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What shapes the Tone or Sound on a Saxophone?Many things factor into the final sound of a Saxophone. Each of these elements shape the sound and outcome of instrument tests and review results for the saxophonist testing these Saxes.
THE PERSONThe person playing the Saxophone completely affects the sound created on the test instrument and their concept of an optimal sound colors each Review.
Every Sax Player has personal, physical attributes that shape the sound. The Body resonates the vibration of the Sax. Lung size, throat shape, mouth cavity, facial muscles, teeth, hand size, physical conditioning and hearing all come into play.
Most Pro Sax Players will sound like themselves, regardless of the instrument played. The Saxophone serves as an extension of the player and needs to be chosen with this in mind. The natural, physical shape and development of the player is partial and bias. Any person reviewing wind instruments must be aware of this bias to be of any real assistance to the general Sax buying public.
For example; Jeff Kashiwa is a Pro Saxophonist I went to college with. I have seen Jeff play a few different Saxes over the past 20 years and had the opportunity to see him demonstrate the L.A. Sax, Alto 700 Series this past January. Jeff played a few different models and one thing was obvious. He sounds like himself on everything he plays. Some of the models sounded better to me, but it was "Jeff's Sound" on each of them. The Sax was an extension of Jeff, with the same Mouthpiece/Ligature/Reed, changing just the neck and body; Jeff Kashiwa sounded about the same on each sax.
You could go out and buy the exact Sax Set Up as your favorite Sax Player and get a totally different end product. A Pro, like Jeff Kashiwa, can pick up any number of Saxophones and still sound like Jeff. The reason? We all start with who we are and the Sax is just an extension of that.
Personal Concept of Sound or Tonal Concepts.Each Sax Player has a sound they prefer. It might be a favorite Sax Player, era or style that shapes this personal "Tonal Concept". The sound you love is the sound you hope to emulate. If you have achieved a sound you like, any instrument that gives you "that sound" is the one you will like.
When you assess the "Player" and mix in the "Sound Concept" that person desires; you can see that a review will be bias to "that Sax Player" and defined by their "Tonal Concepts" on that instrument.
For example; If I love the old R&B guys and play that style a lot in clubs, I will want a sax to be loud, full and on the bright side with great harmonics for screaming. A great sax that was a little too polite for my tastes would place that sax pretty low on my list because it is not what I need.
You get the point? We bring "Who We Are" to the table and can only see from 'who' and 'where' we are. Therefore, any review will be partial and bias, regardless of the writer's attempts to be open and fair.
How do the Sax Accessories figure in?
Mouthpiece, Reed and Ligature...If the Sax is an extension of the Sax Player and defined by that Sax Players concept of sound or tone; where does the actual Saxophone come into play?
The largest tone change comes from the relationships of the Mouthpiece, Ligature and Reeds used.
Changing a Mouthpiece or Reed can create a very noticeable change. A stuffy, closed Mouthpiece or a dead Reed will affect every Sax you play.
Mouthpieces are made out of everything from Brass, Steel, Aluminum, Wood, Mixes and Alloys, plastic, hard rubber, glass, crystal, with many different metal plating options; in every imaginable shape and size. You will find great Sax Players using and number of these options and even owning different mouthpieces for different playing situations.
Reeds are made out of Reed Plant stalk, or synthetic such as Plastics and can also be Reed covered with plastic. They come in different cuts and designs and sizes (soft to hard).
The Ligature holds the Reed on the Mouthpiece and can be fabric, plastic or any metal with many, many different concepts effecting design, shape and size.
These 3 things together (mouthpiece, reed and ligature) can be called the "noise maker" or "Mouthpiece Set Up". The Reed has to vibrate to make the noise and the Mouthpiece and Ligature set it up to be able to, and hold the reed in place; shaping the sound and establishing the raw sound and vibration overtones.
If I can continue being very general for a moment… Plastic Mouthpieces are used more by beginners and students. They are pretty cheaper but lack tonal character. Hard Rubber type mouthpieces are used by Students and Pros alike for Classical. Metal Mouthpieces are used more for Pop, Rock and Jazz settings with tendencies toward brighter and louder sounds than Hard Rubbers.
How do the Reed and Mouthpiece work together to shape your tone?
If the Mouthpiece has a smaller tip opening - The distance between the Reed and Mouthpiece measured where you blow in, usually measured and numbered - Yamaha 4C Alto M.P. - smaller opening, will need a harder reed. This combination produces more control over pitch with a very focused sound; the hard reed causing the tone to be more dark and dense sounding, with less overall color to the sound. My Classical Set-up was a #4 tip opening, hard rubber, with very dense #4 cane reeds.
If the Mouthpiece has a large opening - 9* lets say - the reed will need to be softer to bridge this large tip opening. The "open set up" will be loud and often brighter with a fuller spectrum of sound but will be difficult to control. My Jazz Tenor set up was a #9* Link M.P. with #2 or 2 1/2 Plastic Covered reeds.
The combination of the Player and Mouthpiece Set Up shapes most of the tone for the Sax. This is why Jeff Kashiwa sounds so similar on any Sax (body and neck) he plays.
The other elements that shape the sound from here include the design, material and plating of the Neck and Sax body. The pads, resonators and Sax body set up will also color the final product. These pieces of the tonal process contain the greatest disagreements among Sax Players, but, it is the opinion of this reviewer that they do effect the sound and final product, and are worthy of mention here.
The point here is, no two people will sound the same on any Saxophone Set Up and most Sax Reviews start with that "Person", come with the bias of "Tonal Concept" and involve a particular Mouthpiece Set Up that comes with its own sound already.
You might ask, "Why read Sax Reviews at all if it is such a personal taste thing and individual process?"
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