Angled side keys on a Martin C-Melody

Just a quick post to ask all the C-Wise Men out there if they’ve ever seen side E and C keys bent as in the picture, or if they’ve ever modified their own saxes in a similar – but possibly not quite as extreme – fashion ?


This is from a Martin C-Melody saxophone currently on ebay – the seller ( a very friendly Kim ) told me “They must have been this way when I got it “.  There seems to be no other damage (if that’s what it is…) to the sax, so it seems a bit unlikely that these keys could have been accidentally bent without affecting anything else.


Almost makes me want to bend a couple of mine just to see how it plays !  😆

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40 Responses to Angled side keys on a Martin C-Melody

  1. lewis Pelham says:

    Hopefully they are all on the same level. From the photograph it appears that they are stepped. Provided that one is able to slide unimpeded throughout then no harm done. I fail to see any advantage however.

  2. Gandalfe says:

    I’ve seen a fair number of players bend the side F# key that way and sometimes up. But never these keys. I’m not sure what this example would buy you, especially if you play on many horns.

  3. lewis Pelham says:

    Bending the side F# key out of the way is probably just to get it out of the way!
    Do you know anyone who has ever used it?…I don’t. Simply a source of leaks, in my view at least. Why not start a campaign to lose the side F# and restore the G/G# trill key.

  4. Mal-2 says:

    By “side F#” do we mean the key between RH2 and RH3 that raises F1 to F#1 and F2 to F#2? I don’t use it THAT much and for a long time had a tenor where it was completely missing (the posts were knocked off and I just taped a pad over the hole). It does prove to be useful at times — the only tune I can think of where I use it repeatedly is “Straight, No Chaser” (at least on alto, in concert F — the sequence goes A-D-E-F-F#, A-D-E-F-F#-G-F), but I do use it in ascending chromatic runs as well. It’s about as useful as “ballad C”, another key that is not entirely necessary (though unlike the F#, it is useful in altissimo).

    I have lengthened the F# lever on the Buescher by gluing a sculpted cork onto it — easily reversible, should I change my mind. (Not that it really matters since there are so many permanent modifications I could never restore it to “authentic” status.) It gets used most on tunes in five or six flats (Body and Soul, ‘Round Midnight, just about anything by Billy Strayhorn), where motion between F and Gb is common. If you don’t insist on playing in these distant keys on the horn LEAST suited to accommodate them, you may not encounter this very much.

    If you mean the high F#, I only have one of those on the Jupiter alto and cheap Chinese soprano. The Buescher alto, Yamaha tenor, Dolnet bari, and (of course) Buescher C-mels are lacking this feature. On soprano, I couldn’t really do too much other than alter the height of the key, since it also has a high G. This makes twisting the key around next to impossible. Fortunately, it’s reasonably positioned and doesn’t need a lot of hacking. On alto, I have chopped and hacked and corked the key a great deal, to make it easier to reach when I am already holding the high E key open. It sits where a high G would be if it had one, which makes a bit of an adjustment on soprano (which I rarely play). I’m liable to hit the high G rather than F# when playing soprano, until I adjust and remember that it has the extra key.

  5. alan says:

    Mal – yes, the F# is the short side/alt F#, not the ‘high F#’ – at least that’s how I read it…  Don’t think I’ve ever used it.  Never use the ‘high F#’ key either, where it’s fitted. In fact, I would probably never miss the RH palm F, and the LH palm E, and certainly not the ‘bis’ Bb.  It’d be interesting to mod a sax to have just the keys I use, hmmm…
    However the ballad/side C is used to death – as is the side Bb – I find the side C has a much cleaner (and often more in-tune) sound than the normal open C fingering – which is only really ever used at speed…   Funnily enough, on the flute I automatically compensate for the lack of side keys, but that fingering doesn’t seem to get carried across to the sax !

  6. Mal-2 says:

    Well it looks like you found someone who uses the “side F#” then — me. I could live without it (as I did on tenor) but there are times when I’m glad it’s there. I sometimes end up reaching for it on flute (and catch a trill key), but not nearly as much as I reach for the side Bb that isn’t there. I never use the analogous key on clarinet because it’s far too easy to slide off the hole while keeping the ring depressed to go Bb-B-C or F-F#-G. This obviously doesn’t work on an instrument with pads on every hole, so I do need it a bit on sax or bass clarinet.

    I use it just enough to consider the “baby” side F# a liability. I much prefer the wrap-around full size hole, though this restricts the placement of the thumb hook and is less structurally sound. This is the same reason I disable the fork-Eb, the hole is just too small for a proper tone.

