So, back to the Aquilasax C…

After an extended absence from playing sax, today I returned to playing the Aquilasax C.  My aim is now to try several other mouthpieces on this sax, including more traditional ‘C’ ones, and see just how the sound changes – and what’s available. (Just in the ‘interests of science’ you understand, I’m quite happy with the Couf setup I’m using – with the Lqwton ‘in reserve’)

I had initially settled on the slim ebonite tenor Couf Jazz J9*S – same one I used on the Martin C, with quite a big ‘step’ baffle – not as open as it appears, about an average 7*’ish.

I did quickly also try my vintage Otto Link Tone-Edge 7 (just post-slant Florida model) tenor mpc on the Aquilasax, but the sound just wasn’t as good as with the Couf (pictured with the sax).

Just to kick phase three of the testing off- here’s a string of phrases with the Couf, to make sure I can still play – I’m really happy that returning to the Aquilasax was as rewarding as playing it originally.  In the interim I did have a quick blast on the ’31 Martin C, but have to admit that for sheer playability, the Aquilasax has the edge (never thought I’d hear myself saying that…).  Maybe for that little extra depth of sound, the Martin wins – but I’m now finding that it’s a much more difficult beast to play 🙂

<< Click here for a quick Aquilasax C / Couf sample…

I make no apologies for having an ‘edgy’ tone, I’ve almost always played in ‘loud’ bands, and for Steve to make inroads into the ‘sax in a guitar group’ market, players will need to be heard.  ‘Laid back’ subtones can still be obtained with even the edgiest of mouthpieces…

Recorded using Cool Edit Pro 2.1, on the static machine (laptop is just electronically too ‘background noisy’) – with a USB Samson Q1U microphone, not far off the bottom of their range. Just to check how faithful a tone I get, here’s also a very short and airy C-Sop sample, which shows the same setup can record ‘gentle’ quite reasonably.  The saga continues…

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22 Responses to So, back to the Aquilasax C…

  1. Mal-2 says:

    Nice sound, I think the Couf is a good match to that horn. It doesn’t quite sound like a tenor, but it’s closer to tenor than to alto (as you might expect with a tenor mouthpiece), and in an ensemble setting I think all but the most studied listener would be hard pressed to notice the difference.

    I also like the apparent ease with which the altissimo “rings”. Is that you, the mouthpiece+reed, the horn, or some combination of the three? This time it falls just about halfway between tenor and alto in terms of sound, but quite frankly all of them (alto, C-mel, and tenor) start sounding a lot alike once forced into overtones. The main distinguishing characteristic is the location of the “break” between natural notes and overtones — once again not something the casual listener is likely to be looking for. (The C#2/D2 octave break can also be used for this purpose.)

    Does this mean the Aquilasax is better suited for “hooligan sax” than your beloved Martin? If so, it is likely to be a worthwhile purchase for me (if I can ever get my hands on one). Don’t get me wrong, I like the Buescher and still think it was a good purchase, but it really has issues with playing above A=440. I don’t blame anyone, it was never intended to do so, nor was it built with altissimo in mind. I have to imagine a “modern” horn will be an improvement on both counts, even if it’s modeled off an old Conn.

    I have been busy adding tunes to the two-horn salsa book, and I target the C-mel when writing the second part (though it transposes just fine on tenor, except Ran Kan Kan which calls for a whole lot of tenor high F#’s loud and staccato) and “bend” the part to accommodate whatever other instrument might be called upon to play that part, namely trombone. The range is just about as good as it gets for the purpose — only once do I find myself wishing I could belt a low concert A-flat (La Sandunguita), though the phrase in which this compromise occurs is repeated three times. Low Bb gets used a fair amount, six times in one song alone, but fortunately my horn is in reasonably good sealing condition despite being 90 years old. The top of the range is even less of an issue, as I never call for high F on paper, and make sure high E is approachable (except for the above referenced Ran Kan Kan, but that’s just how it goes — I’d rather play high E loud+fast on C-mel than high F# on tenor). I still want that range easily under my fingers for soloing though.

