NAMM 2019 Saxophone Gear Roundup

Introduction

This marks my 8th year attending the annual NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show and it’s pretty remarkable how much the show has grown in attendance year after year. Similar to the 2018 NAMM Show, this year’s show was filled with exhibitors showcasing products new and not-so–new, including saxophones, necks, ligatures, mouthpieces, reeds, neck-straps, cases and the list goes on and on and on.

What was unique about the 2019 NAMM show in comparison to previous shows was a focus on saxophone products geared towards the classical player.

With only four days to see it all, I tried my best to test out as many products as I possibly could, but as anyone who’s ever been to NAMM can tell you, making it to every single exhibitor booth, even for merchants associated with a single instrument, is next-to-impossible.

Here are some of the product highlights from this year’s event, in no particular order.

Balam Back Strap Premium

Since the 2018 NAMM Show when I checked out the Balam Back Strap Classic, Balam has come out with a new Premium strap which I was able to test and further discuss with Jack Finucane (Owner & repairman at Boston Sax Shop). Jack informed me that the Balam Back Strap Premium embodies many of the same features as the Classic but with some nice enhancements as follows:

“The Premium strap features a newly designed harness system that incorporates 4mm of foam padding underneath the bars, making it the most comfortable Balam yet. The overall shape of the harness has also been shortened and reshaped to avoid pressure to the front of the chest when playing heavier saxophones. In addition, the brand new slider features an optional locking mechanism which will prevent the strap from slipping while playing and can be used on soprano, alto, tenor and baritone”

I tried both the Classic and Premium in comparison to the JazzLab Sax Holder. I did prefer the look and feel on the Balam Classic and found the new features on the Balam Premium to be quite nice especially with the new locking mechanism. In terms of alleviating and redistributing the weight of the saxophone, the Balam Premium accomplished this quite well. My one recommendation is to review the instructions for adjusting the strap (see video below with Jack demonstrating). I would like to thank Jack for taking the time to discuss the new features on the Balam Back Strap Premium and if you are further interested in this neckstrap, please check out Jack’s website or visit his shop to further test (see link below).

Jack Discussing the Balam Back Strap Premium

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJSHIzPiQ3Q

How to Adjust the Balam Saxophone back strap

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GB9LUfs2Tag

Boston Sax Shop Ambassador Alto Saxophone Case

In addition to testing out the Balam Back Strap Premium, Jack showed me his new Boston Sax Shop Ambassador alto saxophone case. Jack informed me he has put countless hours working on this case which is designed for saxophonist and built to last. The Boston Sax Shop Ambassador Alto Saxophone Case exhibits the following features:

“The Ambassador case is made from a composite structure and wrapped in a hard wearing automotive interior grade synthetic leather which results in lightweight but very durable case. The hardware is all steel and utilizes a full length piano style hinge as well as four butterfly latches that require a two stage locking operation.” This design ensures that there is no possible way for these latches to open independently avoiding the unwanted and traumatizing instance of your saxophone falling out of the case when you pick it up to leave your gig or rehearsal (unfortunately this has happened to me). The interior of the Ambassador case features a medium firm, memory style foam which guarantee’s a tight and proper fit. When it comes to storing your reeds, mouthpiece, ligatures, and other accessories, there is an YKK zippered exterior pocket that provides ample storage while also keeping the overall size of the case small which is important for getting it into the overhead airline compartments.

Jack informed me he used cushioned double handles on either half of the exterior of the case to ensure that even if you forget to latch the case and you pick it up, it will not open. One final but important feature is, “the Ambassador case includes padded backpack straps with locking carabiners in addition to braided steel wire loops that act as a failsafe for the unlikely event of strap failure.” The Ambassador case will accommodate vintage and modern Selmer’s, Yanagisawa, P Mauriat, Yamaha, the King Super 20 and all Taiwanese “Selmer” style saxophones. Overall, I am very excited about Jack’s Ambassador Case. For me it’s a great combination between a Walt Johnson and Bam Softpak case but with further enhancements that make it an all-around better case. My one piece of feedback to Jack is if he could make the case without the exterior pocket, that would be my preference but I know many saxophone players want to carry everything in one case. The Boston Sax Shop Ambassador alto saxophone case is available for pre-order with the tenor version coming out later this year (can’t wait!).

