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Thread: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

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    Default Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    I read the sticky plus a few pages of relevant topics, and I'm aware that posting to ask for advice on this sort of thing is no way to earn brownie points, but oh well. I'm stuck: my situation seems rather unique.

    The long story (You DON'T have to read all this, it's here just in case it answers any questions)

    In a few days I'll be meeting up with an old friend of the family who once owned a music store. He's since passed the store on to other owners, but still has a stock of new and used instruments. He's promised to stop by my house in a few days with a selection of used professional models. Thanks to our relations, our family gets special prices. He's offered horns that normally run from $3-4000 (used) for $15-1800. While I haven't yet seen the condition of the horns personally, I trust him: we've known him for years, and he sold me my first sax. Basically, buying used from him is the only way I'm likely to get a professional horn.

    I myself am a high school senior, looking at one last concert season before entering college. I have played saxophone since elementary school, but due to lack of funding and misconceptions about professional instruments, I've never gone beyond my student-intermediate Selmer model. I know I want an alto that plays with a deep, less edgy tone, more suitable for a concert setting (I'm keeping my old horn for marching). I recently purchased a Caravan large-chamber mouthpiece to get a better, darker sound out of my aging horn, and prefer to play on Hemke reeds (strength 2&2.5). I've done some research and I really like the dark tone of the older sax models such as the Buescher, but I doubt the seller has anything vintage like that. I've tried my darndest at looking up info online, but it's really rather difficult to tell which sax i want until i can play them, and even then i'm aware that there will be a learning curve that may screw with my perceptions on a trial run.

    The short story:

    Basically, I'm a High School senior about to be presented with a variety of used professional alto saxes from a well-trusted source, and I don't have any particular models or brands in mind. I want a richer, darker, less edgy sound suitable for a classical/concert band setting. I prefer to play on a Caravan large-chamber mouthpiece with Hemke reeds strength 2-2.5. I enjoy the sound of Bueschers and other older models, but it's doubtful that the seller has any. Most likely his stock will consist of more common brands such as Selmer and Yamaha, and there's nothing wrong with that! If I were given a good idea for an instrument that the seller doesn't have, i could at least tell him to be on the lookout for one. Given these parameters, what are some possible models to look for? Once i actually try them all out and can narrow it down, I can look up information without making another topic, but at the moment i'm rather overwhelmed and scarcely know where to begin.

  2. #2
    Distinguished SOTW Member stormott77's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    The mouthpiece and player have a lot more to do with the tone of a sax. the horn itself has some impact for sure but you will get a lot more effect mouthpiece shopping for the sound you want. That being said a pro horn will offer better ergonomics, intonation and longevity so by all means get one. I think any well adjusted pro horn will do you well. Many college programs suggest Yamahas as a starting point but you can get a good classical sound out of any quality horn as long as you have the right sound concept in your head and the right mouthpiece. I think a Buescher would be more of a spread bigger sounding jazz horn.

    I don't think large chamber pieces are standard equipment for classical players. I would get something that is more standard equipment for a classical player. I don't know anything about Caravan pieces but every large chamber piece I have seen has been marketed for jazz players on tenor.

    The bottom line is get the horn that sounds and feels the best to play. Try to get some other people whos ears you trust to listen while you play the horns. Don't get caught up in this brand or that brand. There are so many quality horns out there being made all over the world.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    Thank you very much for your quick reply!

    Perhaps I've misrepresented what I'm looking for. I'm not sure whether large chamber mouthpieces are considered regular for classical players. Most likely I'm using the word classical wrong; I'm probably confused because of all the strange words and phrases different websites and stores use. I'll look into different mouthpieces, as those aren't too difficult to pay for, but nevertheless, I'm wondering which horns would best compliment the sound of the mouthpiece/reed setup i already have, as it seems to be working beautifully for now, even on a student-intermediate horn. Forget i used words like classical, i probably don't know what i'm talking about.

    Oh, and i agree with your advice about not getting caught up in brands, especially with all the variables involved in buying a used instrument, but what i'm worried about (perhaps stupidy) is that there's a learning curve, and that a rocky start might turn me off to what would have otherwise been a great horn. If somebody has a reccomendation, I may look past a rough beginning and buy the horn. I already know he'll let me return any instruments i don't like, so if it turns out it just sucks because it's in bad condition or it's just not for me, no harm, no foul.

    Perhaps I could make this question a lot simpler by just asking for the technical side of things: I'll discover for myself how i sound on different saxes, but do any offer useful, definitive features? I'm sure this seems like a dumb question seeing as in a few days I'll be able to see his stock for myself and I'll know for sure then, but I'd prefer to be prepared to make a quicker decision, as I'd like to have the instrument well before school starts back up to avoid embarassing myself. In addition to senior clinic tryouts in a month and a half.

    All that aside, thanks again for the quick response!

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    Forum Contributor 2014 Caymen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    Do you think you can give us a player that has a tone similar to what you want? Everybody has there own concept when they use words such as dark, bright, etc.

