At last, a really comfortable C-Melody !

As you can see by the picture, the bare-brass Aquilasax C  has arrived, and is in use…  I was so keen to try the sax out (about ten seconds after it had arrived, fastest unpack ever) but the new ‘tenor’ style C neck had a slight mechanical problem, so I impatiently tried it with the ‘alto’ style neck that was also in the case.  Click on the picture for a better view of the sax.

But (surprise, surprise…) when I went back to the tenor neck, having later easily rectified the problem, I found that the alto neck suited me so much better.  Very little appreciable difference in sound quality and blowing characteristics between them, so it’s really all down to comfort and ‘feel’. 

You might remember back-away when I commented that the new Aquilasax C ‘tenor’ neck was shorter than the standard C-Mel ‘tenor’ neck – because the body tube had to be lengthened to accommodate the high F#, so the neck was then proportionally shortened to maintain the same overall ‘tube’ length ?

Well, so it is with the new Aquilasax C ‘alto’ style neck – it’s considerably shorter than the original 20’s Conn C-Mel straight neck, in fact only about an inch longer than a standard Eb alto neck, and with none of the microtuner gubbins that also seemed to affect harmonics.  So, using the new C straight/alto neck  doesn’t appreciably push the sax ‘out and away’ – the real hate I had with the 20’s straight/alto-neck Conn C’s, having quite short arms !  Instead, on the Aquilasax C, it drops the sax down from a normal C ‘close and high’, to a ‘close and lower’ position – quite tenor’ish, despite looking like an alto on steroids, still with all the keys in easy reach, plus the neck doesn’t get in the way when reading music – and it’s so comfortable – as you can see, nothing is strained…  (except maybe the listening ears 🙂 )

The sling can now also be appreciably looser/lower, and can usefully be slipped on/off the neck without disturbing the setting.  Going back again to the Aquilasax C tenor style neck re-confirmed all my initial findings, so I sharply returned it to the case and went back to the alto-style neck.  I’m probably the last person to readily admit this, but (certainly at this moment in time) I actually prefer playing with the Aquilasax C ‘alto’ neck.  How strange, I really didn’t expect that !   More observations later, as I get to know the sax…  Thanks Steve, much as I like my original lacquer C – I just love this new bare-brass one !

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42 Responses to At last, a really comfortable C-Melody !

  1. ukebert says:

    But how does it sound Alan? Has the quality or design changed since your last one? I haven’t really been keeping up with things.

  2. lewis Pelham says:

    Well, it certainly looks good Alan. 
    How does it sound with a “proper” mouthpiece? Your Weapons Grade Lawton for instance.

  3. alan says:

    Owen/Lewis – it plays great within the current limits of my own technique…

    I haven’t played a lot of C-Mel (just gentle C-Sop and flute, plus a little alto) over the winter, so I’m having to work on the tone.  Up to C3 it’s great, notes above that, and harmonics, are a little thin at the moment.

    I’m also perplexed that (on the 10*/9* Couf’s, and the 8* Lawton) my normal Rico Royal tenor 3’s are playing a little too soft – so the highs are suffering – quite confusing really, I was hoping to be able to drop back to RR 2.5 after the layoff.  I’ve been hitting the asthma inhalers quite hard over the winter, but I can’t believe my breath output has increased that much !

    So,  I’m doing a little reed-hopping at the moment, from reasonably aged Rico Royal 2.5/3, through vintage ‘orange and brown box’ ordinary Rico 2.5/3, to mature La Voz Medium.  What a different range of responses – that’ll teach me to lapse…   So, don’t expect any sound samples this week, all I can say is that the bare-brass Aquilasax C seems to have a slightly fuller/mellower/darker sound, and blows slightly free’er, than the crisper/edgier/modern sound I was getting from my original lacquer Aquilasax C.  No really perceptible intonation problems, except the ones I know about with the different mouthpieces.

    But, at the moment the ‘big’ bare-brass bottom sound contrasts with a slightly thinner top, hopefully/probably it’s me rather than the sax – some practise this afternoon seems to be confirming that, and the slightly elusive harmonics just need a little more ‘reaching out’ for them.  They’re all there, just a touch hesitant – even found a sensible G3, it all just needs firming up (again…) – I’m really going to try and stick with one sax/mouthpiece/reed combination per instrument after this – sadly Lewis, the Lawton bazooka is just a little too harsh and cold, so it’s going back in the case until/when/if  I ever get back into the really loud and penetrating stuff…  I feel a more mellow era coming on 😆

    I remember that on the Martin Magna alto I had a similar ‘voyage of discovery’ at home, after the brief euphoria of checking it out at the dealers – Don Mackrill.  I’m sure I’ll overcome this little hiccup with a little perseverance.  In the course of this afternoon’s practise, I did temporarily revert (again) back to the ‘tenor style’ neck, just in case the straight one was part of the/my problem – but with that one I found that I was having to lean my head uncomfortably back and there was no difference in the response, so I’m still happily playing on the ‘alto style’ neck. 

