weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

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    Default weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    Hi guys,

    I'm finding myself baffled by what is occasionally happening to my horn...

    I'm a gigging sax player (2-5 gigs a week) and sometime last year i've started occasionally experiencing something like this:

    Let's say we're setting up with a band, I put my horn together, put the reed on, etc, we do the soundcheck - everything's great, blows normally, as it should be. I put the horn down, leave it sitting on its stand for some time (varies, could be 10min, could be an hour), come back to do the gig and it's just sooo hard to blow, there is this weird resistance that make the horn nearly unplayable... most of the time I would just change the reed and everything would be kind of ok but last gig i just had to power through it (as I realised I had no other reeds) and this strange "effect" seem to gradually subside after about 10-15 min of hard blowing.

    I thought some of the reeds might be the problem but that same reed that was on when it occurred next gig was absolutely fine. I use either Plasticover 2.5/3 or JazzSelect Unfiled 2H.

    Sax then? Nope, all is in order, had it checked. Btw happened with 2 saxes (I currently play on Yamaha YTS-82Z Custom V1 neck, previously played on Cannonball Raven)

    Mouthpiece then? possibly, but not necessarily - happened with 2 mouthpieces, both Bergs - main one is vintage SS Berg Larsen 110/1 refaced by Morgan Fry, the other one is vintage bronze Berg Larsen 100/0. I don't really use any other mpcs on tenor. Anyway, I don't think the mouthpiece is the problem though as I've been playing that 110/1 Berg for nearly 6 years now and it only started last year.

    It doesn't happen every time i play, I'd say 1 in 5 gigs.

    It didn't happen when I practice until today - i played for about 20 minutes, had to put the sax down to answer the phone and when i picked it up again there it was, completely stuffed. Had some other mouthpieces lying around so put them on and yup, still very stuffy, on every one of them... I've put the berg back on and as I continued to play it slowly went away.

    Anyone has any idea what's going on?

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    Sacks Of Phones's Avatar
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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    Do you have a key that is not closing fully due to a weak spring? Non-flat reed table on the mouthpiece? Gremlins?
    It's not the length of the song that matters, it's the width.

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    Needs a trip to the tech. You might have an odd spring somewhere. Or even a totally Broken one.

    I had a few over the years where I wasn't actually able to tell what had gone wrong. But with the springs on most of your main keys it's much easier to tell.
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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    When I have encountered these "intermittent" problems the causes have been:

    1. A palm key that wobbles a bit on its hinge sometimes hitting the seat and sometimes hitting slightly off causing a leak.

    2. A side C or Bb that has the same issue, with or without a weak spring.

    3. A neck tenon that is not tight and round.

    For #3 insert the neck and tighten the screw just until it barely starts to meet resistance. Push the end of the neck up and down. There should be virtually no movement. If it wobbles a bit, have it re-fit. I have found poorly fit necks that are airtight until the player presses down with the top teeth and then they tilt slightly creating a leak. If all of a sudden all your reeds start playing "stuffy" there is a good chance it is a leak in the neck tenon.

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    The reed can swell when wet and get distorted, so that causes stuffiness, but then the next day, when dried out it is fine. This used to happen to me all the time with cane reeds.

    You can fix the underside of the reed with a blade, but also you do need to make sure the mouthpiece table has integrity and that your ligtaure is a good fit.
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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    +1

    Reeds.

    It used to happen to me frequently, just after I moved to a high desert region. I still use cane, but somewhere between changing how I prep my reeds, my mouthpieces, and how much water I drink on the bandstand, I haven't had a recurring reed issue in years.

    (Knock on cane)
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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    Do you put a mouthpiece cap on the mouthpiece when you leave the sax? If so, is there an opening in it? Some players put black electrician's tape over the opening to keep the reed from drying out as fast. My system is to do the play check and then take the reed off the mouthpiece and put it back in the reed guard in my pocket. This keeps the reed wet and flat till it is time to play. Another way is to put the reed guard in a small zip lock bag to retain the moisture.

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    What Pete and Dr G said.

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    Quote Originally Posted by saxoclese View Post
    Do you put a mouthpiece cap on the mouthpiece when you leave the sax? If so, is there an opening in it? Some players put black electrician's tape over the opening to keep the reed from drying out as fast. My system is to do the play check and then take the reed off the mouthpiece and put it back in the reed guard in my pocket. This keeps the reed wet and flat till it is time to play. Another way is to put the reed guard in a small zip lock bag to retain the moisture.
    I put electrical tape over the slot on the cap, and also if I expect to be leaving it unplayed for a while (doubles) I wet a small piece of paper towel and stick it down inside the cap (small enough that it doesn't touch the end of the reed). At the end of the gig, you just rap the cap sharply on the floor and the little wet piece of paper towel falls out.

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    Try a synthetic reed, just to eliminate a variable. If you still have an issue, it’s likely something mechanical on your instrument.

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    When the problem arises while practicing, after your "break", immediately take the reed off and wet it again. Put it back on and see if it is a problem with drying out. Or leave the reed on and run water over both sides. Retry. Report back with findings.
    It's not the length of the song that matters, it's the width.

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    Quote Originally Posted by ravenek View Post
    Hi guys,

    I'm finding myself baffled by what is occasionally happening to my horn...

    I'm a gigging sax player (2-5 gigs a week) and sometime last year i've started occasionally experiencing something like this:

    Let's say we're setting up with a band, I put my horn together, put the reed on, etc, we do the soundcheck - everything's great, blows normally, as it should be. I put the horn down, leave it sitting on its stand for some time (varies, could be 10min, could be an hour), come back to do the gig and it's just sooo hard to blow, there is this weird resistance that make the horn nearly unplayable... most of the time I would just change the reed and everything would be kind of ok but last gig i just had to power through it (as I realised I had no other reeds) and this strange "effect" seem to gradually subside after about 10-15 min of hard blowing.

