The Inconsistent Saxophone II

End of the Story

As I promised last week, here’s an update about my student who ordered a Yamaha EX. After trying 3 separate Selmer Series II Jubilee saxophones, he received the EX; he loves it. It doesn’t have the Selmer tone that he fell in love with, but the EX sounds great and plays as it should. There weren’t any surprises or anomalies found, so this particular saxophone will not be fighting against him, but will help him succeed.

Now, let’s move to our list. This list takes you through the process that any trained musician would follow, when buying an instrument.

Are You a Beginner?

If you’re completely new to the saxophone, some of the items below may be difficult to attempt. No need to fear, just do your best. At the end of this process, if you’re not comfortable making a decision, you can ask one of the following people to run the saxophone through the steps. I realize this list of individuals may not be accessible to everyone, but it’s worth bringing up:

  1. A friend who plays saxophone
  2. A local repair tech (many music stores have tech shops)
  3. A local band teacher
  4. A local university with a saxophone professor (this may be a tall order, but it’s worth mentioning)

The List

#1: The Structure

Even if you’re not mechanically inclined, take a look at the structure of the saxophone. Is there anything lose, bent, or out of place? If something is out of place, it may be noticeable, even if you’ve never held a saxophone before. You may not be able to tell if something is bent, but if it’s drastic enough, you may be able to see it. A lose part, something rattling, a felt, or a pad that has fallen off may be noticeable in some instances as well. If a felt (black, green, or red) has fallen off, the saxophone may not play properly.

You don’t need to spend too much time with this step, but take a quick look and see if your eye can catch anything out of place.

#2: The Tone

Tone is another name for sound, and it makes sense that you should like the tone of your saxophone. Before you begin the list below, make sure you’re in tune. If you don’t know how to tune your saxophone, you can learn by clicking here. It’s a pretty quick process in regards to mouthpiece placement.

Once you’re in tune, do steps 1-4 below. If you’re choosing between two saxophones, and you’re not sure which saxophone you want, run it through this process and you’ll have a better idea of the right saxophone for you.

  1. Play a scale
  2. Play a technical passage
  3. Play a melodic passage
  4. Play each multiple times (especially if you’re comparing multiple saxophones)

What did you hear? What did you like? This playing test should bring out the differences in the saxophones. Or, if you’re playing one saxophone, you’ll hear what you like and what you don’t. Many times, you’ll like what you hear and all will sound as it should. So if you don’t find any problems, that’s ok.

Try it Out

Try out the 2 steps above on your own saxophone, or the next time you go saxophone shopping. No matter what (and I’ll mention this again next week), after you’ve tested out the saxophone, I would strongly suggest taking the saxophone to a repair tech before fully committing to a particular saxophone. This will give a professional a chance to check out things you may have missed. This will help in making the right choice.

Next Week

We still have a couple of steps left to cover, and we’ll finish that up next week. Until then, what are the most common issues you have found with your saxophone not playing properly? I’ll start the conversation off by sharing a common issue with saxophones that is easily fixed. You can find that in the comment section. I look forward to your comments!


Comments 3

  1. After the saxophone has been sitting for a few hours, there’s something you should check out before you play your next note. Check the G# key; it sticks. Not just sometimes, but often. Simply take your finger and lift up the G# key, and that’s it. Normally, it will not have any other issues for that session.

    1. Nice tip, Jeff…
      I think it’s important to let anyone know that the G# key (the actual tonehole lid, not the button we press to play the note), located more or less at the middle of the sax body is the only one that is spring operated instead of lever operated. In short, it opens not by means of the force applied by a finger, but through a spring that is compressed by a lever. When the player presses any of the four left pinky (plateau) keys: G#, low-C# , low-B, low-Bb, a lever that holds the tonehole lid closed rises and the spring actuates, opening it. If, for some reason, mainly a sticky pad, the spring has not enough tension to raise it, the lid stays stuck onto the tonehole and the G# doesn’t sound. Frequently the airflow pressure is enough to open it, but not before an ugly G-like note sounded for a little while.
      Every other key moves from its normal position via the player’s force. This particular one depends upon a tiny steel spring.
      Checking a “sticky G# ” is a good measure for knowing how well maintained a saxphone is.

      (sorry if I went too technical)
      Practice hard!

      1. Post

        Thanks for your comments Marc. And to add a little more information, the low C# works the same as the G# mechanism. So, before you play, check the G# and the low C# as well. This is a common issue, so if it happens on a regular basis, no big deal; just “unstick” it and keep playing! If it continues to stick throughout your playing session, then you may have a pad that needs a little more attention. Yamaha makes a powdered paper that you can use to resolve this issue. Applying talcum powder to the pad (using a Q-Tip/cotton bud) will do the same thing. If it still sticks throughout your session, then a new pad may be needed. Thanks to Marc for the additional comments to extend the conversation on this topic. I hope it’s helpful to everyone!

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