Ambassador Case

https://www.bostonsaxshop.com/cases/ambassador-alto-sax-case

Falcon Woodwinds Double Ring and Florida Link

(Left: Florida Model Right: Double Ring Link Model)

When I stopped by the International Woodwinds booth, I ran into Eric Falcon who had on display his line of new Falcon Woodwinds Florida and Double Ring Otto Link replica mouthpieces, in addition to the 10mFan line of mouthpieces. Eric informed me that in comparison to many vintage copies on the market today, his Florida and Double Ring replicas are actual copies of an original Florida and Double Ring Link, which Eric and saxophonist Doug Webb went through both of their collections to find the best one. Eric said by leveraging CT scan technology and his hand finishing work, he is able to reproduce an exact copy of these highly sought after vintage Otto Link mouthpieces.

I have played various copies of the original Double Ring and Florida model Otto Link mouthpieces in the past and was excited to see how the Falcon Woodwinds mouthpieces compared. Both Falcon Woodwinds Florida & Double Ring Link models were a good representation of the original vintage Links. I personally preferred the sound characteristics and resistance of the Florida Model over the Double Ring Link. Anyone who is a Link fanatic or has been searching for an original Florida or Double Ring Link should give the Falcon Woodwinds mouthpieces a try. I have included two videos below of Doug Webb test playing both the Florida and Double Ring Models.

Website

https://www.falconwoodwinds.com/

Key Leaves

I have seen and heard about the Key Leaves product but have not had a chance to try it out until now. While attending the last day of the show this year, I ran into Nate Brown who is the president of Key Leaves. Nate was nice enough to demonstrate how the Key Leaves as well as the Vent Vine but I will be focusing on the Key Leaves product.

Nate informed me that the Key Leaves is a durable silicone material that will not harm or scratch your saxophone and is very easy to clean if needed. The Key Leaves was designed to address the key pads G#, Eb and Low C# to air dry and prevent them from sticking (which many of us saxophonists run into this issue unfortunately). I have been using the Key Leaves for the past few weeks and overall and happy with the results. My G# and low C# keys which typically stick no longer do.

I find the Key Leaves product is easy to put on as well as remove and is quite customizable whether you are using it with a modern or vintage saxophone. If you want to prevent your G#, Eb, and low C# pads from sticking, I would recommend using the Key Leaves product. If you would like to find out more information, please see the website link below as well as demonstration video

Website

https://keyleaves.com/

Oleg Products (Sax Enhancers & Maestro Mouthpiece)

Oleg products have been around for over 30 years. When I first started playing the saxophone, I remember that there were far fewer accessory options available than there are today. With that being said, I do remember looking for after-market necks, ligatures, neck-straps, etc. and Oleg being one of the few unique offerings which include such products as the Olegature, saxophone enhancers, necks and neck-straps. Since then, Oleg has introduced his own line of saxophones and saxophone mouthpieces, and continues to make enhancements to his existing products.

This year, I had the opportunity to meet with Oleg and Alan Markowitz (Vice President of Oleg Products) to see what products were new at the booth, and also to revisit some of Oleg’s popular sellers. The Oleg Maestro mouthpiece was one of Oleg’s newest products with the Maestro mouthpiece being designed for players who play jazz and orchestral music.

The Maestro mouthpiece was designed to be easy to play in tune across the entire range of the saxophone, be flexible at various dynamic levels, and to help players produce the best sound possible on his or her current equipment. I took the Maestro metal mouthpiece for a test-play and was overall pleased with the results.

Without too much adjustment from my current setup, the Maestro played well in tune across the entire range of the horn. With that being said, when I went back and forth between my Slant Link and the Maestro, I still preferred my Slant Link based on the resistance level and overall sound.

I would like to revisit the Maestro mouthpiece when it is available in hard rubber as well as test-play a Maestro in a 7 tip opening instead of an 8 tip opening. In addition to the Maestro mouthpiece and Oleg’s line of saxophones, The Olegature and Oleg Pro Sax Enhancers are probably the most popular items Oleg currently offers.

