Interesting Questions . . .
Back to Q&A Topic Directory
A. All I can tell you about spare sax necks is that you never want to be in a position to need one – especially for the larger instruments like bari & bass saxes. Many have fallen for the false bargain appeal of a neckless saxophone, only to find out that the ways to get a neck are prohibitively time consuming and expensive. 1) You can email & call every saxophone dealer you can find looking for spares they are willing to sell. 2) You can spring for a custom aftermarket neck that will in all probability cost a small fortune. 3) You can look for a complete junk horn that has a neck included. 4) If you get really lucky you might (eventually) see a spare neck for sale on eBay, but you will likely be bidding against a wall of competition for it if it fits a saxophone of even the most remote desirability.
As you contact dealers & restorers you will soon discover that though these businesses may have hoards of spare vintage saxophone parts, they are not willing to sell them. The reason is simple: A single spare part can be worth as much as a complete vintage saxophone if you run across the horn carcass that can be made whole with parts you already have on hand. The sad truth about ‘parts missing’ saxophones is that they are more plentiful than the parts themselves, so hoarding parts is a paying proposition. These circumstances spawned the CS policy on buying saxophones with parts missing, which is NEVER…unless you either already have the part(s) on hand, or know (both) exactly where to get them AND how much they will cost. You may have read between the lines by now that we don’t have your neck for sale here at CS. I apologize for my rambling and for being the Bearer of this sad news.
A. On the mouthpiece issue: There was a funny old Cajun guy named Justin Wilson (no relation) that used to do a cooking show on PBS every Saturday morning. He always had a jug of wine on the table when he sat down for his tasting finale of the show’s fare. Justin had a saying about his wine that was both encouraging to his viewers & non-judgmental. He would ask, “What kind of wine do you drink with this meal?” After a proper pause for effect, he would answer himself — with an obvious twinkle in his eye, “The kind you like.”
Saxophone mouthpieces are no less a personal decision than the kind of wine a person likes to drink. You can get pretentious and anal about both saxophone mouthpieces and wine selections. In the end, there are a limited number of real choices in either — but there are a whole lot of confusing claims that complicate & befuddle the real issue: What is it you like? On the whole, these claims are no more than variations on the limited number of basic themes that truly exist. In either wine or saxophone mouthpieces, distinctions between moderately priced alternatives and the extravagantly expensive ones are difficult, if not impossible, to make. You can avoid the confusion: Just don’t buy into all the hype. Those among the self-styled ‘elite’ are welcome to search endlessly for something better, or to try to make distinctions where none truly exist. If you are among the vast group of us that want to get on with our dinner and and our music, find what you like and get busy enjoying yourself.
A favorite wine writer once said that the best way to learn about wine is to buy a corkscrew and use it. Then you find out for yourself what all the fuss is about – if there really is a discernible fuss, at all. Saxophone mouthpieces are no different. Thanks to eBay we can all try as many mouthpieces as we want…keep the ones that sound and play well for us, but resell the others so we can buy more examples to try. Done right, there is no hangover to suffer through, as with wine experimentation. And at that point saxophone mouthpieces start to separate themselves from matters oenophile. You need a good base in mouthpiece design characteristics to keep you from spinning your wheels over mouthpieces that have no potential to be different from what you have tried before. That is why we published our CS Q&A article on mouthpiece theory.
OK, that issue of your cork sizing is nothing more than housekeeping. Mouthpiece shanks vary slightly in inside diameter from one brand & model to another. This can be maddening if you let it, but there’s no need to. Why? A little sandpaper can make any cork fit any mouthpiece shank bore. Cut a strip of sandpaper (grit in the 400 to 600 range works well) about half in width to the length of your neck cork. The length of the strip needs to be long enough that you can work the abrasive surface over your neck cork in shoeshine fashion. Cork is very soft, so easy does it. Concentrate on high spots with the aim to size your cork uniformly over it’s entire run. There are no noticeable tapers or bulges in a professionally sized neck cork. Stop to test your fit frequently.