  7. Ross says:

    The F# key is constantly used by the classical fraternity and
    also facilitates the playing of some multiphonics – for those who
    are into them!
    Like Mal, I prefer a fully-keyed F# for the the limited use
    I make of the key.

  8. lewis Pelham says:

    I too use the high F#… that is it’s purpose.
    Playing in “Guitar” bands, high F# (E) is essential. Apart from the fact that my R&C is an excellent horn, I tend to use it most  because my other tenors are keyed only to F.
    OK, it’s not difficult to find alternative fingering for high F#, but why bother when it is keyed? Alternatives are more awkward, slower and less reliable.

  9. alan says:

    Now if I had a sax that was keyed to high G, I’d possibly use that – as the harmonic  G is the one I have most consistency problems with.  Usually works for a funky growl, or a strangled squeal – but a nice clean ‘legit’ high G (G3) can be a problem, whatever the harmonic fingering…

  10. lewis Pelham says:

    Try persisting with LH 1&3, RH 1+low Eb.
    It sort of works for me…solid but not quite G.  😉

  11. alan says:

    Lewis – as you know, the LH1+3 / RH1 set are favourites of mine, as, with various side/alt keys they give  F#>G>G# without too much finger flurry.  However, even the G-nat here is the only ‘iffy’ one out of the three, as you say, almost G…
    One day I’ll find the perfect G3 fingering, which moves from horn to horn with consummate ease, and is rock solid !  🙄

  12. Mal-2 says:

    > which moves from horn to horn with consummate ease
    Good luck… Maybe you can find some that match between tenor, C-mel, and alto, but the loop in a bari is going to screw everything up.

    The fingering set I’ve been using on the Buescher C-mel lately is:
    F#: 1 – 3|1 – –
    G: 1 – 3|1(C)- – (the C is only barely cracked open, I even added a key to do this)
    G#: 1 2 3|-C- – (it does not matter much if the C is cracked or fully open)

    A to C are per usual. I still have trouble with C# and D. It’s not that they aren’t there, they just lie in a sea of closely spaced partials. Once located, they are stable.

    I would very much like it if the Aquilasax allowed the use of the more standard alto fingering 1 – 3|1Bb- -. In spite of drilling myself on the new G fingering and it not being that much of a switch to G# or F#, the F-G crossing is still slow and awkward. The extra key is WAY faster and more reliable than trying to just barely nudge the side C open, but using the side Bb would be even faster and take the right hand less out of position. It also would probably not be sharp.

    The alto’s G runs a bit flat but then, all the altissimo on my alto runs a bit flat and has to be worked upward. It is relatively stable and easily locatable though, I really don’t have to fight it much. It’s not as easy as A, but it’s not too bad either. Bb-B-C give me more trouble on alto than G does. If I charted it a bit it might look something like this (longer bars indicate more difficulty of production — 1 is a dead cinch, 2 and 3 are fine if approached properly, 4 is squirrelly, 5 is barely usable, 6 is not ready for prime time):

    F#: ===
    G  : ===
    G#: ==
    A  : =
    Bb: ===
    B  : ====
    C  : ====
    C#: =====
    D  : ===
    Eb and higher rank at least 6 bars.

    On the C-mel it’s more like this:
    F#: ===
    G  : ===== (and I have to lip it down)
    G#: ===
    A  : ==
    Bb: ===
    B  : ====
    C  : ====
    C# and higher rank 6 bars.

    Part of this is me, part of it is my choice of mouthpiece (my tenor Link STM is way mellower than my alto Rousseau JDX), and part of it is the horn. The shame is, I know EXACTLY where a hole would make the high G ring (a small hole maybe 10 mm in diameter, centered on the “downwind” rim of the side C), but do not have the facilities to add the tone hole or the keywork. Having a whole parts horn (sans neck) available, I’d go for it if I had the tools.

    If you want to see if this placement would work for you, try covering most of the side C tone hole with tape but leave a crescent on the “downwind” edge open. Try
    1 – 3|1C- – with only the little crescent of C open, and G should ring clear as a bell. The side C is too useful to leave it this way, so another key and hole would be necessary to make this work permanently. I suppose someone really enterprising could put a hole THROUGH the side C cup and pad and put another pad on top, like the Evette-Schaefer fork-Eb used. Then no additional body tone hole would be required. Pad-on-pad is a bit finicky to say the least, but it just might work.

  13. alan says:

    Mal – yes, ballad C is a very useful key to me, especially if open C intonation is not so hot.

    I decided that with the bare-brass C, alto-style neck, and tenor Couf, I’m going to try all the G3 options (or ‘G6’ as they call it) on this page of fingerings – got to be one that works reliably well !

