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Bass saxophones & setups

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
It seems to me that this forum has a number of bass saxophone players on it. Some of them even have more than one horn! :emoji_astonished:

This is a very different landscape to the one I entered 8 years ago when I flew down to New Orleans to pick mine up. At the time, I only knew of 2 other bass sax players: Paul Coats and Wayne Shell, both of the Bayou Sax Ensemble. (The people I bought the horn from.) I learned so much from Paul in the space of a day, my head was spinning. With Paul's encouragement, I originally developed my website to be a resource tool for those just starting or considering a foray into the world of bass saxophones. While my site has evolved over the past 8 years to include much more than bass sax information, I have always maintained the bass sax content of the site.

One of the things that's really important in bass saxes, arguably even more so then in the SATB varieties, is finding the right set-up. Bass saxes are finicky beasts, especially the vintage ones. Intonation problems are rampant, and the proper set-up will go a long ways towards reigning the tuning in.

Included with my horn was a vintage Geo Bundy bass mouthpiece (great for classical) and a modified Runyon 88 bari piece that Paul Coats modified using the specifications provided to him by Santy Runyon. For the first 6 years, that Runyon was all that I used. Then Ed, this forum's owener, sent me a couple of other modified Runyon 88 blanks to try. I play tested them, and really liked their ease of play, response, and tone. Their slightly smaller tip openings, made playing in tune even easier than on Paul's. I was sold on the pieces. Now I use one of Ed's pieces exclusively on my bass.

My bass is a Buescher Tru-Tone circa 1922. Silver plate with gold-wash bell.
The mouthpiece I use regularly is the modified bari Runyon 88 from Ed. (Not sure about the tip opening, but it is stamped 5, whereas Paul's is a 7.)
For reeds I use 1.5 baritone Fibracells.

For those of you bass saxophone players out there, what horns are you using? What mouthpiece/reed combinations have you found that work best for you :?:
 
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Groovekiller

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I started with an old Otto Link baritone mouthpiece on a Conn bass sax. It was very loud and still had considerable depth.

Then a few years back I had to play a difficult bass sax part in Leonard Bernstein's "The Wrong Note Rag." The part moved quickly back and forth from low to high register, and the phrases were long. The Link mouthpiece tended to choke unless I played very loud. I switched to an M.C. Gregory baritone mouthpiece that had a little smaller tip and the baffle was a little lower (darker).

More recently I have gone to the original Conn bass mouthpiece on my Conn stencil bass. It is dark and not so loud, but more powerful and richer than one would expect from an old fashioned large chamber mouthpiece. As I played the mouthpiece more and more, the sound has gotten bigger. The big advantage here was a drastic improvement in the C natural notes, both high and low, using the standard fingering. I still use side C, however. Also, the lowest notes are not flat.

On the Eppelsheim bass, I usually use the largest chamber Zinner "A" mouthpiece. It is very similar to the old Conn mouthpiece. The Zinner "B" mouthpiece is very similar to the Otto Link baritone mouthpiece. The Eppelsheim offers more choice in mouthpieces because there are no bad notes (like C natural on the Conn), and the huge toneholes make the intonation better.

I play mouthpieces with smaller tips on bass sax. It just makes it easier. My Zinner bass mouthpieces are marked 6. On baritone I use an 8 or 9.

I can't use the Runyon/Coats bass mouthpiece. It makes the lowest notes impossibly flat and the sound is too thin for me.
 

Merlin

Content Expert/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
I actually had to go and get the bass out and look at what I'm using right now.

Considering that I start rehearsals in Stratford tonite, and need the bass, that's a not a bad thing!

Right now I've got an old Buescher bari piece I opened to about .090" with a Rovner lig and #3 Legere bari reed.

The intonation with this setup is really good.

I really need to get around to fixing the cracked shank on the m/p though.
 

