Free Shipping!

Bench Notes #24


 In This Issue…

  • Curt’s Welcome
  • Sax ProShop….it’s Saxy!
  • Article: “Mouthpiece Placement: How It Works”
  • Product Spotlight: The NEW SuperNova LED Leaklight
  • New Products at
  • New Product Videos
  • Upcoming Events



April at, a Welcome from Curt Altarac


You may have noticed that we haven't sent out our regularly scheduled Bench Notes newsletter in a while, but its back after some re-tooling and I want to take this opportunity to share about what's new at and highlight some features on our website. Each forthcoming Bench Notes issue will be jam packed with everything from featured product spotlights, info about our newest products, upcoming events, and a new article about woodwind instrument repair.


We have also made it our goal to make a video for every single tool and supply that we have (that's a lot!) so that you can see it in action and learn about new uses. Look for links on Bench Notes for the latest videos, or check out Curt's YouTube page


If you've missed some of the articles in past Bench Notes, you can browse through the archive at There's lots of great info, especially about the instrument nearest and dearest to me, the saxophone!


Also, be sure to keep an eye on Curt's Clearance, where we constantly update our list of discount pad sets and one-of-a-kind items at



Sax ProShop…It’s Saxy


We are always looking for ways to innovate, rejuvenate and just make great any horn we come across.  One of our latest, on-going projects here in the ProShop is to revamp a Buescher True Tone Tenor, giving the feel of an Aristocrat without the intonation problems that so many True Tone’s have.  Through each stage of the process, we are keeping you updated with videos showing our progress.  Here are the first four in the series.  There are more to come!


Buescher True Tone Tenor in the Making – Part I


Buescher True Tone Tenor in the Making – Part II


Buescher True Tone Tenor in the Making – Part III


Buescher True Tone Tenor in the Making – Part IV




Article: “Mouthpiece Placement – How It Works


The most common tuning problem that I see is poor mouthpiece placement. Although to many players it may seem obvious to pull out or push in the mouthpiece, there are times when this simple idea can get away from us. As a technician who plays saxophone, one of the most valuable performance related ideas I have learned is how to assess mouthpiece placement. There is more to mouthpiece placement on the neck than I had ever considered before I spent years tuning saxophones.


Often when players or technicians come to me with intonation difficulties, it is after a neck cork has been changed or the key heights have been changed. Later in the article, I will outline how to find a new balance through understanding key heights and their relationship to mouthpiece placement.


From this article, I hope that you gain an understanding of how moving the mouthpiece on the neck cork affects the instrument as a whole. There is a delicate relationship between the notes played with the left hand and the notes played with the right hand as well as an interplay with the instruments key heights and ultimately its tone. Where you place the mouthpiece on the neck cork is both a result of and an effect of these variables.


One thing you can do as a player or as a technician assessing or tuning an instrument is to understand the relationship between mouthpiece placement, intonation and key heights. Knowing this will help you understand the real limitations of the instrument you are playing, more quickly assess your students’ instruments or an instrument you are considering purchasing. If you are an instrument repair technician, this information is essential if you choose to change, or intelligently leave the same, the key heights on an instrument you are working on.


To be sure that we are all on the same page: Pulling out the mouthpiece makes the saxophone longer and the pitch lower; conversely, pushing in the mouthpiece makes the instrument shorter and the pitch higher.


Mouthpiece Placement and Intonation Balance


Now, let's consider how mouthpiece placement affects or does not affect different notes on the saxophone. Mouthpiece placement will not affect the relationship between the first octave and the second. That is, if a note plays a proper octave on the saxophone and you push your mouthpiece in, the pitch of that note will increase in both octaves nearly equally. However, that is not to say that all notes are affected equally when the mouthpiece is pushed in or pulled out.


Consider that pressing keys on the saxophone effectively changes the length of the instrument. For instance, when the note G [1 2 3, 0 0 0] is played, a shorter portion of the tube is used than during the note D [1 2 3, 4 5 6]. As each note uses a different length of tubing, moving the mouthpiece will equal a higher percentage of change on shorter notes such as G and a lower percentage of change or effect on longer notes such as D.


A common scenario that causes some players or technicians stress is: The notes A, B, and C are all sharp, and the palm keys are sharp as well. Then add to that some normal problems that seem to happen with any saxophone, and the result is an instrument that appears to be all over the place in regards to intonation. So, a player might complain about notes being sharp such as D and E in the second octave, high C# being extremely sharp, and notes like A and above including the palm keys are sharp. Really what the player is saying is the short notes are sharp, and the D and E are chronically sharp like they are on every saxophone.


