Snake Oil for the Saxophone? The Buzz Oversized Neck Screw by Westcoast Sax

Whether you are into competitive sports, weight loss, golf or the saxophone, you have probably heard claims about products that you didn’t believe. Many times I refer to these claims and products with a term you have probably heard before: “Snake Oil”.  The definition of the term is :

“Snake oil is an expression that originally referred to fraudulent health products or unproven medicine but has come to refer to any product with questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit.”

We have all heard claims for products related to the saxophone that we have had a hard time believing.  A little while ago,  I was asked to review a device that you connected to your saxophone.  Supposedly, the device could play your favorite recording of a sax player and the sound vibrations would travel to the saxophone and over time the molecules and atoms would align to be in perfect symmetry with the tone of your favorite sax player.  You would soon find that your saxophone sounded like your favorite sax player’s perfect tone.  I think that was the gist of it basically. I consider myself a pretty open minded person but that was a leap that I couldn’t take.  I said “No” in a polite way to that review……..

Now,  that persons claims and findings could be true, I’m not saying they are 100% not true but in my mind I have a hard time believing these claims until they are proven to me.  So in my mind, I categorize something like that as “snake oil” until it is proven to me that it is not.

A number of years ago,  I started hearing about assorted little devices and products that could effect a sax player’s tone and playing.  One of these was a heavy screw that you could replace your lyre screw with and it had a positive affect on your sound.  So again, here I am reading these claims and thinking  “C’mon it’s a frickin’ screw!”  “It’s on the outside of your sax!”  “This is stupid!” “Snake oil”……….

“The Buzz” Oversized Neck Screw by Westcoast Sax

Then a month or two ago, I was at my repair guys shop in Boston.  His name is Jack Finucane and he owns the Boston Sax Shop.  I just started going to Jack last year because my old repair man Ernie Sola had passed away and Jack had trained with Ernie.  In my three visits with Jack in the last year I’ve come to really respect his opinion about all things pertaining to the saxophone.  He tells it like it is and is very honest in my opinion. (He is also an unbelievable repairman!)

So on my last visit, I am sitting there as Jack adjusts my saxophone and we are talking about a variety of sax related subjects when he asks me if I have tried one of those “Heavy Mass Screws” on my sax.  My response was “Yeah right….” thinking he was joking.  He then proceeds to tell me that they do have an effect on the sound and I should try one.  He opens up a drawer with a bunch of them in there and asks if I want to try one.   This is how you know how skeptical I was, my response was “Yeah, no thanks”.   Although I respect Jack and his opinion a ton I was still thinking  “C’mon it’s a frickin’ screw”………

By this point,  you might be wondering where I’m going with all this but hang in there.  A few weeks ago I get a call from Matt Wickam who is the owner of Westcoast Sax and we are talking about having me review his new MoFo mouthpiece that is coming out soon.  At the end of the conversation,  he says he will send me one of his “Buzz” oversized neck screws to check out and perhaps review.  I tell him honestly that I don’t believe a screw will make any difference in a saxophones sound whatsoever.  Matt tells me that lots of guys say that to him but in his opinion there is a difference and I really have to try it for myself. After talking to Matt about it and thinking back to what Jack Finucane told me, I decide to give this Buzz screw a try.

I got the screw in the mail and the next day decided to try it out.  The whole time I was thinking “This is stupid”  “A screw will have no affect”.  I got my sax out and warmed up for about a half hour to the point I was feeling pretty good.  “The Buzz” neck screw can fit into the neck screw position or the lyre screw position on my SBA tenor. I decided to try it in the lyre screw socket which is right next to the neck screw on the neck receiver.  I gently took out my lyre screw from my Selmer SBA which probably has never been separated from my sax since it was made around 1950 and gently put in the “Buzz” screw.  It was threaded perfectly for my Selmer SBA saxophone and went in effortlessly.  Once all the way in I started to play again………..

“The Buzz” Oversized Neck Screw by Westcoast Sax

Now, my first thought was “There is no difference what so ever.  I was right!”   As I was playing though, other thoughts started creeping in to that looping preprogrammed thought tape of  “There is no difference”…….Thoughts like “It seems fatter sounding”  “It feels like the notes have more resonance”  “It sounds like the notes are richer”  “The low notes seem so fat and rich”  These thoughts were going back and forth in my head with “There is no difference, there can’t be, it’s a frickin’ screw!”

