The ongoing debate in the saxophone community is whether equipment really matters. By equipment we mean the brand of saxophone, mouthpiece, ligature, reeds, neck, pads and resonators. Some people will even argue that the type of material, screws and resonance stones on the body of the sax make a difference. I’ve had students come in with electrical tape wrapped around the outside of the sax neck because it added more darkness to the sound. Does all this stuff even make a difference or is it all connected to our endless obsession to look outside of ourselves to find change? ( Whoa, that’s deep) For this post on my blog I thought I would take the opportunity to post a recording of a setup that is less than optimal for me. This is a typical setup that an elementary student would come in with……………
I’m playing on an Alpine alto saxophone. The saxophone has some obvious leaks in it but plays reasonably well nonetheless. I’m using a Yamaha 4C mouthpiece that has a few small chips in the tip, a standard Rico #3 reed and a standard no name metal ligature. In this clip I’m playing Charlie Parker’s solo on Yardbird Suite from the omnibook.
Listen to the clip and see if you can hear a difference between it and my other alto clips on the site. It is recorded in exactly the same way and I am trying really hard to play the solo to the best ability. As I was playing and then listening to the recording it was obvious to me that equipment does matter and have an affect on me. If it isn’t optimal then it can affect your sound quality, technique, creativity and even your mood. You need a horn and setup that helps you to achieve what the sound is that you imagine in your mind but the question always comes up………….when is the time to change gear or make that jump? I always tell my students that it is when you feel like you have taken you current gear as far as it will go. A fourth grade student in elementary school doesn’t need a Selmer Mark VI. Even if they jumped from a beat up Bundy to a Selmer there wouldn’t be that much of a difference if any because the student hasn’t learned the fundamentals of the horn and gone far on his musical path yet. Even adults will come in to take lessons and want to know what saxophone to upgrade to or what mouthpiece to get and many times I will tell them that they have more work to do on their current setup or horn. To drive home the point sometimes I will play their horn and mouthpiece just to show that I can get a good tone out of it and not squeek. If you are uncertain of your own situation it’s best to get an outside opinion from a reputable teacher.
In this clip I am struggling a bit with the ergonomics of the horn, the closed tip of the mouthpiece and even the sound and tone of the mouthpiece and horn. It has a very one dimensional and flat sound to my ears. I do believe that if I was on a desert island and this was the horn and setup that washed up on the beach I would do fine with it. I would practice like crazy and in the end hopefully get the sound out of it that I would want. That being said, I’m not on a desert island so I think I’ll stick to my Selmer. I’m sure you will form your own opinions about this clip and subject while you listen. I have had a number of people that have asked me to do a recording like this just to hear how I sound on average equipment so here you go. Anyways,…..let me know what you think.