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  1. #1
    SOTW Contributor 2011 jbtsax's Avatar
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    Default Lacquer vs nonlacquer - Are we asking the right question?

    At the risk of being called stupid (again) by one of SOTW's regulalr contributers who delights in flaunting his superior knowledge of acoustics to everyone on this forum and others and belittling those who have the audacity to disagree with him, I am going to resurrect the dead horse one more time. (Let's call the horse Lazarus or Lacquerus might be more appropriate).

    There has been a longstanding difference of opinion between scientists and musicians (people who actually play music on real woodwind instruments outside of laboratories) of the effects of materials and finishes on the sound of instruments. The scientists design their experiments to isolate and measure variables to come up with their conclusions. The musicians actually perform music on the instruments often for a lifetime to gather their "unscientific" anecdotal evidence.

    Clearly either one group or the other is right on the subject of whether materials and finishes have any effect whatsoever on the sound of a woodwind instrument. They can't both be right, or can they?

    1) I strongly believe that the factor that has the greatest influence on the sound of any woodwind instrument is the concept of tone in the mind of the performer, given that the player has a high enough level of skill on the instrument to have maximum control of the sound that is humanly possible.

    2) The next most important factor would be the mouthpiece and reed, quality and design of the headjoint, or reed alone in the case of the single reed instruments.

    3) Following this would be the dimesions inside the bore of the instrument, tonehole size and placement, key height opening, absence of leaks, etc.

    I think most players and researchers would be in agreement up to this point although perhaps the non-performing researchers would not have the same depth of understanding of factor #1 as would a professional musician. Now is where the two sides diverge.

    4) Is there a #4? Does the wall material, thickness of the body, plating, or lacquering have any effect whatsoever on the tone or sound of the instrument when the dimensions are otherwise identical? Data from acoustics experiments (primarily on flutes) suggest that no, these factors do not have any significant measurable effect. Clarinet and oboe players who compare wooden clarinets to plastic say "yes". Flutists who spend vast amounts on top end flutes made of precious metals say "of course". Many sax players say "even the color of the plating makes a difference---let alone a few coats of lacquer, dude". (Question-how do you lower the value of a Mark VI tenor by at least $3000?)

    If there is anyone still reading this diatribe---I am finally getting to my point!

    In my opinion, the question that should be asked of the player is "was the feedback you got from that instrument the same, or different than the one with the different material/plating/finish/coating etc., etc." This is something science presently has no way of accurately measuring for each individual player? The closest they could come might be to blindfold a flutist and have him randomly select one of two identical flutes made of silver and gold and ask "was the second instrument the same or different than the first"? Or "did you play the second flute the same or differently to achieve the same sound"?

    An accomplished player will either consciously or unconsciously adjust the aperture of the throat, speed and volume of the air, shape of the tongue, pressure of the abdominal muscles, firmness or shape of the embouchure, force of the tongue during articulation etc. etc. in order to make the sound and response of that instrument conform to the tonal concept in the player’s mind. To do otherwise is contrary to years and years of practice and extremely difficult to do. Performers select their primary instruments based upon this feel or response of (feedback from) the instrument.

    Another way to describe this criteria is “how hard the player has to work to produce the sound and response that is desired.” Thus instrument A and B may sound identical to a trained listener, and even show the same pattern of harmonics when shown on a spectrograph, but the performer may have to work much harder on one instrument over the other to reproduce the desired tonal concept. In this example, did the plating have and effect on the tone? No. Did it have an effect on the feedback of the instrument to the performer and the response of the performer to that feedback? Certainly. Do performers sometimes “confuse” the feel and response of (feedback from) an instrument with the sound of the instrument or combine the two to form a gestalt. I believe they do. Does this mean they are being deceived by their senses as in an optical illusion? Or does it mean that they are stupid, incompetent, or self deceived as some would have us believe? Or does it mean they are interacting with and responding to the instrument in a wonderfully personal and complex way that transcends the measurements of scientific instruments and listening surveys. Rather than ask "does the lacquered sax sound different than the unlacquered one", I think the more valid question is "on which finish is it easier for you to sound the way you want to sound". To a musician, what else really matters?

  2. #2
    Distinguished SOTW Member Dr G's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jbtsax
    At the risk of being called stupid...
    How 'bout "verbose"?