    Great if I can find a logical G > G# sequence, that I can use for either with just a subtle fingering change.  guess at just after midnight it’s too late to start now ?  😀

  14. ukebert says:

    Loving the themed security words Alan…

    I always use ballad C, too lazy to learn something even mildly different from the clarinet. It did mean that when I recently played a Yamaha wind-synth (which I would love to have one of my own of should someone have one lying around that they’d like to give me for next to nothing) I was quite confused, as playing open produced C# (thumb down it would produce C on clari, assuming you were in the upper register) and playing with Ballad C also produced C#, as that key was the “raise by a tone” key…

  15. Mal-2 says:

    The “side Bb” on the wind controller effectively stands in for both the A>Bb and B>C transitions, as it raises any note a half step. If you had palm keys, you’d still use this key for D#>E as well. The whole step key is basically a trill key, which is really useful once you get used to it.

    Similarly, the G# key will raise anything a half step, which is why it will also double as a low C# (in conjunction with the low C). This allows a nifty fingering for the F-Gb trill: 1 2 3 G# | 1 [2] – or 1 2 3 | 1 [2] – Eb. Trill RH2 and your fingers never have to leave the main keys. Basically it becomes an E-F trill shifted up a half step.

    Depending WHICH wind controller you have, the G#, Eb, and side Bb may be fully independent (allowing you to raise THREE semitones by using them all), or they may all be duplicates, meaning if you hit more than one it has the same effect as hitting just one. I think Akai does it the first way and Yamaha the second, though it’s been a long time since I used an Akai EWI. The USB version of the EWI is quite affordable now (and I have a laptop), so this may change soonish.

  16. ukebert says:

    Yeah, a friend of mine has a Yamaha and lets me play around on it from time to time.

    I’ve heard about the EWI USB, I might have to think about considering getting one after Easter. Would be an interesting experience.

  17. Mal-2 says:

    I am hearing that the EWI USB requires quite a bit more computer muscle than advertised — don’t expect to run it through a two year old laptop without having some issues, and it probably isn’t going to work with an Atom-powered netbook of any description. This makes it significantly less attractive for me, since a tiny netbook is exactly what I’d want to be using it with. Although more expensive, the EWI 4000s is a standalone unit. The Yamaha offerings are more sophisticated but cost even more than the EWI 4000s once you shell out for a sound module. Still, I might have to get a Yamaha WX5.

  18. ukebert says:

    Yeah, I wouldn’t fancy lugging round an enormous laptop, it would be much more convenient with a little netbook. Then again, my friend lugs round his yamaha, the synth, an effects pedal and an amp…

    The EWI 4000 I think avoids these problems by having an internal synth and amp, although I’m not sure that the pre-loaded sounds are that good.

    Unfortunately there is a problem with yamaha’s in that the battery contravenes some EU reg or other, so you can’t import them.

  19. alan says:

    I’ve used both the Yamaha WX7 and WX11 – with the WT ‘notebook sized’ controller – and also direct into racked synth modules.
    I gave up at the end and sold than all.  Wonderful machines, but better for home studio and bedroom use (great for all-night silent reading practise of new material, or transcribing).  I eventually decided to leave any synthesising to keyboards, but it was fun while it lasted – I could get a better Fender fretless bass sound than the keyboard players bass sound because I could bend notes, with the poor old bass player usually coming in third position 😆
    For gigs I ‘purpose built’ a desk/box that had a padded compartment for the quite delicate instrument itself, and also housed the WT unit/psu’s, lift-outable pre-connected effects, and mains distribution sockets.  Only other ‘box’ was then an amplifier – I still have that vintage (i.e. bloody heavy) Roland Jazz Chorus combo in the garage – which got it’s power (and audio-in) direct from the desk/box.  So only really two big extra ‘boxes’ in addition to my normal instrument cases and stands. Well, that’s a relief, still marginally less cases than a drummer lugs around ?
    So, the desk/box also contained a small stereo audio mixer for integrating a couple of microphones into the setup (they also lived in the desk/box for transit) for my acoustic instruments. The flute travelled in the desk/box as well – along with a couple of  lights to see what I was doing – it could get pretty crowded in there at times, what with the spare leads, foldback headphones etc. I suppose these days (if I was still using it) it would also contain a laptop computer for recording myself, even more complicated manipulation of sounds, and playing backing tracks and even ‘interval music’. heehee…
    All I then had to do on a gig was uncoil a long mains lead from within the desk/box and wonder off in search of a suitable power outlet.  Before that I had bits going everywhere, and they (or the connectors) mostly weren’t industrial strength or guitarist/drummer proof…  😦  Better off all safely in a desk/box.
    It was an interesting phase of my life, but I don’t miss synthesised sounds much.  Occasionally, yes, I wish I could (passably) sound like a flugel or a swamp-monster, but then the moment passes.  What I really don’t miss is the midi ‘delay’, or the five (three up, two down, from memory ? ) octave keys… Or the worry that one day, this delcate piece of electronic kit was just going to stare lifelessly back at me, like they tend to do, just at the wrong moment, and just when I needed it most.