I do recommend that, if you are looking to make some adjustments to the key setup on your current saxophone, I would either talk to your repair tech or try the saxophone enhancers specifically the F-Fork Extension (works great on vintage Selmer’s & saxophones with front F pearl instead of the tear drop design) and Palm Key Risers. I would like to thank Oleg and Alan for taking the time to discuss their product line and excited to see what new products they have in store for the future.

Website

 https://olegproducts.com/

Rampone & Cazzani Solista Saxophone

The Rampone & Cazzani “Solista” is Rampone’s new alto saxophone which is tailored for the classical saxophonist. Rampone is known for making a line of saxophones that is used primarily by jazz musicians. What is unique about the Solista saxophone is the fact that it is made out of copper, which is than gold plated.

When I spoke with Claudio, he informed me the Solista still maintains many of the features from his existing line of saxophones, but they recently made some changes to the treatment of the necks which he believes will further enhance the overall resonance of the saxophone by further stabilizing the sound.

Claudio informed me that they also introduced and are experimenting with a solid silver neck, a copper neck without the gold-plating, and a solid silver neck with the gold plating. I had the opportunity to try the various finishes on the horn and found I liked the standard copper neck with gold plating as well as the solid silver neck with gold plating.

Overall, the sound of the Solista compared to Rampone’s R1 Jazz Saxophones was more focused, with much clarity and warmth to the sound. I found the R1 Jazz saxophone in comparison had more edge to the sound as well as projection. The Solista I believe would work well for jazz as well as any genre of music, but the copper material with gold plating gave the Solista unique qualities that I believe the classical saxophonist will find very attractive.

I want to thank Claudio for taking the time to speak about the Rampone & Cazzani Solista Alto Saxophone and would be interested in test playing a tenor Solista in the future.

Website

http://www.ramponecazzani.com/eng/index.php

Weissenberg Saxophones (Ken Beason Custom Setup) & OC Saxophone Screw & End Plug

While walking around the show this year, I decided to stop by the Weissenberg booth to check out the Weissenberg line of saxophones that were setup by repair technician Ken Beason.

Weissenberg has been producing saxophones since 1989 and has quite an extensive list of different models for soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophone. I had a chance to try out the tenor which had Ken’s custom setup with his oversized Beason resonators. This model in particular had a pretty high copper content with an un-lacquered/vintage finish. At first glance this saxophone reminded me of other Taiwanese saxophones at the show in terms of the parts used and aesthetic.

I was impressed overall with the sound, intonation, response, and ergonomicsof the Weissenberg Ken Beason Custom model . What’s nice about this model is since Ken works closely with the Weissenberg team, you have the ability as the player to discuss with Ken what type of sound and setup you are looking for and Ken will work with you to further customize that Weissenberg saxophone so it meets your requirements.

In addition to meeting Ken at the booth, I had the opportunity to speak with Don Trimble, who is the owner of Orange Coast Sax Shop LLC and authorized dealer of Weissenberg saxophones. Don had his own line of custom screws and end plugs for the saxophones at the Weissenberg booth which he allowed me to test play.

The saxophone end plug, although a simple accessory, is important item for traveling because it can protect the octave key pin as well as fill up any open space in the case to prevent less movement. Don’s metal end plugs were nicely machined, and since Don does the machining in-house, he can make a custom end plug for your saxophone and case combination.

We did discuss potentially storing cork grease within the end plug as well as making the end plug adjustable in case you switch to another saxophone case, but that is a discussion for another day. I have seen quite a few saxophone screws from various vendors, so I wanted to see how Don’s equalizer sound screws worked. Don makes these screws out of various combinations of materials and mass to meet the requirements of any player.

I have been pretty skeptical in the past regarding these saxophone screws and if they made a difference in terms of how the horn responds. I tried Don’s equalizer sound screw made out of a few materials (brass, steel, etc.) and did notice a slight difference in how the saxophone responded depending on the material and screw mass.

I believe the screw can make a difference in helping the horn play more evenly, but this experience is different from saxophone to saxophone, and I believe is dependent on having a properly fit neck.

I would like to thank Ken and Don for taking the time to review the Weissenberg saxophones and Don’s equalizer sound screws and end plugs. I believe Don’s screws and end plugs compliment the Weissenberg line of saxophones nicely, and I hope to spend some time later this year revisiting both of these products.