    I did the classic Executive Summary trick and skipped to the bottom of your post to see if you really have a point or question...

    Quote Originally Posted by jbtsax
    Rather than ask "does the lacquered sax sound different than the unlacquered one", I think the more valid question is "on which finish is it easier for you to sound the way you want to sound". To a musician, what else really matters?
    To answer your question, "Tone, response, and intonation". The finish just doesn't matter.
    Go for The Tone,

    g



    "When you are doing well, don't forget to do good." - Sichan Siv.

  3. #3

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    "Tone, response, and intonation" I would think that would be included in "on which finish is it easier for you to sound the way you want to sound".

  4. #4
    Distinguished SOTW Member Dr G's Avatar
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    Some people don't read for content. Let me try again.

    The finish DOES NOT MATTER. I don't look at a horn to HEAR how it plays.
    Go for The Tone,

    g



    "When you are doing well, don't forget to do good." - Sichan Siv.

  5. #5
    Forum Contributor 2007 Rick Adams's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jbtsax
    There has been a longstanding difference of opinion between scientists and musicians (people who actually play music on real woodwind instruments outside of laboratories) of the effects of materials and finishes on the sound of instruments. The scientists design their experiments to isolate and measure variables to come up with their conclusions. The musicians actually perform music on the instruments often for a lifetime to gather their "unscientific" anecdotal evidence.
    I don't think this is quite correct jbt, I think one group contains both scientists who have studied the subject and those musicians who are convinced by the science, another group contains musicians who are not totally convinced by the science but are open minded either way and a third group contains muscians who are convinced that the science is incorrect (plus a fourth group who either don't give a toss or have never even considered the issue).

    Quote Originally Posted by jbtsax
    Do performers sometimes “confuse” the feel and response of (feedback from) an instrument with the sound of the instrument or combine the two to form a gestalt. I believe they do. Does this mean they are being deceived by their senses as in an optical illusion? Or does it mean that they are stupid, incompetent, or self deceived as some would have us believe? Or does it mean they are interacting with and responding to the instrument in a wonderfully personal and complex way that transcends the measurements of scientific instruments and listening surveys.
    Experiments seem to indicate that musicians are indeed deceiving themselves into attributing various properties to various materials. When they knew which finish of flute they were playing they ascribed various properties to it based upon its material, but when they did not know which flute they were playing they were unable to tell which was which. If they had sensory powers that could tell the difference without being shown then they should have attributed the same properties to the different materials either way.

    I don't see this as an insult though, more as something quite fascinating about both saxes and about humans and how we work
    Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life
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  6. #6
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    Jbtsax, I do think you're onto something regarding feedback to the player. The feedback might even in some cases be totally psychological (for ex. silver finish looks brighter, so it also seems to sound brighter, or feel like it plays brighter), in other cases it might the actual feel of the horn. Which of course the listener can't hear. I can tell you my (lacquered) MKVI tenor resonates in my hands like no other tenor I've ever played. And I really like that feel, so maybe it helps my playing in some subtle way. My silver-plated Bueschers don't have that same feel, but they do seem to have a ring to them that the VI lacks. Does this have anything to do with the finish? I honestly can't say.

    Regarding science, a real scientist will tell you that science doesn't always provide total, unqualified answers to every investigation. In the case of how finish or material affects the sound of a wind instrument, I'd bet the scientist who studies it might say: "So far we have found no detectable difference between different finishes or materials." That is not the same thing as saying there is absolutely, without question, NO contribution to the sound. It is always possible that further investigation will reveal something.

    I have to ask the question, if the sax body & finish really has no effect, not even a psychological one, how do you explain the thousands of posts in this section? I can't answer that either. I do think anything that effects the way you play, even if it's psychological, is important. So if silver plating, or gold plating, or black lacquer, or whatever, "floats your boat" and allows you to play better, then go for it.

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    Finish does matter. Just doesn't affect sound IMO. I know I play a lot more confidently on one of those fancy matte silver horns though They sure do LOOK pretty
    If anyone wants to chat about sax or other topics then you can Add yourself as one of my MSN contacts at smartalleck2008@yahoo.com
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  8. #8

  9. #9

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    Look, everybody in this whole argument is asking the wrong question.

    The right question is: why do you feel guilty about playing a nice, shiny saxophone with an awesome finish, which plays just as well (or better) than that nasty looking VIntage rust bucket that the other guy is playing?

