A pain in the neck!

I apologize to my regular readers for slacking off recently. I've been having problems with my tenor and I'm about to take drastic measures to resolve them. First of all the Rigotti reeds I use were out of stock for a long time. Roberto's finally got some in and I ordered three boxes, thinking that would hold me for a little while. I immediately went though all 30 reeds without finding a single good reed. This is something that has never happened to me with this brand. I was so looking forward to feeling good about playing tenor and this was a major blow to my little feeling. Sometimes it does seem like in order to be truly happy I need to have at least one good reed. I know that this is not a healthy way to react to this relatively small problem (in the grand scheme of things). It would be like if an opera singer would sometimes wake up one day and, lo and behold, she sounded like Rachel Ray and Mose Allison's lovechild.

For some reason a good tenor reed is much harder for me to find than a good alto reed is. Does Riggoti use all their best cane on the smaller reeds? It sure seems that way. Even worse than my reed problems are the problems that I'm having with my neck (sax neck that is). It took me a little while after first getting my horn to notice, but at some point my neck was pulled down. You see slightly feel a small crease on the side and some of the lacquer on the sides has also come off. I feel that this causes my horn to have less centered intonation that it should have. The overtones don't match, meaning that the overtones are out of tune with the corresponding regularly fingered notes. The horn has a warn, fat and beefy sound but it's too hard to play it in tune. At first I thought it was just me (which of course is partially is) because I hadn't been playing tenor as long as I had played alto. After having other people try it with other necks I accepted the fact that some of my problems are due to the neck.

A couple of weeks ago I brought my horn in to a local sax tech and had him try to pull the neck back to where it originally was. It moved up a half an inch and the result was even more unstable intonation than before. While looking at a tuner I could play every note right in tune, but it didn't feel as centered as I would have liked. New Mark VI neck go for as high as $1700, no kidding. It's insane. I might be able to get lucky and find a beater for $600, but I wouldn't be able to try it first to see if it's any better than mine. Besides, I don't really have an extra $600 to drop on a neck.

I've experienced neck problems with other horns in the past and found that a different neck can change everything about the way a horn sounds and feels. Changing necks can make your horn brighter or darker, stuffier or more free-blowing. They can change the response, intonation and timbre. Now days there are a lot of after market necks being. I've tried several different brands and most seemed to be worse than the original necks. Oleg's necks for instance are pretty awful. There are even some wood necks being made now by a few different companies. I have yet to try one of these.

There are guys who say that you can made a neck better by super-freezing it. This changes the molecular structure of the neck. There are other more woo-woo techs who think that they can make a neck better by making tiny scraping on the inside on the neck. One of the first thing to try if you're having problem that you think are related to your neck is to have someone who knows what they're doing refit your neck so that it makes a tight and even seal in your horn. A loose neck can cause some major problems over the entire range of the horn, so can one that isn't even fitting.

I'm now looking to trade my whole horn in for a different Mark VI. I may have found one. What a pain in the neck.


Anonymous said...

Stop tripping & play the tenor.

All that "pulled-down" neck stuff was made up by repair men (who aren't players) & lamesters from Sax on The Web.

This equipment-neurotic stuff, to me, is a recent phenomenon, its origins to be found in the practice rooms of jazz schools & the internet.

The old cats weren't into this, they didnt obsess on stuff like this, most of them played what they had & sounded great.

The more you think about the intricacies of your horn, etc., the more problems you create in your head.

Reeds, on the other hand, suck & IMHO are the most important factor, (you can have a so-so mpc, with a great reed & everythings cool) but still, dont obsess.

David Carlos Valdez said...

I really try not to read any of the SOTW discussions, those guys with few exceptions are knuckleheads.

I really wish you were right, the tuner doesn't lie though. My horn wasn't really bad intonation wise until the tech pulled my neck back up. I was able to play it pretty well in tune when it was still pulled down.

