You may have seen some heavy mass screws and gadgets on my saxophones in recent videos and instagram posts. Lots of people ask me what they are, and how they affect the sound of my saxophone.
Today, I’m going to tell you how you too can get a massive, explosive saxophone sound (hint, it’s not thanks to heavy mass screws).
Watch the video version of this post below.
What is a Heavy Mass Screw?
For anyone who is unfamiliar with heavy mass screws, there is a range of devices available that claim to be able to improve the response of your saxophone in a variety of ways by adding extra mass to the screw we use to tighten the neck tenon joint.
Here are a variety of screws and gadgets that are purported to enhance the response or resonance or playability of a saxophone in some way.
In this configuration we have a Yany Boostar heavy mass screw holding a bare brass Klangbogen on the tenon screw side of my Selmer Mark 6 tenor saxophone. As well as a Sax Gadgets Vari-screw holding a silver plated Klangbogen upside-down on the lyre screw side.
I wanted to add a tone tablet in the space where the lyre is supposed to go. However, I would have had to shorten the length of one of my screws to make it all work.
Saxophone World Divided
I have no interest in arguing with anyone about whether these things work or do anything. Although I do invite you to comment below with your thoughts, experiences, and all of the scientific reasons why heavy mass screws should or should not make a difference to how a saxophone sounds or responds.
Lots of players for whom I have great respect say the heavy mass makes a significant difference. I’m not going to argue with them.
Many other people say they make no difference at all and according to the laws of physics a heavy mass screw on the outside cannot affect the sound which happens on the inside of the instrument. I don’t want to argue with those people either. Even the ones who have never tried a heavy mass screw but still join in the discussion anyway.
Still others say it makes a difference but only in certain situations.
So do I think they make a difference? After almost a year tinkering with these things on all my horns I can say definitely…. well let me get to that in a minute.
I recently received a message from someone saying they were a beginner and wanted my advice on which heavy mass neck screw to buy so I realized it’s time I said something on this.
For me, anything that I need to try back and forth more than once or twice to see if it’s made a difference goes into the too close to call category and therefore, the benefits if there are any, are negligible and my time is probably better spent just practicing.
Before I get into any more detail about what these things do or don’t do for me, I want to say that I do not recommend that anyone buys any one of these gadgets except under certain conditions that I’ll get to in a minute.
Psychology of Heavy Mass Screws
First I want to address the psychological side of this discussion.
When we spend our money on things, a part of us really wants that thing to work and make us sound better in the case of saxophone gadgets. We feel a need to justify our expenditure. If what we bought turns out to be useless we’re going to feel foolish. I know I’ve made a lot of purchases I feel a bit foolish about.
When we have a device in our hands and it is even rumored to improve the performance of our instrument, part of us wants that to be true. We all want to sound better, and if there was some magic device that did this for us, we would all want to have it.
So despite my own skepticism about how or why this should work I still want it to work, because that would be awesome right? Just put a screw in here and sound better. Sign me up.
Regardless of whether any of these gadgets do anything at all, one thing that no one can argue about, is that if you want to get better at playing the saxophone, you need to practice. And all of the countless variables that can go into that practice determine your results far more than any gadget accessory ever could.
Who Should Consider a Heavy Mass Screw?
So before you can even approach justifying investing in one of these, you must:
- Have a horn that is in top playing condition
- Make sure you have plenty of good reeds that are the ideal strength for your setup
- Have a quality mouthpiece with a flat and balanced facing
- Have practiced daily for most of your adult life
- And have studied with master teachers who have shared their knowledge with you on how to produce a good saxophone sound.
When you have checked all of those things off the list, knock yourself out. If only it’s just to satisfy your curiosity.
Just because you see these screws on my instruments doesn’t mean I recommend these for everyone. It’s not my way of saying, “go buy this for yourself.”
There are plenty of other accessories that I would recommend getting long before one of these.
Why Not Do a Blind Test?
Now I know what you are waiting for, you want me to do a blind test so that you can try to hear the difference between the different screws on different instruments. The problem with that is that there are so many variables in play that in order to arrive at any definitive conclusion I would need a team of scientists and the video would end up being very long. In all of my testing I have never felt there was enough of a difference to warrant going to all that trouble.
My goal is to inspire people to practice and make music not look for shortcuts and waste time on gadgetry.
In the YouTube video linked above I do a blind test. Mostly to illustrate that there is no clearly discernible difference to a listener.
Does a Heavy Mass Screw Make a Difference to My Sax Sound?
As a player, I do notice a small difference on some horns with some of these things. It’s not enough for me to recommend that everyone go out and get a heavy mass screw though.
