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Is this a pad height adjustment issue? Or an inherent flaw in the horns? The models in question are a 1917-ish Martin with a Selmer Soloist alto mouthpiece, and a curved-neck Conn with a C-melody mouthpiece. Any advice you are willing to share is much appreciated.
I always enjoy your site, and I wish you all the best for the holidays!
Jay C. Easton
A. Hi Jay,
Thanks for writing. Kind words about our site are always welcome – especially from those with your saxual prowess. Let me say first that though I don’t decry any saxophone of good pedigree, I work predominantly with the Conn straight neck Cmel design. In fact, CS makes a specialty of restoring this particular model Cmel on spec to offer to clients in our ‘for sale’ pages. The reason we specialize in the Conn straight neck is that it is the best mechanical design (IMO, after extensive practical study), most musically capable and most widely sought of the C-Melody saxophones. For all these reasons the Conn straight neck is also the best investment in a Cmel that our clients can make. Anyway …
We take a ‘whole instrument’ approach to our work with vintage saxophones in general, and in the C-tuned saxes in particular. When we do a resto on a C-tuned sax the product we send out to a client is an instrument that is as beautiful as the original carcass permits, as close mechanically to its original design as possible (Key heights, clearances, ergonomics), in as perfect harmony to itself as regards its mechanical relationships and regulation (call that ‘setup’, if you wish) as my skills, experience and dedication to perfection can make it, and the package includes a mouthpiece that has been tested with that particular instrument to assure it sounds and responds in as musically acceptable a manner as the owner of a premium restored vintage saxophone has the right to expect. When we’re done with a CS restoration project I know that any competent saxophonist can successfully perform the full range of music contemplated by the original designers of one of our restored C-tuned instruments.
That’s a long way of saying that without going through a particular saxophone completely I could not begin to tell you why certain notes do not produce the pitch its player intends. Not knowing the pad types, key heights, whether the instruments about which you inquire have had their setup relationships correctly made … I can only guess at why a particular intonation relationship isn’t correct. But for you, Jay, I will venture some guesses.
Assuming that all the setup relationships are correct on these instruments – which is assuming a lot — the particular areas I would look at for a middle C to high C interval issue are (M/L in order):
1) Mouthpiece suitability to the instrument
There is lots of information on Cmel mouthpiece matching in our Q&A section. We would not recommend either of the mouthpieces mentioned as likely to provide successful musical results in a Cmel application. Your further questions are always welcome.
Even though I’ve invested a lot of time and effort on my c-melody, I’ve come to the conclusion that it still has some problems that probably won’t be corrected. I think that it’s too early of a model (55xxx) to use as a primary horn. Thus, I’m giving serious thought to upgrading to a better quality c-mel.
I read about your c-melody restoration program. I’m curious about several things: It appears that your program only has Conn straight neck c-melodies. Why is this? Do you ever work with Bueschers or Martins? I’m also curious about why you set up your c-melodies with a tenor mouthpiece. In particular, now that good modern c-melody mouthpieces are becoming available. Whenever I tried using a tenor mouthpiece on my early model Conn the intonation was terrible. Thus, I’m wondering how you’re able
Thanks for your help! Best Wishes, Roger …
A. Thanks for writing, Roger. You are obviously a dedicated Cmel aficionado. I don’t suppose you found our Q&A article on Cmel mouthpieces, so here’s a link:
What you will find there is a discussion of the characteristics a tenor mpc that works on Cmels will have, and a mention of a couple specific ones that we have successfully matched to many different Cmels. I have never espoused just any tenor mpc you pick up will work. You will also read a discussion of some modern Cmel mouthpieces that we have recently had the chance to try and now recommend. In fact, we have recently become dealers for both Runyon and Beechler, and have already sold several of these ‘pieces to some very happy clients.
Your message prompted me to move some site updates to the top of my stack today, so now if you go back to our ‘for sale’ pages you will see our offerings of the Runyon & Beechler products. I also reworked our Conn stock resto program listing to reflect that these are the mpcs that we will provide as part of our Cmel turnkey package. The last few Cmels we’ve completed & shipped have gone with these ‘pieces & the clients have been pleased – not that the clients who received earlier Cmels from us weren’t happy with the tenor mpcs we selected for them.
