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C-Melody Mouthpieces
Q.  I am in need of a C Melody mpc.  I have a beautiful vintage 1914 Conn sax. It has the straight neck.  Do you have a list of mpcs for sale? 
Thanks, Fred …

A. We have some C-Melody mpcs, but unless you’re heavy into nostalgia I doubt you’ll like them very much. They are very stuffy and the sound is so closed you can barely be heard….even in the same room. In short, they have all the appeal of a whack on the shins with a ball bat. You can’t get reeds to fit ‘em, either, so you have to cut down tenor reeds to fit correctly. If you have to have one they’re $85, including postage, a cap and lig (they’ll fit, but no guarantee they’ll match).

We strongly recommend the short shank vintage Selmer metal Jazz model tenor mpcs if you want your C-Melody to respond properly with a modern sax sound. C-D-E facings all do well, but the D facing seems especially suited to C-Melodies. I’m attaching an MP3 sound file that demonstrates the Conn straight neck C-Melody with this mpc and a #3 Vandoren Java tenor reed (sorry, it’s fairly large — the file, not the reed). Other mpcs will work — both alto and tenor — but you have to try many to find one that functions properly. The tenor mouthpieces that work best have medium to small chambers and tip openings in the 0.07″ to 0.095″ range. Many fit this criteria, including a lot of vintage Brilharts (the hard rubber, short shank Brilhart ‘level Air’ works very well with C-Melodies if you like a good edge on the sound, as in Rock ‘n Roll or R&B work. If you want a smooth jazz sound the Selmer Jazz is your best bet. When you’re trying mpcs on your C-Melody be sure to first tune carefully. These vintage saxes have little tolerance for an air column that is not introduced at the design tuning point…..strange things happen when you try to play if the sax isn’t in tune. Low note gurgles are a sign you’re not in tune to standard.

There are also some custom C-Melody mpcs in the aftermarket that use tenor reeds. We’ve recently tried the Beechler & Runyon models with very good results, so we’re revising what we recommend here somewhat (please see follow-up #3 below for more details). I still prefer my Selmer metal Jazz short shank in D facing over the reproductions. Perhaps the heavy metal has something to do with this preference, because the Cmels simply have much greater depth of sound with the Selmer ‘piece. Maybe one day we’ll have some metal aftermarket Cmel ‘pieces to test for you.

We definitely need an affordable alternative because the vintage Selmer short shanks are becoming very hard to find and are more expensive when you do find them. I suppose I should thank myself for that chain of events after publicly pushing those for several years here on the CS site. The Selmer Jazz tenor mpcs now sell used for more like $150, which is getting pricey compared to the prices on your Runyon or Beechler repro models. Still, the Selmer tenor ‘pieces can be more readily resold and will increase in value over time. That cannot be said of the custom C-Melody mpcs. We don’t have any Selmer Jazz mpcs for sale, though they show up on EBAY occasionally. Let me know if you want to take the plunge on that shin smack ….

PS: I believe the 1914 date on your sax refers to the patent. It just means the sax had to be built after that date (duh!). The straight neck began with the New Wonder models, introduced about 1920. If you’ll share your serial # I can tell you the exact vintage of your instrument.

Additional Comments
See the related Q&A item on using Conn neck tuners if you have a straight neck Conn so equipped. 

C-Melody Mouthpieces
(follow up #1)
Q.  I’m just finishing up a Buescher True Tone C-melody s/n 71966. Soon I’ll be going through the ‘find a mouthpiece’ drill.  I looked over the material on your site.  There was a old metal Otto Link 4**** in the case that I’ll try. It has a much shorter shank than current Otto Links. I don’t have any vintage short shank Selmer mouthpieces lying around. Are there any modern tenor mouthpieces than have been used successfully?  I suppose if I find something with a reasonable chamber volume, window, beak, etc.  I can reface it if necessary. Stan …

A. The shank length is almost an incidental factor. It’s really a matter of a small enough chamber and a reasonable tip opening. We have better luck with the straight neck Conns with a short shank (3 7/8th inches) because there is some play left for the neck tuner to travel. A long shank (4 3/8th inches) mouthpiece on those and the tuner has to be rolled almost all the way in. You don’t have that issue with the Buescher horn, but there is also a cosmetic element to consider. The shorter tenor mpcs just look more in place on the smaller scale of a C-Melody.

You certainly might try the Link 4****, but it has a really big chamber. I would think you’d get a fairly muffled sound. Not knowing what sound you want to produce – or what sort of music you intend to perform – it’s hard to advise in a focused way. Recently I’ve played some vintage Brilhart tenor ‘pieces on Conn Cs, and have furnished several to our clients with their ‘new’ saxes. There have been no complaints. The Brilhart I liked the best with my Conns is a hard rubber (not plastic) Level Air. I take it they are fairly rare, too, but that seems the way with things that work on C-Melodies. The new Brilharts are very cheap today, so if they will work on a C that would be an ideal situation. All I have experimented with are the vintage Brilharts, though.