    Little but very often, that’s how I like to practise, so the neighbours can have an entertaining time, with plenty of breaks.

  4. Mal-2 says:

    Cane varies with both heat and humidity. I find humidity makes reeds play softer than normal, while the relationship to temperature is not so simple. Thus it is no surprise that with the change in seasons comes a change in reed response.

    Due to varying conditions and the fact that you like to play in short bursts, I really have to recommend Fibracell reeds. There is nothing like being able to pick up a horn that’s been on the stand overnight, and have it respond instantly. The intonation may be a bit sideways till it fills with warm air, but that takes far less time than preparing a cane reed. They also do not seem to care what the weather is like. It makes sense that they would be unaffected by humidity, but they don’t seem to care too much about temperature either. The price is four or five times that of a cane reed, but so is the useful life. This means that while they are not really a bargain (they don’t last forever), they are just better in so many ways. They are perfect for doubles, since a little warm air is all it takes to get a horn ready. They have no need for soaking, and they have no taste. The cut is left a little bit bumpy to look and feel more natural (unlike Legere), while the flat side is smooth as glass. There is even a tan tint in them so that they are indistinguishable from cane to all but the closest inspection.

    I bet G3 would even lock in a little bit better with one. It certainly does on my alto, though I never really had too much trouble with altissimo on alto even when I was playing blue box Vandorens. I can’t tell you if it helps on the Buescher C-mel since I’ve never used cane on it (other than short experiments).

    They are not as good as the best cane, and I won’t claim that they are. They are, however, better than all but one or two out of a box of 10, and they are extremely reliable (not one of cane’s strong points). They are really making headway on double reeds, as the price difference is much smaller (double the price of cane, not 4 or 5 times as much) and the increased lifespan easily outweighs the extra cost.

  5. Alan says:

    Mal – living literally within walking distance of the sea, and with a large freshwater lake less than 100 yards away – as the crow flies – I don’t find that humidity varies a lot…  😆  Other than when the rain buckets down, which is not unknown in England.
    I used to use Rico Plasticover when I doubled seriously – or should that be ‘seriously doubled ‘ ?   However I may well try Fibracell, but how do the strengths equate to (e.g.)  Rico grades  ?  I don’t want to buy a selection just to find the right strength for me.  I’ve tried a couple of other synthetic reeds in the past and their idea of soft and hard seems to be at odds with cane reeds.

  6. lewis Pelham says:

    Alan, exactly right. I strongly suspect that the reason why we do not play Fibrecell is the expense of experimenting to find exactly the right strength.
    I have twice tried; on one occasion the reed was too soft and on the other occasion, too hard…which leads me to another big snag; it is not possible to either clip or scrape them.
    Yes, they do last an inordinate time, but when they fail it is instantaneous….in the middle of an eight bar break perhaps.  I had been using one for some time & although they do indeed respond without being wet and warm, my enjoyment was ruined by the thought that the reed was due to give up the ghost at any time….without any warning whatsoever.
    I will continue to put up with the inadequacies of Rico, either Royal or Plasticover.

  7. lewis Pelham says:

    Alan. My wife thinks that you look “very nice” on the photograph & the horn looks as if you were born with it in your hands. Even the usually dreadful baseball cap looks appropriate!
    What is emblazoned on your T shirt? Is it “My Blog”? with your email address, or “My Dog? with a picture of Ace.

  8. Alan says:

    Lewis – yes, the sax really does feel comfortable, and balanced – I shall be inconsolable if I find that ann of my current concerns are down to the sax…  If anything I’ll try and work around them, so that I can carry on playing it.  However, I do seem to be progressing…

    That is a special ‘compromise’ baseball cap, really in a soft wool’ish material so that it doesn’t look too bad- and the teeshirt ?

  9. lewis Pelham says:

    It may have nothing to do with your particular problems, but I was suffering from pins & needles in my hands until I bought a shoulder strap, purpose made, from Packers. The weight of a tenor around my neck was restricting circulation.
    The shoulder strap I find ideal, the horn always being in the right place, with no tendency to need to lift the horn slightly for the low notes.

