Balam Saxophone Backstrap Comparison and Review

Today, I am reviewing a new saxophone neckstrap that I received from my saxophone repairman Jack Finucane at the Boston Sax Shop.  Jack has been my sax repairman since 2013 when my long time repairman Ernie Sola died.  The last 3-4 times I went in to see Ernie before he died he told me about a young kid who was apprenticing with him.  His name was Jack Finucane and Ernie always had good things to say about Jack.  When I last saw Ernie, he wasn’t feeling very well and he looked completely exhausted.  Even feeling the way he did, he was still willing to see me and work on my horn that last time.   During that visit, Ernie told me that Jack was really coming along and doing great.  I asked him if Jack could overhaul a saxophone like he could and he responded that he thought he could which in my mind was a great review of Jack’s skills and passion.

Balam Saxophone Backstrap

Since Ernie’s death, I have been driving four hours down to Boston once or twice a year for Jack to work on my horns.   He started the Boston Sax Shop and it is great to see his reputation and business expanding and doing well.  If you ever visit the Boston Sax Shop, Jack has a growing number of vintage horns in his collection (I’m not convinced he wants to sell them as much as collect them……..).  Besides that, he has a coffee machine (maybe it’s espresso…..I don’t know the difference) and a state of the art high fidelity sound system that he plays classic vinyl jazz records on.  Every time I am in there,  I just want to hang out all day but I know Jack has a lot to do so I try to make my visits short and to the point.

Balam Saxophone Backstrap

I’m giving you all of this intro just so you know the background here.  When you give someone your most beloved saxophone you have to trust them. I trusted Ernie Sola and I trust Jack Finucane now.  He has a passion for the saxophone and music that is palpable when you talk to him.   If Jack likes something, I know that I want to check it out also.  Last year, he was telling me about the Ishimori tenor saxophone and how great it was.  Next time I came down to Boston, I tried it out and sure enough, I was blown away by how great it played.  Recently,  when I saw on Facebook that Jack had a new Balam Saxophone Backstrap that he really liked it peaked my interest also.   I messaged Jack and asked if I could try one out and review it.  At the time , he had just sold out of all his Balam saxophone straps but he ordered some more and put one aside to send to me when they came in.

Balam Saxophone Backstrap

Here is how the Balam backstrap is described on the Boston Sax Shop website:

This innovative neck strap is the answer for any player looking for serious neck relief. An alternative to traditional harnesses, the design does not contact the neck at all and places pressure solely on the shoulders. Beautifully handmade in Korea, the strap features premium full grain leather straps with antiqued cast brass fixtures. 

Incredibly adjustable for all body types and can be used for soprano, alto, tenor and baritone. 

Strap includes velvet travel bag, and can be stored in most saxophone bells

Balam Saxophone Backstrap

I have been using the Balam Backstrap for the last month and absolutely love it.  As you can see in the pictures and the video I made below, the strap doesn’t sit around the neck but is more on the upper back and shoulders.  I love that the neck has no pressure on it whatsoever. The metal pieces that go over the shoulders are aluminum wrapped in leather.  The aluminum is a good idea because it is light, strong,  yet bendable so you can shape it to your body dimensions. The hook and all the metal adjustment pieces are made of brass and have cool looking designs to them.  The main metal piece on the center of the back looks like a butterfly of some sort.

The brass hook that hooks to the saxophone has a clasp on it that shuts when the saxophone is hooked so that it doesn’t accidentally come off. (I’ve had other straps that accidently came unhooked and I almost dropped my sax a couple times…..no thanks!) The brass hook is also wrapped with clear rubber on the bottom part to avoid metal on metal contact with the saxophone.  This is good because you don’t want the metal of the strap hook to wear away at the ring on your sax over time.   Adjusting the Balam backstrap is easy and the metal piece that adjusts how high or low the strap is slides up and down easily and doesn’t move after being set which is also important.

If you are like me, you might be looking at these pictures and thinking “Yeah, but what about that rope looking part? If that breaks my sax is toast!”  Jack tells me that the rope looking material of the strap is actually “super strong military spec paracord”.  I don’t know what that is but my guess is that is is used for parachuting and maybe tying up terrorists so I would think it could handle the weight of a saxophone with no problems.  The cords that are on the back of the backstrap near that metal butterfly are braided leather of the same grade the paracord is.