Although there is a fix for the second octave D and E being sharp, it has little to do with the mouthpiece placement. That might be a good topic for a future article. Let's look at this situation where everything from second octave A and above is sharp, in addition to D and E. With all of these notes being so sharp, there are still a number of noted which don't appear sharp such as low D and E, everything from low C down. Without really studying the tuner, a player may assume that they cannot simply pull out the mouthpiece to fix this intonation as it would make the lower end of the horn flat.


In this situation, however, the player needs only to pull out his or her mouthpiece on the neck to solve the problem. Pulling the mouthpiece out on the neck will make the shorter notes like A and above less sharp (flatter) more quickly than it will lower the notes G and below. The end result is a balancing of the shorter and longer notes on the saxophone. In that instance, the palm keys were also sharp and pulling out the mouthpiece will help this problem in relation to the other notes as well


Why Moving the Mouthpiece Affects Some Notes More Than Others


As we discussed, when buttons are pressed on the saxophone, the length of the instrument is functionally changed. Some notes use a longer portion of the tubing while other notes use a shorter portion of the tubing. For this discussion I call notes which use a longer portion of the tubing "long notes," and notes that use a shorter portion of the tubing "short notes." Do not confuse this terminology with high notes and low notes.


Now, consider how mouthpiece placement effects a short note such as Palm D and how it affects a long note such as Low D. For the purpose of discussion, let's say the length of tubing used to make a Palm D is 10 inches, and the length of tubing used to create the long note Low D is 20 inches. Now, let's say the mouthpiece is slid 1 inch farther on the neck. The note Palm D will basically change 10% while the note Low D will change 5%.


Key Heights and Mouthpiece Placement


Just as mouthpiece placement affects the balance of the saxophone's intonation, key heights have a direct effect on where we place the mouthpiece on the neck. This is one way which key heights affect the intonation balance of the saxophone. Key heights affect the intonation on the saxophone not only by lowering the pitch of the note that comes out of the tone hole but also by changing mouthpiece placement and thus affecting the balance of the saxophone. I submit that changing the key heights has its greatest effect on intonation in this indirect way through mouthpiece placement. That said, if the work you do or have done greatly changes the placement of the mouthpiece on the neck, of course you can expect a change in intonation. With only the information above, you should be able to predict what that intonation change will be simply by looking at the new mouthpiece location in relation to the old mouthpiece location.


Take an example of a saxophone where the key heights throughout the instrument are very high. That instrument will play sharper in general. In response to this, a player will pull the mouthpiece out on the neck to bring the pitch of the instrument down. Conversely, if the key heights on the saxophone are very low, the pitch of the saxophone will be flatter in general. In response to this, the player will push the mouthpiece farther on the neck to raise the pitch. Therefore, changing key heights on the saxophone will result in moving the mouthpiece on the neck.


Mouthpiece Placement, Key Heights, and Intonation


As we discussed, mouthpiece placement has a varied effect on different notes on the saxophone depending on the functional length of the instrument when the note is played. Considering that the saxophone has an end which is a bell and several tone holes which are somewhat fixed in their location, it's reasonable to conclude that there is an ideal location for any mouthpiece on an instrument. This news is both good and bad.


The ideal location of the mouthpiece depends on the length of the instrument and the key heights. Since the length of the instrument and its tone holes are not easily adjustable, and there does seem to be an ideal mouthpiece location, it stands to reason in theory and practice that there is a somewhat ideal key height to fit properly in this three piece puzzle. For this reason, in the Sax ProShop, we leave key height set-up until the end of an overhaul and it is done by playing. You can read about our method, the balanced venting method, here [ADD LINK]. I am unsure of how many readers will be able to adjust key heights on their own. Nonetheless, if you were considering a saxophone and assessing its intonation, it will be good to know how key heights relate to tuning.


Adding to the previous example of the saxophone that was sharp from A and above, as well as the palm keys, our solution was to pull the mouthpiece out as this will lower the pitch of the shorter notes at a faster rate. It's possible that pulling the mouthpiece out may cause all of the notes to be a little flat when they are balanced. In this instance, one could open the key heights to compensate for this. Doing so would raise the pitch of all of the notes somewhat evenly so the mouthpiece would stay in the same location. The end result is a saxophone that no longer plays sharp from the notes A and above, is balanced, and no longer plays flat in general.


