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Electric or Analogue?

Discussion in 'Bb Bass Clarinet' started by kr236rk, Nov 12, 2016.

  1. Hi,

    Love the sound of the soprano sax but thought practice might be an issue (neighbours), so went in for an EWI instead. Then I moved. The EWI is fun but can be difficult for a newb due to the 'slur bar' on its base and the 'octave rollers', you've only got to look at either one of these sideways and you've lost control of the instrument. Would a real soprano sax be easier to control please - or even more difficult? I have 0 experience of the proper thing.

    Many thanks,


    Sorry - I think my post should be here: http://www.woodwindforum.com/forum/index.php?forums/bb-soprano-clarinet.1280/

    Last edited: Nov 12, 2016
  2. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    That's a good question. I have no EWI experience, but normally a soprano sax is hard to learn as you really have to have good air support and a good embouchure. I never had a problem though as I also was a clarinet player (sax first though, but many professional lessons on both before I tried soprano).

    But, without EWI experience, I would think the EWI would be easier. But, either one would require practicing as musical instruments just are not something you pick up and play immediately.
  3. Thanks.

    I don't play the EWI enough, but I love the sop tonality. If I went for a real one I'd find a tutor :)
  4. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Analog can be electric. All "electric" means is that it has power connected to it. What you're wanting to talk about is analog vs. digital. Here's where I get to show off that year of Calculus in high school and another in college:

    An analog instrument produces a nice sound wave. Perfectly smooth. Digital can't create a smooth wave. It's a succeeding pattern of small square waves that sort of approximate that analog wave, if you can get the squares small enough. You use fun math equations to figure out the approximation, i.e. Calculus.

    Anyhow, I've played soprano sax, the EWI USB, which is a reduced range version of all the other Akai EWIs, the Yamaha WX11 and the Yamaga WX5. First, I suck at playing straight soprano because I try to play it like a clarinet, but switch me to a fully curved (alto sax shaped) soprano and I'm much better. Second, the only real similarity between an EWI and a saxophone is the mouthpiece on the Yamahas -- they use a "reed" mouthpiece or, alternately, a recorder-like mouthpiece -- and the fingering. You don't have to have a terribly good embochure to play an EWI, nor do you really have to worry about the position you hold the EWI (although Lester Young never really had a problem) or that much about breath support. The Akai EWIs also have the "touch sensitive" key "pads," rather than real keys that move up and down. I'm definitely not saying that the Yamaha or any other EWI other than the Synthophone feels like a sax, but the Yamahas feel closer to a sax than the Akais.

    As far as sounds go, well, you've got some internal OK sounds on some EWIs, but I think that the best they can do is come sorta close to a soprano sax sound. There are some third party sounds that can be played through a computer that are better or you can buy a physical sound module or synth -- or program your own.
  5. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    I have only a passing knowledge of EWIs. I have played only a handful of different ones; don't own any; have written about a number of them; but do own all saxophones from soprano through bass; and have played and taught professionally for years.

    Here's my take: You're really talking apples and oranges. Each instrument (sax vs. EWI) has its own challenges, but I would never tell a beginning student that a soprano sax would be a good starter horn.

    Why? Because of the reason Steve outlined outlined above already: "you really have to have good air support and a good embouchure". This is true for all saxophones, but especially for soprano.

    Saxophones are inherently out of tune. Period. Full stop. That is just the nature of the beast. It is up to the player to play them in tune. However, the smaller the instrument, the harder it is to make it play in tune. For this reason most students start on alto. Alto is reasonably easy to learn to control the tuning on, yet big enough that the embouchure doesn't have to be as well controlled as on soprano.

    A very well-known pro from New Orleans and I--both of us are primarily bari players--were having a discussion a number of years ago, about why neither of us liked playing soprano much. Steve noted that it takes about twice as long to develop any particular skill (embouchure control, tuning, etc, etc) on soprano as it does on the larger horns. I quipped that I was big on instant gratification, which is why I liked bari: it only took a fraction of the time. ;)

    All joking about bari players aside, Steve was right on the mark. I have been doing a lot of soprano playing over the past year for a couple of different musicals. I do spend roughly 2:1 the amount of time getting and keeping my soprano chops up as I do my tenor and bari chops. (I have about 30 years playing experience, just to put it into perspective.)

    There's one other thing I should mention about soprano saxophones, and that is their build quality. Cheap soprano saxophones, sound exactly like what they are: cheap soprano saxophones. Depending on who, where, or when they were built, they simply cannot be played in tune. Compared to their alto and tenor cousins, very few companies make them--this is even truer if you're looking at a used horn--and thus when choosing one, you simply don't have the selection to pick from, that you do when picking an alto.

    You mention you're going to use a teacher. That's a right starting point. I would get the names of a few in your area, and talk to a number of them on the phone before you get a sax. Tell them what you're interested in, and why. I would be amazed if anyone told you: yah, go ahead start on soprano.

