So, if you want to re-enjoy the feel of the historic saxophone up to a certain degree, you can fit your instrument with an old wide-chamber mouthpiece, but, now knowing the context, you will understand that that's only half the solution to a problem.

On a modern neck the wide-chamber mouthpiece is used only at (less than) half its capacity. In fact, since there is no acoustical need for it, you will have to push it onto the cork up to a point where its extra volume has all but disappeared. The remaining difference with the modern mouthpiece is just a wideness at the mouthpiece entrance. Yet, truncation length (and the resulting mouthpiece volume) plays a big role in instrument behaviour. The German acoustician and instrument maker Otto Steinkopf makes quite clear assertions on the subject. He alleges that a larger truncation makes your instrument more open and thus favours a bigger tone and the lower range. Following my investigation into the history of the subject, of course I wanted to hear what it does. This page tells the story of the shorter necks I made which fit the modern saxophone.


For the soprano the situation is rather complicated. Practically because historic and modern soprano mouthpieces have different widths around the cork. Acoustically because in the modern soprano with separate necks, the location of the tenon between body and neck is at the wrong spot to adapt to Sax's design. It is possible though to build a neck which matches the next step in history (made by Feuillet, who worked with Sax until 1867 and later joined the Association Générale) which takes us back to the period of the later 19th century up till the Buescher Truetone. These instruments still need a wide chamber mouthpiece. Following this, two more steps and their transitions can be discerned: the situation in the earlier and mid 20th century (with instruments like the Martin Handcraft till the Selmer M6) and the modern soprano, i.e. the instrument designed for high-F# or even high-G. In all I built necks in three different lengths for my soprano.


For the alto I follow more or less Adolphe Sax's original tapers and lengths, adapted to the slightly narrower bore of the modern saxophone. In the alto we find pretty much one step of shortening compared to the original design. Sax's first generation neck was a 15 centimetres long; the modern neck is about 17 centimetres. The Buffet-Crampon S1 and Prestige altos are among the few exceptions to this rule. Other than in the soprano, with the alto we do not run into practical problems and a fairly good match with Sax's design is possible.


Sax's tenors show no uniform truncation length. The first generation tenor I have measurements of has a longer neck than two second generation instruments, which are dissimilar as well. Once, around the turn of the 20th century, the neck of an A.E. Sax tenor was markedly longer, but instruments as different as a Buescher Aristocrat and a Selmer Mark6 share their truncation lengths with an Adolphe Sax second generation tenor. Since the days of the Mark6s, nothing very important further happend to the design of the tenor saxophone. So, the tenor does not really partake in the project.

necks for alto: the modern standard and a shortened one.


In the baritone, finally, there is a development almost as complex as in the soprano. You might have noticed that the old baritone has a smallish crook which greatly contributes to the instrument's larger trucation. Since Adolphe Sax's first generation instruments at least two more steps can be traced. The most important ones are the 'vintage' American instruments from the early 20th century and the modern baritone, again coined by the Selmer Mark6. In time there is some overlap between the latter two groups. I used my baritone as a laboratory and in all made four different necks for it. They range from a neck matching Sax's design to a neck even longer than the modern standard and so include the most important stages in the neck's development. If you want to read in more detail about these four necks, click here.

on balance

This is an exercise in living history. Was it worth it? Very much so! Retracing the development in neck lengths provides an insight into aspects of sonority which mostly go by gossip alone. One of these famous gossips is about the difference beween the american instruments and the french. Well, apart from tone hole sizes and key lift heights, that difference can largely be expressed in millimetres neck length and the accompanying need for mouthpiece volume. Another one is that baritones to low-Bb have more 'soul' than the ones to low-A. But apart from bell shape this shift coincides, except for some rare instruments like the Martin Magna, with a shift in neck length as well. Moreover, it is reasonably well possible to come close to the sonority of the historic saxophone by switching to a rigorously shortenend neck and a wide-chamber mouthpiece. Wide-chamber mouthpieces do adapt naturally to these necks and the combination produces an antique feel of resistance and surely sound different compared to the modern standard. There is definitely a feel of more 'space' to the sound. Hard to explain, so sorry. As for Steinkopf, yes, there are definitely stronger lower partials to the sound and also, to my ears at least, greater dynamics.
Can I make such a neck for you? Yes, I can!

february 2023