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Saxophone Myths: Equipment Edition

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Like just about everything else, the world of saxophones has it’s share of myths, legends and widely held yet false beliefs.

I’m going to try and clear some of these up. At least some of the ones concerning instruments and gear. 

If you agree or disagree with any of my statements let me know in the comments section below.

Myth: Some Saxophones Are better suited to play jazz or classical or some other style

I’d say that At least 90% of the saxophone sound comes from the player physically and technically. The sound is then heavily influenced by their individual sound concept, (what they hear in their head). It gets further shaped and colored by the mouthpiece and reed setup the player is using at that time. The instrument itself just tells that sound what pitch it’s going to be. Different instruments will further color the sound of course. But who’s to say what color is best for classical or jazz or any other style? If an instrument allows you to express the music inside of you the way you hear it, then it is well suited to that purpose. Doesn’t matter what brand name is on it.

Myth: you need a vintage horn to sound vintage, and a modern horn to sound modern

Once again, sound comes from the player, the instrument is just a tool. You are the instrument. You are the one sounding good, or bad, or vintage or modern.

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Myth: You need a fancy ligature to sound good.

A ligature needs to hold a reed onto the mouthpiece securely while letting it vibrate freely. It should also be easy to adjust. Most cheap and basic ligatures will do all of these things very well. Ligatures have very little if any influence on the sound, and aren’t really worth agonizing over. Get one that fits your mouthpiece and go practice.

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Myth: Chinese made horns are all garbage

There was a time not all that long ago, when saxophones made in China were generally terrible.  They sounded strange, had major intonation issues, the metal alloy used was very poor quality so the soldering didn’t hold well, all the corks and felts fell off within a few weeks, and they couldn’t stay in adjustment. They were really lousy. 

This is no longer the case. These days the manufacturing of saxophones and other instruments in China is taken pretty seriously by the looks of things. It’s only getting better and better. Don’t write off all recently made Chinese instruments based on their former reputation. Whether or not the Chinese government is using these instruments to listen to your saxophone playing is another question.

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Myth: You need to play on the same horn as your teacher…

This is an age old classic myth. There are a lot of very good reasons to perhaps play on the same instrument as your teacher. However, you are not the same person, and what’s best for them is not necessarily the best for you. I don’t think this gets done so much anymore in the saxophone world. But insisting that your students purchase the same brand of instrument you’ve got is not cool. Let people make up their own minds about what instrument to buy.

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Myth: You need an expensive mouthpiece to sound good.

Not true, you need to listen to some great saxophone players everyday, practice your horn everyday, and try to connect what you hear with what you play throughout that process. That’s the only way I know of to get a good sound. the mouthpiece is just a tool. it can make that process easier, but there are many inexpensive mouthpieces that will get you where you want to go.

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Myth: You need to play on really hard reeds…

saxophone reeds

When we first start playing the saxophone we use really soft reeds. Softer reeds are easier to play since they have less resistance and are more flexible. As we develop the muscles in our face that form our embouchure, we increase the strength of the reeds we play. It’s natural to get the idea that harder reeds are therefore better.

Once again, we are all different and the best reed strength for you will not be the same for everyone else.  Michael Brecker once told me that he played on very soft reeds because of some physical issues he was dealing with. I know other great players who have to buy the strongest reeds available and then clip them to make them even more resistant before they are comfortable. For most of us, somewhere in the middle is a good place to be, but if softer reeds worked for Michael Brecker he may have been on to something.

Myth: My instrument is the reason I’m playing out of tune

Every saxophone ever been made, has tuning inconsistencies. 

Some horns are much more inconsistent than others and will be more difficult to play in tune, but ultimately, it is the player who plays in tune not the saxophone. We all have to learn how to listen and match our pitch to the group we are playing with, or the other notes in context If we are playing without any accompaniment. 

The instrument alone cannot do this work for you. 

Myth: Lacquer has a significant impact on the sound

unlacquered tenor saxophone keys

The paint on your saxophone doesn’t affect the sound of that instrument in any measurable way. As you can see from my tenor sax here that was never lacquered to begin with, brass instruments get pretty funky looking if they don’t have some sort of protection. Lacquer is purely an aesthetic consideration.

Myth: I need to get my saxophone repadded or overhauled every 5 years or so. 

While there are a lot of factors involved in this particular myth, The only reasons all your pads would wear out and need replacing in that short a time are 1. they are poor quality in the first place. 2. they were not installed well originally. 3. you didn’t swab out your horn after each playing session and remove the excess moisture from the instrument.

Properly installed, quality pads can last for decades if your instrument’s mechanisms are in good working order. and you take good care of your instrument.

A proper saxophone overhaul, the type that will last for decades along with proper maintenance should be very expensive because it takes a very long time and the materials aren’t cheap. Beware of low cost and fast saxophone overhauls.

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There you have it, remember to comment below and share your thoughts as well as any other sax myths you may have heard.

Now let’s get back to basics. Check out “Are You Practicing the Right Stuff?”

Also be sure to follow BetterSax on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube to stay up to date with us for news, giveaways, and other saxophone tips and tricks.

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Gerry Rogers says:

All helpful stuff, thank you!

John Voegtly says:

Hi Jay, Lots of great info on your part for all sax players, especially young aspiring one’s. I couldn’t agree more with everything you stated. I will be 82 in January & stilled blessed to be playing. one thing I did learn many years ago after trying to sound like some other horn players was that we all have a different oral cavity. from then on I just worked on my own sound. ” Happy New Year ” to you and all your fan’s.



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