Aquilasax C is definitely growing on me…

Hopefully I’ll be soon putting up some decent sound samples (rather than quick sound-bytes) on the bare-brass Aquilasax C, seen here sharing a chair with my early 30’s Martin C, and my solitary Bb tenor, a Melody Master Martin stencil, probably from the mid-30’s –  a bit of a ‘diamond in the rough…’

The Bb tenor is also getting a bit of attention lately, I missed playing tenor !   I could almost see alto getting squeezed out of the current favourites list.  Makes good sense, as my C & Bb soprano’s share the same mouthpieces and reeds, and the Bb and C tenors do likewise.

Alto has always been a rewarding sax to play in the past, but (for me) always needs more work to keep up ‘to a good standard’ than any of the others, so, unless I really concentrate on playing alto  – usually to the detriment of the other saxes – it can also at times be a frustrating instrument.  At the moment the Aquilasax C, with the alto style neck, nicely compliments the Bb tenor, and (as I’ve said before) conveniently shares reeds and mouthpieces with it.

Seems that I’m moving away from regarding the C-Mel as a small tenor, conveniently in C, to actually using the Aquilasax as a gutsy C-alto.  Hmmmm, strange turn of events, I’ll just keep playing and see how it all turns out…

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26 Responses to Aquilasax C is definitely growing on me…

  1. Mal-2 says:

    I intended to replace the tenor with the C-mel, since I have never really felt comfortable on tenor. This has been largely successful. I still haven’t nailed down reading tenor parts on the fly, but in those situations where I have an appropriately untransposed part I do just fine. The surprise has been how much of my alto duties I have been able to transfer over to C-mel. With the salsa band, this has essentially been EVERYTHING. The entire book is written to target the C-mel, and I have provided a tenor-transposed version in case someone has to cover for me (complete with F#3 and G3 in liberal quantities). It took a while to come to the conclusion that C-mel is not only the right “tenor” for the job, it is the right “one size fits all” horn for the job. It’s a bit brighter than the tenor but it still has enough of the richness down low to be a passable substitute, and it has the clarity and punch at the top (the primary failings of my tenor) to be a respectable alto substitute as well. If I had better command of F#3 and G3, as I imagine I would with the Aquilasax, then I would really have reason to learn to untranspose alto parts on the fly too. It is a more than adequate replacement for both “normal” horns, so long as I keep in mind that it IS a replacement and not try to force it to sound like either one.

    It’s not so much that the C-mel is a “small tenor” or a “large alto”, as it really is neither. It has its own unique identity lying somewhere in between the two. It’s that the music I am playing does not really require any specific saxophone (most of it is originally second trumpet or first trombone), so it’s a matter of finding the best all-around fit. There are times I would like to be able to play the line an octave higher, but they are few, and on only one song do I have a low concert Ab I have to sacrifice (where I wouldn’t have to on tenor) — and since the original part in question was a BARI part, nothing else is really adequate. It’s going to be a hack no matter what I’m playing, since bari is totally impractical for a two-horn setup.

  2. Alan says:

    Mal – I had written a long response, but the PC obviously didn’t like it and rebooted, so I’ll chose my words more carefully this time… 😦   That’s what’s missing here, the ability to do an interim ‘draft’ save, hmmm…

    Luckily, the sort of musical work (or more usually, unpaid pleasure)  I do these days doesn’t tie me down to sax parts or books (occasionally whatever fake/real books I might turn up with), I just need to supply a melody line, or suitable riffs/backing, and obviously a solo or three….  No-one now needs me specifically as an ‘alto player’ or a ‘tenor player’, just as a solitary ‘sax/flute player’ – so, as long as the C’s sound musical, and don’t squeak too much, no-one else cares what pitch the selection I bring along is in…   It’s just up to me to make it all sound good, and give myself some musical satisfaction as well.  The compulsive perfectionist in me just loves that. Whoopee !