So,  I stopped and gently took the Buzz screw out and put the lyre screw back in.  I started playing again and the tone sounded thinner to me.  Less vibrant and resonant.  I stopped and looked at the sax and screw and thought “What the heck is going on here?”

Over the next 2 -3 hours I went back and forth between these two screws trying to figure out if there was a real difference or it was all in my head.  I was even trying to psychoanalyze myself and figure out if I had been brain washed and was now part of a saxophone screw cult. Maybe I had been and was just drinking the Kool-aid!

The last hour I just played my SBA with the Buzz screw in.  I was in heaven!  To be honest, I noticed a big difference while playing.  Whether it was psychological or real is up for debate but for me it seemed very real.   I would say I feel like it is 100% real although I do admit that there could be a psychological element to it but I really don’t think there is (but who really knows).   I came at this trial not hoping for anything positive and at best thinking there would be no difference whatsoever.  I came away from it believing otherwise.

If this heavier Buzz screw does work like I say,  how does it work?  I have no idea.  Matt told me he feels like the extra weight and mass at that important part of the neck to the body connection provides some deeper resonance or vibration. (I think Jack Finucane said something like this to me also)  I am more of the mindset that the extra weight at the base of the neck changes the pivot and balance of the sax on my neck strap and something about that change is changing the way I’m playing or the way I’m perceiving the sound.   Without the screw, the upper part of the sax is lighter but with the Buzz screw it feels heavier and the sax feels like the weight is pivoting towards my mouth more.  I’m not sure how that would change things but my skeptical mind can latch on to that easier than thinking a heavier screw on the outside of my sax is adding to the vibration or resonance of the saxophone.  This can be debated by you more scientific minds out there though……….

 

“The Buzz” Oversized Neck Screw by Westcoast Sax

Now, this review is much longer than my average review but I thought it was important that you understand my skeptical mindset leading up to the review to understand my conclusions.  My goal whether I am right or wrong is always to be honest.   You might argue with me that this is all in my head, or that I’m losing it or have lost all credibility in your eyes but what I have stated above is my honest opinion of this product and the changes that I noticed while using it.

At this time,  I am not choosing to do a recording of the differences in sound because I think it would be fruitless.   I might change my mind on that later but I have done enough comparison recordings of stuff like this in the past (such as ligatures) where the feedback is generally split between it sounds worse, it sounds the same or it sounds better between all the listeners.   Even if there is a difference in sound on the recordings,  many of you will say it is not scientific and doesn’t prove anything or that I’m probably playing different on the recording with the screw because I “think” it makes me sound better so I play better, etc………I don’t really feel like dealing with all the back and forth discussion on all that so no recording for now.

The important thing for me,  is not any differences in sound the listener might hear but rather the sound, feeling and excitement I have when playing from my end of the horn.  No one knows my sound better than I do.  When I play day in and day out and have one of those moments where my sound is better or I feel like I’m in heaven,  those are the gold moments that are important to me.  When I dig my own sound that much, that is when I play better, have better ideas, and can execute those ideas much easier.  All that being said, I’m leaving my Buzz screw on my tenor for the time being because I experienced all those things while playing over the last two days.  All from a frickin’ screw!

Here is some more info from Matt at Westcoast Sax about the Buzz screw and where to get it:

Introducing: “The Buzz” SS Oversized Neck Screw by Westcoast Sax – Made in the USA

“The Buzz” Oversized Neck Screw by Westcoast Sax

How Does It Compare To The Rest? I designed “The Buzz” Screw to be a little larger in the fingertips with an Easy On Off Grip. The grip texture makes it really easy to tighten the screw. I also made the threads a little shorter for additional strength…You will Not Break “The Buzz” Screw! I added extra weight to the screw that will definitely give you more of a Buzz! (Results Vary)

Product Details: “The Buzz” SS Oversized Neck Screw is made from *1 Piece Stainless Steel Construction *Extremely Durable *It Won’t Rust or Break *Easy On Off Grip Texture *Extra Weight Added *Cosmetically…It Looks Great!