Sorting through boxes of tenor mpcs for a match used to be a major chore once we’d finished a Cmel project horn, so being able to order something off the shelf that consistently works well is a huge simplification in our resto process here. I still prefer my short shank metal Selmer Jazz tenor ‘piece for my own Cmel work, though. I suspect that if we took a cc measure of the chambers of it, the Brilharts that work well on Cmels and the modern reproduction ‘pieces from Morgan, Beechler, et al, we would find that the chambers of them all are very close in size. That’s the important thing for matching an air column to the smaller Cmel body tube. The other design stuff in mouthpieces – tip opening, baffling, wall configuration, facing length & curvature, etc. – have more to do with sound quality and response than with basic design compatibility.
I don’t know where you developed the idea that we don’t like or work on Cmels other than the Conn straight necks. It’s true that we buy Conn straight neck carcasses for our stock resto program, but that’s because the realities of the marketplace won’t support investing in the others on spec. The straight neck Conns are the best design for both musical performance and playing comfort, plus they bring more in the marketplace when completed. Our shop stays full all the time, so the scarce capacity asset must be allocated on the basis of what pays the best – and that’s the Conns. As a case in point: We have a prime Martin Cmel carcass on the web site that we’re offering either as-is or with our restoration, but no takers in a long, long time. Though we’ve done a number of Buescher Cmel restos over the years, they are rare with a front F — so they aren’t so popular. The best Buescher you can find won’t bring half of what a comparable Conn straight neck will. That’s not my doing. It’s the market – and I’d be stupid to ignore the voices of paying clients.
Of course we’ll quote any make or model of customer owned horn for a turnkey restoration. We stock Conn Res-O-Pads, Buescher Snap-Ons and a high quality flat metal reso pad, so we can do any brand and put the right pad on it for the application. I always tell prospective resto clients that we’re neither fast nor cheap, and I make it a practice to tell ‘em straight what they’re getting into. I don’t let anyone sink more money into a resto job than they will ever be able to get out of a horn without hearing that from me before hand.
If you’re in the market for another Cmel I’ll be happy to explore either providing one of our carcasses under our turnkey program or doing a full resto on one you find for yourself. As many hidden things as there can be in an 80 y.o. sax carcass, though, there is real value in letting CS assume the ‘suitable carcass’ risk. As far as Conn straight neck S/Ns go, they will all look and sound good when we’re through. Conn was tinkering with the designs continuously up until about 90xxx, when the design pretty well settled down with the exception of some largely cosmetic items. We do give preference to this 90xxx & up category when we’re shopping for our own Conn Cmel carcasses for the stock resto program, though I don’t avoid the lower s/n horns.
For my money, the best Conns came from around 130xxx, up until they went to the nail file G# — the ones we all call ‘Chu Berry’ Conns, starting at 145xxx +/-. That small group has an enlarged, rounded G# that’s easy to roll on & off of when you’re working the left pinky spat keys. You can actually get stuck on the nail file jobs, and the very early rounded G# isn’t large enough for my play habits. The only other difference between a 130xxx horn and a 170xxx is the shape of the palm keys.
The very high s/n Conns (above 170xxx) are fairly rare cuz so many Cmels had been sold in the early 1920s. The market was saturated with Cmels by the late 1920s – and then came the depression. The fact that Buescher didn’t make Cmels with a standard front F until the late 1920s is the reason those models are so scarce. The same market & economic forces that affected Conn weighed on Buescher, too. Of course King & Martin didn’t make near as many saxophones – of any type – as did Conn & Buescher. Well, I’ll let go your ear for now, my friend. If I missed anything – or hopelessly confused you – please feel free to take another run …
Q. (follow up #1) This is great information! I’ll give some serious thought about what to do with my c-melody. If I decide to get a new horn I’ll probably go for it early next year after we get through the holidays. Even though I’m a big Buescher fan (my soprano, alto, and tenor are Buescher), I prefer Conn c-melodies.