  10. alan says:

    Lewis  – I may have to look at something like that.  I’ve (more or less) found the ‘higher notes’ problem – now all I have to do is fix it…
    It’s a combination of the palm keys (in particular palm D) and the octave key.  I just don’t have enough reach to be able to operate both simultaneously, to the degree required.  I do have quite short and stocky fingers – so I  may have to compromise positions, and maybe move the left hand a little bit more when playing the high notes.
    I’m using a key riser on the palm D, but I may have to actually bend the key (they’re quite solid).  At the moment if I depress the octave key fully I can easily foul/open the D key, and if I play the palm D the way I usually so – then I find myself easing up on the octave key – hence the high note problems.  Not particularly helped by the ‘manufacturing tolerance’ on the modern see-saw octave mechanism.   There’s a bit of joint play, it makes it difficult to set a really positive action – so I’ll investigate how to minimise this.  The mechanism looks quite dry, some light molybdenum grease (or similar ‘easy action’ grease) on the pivots/balls may help things.
    Don’t mean to be critical of the Aquilasax, I’ve seen more play on other makes, and it’d all be fine for longer/slimmer fingers – I’m just finding the top-end stretch a bit of  a challenge. I can almost get around it by swivelling the sax towards the right, so that the palm keys are more to the front, and having the neck a bit skewed, but I’d rather keep the normal relaxed playing position if I can.  I’m sure there’s a compromise, just needs a little further thought.
    On the positive side, I’ve found that the sax is capable of being played VERY gently, whilst still keeping a solid tone, so it’s a cause worth pursuing.  It’s a minor problem when balanced against the overall pleasure the sax gives me.

  11. Mal-2 says:

    I discovered the answer to my posture and positioning problems quite accidentally. Since I switched to synthetic reeds, it is easy to just grab the horn and start blowing without any preparation at all. This means that often I didn’t even feel like putting on a neckstrap, so I could either rest the bow on something — for alto it’s my thigh, for C-mel it’s the chair, and for tenor I have to prop myself up to use the chair for horn support, bari just requires a couple books on the floor — but it’s even easier to play standing and rest the instrument on the arm of the couch, or the corner of the table, or whatever is convenient. I would practice this way, then find I was having difficulty repeating things that were easy in practice. Finally I realized that taking all the weight off both my back and my hands was distinctly improving my technique.

    The next step was to put together something I could take on gigs, since for some odd reason, nightclubs frown on me bringing my own couch. The quick and dirty answer was to bolt a small metal bowl lined with cork onto a tripod instead of a camera. I can still remove the bowl and use it as originally intended, which is good because it’s an expensive tripod. I need to get a cheap video camera tripod. Since I do not need to extend the legs very far, their main shortcomings (topping out at about 5 feet, and not being terribly stable at full extension) are not very important.

    I find that I am now much less pained and fatigued at the end of a show, in addition to being able to play faster. Your mileage may vary, but it should not be too hard or expensive to find something the right size for use as a temporary support. Then you can decide if you like it before actually putting any money into it. Stacked milk crates work great if you have them (but any sturdy, boxy thing should work), and books, mint tins, plates, or whatever is handy can be used for the final adjustment.

    If you do like this, it might be worth sacrificing an old, beat-up music stand by removing the head and replacing it with something that will cup the bow. I would if I had one, but my last retired music stand was long ago chopped and parted out. A spare microphone stand would also work, provided it isn’t too tall at its lowest setting.

  12. lewis Pelham says:

    You will be aware of the “Jiffy” baritone stand which, because of the swivelling action, allows the horn to be plated whilst in the stand.
    With your modifications to a music stand you have invented the “Universal Jiffy”….adjustable vertically to accommodate any size of saxophone.   😀

  13. Mal-2 says:

    lewis: My support stand does not have a cradle to hold the bell. It is up to me to hold the horn upright, but this takes very little effort compared to holding it up in the first place. Some people feel that a cradling stand sucks the vibrations out of the horn. I’m not sure I buy into this, but I do know I want to be able to move a LITTLE. Mine is more like a small platform to rest the horn on, with a bowl shape simply to make it harder to inadvertently fall off the edge.

    As for Fibracell strengths (sorry I didn’t see those posts earlier), I found their conversion chart is reasonably accurate.
    You will want to go with the numbered strengths, not the “Hard, Med. Hard”, etc. as these encompass two numbers and are bound to be less consistent. This kinda rules out buying them on eBay. The only place I’ve seen online to buy them “by the numbers” is the Fibracell site itself.