Balam Saxophone Backstrap

There is some adjustments that might have to be done when you first receive the Balam saxophone backstrap.  I was a bit overwhelmed at first as there are so many strings and connections in the back that I didn’t know what to start messing with and didn’t want to mess it up.  Jack sent me this video with some directions on how to best adjust the strap which helped relieve my anxiety.

Jack Finucane’s Tutorial on How to Adjust the Balam Saxophone Backstrap

I have included an 11:35 minute video below as a review but also a comparison between three other neck straps that I own.  I was just going to video the Balam backstrap but since I have done reviews in the past of the Jazzlab Saxholder and the Just Joe’s neckstrap I thought it would be good to compare all these straps to each other.  I also threw in my first neckstrap, a trusty Ray Hyman strap!   If you just want to see the Balam review part of the video you can skip to the 7:30 minute mark on the video.

Steve Neff’s Review and Comparison of the Balam Backstrap with the Jazzlab Saxholder, Just Joe’s Strap and trusty Ray Hyman strap.

If you are interested in the Balam Saxophone Backstrap you can get one on the Boston Sax Shop website.  If they are out of stock make sure to sign up for the waiting list so you can get one the next time they come in. Word has it they just got 60 in this morning so if you move fast you might be able to get one of those. Hope you like it as much as I do.    Steve

Balam Saxophone Backstrap

Disclosure: I received the Balam Backstrap reviewed above for free in the hope that I would try it and perhaps review it on my blog. Regardless, I only review saxophone related items that I enjoy using and believe will be good for other saxophone players to try also.    Steve
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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. steve young says:

    Hey Steve,
    Thanks for review….just ordered one….i have the jazz lab but slips off to the side.

    I was lucky enough to get my hands on a florida link worked on by Jon Van Wie. from my good friend and exceptional repairer Dirk…..He is mentioned by Jon in the article you posted.

    It has the dark baffle and plays with ease…an amazing piece….i think my search for a great link is over. I really appreciate it every time i play it. What an amazing soul Joh must have been.

    Any suggestions with which reeds work the best….i am on La Voz medium with a Francious lig.

    Thanks again and best regards from Australia,

    Steve

  2. Steve, Wow! If you ever want to sell that JVW Link let me know. His pieces can be really special. I found another years ago and sold it to a friend who played a metal V16 professionally. The difference was amazing and so clear. I’m always on the lookout for JVW pieces………..Hope you like the Balam!

  3. G’day Steve,

    Jons piece will be a keeper for me….. not only does it play amazingly well…..but Dirk knew Jon and there is a lot of sentimental value there….and Dirk is such a genuine guy and i feel quite humbled he offered me one.

    Yeah i am on the look out as well…….. there is one on eBay at the moment…..a Slant but i am afraid i am out of cash and am committed to the link to get to know it …. plays with ease….and that Jb weld baffle gives it some pop without being overly bright.

    I think eventually i really would love to get a HR with projection and a large chamber and medium to low baffle.

    I always enjoy reading your reviews and listening to your sound clips. In the end i hear the many differences….but what i hear predominantly is Steve Neff….. you have a great sound going on.
    Regards

    Steve

  4. Hi Steve,

    I’ve been looking for this kinda great innovative strap for quite a while and found it couple weeks ago – in Japan. They make the Marmaduke Feather Straps over there that look almost exactly like that one of yours, wonder who copied who here. Just the neck tangle of your strap looks a little more sophisticated. Anyway, great to see that those lil details get some attention too =)
    Enjoy your strap and all the best from Germany
    Marc

  5. Great write up! I’ve never heard about this strap. I just got the Sax Holder by Jazz Lab but this one looks even better.

    I am curious if the position of the saxophone changes much when you’re breathing with the Balam saxophone Backstrap. Does it brace or make contact in the same place as the sax holder?