Sizing Chart:

– Selmer – Yanagisawa (Same Threads) In Stock

– Yamaha – Keilwerth – Antigua Winds (Same Threads) In Stock

– P. Mauriat – Eastman – Cannonball – Macsax (Same Threads) Not In Stock – Coming Soon!!

Call Matt at: 951-805-5611 or Email: WestCoastSax@Yahoo.Com and you can also order from the Westcost Sax Facebook page.

* At the time of this review the price is $50 with free shipping included.  There is a return policy but you would have to communicate with Matt on the details of that.   Let me know if you try it and what you think below.    Steve

Please do not vote below unless you have tried an Oversized Neck Screw of some kind on your saxophone:

Did you notice a difference in sound when trying an Oversized Saxophone Screw?
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Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 25 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.

Comments

  1. Ted Maciag says:

    So Steve,

    You really need to get the whole truth on this subject. Heavy Mass screws were invented by Eric Satterlee, Meridian Winds in Okemos, MI, https://www.meridianwinds.com/ Eric never made a claim as to what they would do for one’s sound….everyone else has.
    They were the subject of heavy debate by Steve Goodson, with much approval by him and others in his posse. In fact, Steve bought them and put them on his own web site. Many others have taken a liking to them and have them installed as well, and so do I, even on my Silver Sonic.

    Keep up the good work….we all appreciate these reviews of sax stuff that you do.

    Ted

  2. Thanks Ted. I have seen these screws around for years but have been too skeptical to try them up until now. Trying this one has changed my mind on them that is for sure! Steve

  3. Just to clarify because a few people on Facebook asked. The lyre screw on a Selmer SBA tenor is right next to the neck screw on the same socket. Some people were thinking the lyre screw was further down the sax body like on a Yamaha YAS23. I did do this review with the Buzz in the lyre screw space when I noticed these difference. I will try the neck screw area tomorrow to see if it is the same as the lyre screw or different and post my findings. Steve

  4. Alex Jackson says:

    I don’t think that Eric Satterlee actually invented this concept. Jeff Peterson, the head of R&D for Yamaha in Buena Park, CA has been making these for years and giving them to those of us lucky enough to offered an “artist deal” with Yamaha and have the opportunity to visit the atelier and hand pick our horns. I believe that LA based sax player Jeff Ellwood was among the first, if not the first sax player to have one of these from Yamaha and he and Jeff P used to experiment with these quite a lot. I saw one for the first time in 2013 when I was rehearsing in LA for an upcoming tour and the other sax player , Scott Mayo, had one. I made a joke about the size of the screw and he told me how Jeff P had come with this concept at Yamaha. Scott actually told me how he had been on tour in Japan with Sergio Mendez and Yamaha had given him a new Alto for the tour. he found that the upper octave played a little sharp on the new horn so when he back to LA he called Jeff P and went in to Yamaha with the new horn. Jeff agreed that it seemed to play sharp in the upper octave and handed Scott a high mass neck screw, which Scott said he thought was ridiculous but Jeff persuaded him to try it. Sure enough, the upper octave suddenly played perfectly in tune! Scott is not a “gear head” by any means, (you can catch him in the Dancing With The Stars band, the Voice etc…) and is a monster player and he said that had he not experienced this for himself he would have completely dismissed it! I have these screws in both my Yamaha Alto and Tenor (82Z Custom II) and notice a substantial difference in terms of “sonority”, everything seems to speak more freely and and have more depth to the sound. The local repair tech at Sam Ash (Las Vegas) was very skeptical when I told him about these until he experienced them himself and then started making them for his customers. He made me one for my MKVI Alto (79***) and I had similar results. At the end of the day if this makes the horn more conformable for me to play or gets me closer to the sound concept that I want, this is worth having. I play and record full time for a living and am absolutely open to anything that makes my job just a little bit easier or more pleasurable!

  5. William Scavotto says:

    So do you have to get 1 neck screw for the neck and 1 neck screw for the lyre to balance the sound ?