    The sheer consistency also allows you a bit more margin for error on strength. For example, I initially ordered a #2 for tenor and #2 for bari, as those corresponded to the Vandorens I was used to. Both turned out to be slightly soft, but entirely playable, provided I wasn’t playing at triple-forte volumes. I moved up to 2 1/2’s for stage use, but I still play the 2’s at home. You can still hang it out over the end of the mouthpiece a little bit if it’s slightly soft.

    Similarly, I bought 3 1/2 for alto and it is a good match to my Rousseau, but is too soft for the Lakey, so I bought a 4. I really could use a 3 3/4 on the Lakey, but I’m finding it’s not a keeper mouthpiece anyhow. It’s bright, brash, and loud, but intonation is a bit questionable (tending to sharpness) and it only has one (paint-peeler) sound. The Rousseau is a much better balanced piece and almost as bright in full overdrive.

    Anyhow, my point is to just go with the chart. You MIGHT come up a half a strength soft, but even then it will be usable.

  14. Mal-2 says:

    I have not experienced any catastrophic failure with Fibracell reeds, though I’ve killed two of them. One caught on my pant leg and split — but I was able to smooth it over and keep playing it till the coating started to peel off a couple weeks later. The other has just gotten mushy by being played a lot. I noticed it during the second set last Sunday night, and still got through the night by just sliding it out a bit. I haven’t yet ordered a replacement either. 😯 Now that I know 2 1/2 is right for my Link 8*, and a 3 is right for the Meyer 7M, I’ll have to get a couple of each.

  15. lewis Pelham says:

    Yes, in all fairness, my experience of Fibrecells was in the days of Soft, Med, Med hard, etc. I would like to try them again but my suppliers does  not yet  stock them in the more conventional numerical system.
    On the associated subject of swapping reeds quickly (we have all changed them during a 12 bar guitar solo) I have often thought that an adjustable “backstop” on the mouthpiece table would be a good idea. With the reed in the right position, set the backstop up to the back of the reed. Changing a reed (assuming them to be of identical length 👿 ) would be a simple matter of sliding it under the lig up to the fixed backstop, & tightening. We could then swap reeds during a two bar guitar fill!

  16. alan says:

    Lewis – I suspect there might possibly be a market for a ‘Pelham Patented Precision Positioner’ – I’ve often wished I could slightly reposition the reed with a gentle turn of a vernier screw (like on reed trimmers) – rather than upset the entire thing,  in often less than perfect light, by releasing the lig !
    During my ‘German’ period, I was surprised at how quickly an ‘oompah’ clarinettist could change reeds with a string ligature, especially as the band usually came equipped with a few crates of beer to add to the jollity.
    On the ‘good news’ front, a little playing has almost restored my reed control – now back to getting gentle control of the low harmonics, with a sensible strength reed for the normal notes – strange tho’, anything ‘tricky’ seems to be a little further back in the throat than it was before…
    btw – is anyone knows where I can get an economical supply of ‘Phil Woods’ style caps, I’d be obliged… I’ve found the real ones, but I hesitate to ask the price !

  17. lewis Pelham says:

    Alan. A vernier is exactly what I had in mind. It could be done with a screw thread along the external circular shank with a knurled “stiffnut” as the backstop.
    You mention sensible reed strength…I think that is the key. Pete Thomas says that he worked his way down to soft reeds; there is a huge advantage in soft reeds, apart from having to fight your set up. It is so easy after extended playing, to become used to a hard reed…try it again the following morning & it invariably seems too hard. That is my test….will it play fully and easily when cold and dry in the morning?
    Are you sure that you want a leather cap? There are many suppliers around Earl’s Court! 😉

  18. Helen says:

    Interesting info about your new C-Mel Alan. I’m looking forward to hearing some recordings when you get to that stage. I’m always amazed by your C Melody sound. Not at all what I have in my head when I think C melody saxophone… And that’s a good thing by the way! 😀

    About the Fibracell reeds, I’ve been using them exclusively on all my horns (soprano through bass) for 10 years now. They do send out warning signals before their catastrophic failure. As they reach the end of their lifespan, they get softer, and I find the top end of the horn starts to sound thinner. Altissimo notes become harder to hit. At that point I move the reed into the “practice” pile, and don’t use it for performance anymore.