But, “What if I sand off too much cork,” you say? I admit that it’s easier to remove material from your neck cork than to put it back. At least that’s true for mere mortals. Armed with a little CS trickery & ingenuity, though, you can sand away in fearless fashion…so to speak. Pick up a roll of the white Teflon tape that plumbers use on pipe threads. You can wrap this tape over your cork to build up your neck diameter for a custom fit to any mouthpiece you want. The tape is semi permanent in that once it is pressed into place it becomes a solid mass that resists removal unless it is cut or damaged. And guess what? This stuff is as slick as the proverbial owl poop — so you never need to apply cork grease again…or wipe it on your trousers, then fret over getting found out.
The whole Teflon tape fitting process takes maybe a minute once you’ve done it a few times. Any mouthpiece you use can have a super tight, custom fit, which is good for a number of reasons. No more swaying mouthpiece ends that you have to chase with your chops. No more cork grease mess. And, no more leaky interfaces that behave like a malfunctioning octave mechanism, robbing you of your sound quality & response. Teflon tape was made with the Conn neck tuner in mind, but it works on fixed end sax necks just as well – with a little forethought & planning.
If you need to sand a conventional neck cork be sure to wrap the juncture of your sax neck finish (at the cork) with a little duck tape to prevent you from scraping the neck’s finish with your sandpaper. If you apply the duck tape lightly and take it off immediately once your project is finished you will have no adhesive damage issues to your neck finish. Once your cork is sized as you want it you are ready to apply Teflon tape. But first you need an idea of where the mouthpiece you are fitting tunes on your sax neck (and no, all mouthpieces don’t tune at the same spot cuz there are differing facing lengths that affect tuning potential). If you don’t want any white showing when you perform all you need do is stop your tape a frog hair short of the mouthpiece’s tuning position. Wrap away until you have the fit you want, and when your sax is in tune no one will know your Teflon secret but you.
The only real issues I’ve encountered with applying Teflon tape to a neck cork are: 1) getting it to stick at the start of the application; and 2) cutting the tape cleanly once you’re done rolling. Taking the second issue first, you will need either a very sharp blade or a good pair of scissors to cleanly cut Teflon tape. That’s not much of a step for a stepper, huh? On the start-stick issue, the main cause is all the gunk on your cork from cork grease and environmental junk the cheeseburgers we eat on break. Just clean that grungy stuff off with a little alcohol on a paper towel. You don’t need it anymore anywho (alcohol won’t harm lacquer, in case you were curious). Clean cork goes a long way toward getting your Teflon tape to start cleanly, but I also like to put just a tiny dab of contact cement on the start spot I intend to use for my Teflon tape wrap. There’s no need to let the contact cement dry. Just stick your Teflon tape over it and wrap away. The contact cement contains a solvent that immediately bonds with the Teflon’s plastic structure. When you start your mouthpiece onto the fresh tape to press the mass into place (see how glossy & smooth the tape surface has become in the final photo) it helps to turn the mouthpiece in a circular motion. Rotate the mouthpiece in the same direction in which you wrapped the tape — clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the southern. Seriously, it doesn’t matter which way you wind your tape onto the cork. This is job pretty much idiot-proof.
You will discover the ins & outs of where to start your wrap and how the mouthpiece works to compact the tape into a continuous mass (amazing, really) as you work. You can add more tape over an existing application with ease, but you need to make a cut if you want to remove tape – and you will lose all the layers you’ve applied once you start peeling. Not to worry, the whole process can be redone in a couple minutes. So there’s all you ever wanted to know about getting your mouthpieces to fit just like you want them to…anytime, anyplace, any saxophone. This is essential knowledge for folks who intend to get serious about mouthpiece experimentation.
