not to have this issue on their horns while others, like myself, are always aware of this issue when we play. To show how big of a problem this was; Yamaha fixed this problem about halfway through production of the -61. Still to this day they reference those modifications to new baritones like the YBS-62. Here’s Yamaha’s description from their website for the YBS-62: “A feature exclusive to Yamaha saxophones, the three-vent octave mechanism eliminates fuzzy, unclear tones when playing G, G# and A with the octave key..”  This is the problem and there are many early -61’s still out there playing that could use this repair. Sadly any repair tech unaware of this flaw might be on a wild goose hunt and some owners paying a tech of exploratory exams when the problem is much more fundamental.

The repair involves moving the octave vent and plugging the original vent. I’ve heard from some who’ve had this done that the repair absolutely repaid the issue but I’ve also heard from Yamaha themselves that there is no guarantee that this will fix any perceived deficiencies in the horn. Yamaha says this will having in it’s archive instructions for repair techs to make a retrofit and repair the horns.  Good luck in getting a copy of this document as Yamaha customer service was not in any hurry to distribute this information.  Yes, I said that Yamaha USA’s customer service was apprehensive to share information directly with me on how to correct a design flaw on my 40 year old horn. More on this later.

TAKE AWAY: All things considered I really enjoy my YBS-61. Any mouthpiece, any reed,  any musical genre, and any tonal concept can be achieved at any time by this versatile model. If modern Yamaha baritones are 1/10th as versatile as the my old -61 then I can’t wait to get my hands on one.

 

Image above from Kessler Music check them out.

 

ModelYBS-61
Years1974-1984
KeyBb
Auxiliary KeysLow A
EngravingYes
Finish:Clear Lacquer
Keys:Clear Lacquer
Finger Buttons:Pearl
Current ModelYBS-62