Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rico Reviews Episode 2: Filed vs. Unfiled (Rico Jazz Select)

Continuing with the products Rico was kind enough to provide free of charge, today I’d like to pit the unfiled and filed  Rico Jazz Select reeds in a battle to the death.

Overall, the Rico Jazz Selects are good reeds, but I wanted to get into the dirty details of the differences and similarities between the cuts. I broke the battle down into three main categories: tone quality, response, and consistency.

Tone Quality
Unfiled: Deep slightly spread tone with enough vibrance to give the sound some presence, even tone throughout range and dynamics

Filed: Focused vibrant tone with more highs than lows, even tone throughout range and dynamics

Unfiled: Feels easy to play through and responds promptly to articulation

Filed: Feels slightly more resistant than the unfiled reeds, responds even more quickly to articulation

Unfiled: Often needs to be soaked/warmed up, variable reed quality (like most brands...), pretty consistent reed strength

Filed: Often plays out of the box, some variability in reed quality but less variability than the unfiled reeds, pretty consistent reed strength

Play Test
Unfiled: Ben Plays Donna Lee

Filed: Ben Plays Donna Lee again

Conclusion: The two cuts offer different tone qualities with neither lacking in presence.  The other differences between the two cuts, though many, are almost negligible once you have decided on the cut that best fits the kind of sound you're going for.  The one drawback for both cuts, especially the unfiled, is the inconsistency in reed quality.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rico Reviews Episode 1: Rico Metalite Mouthpiece

After my review of their orange box reeds, Rico was kind enough to send over some samples of their products free of charge including the Metalite mouthpiece.   Expect a little more Rico in the near future as well.

$25.  That is usually the cheapest price you can pay for a playable mouthpiece.  $25 is also about the highest price you’ll pay for a Rico Metalite mouthpiece judging from the price listings on Google Shopping.  It was quite a surprise to find out that the mouthpiece is also very good.

The sound, which to me is one of the most important selling points of any mouthpiece, is full bodied with a nice mix of highs and lows.  The mouthpiece leans toward the highs, which makes sense as its suppose to be providing the brilliance of a metal mouthpiece in a non-metal format, but it isn’t overly bright.  There is enough edge in the tone to give it presence and sound complete.  The mouthpiece does retain its tone quality at different dynamic ranges, and with a good reed you can really push it dynamically without worrying about the tone breaking up.

The mouthpiece does require a fair amount of jaw or embouchure pressure to produce the tone and respond well to articulation.  This also means that the mouthpiece is very sensitive to changes in jaw and embouchure pressure, and inflections and bends are easy to produce.  For an intermediate or advanced player the needed pressure and control wouldn't be a problem, but a younger player or a beginner might find these aspects of the mouthpiece challenging.

Here is a sound clip I blew playing an M7 Rico Metalite Tenor mouthpiece and a rico orange box 3 1/2 reed:

Ben plays Cherokee

Conclusion: This is a good vibrant mouthpiece at a very cheap price that delivers on its promise.  It's probably best suited for intermediate or advanced players.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Surprising Turn of Events: Rico Reeds, the Orange Box Reviewed

I would have never guessed these reeds would turn out to be a part of my regular setup, but they have now been on my mouthpiece every day for a week.  Three gigs and counting...

I have been playing the orange box reeds on my Florida Otto Link metal mouthpiece, and I get a full and balanced tone throughout the registers of the horn.  There is enough bite and vibrance to cut, but the tone isn't too bright or edgy either.  I should also mention that I place my ligature toward the back of the mouthpiece, and reeds can sound a little thin if I place the ligature further to the front.

The response of the reeds is fantastic though they need to be pushed a little more in the low end to get the same easy feeling as the rest of the range.  Climbing into the altissimo register feels very easy.  The extreme flexibility and ease of play does have a down side.  The reeds don’t last as long as other types of reed which are made with a less flexible cane.

As far as reed consistency goes, I’ve now played on six orange box reeds and I’ve only had one that I would not play on a gig.  That being said there is a great degree of variation between reed strengths in a single box.  I’m playing on size 3 ½ reeds and the strengths have ranged from almost too easy to almost too hard.  There does seem to a fair amount of inconsistency in that respect.

I’ll let you all judge for yourself.  Here are a couple of sound clips for your critical ears.  First, is a full range-ish chromatic scale, and the second is a blues.

Full Range-ish Chromatic Scale

Ben Plays the Blues

Conclusion: Rico orange box reeds are surprisingly good when combined with the right setup.  They can produces a full and balanced tone.  On the negative side the reeds don’t last as long as some other types, and they are fairly inconsistent in terms of reed strength.

Ben's New Setup: 3 ½ Orange Box Rico Reeds, 7* Florida Metal Otto Link, Selmer Super Action Tenor

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cannonball Vintage Pro Series Tenor

I’ve never known a saxophone to have a mental disorder, but this one sure comes close! More on that later.

I saw this Cannonball Vintage Pro tenor sax on the wall in Sam Ash with its beautiful deep amber laquer just begging to be played. The vintage look and profile screamed Mark VI, so I thought I’d see how close Cannonball had gotten. Just holding the horn in my hands let me know something was different. The key work filled up my medium sized hands, much like the key work on modern horns. I am accustomed to the smaller feel of vintage horns, but the Cannonball’s key work still felt very good. My fingers laid naturally onto the keys. Nothing felt quirky or out of place.

Playing the horn felt much like playing a Selmer Reference 54. It felt fairly free blowing, but not as free blowing as a true vintage horn. Some would find that a disadvantage and others would like the slightly more resistant feel. The tone was very similar to a Mark VI, possibly a little brighter but still very focused, until I reached octave key B. At this point the saxophone transformed, and the tone became much brighter and little edgier. This strangely transformed tone continued up into the altissimo range of the horn. Now that was a weird experience, and it was the first time I’ve come across such a defined boundary line. Octave key A and down had a nice Mark VI-ish sound, and Octave key B and up sounded like an entirely different horn. I did not have the chance to play another Cannonball Vintage Pro horn, so I cannot say if this is a odd one time event or whether this is the general tendency of the horns. I can recommend vigorously play testing any horn before you make a final purchase!

Conclusion: This is a great looking horn that feels good in your hands. It sounds like a vintage horn up to a certain point, but unfortunately it loses that characteristic vintage sound when your reach the upper register.