The Wilmington-Conn 12.5M Neck Review

Music Medic 12.5M neck with some Conn 12M necks

Review by Andrew Hadro

The good people at MusicMedic.com recently sent me a Wilmington-Conn 12.5M neck to try out. Check out the video for an overview and some sound comparisons. Here’s the basic takeaway: if you have an old Conn that plays really sharp, this neck is a fantastic option to adjust the pitch.

Check out the video for an overview and playing demonstration, otherwise dive in below for the details and more.

What is it?

Some older Conn baritone saxophones, usually 12M’s play really sharp. One thought is that the problem is derived from modern mouthpieces having smaller chambers and therefore driving the pitch higher. Personally in my measurements and observations of baritone mouthpieces the chambers in modern mouthpieces aren’t that much smaller, and certainly not enough to account for 20-30 cents of pitch difference. Furthermore, not all old Conn’s have tuning issues and on many of them modern mouthpieces tune really well. I also don’t hear this reasoning applied nearly as often to altos or tenors or other brands of vintage horns. So it might be horn or mouthpiece dependent.

The 12.5M neck and 3 12M necks

Some people try soldering extensions onto necks, or adding extensions onto mouthpieces, but this is just adding length and can  make the response and overall playing very uneven, as a proper fix is to not just add length, but adjust volume as well. The 12.5M neck that Music Medic developed is newly made neck that is longer as well as having a larger diameter and bore dimensions. This has the net effect of lowering the pitch without screwing anything else up. There are plenty of other differences as well that we’ll get into, but the main objective behind these necks is lowering the pitch. The Wilmington part of the title refers to Wilmington, North Carolina – the location of Music Medic’s shop.

Curt Altarac, who is the mad genius behind Music Medic is a big Conn fan and a baritone fanatic. This project is clearly a labor of love for him. There have been newly made necks for baritones before, almost always for Selmer’s though. And lately a lot of people are getting into the custom made neck game (KB Winds in Queens NY, Boston Sax Shop to name a few) but they almost always focus on tenor, sometimes alto, and again, almost always for Selmers.

Whats in the box

The neck comes very well packed. It has a custom made box, with a fit styrofoam cut out to protect it in transit. They even made custom stickers for the box, which is a very nice touch. A lot of times small batch custom made saxophone parts or accessories come without any real branded packaging. There is a nice custom pouch that comes with the neck, sized to fit, with space for a mouthpiece perhaps. The neck was in a zip lock bag, with what I think is a silver protector strip to prevent tarnishing – a small detail, but a nice touch. The neck I had to try was silver plated with a sand blasted finish, but there are a number of different plating and finish options.

Build Quality

Inside the 12.5M neck

The neck is beautifully made. All of the soldering and construction is very clean and sturdy. I don’t have a way of testing the quality of the metals used, but given Music Medic’s reputation and the fact that this is a project derived from love of vintage horns more than sheer profit, I feel pretty safe in assuming that very high quality materials would have been used. The tenon and brace seem very solidly put together and the octave mechanism is substantial and should hold up very well.

I don’t personally love the aesthetic of the silver “satin” look – silver plating with what I think is maybe a sand blast finish. But the plating and the satin finish looked to be very well done, with no blemishes or inconsistencies. They also offer regular plating with or without the satin finish, silver, brass, and even gold. And hey, some people love the satin look so kudos to them for offering so many options.

Tuning

My Conn 12M doesn’t suffer from the intonation issue these necks are designed to fix, but I did play the neck and check it with a tuner. I put the mouthpiece about halfway on, so I could easily lower the pitch further or raise it a bit. With the mouthpiece in the middle, the neck tuned approximately 30 cents lower than my normal neck! This should definitely give enough room for even horns that are a quarter step (50 cents) away from normal tuning. I found the tuning consistent throughout the range of the horn, or at least no more inconsistent than my normal Conn neck!

Octave Mechanism – No more hissing!

An interesting new octave key

Other than the length/tuning difference possibly the biggest difference from regular 12M necks is the octave mechanism – both the arm system and the chimney/hole. As opposed to the normal two small posts soldered directly onto the neck the 12.5M has one solidly built piece with a very interesting double headed screw system. This holds a flat spring similar to the traditional necks, but the whole thing feels a bit more substantial and perhaps less prone to damage. One thing to note is that due to every conn 12m being different the alignment of the bottom of the arm to the receiver and mechanism on the body of the horn may need to be customized or adjusted by a repairman (or a handy saxophonist) to make sure the octave opens properly and the proper amount at different angles etc.

I also noticed that the cup for the octave key pad is quite over-sized. I am not sure of the purpose of this but it’s definitely intentional, being maybe twice the diameter of the original. The pad installed was a black pad, I’m not sure if it was a dyed leather pad, roo pad, or synthetic, but it looked up to the job.

