Volume 11: The Trumpet Chronicles is Now the Saxophone Chronicles

Since this website used to reside at a different address, until the idiots who run my web hosting somehow didn’t notify me of a domain name renewal, I doubt many of you (well, the one or two who’ve visited so far) are familiar with the Trumpet Chronicles.  This was a series of articles I wrote as I wandered my way through the intricacies of trumpet selection and mouthpiece searching.

About a year or so ago, I came to the realization that I was probably about as far as I could get with my current level of involvement in playing the trumpet, and that I really wasn’t having much fun.  I play in a community band in the Northern Kentucky area, and I was one of about 10 trumpet players, and very likely the weakest of the bunch.

I noticed that the band did not have a baritone saxophone player, and hadn’t for quite a while.  Lightbulb!  Maybe “I” could play the baritone saxophone?  The only problem was that I hadn’t played one since 1979.  This might present a problem.

I asked the director about this, and he said that I could give it a try.  There was a borrowed high school bari that I could use.  It’s of Chinese descent and is in reasonably good condition.

Next… what mouthpiece to use?  I had been through this same type of searching when I was pursuing the perfect trumpet mouthpiece (hint:  it doesn’t exist).

After some inquiries to friends and forums, I settled on a Yamaha 5C plastic mouthpiece as a good place to start.  It’s been a good choice for the level of playing that I am at (and will probably stay at).

With woodwinds, there’s additional mouthpiece-type decisions to make… what ligature, and what make and strength of reed?

Ligature… I did some research and asking around, and settled on a Rovner Dark Ligature.  It seems to work just fine.

Reeds.  This search for a woodwind player is just as traumatic as the perpetual mouthpiece search for a brass player.

The reeds I remember from 1979 were Rico reeds, so I started there.  My memories from college were that you were supposed to play on the stiffest reed you could stand, although I do not remember the logic behind this statement.  I tried some 2s and 2.5s, and ended up on 3.5s.  But it was difficult for me to get a consistent sound across the entire range of the instrument.  And I was destroying 2-3 reeds per band practice.  The ends would just split.

I’ll spare you the long drawn-out story, but I discovered through the help of fellow sax players in the band that I was positioning my reed on the mouthpiece too far past the edge of the mouthpiece.  This was what I thought I remembered from 1979.  Wrong.  According to my peers, it’s supposed to be slightly shy of the edge of the mouthpiece, with just a sliver of mouthpiece showing.  I fixed that.

But I was still breaking reeds left and right.  At $3 – $4 a pop, it was getting expensive.  Obviously there was something wrong with my technique.

A kind bass clarinetist figured out that I was tonguing the reed with the tip of my tongue, and that was causing the broken reeds.  I needed to adjust how I placed the mouthpiece in my mouth, and where I tongued on the mouthpiece.  BINGO!

With my same mouthpiece and a Rico 2 reed, I played an entire 2 hour practice session on the same reed, and it is still good to use again.  Amazing.  And my playing was a lot more consistent across the range of the instrument.

At last, a breakthrough.

Going on in the background was an occasional search for my own baritone saxophone.  I wasn’t too picky, but wanted one from one of the classic American brands if at all possible.  Then, a possibility emerged from Facebook Marketplace.  A young man in Cincinnati had a 1957 Martin bari that was supposed to be playable.  My problem was that I was rich in trumpets, but poor in cash.  Would he consider trading for some trumpets?  He would.  So I ended up trading 2 trumpets and a cornet for the Martin.  An additional benefit of sorts was that the Martin is of the same vintage as the new owner.  I had some repairs made to it, and it still needs some additional work, so I have been playing the Chinese horn in the meantime.

A kind bari player from Facebook, who happens to be a Vandoren artist, sent me a Vandoren 5C mouthpiece to try out, along with some Vandoren reeds.  Sadly, I broke all of the reeds prior to fixing my embouchure.  I think for now that I will likely stick with the Yamaha 5C, but I did recently purchase a J & D Hite Artist Baritone Saxophone Mouthpiece to try out.   We’ll see how that does.

My intent is to provide updates to the now-named Saxophone Chronicles regularly.  Life usually intervenes, so we’ll also see how that goes.