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    Distinguished SOTW Member. eugeneherman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    Rathe, try to play as many different type saxes as you can find... altos as well as tenors... Eddie Harris played that great tune 'Compared to What'... Rule #1... try as many horns AND mpcs as you can... Sometimes after a few days, a new mpc OR reed OR horn can give you different responses... Good Luck!
    'It's ain't about the notes on the page, it's about the notes on the stage!'

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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    Rathe, do you plan to study saxophone in college? If so, I'd suggest 1) try to hold off until you can determine what your teacher would prefer you play, or 2) consider sticking to either Selmer or Yamaha, with a slight edge to the Selmer if you're going to focus on classical sax.
    "Nothing is worse for a musician than getting an opportunity you aren't prepared for." - Quincy Jones

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    Distinguished SOTW Member artstove's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    Quote Originally Posted by stormott77 View Post
    The bottom line is get the horn that sounds and feels the best to play.
    I agree with this. Also, probably your best source of advice is the old friend of the family - he will know the horns better than anyone else, and it sounds like you can trust him, and presumably he knows his music. So listen to him, play the horns, and see what works best for you.

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    Distinguished SOTW Member artstove's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    Quote Originally Posted by Rathe View Post
    do any offer useful, definitive features?
    No, not really. They are all pretty similar. Newer horns will have an F# key that older horns don't have. My tech (also a very good player) is funny - he tends to think that the horn doesn't make much difference in sound quality, so any time I mention how a horn sounds he says, "Yes, it sounds like a saxophone."

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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    If it's a Caravan m'piece he uses, it's generally a classical m'piece, even though they are large-chamber.....

    Now, here's the thing...the Caravan may give you what you want on your student selmer....but that might not be a great choice to use across-the-board when trying other horns.

    Of course, if you really love the way it feels and performs, then just use it and try to match it up with the horn which speaks to you the most while combined w/ the Caravan.

    I find it funny when people imply that it is the mouthpiece choice + player.....and not the horn.... which really has more to do with the tone of the sax. I find that really misleading. Some horns are just dark...some are bright...some have great bite...some are smoky...some are reedy. You can slap every damn mouthpiece on it you want, and you can have every human being with two lips, a tongue, and a throat play on it.....
    ....but the horn will still have its body tube, bore, tonehole design, bow radius, taper, etc.....
    If you have a horn which has specs which make it play brightly....and what you are after is dark...you can only put so much lipstick on that pig.

    If you have a horn which is naturally (due to its design and specs) beautifully dark and smooth....and you want it to be really edgy and biting and punchy and projecting....you have a bit more of a chance in this instance of getting close than in the aforementioned.....but why the heck go through all of that trouble, really ?

    You like Dark...so try to find a horn which is naturally Dark. The thing is, the Caravan is dark...but how is the articulation on it ? If you stick with the Caravan and match it with a dark sounding horn (such as a Keilwerth, for example; which is the first maker which came to mind after reading your post)...you may end up muddy. Put it on a Yani or Yamaha, however, and you might be closer.

    But The JK with a more conventional choice of mouthpiece might put you precisely where you wanna be, also.

    So in that case, the Caravan matched up with a non-dark sorta horn. But I think it's fair to say that most folks would feel that it is the JK which is the darker sax.

    You see...it's just a bit of a slippery slope.

    You said used altos...then clarified that the guy is unlikely to have anything like a Buescher, or the sort. So.....when you say used, you sorta mean as-in-...80's or later, yes ? The entire tonal paradigm in saxes shifted around then. So if you think you are gonna be limited to more contemporary horns....that doesn't necessarily make things any easier for you.....

    If you like the sound of old Bueschers.....then go find & try some old Bueschers, regardless of whether this fella has any or not. They (and many other pre-'70's horns) are so readily available and so g#damn cheap in comparison, really....it's worth the trouble of searching some out....
    Go for the Old-Skool, homies. www.2ndending.com

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    Distinguished SOTW Member artstove's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    Quote Originally Posted by JayeSF View Post
    Some horns are just dark...some are bright...some have great bite...some are smoky...some are reedy. You can slap every damn mouthpiece on it you want, and you can have every human being with two lips, a tongue, and a throat play on it.....
    ....but the horn will still have its body tube, bore, tonehole design, bow radius, taper, etc.....
    If you have a horn which has specs which make it play brightly....and what you are after is dark...you can only put so much lipstick on that pig.
    I actually agree with this (which is why I keep having these conversations with my tech). My first tenor was a Yamaha YTS21. I stuck about 5-6 mouthpieces on it, including a Link STM NY, to try and get a richer and even vaguely dark sound out of it, to no avail. When I got a Conn stencil and then a 10M, it was easy to get the sound I wanted with a number of different mouthpieces.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    Used Selmer S80 Series II or Yamaha 875 EX.
    UNT Jazz Grad Student/Freelance Saxophonist - DFW Private Lesson Instructor
    Selmer Series II alto / Morgan Jazz 7M - Java 3
    Yamaha 82Z tenor / Vandoren Java T55 - Java 3 / Guardala MB II - Java 3

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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    ^^ I'd agree here. A used Yamaha 875EX or Selmer SA80 II or III will probably be your best choices. As far as a mouthpiece for a symphonic band setting, everyone at my high school (one of the top HS bands in the country) used a Selmer c* (or variation, like Larry Teal c* or Ponzol c*) with Vandoren blue box size 3 reeds. Worked great for us.
    GAS-free since Feb 2011

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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    Wow, so many quick replies! Thank you all, and I'll consider the models and brands you mentioned, and of course, I'm looking at different mouthpieces. The reason I keep referring to the Caravan mouthpiece i'm using is less because I'm in love and never going to change it (although i do really like the sound it gives) and more because I'm trying in vain to describe the kind of tone i want, and using the mouthpiece as a sort of reference point.