A very important and large difference is the actual chimney or hole in the top of the neck for the octave key function. A lot of Conn 12M necks (including mine) have a very audible hiss when you play A, Bb, or B in the upper octave. This is due to a poor design in the octave key – it disappears if you play these notes without the octave key engaged, but you don’t get the assistance you normally would with the octave key. The proscribed fix is to stretch a piece of nylon over the opening to disrupt the air stream, and while this helps a little it does not resolve most of the hiss. The design and shape of the chimney on the 12.5M neck is completely different. It actually resembles the design of the secondary octave key stem found on the horn. I don’t know if its this, or the combination of the bore, over-sized pad etc, but the hissing is non-existent. This to me alone, is worth the price of the neck, let alone with the tuning help.

Tenon and cork

Tenon comparison

The size of of receivers and therefore tenons on old saxophones and especially Conn baritones can change drastically from one to the next. I actually provided the diameter of my receiver to Music Medic and they were kind enough to make sure the tenon was properly sized to fit. I originally went to try these necks a year or two ago and couldn’t because they didn’t fit my horn. Music Medic was also kind enough to size the cork to my mouthpiece as well. Both these things are something a local repairman should be able to do without too much difficulty.

The length of the tenon can also vary, but according to my comparison of 4 different necks the tenon length of the 12.5M matches the length of most of the necks, so should fit the length of most receivers just fine.

Brace

12.5M brace

The design of the brace is quite different. On the standard 12M neck a thick band of brass is soldered to the under the neck following the curve. This is primarily to help prevent the “pull down” that can happen to necks especially when a mouthpiece is attached acting as a lever. The brace on the 12.5M neck is more of a bridge looking design. Instead of a band soldered the whole way its a large piece of metal affixed in 4 places that should provide stability. There is also a Wilmington logo built in. You’ll see in the photos that there is a blue covering on the brace, but I am not sure if this is the design or some protective covering left on from manufacturing.

Neck Angle & Playing the neck

Longer, but also with a higher angle

Perhaps the only thing I didn’t immediately love about this new neck is the different angle. The angle of the neck is a bit higher on the 12.5M than a regular neck. I personally didn’t prefer this angle but I know some people who would – personal preference here. The higher angle in addition to the extra length of the neck put the horn much farther away from me while playing and changed the feel quite a bit.

The neck played incredibly well. At least as well as my own neck – possibly better if you take into account the fixed hiss. This is an incredible achievement as I have tried a lot of old Conn necks and I prefer mine to any other I’ve tried so far, with some being really terrible. Playing the actual horn felt great, very similar sound and articulation response/attack wise. Perhaps a little brighter with more projection – possibly from the silver material? Hard to say. How well the neck played is particularly astounding given that I was playing about 30 cents flat – horns tend to respond and play best when closest to in tune since the tone holes are designed with that in mind – and my horn doesn’t have the tuning issue this neck is designed for, hence the flat pitch. Check out the video for the back to back playing examples.

Finishes

The 12.5M neck with brass satin finish

As mentioned, the neck I had to review was the silver satin finish. The satin finish referring to a matte finish that I think is done with sandblasting. They also offer a straight plating finish for those that don’t want the satin finish. I image the satin option is purely aesthetic as I don’t think that would have too much affect on the sound or playing of the neck. They do offer a gold plated, gold satin, regular brass, and brass satin finishes as well as the silver plating and silver satin finishes. I imagine the straight brass and gold plating will alter the sound somewhat.

Pricing

The brass or brass satin finish are $750. This a bit more than you’ll find most replacement necks for, especially if you’re buying a standalone neck on Ebay. But those necks can be terrible. Also, if you have a horn that is too sharp to comfortably play this neck is a fantastic option, and the only thing of its kind out there. If you want silver plating it’s an additional $150 ($900 total), and the gold option is an additional $290 ($1040 total).

If you want to order the Music Medic Wilmington-Conn 12.5M you can do so on their site:
http://musicmedic.com/products/saxophone-necks/wilmington-saxophone-necks/conn-12m-proshop-neck.html

Other notes

The only other thing I’d like to note is that Music Medic also offer’s a regular 12M neck replacement, as well as high quality made necks for Buescher and Martin baritones.
Check them all out on their site!

Do you own, or have you tried the 12.5M neck? Leave a comment below!

Interview with Dr. Jared Sims by Tim Hecker

Interview by Tim Hecker.

Dr. Jared Sims is the current Director of Jazz at West Virginia University and the former Assistant Director of Jazz at the University of Rhode Island. He performs on all of the saxophones, clarinet and flute, and has recorded with such artists as Bob Brookmeyer, Cecil McBee, the Temptations, the Four Tops and many others. He has both toured internationally and inspired young artists at home as the guest conductor of All State ensembles in multiple states. This week, he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule in order to give an interview to jazzbarisax.com. Here’s what he had to say–

I know you play a lot of baritone- in fact, you once told me that you are a bari sax guy at heart. What kindled your fondness for the baritone sax? What keeps you coming back to it?