    I keep 4 reeds in rotation for performance exactly like I did when I used cane reeds. I also have reeds that I use for practice only. When a reed starts to go, I relegate it to the practice pile. In general, I find that 4 reeds in rotation last me about 1 year of playing, when I was playing 4 nights a week on average.

    When Fibracell introduced their Premier numbered reeds, I found that those were somewhat harder. I find that 2 1/2 strength too hard for me, yet I was playing 2 1/2 Fibarcells before. YMMV of course, but the general consensus among players has been that the Premier Fibracell reeds are indeed harder than the regular Fibracell’s.

    My personal preference is the regular Fibracell’s that were numbered. I still have a bunch of them for all my horns, although the tenor and alto supplies are dwindling. The numbered Fibracell’s were manufactured after the soft/medium soft/ etc descriptions were dropped. For a while Fibracell produced 2 types of numbered reeds: the regular and the Premiums. It seems that only the Premiums are still in production now.

    BTW, personally, I wouldn’t order my reeds from Fibracell directly. Their prices have always been higher than anyone else’s. At this point in time, I would order from Woodwind and Brasswind. For a single tenor reed, the savings are $4.00 US a reed. Unfortunately where I used to get mine from, Charlie A’s, no longer exists. So the next time I have to buy reeds, I will have to hunt around for a dealer.

  19. lewis Pelham says:

    Gosh, how we all vary in our procedures. I put on a new reed & it stays there until it begins to die. Then it is thrown away, the mouthpiece cleaned, & a new reed fitted. Whatever works for you.  🙂

  20. alan says:

    In the UK, there seems to be only one supplier offering the the ‘numbered’ Fibracell Premiums –

    – just about all of the others are still listing the Soft/Hard options, although Bill Lewington does have the chart showing both, and plenty of info…

  21. lewis Pelham says:

    One can understand cane becoming soggy and worn but I would expect a synthetic to last forever; polyprop is fatigue free so why do not the makers look in that direction? Possibly because they have an eye towards repeat orders  & therefore engineer a limited life.
    £12 for a reed which I cannot scrape or clip? I think not. Much is made of the advantage for doublers, but in the real world you take one or two horns to a gig & how long does it take to get it all chiming? Shut all the keys & blow down for twenty seconds & you should be flying….especially if you start around the middle of the horn, with no soft low notes or altissimo. That can all happen on the next number when all is wet and warm.  🙂

  22. Mal-2 says:

    Whatever Fibracell is using, it isn’t fatigue free. I think this is inherent to it being a composite — eventually the separate materials come “unstuck” from each other, and the reed loses its springiness. It is a fairly graceful decline, and you do have time to deal with the problem. I had my tenor reed start to go mushy noticeably during the second set Sunday, and it was only slightly worse at the end of the THIRD set. By then, it had the same noticeable curve that a dying cane reed gets just before it fails completely. If you start the night with a nice, flat reed, you should make it through the set at the very least.

    As for scraping or clipping, it just isn’t necessary like it is with a cane reed. I can’t really explain it any better than that. I don’t get but two or three cane reeds from a box of 10 that just play after a soaking. I have to hack on the remaining seven or eight, only to find out that half of them just suck. I’d rather spend that time practicing, especially when it’s coming in two minute bursts while I’m waiting for something else to finish. Every Fibracell I’ve had, on every horn, has played at a very consistent level. If I take two brand new reeds of the same strength, I simply cannot tell them apart. Cane reeds are not that consistent. I thought the inability to tinker with them would be an issue, but it just isn’t. If you really insist, you can sand on the flat side without risking getting stuck by broken fibers. I’ve done this just to break the gloss when a reed doesn’t want to stay put. A light scuffing stops it from wanting to move side to side.

    Another advantage I’ve found is that Fibracells are really forgiving of your ligature setup. As long as they are held securely, they don’t seem to care. I’ve noticed a difference between a Rovner, an Olegature, a stock Link ligature, and the usual two-screws-on-the-bottom ligatures when using cane, but there is a minimal difference with the synthetic. Of the bunch, the Olegature is most secure, and it’s pretty. A Winslow is a complete waste of time, it doesn’t get enough “bite” into the synthetic reed to work properly even though it’s my favorite ligature style with cane. A good ligature will improve a decent reed by keeping it perfectly flat on the mouthpiece, but Fibracells are VERY flat. They don’t swell, and they have no exposed grain. They just don’t need the help.

