Steve Goodson by Thomas Erdmann
Steve Goodson by Thomas Erdmann
There is no good place to start this article. Saxophonist and professional musician since the age of 14, band leader, woodwind instrument manufacturer and retailer, saxophone design consultant, performance and instrument manufacturer clinician who is also the star of three instructional DVDs on this subject, writer, music instrument historian, saxophone repair technician, and saxophone teacher, as well as a very funny and affable man, Steve Goodson has done so many things at the highest of artistic levels there is no good place to start. While many artists hope to become recognized experts in just one field, Goodson has become the go-to man in all of the above fields, as well as others. He helps define what is possible for human beings to accomplish if they put their total heart, soul, mind, and spirit towards the pursuit of one’s passion. Goodson obviously doesn’t just like music, he loves it with a hunger and fever that has led him to uncover knowledge, learn from the mistakes of others, delve into music and instrument history, and then freely share the information he has gained via his website and his countless articles in various magazines including Sax Today. To read all of Goodson’s many insightful and expertly written articles regarding the entire world of the saxophone would take one through a journey laid out by not just a master artist, but a master intellectual and craftsman.
To highlight just two areas, as a performer Goodson, who is originally from Alabama but now makes New Orleans his home, started playing professionally at the age of 14. He has worked with the world’s top artists including Marcia Ball, Solomon Burke, Chubby Checker, pretty much everybody who has ever been on the Motown label, Joey Dee, Dr. John, Jesse Hill, Ernie K-Doe, Edwin McCain, Eddie Money, and Vince Vance, to list just a few. In addition to his freelance work Goodson is leader of Steve Goodson and the Low Budget Horns, a, as he states, rent-a-horn-section available for recording and live work, and Plaunche Baptiste (one of his several registered stage names) and His Creole Backsliders,” a traditional New Orleans marching band. As a master craftsman and artisan of saxophone design and creation, the artists who play on Goodson’s instruments and various instrument products are a virtual who’s who of the best regularly performing, recording, and touring saxophonists including Tom Scott (the most recorded saxophonist of all time),Breeze Cayolle, Ben Ellman, Jimmy Carpenter, Aviva Maloney, Vincent Broussard, Emile Hall, Ron Holloway, James Martin, Derek Nash, and Charles Neville, to again list just a few. In Goodson’s world there must be more than 24 hours in a day, because it’s hard to imagine how all of this is so skillfully accomplished.
When you first started to make your own instruments, was there something about the process that surprised you and that you might not have been prepared for, but you have since overcome?
Yes, the biggest problem we had, initially, was the language barrier. We had some funny problems come up because at the time I spoke no Mandarin. I was dealing with Taiwanese people and English was a fourth language to the people I was working with at the factories. I must admit that their English was a lot better than my Mandarin! Small things like the size of springs became big issues. I wouldn’t believe something as simple as that could be screwed up, but it can. The first time I was building a complete product, I had great people to deal with. These were the people at Narita who owned the Unison brand. They were wonderful. We finally
got the language worked out and found a better translator, for both of us; it’s a two-way street. They have to understand what I want and I have to understand what they’re asking me.
The biggest surprise was how, for years, we here in the United States have been told it’s very inexpensive to have things made in Asia. Yes it is less expensive in Asia than other places, but the numbers I’d always heard were not true. I now know exactly what it costs to have things made in Asia, and it’s way off. Yes you can buy some saxophones on eBay for $300 that are made, typically, in China. They are not only horrid instruments; I would also bet the company making those are losing money on those horns. You just can’t make an instrument for that price. The people in Asia are not working all day for a bowl of rice. For example, the typical worker who is making my instruments in Taiwan makes about $1,800 a month for a 40-hour week. Over there that is good money for blue-collar labor. The very skilled workers are earning considerably more. I don’t have any of my saxophones manufactured on Mainland China, though I do have some components made there, those labor rates have risen dramatically since I started doing business on the Mainland about 15 years ago. Now my company does some business in other parts of Asia. The labor rates vary, but the myth of cheap Asian labor is a myth. I write the checks, I know.
