There didn’t used to be many options when it came to choosing saxophone neck straps. Remember when everyone played Ray Hyman straps? Those straps cut of the circulation to your brain in about five minutes. I can’t imagine a more uncomfortable strap than the Ray Hyman. Now there are many more options to choose from. I’ve had a history of neck and upper back problems that have been aggravated by playing the saxophone, so I have tried a lot of different neck straps over the years. For a while I thought that a harness was the answer, but the harness design has it’s own set of problems (the least of which is the fact that they look really lame), so no sax harnesses were compared for this post.
I got a bunch of the most popular sax straps together and sat down with my buddy, fellow saxophonist and fellow gear-head, Mark Hutchinson to compare them.
This is the ULTIMATE SAX STRAP SMACK-DOWN!
This strap is make from heavy rustic looking leather and reminds one of the the old west, which is cool. Wide, stiff, not super comfortable but feels pretty supportive. This strap adjusts like a belt and if you don't like where the holes are placed you have to punch your own. Doesn't quickly adjust making it difficult to use the same strap for both alto and tenor on a gig. Nice heavy clasp. Generally high quality, though a little rough looking. You can use the Wiseman as a shoulder strap because there is no slider adjustment. This is a good strap for supporting a lot of weight, so it would work well for bari. I used this strap myself on tenor for a few years.
Price:$34+ shipping from Britain
The adjustment slider is a little bulky. This one cuts in on your collar bone because strap itself is too long. It’s also much too wide, making it pretty uncomfortable. Mark remarked "There's just too much on the back of the neck. I don't even feel like I can hold my head up straight!". Clasp seems cheap. This one felt kind of like wearing a neck brace while you play. Kind of expensive, like just about everything else at Roberto’s.
Price:$64.95 Roberto's website
Slider on the Cebulla is also a bit big and bulky like the Roberto’s strap. This strap has good clasp, but the big problem with this one is that the pads two are too thick and bulky, almost seeming cut off circulation in the neck. We tried a medium and the leather part of the strap was too long. Overall pretty good and it ranked about in third place.
Price:$75 for medium strap w/metal hook
Way too wide and doesn't really even distribute the weight the way it's supposed too, though it is better than a thin strap if you are prone to neck problems. This one is so big that it gets hot when you play for a while, like wearing a turtle neck sweater. You can't put it under your collar. Generally dorky looking. Nice idea, but meh.
Both Mark and I have used the Oleg in the past. The leather on the Oleg is quite stiff and has very little padding compared to some of the other straps, this doesn't help it's comfortability. The V part of the strap goes a bit too far back on the neck, which is the point of the design, but this this puts most of weight on the spine rather than the neck muscles. This strap gets really stinky after a while because of the way the leather is treated, which is the reason I stopped using mine. The plastic hook deadens sound and looks flimsy. I like how the cords are attached to the leather. If the crimp fails there is still a knot in the cord to keep the horn from falling. No denying that the strap is very well made and the design is cool looking.
Neotech Classic Strap:
Material absorbs sweat and gets stinky quickly, not ergonomically shaped to fit neck, plastic hook deadens the sound, fairly comfortable and light for a traditionally shaped strap, the material is like wet suit material and has some give to it, which can be annoying at times when it stretches while playing. If you are looking for a decent cheap strap then this may be the strap for you.
Brancher (Crescent & Strip):
These straps aren’t bad. We didn't really like the wetsuit material that they use for the padding. The way Brancher attaches the cord to the strap leather is well designed, maybe the best of the lot in this one respect. These straps have a long skinny rubber coated brass hook instead of a clasp. The adjuster slider is just kind of a ring, or more like a large bead that you’d string on a necklace. These come in three sizes. Overall these straps are not bad. The rank somewhere in the middle of the bunch.
This is a German made strap that my buddy Tom brought back from Berlin. Tom thought that Oleg had copied many design elements of this strap. It has the same wing shape that the Oleg, Just Joe’s and Cebulla have that puts more weight further back on your the lower vertebras of the neck.The leather isn’t very soft, but it does have more padding than the Oleg. You can opt for the plastic of brass clasp. The slider looks nice. This strap is well made and comfortable, we ranked it number two after the Just Joe’s strap. I found the German website that sells this strap, but I couldn’t find the price.
Just Joe's Gel Strap:
By far the most comfortable of the lot, feels like it's not even there. Thickness, length and width of padded strap are perfect. The high tech padding material is great. This strap supports well without cutting off circulation. Mark said about this strap,“It really feels like it's a part of you.” The leather is the softest of all of the straps. This strap uses a medical grade polymer material that is divided into two separate pads on either side of the spine. The Cebulla strap uses this same design concept, but the Just Joe’s pads are the correct thickness. You can order this strap with a plastic hook, a small brass hook or a large brass hook (my favorite). Unanimous winner of the Smack Down by a wide margin.
de Jacques ultra strap:
This strap is kind of popular at the moment. It has a pretty cool clasp design that is unlike any other strap on the market. You just push the clasp onto the ring and it automatically opens and locks closed. When you want to release it you just push the clasp on and kind of angle it upwards and it releases, pretty cool but is a cool clasp on an otherwise unremarkable strap worth the $100 price tag. No thanks. The strap part itself is an old-school straight fabric strap that looks like it could have come off a camera case, no extra padding or spine saving design. That said, it does feel alright, just not worth the money. One advantage is that the if you really sweat the fabric of the strap won't start sliding around.
The issue that has become more and more clear for me during this comparison is the fact that the clasp makes a significant difference in the overall sound of the saxophone. Many of you will scoff at this idea, as I once did, but it’s definitely true. All you have to do is try it yourself. Get a strap with a plastic hook and compare it with a strap that has a large brass clasp. The plastic hooks sound less resonant, less responsive and generally make the sound a little deader. I’m not saying that the clasp has as much effect as something like a ligature, but it is noticeable. A few days ago a gave a Just Joe’s strap to my friend Mary-Sue Tobin to show it to her sax quartet. She was a skeptical when I told her my clasp theory, but all four of them agreed that the large brass clasp made significant improvement in the sound of the saxophone. The de Jacque clasp may be cool, but it is mostly plastic aside from the two teeth that grip the horn, so it’s about like an all plastic hook like the Oleg has, and that deadens the sound. See my later post about the acoustical testing I had done at the Rodger's laboratory. The large brass hook proved to bring out higher partials on certain notes.