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Intonation
Bear on the dreaded “I” word
Q.  Have an interest in your B&S soprano that’s currently on your web page. I have never played one of these, so would like some information.  What is the intonation like?  The left pinky keys seem a bit strange. Are these ergonomically OK, or a pain?  What is the quality of the tone: dark, bright? Thanks, Wade…


A. We’ve handled several B&S saxophones from their earlier period. Players love these horns for their quality workmanship, superior design and lovely musical performance. The sound is big & full, something closer to vintage than the current models can get. You can play a B&S either dark or bright, depending on your mpc selection & player inputs. The B&S keyboard is quite comfortable to me. Clients have never complained about the ergonomics of the B&S products we’ve provided them.

I really hate to get the ‘I’ question. To me it suggests I may be communicating with a saxual ingénue. I don’t mean to insult you, Wade. It’s just that all the ‘saxophone buyer’s guides’ out there tell you to ask about intonation. Someone wrote that recommendation years ago, and every would-be author of a buyer’s guide for saxophones afterwards has parroted the phrase. Truth is, Wade, that any saxophone of good design that is in top playing condition can be played acceptably in tune by a competent saxophonist.

I take care of the first two variables on every horn we ship – plus I thoroughly test play every instrument after I service it to be sure that the third variable holds. The fact remains, though, that I don’t know beans about the saxual prowess of most of the good folks who write in to me. Let me see if I can put this delicately, but directly: Just because I can play a saxophone in tune does not mean that someone else can. If you have good player’s skills you will have no intonation difficulties with the saxophones that I select for our inventory and prepare for delivery to CS clients. 

If you are buying from a pawn shop or off eBay, then you are right to worry about the total playing condition – including intonation – of the saxophones you purchase from these sources. Indeed, you should never buy from unreliable sources without the expectation of investing major funds into getting the instrument into good playing condition. On the other hand, when you buy from a reputable dealer with full shop facilities you should expect an instrument in top playing condition. That’s what you pay the dealer’s premium price for, right?

Additional Comments
I would be the first to admit that all saxophones are not created equal. Especially some of the older designs have issues that we carefully address in our set up/regulation routine in order to assure that they fall into that category of an instrument that a competent player can play acceptably in tune. I would also freely admit that some musical performance platforms require more rigorous adherence to standard pitch. I’m in no way suggesting we as players should  be cavalier about our intonation. We must remain competent players at all times in order for my statement about intonation to hold. If we find ourselves in one of those rigorous intonation environments we are best served by recently built saxophones. Why? Because modern computer assisted design and manufacturing equipment can BOTH calculate our tone hole sizes and locations AND execute their placement in the metal of a saxophone body with much greater precision than can the instrument manufacturing technology of forty, sixty or eighty years ago. If you do go this modern technology route then your compromise must be in the area of sound quality. While a talented, conscientious tech can make your beloved vintage saxophone as good as it can be within the limits of its design and manufacturing precision, we cannot go back and rebuild these instruments without their imprecisions. You can have great vintage sound and manageable intonation, or intonation perfection and a sound that will leave you wanting as to its richness. I’m just telling ya’ll what’s on the menu, man. In these matters you gotta’ pick for yourself.

OK. You’ve decided that the rich vintage sound is your main priority. Now you need to find the best possible example of the vintage model you want, and someone who has the skills, desire and experience to make your horn the best it can be. Welcome to CyberSax.com. Welcome also to a handful of other web dealers who deliver top quality vintage saxophones, impeccably prepared to play at perfection for you. For my recommendations you need go no farther than our Links page. Just don’t expect fast or cheap from anyone you really want to buy your instrument from, or to service a fine vintage saxophone that already belongs to you. Ain’t gonna’ happen.

If you care what you’re doing and pay attention, over the years you sniff out the secrets these vintage marvels are willing to share — secrets about optimum pad resting heights, pad lifts, and more nebulous things like where you can stick a sliver of Teflon to smooth and speed the action. When a workhorse design like the Conn Chu is kicked up a notch or two, most players would hardly recognize its sound and feel if I handed it to them blindfolded. What I can guarantee, though, is a great beeg smile as they run their mystery horn through its paces. So get your vintage saxophone from a dealer you can trust not to select junkers to rebuild, and who are sticklers for making every instrument they ship the best it can be.

Caveat


If you are an individual who is compelled to check each and every note on your saxophone against an electronic tuner’s read out then I would prefer that you shop elsewhere for your saxophones. Why? Because it is your ears – more precisely, your audience’s ears – that must be pleased with the music you are making. If you depend on your eyes to tell you if you are playing the correct pitch you are training the wrong sense organ to sync with your chops — and frankly, you are not likely to ever be happy with any saxophone you play ‘blind’.

Saxophone performance can mimic the complexities of the human voice perhaps to the greatest extent of all our wonderful musical instruments. A good saxophonist takes advantage of this trait of our blessed instrument by adding voice-like inflections to their musical performances. Such effects include intentional pitch bends and acoustic influences that generate edge & excitement. In the end it is the emotion a saxophonist can impart to their musical performances that make our instrument so wildly popular today. You will never develop the playing traits for which our finest saxophonists are loved and listened to by concentrating on your tuner dial. Close your eyes. Open your heart & ears. Play as if you were telling a story…by only campfire light — and in the dark of night…
 



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