Interestingly, I’ve come out in a different place regarding mouthpieces. Perhaps later Conns are more forgiving than my early model. I tried Beechler and Runyon c-melody mouthpieces and didn’t care for them. Intonation was terrible on my horn with the Beechler c-melody mouthpiece and the Runyon didn’t have what I think of as a very full sound. Whereas with Ralph Morgan’s c-melody mouthpiece intonation is excellent and the horn’s sound really comes to life. It fills up a room with a richness that I couldn’t achieve with a Runyon. I’ve tried a lot of mouthpieces on my c-melody. Morgan has given me the best all-around results. Personally, I wouldn’t describe it as a “reproduction”. That doesn’t to it justice. It has the length and chamber volume measurements of a vintage c-melody mouthpiece. But, that’s where the resemblance ends. It plays like a Morgan….not a vintage piece. Ralph is currently making a new c-melody mouthpiece for me. The two others I received are based on M and L jazz tenor mouthpieces. The new one is based on his 3C classical saxophone mouthpiece. I’ve had excellent results with Ralph’s 3C on my Buescher alto and tenor. I was so blown away that I asked him to make one for the c-mel. Can’t wait to try it out! Thanks again, Roger …
A. I’ll be the first to admit that mouthpieces are an extremely personal thing. The differences in our oral cavities and embrochures will not permit uniform results from player to player – not to mention our differences in the perception of what we hear, or in the sounds we hear in our heads. And of course there are differences both between instruments of different designs and among instruments of the same design. Two apparently identical saxophones can have different pads and be set up in a completely different way (encompassing both the adequate and the inadequate as possibilities).
The knack of setting up saxophones (I would be tempted to call it an art if that were not so presumptuous) isn’t bestowed equally on everyone (regardless of training and experience), and sadly, isn’t consistently executed to the fullest extent of an individual technician’s capability. We particularly see that manifest as regards vintage saxophones – and even more especially in Cmels as a specific sub strata of the classification – where techs tend not to take these horns seriously from the onset. So to set up a saxophone properly a tech must have both the skill and experience to do the job, and the willingness to do the job to the fullest extent of their capability. It’s a lot like horse whispering: More people think they can do it than actually can. What’s hidden in the act is revealed in the result.
When I recommend a particular item to our clients – like mouthpieces for their Cmels – it’s because I’ve done a thorough evaluation and achieved consistent, predictable results, using saxophones of different designs that I know have had the differences in playing condition eliminated. That way I can be confident that the vast majority of our clients who try a recommended item will have a reasonable chance of enjoying the same results that we had in our evaluations. Of course it helps if they are playing a horn that I set up for them – like the Cmels that we’ve restored here in the CS shop.
Having transformed countless ‘substandard’ examples of the world’s great saxophones from ordinary to extraordinary by merely going over the pads and setups, I cannot over emphasize the importance of knowing the basic platform is sound before one attempts to evaluate accessory items such as mouthpieces. Your Cmel may be in great shape, but until I personally went over the horn I would say that there’s a good chance you’ve never really played that saxophone …
I’ll leave you with my thoughts for today (and every day): Do what you love. Love what you do. Make friends and the finances will take care of themselves.
Q. (conclusion) Yes, I agree completely with everything you said. I’ve found Morgan pieces to be a great match for the tonal concept I have on my horns. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with Runyon or other makes. I have a number of friends who love Runyon. I’ve found that my sense of sound has taken a rather sharp turn in recent years. In particular, since I’ve put in a lot of time working with my Bueschers. At one point or another I’ve used just about all of Ralph Morgan’s jazz mouthpieces. Guess what? I’m now using his classical mouthpieces on all of my horns. That surprised ME! You can guess what some of my sax buddies think when I come into a session with an old Buescher True Tone and a Morgan classical mouthpiece instead of a Selmer and some kind of monster mouthpiece! But, the True Tones hold their own!
