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Sax Tips


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The Saxophonists best friend...

What's Your "Set up"? I often get asked that question, meaning what kind of mouthpiece and reeds do you use. Fortunately I found my perfect set up over 15 years ago and have no need or desire to try anything else because like I said, it's the perfect set up... for me.

I will tell you what I use but I 'm not here to recommend anything in particular, everyone should try several kinds of shapes and sizes in a saxophone mouthpiece. Since we're all shaped differently what's right for one person won't feel right for another.

There are numerous parts and dimensions to a sax mouthpiece; baffle, tip, lay, rails, chamber, shank, etc. Best thing is to try as many different brands as you have access to then when you find a brand that feels somewhat better than the rest start zeroing in on the particulars such as chamber size, lay opening, etc.

When you're an experienced player no one needs to tell you what's right for you but as a beginner your instructor will make helpful suggestions; for example, if your tone is thin he might suggest a more opened tip mouthpiece.

Mouthpiece Graveyard

For many years I tried every kind of mouthpiece I could get my hands on. Whatever people were suggesting and whatever I saw advertised. I've got a box full of em; Otto Link, Berg Larsen, Bari, Yamaha, hard rubber ones and metal ones. I can't even remember them anymore.

I borrowed a friends baritone sax once so I went mouthpiece shopping. After about an hour in the practice cubicle I had it narrowed down to a couple nice ones, then the guy working at the store asks me if I've tried the Rico's yet, I told him that I was looking for a mouthpiece not reeds. He said that Rico is making mouthpieces now and he hands me one to try. This bari Rico ended up being my favorite one and so when I took it to the counter they told me it costs 12 bucks, yes $12! I was so impressed with it I had to try one on my tenor but it just didn't feel right. You never know till you try,

Finally I had the chance to try a Dave Guardala mouthpiece and fell in love instantly.
It was a Michael Brecker model. This was around 1990 and it's what I am using today. I later also got a King Curtis model and have it as a back up. I hope I never loose the Brecker model cause I like it the best.

Dave Guardala "Reeds" My Mind

I don't know if Mr Guardala still takes phone orders
but in those days he did cause he took my order and tried talking me into using Vandoren Jazz Cut reeds. I didn't go for it cause I had tried Vandoren reeds before and hated them. He persisted on these and I finally said just send the mouthpiece, I'll worry about the reeds myself.

When the mouthpiece came in the mail and I opened the box I had to laugh
because there was a Vandoren Jazz Cut reed set up on the mouthpiece by Dave. I though, man, this guy sure is persistant about these reeds on his mouthpiece. Well, of coarse I gave it a try and since that day haven't used anything else. This is the best combination I've ever tried. I have tried those same reeds with other mouthpieces but they just didn't work the same.Thanks Dave Guardala!

Beginners will start with a #1 or #2 reed. As you get into a more opened mouthpiece and your air support becomes more powerful you'll most likely get a harder reed, maybe #3 or #4. Like shoes, they come in half sizes as well. Again, this requires a lot of experimenting with reed strengths and mouthpiece combinations. You'll know when the right one comes along.

More Important Than The Sax

Yes that's right, your mouthpiece and reed combination will make a bigger difference in your sound than your saxophone. Of coarse we all look for a good horn that's well made and is working properly but the mouthpiece is were the air hits the road. This is where first contact is made so your reed and mouthpiece combination play the most important part in the tone you will produce through the other end of your horn.


Sax Tips

What Type Of Saxophone Should I Play?

Thinking about playing the saxophone? Adolphe Sax, it's inventor drew up plans for 14 different types of saxophones. I don't know how far he got with that list but I have heard of 11 and personally have seen or played 8 of them. The 10 different voices (types) are sopranissimo, sopranino, soprano, saxello, alto, c melody, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass, and subcontrabass... you can have a look at them here.

Alto or Tenor?

Let's talk about these two since they are the most popular followed by soprano and baritone. Many people wouldn't really know the differences between the alto and tenor saxophones if they glanced at them from a distance but there is a big difference between them.

Girls play alto and boys play tenor. When I was in high school band it seemed that's the way it was. It make sense when you think of the size difference, a tenor sax in it's original factory case is somewhat heavy to carry, making it very difficult for a small teenage girl to lug it home from school every day.

For a small person, boy or girl it's not a bad idea to start on the alto sax, it requires less air and the notes are closer together making it easier for small hands to control. Of coarse this is a generalization and if you're small and dead set on playing a tenor sax from the get go then do it.

Soprano and Baritone

One voice higher than the alto is the soprano, and because it's smaller it does require less air support. This is the good news, the bad news is that good intonation (tuning) will be harder to achieve for the beginner, especially in the higher register. Same thing applies to the baritone sax as far as being difficult to play in tune in the upper register, and the low register requires lots of air... it's a big horn.

Buy a Cheap Horn at First

This is a good idea for 3 reasons;
1) You, or whoever you're buying it for might not stick with it for very long
2) You won't get a great tone in the first year or 2 no matter how expensive the horn is
3) The horn itself is not the most important part of your set-up, it's the reed and the mouthpiece... just make sure with a repairman the horn is in good working condition.

Please feel free to email me on any of these sax tips - JF


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