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.
Please comment below and let me know your experiences with these devices and any thoughts on the topic you may have.