  6. Steve Guy says:

    It is amazing how little changes can make a difference in sound….on my 1962 Kielworth Bundy Special my tech took of the little piece of brass that was supposed to hold the sheet music holder in that is close to the neck insert and the sax came alive even more than it already is….

  7. I wonder how many styles/models are out there? Just saw this review about the “Buzz” screws so it appears that there are a few different models on the market. I just started using the “ergonomic heavy mass” ones (2 on each sax) about 4 gigs ago. They work well. Have no idea why or what is going on. Both the tenor and alto have a little more volume and the upper register speaks much better. I am sure that the results will differ from player to player and sax to sax.

  8. Steve Estes says:

    Perhaps a bit unrelated, but I once had to replace a neck strap with a metal hook and the first one I grabbed next had a plastic hook. I didn’t even consider the possibility that this change would affect anything. When I first started playing with the plastic hook neck strap I had some issues that I first blamed on my reed. I got out another reed and I still felt this extra resistance/stuffiness. For nearly a half hour I was looking at everything but the neck strap as the source of the problem–was a pad leaking? was the mouthpiece damaged? Then it occurred to me–could this strap have altered the resistance in my horn? I switched back to a metal hook and the problem was resolved. All of the reeds I nearly tossed played fine. I know guys who use plastic hooks and sound great. I don’t get it and I wouldn’t have believed it before this experience. I just use metal now and go with it.

  9. John Talcott says:

    The latest acoustic science has proven that the wall vibrations of a woodwind instrument do not “couple” with the sound waves unless the walls are extremely thin (.2mm) and slightly oval. The sound wave downstream from the mouthpiece therefore is influenced entirely by the internal geometry of the instrument. Adding weight or mass to the outside of the body tube at any location may very well change the wall vibration in that area which is then perceived by the player, but there is no known mechanism whereby that change in wall vibration could affect the sound emitted from the instrument.

    A double blind study in which neither the player(s) nor the listeners know which set-up is being played through several randomly selected trials would show conclusively whether the perceived difference in tone and/or response is physically present or a product of the player’s psychological expectations.

  10. Ted Macaig says:

    So guys, here’s Eric’s accounting of it:
    https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1047438051969451&id=753916434654949

    I think Steve should do a write up on Eric’s Heavy Mass Neck screw. Just to balance the “Buzz”.

  11. Hello, as I previously stated in a long discourse on Meridian Winds Facebook Pages, I first saw Round neck screws (1000’s of them) in buckets at Ferree’s Tools while I was working there as a technician in 1999. These screws were blanks that Ferree’s milled on both ends to make the traditional neck screws that they have sold for over 50 years. This indisputable fact could easily be substantiated by anyone who cared to call Ferrees and ask Steve how long they have had buckets of round end neck screws. At that time I proposed To Cliff Ferree that they should market an Ergonomic neck screw which he did not think was a good idea at the time but he gave me some bags of them and told me to “have at it” which I knurled and gave away to clients for several years before ever promoting them for the first time at NASA 2014 after they had become very popular with Meridian Winds clients. I have stated many times that I have never stated myself that there is any benefit to a larger mass round screw besides being Ergonomic. I am certain that there are many players who could not and would not discern any accoustical difference with one neck screw or another. However, I do not question that there are some very talented, sensitive and influential players who absolutely can discern a difference. It is unfortunate that there will be players who obtain a heavy screw after being influenced to do so who will not be able to discern a difference. Again, it never entered my mind that a heavier screw would affect any acoustics . Buy an ergonomic screw to save your wrist, if you notice an accoustical benefit, more power to you. So no, I did not invent the round end neck screw, however I do believe I was the first to conceive the use of an ergonomic screw.

  12. Jeff Taylor says:

    It’s great that whatever we do guides to the best experience at the end of the day. But you’re experiencing a phenomenon in the human brain that has an unconscious predisposition to prefer the neck screw “sound” because of the power of its suggestion. I agree, it’s a trip!

    The same thing happens in a wine tasting. When you’re told that wine A is a superior wine to wine B ( and especially if it’s more expensive and you really love the cheaper wine B), you’re mind will ensure a congruency and you actually will think wine A tastes better. This is how powerful suggestion is and what marketing experts rely on.