Ed

Founder
Staff member
Administrator
While I continue on the hunt for a bass of my own I use one of my Chicago Mouthpieces Bass Sax Mouthpieces. I've also done a number of large chamber Bari piece conversions that seem to work out well. I've threatened to build my own bass sax as I'm getting tired of losing out on project horns that vastly exceed my budget. :D
 

Ed

Founder
Staff member
Administrator
No I use the Runyon blank. I've looked at the Babbitt pickle barrel blank and I would use that for a piece except for the excessive (to me) time lag in getting them from Babbitt. It's interesting that I find some players like Helen prefer what is essentially a smaller chamber piece for Bass sax and then others like Jim prefer the larger chamber. Each cites tuning as the main reason. :)
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
Gandalfe said:
I suspect I have more lung power than Helen. My grandson prefers the smaller chamber pieces too on bari and bass.
Mmmm...Grandson??? :emoji_astonished: And how old would he be? 12 or something? Me thinks Jim, that you're just saying you have more hot air than me :emoji_rage:

But OK, the gauntlet has been thrown down...You and me...Either side of the border...In person...Sustained bass note challenge. We can capture the moment on video and upload the results...If we're not too ashamed :oops: ...to our respective websites. What do you say? Winner gets bragging rights only. :emoji_smile:

OK, I'd best get off-line now and start working on my long tones on the bass... :( ;)
 

Gandalfe

Admin and all around good guy.
Staff member
Administrator
Helen said:
Gandalfe said:
I suspect I have more lung power than Helen. My grandson prefers the smaller chamber pieces too on bari and bass.
Mmmm...Grandson??? :emoji_astonished: And how old would he be? 12 or something? Me thinks Jim, that you're just saying you have more hot air than me :emoji_rage:

But OK, the gauntlet has been thrown down...You and me...Either side of the border...In person...Sustained bass note challenge. We can capture the moment on video and upload the results...If we're not too ashamed :oops: ...to our respective websites. What do you say? Winner gets bragging rights only. :emoji_smile:

OK, I'd best get off-line now and start working on my long tones on the bass... :( ;)
Yes, he's twelve. (How does she do that???) I'll try to remember to post a video of my long tone on both Basses this weekend. I'm betting the Eppelsheim will be the easiest, but I've been surprised before. I know Paul Woltz can kick my ass in such a contest. So I've been wrong before.

To make it a flat plane, Let's do one on G1 and one on the low A. :emoji_rage:
 
I'm playing a 1921 Conn Bass with a Zinner concert Bass mp large bore.
Plays a good strong note with limited intonation adjustments which was not the case with other mouthpieces.

I can't recall the size and opening but I followed B. Eppelsheims recommendation on this and it is perfect for me.

Keeps a big round tone and speaks with a good strong voice with no thin notes. I have no D problems, in fact I forgot how finicky this horn was before I got this MP.
 
I don't see what the big mystery is with bass saxophone mouthpieces. The bass is no different than any other size of saxophone. The mouthpiece must fulfill 2 conditions for the saxophone to function optimally.

1. The chamber volume of the mouthpiece + the compliance of the reed (volume of the area of it's range of movement) has to equal the volume of the missing cone section. Ferron states this based upon the taper of the neck, however, I think it is more accurate based upon the taper of the body tube.

2. Further, the playing resonant frequency of the mouthpiece on it's neck, must equal the theoretical resonant frequency of the missing cone, from the neck receiver to the apex. What this means is, the mouthpiece chamber can only be so long (you can only pull out so far). The volume/length ratio for the chamber must be within certain limits.

I don't see how anyone could possibly think that a bari mouthpiece would fulfill any of the acoustical requirements for a bass saxophone. None of the smaller model mouthpieces are interchangeable with larger horns, and I know of no one claiming that they use them so - soprano mouthpiece on alto, alto mouthpiece on tenor, tenor mouthpiece on bari.

Regardless of what was done in the past out of necessity (lack of options) perhaps (Adrian Rollini on a bari mouthpiece and modified neck) one can only expect to have intonation and response problems on the bass sax with anything but an acoustically correct mouthpiece. I'm not even going into the ratio of the length of lay and tip opening, to the low register wavelengths.

I'm going to make detailed measurements of saxplayer1004's Buescher (Martin stencil) bass (now in for mods) and we'll see just how far off, say, an STM Link baritone mouthpiece actually is, from the ideal setup. Then I plan to make a Link-Chambered mouthpiece from solid brass to fulfill the bass saxophone acoustical requirements, using the standard bass sax/contrabass clarinet reed.
 
