Categorization of sopranos

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    Default Categorization of sopranos

    Joe Giardullo of SopranoPlanet seems so busy that he is not able to spend much time on SOTW lately. He recently published an article where he categorized soprano saxes by sound and feel.

    http://sopranoplanet.com/2017/04/14/...no-saxophones/

    Anders Bak-Nielsen has this categorization system on his website, although he also considers reed and mouthpiece.

    http://saxworks.dk/om/how%20the%20sax%20works.html

    What is your opinion? Is there a useful way to verbally categorize the effect that a soprano sax has on the sound being created?

    Are soprano saxes consistent enough within Maker and Model to be able to be classified?

    How much effect does the sax tech's setup have? Could a rebuild change the categorization of a soprano, changing the core or spread, or French to American sound, for example?
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    Thanks for posting the article. It seems to make sense as I've played MANY sopranos (certainly not 85) and really 'get' how a soprano can be well made and play in tune but the tone is of very little interest.

    Tenor - '61 Mark VI w/Tenny Slant Tone Edge 7
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    Any categorization is based on arbitrary, subjective, relative, criteria.

    Exactly like saying that a saxophone is bright, warm, round, centered, might mean something to me but something completely different to anyone else let alone the fact that the same soprano plays completely differently with one mouthpiece of the other, one reed or the other and one player or the other.

    Nobody will even be able to make any such thing. Audio files will also only ever show what one player associated with one or more combinations of saxophone, reeds and mouthpiece would sound but then you take the same saxophone and you sound completely different.
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    I did not read those linked articles, but I agree with milandro . . . I've said it many times; take any well-made soprano, make sure the pads are sealing well and the regulations are spot-on, and it will sound like a soprano. The mouthpiece, the player's embouchure, and the reed (maybe the most important part of the mix) will have more effect on the tone than the routine conical tube. And, it matters little about from which era the horn comes. I could play an S992 against a mid-20's Martin and I'd be hard-pressed to hear much, if any difference. And, yes I've done that. The listener will most likely hear nothing even though those with an investment in the argument may CLAIM they hear differences. DAVE
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    Hey Dave are there any recordings or youtube segments with you on it? I'd love to hear you. BTW-Have you played a Yamaha 875 and what are your thoughts on this instrument?

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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    See PM.

    No, I have not played an 875 soprano. I still have a YSS62S in my family that I bought new in the early 1990's.

    I am not a huge Yamaha fan, though, even though that may seem contrary to my claims of sameness among all of the good sopranos. My opinion of Yamahas is subjective, I admit, and I'd be hard-pressed to defend it. However, I get to make those decisions (purchasing) based on my own opinions, so that's the way it goes. DAVE
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?
    The best you can do is to consider only the sopranos from the major manufacturers and 'categorize' them as to general tendencies. Beyond that, any good player can adjust his set-up to make any of them do anything he wants - there is no 'black and white' - its all gray. So, is there really any point? Find the one you love and practice - all will be revealed.

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    Forum Contributor 2014 Pete Thomas's Avatar
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    While I thoroughly respect Joe Giardullo as a soprano expert, I have to say I think the sound and feel is so much more down to the player (and the mouthpiece) that getting too much into the differences of the actual horn is not that significant.

    Most of my professional career was about creating different sounds and feels, and I never swapped saxophones for that. I had sessions where I was asked to play and sound like Charlie Parker or David Sanborn or (heaven forbid) Pete Thomas. The last thing I would think of is change horns for a specific sound or fee.

    Getting back on topic, on soprano sessions I might be after either Bechet or Wayne Shorter or Kenny G. I'd be just as happy on a Truetone as I would be on a MKVI, Weltklang, Borgani or Yanagisawa. It's may seem daunting, but it's actually not that hard to get close to any of those sounds purely through focussing on your embouchure and attitude, not on your gear. (NB: my soprano when I was doing those kinds of sessions back in the day was a Buescher Truetone, but since have used others)
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    Did anyone actually read the articles? They are not long.

    I guess you actually need this page too to get a better picture of Anders Bak-Nielsen's ideas.

    http://saxworks.dk/om/saxophone.html
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    yes, but I still don’t think there are categories to be made.


    or in short

    Quote Originally Posted by twocircles View Post
    Is there a useful way to verbally categorize the effect that a soprano sax has on the sound being created?
    No
    Life is just a bowl... some have cherries in it, some don’t. Those who have the cherries aren’t likely to share them though.