So this is part of the reason why manufacturing in other industries is coming back to the United States?
Yes, but let me tell you why saxophone manufacturing is not going to come back to the U.S. anytime soon. You simply can’t get the work done over here. Where will you find the guys to do the work?
No skilled craftsman.
Right. People say, “Well, there are all those people in Elkhart, Indiana.” They haven’t built saxophones there in the last 10 years. The last series of saxophones built in Elkhart were the Bundy II’s that Conn-Selmer was building. If you look at the quality of those instruments you will understand why I don’t want those guys building horns for me. Nobody has made professional quality saxophones in the U.S. for 25 to 30 years.
Elkhart does still make trumpets.
Yes, the Bach’s and Benge’s, and I think Calicchio and Shilke are still made here, but the Bach valve assemblies are made in Asia. Yes on the quality brass instruments, but no on the quality saxophones, those are all made in Asia.
Did I read correctly you only make saxophones with a copper finish?
Yes. When we introduced the Saxgourmet model in the early 2000s, I wanted them to have a very distinctive look. I was given a gift, a saxophone by the guy who owns Unison, Gregory Lai; he gave me one as a birthday present. It had a beautiful copper finish, and extra engraving. I really liked that and had never seen another one like it. We found out how the U.S. Mint makes the copper pennies the way they do because they are brighter than natural copper. You treat copper with chromic acid and you get that look. The factories we were first using already had full plating ability and as part of the silver plating process you have to flash them
with copper first, so they already had copper on the premises. I talked to the people and asked them to do such and such, and then dip the horns in chromic acid. Now they all look like new pennies. Everything we’ve built since then, until we started to build the Voodoo series and those horns are literally solid copper in a natural copper finish with the new penny look. When Tom Scott is on TV you can look at his horn and know he’s playing a Saxgourmet. I just like the way it looks.
So using the copper finish is all about looks.
Yes, and let me clarify. The finish, the plating finish, has absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with how the horn sounds. The finish spec is 3/10,000s of an inch. If you took all of the copper plating off of one of my tenor saxophones, it would be less than the size of a BB.
So if someone wants a gold-plated horn as opposed to a lacquer horn, there is no difference in the horn?
To be absolutely specifically correct, gold won’t stick to brass, so the way you have to do gold is to take the brass instrument, flash it with copper which means it just gets a thin plating, then you flash it generally with silver though you can use nickel, but most people use silver, then you apply the gold, but once again, but if you held the sum total of all those metals in your hand it would be about the size of a BB. Now let me let you in on a dirty little secret of the industry, if you order a new saxophone from one of the major manufacturers and your order is for a gold- plated one, they will charge you a $1,500 to $2,000 premium over the normal cost of a lacquer instrument. You know how much I have to pay for a special gold-plating? $48. People are getting so screwed on those silver and gold plated finishes. Most of the expense is in the preparation of the plating and the preparation for any finish is the same. The difference in cost really comes from the buffing, but not to the tune of what is being charged. Buffing is an art, and requires proper cleaning, but the actual cost of the metals is not what consumers have been led to believe.
What about gold brass? Lately a lot of instruments are being made with something they’re calling gold brass. What does this mean?
I wasn’t an expert, I’m just a stupid saxophone player, but my dad always told me, “When you need advice, go hire the best advisor you can.” About 10 years or so ago we hired, at no small expense, a Ph.D. metallurgist, to advise us on the best metals for musical instruments. She was not only a Ph.D., but her degree was from M.I.T. and on top of that an excellent musician. She was working for NASA at the time and was someone we knew musically. Boy did she open our eyes to a lot of things. Here’s what you can do. Go around and with your fingers thump different materials you have around your office. You’ll see they all sound a little different, or you can thump different horns made of different materials and get a different sound. Every metal has its own unique resonance characteristics. Unfortunately in the musical instrument business everybody is vague on what the definition of gold brass, or rose brass, or what have you, is. Gold brass is typically going to be what most horns are made from, a mixture of 70% copper and 30% zinc, sometimes there 1% of 11 herbs and spices thrown in, but generally 70/30, and 95% of all metal musical instruments in the world are made from this combination.