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I think the problem is going to be getting players to use the bass or BBb reeds. They are a nuissance to come by and quite expensive at that. I think Paul Coats et al have something going with making the window longer, which definitely helps. I know I was hunting around for metal bari pieces with smaller tip openings because I don't want to deal with a pickel mouthpiece. I don't like HR pieces in general and a HR bass piece would be miserable for me.
With the lack of basses made in the last 90 years though it was probably not economical for any companies to offer them. Heck, Conn and Buescher stopped bass production in what the 40's? Selmer had their basses but they were custom order, Couf and Keilwerth had their's, but again, custom order only. Keilwerth uses Zinner and Selmer for their mouthpieces and Selmer has their own. I haven't heard great things about the Vandoren pieces...

I am rather excited to see what Lance can crank out once my beastie is back from the surgeons. Would hopefully be a cheaper alternative to the $550 JodyJazz is asking, although apparently his are made properly with larger chambers etc
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
I don't see how anyone could possibly think that a bari mouthpiece would fulfill any of the acoustical requirements for a bass saxophone. None of the smaller model mouthpieces are interchangeable with larger horns, and I know of no one claiming that they use them so - soprano mouthpiece on alto, alto mouthpiece on tenor, tenor mouthpiece on bari.
What ho, Horatio!

I didn't mention on this thread, because I don't OWN a bass, but I've PLAYED a bass for some time, in my misspent youth. It was a Conn New Wonder. The bass sax mouthpiece that was in the case was broken: beak and part of the shank, IIRC. However, even though it was an original Conn bass mouthpiece ... my Sigurd Rascher baritone mouthpiece was as big -- or, at least, near enough that I've commented on it and it fit juuusst fine.

I'm not an acoustician, but I am observant. I have seen a number of, say, bari sax mouthpieces that look way too small, such as the Runyons (just picking a brand). Now, I have no idea if the internal volume of any bari mouthpiece is equal to the internal volume of any other bari mouthpiece -- or even if it's supposed to be. I do know that A. Sax, himself, didn't exactly leave a blueprint of what the mouthpieces are supposed to look like, etc. I also know that certain mouthpieces didn't fit on my bari necks without the application of thicker corks.

As another point, clarinet players regularly use Bb mouthpieces on A and C clarinets.

I think it's more that a good mouthpiece for an instrument is a good mouthpiece that's generally designed for that specific pitch of instrument. If it works on something else, kewl -- but it's not supposed to. I doubt that Sigurd Rascher intended that his bari 'pieces be used on bass saxophones ... but they can be.
 
Oh how I wish we had quick reply here... Save's loading a page when internet is lagging

Caravan actually still offers a bass conversion on their bari pieces.

Oh and on the acoustic bit. I just took a Caravan tenor mouthpiece and threw it on my bari for kicks. Intonation is fine, is about 1/4" farther our on the cork than my bari pieces. Certainly doesn't have the umph any of my bari pieces do, and there is a noticable sound difference, but it would work in a pinch, but as Lance said, certianly not ideal.

Methinks that reason for using bari mouthpieces was due to a lack of bass pieces available. After Conn and Buescher stopped production, there was no source of regular bass pieces, as I imagine Selmer's were custom order at the time. Heck, for all intents and purposes they still are.
 

Groovekiller

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
When dealing with the real world, where ensembles are sometimes exceedingly loud, one must do what is necessary to match the volume of the other players, and figure out a way to solve the intonation problems.

I know what works on bass sax to provide good intonation. I also know what works on bass sax to bring the loudness of the horn up to the level of modern playing situations. If I were working in a pit playing a broadway show, I'd go with the mouthpiece with the best sound and intonation.

If I'm playing in the usual screaming big band situation, I'd use whatever gets me up to the level of the rest of the saxes, and then figure out a way to play in tune.

Modern big bands are VERY loud, at least here in South Florida. When I was on tour, the bands in New York and Los Angeles were at least as loud. It's a fact of life. Deal with it or die.
 