Let's face it a half an inch difference is enough to really enough to change the way the neck is working. The true test was when I put a different neck on and all the problems magically disappeared.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for quite awhile now and I really enjoy your posts. I have a couple of thoughts...
First, I too had some problems with my VI. The low notes weren't responding and I was having some funky tuning issues. I am not a gear-head at all and so when I have problems with tone or anything, I just think I need to practice more. So, to make a long story longer, a repair tech suggested I try a new neck because mine looked pretty shabby. Not having a lot of cash, I was immediately attracted to Ponzol necks. I emailed Peter Ponzol and he responded right away. He's a super nice guy, a real pro, and very concerned and attentive-but from a player's perspective. I sent him my neck to measure (while I borrowed a friend's) and he sent me one of his. I have been playing it for a little over a year now and still really dig it. I still have some tuning issues-it's a VI afterall, but I think and lots of other players have mentioned that they really like my sound. This sounds a little like a commercial or maybe even like one of those lame SOTW posts, but from real player to real player, I just wanted to make a recommendation.

Oh yeah, reeds... Have you ever tried Rico orange box? I'm serious! I was turned on to them by Eddie Daniels awhile ago, I have tried many forests worth of other brands since then and I always go back to the orange box. I play a metal Link 7* with Rico 3 1/2s and I'm quite content.

I have dug your playing since you were playing with Ken Schaphorst-keep blowing man!! You are killin'. I hope this advice can help!

David Carlos Valdez said...

Thanks for that post. I must admit that I've never even considered trying regular Ricos on tenor. I'll give them a shot.

If I don't trade my horn in the next week I'll definitely consider trying out a Ponzol neck. It would be a much cheaper alternative to a VI neck.

I wish I could live with the sound of a modern horn, it would be so much easier as far as intonation goes. Those el cheapo Allora tenors (B&S stencils) are looking better and better. I really liked how they play, which surprised me quite a bit.

Anon are you by any chance Jay Branford?

The Dissonance said...

Try gloger. I'm just sayin...

BTW, this SOTW admin reads your blog regularly. Whether I'm one of the knuckleheads you mentioned, or not depends on who you talk to. ;o)

Anonymous said...

Aren't we all Jay Branford, ultimately? Isn't all mankind? Wouldn't it be a perfect world if we were?


Dude, before you trade up, get someone to bend your neck back down & take a tuner w/you & try it out in between bends.

I tried many after market necks, a few years back, most sound very very focused (possibly cuz of the air stream efficiency they cause) & make an old MKVI sound modern &, dare I say, "Brecker"/fusion-like.

I belive Ponzol, Oleg & (for sure) Barone, get their necks from Tawain. Those all have a modern quality.

The ones made by German guys, like glogger & that other brand that Roberto carries (name escapes me), offer better materails & varied designs and seem to be better sound quality than Ponzol--but they ain't cheep.

Anonymous said...

Nope, I'm not Jay Branford.

One more thing...Ponzol has a money back guarantee with his necks - he's a real class act.

OK, enough with this internet mumbojumbo, back to shedding.

MonksDream said...

Hey David,

I read this post. Your sound on tenor, at least on the one gig that I heard you on a couple of months ago was pretty killin'.

1) Did you try out a Reference 54 neck? I heard that you can get one for around $350 retail. I've heard that they at least make Mark VII's sound better.

2) I'll let you try my Mark VI neck to see if it makes a difference.

3) I've had great results with Rico orange box reeds, particularly the 5's which are probably close to a Rigotti 4 soft if you get a good one. I'm really hoping that Rigottis haven't gotten as bad as you say.

4) I was told by a repair guy to NEVER EVER EVER touch a neck even if it's starting to bend. The best thing one can do is have a brace sautered on to stabilize it before it gets too bad. Who did this to you?? I had a bari neck angle that was out of whack and it threw the intonation all over the map.

5) Try to find the least drastic solution possible as, even though it might be time consuming, I think that the horn you have has a good sound, and I'm sure that there's a neck for you out there that won't cost $1700.

cheers, Bill

David Carlos Valdez said...

