Does Your Neck Strap Contain Hidden Power to Improve Your Sound?

Rico and Neotech Saxophone NeckstrapsLast week, as I was about to begin a practice session, I saw that I had a few brand new plain-and-simple neck straps that were sent to me by the kind folks at Rico. Burnt out on my old and sagging Neotech strap, I decided to give the Rico strap a try.

First thing I noticed when I started playing was that the horn was now being held in place quite firmly, since this strap doesn’t allow for the natural bounce that the largely elastic Neotech does. So I found it more difficult to hold the mouthpiece in place with my embouchure. But I got used to that pretty quickly, so not too big a deal.

The Hypothesis

Now I remember reading an article a few months back on David Valdez’s site, Casa Valdez where he and one of his students (who happens to be an engineer) tested out hypothesis that the neck strap hook actually affected the sound coming out of the horn, with metal or brass hooks resulting in a brighter sound than their plastic counterparts. According to electronic sound analysis, there was indeed a difference, and the hypothesis was proven to be correct. (You can read that article here, fascinating stuff.)

My Reality

Well, as soon as I put my Neotech strap on, as the Casa Valdez article suggested, I could instantly tell that the sound was indeed much darker and less focused. Besides the metal hook vibrating more resonantly with the brass on the horn, the thin, string-like makeup of the actual strap surely sucked up less sound than the thicker Neotech strap, so this all made perfect sense.

The next thought was that I had to share this on this site. I mean, what a great way to brighten – or darken one’s tone! So I proceeded to hook a mic up to my computer and record myself playing on each strap. The results were actually quite surprising.

Neotech and Rico Neck Strap Hooks

While the Rico strap sounded and felt brighter and more focused to me, it really didn’t sound noticeably different than the Neotech on the recording. And I have to admit, I was sort of bummed. There went my hypothesis.

That said, since I am partial to a brighter and more focused sound, I’ll probably stick with the Rico or another strap with a metal hook, since the affect alone will probably make playing more enjoyable to me.

In fact, it’s my belief that the gear we play on doesn’t affect our sound nearly as much as we think it does.  To the average listener, we are basically going to sound like us no matter what we play on – even if the difference seems to be night and day to our ears.

Check out these samples of each strap and see if you can hear a noticeable difference:

Neotech Strap (plastic hook)

Rico Strap (metal hook)

Moral of the Story

Of course, this is not the most scientific experiment. I wouldn’t be surprised if the metal hook had a bit more mass to it, the metallic vibrations may have been substantial enough to make a noticeable difference. But in my case, I have to settle for the illusion that I’m sound brighter and more focused – which is not the ultimate goal I was looking for. But, I believe it works to my benefit just as well, since feeling as though I sound better is incredibly important for enjoying a sense of musical freedom and power.

So I encourage you, try out a few neck straps with hooks made of differing material, and leave a comment to let me know whether or not you, or anyone else, actually hears a difference in your playing….

…or just leave me a comment and let me know whether you hear a difference in my playing from the sound samples above.