    To answer most of the questions:

    It's hard for me to give a list of saxophonists I want to sound like. I guess i'm just impressionable and indecicive, but every time I hear a professional saxophonist, jazz or classical, I'm amazed and always think "I want that sound".

    That being said, I've always thought that the recordings of Rascher playing a buescher horn (and i honestly don't know what mouthpiece) had a really nice tone that was unique compared to what a lot of others do. However, it may just be that the recording quality at the time makes it sound weird, idk.

    The reason I picked the caravan mouthpiece was because I wanted a sound closer to that, but I heard many times from many different sources that the Caravan mouthpieces were better suited to newer horns than Raschers.

    My plans for college don't center around music, but I want to take classes and do well in them so that I have music as a sort of fallback plan. If I were to take this route, I'm probably looking at more of a music educator type role.

    I have to give special appreciation to JayeSF, I didn't realize that buescher horns could be found for so little today. I guess I just assumed, and we all know the lame pun about assuming...

    However, this brings up an interesting problem. If i do go with an old Buescher horn, and maybe even buy a Rascher mouthpiece, would my tone be "too different" for college/HS symponic & concert bands? With just the caravan mouthpiece, my sound is different than that of my peers, but it still blends well. I know this is highly dependant on the instructor, and it may be best to wait, but on the off chance that anybody has any relevant experience with what was acceptable in their college, i'd like to know. At the end of the day, if it's a sound I like, I'll probably go for it and endure the consequences i'll face in college, but I just don't want to be told I have to buy a new horn or anything.

    I consider my original question more or less answered, so if anybody can answer the above paragraph, this thread can probably rest in peace.

    Oh, and did anybody else notice how many times I used 'perhaps' in my last two posts? Those essays I'm writing are really making me type weird...

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    Forum Contributor 2013 Kelpie's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    I really like the setup I have (Yanagisawa A-901 w/ Selmer C* mouthpiece and La Voz medium reeds).
    Yanagisawa A-901 alto w/92 bronze neck, Vandoren AL-3 mouthpiece w/Bonade lig, La Voz med reeds
    Keilwerth SX90R black nickel tenor, Yanagisawa 5 mouthpiece, Bonade lig, La Voz med reeds
    Yanagisawa T-901 tenor
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    Miyazawa flute

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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    If he has a used Super Action 80 (the original line) grab that and dont let go.

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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    For horns you have the selmer's of course... the Series Selmer and the References..
    yamaha are OK but very bright..
    Super Action 80 are great

    hey!.. any discount for SOTW members?..
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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    Keep in mind that Super Action 80 (the original line) is quite different (and superior imo) than the subsequently made series II & III.

  18. #18

    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    I have heard that Yamahas generally have a brighter tone a few times, is that true? Of course, I'm ruling nothing out until I've tried them, especially with such a broad generalization, but that might be a useful bit of info to know.

    Also, I've heard many great things about the whole line of selmer super action models. I'm not going to ask for opinions on which is better, as basically everyone seems to have a different opinion. If he happens to have any of those, or any of the other models mentioned, I will take note.

    And if I can say thanks again without it sounding forced and cheesy, then accept it; I mean it.

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    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    If you could ask the friend what saxes he's bringing, we could give you more specific advice. I'm assuming he's not bringing vintage horns like Martin or Buescher, nor should you really consider one of those as your main alto. As people have said, the most popular altos for college and classical are the Selmer S80, II & III, and Yamaha 875EX or 82z and 62 models. Some other altos I really like: Yanagisawa (any of the latest models), Keilwerth SX90 and B&S Medusa (and it's stencils). Some lower priced altos that are good: Mauriat, Cannonball, Aizen, etc

  20. #20

    Default Re: Looking at used pro altos, need advice on brands and models

    Quote Originally Posted by Rathe View Post
    It's hard for me to give a list of saxophonists I want to sound like. I guess i'm just impressionable and indecisive, but every time I hear a professional saxophonist, jazz or classical, I'm amazed and always think "I want that sound".
    I feel you...you might try to mimic each of their playing exactly for a period of time, down to the smallest detail. Maybe learn a solo from each player and record yourself playing along with it. This will give you flexibility with your tone, vibrato, and style, so you can go and develop your own style with the greats in mind.
    UNT Jazz Grad Student/Freelance Saxophonist - DFW Private Lesson Instructor
    Selmer Series II alto / Morgan Jazz 7M - Java 3
    Yamaha 82Z tenor / Vandoren Java T55 - Java 3 / Guardala MB II - Java 3

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