    I only said about the Aquilsax C becoming (to me) more a ‘C-alto’, because that’s how I find myself approaching playing it – literally ‘alto-feel’.  All the other C’s have been quite definitely leaning towards ‘tenor-feel’, but not this one, even with a tenor mouthpiece. And, as my ‘required’ alto playing days seem to be over, I’ll gladly put any alto expressiveness into the Aquilasax C, but using tenor mouthpiece/reed/embouchure for a bit of extra power. Maybe it’s the alto-style neck positioning that’s causing it, I have no idea, and don’t want to analyse it either – but I really find myself ‘thinking alto’ after quite specifically ‘thinking tenor’ on all the other 20/30’s C’s.  I’m confused, but also strangely happy. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s ‘wimpish alto’ style – really more ‘alto with added testosterone…’ (Sorry ladies, no other way of putting it)

    So, it’s hopefully C’s all the way now, or as often as I can, with the ‘plan B’  of Bb clari/sop/tenor being readily available (and easily switcheable to) should I momentarily rejoin the more ‘traditional’ playing arena where C’s are not quite as practical.  Just whip the mouthpieces off the C’s, and onto the Bb’s. Easy peasy, minimal trauma. Doesn’t mean I won’t try and sneak a C or two in tho’.

    Poor old alto really is becoming a bit redundant in all this, guess I’d better keep one around for teaching – I’ll still have more than enough residual alto technique for that, without having to practise  😆 I never really have ever specifically  ‘thought C-Mel’ (or C-Sop) when playing our concert-pitched friends – maybe that’s why they’ve never really sounded like a C-Mel – I just concentrated on tone and intonation, and let everything else come out naturally. “Without let or hindrance” as we say over here…

    Think I’ll hit ‘Submit’ now before the PC tries to censor me again…  🙄 Must see if I can easily impliment a ‘Save Draft’ function for long-winded commenters like me 🙂

  3. Mal-2 says:

    You could always draft your posts in Outlook or Word or a text editor, whatever is handy, and save as necessary. I know this is not elegant and most people won’t bother, but it does work.

    I forgot to mention one of the most important reasons I use my C-mel as much as possible, and I suspect it’s one of your reasons as well — it just happens to be the best-sounding horn I have. I’ve gotten compliments from section-mates about the sound, and I’m pleased with it (where I’m always vaguely dissatisfied with my alto sound), so it gets all the “miscellaneous” work. It so happens my tenor sound has improved as it uses the same familiar mouthpiece, but not to the point of being preferable to the C-mel. One trumpet player said “Being in C doesn’t really make life easier, does it?” I had to admit that he was right, and the range and the sound are much bigger considerations in using it as my primary horn. It also mikes well (equal to the alto and tenor, better than the bari or soprano), which is always a plus.

    It’s not the best horn mechanically and ergonomically  — the Jupiter alto is superior in that regard, and the Yamaha tenor is somewhere in between the other two — but it’s good enough. The pads seal quite well , sticking and seizing are more the problem (it is 90 years old after all), and the Rube Goldbergian octave mechanism always has to be inspected. The ergonomics are still inferiorlargely  due to the pinky table and associated keys now, since I’ve been able to bend and tweak and hack everything else to an acceptable standard. They’re improved, but distinctly not modern. Nothing short of a total relocation of the axles and replacement of the keys could fix this, like a “Martin Mods” job, and it still wouldn’t have an articulated low C#. In spite of that, I’ve got it tweaked enough that my technique of hitting low B with the very tip of the finger and rolling my hand down to close Bb (no sliding, no lifting) works well enough.

