#1 How To Assemble Your Sax (Part 1) - The Neck & Mouthpiece

beginner setup & gear Jan 13, 2019

In today's free video lesson, for absolute beginners on saxophone, I cover how to put your instrument together correctly. Even some intermediate players and above could benefit from this info as I've seen some pretty shocking efforts over the years! lol

This is the first part in a two part series on this topic, and this first part covers the assembly of the mouthpiece and neck. Part 2 will cover the neck strap (sling) and main body.
You can also find my Complete Beginner's Series here for all the lessons. Here are the Q&A topics covered in this lesson, with video time stamps (min:sec). Clicking on the time stamp will take you straight to that portion of the video on YouTube (in a separate tab). Full Time stamps for the video and a complete transcript are at the bottom of the blog.
What separate parts make up a saxophone? (0:22)
  • mouthpiece (with a reed secured in place by a ligature and protected by a reed cap)
  • neck (or "crook")
  • main body
  • neck strap (or "sling")
How does a saxophone make a noise? (1:36)
  • the air stream from your breath makes a cane "reed" vibrate
  • the vibrating reed making a noise (like blowing a blade of grass between your fingers)
  • the sound is shaped and amplified through the mouthpiece and the instrument
What is a saxophone reed? (1:20)
  • a reed is a thin piece of wood cut from dried, hollow cane stalks
  • each reed has a flat side that touches the table of the mouthpiece and a tapered side that is shaped into a thin tip
  • the vibration of the reed makes the basic sound of every woodwind instrument (except flutes!)
  • reeds are fragile, especially the thin tip, and are stored in a protective sleeve or humidified case
  • reeds should be dampened before use to ensure an airtight seal with the table of the mouthpiece
  • "double reeds", found on oboes and bassoons, have a different design and shape
Are all saxophone reeds the same?
  • all single reeds are basically the same design, but they come in various graded thicknesses, making them harder or easier to blow
  • reed strengths vary from 1-5, as a rule
What strength sax reed should I play?
  • beginners typically play between 1 and 2.5, with more experienced players using 2.5 to 3.5
  • strengths above 3.5 are more unusual
  • different tip openings on mouthpieces affect how a reed plays and what strength to use
  • different manufacturers use subtle variations of "cut" to produce different qualities for their reeds
What's a ligature? (3:05)
  • a ligature is a circular clamp that holds the sax reed firmly in place on the mouthpiece
  • there are multiple design variations and materials, but the basic type has a fabric or metal band with thumb screws to decrease the circumference of the band and clamp the reed in place firmly
  • the screws can be above or below the mouthpiece, but the screws are always on the right - sorry lefties!!
What's a reed cap?
  • a reed cap is a cone with a cut out rectangle in it (to fit the ligature) that slips onto the mouthpiece and protects the fragile tip of the reed
  • a mouthpiece cap also helps prevent the reed drying out too much
  • there are different styles of mouthpiece cover depending on the mouthpiece design
  • mouthpiece caps are notorious for getting lost on gigs! lol
How do you fix a reed on to the mouthpiece? (3:00)
  • first, the ligature has to be slackened, then the reed can be slipped underneath it, thick end first
  • the most important thing is to make sure the reed is exactly lined up in the middle of the mouthpiece and that the tip is exactly flush with the end of the mouthpiece
  • once in place, the ligature can carefully be firmly tightened up
  • remember the reed should be dampened first, and the damp reed can be wiped on the table of the mouthpiece first to ensure an even better seal
How does the sax mouthpiece fit onto the neck? (2:25)
  • the mouthpiece simply slips over the tapered cork on the thin end of the neck until it stops
  • the cork should be slightly greased
  • there should still be some cork left showing once the mouthpiece is on
  • the position of the mouthpiece on the cork effects how sharp or flat the whole instrument is, so it's important to experiment with position so that the sax plays in tune
  • the cork can be sanded down a bit to get the mouthpiece further on, or plumbers waterproof PTFE tape can be used to thicken up the cork up a bit
  • I recommend putting the mouthpiece on the neck BEFORE putting the neck in the main sax body to avoid bending the neck accidentally
  • the flat part of the mouthpiece should line up with the middle of the underside of the neck
Are different saxes assembled differently? (6:07)
  • in terms of the neck and mouthpiece, not really
  • sometimes a soprano sax doesn't even have a separate neck and the neck cork is built into the main body
  • a baritone neck is much smaller than the others, but the process is exactly the same for all saxes
  • some saxophones have an "underslung" neck, with the octave mechanism on the underside of the neck instead of on the top
So hopefully you've got some useful info from my debut YouTube video on Get Your Sax Together, and I'll see you next week for Part 2, which covers the neck strap and main body of the sax.
Happy Saxing! Jamie :-)
Video Time Stamps
0:01 - intro and theme music

0:22 - what 4 separate parts make up a saxophone?