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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    Okay, I read the articles (all three) and I still don't buy it. Like Pete, I respect Joe's experience and his skills as a mouthpiece-guy. And yes, I have one of his Missing Link soprano pieces.

    I've done some measurements of my sopranos (like maybe seven of them when I owned that many) and I walked away thinking they were more similar than different - the measurements didn't vary all that much and someone could say that the variances MAY be because of manufacturing tolerances rather than by design.

    I am also familiar with Postma's articles about measurements - and I'll acknowledge that a few thousandths here and a few thousandths there can make a difference. Still, when I look down the tube of any straight soprano from the neck, all I see is a constantly-opening conical tube that seems to MY eye to just be a cone - period. That it may not open at the same spot as another straight soprano (meaning a thousandth of an inch difference - more or less - at one spot inside the tube) seems inconsequential to me and certainly NOT a situation that has much bearing on how the player sounds.

    But this business about a French sound and an American sound (and the linking of those two sounds by other countries' makers) just does not convince me that it is real. I say this based on my own experiences with horns from all of those places.

    My two MKVI sopranos are just as strong and big-in-sound as are my Conn and Martin (and the previous Bueschers and Yamahas and Yanagisawas and Rampone's I've owned). They all sounded like me, and depending on what mouthpiece I used (and especially what reed I used) I could change the focus, tonality, and expressiveness very easily.

    I suppose there are many here who want to believe this stuff and good for them - their choice. There was a time earlier in my life (before the internet) when I might have bought into it, too. But after many years of soprano-as-a-first-saxophone, I've come to realize that all the things we hear and read about saxophones (and specifically sopranos), just isn't what I've grown to know. DAVE
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    For me as a 50+ year soprano player, I think the horn choice is more balance and keywork as a straight horn does not have a balance like the shape of an alto or tenor. I sound the same on any soprano. I feel most comfortable on a Conn, Martin or L&H with the thumb ring and never cared for the Selmers of which I had several. Mouthpiece is important more so to give an ease of playing that sound or style. SO, the sound is :
    1 - player
    2 - mouthpiece
    3 - horn

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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    Quote Originally Posted by twocircles View Post
    Did anyone actually read the articles?
    Yes
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    My perspective comes from being a professional soprano saxophonist for years AND being a college saxophone teacher at many schools. As an experienced player (as are most of the ardent responders in this thread) I produce my sound on any soprano I choose, whether it's my curved 1925 Buescher, 90xxx Selmer soprano, or any soprano (and I have many to choose). I may make subtle changes in voicing, embouchure, air etc, from instrument to instrument, mouthpiece to mouthpiece, but the results are remarkable similar. No doubt this is due to my having develped a clear tonal imagery over the years, combined with a more mature understanding of mechanics of tone production.

    However, my college students, many of whom are playing soprano for the first time, have no established tonal imagery, and are in the beginning stages of understanding and developing their tonal and instrumental mechanics. As we begin to experience the soprano saxophone, working to determine which one feels most comfortable and appropriate, I will have them play up to 10 different models, from vintage to modern, Asian to American to European, straight and curved; all from my personal collection. Using the same mouthpiece and reed (which I provide) there is an enormous difference in tone quality.
    What I am hearing is not the artistic imposition of a tonal image (as do most of the experienced responders in this thread) but simply the difference in the design of the instrument. Removing the "artistic variable" in these experiences helps to focus more on the instrument itself.

    And while it is true that it is impossible to remove all the variables to satisfy the most rigorous of scientific inquiry, 40 years of overwhelming empirical evidence with hundreds of students and dozens of instruments does have its significance.

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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    "Here is what those groupings mean to me:

    French style: more refined, often smaller, sound. Small to Medium sized bore, light, modest resistance, somewhat brighter tone
    American vintage style: bigger bore, typically free blowing, bigger, more garrulous tone
    German style: Similar in many ways to the American vintage, better keywork, perhaps slightly more focused sound than the American vintage, resonant, typically a heavy horn, somewhat darker tone
    Italian style: Closer to the American vintage than the German style, larger bore, big sound, resonant and textured sound, somewhat darker tone
    Asian style: smaller bore, smaller sound, focused, less textured than the other groups, modest to a bit more resistance, somewhat brighter tone."

    Do you think the above is going out on a limb? Are they 'wrong' observations?

    "So, what good is this kind of categorization?

    Well, as you play more and more sopranos, you can begin to identify those characteristics you believe you prefer or you think you do not like. It can give you a kind of “map” for locating horn designs and models that “speak” to you more easily than other designs."