Website

Orange County Sax Shop FB Page

Marmaduke Feather Strap IV Neckstrap

 

It was great to see Alex Miyatake at 2019 NAMM Show. This year Alex introduced the Marmaduke “Feather” Strap IV. The Feather IV is the newly-designed followup to the “Feather” III Strap which I’ve tested in the past. Unlike its predecessor, the Feather IV has a one-piece construction, shorter bars than the Feather III, and comes with a new wing shape adjuster and fixed brass hook.

The Feather IV neckstrap offered by Marmaduke is my favorite strap of all those that Alex currently offers. I find the Feather IV in comparison to the Feather III uses a more comfortable leather material as is easier to adjust. The larger bar (which I see more and more neck straps leveraging) makes the Feather IV neck strap easy to adjust to the right position, but I did speak with Alex about offering a slightly smaller bar which he is going to shortly.

I want to thank Alex for taking the time to show me the new Feather IV strap. I am sure I will see a Feather V strap at some point and am interested to see what further adjustments or improvements Alex makes to future neck straps.

 Website

Marmaduke Music

AM Mouthpieces African Blackwood 7*

I had the opportunity to check out Arnold Montogomery’s AM mouthpiece lineup at the 2018 NAMM show. This year Arnold introduced the Vintage Series and a new Mystery Material option instead of hard rubber for his Aras, Katana, Luna, and Blue Heron models. In addition, Arnold also had a few African Blackwood tenor mouthpieces to test play.

I tried his new line up of mouthpieces, and particularly enjoyed the African Blackwood tenor mouthpiece in a 7* opening. The African Blackwood Tenor 7* mouthpiece has a moderately high rollover baffle with a medium chamber. In comparison to my Slant Link, I found the AM African Blackwood mouthpiece had a very dark tone in comparison to Arnold’s other models. I found this mouthpiece was quite free-blowing with warmth and clarity to the sound. This is in contrast to the level of projection and edge which I get on my Slant Link.

I have not tried a mouthpiece made out of African Blackwood in quite some time, but would be interested in revisiting this material with mouthpiece specs closer to those of my Slant. The AM African Blackwood had an even scale, but I noticed more color to the sound when pushed in the upper and lower stack on my horn.

I would like to thank Arnold Montgomery for allowing me to test out his lineup of new and existing tenor mouthpieces and if you are in the market for a wooden mouthpiece that plays on the darker side, I would recommend reaching out to Arnold to see if the African Blackwood mouthpiece will be the right fit for you.

Website

https://www.ammouthpieces.com/

ReedGeek Bullet

Since the Classic ReedGeek was introduced (still the tool I use today), Mauro Di Gioia, President and Founder of ReedGeek has expanded his line of products to include the Black Diamond “G4” ReedGeek, DoubleGeek tool, Klangbogen,  ReedGeek Plaque & Gauge Set, and now the ReedGeek “Bullet” which I will be reviewing.

When I spoke with Mauro, he informed me that the Bullet is his newest and most advanced tool to date. The Bullet offers further advances to reed adjustment and maintenance, and most importantly, is the most effective tool for the adjustment of synthetic polymer reeds, both single and double, and traditional cane.

As per their marketing materials, “The Bullet Utilizes diamond-like alloys and exhibits an edge of 94 RC hardness, which is machined to tolerances closer than virtually any reed or woodworking tool on the market today. This is important because it allows double reed players to adjust tip contours to achieve maximum vibration without damaging the reed. With a built-in shank file for burnishing and smoothing, every surface of the Bullet can be used for great efficiency.”

I personally think the Bullet is the best reed tool that ReedGeek is currently offering. I will say, if you have the Classic or G4, these tools will more than handle further adjustments needed to those reeds that are not playing right out of the box. But the Bullet felt most comfortable in terms of handling, and with its further refined material, you can make finer adjustments if needed.

I would like to thank Mauro for showing me the ReedGeek “Bullet” and hope to pick one up later this year to leverage on not just cane but synthetic reeds.

