This marks my 7th year attending NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) and the show keeps getting better and better every year. Similar to my experience at the 2017 NAMM Show (2017 NAMM Show Saxophone Gear Roundup), the 2018 NAMM Show was full of exhibitors showcasing products such as: necks, ligatures, mouthpieces, reeds, neck-straps, cases and of course, saxophones. With only four days to see it all, I tried my best to test play as many products as I possibly could. Unfortunately (as it happens every year), I was not able to meet with every exhibitor I wanted to as well as spend hours upon hours trying out each piece of gear. I will be reviewing some of the new products I was able to test play at the show this year and will also note products that I hope to test play at a later date.
These products, in no particular order….
P Mauriat Master 97 Tenor Saxophone
When I stopped by the P Mauriat booth this year, I saw that they had released a few new products. These products were the P Mauriat Master 97 tenor and P Mauriat Premium saxophone reeds. Due to the popularity of the P Mauriat Master 97 alto, P Mauriat has finally unveiled their Master 97 tenor. Similar to the alto, the P Mauriat Master 97 tenor showcases unique features such as: newly designed right thumb hook, improved side key-action, a 4 point bell brace, an improved octave key mechanism for smoother action, and sterling silver octave pips. Similar to my experience with the P Mauriat Master 97 alto, the P Mauriat Master 97 tenor did not disappoint. I found the overall sound was quite flexible so whether you are a classical or jazz saxophonist, this horn would work well in both situations. The intonation on the P Mauriat Master 97 tenor was quite good as well as the overall action and construction was solid. The overall weight of the P Mauriat Master 97 tenor was slightly heavier than the other P Mauriat models I tried at the booth. I personally think the P Mauriat Master 97 tenor is the best model that P Mauriat is currently offering and hope to see some of these new features incorporated into their existing models (P Mauriat 66, 67, & 76 2nd edition models).
P Mauriat Premium Saxophone Reeds
I have seen more saxophone manufacturers starting to expand their product line to include various accessories. This year, P Mauriat was showcasing their own line of saxophone reeds. The P Mauriat Premium saxophone reeds are French cane with an un-filed cut. I was given a box of strength 3 reeds and tried all five. I found the cane responded well and did not see any blemishes or imperfections. I did find the reeds to play slightly stiff so I used my ReedGeek to further balance them. Overall, the reeds played fine but I personally prefer other manufactures cane and reed profiles. With that being said, I am glad to see P Mauriat offering additional accessories to complement their current line of saxophones.
I have seen more players switching from their current mouthpiece setup over to one of the mouthpiece offerings by Retro-Revival. I had a chance to test play the “Super D” model (Replica of a vintage link double ring Super Tone Master) at KB saxophone services a few months back and was quite impressed. This year, Retro-Revival had their own booth at the 2018 NAMM Show which was manned by well-known mouthpiece maker/re-facer Eric Falcon and CEO of Retro-Revival mouthpieces, Joel Peskin. While at the booth, Eric introduced me to some of the newer models that just came out before the show which were the “Tru-Res”, “Seventh Ave. South” and “Bob Sheppard Signature Series Generation 3” tenor saxophone mouthpieces.
Retro-Revival “Tru Res” (7*)
The “Tru-Res” is a replica of the classic 1940’s Vintage Otto Link Reso Chamber tenor saxophone mouthpiece. This mouthpiece works well whether you are a jazz or classical player and embodies a really dark core that is even from top to bottom. Some players who play the Otto Link Reso chamber are Seamus Blake (before switching to Ted Klum) and Ben Wendel. A unique feature to the “Tru-Res” compared to the original Reso Chamber mouthpieces, is the “Tru-Res” comes in larger tip openings (7*, 8, 8*). I found the “Tru-Res” model to fit its description well. This mouthpiece played evenly from top to bottom, with a very dark core. The “Tru-Res” was designed for players who want a mouthpiece that leans towards the darker side of the sound spectrum. There was some resistance based on the facing but it was not stuffy or tubby. The “Tru-Res” was easy to control and as I pushed more and more of air thru the mouthpiece, the sound did not thin out. I believe those players who are looking for a dark, focused, and edgy mouthpiece will really enjoy the “Tru-Res”.
Retro-Revival “Seventh Ave. South” .107
The “Seventh Ave. South” is a copy of Joel’s Personal MBII. that Dave Guardala hand made for him when he first started his operation. This model is CNC milled from solid bell brass and then silver plated. The original MBII is a .107 tip opening but in addition, a .116 tip opening is available as well. Each mouthpiece is hand-finished by Eric Falcon to make sure it plays as close to the original. The “Seventh Ave South”, similar to the original MB II has tons of power, core, and center when pushed. This mouthpiece unlike others in its category is a direct Replica from a handmade and hand-picked mouthpiece by its creator Dave Guardala. The original Guardala mouthpieces are incredibly sought after and many players are playing the originals (if they can get their hands on one) as well as various versions from multiple manufactures. I have tried many copies of the various Guardala models and some played better than others. Although my preference is the “Tru- Slant” or “Tru-Res” because I play on an original hard rubber slant link, The “Seventh Ave. South” (.106) played quite well. This mouthpiece was incredibly free blowing with the sound being instant. I believe this mouthpiece would suit players who want no resistance, instant response, and a mouthpiece that can play really loud and project. Of all the Retro Revival models I test played, the altissimo on the “Seventh Ave. South” was the easiest to achieve. If you are a Guardala enthusiast, you should try the “Seventh Ave. South” and see how it compares.