Read our company’s propaganda, you’ll read we won’t make gold brass instruments. For everything we make we use rose brass, except a couple horns come with a gold brass neck. We use rose brass because it has a higher copper content. That higher copper content will give you a broader spectrum: more lows, more mids, and not so high on the highs. With several of our instruments we’ll include two necks, one of them is the same metal as the horn which is rose brass, but the other will be a 70/30 neck. This will give the performer two different sounds and we label them as such. Number one is the original alloy and number two will be brighter. Also, on our different models we use three different alloys of rose brass; they are not all made from the same material. We buy our metal in Japan and have it shipped to our factory. There is a company in Japan that makes the best musical brass that exists, and they’ll make anything you want. They do stuff at a very high quality. We use them for our models exclusively.
I interviewed Rick Braun, who had his trumpet cryogenically treated, and he absolutely swears by how great it is.
Here is the first thing you need to know about this. If you get out on the internet and read what people say about cryogenic treatment, none of the nay-sayers who say it can’t possibly work have ever had their own personal instrument treated. You will never find anyone who has had their instrument treated that wasn’t a true believer. I’ve been a party to having hundreds of instruments treated over the years, not only my own personal ones, and all of my instruments have been treated, but also they’ve been treated for many of my customers. In fact, we will offer cryo as an option to the customer on our new instruments. Cryo doesn’t change the sound of the instrument. What it does is increase the dynamic range and speed up the response. I wouldn’t say it does anything else. It increases the dynamic range on my saxophones by a maximum of 15%. To a professional player an increase of 15% is an enormous advantage. I’m a saxophone player, not a scientist, but it makes these changes by relieving some of the stress in the metal allowing it to respond more freely.
What is the cryo process?
What you do is take the instrument and put it in what is known as, in the trade, an oven which is really a box surrounded by tubes through which you flow liquid nitrogen. Over a period of time, and that is the real secret, how slowly you cool it down and how quickly you warm it up, you drop down to about -300 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. The speed at which you do it is called the wrap, the angle of the curve, and on our horns the wrap is about 24 hours down and 24 hours up. That gives good results. The guy who does it for me also manufacturers the equipment, I think he’s the largest manufacturer in the world of those ovens, but he’s also a pretty good saxophone player. I have a horn he did over a four week period where he went up and down and up and down and up and down. I swear that horn plays like it’s 50 years old and well broken in.
One of the things you do is repair instruments, in fact you’ve been the go-to guy for a lot of the top saxophonists including Maceo Parker and the late Michael Brecker. When saxophonists are looking for someone to work on their instrument, what should they be looking for in a repair technician so they get the absolute best work they can?
The thing to do first is ask the top professional players, the guys who actually earn a living by playing, and find out who they use, because it’s probably not going to be the guy who fixes horns in bulk for the local junior high school. Those are really two different skill sets. The thing about a repair technician for saxophones is that he or she should be able to play, at a fairly high level. I don’t think there is any compromise on that because if you can’t play the horn you can’t tell if it’s right or wrong. The thing that is most overlooked is to have your technician ask to check your mouthpiece as well as the horn. If they don’t ask this then put your horn back in the case and walk out the door because a lot of times the problems are a result of the mouthpiece. Very few technicians know much about this. There is an hour long video on YouTube that is one of my seminars on mouthpiece basics for technicians. I did it for a group of techs. Your technician should also ask about the pads you’re going to use because virtually all repairs will involve replacing some pads at some point. When the tech pulls the pads out of the drawer, if they already have resonators on them put your horn back in the case and walk out the door because he’s not sizing them to that individual tone hole. Ask the tech what he will put the pads in with, if it’s hot glue put your horn back in the case and walk out the door. It has to be shellac or shellac, or maybe shellac. There is no substitute and it’s not because I’m old fashioned. I’ve tried everything under the sun. There is nothing that works as well. Now most people use far too much shellac. We literally paint the interior of the cup with it, and I thin it down to the consistency of jelly and apply it with a brush. That way the cup grips the pad everywhere. If you do it any other way, I think you’re nuts. The business of floating pads is for amateurs because you have to have the tone hole and key cup aligned. If the tech can’t do that then the tech needs to learn how to say, “Do you want fries with that?” If you ask around you’ll find out who the right technician is.