1:20 - what is a sax reed?

2:23 - how to fit a sax mouthpiece to the neck (crook)

3:00 - how to fit a sax reed to the mouthpiece using a ligature

4:19 - summary of how to assemble your saxophone neck, reed and mouthpiece

5:27 - dos and don'ts of assembling your sax neck, reed and mouthpiece

6:07 - differences between alto and tenor sax necks (crooks)

6:19 - sign off

Video Transcript
Hi, I'm pro saxophonist Jamie Anderson from Get Your Sax Together dot com and on this video we're going to cover part one of how to put your saxophone together.

So...exciting times you've got your shiny new saxophone, you open up the box and you're looking for these following four main pieces to get your sax going - Part one is the body. That's the main part of the saxophone with all the keys. Part two is the neck, sometimes called the crook. Part three is the mouthpiece, which will have a cap to protect the reed and a ligature which is going to hold the reed in place. And finally, part four is the neck strap, or sling, which is going to go around your neck and help take the weight of the instrument.

Now, in part two we're going to cover the body and the sling so in this part, first of all, we're going to cover putting together the neck and the mouthpiece, which is probably the trickiest bit, so let's get to it!

So, first things first the beating heart of the saxophone, which is the reed. Now if you look in your case somewhere you should see something that looks like this. Hopefully it will have a protective guard. This is the reed. It's a small piece of wood made from cane. This is what produces the sound on the saxophone and you'll see that one side is flat and the other side is curved downwards towards a thin tip.

The thin tip end is going to go in your mouth. Now in order to get a nice seal with the flat part of the mouthpiece we have to wet the reed before we put it on so that is the first thing we're going to do. All you do you simply put it on your tongue like this, put your lips around it and leave it there while you do the other steps I'm going to show you, so......[garbled] put it in your mouth, like this, while we do the other steps.

While you still have you reed in your mouth take your mouthpiece and all we're gonna do is slide it gently onto the cork of the neck, taking care not to bend this fragile mechanism on the neck. We're gonna cover exactly where your mouthpiece should be on the cork in a later video. Slide it on. Now, when you see the flat side of your mouthpiece, that wants to line up with the middle of the underside of your crook a bit like this... and now for the tricky bit, so we're gonna take our mouthpiece and crook and take the ligature and place it over the mouthpiece.

Now your ligature might look completely different from mine, it might be upside down, but you just need to make sure that the wide end of the ligature goes on first and that the screw is always on the right-hand side.

So once you've got that in place slacken the screw, not too much, just enough that you can take the reed out of your mouth, very gently put the thick side of the reed in first and then what I like to do is use two thumbs, like this, to carefully line up the reed exactly flush with the end of the mouthpiece and make sure that it's also central and then gently pull your ligature central on to that.

This is the tricky bit... when it's in place you tighten up your screw. Now don't over crank it to strip the thread but it should be quite firm. And then it should look something like this. And that is now ready to plug into the body which were going to cover in part 2.

Ok, brilliant, easy-peasy. Now for a quick recap.

Number one, carefully take your reed and put it in your mouth. While you're doing that find your mouthpiece and take off the ligature and cap. Gently put the mouthpiece onto the neck lining up the flat part with the underside of the crook. 

Next, get your ligature, make sure it's on the right way, take your reed out of your mouth and then using two thumbs to guide it line it up perfectly with the end of the mouthpiece.

Once it's in place tighten up the screws and then carefully put the mouthpiece cap over it to protect the reed. Easy-peasy!

By the way if you're a tenor player, exactly the same process, but your crook will look a bit different. See the tenor crook's got this nice curve to it but exactly the same process as the alto.

If you liked this video please show some love and subscribe. I'll see you for part two and other fantastic sax related videos on get your sax together dot com. See you later!

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