Saxophone Intonation Problems
Some discussion of the problems, and some solutions for them
by Michael Brockman
Intonation on all saxophones is bad unless there are special compromises made in their design. This is due to the weak compromise that has been made in the placement of the octave vents in the saxophone (see my discussion of these compromises in my article about
Design compromises can repair intonation but often change the overall sound of the instrument. So, we either choose an instrument that has special sound, or we choose one that plays a bit better in tune, or we go somewhere in-between.
That said, the more "traditional" a mouthpiece you choose, the better the potential is for predictable intonation. By traditional, I mean that the inside dimensions of the mouthpiece are as "conical" as possible. With a traditional mouthpiece (designed along the lines of Adolph Sax's initial intent), intonation is thrown off LESS by the normal vagaries of the saxophone's physics. So, using a classical saxophone mouthpiece has better intonation than does, say a jazz mouthpiece that has a raised baffle
inside (raised baffles are often added in jazz mouthpieces to make the sound brighter).
There *have* been strides made to improve saxophones over the years, though the usual trade-offs are still there. In truth, I still love my Mark VI horns, but in my collection of fine instruments, the most in-tune saxophone is a Selmer Series III alto.
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