  23. lewis Pelham says:

    I can see that when you have established the strength of reed required, then scraping and clipping will not be necessary, due to the consistency of the Fibrecell reeds.
    In my case, when initially trying them, I selected one too hard and another too soft….(£20 {or 2 boxes of Plasticovers} straight down the pan for starters). Part of the learning curve….at that point I lost interest & went back to Plasticover.
    In my experience the decline and failure of these reeds was dramatically quick. Clearly, from the above correspondence, this is not usually the case.

  24. Hey guys was contacted by steve the other day about these new c mels … very excited …. what do you all think ..?  Deano

  25. Alan says:

    Deano – hello and welcome – I got a lacquer one from Steve late last year, as a ‘stopgap’ because the factory weren’t building my preferred bare-brass yet.  It was/is a good player, within the limitations that, as with most Chinese instruments,  it is factory built ‘to a price’.
    I think some of the very early ones suffered from a combination of poor QC and some shipping problems, but this seems to have been sorted now.  As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, I’ve also now received my bare-brass one, and prefer playing that with the alto-style neck.
    I hope to be recording some test sounds later this week, once I’ve settled down with the horn, but so far I’m very impressed.  For the price, it’s good.  Unfortunately, within the UK, the poor pound/dollar exchange rate means that they now cost more than they did six months ago…   😥
    But, imho, worth it.  It’ll be interesting to see which colour the bare-brass mellow to.

  26. ukebert says:

    Hi Deano, long time no see.

    To be honest, the price that the fibracells are at makes it overly prohibitive. I have an unfortunate habit of losing, dropping or splitting reeds, I’d much rather have a box full of broken in cane reeds. I tend to have one reed that I use for everything and another that is broken in and usable that will become my main reed once the old one finally gives up the ghost.

  27. lewis Pelham says:

    Hello again from me also.
    We “spoke” much on another site…I as Captain Beeflat.
    Glad to see that you are still blowing.

  28. Guy’s good to be back, have been keeping an eye on you all from time to time .. well taken the plunge and ordered the unlaquered bare brass c mel to match my mad meg cannonball alto and tenor … Alan .. the new bare brass c mel if its like my cannonballs will go dark brown and vintage looking … in places they even go green in colour ….

    RE Fibracell … have tryed but if your between sizes like I am currently … not much good … they dont cut well at all and have trashed 2x of them so be warned ….. !

    Bari plastic are better for trimming and dont trash very easily as they are not fibre in construction ….

    Will post report when the bare brass c mel arrives …. 🙂

  29. Mal-2 says:

    Deano — I have to give you that, Bari reeds are pretty hard to destroy. I have only tried them on clarinet, and I never got one to behave in a manner I liked. They did seem to be slightly temperature sensitive, though totally insensitive to moisture. I also didn’t care for being able to see the moisture in the mouthpiece, so I probably don’t want a clear Runyon Custom either.

    I found a Fibracell can be sanded ever so slightly, you just have to do it on the flat side and do it very evenly. A Bari reed can be shaved, clipped, sanded, or (carefully) torched, and it will just look and feel different. It won’t fall apart. Unfortunately, I just don’t like them.

  30. Alan says:

    ‘Course (coming back on topic…) I could always have the alto-neck Aquilasax C, and my tenor-neck Martin C together on the double stand (with C-Sop, C-Clari and C-flute on the pegs) – and face the intriguing decision, ” do I play C-Tenor or C-Alto on this number ? “
    I’ll bet a lot of non-sax people wouldn’t even notice the size differences !

  31. Derrick Vandenberg says:

    Hi Alan,

    Interesting reading on your blog and site. People are taking more time here to give more of their thoughts than on SOTW where I also do a lot of reading.

    My question to you: you mentioned the micro tuner on a Conn c-mel affecting the harmonies. I have just that – a Conn c-mel in very good condition with the “nail file” G# key. I am taking lessons from a very accomplished classical saxophone player and we are taking tone very seriously. So, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the effect of the micro tuner on the harmonics.

    Also, if the micro tuner is an issue, Aquilasax offers replacement necks to fit on a Conn c-mel. I assume that means their necks are of the same diameter at the Conn neck. Since you have an Aquilasax neck and probably a Conn c-mel would you have the time to try the combination and get a sense of the difference in harmonics?

  32. Mal-2 says:


    Unfortunately the Aquilasax neck shipped with the new C-mel is shorter than the one intended for use on vintage bodies, since the new horn has a high F# and thus a longer body tube.

  33. Derrick Vandenberg says:

    Right, of course, has I remembered what I had just read in the discussion above. Sorry. Nonetheless, Alan, I like to hear your thoughts on the micro-tuner / harmonics affect.