    I thought some of the reeds might be the problem but that same reed that was on when it occurred next gig was absolutely fine. I use either Plasticover 2.5/3 or JazzSelect Unfiled 2H.

    Sax then? Nope, all is in order, had it checked. Btw happened with 2 saxes (I currently play on Yamaha YTS-82Z Custom V1 neck, previously played on Cannonball Raven)

    Mouthpiece then? possibly, but not necessarily - happened with 2 mouthpieces, both Bergs - main one is vintage SS Berg Larsen 110/1 refaced by Morgan Fry, the other one is vintage bronze Berg Larsen 100/0. I don't really use any other mpcs on tenor. Anyway, I don't think the mouthpiece is the problem though as I've been playing that 110/1 Berg for nearly 6 years now and it only started last year.

    It doesn't happen every time i play, I'd say 1 in 5 gigs.

    It didn't happen when I practice until today - i played for about 20 minutes, had to put the sax down to answer the phone and when i picked it up again there it was, completely stuffed. Had some other mouthpieces lying around so put them on and yup, still very stuffy, on every one of them... I've put the berg back on and as I continued to play it slowly went away.

    Anyone has any idea what's going on?
    Yeah - your reeds are drying out when you let them sit for over a few minutes - varies with temp and humidity. Sometimes this includes the Plasticover, which can still wrinkle up if it dries out after being moistened. Hard to believe you can be a working sax player and not even know you have to keep a cane reed moist.

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    I am currently having this exact problem! I've had it to my tech a few times, he does a decent job normally, but he is a brass player not a sax guy... I'm guessing it's a reed problem, but I play synthetics!

    Question: I play a dukhoff, could it have gone bad due to soft metal & extensive use?

    The positive aspect is, I'm playing a lot more alto! I always bring it to gigs, but most tunes just seem to fall better to the tenor... and it's one less sharp to deal with.... so with the tenor being a bit inconsistent right now, I find myself reaching for the alto more often, It's a '68 Mark IV with a beautiful sound!

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    Quote Originally Posted by because View Post
    I am currently having this exact problem! I've had it to my tech a few times, he does a decent job normally, but he is a brass player not a sax guy... I'm guessing it's a reed problem, but I play synthetics!

    Question: I play a dukhoff, could it have gone bad due to soft metal & extensive use?

    The positive aspect is, I'm playing a lot more alto! I always bring it to gigs, but most tunes just seem to fall better to the tenor... and it's one less sharp to deal with.... so with the tenor being a bit inconsistent right now, I find myself reaching for the alto more often, It's a '68 Mark IV with a beautiful sound!
    Playing synthetics should take the reed out of the equation when the sax has an intermittent problem. If you suspect the mouthpiece, you might try it on another sax you know is working properly. Some techs who work in a shop are at a disadvantage if they work with other techs or are set up in a store with a customer counter. The reason is they can't make the room pitch dark to look for leaks that are not visible in a lighted room using a leak light. Some of the interesting places I have found leaks have been through a channel under the neck cork, and where the seam in a neck started to come apart under the brace which had places that weren't soldered.

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    hi guys,

    thanks for your replys, I wasn't expecting so many so soon!

    I use mainly Plasticover reeds, JazzSellects only for an odd gig here and there, when I need a bit of a softer approach - plasticovers have this "buzz" which i personally like but it's not always required/fitting.

    I always make sure that my reeds are moist before i start playing. If I have to leave my sax for any amount of time on the stand I usually get back to the stage area before anyone else, grab my sax and just blow it some just to make sure the reed is moist enough and feels right. I know how a dry reed feel and that's definitely not it. Could be warped reeds though, I'll definitely be monitoring this particular aspect.

    The neck tenon/mouthpiece cork seam idea seems to me the most plausible explanation, I will definitely ask my tech to look at it (and all the top key springs) next time I'm dropping my sax off for service (which I'll most likely do next week... or week after).

    Thanks for your ideas guys, if you have any more - keep em coming

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    Your tech needs to see the horn when it is stuffy. Does he have a room where you can play for 20 minutes or so until it starts to act up?

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    Quote Originally Posted by ravenek View Post

    The neck tenon/mouthpiece cork seam idea seems to me the most plausible explanation, I will definitely ask my tech to look at it (and all the top key springs) next time I'm dropping my sax off for service (which I'll most likely do next week... or week after).
    Test by adding a tempory seal, like squish a load of blue tack, grease, soft wax - anything that is airtight and you can clean off.

    However what you describe sounds exactly like reeds swelling, although I would thought that is less likely with plasticovers.

    Whenever it happens with nirmal reeds, I just flatten the underside by scraping with a sharp straight Stanley blade or similar.
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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr G View Post
    +1

    Reeds.

    It used to happen to me frequently, just after I moved to a high desert region. I still use cane, but somewhere between changing how I prep my reeds, my mouthpieces, and how much water I drink on the bandstand, I haven't had a recurring reed issue in years.

    (Knock on cane)
    I had something like this when I was in a place where the air conditioning dried everything in a bad way.

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    Try the suck-pop trick to test the neck octave key and the cork.

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    Default Re: weird problem on tenor sax - intermittent stuffiness?!?

    Quote Originally Posted by lutemann View Post
    Try the suck-pop trick to test the neck octave key and the cork.
    Good idea, won't give you a definitive answer but any fails here can point to an issue.
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