    I'm assuming you're an adult, as opposed to a youth, so you can buy whatever horn you choose. In the end the choice is up to you. If however, you want to play with others, then the alto will always give you more options in the community. Soprano saxes have no parts written for them in conventional band music.

    Remember, all saxophones use the same fingerings, so once you master all the fingerings, you can transfer those to any saxophone of any size.

    So for what's it worth, here's my recommendation: If you decide to start playing saxophone, get an alto, and learn on that. Then once you've mastered the fingerings, and the basics of tone production and embouchure control, buy a soprano of a good enough quality that not only is its tone pleasing to the ear, but that it is also in tune. Here is the clincher: In order to properly assess the latter, you have to have mastered the art of tone production and embouchure production.
  6. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    To add on to Helen's comment on bari, the easiest saxophone to play, provided you don't have a problem reaching the keys and don't particularly care about the weight, is Bb tenor. Why don't students start on tenor, then? Well, most beginners do probably have a problem with reaching the keys and the extra weight, but there's also the point that most bands have no need for more than 1.5 tenor players.

    I should research to see what the standard age of beginners is vs. "I played it in high school X years ago and just picked it up again" vs. "I needed a new hobby."
  7. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Administrator Staff Member Administrator

    Helen, this is excellent. Is it on your blog somewhere? I want to quote it and would prefer to do so from your blog.
  8. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    Nope, not on my blog. Just came up with it out of thin air. ;) ... You know... That dead space between my left and right ears... :)
  9. saxhound

    saxhound Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    That dead space seems pretty alive right now. Are you in Colorado by any chance?
  10. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Helen has better stuff for her head than I do. Although, as I'm starting week 4 of cluster headaches, I'm thinking of e-mailing Helen to see if she's got any extra. Besides, I've heard something about a lot of folks wanting to get Canadian citizenship for some reason ...

    Anyhow, to reinforce Helen's comment regarding build quality, one of the best and worst things that happened to the saxophone world was Kenny G. Really. Slightly after he came onto the scene, a bazillion folks realized they could make soprano saxophones really cheap and someone would buy one. Unfortunately, not a lot of good sopranos came out. The other thing is that just because a company made a great alto, tenor, and bari model, it doesn't mean that their soprano (or higher) or bass (and lower) is that great. As an example, the gold standard for altos and tenors is arguably the Selmer Mark VI. For sopranos, it's Yanagisawa.

    (However, this doesn't help me much because the Yanis aren't curved enough for me, so I have to go back to before WWII to find a horn that suits me. I like the tone of the early Buffets and they look beautiful in silver plate, but they're now fairly uncommon. Buescher curvies would probably be a good second choice, as I've played True Tones in alto, tenor, and bari and liked their tone and intonation, but the sopranos might not be as good. I've also not had too much desire to play soprano, so no real worries :))

    Another way of looking at it is that Yamaha, a company that's had at least 50 models of sax since 1970, doesn't have a "student" soprano and never has. They have an "intermediate" horn: the 475II. If you want to know where this fits in Yamaha's current offering scheme, look at altos. It's:

    200ADII - Student
    26 - Student
    300AD - Intermediate
    480 - Intermediate
    580 - Intermediate
    62III - Pro
    Custom Models - Super Pro

    ... and the 475II is $2565. Not exactly a student horn's price.

    Selmer USA is now selling a student soprano. It's made in Taiwan. I've read some suggestions that it's made by Antigua Winds. It's $1100.
  11. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    Nope, British Columbia.... ;) We have more grow-ops in this province than rental housing I hear. (That's probably how people make their mortage payments in this crazyass housing market we have.) ;)
  12. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    BTW, I'd just thought I'd mention that I quite love my Mark VI soprano. I know some of you love to hate them, but I have a minty, late model one from the Mark VII period of production. It is very fine, and plays perfectly in tune.

    I know nowadays players want or insist on detachable necks, with one being semi-curved. I don't know why. The soprano is supposed to be played out, not down like a clarinet... Jeez... Oh and ya, gotta have that front F... And maybe keyed up to high G... Why?... I have a high F# key that I can tell you I have never used in a performance. Why? Soprano music doesn't call for it. Besides, who wants to hear a soprano go beyond high F? Hell, I don't think I want to hear one go above high C3... But I digress...

    Jeez... I sound like an old person complaining... Hell... Maybe I am becoming one. ;)

    Nah, just cranky...

    Pete, I feel your cluster headaches. I have been suffering from a flare-up of trigeminal neuralgia since I got an infection under one of my fillings about a week ago. My dentist has me on antibiotics, and I'll have to have a 1/2 a root canal in the office, before I have some dental surgery in the hospital in January to have the rest of it--and some other stuff--done.
  13. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Just talking about sopranos may give people headaches.

    Helen, I have an early SA80 .. a mk VI with modern keywork. :)
    Yeah, it has a front F and high F# too. But no high G like many of the taiwan horns.

