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Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
A suggestion for, well, all of us.

We've all got some horns/mouthpieces/reeds/whatever that we really like. I'd like to see some really in-depth reviewage of them, especially if you have something that's fairly unusual.

For inspiration, a really good review website is http://www.shwoodwind.co.uk/Reviews/Reviews.htm

It'd also be beneficial if you post a) your experience level and b) how long you have experience with the particular thing you're reviewing.
For reviews of and about Gandalfe, you can post here, too!

As I said, the website I posted was meant to inspire.

Too many posts can be in the form of "Conn New Wonder saxophones suck" (which I have posted) or "Conn New Wonder saxophones are so sublime, people should be required to go out and try one!" (which others have posted). Both don't say anything in and of themselves. However, if you're an honest reviewer, you can point out the good and bad about whatever you review. And I should do that about the New Wonders :|.

Hey, Ed's reviewed a book here. I've waxed prosaic about some CDs.
The good and bad sides of criticism

Reviews of things musical (be they books, performances or equipment) suffer from being about a subject that is either hard to quantify or (in many cases) impossible to quantify. That doesn't keep some of us from trying, but it does make it hard to put the abstract into concrete form.

Performances, of course, are all subjective. I can pick the best of string performances apart just by viewing them from the woodwind point of view. String performers, even the "universal class" best of them, all have problems with intonation on about a third of the notes that they play - a state of things that would bring scorn down on a clarinet player who attempted to get away with the same thing. And, their articulation is all over the map as well - irregular triplets, note values varied through a sixteenth note run, and so forth.

However, in general terms, if I attempted to do that kind of hatchet job (individually true though the component "petty" parts of it might be) on a beloved string icon (or a hot babe string player in a low cut dress), I would be vilified by both the music community and the community at large.

Ditto the work of Coltrane, Bird and others. While I can see some musical good over most of jazz, the more avant guard it becomes the less use I have for it. And, I can pick at it with the best of them, pointing out that the form of the music has deviated from the original concepts of music along the way.

However, for every negative thing that I can say, there are those who will offer up positives. In the end, it will be a wash, only with lots of negative feelings being generated in the process. That's why critics are usually not very popular or beloved people.

Then too, there are language difficulties. Talking about sound or touch or taste or smells is a poor way to communicate about them, even though it may be the best that we have. Even so, in this regard we have come a long way since the beginnings of music criticism.

In the day of Mozart (or, as most prefer to call him, "Moatzart") written and spoken opinions were often all that were available to hoi polloi. Not so today; in addition to being able to freely circulate sheet music (a written form that allows precise renditions subsequent to the first one), we can also easily produce and circulate recordings of a given performer or performance.

(Now, if only we could do the same for a food review. Imagine not only reading the opinions, but also being given a taste of what was being talked about. Of course, that might mark the end of a need for food critics...)

Some areas still remain in the abstract, however. And, some present special challenges, ones that might not be present in the case of a different situation.

For example:

A proper review of the Conn "experience" (for at least it was, and is, that for me) cannot be conveyed by someone's glowing words (or someone else's caustic negative ones). There are at least three of the abstract senses involved in "appreciating" (which can be both positive and negative) a Conn instrument, and none of them are amiable to expression in written form:

??There is, of course, the sound that such a horn produces. While you can get this through a recording, mere words don't put the point across, positive or negative.

? Then there is the sense of touch, both in the way that the horn "feels" in your hands (which can be pretty damn'd bad) and the way that it "feels" to your embouchure/throat/lungs/diaphragm. In both cases, talking about it is a very poor substitute to actually experiencing it.

? Finally, there's the smell. Some aren't bothered by it, probably the same bunch that never airs out their hockey equipment. (The odor of a badly molded up Conn horn resembles the stench emanating from my son's hockey bag, plain and simple.) Not critical to performance perhaps, but it can certainly be a deal breaker for some. (To be completely honest, you might also include the sense of taste here; some of these horns can be very funky.)

Now, I can wax positive about all of this (and others can do so in a negative fashion), generating thousands of words in the process. But, the actual proof of the pudding (so to speak) can only be through trying one yourself. And, that's where the final factor crops up.

When seeking first hand experience on a Selmer, or a LA Sax, or a Yanagisawa horn, the saxophone consumer can read the reviews, and then go find a Selmer, LA Sax or a Yanagisawa soprano or alto or tenor to gain their own conclusions. (To a certain extent, you can even do the same thing with a baritone or a bass.)