Rarely does one see high school or even college saxophone majors take care of their pads. Even the weekend musician doesn’t take care of this part of the saxophone, and they wonder why they keep having so much trouble with sticking or faulty pads.
If you want to fix sticking pads there are a couple of things you have to understand. The thing that makes pads stick is almost always, not 100%, but almost 100%, a result of the metal, which is brass, getting a little moisture on it, and the green patina that forms on brass when it gets moist, and this patina is mildly adhesive, is what makes the pads stick. If you’ll keep the tops of your tone holes clean your pads won’t stick.
It’s not just about running a rag through the center of your horn.
You’re right, but you’re getting ahead of the lecture. When I was playing all the time, and I used to play, many times, six nights a week three sets a night, once a month I would sit down with some 1,500 grit Emory paper which is less abrasive than your toothpaste. I would cut a strip of it as wide as the index finger on your right hand and about twice as long. I put the abrasive side towards the tone hole, close the key, and pull out the paper. You may have to do this several times in order to get the full 360 degrees around the hole, but that will clean the top of the tone hole without removing any metal. Now we have a clean tone hole. The pads should never be cleaned with alcohol or naphtha, which is lighter fluid, on a fine pair of leather shoes so why put
it on your saxophone pads. If they’re that nasty take the keys off the horn and clean them with saddle soap.
Now everything is clean. The next thing we want to do is apply a treatment to the pad that will make it shed moisture, because you don’t want it to be absorbed into the leather. The moisture is saliva which is digestive juice. If saliva gets in there it will break down the leather over time. You want to be careful to use a treatment that is not silicon based, because those treatments will cause sticking; silicon is a sticky substance. It will waterproof the pads, but it will also make them stick. You don’t want to use most of the pad powders, and I’m not going to use names, but the one that starts with an S is mostly talcum powder and the one that starts with a Y is mostly corn starch. That’s stuff you put on the pads, and while it will absorb the moisture it will form little clumps and that will cause little micro leaks. What you want is something that is Teflon based. My company manufacturers a pad treatment that I came up with by calling DuPont; you know you can just call them and speak to wonderful engineers up there at no cost. I told them what I needed and they suggested a particular variety of Teflon. Teflon sheds moisture like nothing you’ve ever seen. So you should apply this Teflon based product, then every time you play take 30 seconds and take soft cloth or a paper towel or a soft napkin, whatever, and blot every pad dry. If you’re do that I’ll guarantee you your pads will last a lifetime.
I take it your Never Stick Pad Powder is Teflon based.
Yes. It also smells like hippie girls, because hippie girls are well-known friends of all saxophonists, and the use of our pad powder will actually attract hippie girls. I’ve had a lot of luck with this over the years.
Your company makes a Voodoo Pad Juice.
If you haven’t been keeping your pads dry and they begin to dry out and get hard, but haven’t torn yet, the Voodoo Pad Juice will revitalize them.
There is a lot of buzz in the saxophone industry about straight altos and tenors. What are your feelings about these instruments, and do they have any advantages over the more accepted curved models?
None. When I worked for Orpheus Music, and I was in charge of design and manufacturing for them, we made a number of different brands of which LA Sax was one, and we made straight altos and tenors and all that. Here’s why those instruments sound different to the player, here is where all the mystery comes from, because you’re playing the thing into the floor. There is no reason based on the laws of physics in use in this universe that it should sound any different. We learned in building straight altos and tenors that you have to change some of the taper of one of the four cones that are used in saxophone design in order to get it to play right. See, the saxophone is really a series of four cones and they are all different tapers. We had to change the bow to get them to play right, but once you figured that out it will perform exactly like a conventional alto or tenor. There no advantage to a straight horn other than it looks cute.