I like to say that I did not necessarily pick the baritone — the baritone picks me. I like it because it feels natural to me. The other saxes feel great too, but the baritone has always felt normal and in some ways easier for me. I first had the baritone in my hands when I was in the fifth grade. The band teacher tried to slow me down but instead I was playing bari in the high school jazz band by the end of my fifth grade year.

What artists and recordings have influenced you as a saxophonist, especially but not exclusively on baritone? To what degree do those who came before you influence your own recordings?

I really like the fire of Ronnie Cuber and Pepper Adams and the imagination of Sahib Shihab and Cecil Payne. Tradition is very important and to me. I think we have to reference tradition in our playing to add depth to our sound, but we also need to know the tradition in order to find new ways of presenting the music in terms of forms, or harmonies, or phrasing.

What is the first thing you notice when listening to a saxophonist, and what draws you to that element of playing?

I think the sound is the first thing. If the sound is not full or it is out of tune or uncentered, it is really hard to hear. Otherwise, I notice the phrasing and the rhythm of what is being played. In some ways the sound of the instrument is the HARDEST and MOST IMPORTANT thing that we can do on the saxophone but so often students do not make this a primary focus of study.

The classic question- what is your setup, and why is your equipment what it is? Do you think equipment makes a difference, or do you believe that it is all up to the player?

I have two baritone setups and go back and forth between them. One is a silver Buescher True Tone/Big B from the 1930s. It is a strange transitional horn and only about 900 of them were made. The other baritone is a silver Conn Naked Lady from the late 1940s. The mouthpieces that I use are a vintage Berg Larsen and a new Theo Wanne. I use Marca reeds either 2.5 or 3 strength.

I choose a setup based on the gig – the style and what instruments that I need to blend with. I think it’s up the player to live with the setup and not expect the setup to feel good right away. That said, I think players need to experiment a lot with every aspect of the setup — including where the ligature sits on the mouthpiece, the reed placement, etc. At the end of the day, though, yes a great player will sound great playing anything.

Another classic question- what is your practice routine? Do you have any practice rituals specific to bari sax?

My most recent favorite practice routine is to play 20 minutes on each instrument starting with flute, then clarinet, alto, tenor, and then baritone. My entire baritone technique is based on efficiency, which means that the air and the fingers and everything needs to be as perfect as possible to have the right sound and precision. That said, I could pick up a baritone cold without playing a bunch of other small instruments, but it’s good to have a nice long routine to put the air and fingers in the right place.

What are your interests outside of music? Do you find that they influence your playing, and if so in what way?

I really like to travel, to go to art museums, and to be outdoors. These are all things that help to investigate the creative process and to contemplate creativity.

Do you aim for certain qualities in your sound? What do you do to achieve the sound that you want?

I like a FULL sound with all of the different ranges of the sound included. Sometimes, I record myself and listen back to hear the true sound of the instrument. In general, mouthpiece sirens and overtones open up the sound. At this point, I have done a lot of that work so just making music and hearing my sound is enough to center the sound. A lot of musical issues get taken care of by simply having the horn in hand and spending time making music. It is all very intuitive to me.

If you could say one thing to people interested in specializing in bari sax, what would it be?

There is a misconception that the baritone takes a lot more air and that you have to play slower or fewer notes or perhaps play more simply on baritone. I think it probably does take some more air, but if the setup is right I think it is possible to do all of the same things on baritone that other sax players are doing.

Practice parts from Brian Landrus’ newest album

Brian Landrus has a very nice album out recently that involved quite a bit of orchestral work that took some time to write, prepare and record. Brian has been kind enough to provide JazzBariSax.com with the baritone parts for his baritone saxophone Concerto ‘Jeru’ that is part of his latest album so other baritonists can download, view, and practice the parts along with his record.

Click to download the Landrus’ Jeru Concerto Baritone Parts

And of course if you haven’t already, be sure to check out Brian’s new album on his website, or on itunes.

News from the Curator

I try to make it apparent that I (Andrew Hadro), am simply the curator of this website, JazzBariSax.com. I inherited this site, and have done my best to add to and improve it. I encourage as much as I can other baritonists to submit content, news, and information, and we are fortunate that so many have done so.

That being said, I would like to take the opportunity to share something of my own.


Today, April 1st, is the ‘official’ release date for my second album. 🎉
I’ll thank you in advance for the inevitable congratulations – I am fortunate to have kind internet friends, I do appreciate the sentiment very much.