    If finish doesn't matter then those of use who play on nice looking horns have JUST as valid a reason for playing them as those who play on the old junk heap horns. And if it does matter, then we have a BETTER reason.
    Justice C. Bigler
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    If finish doesn't matter then those of use who play on nice looking horns have JUST as valid a reason for playing them as those who play on the old junk heap horns. And if it does matter, then we have a BETTER reason.
    I second that. If it is indeed all psychological and lacquer makes no difference, then there is nothing wrong with wanting the sax to look good, no matter what the nay-sayers spew.

  11. #11
    SOTW Contributor 2011 jbtsax's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Adams
    Experiments seem to indicate that musicians are indeed deceiving themselves into attributing various properties to various materials. When they knew which finish of flute they were playing they ascribed various properties to it based upon its material, but when they did not know which flute they were playing they were unable to tell which was which. If they had sensory powers that could tell the difference without being shown then they should have attributed the same properties to the different materials either way.
    I don't see this as an insult though, more as something quite fascinating about both saxes and about humans and how we work
    It sounds as if you are referencing the Coltman letter in the Woodwind World that was a response to his critic Roger Mather. You might want to re-read the report of his original controlled experiment, because there is no mention of what you described anywhere in the report. You are deceiving yourself if you think there is.

    Now that didn't insult you, did it?

  12. #12
    Distinguished SOTW Member Razzy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jbtsax
    (Question-how do you lower the value of a Mark VI tenor by at least $3000?)
    To me this is a good thing. I have a relacquered tenor that I got at a (market-relative) steal for $3500. It's obvious because there is lacquer on the pearls, even. The horn blows GREAT. Oh yea, it also happens to have a later serial number, further driving the price down. Again, the horn blows GREAT, one of the better VI's I've ever had the pleasure to play. I have played some original lacquer VI's that suck dogfarts. But, because of the superficial fact of a relacquer and a late serial number, I was able to get this at a (again, market-relative) bargain price. I'd like to thank all of the true believers out there for driving the price down.

    In terms of high-end flutes being made out of higher-end materials, don't even get me started... Professional flutists are mostly suckers that have fallen for the gimmick that more expensive metals MUST yield better results! Yanagisawa plays on the same kind of voodoo with all of their various sax body materials. I've heard enough recordings of my Juilliard flute graduate buddy on his wooden, platinum, and silver flutes to know that there is absolutely zero difference made by the material, and he's right with me.

    I'd like to thank the precious metals market and all of its true believer followers for keeping my ridiculously good silver flute and custom silver headjoint at a very low cost compared to their gold and gold-plated counterparts.

    My alto is delacquered, and this was done before I purchased it. I like the way it looks but I would avoid doing this to an instrument. The only thing that would ever possess me to delacquer a horn is if I thought it would improve the tonehole response and make one less variable in resurfacing toneholes in a full overhaul. And also maybe to make my tenor match my alto. Since I'm such a queen like that... toodles
    My quintet album - Released June 2013. Please enjoy.
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  13. #13

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    "Some people don't read for content." EDIT: I responded to that but then said %^#$ it. Why bother?
    Last edited by LBAjazz; 06-16-2007 at 05:10 AM.

  14. #14

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    Once upon a time, in a Hollywood, CA music store, I asked one of the sales staffers there about those "greenish" and dull looking saxophones on the wall hanging next to some expensive guitars for sale. I asked, "Why are those saxes so expensive when they don't look expensive?" Long story short.

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    Distinguished SOTW member, musician, technician & columnist clarnibass's Avatar
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    This arguement is not between scientists and musicians. You are describing all musicians on one side, and then saying "people who actually play music on real woodwind instruments outside of laboratories". Some of the "scientists" who made experiments are not scientists but musicians. Some actual scientists are also musicians, etc.

    I have read about many experiments, made a few myself, and tried a lot of woodwinds myself. My conclusion is that the finish makes a difference as much as any change in anything in the space you are playing in does (it must based on acoustics), which for such a small amount comparing with everything else in the space is the same as no difference at all. In short, the finish makes no difference physically in the sound, response, etc. The finish might make a difference in other ways - make the player feel better, look better, etc.

  16. #16
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    In honor of Gary .