In designing your curved soprano and baritone saxophone I was fascinated to read about how you wanted the feel of your instruments to be as close as possible to an alto or tenor in the hands
of the player. In fact I found a quote where you said, “Saxophone manufacturers were making the horn unnecessarily difficult to play.”
They were, and I tell my students this all the time because I want my students to be completely relaxed and comfortable when they’re playing as this will give them the best musical results, “It should never hurt to play your saxophone. If it hurts something is wrong.” So on the Bari we simply moved the key touches closer together when the fingers operate the horn. That was a no-brainer. I don’t know why people hadn’t done it before. On the soprano we moved them a little further apart. On the soprano we moved the left hand table, the low C-sharp, low B, low B-flat, low G-sharp, out so you don’t have to curl the left hand pinky back around to work any of those key touches. We use the same parts on that instrument that we do on our altos. They were just too small on the soprano, a mere mortal couldn’t operate the soprano with the old key touches effectively. We use the exact same part, they come out of the exact same box, when we put the key touches of the alto and soprano together. Everybody who has ever played our soprano has always remarked, “Wow, is that ever different.” Well sure. We like a curved soprano because by the nature of the beast with a curved soprano the player can hear what they’re playing. Remember the soprano is not a clarinet. The clarinet you play at about a 60 degree angle but a soprano saxophone should be played at about a 45 degree angle, but you’re still playing into the floor with a straight soprano and you’re not playing directly into the microphone unless you have a microphone directly attached to it. We think the curved soprano with our key touches is the way to go.
Let’s talk about bari’s for a second. Whenever I interview bari players I always ask if they prefer a bari with the low A key or not. The split is exactly 50/50 on their preference for the low A key.
And they’re being delusional there. It’s quite possible to build a low A bari that performs as well as a low B-flat bari. A low A bari does physically weigh more and because of the way you have to make it the instrument will sound a little different to your ear as a result of the fact that the business end of the bell will be a little closer to you on the instrument without a low A. Those instruments with the low A are typically smaller in diameter and by definition have to be longer. As far as this business about bari’s that go to B-flat being better than those that go to A, that’s totally untrue. The same thing is true about other saxophones where they say you should delete the high F-sharp key. Some manufacturers offer that as an option. Are you kidding me? If they would look at where the pressure nodes hit the body of the horn you would realize you can work around that easily. The manufacturers are not doing the math and figuring out where the nodes are hitting in a lot of cases. Half of the horns we manufacture go to high G. The way we do that is by making the body longer and the neck shorter.
And the tradeoff is no difference.
One of the things you’ve worked on for a long time and discuss on your website are necks. Could you describe, in a general sense, why getting the right neck is so important?
If you think of the saxophone, do so in terms of three components, the first is the mouthpiece, and let’s just call that a noise maker. Technically a scientist will call it an oscillator
but it creates a wave. Then you have the neck which actually shapes the wave and determines the ultimate output. The rest of the instrument, I hate to say it, is just plumbing. The secret to a really great playing saxophone is to have a saxophone with the correct taper, the correct length, and you have to do the math and figure out where those pressure nodes are going to hit. The neck will not, to get optimal results, be a pure cone because think about the naturally occurring overtone series, it gets progressively sharper. Well don’t you think we should make some allowance for that? A lot of these knuckleheads don’t do that. It’s hard to do neck experiments in order to figure out the optimum design, unless you have a friend or a family member who owns a saxophone factory and can send you a box of necks to ruin. I’ve had that luxury for a long time. I tell them to send me 50. I’ll ruin 40 of them in trying different tapers and such as that. We learned several things about the taper and in so doing realized most manufacturers were doing it wrong. We think it’s simply because they’ve never done the math. The math is published. I wasn’t born knowing how to do that. We did the math and figured out where the nodes hit.
Then we realized we could correct some other problems, that are inherent to the saxophone, through good neck design. For example, most saxophonists will tell you the notes low C, low B and low B-flat tend to burble and motorboat. If you can figure out, but doing the math, where the nodal points of where those notes are you ought to be able to fix that. Here’s how we fixed it. We figured out where that nodal point was simply by doing the math and then we threaded the instrument at that point. What we did was put some very coarse threads there. Here’s how that helps. Do you play golf?
