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.

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