    But as I said, if it makes you inspired, it is money well spent (until the next suggestion!).

  13. Norbert Wild says:

    I still find it hard to imagne that this would make a difference. What is the weight of the buzz screw as compared to the original lyre screw? As you perceive a difference how might it square up to the lefreque device or the even heavier Klangbogen? If weight makes a difference the Klangbogen should have a more noticeable effect since it is a little metal bar to be mounted on the lyre holder. I have not tried any of those accessories but wonder if you had a chance to test those.

    Norbert

  14. Rob Payne says:

    This seems like a variation of the disagreement over different materials used to make saxophones. A topic that you’ll never get people to agree on. You know, bronze makes the horn darker, solid silver necks that make the horn brighter and darker at the same time, and on and on. It’s even carried over to flutes, that is, thick wall versus thin wall, gold risers and all that. Sometimes I think people worry too much about equipment, at least that’s the impression I have gotten from visiting sax forums. I saw one post where these guys were arguing about the weight between two different models of the same make (Yanis), and several people were actually weighing their horns. Another post was about which model had the larger bore, and sure enough the calipers came out. I mean life is too short! I played for years without worrying about this kind of thing, I just needed a horn in good playing shape, a decent mouthpiece, and I concentrated on the music rather than equipment like I see on forums. All I really cared about was the music. With the internet came all the stuff about five digit Selmer Mark Sixes, and all the rest. I played in a band where one of the other sax players would put Band-Aids on his horn because he thought it would fix his intonation problems, he also had a suitcase full of mouthpieces which he was always changing, he never could settle on one. I’ve had a lot of different horns over the years and I sounded almost exactly the same on all of them. The only things that really did change my sound was mouthpieces and reeds, not different materials or horns. But this post was a fun read, and who knows? If some people can make out a difference and others cannot, then perhaps the difference, if there is one, is minimal, or so it seems to me. And fifty bucks for a thumb screw seems a little steep to me. Also I don’t know why a thumb screw needs to be ergonomic. I’ve never had a problem with stock screws causing me any pain or strain. I enjoyed the bit about changing the atoms of your horn with some wires, that had me laughing. Apparently I could make my saxophone sound like a flute if I hooked it up to some Pierre Rampal albums, then I could hook my flute up to some Phil Woods albums and make it sound like an alto saxophone! Or, I could hook up my soprano to a Ferrari and make it sound like a sports car. Time to practice, cheers!

  15. Norbert,
    I haven’t tried the Klangbogen or Lefreque as of yet so I don’t know how those compare to the Buzz screw. Maybe in the future. Steve

  16. Eric Satterlee says:

    I guess we just all never knew all of the advantages of having a lyre on our instruments while we in marching band? 😉

  17. Pierre Vendette says:

    Ha ha … I took a very heavy old brass door knob and fit it with a brass rod and put scew it in the lyre hole ….I did that with different smaller door knob also. And I could hear and feel a huge difference the way the sax play and vibrate…. I’m not going to pay $50 for a screw , that is insane… I rather spend my money on one of your book instead like the approaching the note book…

  18. Clarissa Vincent says:

    I fitted a piece of stainless steel onto the lyre screw, it only just clamped firmly. I noticed a responsiveness and focus in the sound, I could better play chromatic runs and every note seemef defined.
    I did not believe it until repeatedly removing and replacing the 2″ metal plate until it was 100% certain there is improvement.
    I’m very interested in the comment furthet up about those marching bands with lyres fitted not realising the distinct effect on the playing.
    I will not be spending 60$ on a Klangbogen or Lefreque but I have spent 10$ on a solid brass coat hook which I shall cut and file to fit into the lyre holder. It is about having sufficient mass added near the neck joint. I suggest that stabilises the vibrations and enables the upper harmonics to resonate.

  19. I purchased a set (Neck and lyre) from Meridian Winds about 2 years ago for my MVI Tenor. Does it enhance and enrich the sound or is it just bling? Honestly, I’m not picking up an improvement in sound. There could be so many variables: what mpc/reed I use, my playing on any given day, etc, etc……… but I like the bling. No regrets on the purchase. Will I buy sets for my other horns? Probably.

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