It’s not enough for me to notice if I picked up my sax and played without the screw.
I mean It’s not like the difference between a good reed and a so so reed, or the difference between my pads sealing and having a leak somewhere. Those things make a significant difference.
It’s not like the difference if I skip two days of saxophone practice. That is noticeable.
It’s not like the difference between playing in an acoustically treated room vs a room with bare walls.
You get my point I hope.
Now the thing that is a bit embarrassing for me to say. When I came up with this idea for the ridiculous heavy mass configuration I was trying to be a smartass. I did not expect there to be a big difference. Believe it or not, there kinda is. Clearly at least from my perspective as a player.
Again, I am not recommending anyone go buy an expensive screw let alone all of the stuff in my massive configuration. I’m just sharing my honest opinions and experiences.
I fully expect many people will notice a difference when playing saxophone with a heavy mass screw. Some will notice a difference, and others will have to go back and forth 100 times to be sure and even then they still won’t be sure.
Let me put it another way. There is not one single heavy mass screw on any of the classic recordings of legendary saxophone players. Stuff like this has never been responsible for great music and never will be.
I’d like to thank ReedGeek, Sax Gadgets and Yanagisawa for sending me these items to try.
Please comment below and let me know your experiences with these devices and any thoughts on the topic you may have.
14 thoughts on “The Most MASSIVE Sax Sound Ever | Do Heavy Mass Screws Work?”
I would vote for ‘A’ but only in the altissimo range and not for volume but for clarity and tone. I won’t buy one myself as it wouldn’t make a difference at my level. In a lesson I was once having great difficulty getting a good sound out of my saxophone, only to discover an apple stuck in the bell. That really made a difference.
haha, yes that does make a noticeable difference!
Must have left a swab in my bell a few times when travelling John and I must say, no better results than an apple.
I installed on from west coast sax on my (intermediate) Gilman tenor… unnoticeable… at least for me… One of those things just few guys will distinguish…
On some horns I’m quite sure there is no difference whatsoever.
If these little screws make enough difference to notice any change then a marching band lyre must make you sound like Michael Brecker. The mass added by a lyre is probably ten times that of any of these little ‘mass’ screws on the market. This is snake oil and is the saxophone equivalent of homeopathy and magnetic bracelets. It is sold to people looking for some kind of quick fix and then once they purchase it as you mention above they have a vested bias to believe it ‘works’. No one wants to admit they paid their hard earned money for a scam once they make the purchase. I just wish more people who have visibility in the community would call it out for what it is. I’d love to see a double blinded study done to put this to rest.
Thanks Jay, for all you do for the community!
I wouldn’t say “snake oil”. I know the people who make these devices and they are all very passionate about the saxophone. Believe me, nobody is getting rich making these gadgets either. Having said that, I don’t recommend anyone buy them to improve your sound.
Its really not different than buying that Mkvi to sound better or a $500 mouthpiece,IF YOU DON’T SOUND GOOD THIS WILL NOT CHANGE THAT !! I use one and I believe the perceived difference to be noticed mostly by the player. I also find they dont improve every horn,but on some they are a good addition. I think the expectation that non believers put on this $50 neck screw is not attainable .If you already sound great imagine slight improvement because of that better reed etc or having a good day so to speak. The thing is…… if it makes this small sustainable difference why would you not want that? its cheaper than the majority of mouthpieces that are setting in a drawer now cause only time healed that wound. a good reed doesn’t last forever ? if this works you will be happy about the small investment and what it does for you ,no matter the reason .
Yes, this is a good way of looking at it.
That the sound, that is made from inside, should be influenced by a device put on the outside, has a low “face value”. By testing, there are some traps. One of them is, when you expect a difference, you hear a difference. Should you perform a blind test, you have to do a double blind test, which means that either the player or the lissner know what’s what, and you have to repeat the test several time. Everything else (third variables) than the screw should be held constant.
I agree with you about the blind test. As I said in the video I don’t think it’s worth doing since regardless of the results most people are going to believe what they believe. I don’t think even under the best circumstances these devices make enough difference to warrant all the trouble. Better to spend our time practicing.
Jay, if it made such a huge difference Adolphe Sax would most likely have invented it when he did develop the sax, don’t you think? Reminds me of these individuals who want to fight their ageing process… we all know how it works, right?
PS: don’t add too many heavy mass screws or your won’t be able to carry your sax anymore.
I don’t think many people would call the difference they notice huge. At best, there is a subtle difference. There have been several improvements to Sax’s original design in the last 150 or so years. The thing is there are several world class sax players for whom I have a lot or respect who swear by these things, so I am in no position to argue with them.
Last thing I need is a heavier saxophone.