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by JL
    Jbtsax, ...Regarding science, a real scientist will tell you that science doesn't always provide total, unqualified answers to every investigation. In the case of how finish or material affects the sound of a wind instrument, I'd bet the scientist who studies it might say: "So far we have found no detectable difference between different finishes or materials...."
    That is not the same thing as saying there is absolutely, without question, NO contribution to the sound. It is always possible that further investigation will reveal something...
    I think this sort of assertion needs to be put in context. The same scientist may also say, "So far we have found no detectable evidence that the earth is not round." That hardly gives us much chance of discovering some day that it is actually flat.
    Contentment is not the fulfilment of what you want, but the realisation of how much you already have.

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    Quote Originally Posted by clarnibass
    This arguement is not between scientists and musicians. You are describing all musicians on one side, and then saying "people who actually play music on real woodwind instruments outside of laboratories". Some of the "scientists" who made experiments are not scientists but musicians. Some actual scientists are also musicians, etc.

    I have read about many experiments, made a few myself, and tried a lot of woodwinds myself. My conclusion is that the finish makes a difference as much as any change in anything in the space you are playing in does (it must based on acoustics), which for such a small amount comparing with everything else in the space is the same as no difference at all. In short, the finish makes no difference physically in the sound, response, etc. The finish might make a difference in other ways - make the player feel better, look better, etc.
    I agree. JBT I sense that you are over-polarising scientists and musicians. We also hear regular (anecdotal) reports from very capable musicians, that the metal and finish appears to make no difference to them, but there is a vociferous group in the other camp, that seems to simply not hear those contributors. On the other hand, it is very difficult NOT to hear the loud noise made by the material-matters 'pressure group'. So strongly did they support manufacturers marketing claims, that it seems to me that only relatively recently, have people even dare to publicly suggest differently from them in this and other forums.
    Contentment is not the fulfilment of what you want, but the realisation of how much you already have.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Toobz
    In honor of Gary [insert picture TooSaxy is talking about here].
    Is that Jared from SubWay? Looks just like him, and I know he was in an episode. You don't have to be a professional scientist to be considered a scientist, just like you don't have to be pro to be a musician. If you are doing your own experimentation to find the answer, then you are a scientist. -[].[]-
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  20. #20
    Forum Contributor 2007 Rick Adams's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jbtsax
    It sounds as if you are referencing the Coltman letter in the Woodwind World that was a response to his critic Roger Mather. You might want to re-read the report of his original controlled experiment, because there is no mention of what you described anywhere in the report. You are deceiving yourself if you think there is.

    Now that didn't insult you, did it?
    No I'm not insulted at all jbt, but have I offended you with my previous post, because the tone of your reply seems a little aggressive? If so it certainly wasn't intentional I can assure you!

    No I was thinking of the Linortner et al experiment in fact, which tested the same flute by a manufacturer called Muramatsu made from 7 different materials and collated the experiences of 5 professional flutists and 27 "experienced listeners" - whatever that means, that concluded that...

    Quote Originally Posted by Linortner et al
    Differences are rather seen between the players whilst those between the instruments are extremely small. This implies that flute players can realise their subjective imagination of "a good sounding" to a far extent independently of the instrument
    There was another experiment as well that showed this even more specifically, but I can't remember what it was. If I find it I'll let you know.



    However...

    An experiment that I think you'd find interesting is this one which shows that there is a difference in the way materials vibrate when they're blown. Let me quote from it...

    Quote Originally Posted by Whitehouse, Sharp & Harrop
    Results indicate that it is the motion of the lips against the mouthpiece , rather than air pressure changes within the pipe, that is the dominant mechanism in exciting wall resonances
    This could potentially explain why some people find a difference in experience between different materials and others do not (or less so).

    My very tentative conclusion is that whilst the sound is not significantly affected (to within 0.5 dB according to Linortner) the experience of the sound by the player may vary, although I'd be interested in what people who know more than I do think of this experiment and its implications to saxophones.

    If this is true then could that variation affect a players' actual performance? I'd say "yes" to that because I agree with you that players have a feedback loop between instrument and player that helps inform how they play. Which is not far off your original point I think?

    Finally, JL makes some good points about science - though to be fair pretty much everyone in the "science camp" has also made them - science doesn't come up with definitive answers, just ways to ask more refined questions
    Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life
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