  34. Alan says:

    Derrick – bottom line was that I couldn’t get any sensible harmonics using the Conn microtuner neck.  I couldn’t get my favourite tenor mouthpieces (that I can easily get the harmonics on) on far enough to be in tune, and the alto mouthpieces seemed ill at ease…
    And the current state of the only Conn micro-tuner sax I have, means that I won’t be in a postition to do any testing for a while… ( click/hover here for a picture… )

  35. ukebert says:

    Heh, my Conn looks remarkably similar except that it is half cleaned and with a box full of keys stuffed in a drawer somewhere back at home…

    And a “tenor” c-mel and “alto” c-mel would make everyone who knew anything about saxophones extremely bemused… would be fun.

  36. Alan says:

    Yes, I had thought about the effect of a Martin C + Aquilasax C  (especially as they have such different colours as well) – but the average ‘Dorseter’ would be hard pushed to tell the difference between even a sax and a clarinet…  Now, a Bb tenor with an alto-style neck, and a C-tenor with a curved neck, that’d be wicked !   😯
    Someone once asked me, about a metal clarinet, “What kind of saxophone is that ?”
    My reply “It’s a clarinet saxophone…” was met with total confusion  😆

  37. Dick says:

    I’m recently returning to the sax after a 40-year layoff (worked as a computer programmer, more money).  Having the time of my life – this is soo much fun!
    Trying Fibrecell med-soft and find them very easy to play – much easier than canes, of which mine are Rico Royal 2.0 (also some 2.5).  Waiting on Otto Link 9* coming later this week.  Playing Selmer Mk VI tenor (#8472x) with Selmer C* silver mouthpiece.  Bought it at Sam Ash in Hempstead, LI for $215 in ’64!! Got the Fibrecells from Sam Ash online.
    I love sounding like Coleman Hawkins (until I get to the remaining notes…..or fail to).  The Fibrecell sound seems just a teensy-tiny bit harder than cane, not as easy to play “soft and fuzzy” (think Heart and Soul by Bean).  But, they all sound the same (I have 3, $30), amazing consistency.  Old habits die hard though – I still wet them before playing….duh.  Maybe I feel cool walking around with a reed in my mouth?

  38. Mal-2 says:

    I still stick the reed in my mouth too, it’s force of habit. As soon as I realize I don’t taste anything, I remember it’s a synthetic and just get on with the business of assembling the horn. At that point, my mouth is the most convenient place to leave the reed.

    I have found that it’s actually EASIER to play “soft and fuzzy” with a Fibracell, as they don’t tend to squeak when they’re closed down, the way cane reeds do.

    My nickel-plated Aquilasax is stuck in Customs, a feeling Alan is quite familiar with. 😦 I confirmed that it arrived in San Francisco (from China) on Friday. This means it never was in Steve’s hands, so I’m expecting it to need some setup work before it plays well. Nobody has contacted me to pay import duty on it, so I really don’t know what to do next.

  39. alan says:

    Mal – from my dealings with US Customs, you probably won’t have any duty to pay – none of the guys I’ve shipped stuff to in the US ever have, and (e.g.) the Magna alto and Lawton were both valued at more than the Aquilasax.

    It’s just the traditional “Chinese imports” witch hunt and mandatory delay… Mal – afaik, Steve spends time in China, I’ve had stuff from him posted there, it’s a lot cheaper than from NZ.

    And I still wet Plasticovers – even automatically run my thumb toward the tip to smooth out any non-existant warps !

  40. Mal-2 says:

    Yeah, the materials enclosed in the case seem to indicate Steve play-tested it himself, which is why the poor setup is all the more disappointing. I can understand him letting it go with tight springs, and the timing issues were not severe and easily could have happened in shipment, but I would think he would have noticed the palm keys were way too open and the lack of clearance between RH2 and the low B adjustment screw. Of course, I would imagine ALL the horns have the same RH2/low B problem unless mine just has the RH stack venting too far.

    In any event I’ll have to give it more time, but thus far I have to say my reaction is very mixed. My initial pleasure playing it at home faded as soon as I put it into a real-world situation. Out in the wild, it’s WAY too bright and alto-like, lacking “body” to the sound. If that was the sound I wanted, I wouldn’t be playing tenor mouthpieces, or for that matter a C-mel. I’d just play alto. The altissimo response is stunning — at mp to mf. If I try to play that range any louder, it completely shuts down. The Buescher at least allows me a strong f before it starts to choke (except for G which has to be finessed). The problem with the palm key notes breaking up came as a surprise, but I think that is almost certainly a neck issue. Do you notice a difference between the palm key response when you switch between the straight and curved necks? I’d be willing to buy a straight neck to see if it solves the problem, but only if I have some corroborating evidence that it will do so.