April Fools seemed as fitting of a release date as any – release dates being mostly arbitrary vestiges of a once-existent jazz industry. The title of my album is For Us, The Living II: Marcescence. Marcescence refers to when leaves die and wither upon a tree but do not fall off – My own semi-private joke about how it feels to study, practice and perform original acoustic music. I don’t mean to be overly-bitter, but having a dark sense of humor seems to help with being a musician these days.

It’s four years to the day since my first album released – It took over two full years to make this album. I wanted something I could keep going back to and work on until I felt it was done, rather than lining up a day in the studio and hoping for the best. (And why limit the self-deprecating torture of hearing yourself play to a single session when you can stretch it out for months?)

A lot of thought and production went into the album, but at the core of it, it is a duo album with my friend and pianist Julian Shore. While I am constantly in doubt of my own abilities and ideas, I trust Julian’s taste and ears more than most things in my world. Rogerio Boccato was kind enough to add his percussion to the tracks that required more than I initially could foresee. Michael Perez-Cisneros is the first person to ever capture the sound of my saxophone in a way that matches what I want to hear in my head, the audio quality and sound of this album makes me as proud as the performance on it.

As with my first album, I recorded compositions I’ve collected from living composers. A couple of my own ideas, but mostly those of other people who write beautiful music that doesn’t get heard as much as it could. I like the idea of recording, or re-recording others’ works – Why must jazz artists all write AND compose? One could spend a lifetime dedicated to either pursuit.

I was recently interviewed by a journalist for an upcoming article in Downbeat Magazine about being an independent/DIY musician. So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the last 15 years I’ve spent in New York City working as a musician and damn near every other aspect of the music business as well. Many people marvel at my Jack of All Trades abilities – Web designer, production assistant, arranger, tech support, interviewer, graphic designer, composer, consultant, teacher, administrator, product specialist, saxophonist, editor, band leader, record label manager, crowd funding planner, distribution/shipping lackie – I would give it all up to be master of one – and am slowly shedding the parts I am fortunate to not need anymore. This history and ability to see so many different facets of music has just made me want to do something different with my output.

There is no Kickstarter. This album won’t be on iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music, or Amazon. There aren’t really liner notes. I sent it to only the few reviewers I respect or who were kind enough to listen to my last album. I won’t be posting outside of my own site the inevitably positive reviews (has anyone read a jazz review that was incredibly negative recently?), and I won’t boast to you how well its doing on the radio (although this I am actually genuinely optimistic and thankful for).

You can hear the album on my website (http://www.AndrewHadro.com). I don’t expect you all to buy it, but as I said of my last album, if you think its good, buy it for a friend. I don’t expect this album to reach the far corners of the universe, but I will be pleased if the people who appreciate beautiful sounds made with acoustic instruments hear and enjoy the album.

For those of you that made it this far, I invite you to my performance at the Cornelia St Cafe in New York City to celebrate the new work. Ingrid Jensen is kind enough to lend her beautiful sound as a special guest on Wednesday April 18th.

Thank you for your time,

Andrew Hadro
Curator, JazzBariSax.com

Eden Bareket shares his practice work

Baritone saxophonist Eden Bareket shares videos of some interesting and unusual things he practices, often working on extreme altissmo. He has gathered them all in a YouTube playlist to check out. If you’re looking for some new things to spend time on in the shed there are some excellent ideas here.

Check out the full playlist at: http://bit.ly/Practicebarisax

Below is an example from the playlist:

 

Leo Parker’s complete discography, compiled by Frank Basile

Leo Parker is definitely among the greats when it comes to baritone saxophonists, although he is mostly known only to dedicated baritone saxophonists. He passed away at a somewhat early age and only produced a few different albums under his own name. But fortunately we now have a new resource for finding recordings with Leo on them.

Baritone saxophonist Frank Basile has completed was must have been a massive project to compile Leo Parker’s complete discography. Including all recordings he appeared on, both as a sideman, co-leader, and as a leader. The amount of research that Frank did is astounding and this is a great document for those of us interested in the original Leo P.

You can check out the fruit of Frank’s labor over at jazzdiscography.com:
http://www.jazzdiscography.com/Artists/Leo-Parker/Leo-Parker-Complete-Discography.php

Finally, a Harry Carney transcription!

It took longer than it perhaps should of, but with the new addition from Maximiliano D.L. we now have a Harry Carney solo transcription in the repository. Since Harry almost universally agreed to be the father of modern jazz baritone saxophone, i’d suggest everyone check it out! Its from a beautiful album where Harry got some much deserved solo time with strings.

Head on over to the transcriptions page to check it out!

Historical Interviews

While we have done some more recent interviews with great baritone saxophonists, there are some excellent historical interviews floating around the internet and we’d like to highlight some of them for you.