Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reeds and Being Prepared

Every once in while I am reminded of how simply some saxophone problems can be solved, and I had one of those moments just in the past month. I've been struggling with reeds ever since the seasons changed despite my meticulous care, and I couldn't seem to find a solution, even when my storage was perfect. Needless to say, reeds have been on my mind.

While playing a couple of gigs as part of a sax competition in Detroit, I got to talking with Adam Rongo about reeds, who is a really great saxophonist and was a fellow finalist at the competition. He told me that he switched down a half strength in the summer, or something along those lines. Intrigued, because one of my main problems all summer had been my reeds playing too hard, I bought a box of reeds a third strength lower (RJS comes in third strengths). Result? Comfortable playing reeds.

With that realization made I now pack a couple if not three strengths of reeds so I'm prepared for what comes, and good thing too! Last week I was in Kansas City, and for whatever reason there I needed to play on a third strength up from my normal strength (two third strengths up from what I've been playing on in PA)  to really be comfortable.

Lesson learned. We don't need to be stuck on one strength of reed. We need to be comfortable, and we should definitely be prepared.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Theo's Enlightened Ligature and Pressure Plates

Right to left: "vintified", titanium,
stainless steel, and silver.
Not too long ago I posted on Theo Wanne's Enlightened Ligature, and it has been in the back of my mind ever since. In a recent equipment quandary I tried the ligature again, and in the same playtest I discovered the four optional pressure plates which Theo Wanne produces and can be used with any of his ligatures. I've been experimenting with the pressure plates for a while now and I thought I'd share my results. Before you dive in here, you may want to review my original review of the ligature as I'll be focusing on the pressure plates this time.

The enlightened ligature comes with two pressure plates, a gold plated pressure plate and a heavier copper one. The additional four that you can buy separately are solid silver, stainless steel, "vintified", and titanium. I did two recorded playtests. The first playtest was recorded in a very live room (lots of reverb) and included the gold plated plate, the stainless steel plate, and the titanium plate. The second by contrast was recorded in a dryer room and included the stainless steel plate, the "vintified" plate, and the titanium plate. I recorded these to draw my own personal conclusions and thus the originally overlooked omission of the "vintified" plate in the first playtest and the gold plated plate in the second. The sounds of the solid silver and copper pressure plates didn't interest me from the get go, though I did experiment with the silver plate at length, and that is the main reason for their omission. This post is not meant to be an in depth review but more of a general survey and illustration by sound clips of how the pressure plates affect the sound.

All clips are recorded on a Mark VI tenor with a Florida era Super Tone Master Otto Link. Each playtest is confined to a single reed and consistent microphone placement.

For comparison purposes here are recordings of my vintage link ligature from both playtests.

Gold Plated Pressure Plate

The gold plate seems to have a thick and somewhat dark projecting sound. A little too heavy for my personal preference.

Stainless Steel Plate

The stainless steel has a bit brighter sound but still very thick and projecting.

"Vintified" Plate

The "vintified" pressure plate, which is brass, has a very warm sound that is very responsive and light on it's feet. The feeling of playing with this plate is somewhat more free blowing than the others which is an interesting twist. I recorded with this plate live on a gig this week, and I've included my solo from Along Came Betty in addition to the playtest.

Titanium Plate

This one has a somewhat bright sound but isn't as thick or heavy as the stainless steel plate. To each their own.

Conclusions: By my estimation the pressure plates really do change the sound and in significant ways. Good thing too as I've arrived closer to my ideal sound than ever before due to the options presented by the various plates. In full disclosure, after weeks of experimentation I'm now playing on the Enlightened ligature with the stainless steel plate as a regular part of my setup, and it has beaten out my beloved vintage Link ligature.