    I do like the way having a C-mel book in front of me confounds anyone trying to “sit in”, since it is highly unlikely they showed up with a C-mel unless they’ve played with the same band and know that’s what the parts were really written for. 😉 The tenor-transposed parts are still fairly straightforward for someone who specializes on it (which I do not) so I do not worry too much about finding someone to cover the part when the need arises. The way I make up the book though, the C-mel and tenor books occupy the same binding. The entire book flips over to switch between the two, so it is not possible to have both versions of the part visible at the same time without two complete copies of the book.

  2. lewis Pelham says:

    Good sound….temptingly like a tenor.
    Is the reverb built into the horn or the mouthpiece? 🙂

  3. alan says:

    Lewis – the reverb (as well you know…) is built into the recording software – I just use the ‘warm room’ setting – with my playing, I need all the help I can get…  I’m sure the software reveb isn’t quite as subtle as the real thing that’s usually always added in a studio, and I don’t use standard ‘compression’ – so you do get to hear the natural peaks/troughs. You should hear the ‘concert hall’ reverb level/setting ! Like playing in the Alps ! 😯

    Mal – The Aquilasax does speak harmonics as easily as the best I’ve played.  I’m sure with endless practise they could acheive the same sound as the rest of the sax (i.e. a natural extension) – but my practise session is usually just opening the case… 😆 Some mouthpieces are easier on harmonics than others (I’m sure the ‘C’ ones won’t be, when I test them) and I always play E3/F3 the ‘front-F’ way, so the tone sort of leads in.

    The Aquilasax is an ideal ‘hooligan’ sax, but maybe not so much for classical and Wiedoeft impressions, I think it has a built-in ‘modern’ natural brightness.  The only (realistic) reserve I have is the QC from the factory – although hopefully Steve is a good filter for that – obviously I can’t guarantee that anyone else’s will be the same as mine.  But then  mine didn’t get pre-checked by Steve (by mutual agreement) so I’ve no way of knowing where mine is on the ‘typical production quality’ scale.

    Steve (if you’re reading this), absolutely no criticism intended, just a small ‘reality check’ on my part – because if they’re all as good as this, then the factory really has got it spot on !  (in terms of cost vs. quality, obviously, I didn’t expect handbuilt at your prices)

  4. lewis Pelham says:

    The reverb settings on my unit take you from “small room” to “cathedral”….or, as a chum describes the latter, “a wasp in a jam jar”.
    Good sound you have there Young Sir.

  5. alan says:

    Lewis – I have a couple of other potentially good ebonite small-chambered tenor mpcs to yet test (all with less baffle) on this C – but I’m finding more and more that it needs to be a slow process, several in a day can confuse the embouchure memory and the ears. 

    So I think that this Couf mouthpiece is an ideal ‘datum’ sound – something to either beat, or fail miserably against !  And always good to return to, at times of confusion.  It sounds lousy on a tenor, there I have to use the fat Coufs (or the Lawton, or the Link…)

    I had (now sold) a CopyCat tape-drive echo unit from the good old days –  on the more adventurous settings, that made (by comparison) even the railway station announcements at St Pancras seem crystal clear…  Often the echo would continue after the number had ended 😦  

  6. JonF says:

    Love the sound, Alan. The brightness is great, really takes the c mel sound forward into something that would fit well in a modern band.

  7. Al says:

    Thanks Jon, and I’m not that really good a player (any more 😦 ) – with a sensible choice of mouthpiece, the Aquilasax would be perfect for an older ‘returning’ alto or tenor player.

    I’ll be checking out some other mouthpieces over the next few weeks.  Damn global share slump has poleaxed the pension fund, so my ebaying has to ramp up – I can check any spare alto/tenor pieces out before they’re listed. Naturally keep some sound samples (and possibly the very suitable mouthpieces) for posterity.

    The Martin C never really liked alto mpcs, but this Aquilasax C is a much easier blowing beastie, so I may get a few surprises there as well.  But, bottom line, I much prefer a sound closer to a tenor, always loved Martin alto’s because the low end could do a fair ‘tenor light’ impression.  So in reality I’m looking for a tenor mpc to exceed the flexibility of the slim Couf –  I’ll be ecstatic if I can find one.

  8. alan says:

    Ah – think I may just have found an ‘Achilles heel’ on the Aquilasax C…  No great problem, but it’s naturally a very bright sounding sax.  So, as I like to use a well-baffled mouthpiece for both edge and harmonics, I’m having trouble dropping back to a ‘sweet’ sound using my normal selection of mouthpieces.