  6. Rami,
    It does touch in similar places as the SaxHolder but the Balam is closer to your body. If you look at the adjustment video the goal is to have as much of it against your body as possible so the weight is distributed evenly. The saxophone doesn’t move when I breath. With the SaxHolder I felt like the bar was always pressing on where I breath using the diaphragm. Hope this helps, Steve

  7. I have to share this about the Saxholder neck strap. In the video I mentioned that one of the things that I didn’t like about it was that it feels awkward when sitting and the sax is on the side. Someone on Youtube said they had the same problem but they went to the company and the company adjusted the saxholder so the bars in back were pointed inward and overlapping. He said that totally fixed the problem when sitting that I expressed. I never knew that! I will try it tomorrow. Steve

  8. Don Stapleson says:

    Hi Steve,
    Does the strap need to be readjusted when switching from Tenor to Alto or Bari? I don’t mean the length in front but the adjustments in the back.

    Thanks
    Don

  9. Don, I have used mine with tenor, alto and soprano with no problems. I can’t speak for Bari as I don’t play bari so can’t test it out…….. Steve

  10. Kevin Ledbetter says:

    This strap really feels great…. , and its so comfortable that the sax feels perfectly balanced, and there is no strain on your neck.
    It also looks amazing…. so well made and classy…. its like a piece of art holding the sax.
    This one, and the Just Joe’s are probably the best I’ve used. I may get another one just to be safe.

  11. saxmanpete says:

    The strap is great…just received mine…don’t agree on the Ishimori tenor tho!The TM Custom blows it away!saxmanpete

  12. I haven’t tried the TM Custom but I was blown away by the Ishimori. Usually I play a tenor and if its really good I think “This is great but it’s not like my SBA” The Ishimori was the first non-Selmer I have played where I thought ” Wow, this is close to my SBA! I could play this!” Steve

  13. Giuseppe says:

    Steve, thanks for the review, but… I prefer to wait because, probably, in a few months, another new one will come out! and then another one … The last one, the one that folds, I bought it a few months ago …
    I’m joking but, help …,
    I have a collection, accumulated in 40 years, of neckstraps, probably greater than what you have of mouthpieces!
    P.S. Despite everything, I still have not found the neck strap that does not give me pain somewhere … so far, with each new neckstrap, the part has always changed, but something always hurts! Blessed youth, then nothing hurt … at age 69 … what a pain!
    Anyway, joking aside, thanks Steve for the review!

  14. Giuseppe says:

    In any case, in order to protect the sax from scratches due to the hook of the neckstrap, I, when I purchase a new nackstrap with a hook that could scratch, I insert in this hook, along its entire path, a rubber tube of those transparent ones of the suitable size, such as those used for the aerator of the aquariums!
    I hope mine was a useful piece of advice.

  15. I’m pretty much the same way with neckstraps at 50. The Balam hasn’t caused me any pain so far and I have been using it for a few months. Steve

  16. Giuseppe says:

    I saw in one of your lessons on youtube, attached to the wall, the other recent backstrap output before this, similar to the one I bought, even this to be shaped around the shoulders. To me instead of hurting my neck hurts the clavicles! The new one is a bit like that or not, apart from the leather padding and the closure behind the neck? The closure on the neck is useful: it happened to me that, bending slightly, the backstrap fell forward and was about to dent the sax!
    I think then I’ll have to try the Balam.

  17. I think you are writing about the Saxholder. The bars on both the Saxholder and the Balam can be bent so that the pressure is not on your clavicles. With the Balam and the Saxholder I just feel slight pressure on my trapezius muscles. Steve

  18. Giuseppe says:

    Depending on the season and the clothes that you wear it bother in different areas.Yes, I should widen the metal bars again; I had first enlarged them and it hurt me on a point of the trapezius, then I narrowed them and it hurts on the clavicles and tightens around the neck; now I should again enlarge it at an intermediate point; in the meantime I closed an index finger in the fork that closes and I bloodied all the saxholder that I had to then clean up, fortunately I have no transmissible diseases! But the finger hurts! It looked like a Woody Allen movie!
    Yesterday I reused my old Rico shoulder bag with padding on my neck!

  19. Giuseppe says:

    On you tube I saw a little man, at MusikMesse, who, without effort, folds the sax holder like butter and says “Now it fit!”. Fold at the first attempt, in the exact shape of the shoulders, just the part that enters my shoulder blades that hurt me a lot and that I, for months, I try to bend in the right shape without succeeding. Would not he move to my house and fix mine too?
    I understand: it’s Clark Kent … use ultra strength and X-ray vision?
    Joke, but not too much (how does he do?).
    Giuseppe.

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