I actually recommend SOTW to my students for all topics related to the saxophone and it's the only site on the subject that I read regularly. I have used the SOTW marketplace for years to buy and sell gear and have had great results every time.

Of course there are lots of knuckleheads on any public forum. I try to keep out of the discussions as much as I can because some of the know-it-alls on there aggravate me so much (I know that I shouldn't react the way I do).

That said, there are a lot of really knowledgeable and accomplished players on there, like Tim Price, who offer great advice to less experienced players.

I apologize if I was too harsh, it was because something on SOTW pissed me off a few weeks ago.

Knuckleheads withstanding, SOTW is still the single most valuable resource on the web. For gear heads like me, it is invaluable.

My advice, just don't get caught up in stupid debates.

David Carlos Valdez said...

Another thing about SOTW-

Obviously if you get several thousand highly opinionated saxophonists together in one place you're going to find an lot of terrible advice, especially when it comes to gear. Just think of how many players that you would like to actually sound like, what percentage of the total number of sax players do you think that those players would represent? Would it be 20%,10%, 2% or maybe .05%? Most likely one of the latter two answers would be true. Take this into consideration as you read the guys on SOTW rave about the new Jody Jazz piece (or whatever it is). The odds are that when it comes to gear the recommendations on SOTW is going to be awful advice .

When you read a post on SOTW always take a look at that person's user profile. See if they have a web site where you can actually hear what they sound like, also take a glance at some of the other posts they have written (links to these will be in their profile also). See who they want to sound like, they may think Clarence Clemmons is god.

Once you've followed some threads over time you'll start to get a better idea about who the serious players on SOTW really are, and who the weekend honkers are. Don't be afraid to ask questions of the experienced guys. You can send private messages directly to the players whose opinions you want. This is a great way to get access to some players who aren't as light in the panties as most of the SOTW members.

Just do your research and take critical advice only from the best sources. Of course this is the same thing you'd do before picking a teacher to study with.

SOTW can be a great networking tool and you can always find another player on there who has had the same problem as you might be having. Just do your research before running out and buying a $400 mouthpiece just because a guy who goes by the user name Honkamaphone raves about them.

MonksDream said...

What about if he goes by the username Honkamasarrusafujizzledephone?

Would you take his advice then?

David Carlos Valdez said...

If that was his user name he would definitely have something going on.

Anonymous said...

Happy Anniversary from the Shoehorn VonTap Family!

Anonymous said...

It is tempting to nod and say amen when anonymous writes "stop tripping and play the tenor".
And though Anon. claims the obsession over equipment is a recent phenomenon, what then do we say about the suitcase full of mouthpieces Trane was said to have carted around in his quest?
Mr. Valdez spends considerably more time and money rejecting reeds and swapping horns than I do, but you can't really argue with his results. Cat can play!
The forum he moderates and his daily activities are part of the overall research toward the advancement of the saxophone and help other discerning players refine their set ups and sounds.

Anonymous said...

's OK dude, we forgive you.

Not many fellas like you around, with interesting jazz stuff.

Unknown said...

rigotti definitely didn't save any good cane for the soprano reeds, maybe the alto ones are better. as i emailed you, i think brancher might be the answer.
www.myspace.com/wenmew1 and wenmew@verizon.net

Anonymous said...

From a Saxman 63 years playing; Although not professional anymore, I HAVE LOGGED MANY YEARS as a Tenor / flute / alto pro. All my experience has been with trio's, quartets, and other small groups; clubs, private / jazz / dance. As an old timer --- believe me I've played with cordovox's, organs, piano's guitars, basses, one nighters, one time with a group, etc. etc. when somebody was out of tune many times. As a saxman - I'd tune up as close as possible with the lead, then my body / embouchure / mind / soul took over automatically. When you play together with soul mates you'll be suprised how well you'll be able to blend together without thinking about the technicallities. Get free -- if you can't feel it -- become a plunber. The sax has a zillion secrets hidden away - explore it man and go with the flow.

David Carlos Valdez said...

I actually sold that horn a few years ago and got one that plays much better in tune, in fact it has better intonation than my alto.