  20. Mal-2 says:

    ukebert: Many people replace the EWI stock patch set with the offering from Patchman. This is supposed to be a huge improvement. The main worry I have with the EWI is that the keys are capacitive, not mechanical, and I have put a LOT of effort into keeping my fingers close to the keys. I WANT them to require more than a mere brush in order to activate. The Yamaha wind synths have mechanical keys.

    alan: My gear too suffers from spaghetti cable syndrome. I have labeled every connector for quick setup (and might even be able to get help setting up in a pinch), but it is inevitable that wires will be going everywhere, given my signal paths.  (Plural because there is one for me, and one for the piano listening mike required by the harmonizer.) I want to have the mixer within reach, so it sits on a miniature music stand head that clips on to a mike stand or, in this case, the post of a music stand.

    My main problem (which would be solved by a synth) is that the mike cannot sufficiently isolate me in a noisy nightclub. This causes the harmonizer to stutter, as it is expecting a simple, single tone and instead is confronted with the background noise of the entire stage. I do not know if a clip-on microphone would be much of an improvement, and I am reluctant to try neck pickups for various reasons.

  21. Alan says:

    Well, it sold for $399 (not far under three hundred quid at todays pitiful exchange rates…) so I’m just off to bend a few keys on my own C-mels, before they go on ebay !
    I just love a happy ending…   😆

  22. To be totally honest …. pure butchery .. see no purpose to this at all … either intended or not … looks like the result of very poor transportation job where the sax has hit the inside of the case or if it had been dropped against something … 😦 Have seen bent keys before .. but nothing on this scale, intended or not 😕

  23. Alan … just getting back to your point on the EWI …. I currently have and use the Yamaha WX5  …… bought the EWI4000 and taking in the fact that the unit is stand alone …. very poor samples internally on the EWi4000s … what I thought was a big con (parden the pun) was the doubling up on sound samples in the unit itself .. over 20 sounds were duplicated and that with Operating system problems and the PC software that came with the unit refused to recognise the connection to the PC … was my main reason for sending back the EWI4000s for a full refund …. The Wx5 even though its not stand alone and needs a midi module for sounds….. in my eyes is still the market leader …. just look at how many returns Akai are getting back because of various glitches in the OS and PC connection incompatability problems …. 😦

  24. ukebert says:

    The WX5 is great fun to play. Looking at eBay if I bought second-hand and/or imported I could get a complete setup for £250. Unfortunately I don’t have that kind of money at the moment 😦

  25. Yeah know what you mate ! …. When I first bought mine it was the guts of £700 including the Vl70m Midi module …. I had the choice at the time of the celebration blue marble effect colour too … I then linked the midi module up to the MFC remote pedal bank and now change sounds on the midi bank from the pre-programmed pedal which stores the sound and bank number in the pedal then its easier changing programmed sounds live …. as long as you know what number they are at …. working live I have the pre-set sounds all numbered in a list 🙂

  26. Mal-2 says:

    I found another use (accidentally) for the maligned alternate F# key — altissimo G. I know this works on my Buescher, but I can’t say it will work on other vintage horns (though it costs nothing to try).

    To the F# fingering (1 – 3 | 1 – – ) add the fork F#, and you should get something that is almost G. It is stable and not all that hard to find, but it is 15 or 20 cents flat and has to be lipped up. I still prefer my “G facilitator” because it tends slightly sharp, which is somewhat easier to deal with, but adding fork F# stabilizes the note and pulls the pitch up only another 5-10 cents or so. Unfortunately this pulls TWO fingers out of position rather than just one. I might fix this mechanically (make the G facilitator also pop the fork F#), but then I would lose the ability to release the fork F# to bring the pitch back down. I’ll just have to noodle around with it a while longer, then decide.

    You might also find that the usual alto G fingering (1 – 3 | 1 – – plus side Bb), which runs severely flat on my C-mel, can be pulled up to pitch by adding the fork F#.