I don't have a bass sax mouthpiece here, so I used my HR Link baritone mouthpiece to test Tom's horn when it arrived. Sure, it works, after a fashion. The large horn is so flexible, I have no doubt that, were I inclined to be satisfied with whatever was at hand and convenient, I could learn to adjust for it's intonation and response peculiarities. That by no means dictates however, that there isn't a better mouthpiece solution for the beast. I read of so many complaints about the problems players are having with intonation and 2nd register response, I figured the indisputable acoustical information might be of interest. :p

Clarinet: The clarinet is a cylindrical instrument. It's mouthpiece does not have the same chamber volume requirements of that of the conical saxophone. Comparison of the two, in this case, is meaningless. ;-)

Loudness/Projection: The mouthpiece volume and the chamber diameter/length ratio requirements are prerequisites for optimal intonation and response. The degree of brightness, edge, and projection of any mouthpiece, is determined primarily by the height/type of the baffle, the kind of sidewalls, and the shape of the chamber. One would do well not to confuse these two aspects of mouthpieces. These are the acoustical facts which apply to our shared physical reality, which we as players, can keep in our "Facts of Life" bag, and make use of or not. Awareness of them can save one years of empirical trial and error struggling. I can verify that from personal experience. :???:
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
The mouthpiece volume and the chamber diameter/length ratio requirements are prerequisites for optimal intonation and response. The degree of brightness, edge, and projection of any mouthpiece, is determined primarily by the height/type of the baffle, the kind of sidewalls, and the shape of the chamber. One would do well not to confuse these two aspects of mouthpieces.
So, the volume (I'm not talking "loudness") of the mouthpiece's is fixed -- you can change the chamber diameter provided you make a proportional change to the overall length? That doesn't sound right. Please correct me if I'm reading it wrong, because that goes back to my point that you'd have to say that the overall volume (again, not talking "loudness") of a bass sax mouthpiece has to be the same, no matter the manufacturer or model. Again, I'd think that would be rational and logical to think, but I also think that that's probably wrong.
 

Merlin

Content Expert/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
I'm playing a 1921 Conn Bass with a Zinner concert Bass mp large bore.
Plays a good strong note with limited intonation adjustments which was not the case with other mouthpieces.

I can't recall the size and opening but I followed B. Eppelsheims recommendation on this and it is perfect for me.

Keeps a big round tone and speaks with a good strong voice with no thin notes. I have no D problems, in fact I forgot how finicky this horn was before I got this MP.
Ron, what tip opening is that piece?
 
So, the volume (I'm not talking "loudness") of the mouthpiece's is fixed -- you can change the chamber diameter provided you make a proportional change to the overall length? That doesn't sound right. Please correct me if I'm reading it wrong, because that goes back to my point that you'd have to say that the overall volume (again, not talking "loudness") of a bass sax mouthpiece has to be the same, no matter the manufacturer or model. Again, I'd think that would be rational and logical to think, but I also think that that's probably wrong.
The saxophone is an approximation of a complete cone, which has had the small end cut off, so that we can attach an air excitement device - the mouthpiece/reed. In order for the intonation and response of the mouthpiece/reed/instrument body combination to be optimal, we have to fool the body into thinking that it never got chopped off in the first place. That is accomplished as well as possible, by satifying these 2 conditions:

1. Whatever we attach to the end should have an inner volume that equals that of the piece we cut off. That is for us, the mouthpiece chamber (everything in front of the neck opening) + the volume of the area displaced by the vibrating reed. The volume of the missing cone is not the same for every saxophone brand, or even within the same brand. The combination of the taper of the body and the neck determine the amount of volume.

2. The chopped off cone piece has a certain resonant frequency based upon it's length, because it is a complete cone. Our mouthpiece/reed substitution also has it's own resonant frequency, but because it is an irregular cylinder in shape with a reed, it's frequency is based upon more complex considerations. For optimal results, the mouthpiece/reed substitution should equal that of the missing cone piece.

So, when we put a baritone mouthpiece on a bass saxophone, we have to pull out quite a bit to get our tuning note. At that point, the length of the mouthpiece chamber and it's other considerations gives us the correct resonant frequency (conditon 2 is satisfied), however, because a baritone mouthpiece is narrower than a bass mouthpiece should be, The amount that we have pulled out to satisfy #2, still leaves us with a chamber/reed volume that is too small, resulting in out-of-tune registers and response issues.

If the bari mouthpiece chamber is enlarged (inner diameter, not length) to the point that the volume condition is satisfied, when the mouthpiece is pulled out enough to tune correctly, then it will work. Lengthening the lay another couple mm will help the low register.
 
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