    If he is wrong or his observations are of no consequence, that means all saxes are the same in their fundamental color, and the player is the largest arbiter of the sound. Play a 10M, or a VI or Eastman. Its all the same.

    Folks, if you don't thing that EVERY Conn ever made sounds subtantively different from EVERY real Selmer ever made, which sounds different from EVERY Keilwerth every made, well, maybe its just me.

    Feel free to now say that the player and mouthpiece can compensate and make any horn sound somewhat or more like any other horn here. But first say the above statement is not true.
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    Paul: You have an unusual (and envious) experience-level unmatched by most of us - your reply was interesting. I can see how taking the "artistry" out of the equation and just listening to each horn played without the personal embellishments of the player, can give an interesting perspective to the discussion.

    But I'm wondering if it can't also be true when one player with experience plays a bunch of different sopranos. I suppose that sub-consciouly, there is a chance that the experienced player will automatically compensate for a certain saxophone's quirks and quickly bring the thing to within the player's expectations. And, it also may be true that the player may be the least likely to objectively evaluate a soprano in the context of this discussion.

    But still, I'd like to think that I (and others in this thread) have had enough experience to objectively evaluate a soprano . . . like when we are contemplating buying it. We'd want to give it its best shot, so to speak, before breaking out the wallet. Thus, we play the thing and then decide, "Is this horn worth the money and do I really "need" it?"

    Subjective/objective? Who knows, but accurate enough to satisfy US.

    Having said that, do you think that sopranos can be categorized? That was the question posed here. There may be differences, but are they consistent among the brands (all Conns, all Bueschers, etc.)? I don't think so. And, I don't buy into the American and French thing. Maybe in playing styles (and educational development), but not in the horns' design. Oh, I could be wrong - and often am. DAVE
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    > Asian style: smaller bore, smaller sound, focused, less textured than the other groups, modest to a bit more resistance, somewhat brighter tone.

    I've got a couple of straight Conns in great shape, a Buffet S1 and a Jupiter 747. I'm not finding the Asian style fits the description particularly regarding resistance. This is my second Jup soprano, the first was the 847 with dual sterling necks. I picked them up somewhat out of curiosity. Saxman Pete described the 847 as similar but more powerful than the Yamaha pro dual neck horns. Same goes for a Chinese Buescher that my friend owns. I thought of it as similar to a Keilwerth SX I've played.

    Great analysis by Dr PC. I think if one tries not to apply a tonal concept you can find the differences in various makers. My Conns seem different than the Buffet which is different than the Jupiter.
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    Thanks to all who read the articles. I didn't mean to get so snarky and did recognize that some had read them already.

    I agree 100% with what each of you is saying, and so do the authors of both articles. The reed and the mouthpiece create the tone and timbre and finally, the player is the great director of the tone and compensator for any deficiencies if they have sufficient experience.

    Joe obviously thinks the mouthpiece and reed are supremely important. He has even demonstrated how working with the mouthpiece will bring an out-of-tune instrument into tune. Anders states that, at most, the saxophone makes a 5% difference in the sound. And of course, they both consider the player, and they try to bring the best out in the player.

    Yet, the saxophone must contribute something. What is it? Can we find a way to verbalize what that is?

    If it is not the sound, per se, perhaps it is the feeling of the sax as it interacts with the player. Notice in Joe's descriptors that only a couple address tone. The others, resistance, free blowing, bigger, smaller, focused, even resonant, as examples, seem to be more about the feeling or the perception of playing the instrument.

    I have one sax that wants to sound like itself. I can make it sound close to what I want it to, but I have to fight all the way. There must be tendencies in saxes.
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    I do believe that sopranos can be categorized, even if the typing is subjective, but perhaps we have been trying to describe the wrong attributes.

    Another difficulty is that we borrow sensory language from other senses. Bright and dark, for example, are borrowed visual words. Warm is a borrowed kinesthetic or tactile word, but we mean to describe timbre with it.

    We probably still need to use kinesthetic, tactile and proprioceptive words when they are appropriate, but if the bulk of descriptions were auditory and accoutic words, I think we would have a much easier time of it.

    Few people confuse purple for yellow even though those are only approximate descriptors, nor do we have much difficulty distinguishing a light room from dark room even though those are relative terms.
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    Default Re: Categorization of sopranos

    As all other saxophones, sopranos vary from instrument to instrument. I prefer not to categorise but if I had to I'd do it on a 'per horn' basis. Moreover, what's bright to me may sound dark to you. It's all so very subjective and personal so what's the point.

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