  4. Hi Guys … still waiting for customs to clear the sax … how long do these blooming customs guys take 😥  …… ?  

  5. Alan says:

    Deano – light years, sometimes…   😆  – and then it suddenly arrives in the red Parcelforce van !
    I’ve just started recording with the new PC, and just as a test of the software
    –  here’s a very laid back   Mercy Mercy Mercy

    Nowt but the Aquilasax and the old Conn C-Sop, I’ll try something more ambitious in the next few days (weeks, years…)   😀

    P.S. The backing is in stereo, but the saxes recorded in mono and are well off to the right, especially on the headphones – I’ll suss how to tweak it back in the morning (well, in the daylight !) that’s why the tone is soft, lets hope the neighbours slept through it…

    Here’s a mono test of the old C-Sop, if you didn’t spot it on saxontheweb – lovely, isn’t she…

  6. ukebert says:

    Certainly is Alan, someday I’m going to have to get myself one of them. The Aquilasax is sounding good too.

    I am perfectly supportive of taxation in general, but customs really does annoy me. If for some reason the wrong box is ticked I am not one to complain…

  7. lewis Pelham says:

    Alan, very good. That Cmel has quite a bark; it sounds like a “proper” tenor.  🙂  More tenor like than, say, Lester Young.

  8. alan says:

    ukebert – the recording was really initially to check intonation.  I figured if I played against a backing track, and a C-Sop (which has a worse reputation for bum notes than even a C-Mel), the intonation errors would stick out like a sore thumb.
    Apparently not.  Only problem I had was with ‘real-time’ recording onto the computer, the recorded tracks would often ‘s-t-r-e-t-c-h’ a little and get out of sync with each other, as the recording went on, often by as much as a beat or two – I guess as a result of what they call ‘latency’.
    But then, after hours of experimentation/fluster/swearing,  I found a little tick-box deep in the annals of the software setup screens which promised “Correct for drift in recordings ?”.   So I clicked on that, and ever since, there is some post-processing that tidies it all up, as if by magic…  Wonderful !  Now I can hopefully record sensibly, and recording is a great (and very self-critical) form of practise.  So no excuse for lack of decent sound samples anymore.   🙄
    Both of my Aquilasax C’s passed by UK Customs unhindered, but the Aquilasax alto got nabbed for tax/duty – as our US cousins would say, “go figger…?”
    By the way Lewis, I was concerned when you mentioned in the email about the purity of the C-Sop’s sound, but it was way back in the mix – so, now that the recording gubbins is all working, here’s a quick soundbyte of the C-Sop on it’s own. I could make it more edgy by taking off the current Meyer/Vandoren ZZ, and putting on the Metalite/Plasticover combination, but I quite like it’s clarity and power without being overly nasal – what do you think ?

  9. lewis Pelham says:

    That is just so much better Alan to my ears, it now sounds like a saxophone. The previous recording had the C soprano sounding as pure as a penny whistle, which, to me is not the typical and preferred saxophone sound. Others may well disagree.
    I was about to ask about the mouthpiece/reed combination but you beat me to it.
    I must eat humble pie in admitting that I thought of the Meyer as a “classical” sounding piece…or is it all in the player? Today I compared the sound of my R&C tenor with refaced JJ ESP and a Plasticover against a sound clip on SOTW of a “typical Link slant Sig.” sound. It was almost identical.

  10. alan says:

    Lewis – I honestly think the core sound is ‘the player’ – the mouthpiece refines it, and the sax mostly facilitates ease of production (imho) by helping (or in some cases hindering…) the players imagination.
    The problem with the C-Soprano is that even a C-Mel can swamp the subtle edges of it’s sound, just leaving the core (clear and penetrating) sound as all that’s audible – as on the multi-sax recording.  The C-Sop really is the ultimate ‘solitary musical doodling’ sax…  😀  I just love it for that, not sure of it’s usefulness in heavy company.
    I’m not surprised about your JJ sound – Jody says on the website “…the Hard Rubber has the look, feel and sound of vintage hard Rubber sax mouthpieces that make some of the most sought after mouthpieces…”  I think Jody takes brightness and ease of playing to a slightly higher level whilst retaining a vintage core sound to fall back on.
    Phil Woods and Cannonball Adderly use/used vintage Meyer alto mouthpieces, but I suspect also a lot of bland sounds can be attributed to them, as with Links.  Dan Higgins has a short but interesting article on mouthpiece selection –
    – but I find myself not quite agreeing with his statement that ” Wedge-type mouthpieces add to an already tough task of playing in tune. Usually the low register will suffer with large wedges or small chambers. ”  My small chambered wedgy-Couf brings out the ‘big bottom’ sound in C-Mels as easily as my Florida Link.  I guess it again proves that we really all find different routes to the solution. That’s all that counts, the solution – some keep looking all their lives…