Website

https://www.reedgeek.com/product/reedgeek-doublegeek/ 

Eastman EAS 850DS Alto Saxophone

Since the Eastman 52nd Street line of saxophones were launched and have grown in popularity, I decided to stop by the Eastman Booth to visit Ralph Torres, Direct of Operations at Eastman to see if there was anything new at the booth.

Ralph was excited to show me Eastman’s new EAS 650DS & 850DS alto saxophone. The Eastman two horns are similar, but the EAS 850DS, which I will be discussing today, has unique key touches just to name one of the new features this saxophone offers.

The EAS 850DS was developed with the assistance of the Head of Stringing & Body Making of Wm. S Haynes Co. Flutes, David Schipani. Some unique features offered on the Eastman 850DS are as follows:

  • re-designed side keys
  • the alternate f# and high f# key placement
  • each palm key placed at a different angle for maximum comfort
  • left hand pinky table has a rised C# for a smoother transition to the low B and Bb
  • uniquely designed octave mechanism
  • rounded tone whole cups

…and the list goes on.

The Eastman EAS 850 DS compared to the Eastman 52nd street line of saxophones in terms of sound is focused and dark in comparison to the broader-sounding 52nd Street – which Ralph confirmed was indeed the goal. I found the ergonomics on the Eastman EAS 850 DS to be incredibly comfortable. It boasts a a very even sound throughout the range of the horn, and the intonation was great. Sonically, I found the EAS 850DS maintained a dark, warm, and focused sound which I think both classical players and jazz saxophonists will enjoy.

I want to thank Ralph for taking the time to show me the Eastman EAS 850DS alto saxophone. I am very excited to see how the tenor model turns out and highly recommend you give the Eastman 850 DS alto saxophone a test play.

Links

NAMM 2019 Sax.co.uk. Eastman 850DS saxophone

SYOS (Shape Your Own Sound) Signature Series Mouthpieces

 

I have reviewed the SYOS (Shape Your Own Sound) mouthpieces in the past, but while visiting their booth at this year’s show, I was able to try out their new SYOS Signature Series of mouthpieces.

The SYOS Signature Series allows you to play the exact same mouthpiece that their lineup of artists play today. While at the booth I was able to test play the SYOS mouthpieces played by Chad Lefkowitz Brown, Dayna Stephens, Tivon Pennicott, Daro Behroozi, Eddie Rich, and the list goes on.

I was hoping that one of these SYOS Signatue mouthpieces would be the right fit for me, but I think that many of us know we are all different. So a mouthpiece, ligature, reed, neck, or saxophone that works for our favorite artists might not necessarily work for us. With that being said, I did find the Eddie Rich model was the best Signature mouthpiece for me. I did see and hear quite a few players at the booth who really liked Tivon & Chad’s Signature SYOS mouthpieces, which was encouraging to see. If the SYOS Signature mouthpieces are not the right fit for you, you always have the option of working with SYOS to make a custom mouthpiece specific to your requirements.

I would like to thank the SYOS team for taking the time to discuss their new Signature series mouthpieces with me and I hope to in the future spend the time to customize a SYOS mouthpieces that suits me.

SYOS Website

https://www.syos.co/en/shop/products/signature-saxophone-mouthpiece

 Honorable mentions

2019 NAMM Video from Saxophonist, Brian “BriansThing” Landau

Final Thoughts

The 2019 NAMM Show was another year filled with exhibitors showcasing their new and existing line up of saxophones, ligatures, mouthpieces, reeds, necks, neck straps, sax stands and the list goes on. Overall, I saw far more enhancements or minor tweaks to existing products than I saw in terms of entirely new products.

Also of note was that this year in particular, the emphasis seemed to be on products for classical saxophonist. With that being said, whether you play classical or jazz, many of they saxophones at the show would work well for both genres in my opinion.

As always, I was not able to visit every booth at the show that I wanted to and spend the amount of time I would have liked to try all of the products that looked interesting and promising. To any of the manufacturers I met at NAMM, if I did not include you in this list, this is not a reflection on your product, it just came down to time.

If you would like me to review your product specifically or have any questions, please feel free to contact me using the information from my author bio below. Again, another great NAMM Show in the books and I can’t wait to see what NAMM 2020 has in store for us saxophonists next year!