To make it rotate in a manner to make it go further.
How does it accomplish this?
I don’t know the math on that.
It’s really quite simple. As the ball flies through the air those dimples create a little bit of turbulence around the exterior of the ball. It’s a very slight layer, but it acts like a lubricant so as it flies through the air it actually goes a little faster. By creating a boundary layer, this is what that layer of turbulence is called, at a key nodal point I can make the air wave go through the horn smoother and cut out the motor boating. I do this by threading it.
And by threading it you’re referring to rifling the inside of tube.
Yes. There are pictures on the website. We’ve been doing this for a long time. All of the aftermarket necks we manufacture are threaded and the necks for the horns we manufacture are all threaded because I’m a true believer.
Some saxophonists have a devil of time getting the altissimo register to respond and sound the way they hear it in their mind. It seems that no matter what fingering they use, the altissimo register just doesn’t sound the way they want. You’ve had some great success in this area with regard to the placement of the octave vent and other manipulations. Can you describe the
Then you know what a golf ball looks like. Why does a golf ball have dimples?
advantages of your changes over the traditional way saxophones are made in order to aid the altissimo register?
The best thing we did was create something we sell as an insert or is included as part of the manufacturing on our new horns which we call the Neck Enhancer. It’s got a little venturi, and Venturi was a brilliant guy back in the 18th century, who told us that if you decrease the diameter of a tube through which you’re blowing a liquid or a gas it will increase the velocity of the stream. A faster stream carries the higher energy partials you’re trying to get in the altissimo register a little easier. Our Neck Enhancer also has, and the pictures on our website more clearly show this than I can describe in prose, instead of having at the input part of the neck a vertical surface for the wave to interact with we have a tapered surface in order to cut out a lot of the turbulence. This lets the upper partials be generated much more freely. Another thing you have to learn a lot about, that I’d say most manufacturers don’t know anything about, is where you put the octave pip and how you make the octave pips. In a perfect world a saxophone would have 12 octave pips, one for every semi-tone of the chromatic scale. I guarantee every saxophone you’ve ever seen had two.
By definition those two are in a compromised position. One controls the notes from A- flat down to D, the other controls the notes from A up through whatever you consider the range of the saxophone to be. I manufacture some saxophones with three octave pips and one with four, and the one with four has a dedicated altissimo key on it because altissimo has become a standard part of the saxophone literature. It’s expected you can play in the altissimo register now. Once again why should we make horns that make things we need to do hard? To help we’ve put an extra key touch on the instrument so when you get above g3, there you go.
One of the things you sell are power pips.
Yes. The shape of the interior of the pip is critical. It’s not just a little cylinder. It has to
have an hourglass taper. This will get better results. It’s one of those things I’m going to have tell you I don’t know why that shape works, but I know from doing a lot of experiments that it does.
Another big issue with the saxophone is the recent flood on the market of different kinds of ligatures. First, why is getting the correct ligature so important and what are the advantages of your Saxgourmet Power Plate and Eldorado ligatures?
The advantage is that we tried to look at how the ligature interacts with the reed and mouthpiece. A good ligature does one thing and one thing only, it allows the reed to do its job without interfering. A lot of conventional ligatures clamp the reed too tightly and don’t let it vibrate freely even though they’re only in contact with the reed at the butt and not at the vamp. They are still forcing compression, and remember if a player is using cane reeds, and of course 95 percent of them do, then just one fiber extends the entire length of the reed, so that’s no good. You also don’t want to have the ligature transferring vibration to the actual mouthpiece itself because then you’ll get some sympathetic vibrations, and that’s not good either. The Power Plate is very free blowing while the Eldorado lets the reed vibrate freely but not quite as freely as the
Power Plate. The Power Plate is for saxophonists who are in-your-face rock and roll saxophonists like me.
There is a long-running standard dictum that high school non-saxophone-player jazz band directors say to their saxophone students, “Get a metal mouthpiece.” With all of the different kinds of mouthpieces available these days, this isn’t really true anymore, is it?