Not so with the products of the good Colonel. Conn has functionally been out of business (as far as the high quality instruments are concerned) since the 1950's. In the case of some of the instruments concerned, that cut-off date was much farther back, somewhere around 1930. Once the creation of new stock has stopped, the march of time takes over and the "shelf life" time limitation starts to become operative.

And, for "original", new Conn horns, that shelf life has long since expired. Even if preserved in the best of normal conditions, a Conn saxophone will no longer be playable without a restoration to some extent. Leather dries up (and gets eaten by mice...something that I've encountered on more than one occasion), oils go bad, rods can seize up, and wool felt gets eaten by moths. This will happen to all horns, but it happens to the oldest first. And, you can't get too much older than a classic Conn.

So, if someone like me says "Conns are the best thing since sliced bread", or if someone else says "Don't bother with Conns; they're old, out of date, and have too many negatives", it's not a simple matter of seeking out the closest Conn dealer for a test drive. So, they drop from the pool to be considered, simply because you can't try one to verify (in both senses of the word) the opinions of others.

To be fair, it's not a problem that is unique to Conn. Other brands have come and gone as well. I've never experienced a Leblanc "transposing" saxophone, and probably never will. Couf horns are not exactly thick on the ground. And, until that magic moment that I put my mouth on the stubby mouthpiece attached to a Conn horn, the same thing could be said of Conns from my standpoint.

I bought "my" Conn horn not as a musical instrument but as a curio, this with an eye towards making a lamp out of the attractively engraved instrument. As I have related elsewhere in the past, the thing smelled to high heaven, so bad that it was banished to the basement in a triple wrapping of trash bags. On more than one occasion, I considered throwing the stinking thing into the trash, only to be thwarted by the municipal regulations as to what could be picked up.

Once I tried another (and, I might add, far less desirable) Conn horn, I couldn't get "my" Conn through the rebuild process fast enough. And, in all ways, that rebuild restored the apparent wreck of a horn to full glory. In the end, I had almost a thousand dollars invested (new case, rebuild plus the original $25.00 purchase price) in it, money I consider very well spent.

However, for most others, that opportunity to play a working Conn instrument just will not exist. Just as I have encountered stumbling block after stumbling block in my quest to evaluate a Conn baritone, just laying your hands on one is quite difficult.

However, one thing has not changed, and that is the relatively constant stream of "old Conns" that have surfaced on eBay. At any given time, there are upwards of thirty such horns there in varied condition, many of them available for quite a reasonable cost. And, the good thing about a saxophone is that (absent massive crushing damage to the horn) is that it can be brought back from the dead pile with some minimal effort.

So, my point is (and most are saying "Thank God that he actually has one") that a very rare playing experience (for those raised with "French" saxophones) is available, and it should be tried before dismissing it.
Well, reviews are always personal opinions. The best reviews will actually expand on what is "universally" good about something, rather than say something to the effect of, "Oh! I just love the tone!" -- because the latter comment is really up to your own personal tastes and I may not share them.

Which is why, for instance, I can review the Conn New Wonder and comment about its keywork -- and if you're looking for a horn with an articulated G# and know the NW doesn't have one, you'll keep looking.

If I post something like, "I had some intonation problems with this horn, regardless of mouthpiece I used" and someone then posts and says something like, "I did too, but I tried ..." that makes for good conversation. Hey, this is a forum, after all :).

Further, if I post something like, "To my ear, the tone of the Buffet Dynaction sounds a lot like the Martin Committee crossed with a Buescher 400 'Top Hat'" and you've had experience with the horns referenced, you might decide to try out a Dynaction the next time you're horn shopping, instead of that Magna (for instance). I think this kind of comparison is especially beneficial when we talk about NEW horns/mouthpieces or horns/mouthpieces that aren't extremely common.

Book and music reviews, I'm somewhat less sanguine. All I'd want in a review of a TECHNICAL book is to know if the author adequately covers the right material and does a thorough enough job. And there really isn't a non-opinionated part of a music CD review. For instance, I was asked to review a Chris Potter CD. I don't like that style, but I can appreciate it if it's done well. I wrote that I thought his soprano playing was ... well ... Coltrane-esque in terms of tone. And that's not a compliment. I also found some of the effects used annoying.

I got repeatedly hammered by Potter-lovers for that review. Even though I had some people that agreed with me.
I reviewed the review of reviews and thought it could use a little more meat. The execution was OK, tho.

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