My local repair tech (Eric Beach in the DC area) is currently taking another shot at my c-mel. He’s focusing on the neck and receiver. We discussed in depth the specific things that are bothering me about the horn. Eric has done some fantastic work on my other vintage horns. He did a really superb job on a 1920 Buescher tenor I got a few months ago. So, I’ll see where we come out with this work. If the horn continues to be a problem I’ll think about sending it to you. Thanks again, Roger …
A. I couldn’t begin to assess your problem effectively without examining the horn, but I will tell you that when set up by a competent vintage sax tech the Cmels have no more serious intonation issues than any other vintage sax of good pedigree. A wild card in that statement can be hidden or poorly repaired damage, of course. That said, the trouble you describe immediately brought to mind your octave mechanism adjustment. It could also be an upper stack pad clearance issue, or perhaps neck damage or fit (the latter of which is a frequently overlooked source of much saxual dysfunction). Since your alto mpc is introducing your air column at a higher initial pitch than the design of that sax is seeking I would also look there. You may well find that you are dealing with a compound set of causes for your ills.
We recently revised our Cmel mouthpiece considerations to reflect progress that has been made by two firms in a stock C-Melody mouthpiece. The Cmel mouthpieces currently offered by Runyon and Beechler are both affordable and use standard tenor reeds. I would recommend the Beechler offering for smooth jazz back toward legit music applications, and the Runyon for music applications where you need to project. There is a wide area of overlap in the capabilities in these two competing offerings, such that either will work for a broad area of musical applications in the mid range of a saxophone’s capabilities. We have both brands in stock if you can spare about $100 to eliminate one source of your saxual frustration. The footprint on your embrochure of these Cmel mpcs is smaller than either the original Cmel mpcs or a tenor – not as small as your alto, though the Runyon may be close.
Q. (follow up #1) I’ve been exploring my C-melody situation since your last e-mail. I’m probably going to go ahead and buy another mouthpiece. From your description, the Beechler sounds more like what I want than the Runyon. My understanding from the description in the Woodwinds & Brasswinds catalog is that these only come in one
size. Because of the way you approach customer service, I’d rather buy one from you if your price is at all comparable. Can you tell me what I need to know to order one from you? Price, payment methods, etc. Also, I’m considering buying a soft ligature, something like a Rovner or Jewel. Do you have those, or a better suggestion? One hesitation I have before shelling out the bucks for a mouthpiece is that from the comments I’ve been reading on the web, it appears that quite a few c-mel players have been happy with LeBlanc mouthpieces (all that I’ve read have used the B6, the most open facing of the three options). You didn’t mention the LeBlanc, and I’m wondering if that’s a possibility to be considered as an alternative to the Beechler. Thanks, George …
A. I can’t speak for the LeBlanc offering because I haven’t seen one. I suspect it’s rather middle of the road — would be surprised if it’s much different than the Beechler in chamber style. I’ll try to get my hands on one to check it out. The generic problem with taking the advice of web denizens is you never know their saxophone experience, skill level or musical taste. The Cmel, especially, has always attracted a fair number of duffers. [English Translation: Beware of what you read on the web.]
Regardless of what WWBW stocks, Beechler offers a variety of facings in their Cmel mpc. They tell me that their most popular facings among players are the 6, 7 & 8 (I believe WWBW offers just the #6). The 7 & 8 are roughly equal to a Selmer Jazz metal tenor ‘D’ tip opening, which I personally find to be an excellent match to my own Conn straight neck horns. What you choose should be based on your need to balance control & response against projection in your own musical performance.