When I was 14-years old, I was a precocious and obnoxious little kid. When I was 14 I was already playing bars all night long and then getting up and going to high school the next day. Believe me the cheerleader tryouts were not too interesting to me. But I decided I had to have a metal mouthpiece. I went to the music store. The guy who owned the local store was not only President of the Musicians Union, he was also a fine saxophonist and a really good guy. He gave me a handful of metal mouthpieces and put in a little room. He said, “Play all of these, find the one that plays the best for you and come out.” I ended up with a Berg Larsen because I thought you had to have a metal mouthpiece. That being said, for most of my life I’ve had and used metal mouthpieces. I was a student of Santy Runyon’s for many years. He got me to playing a mouthpiece he made out of Delrin. He also made metal mouthpieces, in fact he made that same mouthpiece on the exact same tooling I ended up playing in both Delrin and nickel-plated brass. The one I used was Delrin. Metal can be shaped very precisely. Now with some of these CNC lathes you can get stuff down to a ten thousandth every time. You couldn’t do that 10 years ago. As far as getting a kid to use a metal mouthpiece and that is what will make him a jazz player, well, practice is what will get a kid to be a jazz player. A mouthpiece may help him to get the sound he wants, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be metal. My company makes more different mouthpieces than anyone in the industry. I think we’re making 23 unique models.
You have models made from bell quality brass, stainless steel, hard rubber, synthetic resin, and Grenadilla wood.
Yes, that’s the same wood you make a good clarinet out of. And we’re about to introduce a line of Delrin mouthpieces. Delrin is a plastic but it’s a plastic you can machine just like metal. It’s completely heat tolerant, it doesn’t distort when you run it through a lathe or a milling machine. Right now the machine shop I use is making some prototypes for me of some Delrin models. We’ve also done some experiments with 3D printing. That technology is not where it needs to be with mouthpieces yet, but it will be in a year or two. Every one of those materials you listed has different resonance characteristics. Remember a mouthpiece is just a noisemaker. I’m going to shape that sound with the neck. The same mouthpiece in anyone of those materials will have a slightly different sound.
The best way to find a mouthpiece is to try a whole bunch.
It’s like buying shoes. You go to the shoe store and try on a bunch and see what hurts your feet and what doesn’t. Also, take somebody with you and let them play the mouthpiece and you stand 10 feet away. If you’re playing the mouthpiece it’s going to make your whole skull vibrate. You don’t know what that thing sounds like unless you make a really high quality recording. Also, try different facings and different tip openings, and a facing is not the same thing as a tip opening because human physiology is different. You and I probably don’t wear the
same size shoe. I would also respectfully submit we probably shouldn’t be using exactly the same size mouthpiece. You have to try a lot of different ones, but a good teacher should be able to guide you because a good teacher has some knowledge of how mouthpieces work, and if they don’t put your horn back in the case and go find yourself another teacher.
In relation to all of this, how can a purchaser best evaluate the differences between one brand of saxophone and another?
The dirty little secret of the industry is that of the Asian made horns, which is 80 percent of what’s out there, actually it’s probably 90 percent of what’s out there, virtually all of them are based on the Selmer Super Action 80 Series II. I know all of these factory owners and we talk about all of these things. All of their math is based on that horn. Another thing that goes on is that there are a couple of companies in Asia that make keys and most of the factories are buying their keys from the same guys. They might be making their own body tubes, but the keys are all from the same guys. There is a company that is one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world, and they wanted me to do some design consulting for them 10 to 15 years ago. I flew out to Los Angeles and met the owner of the company half-way. We were at the Hilton at LAX up in his hotel room. He got out three altos he was making. One of them was a dead perfect copy of a Selmer Super 80 Series II. The next one was a dead perfect copy of a Yamaha 82Z. The last one was a dead perfect copy of a Yanigasawa 991. He said, “You know Steve, we can put this neck on this horn with the other one’s keys.” That is what these guys are generally selling. I’ve been to a place in Taiwan, a little strip industrial park with about half-a-dozen businesses all in attached buildings, and at one end is one guy who only makes bells. In the next company is a guy who only makes necks. The next guy only makes key work. Start at one end of the building and go to the other and by the time you’re done you have enough stuff to make a complete saxophone. These guys are generally not doing a whole lot of innovation. Fortunately I’ve been able to do a good bit of business designing horns for my competitors. I was doing business in Asia before it was cool to do business in Asia. I know most of the factory owners. Of the name brand manufacturers, most of their horns are generally the same.