  11. lewis Pelham says:

    Oh how true is your statement “some keep searching all their lives”.  In reality, this is what it’s all about…the search for the unobtainable perfection.
    We have a local R&R guitarist in the style of Buddy Holly, he has reached his goal & is perfectly happy with his playing….Oh how I envy him, yet, in fact, his playing is dreadful.
    Compare this with my younger son who sat on his bed with a Strat & practice amp, fourteen hour a day, seven days a week, for three years. His playing was astonishing. Yet, in his own mind he was far from what he sought, so he smashed up all his kit in frustration. If I can find out how (in my wife’s temporary absence) I will send Alan a clip of him practising when he was 19 …Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo at full speed on electric guitar.
    I believe that there is nothing wrong with pushing ourselves; this is how the world progresses….new levels. Can anyone remember first hearing Jimi Hendrix, or Billy Sheehan on bass!

  12. ukebert says:

    Having a sop having the purity of a penny whistle would be amazing 🙂 Although Alan’s sound would be about the sort of thing I’d be aiming for in practical terms.

    I am always acutely aware of how much I still have to learn, but it doesn’t bother me that much. As long as I progress and enjoy playing I don’t really mind.

    Although whenever I see a concert pianist play they simply blow me away. There is nothing like appreciating skill when you can imagine the work that it would take you to replicate their feat.

  13. Alan says:

    As I commented above – ” The problem with the C-Soprano is that even a C-Mel can swamp the subtle edges of it’s sound, just leaving the core (clear and penetrating) sound as all that’s audible – as on the multi-sax recording. The C-Sop really is the ultimate ’solitary musical doodling’ sax… I just love it for that, not sure of it’s usefulness in heavy company.
    It’d be the perfect folk sax, a normal sax or clarinet player could cross-over to C-Sop relatively easily.  Just doesn’t have that “BIG” presence, so the ideal acoustic saxophone, wouldn’t overwhelm the other acoustic instruments, but could hold its own because it can be piercing – so should always be heard !  Far better than a Zither…   😆  (and probably cheaper ?)
    Bear in mind that brilliant concert pianists (or violinists) are normally child prodigies, no chance that any ‘late starter’ can ever catch up…   😕

  14. ukebert says:

    Heh, you speak the truth Alan. It is for all of those reasons that I think that the C-sop to be the perfect folk sax. Perfect for a session. In fact I’ve heard cmels played in sessions to great effect, the quieter sound doesn’t make everyone’s eardrums hurt as a tenor would, whilst still producing a punchy sax sound. When you play it in a small room with lots of other people it suddenly makes a lot of sense. I was listening and thinking “who would want a horrible, loud brash tenor when you could have one of these” 🙂

    Cheaper than a zither? Possibly. One day I will endeavour to purchase one, but that day may be some way off.

    And I’m not a late starter in terms of when I started, I’ve been playing since 5, but in terms of skill and musicality they left me far behind years and years ago. A lot of people assume that because I have a diploma I must be really good, but the difference between me and a Pianist merely becomes more and more apparent…

  15. lewis Pelham says:

    “Horrible, loud brash tenor”!  Behave yourself sir.  🙂 
    With experience, a tenor can whisper, yet up against with guitars with their amps set at 11 & a lunatic on drums, they can still make a fist of it.
    Try that on your girlie 14th Century Folk instruments.  👿

  16. ukebert says:

    I was going to add in brackets “a minor sin in itself” but I instead decided to see what you would say :p

    I’ve found that on the few occasions when called to play tenor I am blown away by the intrinsic loudness of the thing as opposed to cmel. It is doubtless possible to make it whisper, but in a session one never feels the need… alienating the rest of the group in the process.

