Monday, December 26, 2011

Phil-Tone Equinox Tenor Mouthpiece Reviewed

Today I'd like to present a lesser known brand of mouthpiece, Phil-Tone. I recently heard about the brand, and now I've had the opportunity to try their newest model for tenor, the Equinox. The best introduction I can give this piece is that it is one of the extremely few hand crafted mouthpieces with a very reasonable price.

The Equinox' warmth, brightness, and power make it a flexible and usable piece. Most importantly it has a well balanced and unique tone with its own mix of dark and bright tone qualities. While having an overall round sound the piece has plenty of volume which results in a healthy projection and definition of sound.

The great construction and design of the mouthpiece give it a consistent playability throughout the range of the horn extending up into the altissimo register. The Equinox has a certain free blowing feel which is a great balance between power and expression. You can really push the piece without any distortion in the sound, and at the same time inflection and expression come easily. I will warn that the mouthpiece does have such an expressive ability that it could be easily exaggerated. Someone coming from a less easily inflected mouthpiece should expect a transition period in this respect.

Overall, this is a great mouthpiece. I'd like to add that I had a noticeable transition while my embouchure got use to this mouthpiece. This piece most likely has a slightly longer facing than my Otto Link which resulted in my adjustment period. Transitions and adjustments are necessary and expected with almost any new piece of equipment so no surprise there.

Here is a sound clip on the Equinox:
Blues Excerpt on the Phil-Tone Equinox

Conclusion: This is an affordable handmade mouthpiece with a flexible and unique tone.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Selmer Mark VI Reviewed

After recently acquiring a Selmer Mark VI I thought it was only appropriate that I write a review of the horn considering it is arguably the single most important model in the history of the saxophone. After only spending two weeks on it I have to admit that I am floored by a saxophone I once thought over hyped. A lot has been said about these horns and I know I'm being a little redundant, but I feel like I can still add a little something to the conversation.

I'd like to start with the horns strongest points which, in my opinion, are its overtone thick sound and its supportive response. The tone is dark and bright all at the same time, and it sounds especially alive when compared side by side with various other horns. One of the really cool things I have found is no matter what acoustical space I'm playing in or what reed I'm using I feel like I get a full and vibrant tone when listening from behind the horn (while playing). Those perceptions have also proven correct when I have heard the same or better back on a recording. To top it off the Mark VI has plenty of carrying power and punch while the tone remains warm and beautiful.

I would characterize the feeling of blowing through the horn as being supportive and responsive. It's not as free blowing as other models (low resistance or back pressure was one of the qualities that I admired in my Selmer Super Balanced Action), however the horn works extremely efficiently with my air. At first I felt the slightly more resistant feel was hand cuffing me, but after hearing a few recordings of myself on the Mark VI I am convinced that the horn is simply putting my air to better use making it easier to produce a full sound 100% of the time. I am also convinced that the horn is more responsive making it easier to play more fluidly, more technically, and more expressively. It has taken a little getting use to, but it has definitely been worth the effort.

Other strong points include solid intonation and comfortable keywork. Something I'm not quite enamored with is the right hand thumb rest. I haven't quite adjusted to it and my thumb gets fairly uncomfortable during long periods of playing.

I would also like to throw my two cents down on a couple of other issues. My particular Mark VI is a factory relaquer and had a pick up in the neck at some point. I've played around eight Mark VIs very recently, including a pristine completely original 5 digit Mark VI, and my relaquer & neck pickup VI completely measures up to every other VI I've played. I just thought I'd let you know before you go drop 12 grand on a horn! That being said I did play a Mark VI that had braces built onto the side of the neck and that was a terribly dead horn. Do be cautious because there are certainly bad VIs out there. 

I know there are hundreds of recordings of players on Mark VIs, but I thought I'd give you a few clips which you can compare to my other reviews.

Solo on Black Narcissus (comp. Joe Henderson)
Solo and melody out on Fall (comp. Wayne Shorter)

Conclusion: Selmer's Mark VI truly is a fantastic sounding and fantastic playing horn. Depending on what you are use to playing there might be a transition period, but it has definitely been worth it in my case.

Friday, December 2, 2011

P. Mauriat 66R Tenor Sax Reviewed

Recently I had the chance to really get to know a P. Mauriat 66R Tenor, which was a very positive learning experience. The horn has a large number of strong points, and only a couple of weak points. This particular saxophone is on my list of favorite modern horns, which is a very very short list.

One of the 66R's strongest points is the fact that blowing through the horn feels extremely similar to a vintage horn.  There is only a very light back pressure to the horn similar to a Mark VI or SBA. The amount of sound out for effort in is well balanced. Basically, its easy to scream or play at a whisper, and the horn is very easy to inflect and achieve your personal sound on.

The keywork of the horn feels great. I played this horn for a week, and by the time I was done I preferred the keywork and setup over my SBA and it felt weird going back. I played 4 different P. Mauriat tenors, and of the 4 only 1 had the spring pressure set up uncomfortably heavy. The 66R that I spent the week playing felt near perfect in terms of the keywork and setup.

The intonation of the horn is also very good. The palm keys require less work that I'm accustomed to keep in tune, and there were a number of other notes and registers on the horn that felt like it took less work to keep in tune. At the same time, the horn does have potential problems with intonation for different reasons, which I'll explain shortly.

The sound of the tenor is sweet, warm, vibrant, and big. The horn definitely projects as well. All of this should add up to a near perfect horn, however there is an Achilles' heel. The sound of the horn is SO warm that it doesn't quite have enough punch or edge to keep the player behind the horn completely informed of the sound. This interprets into having some difficulty hearing yourself clearly when playing very fast. There is also potential danger of intonation problems in result of this sound attribute. Finally, it also means that you have a kind of fixed warmth to your sound, which some players will dig and others won't. Every saxophone has its particular characteristic sound, and it's something you'll either love or won't.

Here are two clips from a live performance on this horn live at Twins Jazz in D.C.
AloneTogether66Solo.mp3      IsotopeSolo.mp3

Conclusion: This is a fantastic modern horn that blows like a vintage horn. It has great keywork and good intonation. The sound is sweet and vibrant, however it will be too warm for some players.