    If this works for you, it might be worth widening the fork F# so that it can be caught with the pinky as well as the ring finger. That way it could be used in the usual manner (to raise F to F#), and also used in altissimo while keeping the other fingers over the keys they need to press next. I don’t know about you, but I’m not using the Eb key in altissimo. I do use low C for altissimo C# sometimes, but G-C# is one of the least likely note combinations I’d be using up there, and there are other fingerings that work for C#. Too many, actually.

  27. lewis Pelham says:

    Ballad C?
    Is this something that has passed me by?
    A “C” used exclusively in ballads perhaps?
    Perhaps my Misty and Black Orpheus will improve if someone will let me know this fingering.
    I cannot not know the fingering, whatever it is (B with side C?) but why the name?  😕

  28. Alan says:

    Lewis – yes, you’ve ‘got it in one’ – it’s the ‘side C’ – I’ve always assumed it’s called the ‘ballad C’ because it has a marginally stronger tone than the crossover front C played just on the pearls.
    Again, I’ve assumed this to be because the ‘front’ C has (going down the instrument) an open hole followed by a closed one, which slightly muffles the sound – although probably only in the players ear…  😆  It’s a useful C-Mel fingering because it’s often slightly better intonation compared to the front/crossover C.

  29. Alan says:

    ‘Course, that then begs the question – the little used RH ‘alt F#’ key (not the high F# one) – why isn’t that called the ‘Ballad F#’ as it avoids the front/crossover F# ?   😀   😀   😀

  30. ukebert says:

    I’ve always found ballad C fits better under the fingers anyway as well as being more in tune. Probably cause I started on clarinet and tend to expect C# to produce C…

  31. lewis Pelham says:

    You should hear my Heavy Rock A#!        😆

  32. Alan says:

    Lewis – sounds – we need sounds…   😆
    Maybe you should call yourself  Captain Aysharp instead of Captain Beeflat ?

  33. ukebert says:

    All right, what’s a heavy rock A#? 😛

  34. lewis Pelham says:

    LH 1+bis.  RH 1+side Bb….well, it’s worth a shot.    🙂

  35. Alan says:

    Doesn’t work on the Aquilasax C   🙄
    BUT – I now can get a perfect G3, lovely and strong, and ‘on the nail’ with
    LH 1&3 /  RH 1, plus alt-F# and low Eb  (that’s RH alt-F#, not RH high F#)
    Almost rock solid, will be with some practise, much better with the alto-style neck, than with the tenor-style one.  Neck dependent ?????  But that’s OK – ‘cos that’s the neck I like.  I won’t complicate things by trying it on the old Martin until it’s burned into my muscle memory.
    That’s nice, ‘cos the F#3/G3/G#3 are now all variations on LH1&3/RH1 plus various side keys,so useful on saxes both with/without front-F – and with minimal finger-flurry.  Yeah, and my tenor/C-Mel lip/embouchure  is back, and Rico 2.5/3’s now work faultlessly, as they did last year.
    Thanks Mr. LaVoz, for leading me thro’ these traumatic times… 😉

  36. ukebert says:

    Yeah, well I’ve found that on my flageolet, R1& 2, B1&2, L2 produces a passable C#. The reason that it wasn’t before is that my little finger was over the bell as it is when playing low A/G#/G.

  37. Mal-2 says:

    I thought the “rock Bb” (or A#, not particularly heavy rock or any other specific kind) was the low Bb fingering, but with LH2 vented. Alternate this with LH 1 – 3 plus bis, and you can get the “doodle” effect by moving the entire right hand and the left pinky together. On some horns you can get away with keeping the left pinky down continuously and only move the right hand. Right hand up, and you have a slightly flat, slightly muffled Bb2. Right hand down and it becomes a slightly sharp, clear overtone of Bb1. The pitch should alternate between below and above where it would be with the normal fingering (about 5 cents either side) — enough to sound different, not enough to sound wrong.

    For the upper octave, a “rock Bb” would probably be synonymous with the “Texas wobble”, or a low Bb fingering with the octave key and LH3 vented. Lipping down causes this note to fall from Bb3 to G2.

  38. lewis Pelham says:

    I was being ironic about Rock A#.
    However, as you have taken it seriously, I have to ask if you are aware of the wobble between Bb & G? Attained with LH 1&2 Rh 123 +low Eb.
    Exaggerated tremolo can give a very interesting effect.

  39. Mal-2 says:

    I referred to the wobble, I just learned to do it with LH 1&2 + low Bb, RH 123+low C.

    I figured you were being ironic about the Rock A#, and had it been some other note I probably would have not replied. It’s just that there are so many alternate Bb fingerings with different sounds that ONE of them has to be the Rock version!

  40. lewis Pelham says:

    It was because there are so many fingerings of Bb/A# that I included them all…just to be sure.   😀

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