    Of course, I could (and will) try a more ‘retro’ mouthpiece setup, but I suspect that the sweeter sound will come at the expense of flexibility and ease of producing harmonics.  Probably only a problem for an awkward old sod like me, and won’t be a concern for the majority of players, who are happy with one sound !

    Maybe the older ’31 Martin C does have its uses, after all ?  The Martin requires more effort to ‘work it’ but can fall back to quite mellow, even with the Lawton 8*BB – something that’s proving to be not so easy on the Aquilasax C, which relatively effortlessly seems to have more natural edge/presence.

  9. Mal-2 says:

    Do you feel like mucking about with some oil-based clay?

    I’ve found that (on a tenor mouthpiece) it’s the first 1 cm or so of baffle that primarily determines how easy it is to get the harmonics going — but you could allow the chamber to open up dramatically after that, yielding a “rounder” sound. This is roughly what I do with my Link STM 8*. It’s wedged close, but not very deep. On alto I have a similar setup with my Rousseau JDX8 — I’ve wedged it more than it originally was, but didn’t extend the wedge quite as far into the chamber as the natural baffle on the Lakey 4*3. The result is that it “pops” almost as easily as the Lakey, but isn’t so paint-peeling bright. (Unfortunately, paint-peeling bright is exactly what the job requires a lot of the time.)

  10. alan says:

    Mal – truer words have never been spoken “Unfortunately, paint-peeling bright is exactly what the job requires a lot of the time.”

    So many times have I played with different tenor mouthpieces at home, found amazing sounds, great subtleties, and then taken it to the next gig – only to realise that in the scrummage of sound I needed to hastily put the trusty Lawton (or before that the s/s Berg) back on…

    But these days, the gigs are much fewer, and my direction is more towards home recording – so I’m reverting back to the subtleties.  I’ll try with some neglected modeling clay that my grand-daughter has grown away from – has the bonus of being non-toxic.  I’ll also go back to something (perversely like the Lawton, or even a Link) which don’t have the big ‘step’ that always adds ‘hissing edge’, just ones with a subtle rollover.  I can never understand where the Lawton quite gets its edge from ?

    But the Couf will stay close, because as soon as I have to compete, or be heard in a noisy room – it’ll be useful.

  11. lewis Pelham says:

    I too went through the “oyster opener” mouthpiece phase, mainly for volume with a blues/rock band…not a nice sound however.
    Like you Alan, I could not understand where the edge on a rollover baffle comes from, but it is there, even on an open chamber STM Link.
    Nowadays I have abandoned Oyster Openers, preferring a mellow saxophone sound…if it needs to be louder then that is the job of the sound man.
    Strangely, I too wedged a LInk & used it for some time….louder, easier harmonics, everything you would expect. Then I took the wedge out I found that I do exactly the same without it…some form of subliminal effect on the embouchure/brain…we are into hippy territory here. 🙂 .
    I have a baffled RPC which I now find oppressively shrill…it is not all about volume and harmonics…..sound is everything.
    The best player of my aquaintance has been playing professionally all his life at the highest level, has only has one altissimo note…A.

  12. Stacey says:

    Wow, Alan, that’s a really nice sound.

    I wonder how it would be with something nice and dark, like my Morgan.  Granted, it’s a Morgan C-mel mouthpiece, and not quite as dark as the Morgan 3C classical mouthpieces I use on alto and tenor.  Those Morgans are so dark it would require you to set the software on “tinfoil-lined closet” to get any edge into the tone.

  13. Alan says:

    Stacey – hello – yes, I thought at first “Ah, it’s the cheapo usb microphone giving most of the edge” – hence the ‘test’ C-Sop fragment – but it wasn’t.  I’ve never, ever, played any sort of Morgan mouthpiece, but I have a deep dark Keilwerth (Zinner) tenor mpc which is in the ‘to be tested’ pile…

    That should be interesting !  Steve’s Aquilasax does naturally come up bright (lacquer AND sound…), so whilst the Keilwerth (Zinner) was far too dark for my Martin C, might be different on the Aquilasax.  We’ll see.

  14. Mal-2 says:

    Somewhere you asked what altissimo fingerings I’m using so you could try them on the Aquilasax. I’ve finally gotten around to compiling them.

