On Friday, May 18th, Lauren Sevian released her second album as a leader. It features an excellent band and looks to be full of original compositions from Lauren. The little we’ve heard so far is excellent. Lots of high intensity blowing, and plenty of straight ahead swinging that Lauren is quite adept at.
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.
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.
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.
Octave key chimney on the 12.5M
Octave key chimney comparison – original in front, 12.5M in back
12.5M Neck octave system
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rampone & Cazzani is an Italian company that has been making instruments for well over a century. Recently they have been putting quite a bit of work into their saxophones, and my opinion is that this is one of the finest modern baritone saxophones available anywhere. In this era where there are more new saxophone companies than ever before this is quite an achievement.
One of the key things that makes the Rampone horn different is that it is completely hand built. It comes from a small artisan workshop in Italy. The bells are hand hammered and everything made by hand. Many of the newer saxophones are all built in factories in Asia. Even ones that claim to be hand assembled have quite a bit of machine-based work in them. Repairmen have grumbled about build quality, materials, and repair-ability of these horns, although that is not something I’m overly qualified to comment on.
The modern Asian horns all play pretty well, they are generally priced fairly well and look great – but they all play exactly the same. (To clarify I mean the horns coming out of China and Taiwan, less so Japanese insturments). If you blindfolded me I’m not sure I could easily tell them apart. None of them really stands out as different and honestly they are all basically copies of Selmers – with some small differences here and there and a huge range of aesthetic finishes and options. Not to mention more and more keys (do you really need a high G key?). As baritone players even the companies that are making decent horns these days either don’t put as much time into their baritone, don’t offer a professional level horn, or only offer a Low A option.
A really important difference and distinction between saxophone brands and models is the shape of the bore. The shape of the bore determines a lot about a saxophone, especially its sound. Conn’s, Martin’s and Kings all have different bore shapes and dimensions that the Selmer horns. Most modern horn are modeled after the Selmer dimensions since the Mark VI is so highly regarded and was played by many of the saxophone greats. However baritone players have often sought out slightly different horns than alto and tenor players, often favoring Conn’s (Mulligan, Temperley, Carney, Smulyan etc).
Rampone offers their baritone with many different options, finishes, materials and offers both a Low A and Low Bb variation. I’ve had a chance to play the horn many times and it’s by far my favorite modern horn to play and very comparable to my vintage Conn baritone, albeit with modern keywork and so many fewer dings and dents. I also recently had a chance to speak with Claudio who along with his father are the makers of these new horns. He is incredibly knowledgeable about saxophones and modern players and did not have the snake-oil salesman aura about him that a lot of other modern horn manufacturers do.
When playing the horn it had a huge, robust sound. Lots of projection, and maybe a somewhat brighter sound than my Conn – although this could also be related to the silver plating. The neck is very long, even longer than my Conn, so it had a slightly different feel to it and need the harness/neckstrap to be let out a bit, but was fairly comfortable to play, and the modern keywork was much appreciated, especially compared to an unmodified Conn layout. The horn comes with a beautiful hard case, covered in leather, and on wheels. The case in and of itself is a huge step up for a baritone! The model I tried is their R1 Jazz saxophone, it was fully silver plated, although the neck had a slightly different finish to it. The whole horn and especially their engravings are beautiful – as one would expect from Italian craftsmen. Check out the gallery below for all of the pictures!
The folks over at Rovner are handling the US distribution for Rampone horns and have been travelling around to some shows with them to let people try them out. If you get a chance, I would really recommend trying these unique horns.