    It also still has a significant warble problem on low B and Bb even though I’ve gone over it with the leak light and fixed the timing issues. It’s actually worse than my alto at this point, but then the alto has a small plastic bottle  glued into the bottom of the bow. I might have to do the same with the Aquilasax. The Buescher has no such difficulties, even when it’s a bit out of adjustment (which is more often than not).

    After so much antici………pation (it’s been over a year and a half since I placed my pre-order), I have to say I’m rather let down by what I got. If I had play-tested this horn in a music store, even after fixing the timing problems, I wouldn’t have given it ten minutes before moving on to something else. It may just be totally incompatible with my mouthpiece inventory, but that is not something I’m particularly looking to change. I would much rather go through a pile of horns to find one that fits my preferred setup, not the other way around.

    I would probably be perfectly happy with this horn at half the price, figuring I could hack it until it behaved the way I want. But since I have thoughts of sending it back, I can’t start hacking on it. I haven’t even done anything to raise the RH side keys, and I’m using rubber palm key risers (which I detest because they like to fall off at the worst times) rather than doing hard hacks. The only thing I have done is glue an additional layer of cork onto the existing one where necessary to keep the palm key venting in line.

  41. alan says:

    Mal – yes, I’ve read with interest your reviews on saxontheweb, and in the forum here.  I’ll get some playing time in on the Aquilasax next week and try and compare, I have to admit since the Opheo tenor/alto arrivals, C-Melody has been very neglected.

    But a couple of quick comments –

    a) I don’t seem to have the RH2/low B adjuster problem – the screw is close if I look at the proximity with finger on the pearl – but I’ve never had problems with fouling it, so never noticed it before…

    b) It is very much brighter than the average C, so mouthpieces like the Lawton 8*BB are o.t.t. – but my wedge-baffled ebonite tenor Coufs make it sound like a tenor-lite (even with the “alto-style” neck) rather than a beefy alto.  That might be a state of (my) mind.

    c) I’m disappointed too with the side/ballad C, but it’s a really small sized cup/pad (the early Conn C’s had those) – I’d have preferred something similar to the size of the side Bb, but then I guess the factory copied Steve’s 1919 Conn…

    d) I’m still trying to find a good compromise with the octave mech, too much slack overall, so a fair bit of movement before anything happens.  Might have to bring my Martin C out of mothballs to a) compare, and b) take the starin whilst I do some real work on the Aquilasax…

    e) the brightness of the sax reinforces my conviction that large resonators aren’t needed on C’s, modest ones – or even rivet pads – do the job just as well without losing the fullness of sound.  It’s possible that the different brass quakity (from 20’s horns) really does make the Aquilasax ‘sizzle’ more – don’t expect my bare-brass will ever go to a deep/dark colour, it’ll probably be yellow’ish forever  😥

    Most of my concerns with the bare-brass Aquilasax I had were of small metal shards left over from the engraving causing me more than a little pain, if I handled the sax around the engraved area.  Happily that’s now all ‘handleable’ (pun intended…), and the only niggle is that I have to ‘stretch a little too much for the low Bb or the palm D !

    I’ll do some tests after the weekend !  (and I”ll post this on the c-forum as well)

  42. Mal-2 says:

    I mentioned in the forum how to fix about 60% of the play in the mechanism (I can’t get rid of all of it either).

    I have to say, if I was not told where this horn came from, I’d have guessed Taiwan, not mainland China. That’s a compliment to the Chinese startups, because the Taiwanese manufacturers have really gotten their act together in the last decade. The copying of a flawed design was not their decision. I don’t know who signed off on the low B adjuster, but if it had been my job I would have told them to put it on the other side of the key arm and make the lever from the C# just a shade longer to match. That would fix it.

    I have decided that I will be sending the Buescher off to Martin Mods for pretty much a complete re-engineering, since he has come up with a method of fitting modern spatulas and an articulated low C# onto these vintage horns — and a high F# as well (by replacing the body tenon and carving out the neck tenon)! Until then I will play the Aquilasax and try to find a way to make it sound the way I want. If I haven’t accomplished this by the time the Buescher comes back, I’ll sell it.

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