Friday, October 29, 2010

Buescher True Tone Tenor Sax & V16 Metal Tenor Mouthpiece

Sometimes the stars align and a vintage Buescher True Tone Tenor from 1921 just falls into your lap free of charge.  At least, that’s what happened to me last week.  My brother was given the horn by a random listener while playing a gig at a farmer’s market.  It was his intention to sell the thing, but it was so banged up that he decided it wasn’t worth his time.  So, I’m now the proud owner of my first ever pre-1950s horn.

The horn came in its original case, which also stored two vintage mouthpieces, a Buescher hard rubber that I’m assuming came with the horn and an early model Selmer hard rubber that looks much more played on.  They both have very small tip openings typical of mouthpieces of that time period, and they are virtually unplayable without strength five and a half reeds.  The unplayable mouthpieces will not be making the review today, however I will do my best to provide a complete and modern perspective on the vintage Buescher horn.

Buescher True Tone Tenor (1921)

Let’s start with the positive.  The horn has a beautiful warm sound, which is uniform from the bottom to the top of the horn and maintains its integrity from soft to loud.  The sound is less spread than a Selmer Super (Balanced) Action, but not quite as as focused as the average Mark VI.  These sound traits give the sax its own unique territory when measuring up against its vintage contemporaries.  The horn has the free-blowing feel you would expect from a vintage sax, and even with the leaks its feels great to play.  The lower register does feels more resistant and becomes more and more free-blowing as you reach the top of the horn’s range.  The altissimo register inherits the easy feeling of the high register and feels effortless to play.  The feeling of blowing through the horn and the sound that comes out is great, but the rest is not so great.

On the negative side, the horn’s key work is from the dinosaur-age.  The upper and lower stacks (left and right hands) are not offset, meaning you have to bring your right hand further and uncomfortably around the horn.  The G#, low C#, low B, low Bb keys are ill placed and require more finger strength than average.  The octave mechanism is raised higher than the thumb rest making it less convenient and less comfortable. The D palm key is much too low, and the list continues.  The G# is dependant of the rest of the key work much like a clarinet, so that you have to either press the G# key only when playing G# or use an interesting but poorly positioned key in between the E and the F key which closes the G# for you.  The clincher is that the horn is missing a front high F key.  Throughout the decade following 1921 the front high F did become a standard on True Tones, but sadly my horn predates the standardization of the front high F key.  This dinosaur-age key work makes the horn less than desirable when compared to the numerous saxophones available to the modern player.

Here are two clips I recorded to give you an idea of the horn’s inherent sound qualities.  The first clip is of me playing the Buescher, and the second is of me playing my Super (Balanced) Action for comparison.  I tried to start them in a similar vein, but it really just ended up being me playing around and having fun.

Ben playing his Buescher True Tone

Ben playing his Selmer Super-Action

Conclusion: Though this warm and easy playing vintage horn sounds great its dinosaur-age key work make the horn undesirable when compared to many other saxophones.

V16 Metal Tenor (T75)

In each of these review I want to include a piece of equipment easily available to you, so though completely unrelated to the Buescher I’m taking on the V16 Metal tenor mouthpiece here as well.

This mouthpiece plays most appropriate for an electrified setting.  In an acoustic setting I’m afraid its top heavy mix of highs and a few lows would seem out of place.  I can safely call this a bright mouthpiece.  There is a fair amount of edge especially when I was playing with a filed Rico Jazz Select.  When I switched to an unfiled Select the edge converted into a kind of buzz.  The edge/buzz is not overpowering as in
some mouthpieces, but it is definitely present.

The mouthpiece takes a medium amount of air, though I wouldn’t call it resistant except in the lower register of the horn.  This slight resistance in the mouthpiece gives it an even tone from piano to fortissimo and gives the altissimo register some real strength.  That’s definitely a fair trade in my book.

Conclusion: This is a bright mouthpiece with its inherent tone quality bordering on thin, however the tone does retain its integrity throughout the range and dynamics of the saxophone.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jody Jazz Tenor HR* and Classic Mouthpieces Reviewed

Well, I wanted to pick a theme for my first review, and I thought it was going to be ‘Jody Jazz Hard Rubber Mouthpieces,’ but come to find out the Classic model, which in at least one of its two colors looks an awful lot like a hard rubber mouthpiece, is actually formed from a “proprietary polycarbonate alloy with a synthetic rubber mix.”  So, all my dreams have been ruined, but we’ll get on with the review anyhow.

Jody Jazz HR* Tenor

Some hard rubber mouthpieces have both feet firmly planted in a dark round room with sound absorbent materials covering every surface so that the only edge you hear is when you bite the reed and play ff.  The Jody Jazz HR* Tenor mouthpiece is in a different room than those afore mentioned hard rubber pieces.  Jody’s HR* has a dark-heavy blend of dark and bright overtones.  This piece is not bright by any means, but the tone does have a strong presence due to some brighter overtones and a slight edge. The dark edge gives the mouthpiece a kind of smoky sound and gives it a unique sound stamp.  That sound stamp also proves to be the piece’s one weakness, but no mouthpiece is perfect, right?

The piece is effortless from low B-flat up to the upper echelon of the altissimo range whether playing softly, loudly, subtone, or full-tone.  The sound remains full in the entire range of the horn, and the altissimo range retains a full body tone, which isn’t true of every mouthpiece as we’ll see later on.  When tonguing the mouthpiece responds quickly giving it a light on its feet feeling.  Unfortunately, the mouthpiece does break up when nearing the ff dynamic range.  The smoky sound becomes slightly edgier or reedier and less pleasant, but this could vary with a harder strength reed or possibly a different brand of reed.

