My study of Adolphe Sax's instruments and other instruments from the 19th century has made it clear that saxophone necks were shorter at that time. Wide-chambered mouthpieces were in common use, making an obvious fit to the then larger truncation.
The shift to the narrower mouthpiece begins very early, though. Already in the later 19th century mouthpiece bores start to diminish. Not with big steps, but nonetheless. At the same time necks start to lengthen. As far as I now can see, there is not any clear point in time or well defined development in the process. Yet, when we arrive in the mid 20th century in France the shift in neck length is obvious; the American saxophone being somewhere in between. It goes for all types of saxophones (S, A, T, B), but not to identical proportions 1.
|If you're familiar with historic saxophones, you might have noticed that the old sopranos look really short and, like the altos, carry only a wee bit of cork on their necks. If you have a sensitive eye, you might have noticed the neck of the 19th century altos to be both a little bit thickish and on the short side. Likewise, you might have noticed that the old baritone seems to have a smallish crook compared to the present. At the same time, the upper bow starts right above tone hole 20 for Eb3 – as it does to this day.
The drawing illustrates what is going on. While the total acoustical length remains the same for the original saxophone (on top) compared to the modern (below), there is a shift in length of the instrument itself. The red glob represents the mouthpiece, replacing the truncated black part of the cone. We note that the mouthpiece volume decreases proportionately to the increase in length of the instrument, the overall total remaining the same.
Apart from a great many mechanical differences between the historic saxophone and the modern, this shift in neck length, combined with the shift in mouthpiece volume accounts for (most of) the difference in the acoustics between the original and the modern instrument.
the truncation of a 19th century and a modern soprano compared
Now, if you want to re-enjoy the feel of the historic saxophone up to a certain degree, you can fit an old wide-chamber mouthpiece to your instrument, 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.
I'm presently working on shorter necks which fit the modern saxophone. For the alto and the tenor I follow more or less Adolphe Sax's original tapers and lengths, adapted to the slightly narrower bore of the modern saxophone. For the soprano the situation is rather more complicated. Practically because the historic and the modern soprano mouthpieces have different widths around the cork. Acoustically because in the modern soprano with separate necks, the location of the joint 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) which still needs a wide chamber mouthpiece.
Wide-chamber mouthpieces do adapt naturally to these necks and the combination produces an antique feel of resistance. Also, it does sound differently compared to the modern standard. There is definitely a feel of more 'space' to the sound. Hard to explain, so sorry.
I'm redrawing my bore profiles at the moment in order to make this development visible. As for the shift in mouthpiece design, please consult in the MEASUREments section the pages on the beginnings of mouthpiece manufacture.