Bob Sheppard Signature Series Generation 3 (7*)
“Bob Sheppard Signature Series Generation 3”- was a collaborative design by Eric Falcon and Bob Sheppard. The “Generation 3” is the latest version of Bob Sheppard’s personal favorite mouthpiece which is a fusion of classic design concepts found at Retro Revival and Eric Falcon’s breakthrough modifications that significantly improve response and dynamic range. After playing the “Tru Res”, “Tru Slant”, “Seventh Ave. South” and “Shorty”, Eric asked me to test play the Bob Sheppard Signature Series Generation 3. I had played the 1st and 2nd Generation in the past and was excited to see how the Generation 3 model played in comparison. The Bob Sheppard 1st and 2nd Generation mouthpieces played evenly throughout from low Bb to high F# but contained a level of resistance that I was not used too. The Generation 3rd in comparison was much more-freer blowing and had a complex timbre that was neither too dark nor too bright. The overall sound had warmth as well as edge and like many of Eric’s mouthpieces, you could push a lot of air thru the mouthpiece and feel like you still had the same control from pianissimo to fortissimo. The “Bob Sheppard Signature Series Generation 3” to me was a hybrid model that took characteristics from a Slant Link, Early Babbitt, and Reso chamber and combined it into one mouthpiece. I would highly recommend test playing the “Bob Sheppard Signature Series Model Generation 3” mouthpiece to see how it compares to your setup.
Boston Sax Shop Heritage Tenor Neck
This year at NAMM, I was fortunate enough to meet up with Jack Finucane, who is the owner+repair technician of the Boston Sax Shop. Jack had two products at the show he wanted me to test play which were his new Heritage neck and the Balam Back Strap. When I spoke with Jack, he informed me that his Heritage Neck was “conceived from his twin passions; restoring vintage saxophones and playing them.” As Jack’s repair work has grown in popularity, he has had the privilege to examine and test-play hundreds of vintage necks. This extensive research helped Jack design his Heritage Neck, which he took little pieces of his favorite attributes from each one that he found to be exceptional. The major influence for this neck comes from the free blowing characteristics Jack found in earlier Selmer’s such as the Radio Improved and Balanced Action horns.
“The Heritage neck plays with more flexibility and has more width to the sound than a standard Mark VI neck without sacrificing control or pitch. I find it offers the player more room to push and opens up the middle register which is often more covered on tenor, producing a more homogeneous sound across the horn. The Bare Brass Heritage Neck is made with a proprietary alloy sourced from Germany. Each neck will form its own naturally beautiful patina over time and handling. The Heritage Neck is precision made to exacting tolerances to ensure consistency, is hand engraved, and comes with a custom neck-fitting included.”
I tried the Heritage Neck on a Lupifaro Platinum tenor I brought to the show to see how it compared to the stock neck. The Heritage Neck fit was slightly loose but overall fit well enough for me to play test. I was quite surprised by the response on the Heritage Neck. The overall sound had a very nice core and edge that I could push without the sound thinning out. I noticed specifically in the palm keys that the sound was more stable and from top to bottom the horn played more even. The stock Lupifaro neck I have is good but similar to the KB & Tino Schucht saxophone necks I have played in the past, the Heritage Neck offered more tonally and was quite fun to play. I think any player who is interested in experimenting with various necks should absolutely check out the Heritage Neck and see how it compares (More in-depth review to follow).
Balam Back Strap
The 2nd product Jack had me test out was the Balam Back Strap. The Balam (“Wind” in Korean) Back Strap, is a strap that is handmade in Korea and utilizes full grain leather straps with antiqued cast brass fixtures. Jack told me this strap was designed to alleviate serious neck pressure and place the pressure equally across the shoulders. I found this strap offered pressure relief from my neck which typically I have seen only accomplished with a select few neck-straps and various harnesses. This strap can be used on soprano, alto, tenor and bari by adjusting various strings (see video). The overall quality was very good on the Balam Back Strap and I believe this strap is targeted towards players who are looking for high quality, comfort, and a strap that is going to last them for years and years to come.
As Silverstein ligatures have grown and grown in popularity over the past few years, Silverstein has added more accessories to its line of products. This year, I had a chance to speak with BK Son, who is the owner of Silverstein Works. BK Son was nice enough to show me his three new products which are the OmniGuard, Alta Reed for alto saxophone, and the OmniPatch.