The dark-heavy mix of dark and bright overtones would lend well to many settings.  I wouldn’t want to use it in a more contemporary fusion or funk setting, but George Garzone would beg to differ (and he always sounds great).

Conclusion:  The piece has a nice mix of dark and bright overtones in a mainly round, dark, and strong sound setting .  However, there is a reedy side that comes out when you really push the piece.

Jody Jazz Classic Tenor

The Classic model is somewhat of an enigma to me.  You can buy the sleek looking mouthpiece in traditional black or in a transparent bold red, which was all fine and good until I had different playing experiences with the two colors of what should be the same mouthpieces.  Both the red and black mouthpieces were marked with the same tip opening size and of identical shape.  However, there were some physical differences to the mouthpieces.  The red one was noticeably bigger, was much looser on my cork than the black piece, and came with the removable baffle currently advertized on the Jody Jazz Classic Tenor’s website page.  So, I’ll have to proceed on the premise that there is something different about these two particular pieces.  Maybe the black one is an older edition of the mouthpiece or something along those lines.  I’ve emailed Jody Jazz and I’ll post an update when I know more about the situation.  Without further ado...

Update:  Jody Espina had the following to say on the general approach to playing his mouthpieces and observed difference between the mouthpieces:

"Very nice review, thank you.  . . . it would be nice to know the tip opening and especially the reed strength. I find that when people are coming from other mouthpieces that aren't as free blowing they tend to use a softer reed and when they play a free blowing piece their reed is too soft to do the mouthpiece justice, especially in the high register. This is even more true on our DV and DV NY series where you definitely have to go up in reed strength to get the most out of the mouthpiece.

I can't explain the difference in those two pieces as the bore should be exactly the same. As far as the missing spoiler goes the store must have msiplaced it or had it stolen. Sam Ash has told us that our mouthpieces are the #1 stolen mouthpiece for them. 

Thanks again for the review,
Jody Espina - President

The tip opening and reed strength can be found in the comment section now.

Ruby Red

Like I mentioned earlier, this mouthpiece sits looser on my cork.  Looser than the HR*, looser than the black Classic, looser than my Florida Otto Link, and looser than many other mouthpieces I’ve played on.  What does that mean?  I have no idea, but I’m giving you fair warning that you might need a new cork if you buy one of these.

More seriously, this is a great playing mouthpiece.  It’s another easy to play free-blowing mouthpiece, though in my experience it is slightly more resistant than the HR*.  That slight resistance only helps the mouthpiece as I can push it to ff without any real change in the tone quality. The tone quality is also constant from low Bb up until the altissimo register where the sound quality does change.  The altissimo register plays easily on the mouthpiece, but unfortunately it loses some of its depth of tone.  With practice I’m guessing this could be overcome, at least in large degree, but I definitely noticed that of the 3 Jody Jazz mouthpieces I play tested, this one has the most noticeable tone quality change when playing altissimo.

The removable baffle that comes with the mouthpiece basically give you two mouthpieces in one. Without the removable baffle the tone has a nice balanced mix of dark and bright overtones, and the tone quality is generally round and vibrant.  There is a slight edge in the sound, but it's just enough to enhance the sound quality and give it a strong presence.  With the removable baffle in place the highs of the sound are brought to the forefront, and the piece’s edginess is also increased.  The tone goes from a sound you might expect from a traditional or modern jazz musician to a tone you'd expect to hear from a contemporary smooth jazz musician or even a rock saxophonist.  Basically, you have got options.  All of that said, the highs emphasized by the removable baffle are not as vibrant as you what you would get from a metal mouthpiece designed for that purpose.

Conclusion: This is another easy to play free-blowing mouthpiece with a balanced mix of highs and lows.  Without the spoiler you’ve got just enough highs and edge, and with the spoiler you’ve entered the funk, smooth jazz, and even rock scene though you might really want a metal mouthpiece for those musical situations.  The only downside to the mouthpiece was its thinner though easy to play altissimo register.

Classic Black

This mouthpiece does not have a removable baffle in the box, and honestly, it does not need one.  It's bright and edgy from the get-go.  It is edgier than even the red Classic with the removable baffle in place.  To my ears the mouthpiece sounds a little thin and was lacking some of the darker overtones it needs to complete the sound.  The mouthpiece would definitely cut due to its bright and edgy nature, and it would appeal to saxophonists who need that ability and are looking to do it with a non-metal mouthpiece.

Despite the differences in sonic qualities the black Classic does have all the same free-blowing qualities of the red model.  It's easy to play from bottom to top and at all dynamics.  The altissimo register is easy to play, and the mouthpiece fully maintains its depth of tone in the upper register unlike the red Classic.

Conclusion:  This is a bright and edgy mouthpiece and is meant to cut.  Though a little thin sounding it maintains its sonic integrity from soft to loud and from low to the altissimo register.  It would be an easy alternative for a musician looking for a cutting mouthpiece in a non-metal format.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first review or found it helpful.  Comments are welcome.

Test Setup: Jody Jazz Tenor HR* with Vandoren Optimum ligature and Rico Jazz Select Filed reeds, Jody Jazz Tenor Black & Red Classics with Rovner and normal 2 screw metal ligatures and Rico Jazz Select Filed reeds.

Normal Setup: Metal Florida Otto Link with Vandoren Optimum ligature and Rico Jazz Select Filed reeds.