I use & recommend the Rovner ligs. You can pay a lot more for the same concept & not get any more for your money. The 2R tenor model Rovner fits the Beechler barrel perfectly, and will adjust to fit a wide range of HR tenor mpcs for your general playing pleasure. If you buy a Beechler Cmel mpc the Rovner is an excellent co-selection since the Beechler mpc doesn’t come with a ligature & cap (the Runyon does). Some metal tenor ligs will fit the smallish Cmel barrel. Some won’t. You’d just have to experiment to find one. A Rovner 2R will solve that problem in a hurry, though. Most of our clients pay via PayPal these days, but we do take checks, MOs & bank wires (though the latter is overkill in this instance:)). PayPal is quick, easy & free to the buyer. You can fund a PayPal purchase from your end by either CC or eCheck. As a CPA, I think PayPal is wonderful – saves both my time & our trees …
Q. (follow up #2) ‘Thanks again for the fast and friendly response. I’ve just sent my payment via PayPal, so please go ahead and send me a Beechler C-mel mouthpiece and a Rovner ligature to fit it, at your convenience. I’m open to suggestion as to the facing, but I’m guessing the #6 will be fine. I don’t care about a lot of projection, my neighbors are probably tired of hearing me practice anyway, and I’ve always been kind of a loud player — a habit I’d like to change. I’m perhaps not far from being one of those “duffers” in terms of playing ability, but I’ve figured out that it makes life better to buy the best reeds you can find and have a really good mouthpiece as well. I’m intimidated by the vast number of mouthpieces that are presently being sold, and it makes life simpler to have fewer choices for the c-mels. However, I really appreciate your willingness to discuss mouthpiece possibilities, which makes me want to be a customer rather than try to save a few bucks by going to some competitor. I’m looking forward to the soft ligature. I’ve recently been playing the c-mel with a big sturdy rubber band instead of the metal ligature. It plays a lot nicer, but is not very convenient! I also tried the web suggestion from several people who claimed that alto mouthpieces worked better on C-mels if you use a tenor reed. Sounded preposterous, but it actually worked pretty good in terms of playability, except that it makes the horn sound rather alto-ish. Thanks again for the helpful advice, George …
A. I really appreciate your kind words – and of course, your business. Service & loyalty are classic business traits so often missing from modern day marketing relationships. If they die it will be a harsh death indeed, and I’ll be dragged along kicking. Anyway, if you later want to try another Beechler facing I’ll try to work with you. The #6 is very reasonable, though, and as you observe, balance has its virtues. I’ll get the mpc/lig off to you right away by FedEx Ground. With a bit of luck you’ll have it in 5 or so business days. I’ll email you a FedEx Ground tracking # to confirm your package is on the way.
Please note that your Rovner will perform best when it is barely tight enough to hold your reed in place as you play. You may need to tighten the screw down to insert the neck cork & tune up, but as soon as you’re in the right spot on the neck you can back the screw off. You’ll develop a feel for what it takes to keep your reed in place for your style of play.
P.S.: I love duffers. There is value in knowing how to please one’s self – so long as you don’t feel compelled to go onto our web saxophone boards to offer your own techniques for self abasement out to the world as authoritative advice …
Q. (conclusion) Just a quick word of thanks to say that I got the Beechler C-melody mouthpiece and Rovner ligature yesterday, and they are terrific! I was really delighted at how different my Conn horn plays with that mouthpiece…. it’s bright, clear, and a bit more edge to the tone than I expected. I really like the sound, and it certainly has convinced me that C-mels have a unique tone, rather than to sort-of-alto/sort-of-tenor sound that I’d gotten in my experience with those mouthpieces. The ability of the mouthpiece to play anything, from really loud to very soft, is impressive. It’s a far cry from the stuffy tone that I got from the original C-mel mouthpiece. I had no idea that a C-mel could sound so great, or be so fun to play. Thanks for all the help! George …
A. What a wonderful result for you, George — and a very gracious message. Much appreciated. Would you mind if I quoted you? It’s not for crass commercial purposes, but hopefully to help others enjoy their own Cmels as you now do yours. All the best, Bear …
And of course, George agreed to share his Cmel enlightenment experience with our CS visitors. Though George chose the Beechler, we have had similar reports about the miraculous change that matching the right mouthpiece to a Cmel makes in one’s musical enjoyment of these marvelous vintage instruments from clients who have selected either the Runyon product or one of the tenor mpcs we discuss on the CS web site that work well with Cmels.