    And I make an effort not to go up against insane guitarists. If I do I use something called a microphone 😉

    Unfortunately I don’t have any 14th century instruments. Melodeons were invented in the 19th century, my flageolet was actually made in that century.

  17. lewis Pelham says:

    You have (deliberately, I suspect) overlooked the fact that whereas a tenor can both whisper and roar, it has the advantage of being able to encompass any volume between these extremes. 
    Try that on your three string banjo.   🙂

  18. lewis Pelham says:

    I added a “smiley” to my last post, but it did not register.  😀

  19. alan says:

    Lewis – it does now 🙂  Banjo’s are fine with me (having played trad for the first few musical years of my life) – but I could never work out what percentage of their sound was melodic, and what percentage was purely rhythmic   🙄

    I know that, when taking a solo on a tune I didn’t know that well, it wasn’t very easy (bloody difficult) to pick up the actual chords from the sound coming off the banjo – I’d often embarrassingly fall into a musical ‘black hole’…   However, Billy Connelly plays banjo, so I suppose it has it’s uses – I can’t imagine him playing sax  😯

    Wonder if Deano’s Aquilasax has arrived yet ?

  20. ukebert says:

    Heh, most instruments can do that Lewis. Melodeon can in particular. The problem with a tenor is that if you want to really belt it out you deafen everyone in earshot, whereas with the cmel it remains just about bearable.

    And I don’t own a three string banjo, I play a five string ukulele 😉

  21. lewis Pelham says:

    I think that I have mentioned before that when called up to play harp in a trad band…appropriate stuff like blues and Hey Mama, I am very grateful to the banjoist. He cuts through so well;  I could not hear the bass (why do they not use proper electric bass?  😀 ) and I rely on the banjo to tell me where I am in the sequence.
    The banjo certainly has it’s place…but don’t tell Folky Owen.  😀

  22. Alan says:

    ukebert said – “The problem with a tenor is that if you want to really belt it out you deafen everyone in earshot, whereas with the cmel it remains just about bearable.
    Bearable ? Not when I’m playing C-Mel it isn’t…    😆  No Sir !

  23. Hey Guys …..

    Sax has arrived safe and sound …. looks lovely .. have taken it for a test drive and all is great 🙂 … the finish is exactly as per my
    “Mad Meg” cannonballs … and believe me, with a little bit of time will go that lovely antique brown flavour / colour ….. Ha ha …

    Am slightly alarmed at the weird bends in the extra long springs …. the high F# spring on the side key is bent in to the tone hole wall of the low E and then routed back to the spring post on the side key … so much so that it actually hits the side wall of the low E tone hole …. ???

    Not too sure about the lower tone yet …. and the straight neck on the sax is a great fit for us longer upper bodied players … that was my main fault about the antique versions of this sax … Am very surprised at the perfect fit for my Otto-link Alto mouthpiece on the straight neck … my Runyon C mel mouthpiece wont even look at the cork on the straight neck ?
    Will update you more as and when the C mel is run in and have gigged it at a few jams this end ….
    So far … am loving this sax …. wouldn’t be surprised if it became my favourite … Well worth the money, but time will tell,  and converting all my licks and runs in to the key of C might take some time to adjust to … Ha ha ha …… Have fun, or at least as much fun as I’m at the moment …. 🙂

    Regards To All ….. Dean’o


  24. Oh … Forgot to say … thanks to Steve’s frugal valuation …. no customs … many thanks to Steve …. 🙂

  25. Sorry guys … what I should have said in the above about the high F# spring is that it was actually the side Bb key that the spring is attached to … whoops … sorry 😦    Waiting for steve to get back to me on this one …. Alan … any thing strange with the corking on yours, mine seems to be missing cork on the upper Bb leg foot … ?   Deano

  26. Sorry upper A foot … full of typo’s today …. Whoops

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