Friday, June 3, 2011

I put those “Truck Ballz” on my tenor and OMG THE SOUND!!!!

I posted this a few years back on the Sax On The Web site, and I guess because it’s kind of “racy” it ended up banished to the “Members Only” section, lest wholesome, innocent, convent-raised youths be permanently scarred by what you’re about to read.

A preamble: the folks on SOTW run the gamut from band kids to enthusiastic amateurs to weekend warriors to saxophone collectors to pros to Pros Whose Names You’d Even Know. A lot of the discussion is very gear-heavy, and there’s a certain cohort that is always seeking to improve their sound not via the traditional route of long tones or hours in the shed with the sax on their face or whatever, but instead by “putting stuff on” or “doing stuff to” their horns: freezing them, or attaching “resonance stones” or this weird spoon-like doohickey or even just big metal lumps (photo below) on crucial spots OUTSIDE the horn (some manufacturers are even doing this), or removing lacquer from the neck, and on and on and on.

I haven’t tried these, so perhaps I‘m unfair with my skepticism. However, when one poster swore that tying a small length of leather cord around his horn’s neck focused and enhanced his tone, I snapped — resulting in this account of my own groundbreaking work in this area:

I saw this picture...
...and for some reason it made me think of those Truck Ballz that dangle from the rears of pick-up trucks of Particularly Distinguished Individuals.

So then I got an idea: what if I put ’em on my sax!!!

However, I was afraid to make a permanent mod on my vintage Mark VI tenor without even knowing if it would work, so I decided to try a controlled experiment first: I installed them on the back of my ’95 3-cylinder Geo Metro.

It ... changed ... EVERYTHING!

I can only assume it acted as some sort of spoiler and reduced turbulence and stuff, because the car felt peppier and, though I haven’t had a chance to fill the tank yet, I believe it improved gas mileage.

Once I saw that that worked, I felt better about putting one of these suckers on my tenor.

Here’s a picture:

Here’s what I noticed: first, that famous Mark VI core sound — well, man, it just got plain corier, I guess is how I would put it. Folks I play with noticed it right away — I could see, they were pointing at the horn and stuff, and I think the core was just like friggin’ drilling a hole into their brains!

Altissimo was now effortless.

The horn felt more free-blowing and powerful, from a low Bb all the way up to altissimo D9 (after D9, some notes were harder to lock into, but it was worth the trade-off...), from a whisper to a roar. The horn now has a husky, smoky, bluesy sound that I really like.

Intonation seems better too, except for middle-D, which is sharp.

Now I find I move around more when I play, and they kind of dangle and sway and flop around down there, and I like that.

There have been some drawbacks. I've been experiencing bouts of “gig rage”: if I think the guy soloing before me is taking too long or isn’t double-timing enough, I’ll follow with my solo probably too closely, or might even cut him off. If I feel like the piano player plays a chord voicing that disrespects me, I give him the finger.

Also, I now need to find a case that fits the horn. (The horn dresses to the right, so that’s a consideration....)

I know there’ll be “naysayers” or “haters” or “scientists” who’ll say that this mod wouldn't have any “real” “effect” on my “horn,” to which I say, “Nuts!”


  1. Brilliant. My favorite? "if I feel like the piano player plays a chord voicing that disrespects me..." and " dresses to the right". You got it right in the bag.

  2. I think you're really on to something. Lieb whispered something about "yeah, overtones are cool and everything but if you really want to get your shit together, check out the's a whole different jones..."


  3. Absolutely beautiful! I'm sure there was endless bickering spawned by this post when it first appeared. I'm getting out the drill and putting a set on my bari tonight!

  4. Hey bayview: I missed this comment when you first posted it, but yeah, there was a bit of a kerfuffle, followed by some DAMN FUNNY responses! Thanks for your comment...

  5. Kelly, you're a good guy and I really appreciate the helpful information you provide, but you've been seriously misled by the SOTW dilettantes who think they understand saxophone acoustics because they've read Benade and the UNSW website. In spite of what those "experts" say, the vibration of the neck, body, and bell do affect the timbre of the horn. That's easier to understand when you recognize that about 90% of the energy of the air column is spent performing work on the body of the horn. The elastic response of brass causes energy to be re-radiated back into the air column, and it takes only a small fraction of the original 90% re-radiated at the frequencies of upper partials to influence the timbre.

    Steve Goodson is a favorite whipping boy in some circles, but the ideas he is working with on body resonance are supported by Curt Altarac, Theo Wanne, Jim Schmidt, Rheuben Allen, Randy Jones, and Peter Ponzol. Those guys are a few weight classes above the techs who promote themselves on SOTW.

    Fixing mass on the neck to influence timbre and projection has been done since the big band era.

  6. Thanks for your comments, GFC. Thinking about how impressionable us human critters are, I remain a skeptic -- but I hope an open-minded one! (And your note's a reminder to try and stay open-mined...) You won't find any actual, *informative* posts on acoustics in this blog, because I know nothing worthy and instructive on the topic. But: for cheap, uninformed humor regarding acoustics-oriented sax mods, I'm your guy!