Category Archives: gear

New Alto!

I’ve played the same Mark VI Alto for almost 30 years now. It’s a good horn, but not a great one. I’ve played other Mark VIs that were better, but I’ve never played a ‘modern’ horn that came close to it in any aspect.

For years now I’ve been on the lookout for a ‘backup’ horn. I know that my Mark VIs are irreplaceable. The market for them has gone through the roof. If anything happened to any of mine, it would be very difficult to replace any of them. Searching for the right horn would take time, and once I found it I’d have to pay dearly for it.

Further, I can’t really get my horns worked on because I can’t be without any of them for more than a few days at a time. Having a backup just makes sense.

IMG_20160528_204349So when my friend Rick mentioned that he was considering selling his Conn 6M, I was intrigued. It seems like all of the players in Seattle have switched from Selmer to Conn in the past five years, or maybe I’m just starting to notice it? I’ve played Conns before, but mostly Tenors and not Alto. My biggest complaint is that the keywork feels antiquated. The ergonomics are just not there, and there seem to be many rube-goldberg-esque mechanisms that are overly complicated and prone to failure.

But, that sound! As soon as I played this horn I could tell that it was a player. It definitely needs some work. There are notes that can’t really be played, and the micro-tuner (which is new to me), wobbles when  you play. But the horn is really responsive, and seems to play pretty well in tune (perhaps better than my Mark VI). The altissimo pops right out!

It’s going to take some work, and some adjustment on my part, but I’m digging the new horn so far. I don’t know if it will ever become my primary horn, but we’ll see how I feel once I get it back into fighting shape. The next challenge is finding a good repair guy in Seattle. I’ve been taking my horns to Paul Maslin in Chicago since he sold me the Mark VI 30 years ago, but I don’t get out that way as often as I used to.

New Alto Mouthpiece!

Yesterday I got a new Alto mouthpiece in the mail! I’ve been playing RPC mouthpieces on Tenor and Bari for a few years now, but for some reason I never made the switch on Alto.

I’ve grown increasingly unhappy with my current Alto mouthpiece – a Lakey 7*3, which I’ve been playing for about five years. It’s got a nice edge to it, and it projects well, but the sound is a bit shrill and thin for my taste. It’s also difficult to control. The pitch is squirrelly and I find it hard to control. it doesn’t squeak, but notes will randomly ‘crack’, playing a different partial/overtone than what’s intended. I’ve never had that problem with any of my previous mouthpieces.

Anyway, I got a ’90B’ mouthpiece from Ron Cohelo. Ron is a great guy. He hand-makes each mouthpiece to order. With each mouthpiece, he has taken the time to talk to me at length about my approach and concept for that horn, what I’m going for, what I’ve tried, reed preferences, the works. He works alone, so the process can take awhile, but it’s worth it.

The new mouthpiece will take some getting used to, but my initial impressions are very positive. It still projects well, and can get a nice bright sound without sounding shrill and thin. But overall it sounds warmer. It’s also much more stable and centered. The pitch has been excellent, and I haven’t had any control problems.

That said, I’ll have to work with it for a while to get comfortable again. I’ve got to find my altissimo notes on this new mouthpiece. I’ve also got to experiment with some reeds. I had been playing 2.5 ‘green box’ Vandoren Java reeds with the Lakey, but these feel too soft now. Ron sent a few different strength Rico Jazz Select reeds to try, and they all worked well. But so far my preference with the new mouthpiece has been for 2.5 ‘red box’ Java reeds.

I’ve also noticed that my Francois Louis ‘pure brass’ ligature doesn’t work well with the shape of the Alto RPC (which is odd because it works fine on Tenor). I can’t seem to tighten it enough to keep it from slipping. Luckily, Ron provides a simple (he calls it ‘cheap’) ligature with the mouthpiece. But it works surprisingly well! Maybe ligatures are over-rated…they just need to keep the reed in place after all.

BTW, I don’t get any endorsements for mouthpieces or reeds from any of the manufacturers I mention here or on my gear page. These are just my honest opinions 🙂