    First, understand that I have added a key that just cracks the side C open, and the key touch is where the high F# would be on a modern horn (and I had to sacrifice the trill G# to get it, they’d collide and I found I could re-purpose the part). It is notated as ‘g’ below, and is used to get G3 to respond without veering wildly sharp (it’s still somewhat sharp).  This is because the side Bb that would normally be used for the purpose does almost nothing. Second, I have severed the link that makes RH3 close the RH2 pad, since I no longer have a fork-Eb key.

    These are all somewhat “cracky” (the G especially, even with the extra key):
    F#3: 1 – 3 |1 – –
    G3:  1 – 3 |1g- 3
    G#3: 1 – 3 |-C- 3

    These are quite stable and easier to find than the first three:
    A3:  – 2 3 |- – –
    Bb4: – – 3 |- – 3
    B4:  -D- 3 |- – 3
    C4:  1 – 3 |1 – 3

    Then it all goes pear-shaped. Almost any note above this point can be obtained with either F2-|— or F–|— and the right oral cavity setup. I do have one good fingering for C#4, though it uses the middle of a “triplet” of harmonics, each a whole tone apart:
    C#4: F  2 3Bb|1 2 3C

    Using F–|— for D is slightly flat, but trying to lip it up results in a leap to the next harmonic. I have yet to find a clean, easy D4 or anything above. I think this horn was just not engineered with this range in mind and it sort of runs out of steam. I am hoping the Aquilasax will be more amenable to “hard” harmonics up there, rather than the no-man’s-land that is the Buescher.

  15. alan says:

    Watch this space for exciting new developments in a couple of weeks time.  Just parted with some more dosh to Steve for my original preference, a bare-brass C.

    Not only does it come with a matched pair of bare-brass alto AND tenor-style necks – but also a bare-brass version of  Steve’s NEW wide-body C mouthpiece.  Now that’s novel, a bare-brass mouthpiece. 😉   – yes, it does have a bite plate… 🙄 

    I suspect I’ll need to put some kind of coating (something like hard polyurethane varnish ?) on the mouthpiece beak where it touches the lips ?

    I almost certainly won’t need to keep both Aquilasax C’s, so in a few months time I might be looking to sell the lacquer one – but that’s still a little way off, haven’t even got my hands on the bare-brass one yet !

  16. JonF says:

    Bare brass mouthpiece? It’ll go green, and so will you! :mrgreen:
    Can’t wait to hear about it when it arrives.

  17. alan says:

    Jon – here are a few advance pictures, the first five are of the actual sax I’m getting – should you (or anyone else) wish to look – they’re just “spoilers” if you’re a Doctor Who fan   😀
    Just hover over / click on any of these links…
    Here are a couple of full size – picture-1 and picture-2
    One better  showing the body colour – picture-3
    In a way it’s quite bright, but then when I look down into the bow of the lacquered one I’m currently playing, it’s very similar to that – naturally !
    And a couple  showing just the neck/mouthpiece, picture-4 and picture-5
    I assume that with the other (straight) neck, it’ll look like the one on the right, in these very much earlier prototype picture-6 and from the other side, picture-7

  18. JonF says:

    Looks very nice Alan. I’m sure you’ll be very happy together. Mouthpiece looks, err, intriguing.  The way it covers the cork fully, like a tenor piece on a c mel makes it look, well, more tenorish!

  19. alan says:

    Well, it’s showing up on the UK (Parcelforce) tracking system, so now it’s just a case of exactly when it emerges from the black hole, and whether or not it quietly slips past HM Customs & Excise – or whatever they’re called now…
    SSssshhhh…..     😀

  20. alan says:

    Well, the B-B-C has left China…  😀

    I’ll almost certainly be selling the lacquer Aquilasax, probably round about Easter, as long as the bare-brass one plays just as well – or hopefully even better… 😆

  21. alan says:

    Looks like it didn’t quietly slip past Customs…    😕

    / 13:18
    International Hub

  22. alan says:

    Sax  arrived today, plays fine, strangely enough I prefer using the alternative ‘alto-style’  neck that also shipped.  I’ll be opening a new post/review after the weekend.  Guess I can now consider selling my original lacquer Aquilasax C !  Don’t need two.

    The lacquer Aquilasax C-Melody sax is now available – click here…

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