    I really wouldn't mind having a Buffet SDA/DA soprano, even though some of those were keyed to high G.

    When my kids started on sax in 5th grade the alto was really the only one was was carryable, and playable with their shorter arms and lack of air support. It's like Tuba .. how many 5th graders start on Tuba ? As a parent you'd be afraid of finding you kid after hours on the band room floor with the instrument on top of them.
  14. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    I just read that yamaha introduced the WX7 in 1987, the WX11 in 1988 and the WX5 in 1998.
    Were there abandoned products ?

    I bought into their "EZ" line of digital guitars which didn't have strings. It was an interesting guitar to have. A good learning tool of "general finger positioning" but didn't translate too well once you moved over to a real guitar.

    I see that wwbw.com still sells the WX5
    Which is the "better" model, the WX5, 7 or 11?
    Are there any newer designs?
  15. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    I might have confused everyone with my ramblings last night--it was time for my pain meds when I was typing, so I wasn't entirely clear.

    My horn is one of last Mark VIs ever made. Serial # 266XXX: it doesn't have a front F, but does have a high F# key.

  16. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    There is a "guitar" that I'm mildly interested in. Take a look at this.

    The Yamaha line of wind controllers included the Windjamm'r, as well. That was their really, really scaled down wind controller. You might find one on eBay every now and then. They also had a bunch of breath controllers: blow into it for your dynamic contrast and press keys on your keyboard controller for the sound.

    Unlike Yamaha's other instruments, the numbering for their wind controllers and synths really doesn't follow much rhyme or reason. The WX7 was the top-of-the-line and it still has a couple more features than the "new" WX5. The keywork is also allegedly much better. I'm virtually positive they called it a "WX7" because of the "DX7" synth, which was also Yamaha's top of the line. The WX11 was the one I owned back in the day. The major difference, as far as playability was concerned, was that the WX11 had a ... bent neck ... and could only do MIDI out on one channel at a time. It also had a bunch fewer things you could tweak and, I think, didn't have a pitch bend wheel. Oh. There also was a DX11 synth, too, which was a scaled down version of the DX7.

    Yamaha doesn't have a newer wind controller. The WX5 is it and it's still in production. All their others aren't. The new (as in, not available until next year) thing from Roland looks interesting, but I have no idea how it plays. I think they're using a button on top of a switch -- which is what Yamaha did with the Windjamm'r -- and I don't think that configuration feels very good. I'd be more than happy for them to send me one to try, though. I've only bought several thousands of dollars of Roland equipment in the past ...

    Anyhow, the best wind controller is arguably the Synthophone I mentioned a couple posts ago. It's also un-arguably the most expensive. It was $3795 in 2014. Price fluctuates a lot because it's built around a Yamaha YAS-275 or, if you really want to go all out, a Selmer Super 80. That'd cost a tad more than the Yamaha version, I'd think :).


    The Mark VI soprano, baritone, and bass was made from approximately S/N 55201-365000, which would be 1954-1981. The sopranino was made from approximately S/N 55201-386000, which would be 1954-1985/6 -- well into the Super 80 range (and I'll point out that Helen has the exact serial number of the first Mark VI on her website, but I'm too lazy to look it up). FWIW, I don't recall ever seeing a Mark VII nino, soprano, or bass. I've seen a couple of the other pitches, including low A altos. Yes, there are only supposed to be Mark VII altos and tenors. According to Selmer, at least.


    Above is a sn 322261 Mark VI soprano sold by Saxquest in 2003.


    Above is a sn 385019 sopranino sold in 2009 ($2653, btw). I've got a pic of the bell with "Mark VI" and the serial number.
  17. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Yes, Yamaha's naming convention for the wind controller's is a head scratcher.
    I'm curious to the controller as Tom Puwalski, which I tried to link a Facebook video and couldn't, plays regularly.
    He has a purple one though and I couldn't find color ones out in the market.
    In one video he switches from Clarinet to sop sax to the wind controller with various sounds I've heard. Flute, tenor sax, alto, etc.
  18. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

  19. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    I've seen that before.
    It's an evolution (ipad attached) version of the yamaha's EZ- EG & AG guitars from the early/mid 2000s.
  20. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    While Yamaha did make a limited edition WX5 in a different color -- blue or gold, IIRC -- you can buy "skins" of various colors for the WX5. Mr. Puwalski looks like he's using the purple skin from the place I linked. I don't necessarily want to stand out that much (regardless of the fact I played contrabass clarinet and had one of those clear Buffet clarinets), so I don't really mind the default color of the WX5. Someone might even mistake it for a clarinet.

    There are a couple other wind controllers out there in the shape of a sax/flute/clarinet/recorder, but they've been discontinued for a very long time (like the Lyricon). There are a couple of trumpet-shaped controllers out there, too. There's also a place where you can get kits to try to build them into whatever you'd like. That looks like a moderately challenging project.
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