The OmniGuard was designed as a lower and upper teeth/lip protector for single and double reed instruments. When I tried the material out on my bottom teeth, it felt quite comfortable and reminded me slightly of the feeling of a mouth-guard that you would use in football or soccer. The material was easy to customize to fit your upper or lower teeth and felt secure once molded. This is a much nicer alternative than what many of us have used in the past which was a piece of plain white paper that we would roll-over our bottom teeth. I see this OmniGuard as a useful accessory for many classical musicians. As someone who primarily plays jazz, I personally prefer to not have paper or a guard on my bottom teeth but, understand the benefit of the OmniGuard. BK Son told me the material should last you 12 months and comes with tweezers and a carrying case for easy transportation and further adjustments.
Alta Reed (Alto Saxophone)
At last year’s NAMM show, BK Son showed me the Alta Reeds for clarinet but did not have any currently available for saxophone. This year, BK Son gave me a 2.5 Alta alto saxophone reed to test play with the tenor reeds coming out in the near future. If you have not heard of the Alta line of reeds, they are cane that is sourced from the Mediterranean and then designed and manufactured in Germany. I tried the Alta alto saxophone reed that BK Son gave me and it played quite well. The cane had no blemishes or inconsistencies that I could see. One of the main selling points for the Alta Reeds that Silverstein is offering is a quality guarantee. What this means is if you purchase a quantity of 5, 10, 15, etc. and find various reeds that do not play well, you have the ability to send them back to Silverstein and they will send you replacement reeds, free of charge. In addition, Silverstein offers a subscription option so you can have reeds automatically delivered to you every month at a discounted rate over the single purchase option. I am looking forward to picking up a box of 5 or 10 Alta reeds in alto and tenor (once released) to further test play and see how the quality guarantee program works.
I have seen more and more manufacturers starting to offer their own line of mouthpiece patches at various thicknesses, colors, as well as materials. The OmniPatch looks like a traditional mouthpiece patch but what differentiates it from the competition besides the silicon material and adhesive, is the tooth-plant imprinted into each mouthpiece patch. Similar to the Vandoren, D’Addario, and Forestone mouthpiece patches I have tried, the OmniPatch felt comfortable while playing and was easy to remove without losing the adhesive. The tooth-plant impriment did take me some time to adjust to because how I play, my front teeth fall slightly over the implemented tooth plant. Personally, I really like the patches but would actually do without the teeth guide because everyone’s teeth are different. If the OmniPatch molded to your front teeth so every time you play you found a comfortable position, that would be a different story.
Rovner Platinum Gold Ligature
Rovner has become one of the most widely used ligatures across multiple woodwind instruments. In the past, I have reviewed the Rovner Versa X, Rovner Van Gogh, and Rovner Platinum (BSWE Rovner Product Review). When I visited the booth this year, the new 24-karat Gold Plated Platinum ligature had recently come out. I test played the original Platinum ligature against the Gold Plated version to see if I could hear a difference. Overall, both ligatures responded very similarly except I did find the Gold Plated Platinum Rovner ligature to have a slightly dark tone. My recommendation would be if you currently play on the original platinum ligature, to check out the gold plated version and see if you can hear a difference in the overall tone and response.
Ochres V-6 alto saxophone
Since first play testing the Ochres line of saxophones at the 2016 NAMM Show and further reviewing the Ochres No. 5 Professional X Series Vintage tenor saxophone (BSWE Ochres Saxophone Review), I visited the booth this year to see what was new. Christine Liu, CEO of Ochres, was nice enough to show me their new Ochres V-6 Alto saxophone as well as their Balloon Sonar Screw accessory that is placed in the lyre holder. Christine told me that The Ochres V-6 is different from other models on the market because they used special alloys developed in-house to enhance the richness of the overall sound. Similar to their other models, the Ochres V-6 is equipped with Pisoni pads which are installed using shellac instead of glue. There were two Ochres V-6 alto’s at the show. Compared to the other models Ochres offers, I did find the Ochres V-6 alto responded extremely well from top to bottom. The overall sound I found to be edgy, focused, and warm. This horn could be used for classical as well as jazz. The ergonomics and intonation were great and for me personally, I might have the spring tension lightened a bit and possibly add some cork or felt in certain areas for less play. The Ochres V-6 reminded me of the Selmer Reference 54 alto saxophone in terms of the key setup and sonically geared towards players looking for that classic Mark VI sound. I want to thank Christine for letting me test play the Ochres V-6 alto saxophone and am looking forward to test playing the Ochres V-6 tenor once it is released.
Ochres Balloon Sonar Screw
The Ochres Balloon Sonar Screw was developed to stabilize unstable frequencies between the neck connecting to the body tube. I tried the Balloon Sonar Screw on the Ochres V-6 alto to see how it responded with and without it. I noticed slightly more resonance with the Balloon Sonar Screw than without it. I believe this could be attributed to adding more mass similar to various heavy neck screws I have seen on the market today. I did notice a more significant impact to the sound and play-ability while using the Klangbogen device but I believe the Ochres Balloon Sonar Screw can make a slight impact to the overall response and evenness across the entire range of the horn. I would recommend testing this device on your preferred setup and determine if it makes a difference or not for you. Again, I would like to thank Christine for allowing me to test play both the Ochres V-6 alto saxophone and the Balloon Sonar Screw. I am looking forward to seeing what else Ochres has to offer in the near future.