One of the things you can pay for over there is quality control. The factory I use to make my Super 400 Series, the Voodoo Master Series, and the Model 6 curved soprano, I pay extra to them to make sure every instrument, before it’s packed up and shipped to me, goes through three unique layers of quality control. Three different players handle it, play it, and inspect every aspect of it. I pay extra for that. I’m going to get a container load of horns in a few weeks. Come on down and play every one of them and they will all play right out of the box. We do, however, tweak them when they arrive, but they will play really well right out of the box and I think my horns are the only ones you can say that about. The commonalities of these components have a lot to do with what’s going on, and people don’t understand this. A lot of buyers, college students, over here are hesitant to try a lot horns, such as the Jupiter XO Series. They say, “That’s a Jupiter and that’s what kids play.” Let me tell you something, that’s a wonderful saxophone. A really nice horn. I wrote an article for Saxophone Journal that had a form to let you evaluate instruments, a check sheet, and if people will go through that check sheet they will make better decisions. And where do you go to try them all out? I don’t know. You can’t even try mine out
because I fired all my dealers. We’re tiny, but this system works for us. This way we save the purchaser by having no middle man.
Sopranino – Steve Goodson Model (cryogenically treated, custom engraving by Jason Dumars), silver plated, Saxgourmet .055 metal mouthpiece, Vandoren #4 reeds
Soprano – Saxgourmet Model Six curved soprano (cryogenically treated), Saxgourmet .075 metal mouthpiece, Gonzales #21⁄2 reeds or Saxgourmet Saxello (sterling silver bell, sterling silver neck, cryogenically treated), Saxgourmet .075 metal mouthpiece, Gonzales 21⁄2 reeds
Alto – Saxgourmet Voodoo Rex (solid copper, rolled tone holes, custom made sterling silver neck, cryogenically treated, custom engraving by Jason Dumars), Saxgourmet hard rubber mouthpiece .090, Saxgourmet Eldorado ligature, Saxgourmet neck enhancer, Hartman carbon fiber reeds (medium soft)
C Melody – Conn (1924) nickel plated, Runyon C Melody #7 mouthpiece, Gonzales #3 tenor reeds
Tenor – Saxgourmet Category Five (cryogenically treated), sterling silver neck, Saxgourmet Jack of Spades wooden mouthpiece, Saxgourmet Eldorado ligature, Saxgourmet neck enhancer, Hartman carbon fiber reed (medium soft) or Saxgourmet Voodoo Rex (solid copper, rolled tone holes, custom made sterling silver neck, cryogenically treated, custom engraving by Jason Dumars), Saxgourmet Rottweiler mouthpiece, Saxgourmet neck enhancer, Hartman carbon fiber reed (medium soft)
Baritone – Saxgourmet (cryogenically treated), Saxgourmet Big Bully mouthpiece, Hartman carbon fiber reeds (medium soft)
Flute – Orpheo Richard Eugles composite body to low B, with split E, silver plated keywork
Clarinet – H. Selmer Centered Tone (full conservatory), Jody Jazz mouthpiece #7, red leather pads
Contrabass – Clarinet Orsi, completely stock
SaxRax stands for all instruments, all saxophones have MusicMedic black kangaroo leather Saxgourmet pads with gold plated solid copper Maestro resonators (severely oversized) on all pads, custom made genuine snakeskin (python) ergonomic neckstrap, Anvil road cases for all saxophones, Shure Pure Diversity wireless microphone system, stage clothes and shoes by Damin’s High Fashion Men’s Store