Let me know how the 4**** works for you. Of course that’s a fairly rare item in itself. I would think you could sell it and get most anything you want with the proceeds – even a vintage Selmer Jazz that I all but guarantee to please … :-)

C-Melody Mouthpieces – Reeds
(follow up #2)
Q.  I have been hunting for C-melody sax reeds to no avail (except on ebay, where I choose not to delve). Can you suggest any sources (internet or otherwise) for ordering? Thank you! Bill ….

A. New Old Stock is all that is available in the original reeds that fit the old C-Melody mouthpieces. You just have to find them where they are; mostly in small town music stores that have been in biz forever. You can sand on tenor reeds to make them a better fit, as well. Bottom line though, unless you’re into that mournful, muffled sound the original C-Melody mouthpieces get, you will want to use the tenor mouthpiece as we initially suggested.

C-Melody Mouthpieces – Reeds
(follow up #3)
Q.  Would you have an original end plug for a Conn New Wonder (series I) C melody? (A metal one, preferably nickel/silver if there were any other finishes). Also, do you have an original ligature and moisture cap for the stock Conn mouthpiece? How much would you be willing to let these go for? By the way, I am a little curios about my mouthpiece: It has red all over it, and a band on the shank. It looks and feels kind of like very smooth wood. Is it really wood? Do you know of any mouthpiece makers that make C-melody mouthpieces that use C-melody reeds? The mouthpiece I have is VERY traditional and I want a more legit sound. I saw Bill Street’s phone number on your website, but I don’t want to use tenor reeds. Thanks a lot. Keith …

A. We don’t have any spare parts or individual components for vintage saxophones to offer for sale. We could offer you a complete Conn Cmel mouthpiece, including a serviceable ligature & cap, for US$xxx, plus shipping. I can’t break up my sets though cuz collectors want them complete for purposes of maintaining originality. It’s important to note that these collectors DO NOT intend on playing the horns with the original mpcs, though. They just like having them for display purposes in a collection setting. Serious players often don’t even want a Cmel mpc, which is how we end up with spare sets to sell to collectors. The original body end plug is missing on many of the Cmel carcasses we buy, so there are never spares. Those are very easily lost, as you can imagine – and appear to know from experience. A good machine shop can probably make you a metal plug, or you can get creative & adopt a sexy champagne cork for the purpose. Besides, your procurement process on the champagne cork is bound to be more fun than rummaging around dank old machine shops …

I have a wooden Cmel mouthpiece in my collection that is of a reddish, knurled pattern. I’ve also seen plastic composite Cmel mpcs of similar appearance. Unless you can detect the grain (which is nearly impossible in the very dense woods that make the best instrument parts) there is probably no non-destructive test to tell for sure of what material your mouthpiece is really made.

At the risk of alienating you entirely, your concern about original Cmel reeds is frivolous. The reason no one makes a Cmel reproduction mpc that uses the original reeds is that no one makes those reeds anymore. It’s true that there are a very few NOS Cmel reeds that occasionally pass through the eBay auctions, but the supply is dwindling to a point where there soon will be no more available anywhere. Furthermore, almost all the original Cmel reeds I’ve seen are very soft (1½ or 2 strength), which when combined with the extremely closed tip on an original Cmel mouthpiece makes for a woefully unsatisfactory sound. Of course if you like flat, mushy, stuffy saxophone sounds like those of the 1920s recordings — well — more power to you. Personally, I’d rather beat on a stump with a hammer … :-)

The one chance you’d have of getting a Cmel mpc with modern chamber & tip configuration that uses original Cmel reeds is to ask a custom mpc guy (like Bill Street) to make one for you. I’m guessing he could work from an example reed in shaping the table opening to function with the (very slightly) different Cmel reed footprint. In the long run you’d be much better off with one of the very good stock Cmel mpcs available from mpc makers like Beechler and Runyon. I’ve tested both recently on Conns & Bueschers with excellent results. The Beechler (5 & 6 facings) has a sound quite similar to my Selmer metal Jazz ‘D’ short shank tenor mpc. It’s dark, but with nice projection & a little edge when you push it. The Runyon (5 facing) has an attractive reedy sound with an understated edge. Both respond quite well, with excellent intonation. My old vintage Selmer tenor mpc is still my personal favorite, but the Runyon & Beechler offerings are more than satisfactory – and you can buy ‘em off the shelf for around $100. The Runyon comes complete with lig & cap. You’ll need to obtain a lig/cap set for the Beechler. The Rovner 2R fits nicely & has a spiffy look on the horn. I hope we’re still friends after the straight talk about Cmel reeds … :-)

Additional Comments
eBay is actually a great source for all things saxophalia. As in all other aspects of your saxual existence, you just need to use common sense and due care. We offer both scouting and buying services for eBay items in which you might have interest. Write to Bear for specifics. 

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