Plumber’s Teflon tape runs about a dollar per roll — basically a lifetime supply for the average player. You will find that this tape will wind onto your existing cork to take up the difference between your mouthpiece and current neck diameter. Because the tape surface is very slick, you will also find that cork grease is but a distant, fading memory. You will doubtless forget the stuff entirely unless you long for the days of desperately searching for a place to wipe your soiled fingers. The tape treatment is semi permanent, meaning that it probably won’t come off until you decide to take it off.
The only drawback to the teflon tape is that it only comes in white, so it looks a bit foreign if you leave any showing on your neck cork. It’s not so much an issue with the Conn tunable necks cuz the way they are designed is to slip the mouthpiece all the way on up to the tuner flange. Then you tune strictly with the barrel. If you are having trouble getting mouthpieces to work with a Conn tunable neck (also called a micro tuner) that little hint might change your life. The other issue with getting modern mouthpieces to perform with vintage saxes is that you need to be close to the design tuning point (standard A440) or these saxes tend to want to buck and gurgle in the low end. For that reason you can’t just push the mouthpiece on and play, not even for casual play. You need to tune it first. With the neck tuner horns — if you use them correctly — once you get them in tune to standard all you need do is slip the mouthpiece all the way on to the proper position each time you play. Assuming nothing bumps the position of your tuner’s barrel, or there isn’t a significant fluctuation in temperature, your sax should stay in tune between sessions. Of course if you have to play along with a non standard source, like the dreaded house piano, you will have to re tune. For the mechanically challenged amongst us, when you turn the tuning barrel clockwise (with the sax in your mouth — well, the mouthpiece, anyway) you are making the pitch sharper. That’s because the total tube length is becoming shorter. Conversely, turning the tuner barrel counterclockwise lengthened your sax and flattens the pitch. More than most of us ever wanted to know, I’m sure. If not, there’s even more on these amazing devices at the very bottom of this article.
Now back to that teflon tape … on horns with fixed necks you can wrap the white tape just to your normal tuning point where it becomes a guide to how far you need to push your mouthpiece to be in tune. Of course you will need to make minor adjustments, but the tape is so slick — in more than one sense — that small tuning increments are really easy to make. When applying the tape wrap it until the mouthpiece will feel some resistance when you try to slip it on, then the first time you put the mouthpiece on push it in well over the tape and leave it a while to mold the tape in place. It’s amazing how the tape becomes solidified when you get the thickness right. Once in place your tape job will stay indefinitely, but if you ever need to unravel it the layers miraculously separate after you make a small cut. The end result is a tight fit and a nice firm feel for your mouthpiece. No more of that ‘dangling’ feeling if you naturally play a little sharp and can’t find a ‘piece you like with a long enough shank to tune and also provide a firm feel.
Micro Tuner 101
The mechanism has a very fine pitched male thread on the end of the neck, and the barrel is female threaded inside so that it screws onto the neck end. There is a tongue & groove at the interface that keeps the mpc pipe from spinning. It’s a fairly complex piece of machinery that I’m sure was expensive to make (the very first ones had a much more complicated & even more costly series of brass guide rods that fit into holes drilled into the neck end).
You can screw the barrel all the way off if you want to see how it all fits together. If you do that just be careful when you restart the screw mechanism that you don’t cross thread the tiny, soft brass threads. The barrel itself is composed of four parts. There is the threaded barrel, then the mpc pipe. The pipe fits into a machined opening in the barrel, and then a threaded washer (flange) screws in to hold the pipe in the proper position. The pipe’s position is critical because there must be enough play between the pipe & barrel to allow the pipe to spin when the barrel is turned, but not enough to let the pipe feel unstable when you play. You don’t notice the spin because of the tongue & groove arrangement, but it happens. Finally, a set screw holds the flange in the exact position needed to allow the pipe to spin, but still have a firm feel. We don’t advise trying to take the barrel assembly apart (other than just screwing the whole assembly off once for a peek) because getting that set screw back into the little hole in the threaded washer can leave one mumbling and bumping about in a mindless stupor… which happens around here enough as it is …