In the interest of keeping this short article concise, other aspects of set-up of the saxophone which may affect key heights and mouthpiece placement have been left out. However we would be remiss to not at least mention the overall tone of the saxophone. When changing key heights, tone usually trumps intonation. Key heights directly affect the tone of the saxophone. Lower key heights will cause the instrument to sound stuffy and feel resistant, whereas higher key heights will cause the instrument to be more free-blowing and eventually, less focused. No matter what words are used to describe the effect of key heights, their effect on tone is undeniable. You can test this by playing a note and slowly lowering your keys with your fingers. You will hear the tone get flatter and stuffier while you feel the added resistance while you play.


As most instruments are fundamentally well-designed, problems involving key heights are seldom insurmountable. However, considering the relationship between key heights, tone, and mouthpiece placement may allow you to arrive more quickly at a reasonable solution.


For instance, considering the instrument where A and above was sharp, let's add to this scenario a common issue: The instrument in general is stuffy and resistant. Opening the key heights in general will help the problem stuffiness and will also raise the overall pitch of the instrument. In response to the raised pitch, the player will pull the mouthpiece farther off the neck which will lower the pitch of the instrument and specifically the shorter notes more quickly. As discussed the short notes will drop in pitch more quickly than the long notes. The end result will be an instrument that plays more in tune with a better tone and is more balanced.


I suggest testing the ideas mentioned above. Push the mouthpiece very far on to the neck and play a C scale in the first octave while looking at it tuner. Note the intonation relationship between the short notes G, A, B, C, and the longer notes F, E, D, and Low C. Now pull out the mouthpiece on the neck as far as you can and play the same C scale while looking at a tuner. You should notice that the entire C scale in general is flat, however the shorter notes especially A, B, and C are more flat in relation to the previous mouthpiece location than the longer notes such as Low D and Low C. Now that you've seen two extremes, move the mouthpiece to a point somewhere between these extremes that seems to play the most in tune and in balance.


To be clear, this is the method I suggest to determine an ideal mouthpiece placement on your instrument. Play a range of notes such as a C scale when the instrument is warm. Note the overall intonation and move the mouthpiece in a way that logically balances the longer notes with the shorter notes. After you've done this a couple of times, you can choose one very short note such as second finger C, one very long note such as Low C, and a note in the middle such as G with which to use as a primary guide for placing your mouthpiece.




Product Spotlight:  The New SuperNova LED Leaklight




The SuperNova is's 360 degree LED Leaklight. This small and super bright professional LED Leaklight will fit into any size instrument. It does not give off heat and is extremely durable. Now featuring solid construction! No loose, rattling bulbs, or loose power cords. Available in 3 inch (75mm) and 6 inch (150mm) sizes.

The 3 inch leaklight makes it possible to get bright light in a curved soprano sax or the upper crook of a baritone saxophone! The 6 inch light gives great coverage for larger areas.

  • The unique 360 degree bulbs enable consistent illumination results from every angle.
  • The clear, UV stable, non-flexible casing is virtually unbreakable and stronger than glass.
  • Solid construction- resin cast parts cannot come loose!
  • Use a magnet to hold the light exactly where you need it with a magnetic end cap.
  • A long 9 foot (3 meter) cord enables you to move the light around your bench with ease.
  • Powered by just 3 volts- safe to use and it saves electricity.
  • The LEDs have a projected run-time of at least 30,000+ hours.
  • As bright as standard incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, but does not give off heat.
  • Easy to store and convenient to travel with.
  • Fits in a saxophone, flute, clarinet, piccolo and most of an oboe.
  • Built-in transformer for both 110 and 220 volts.

“Virtually unbreakable and stronger than glass”???  Check out our super-scientific field trials recently from the NAPBIRT show in Normal, Illinois and MusikMesse Frankfurt…

  MusikMesse Frankfurt SuperNova Field Test

NAPBIRT, Normal, Illinois SuperNova Field Test


For more information on the SuperNova LED Leaklight, go to or click here.



New Products

 thumb  grendilla  talto

Comfort Thumb Hook

Grendilla Filler

Talto Neck

 clarinet repair  head cork  sax key adjust

Basic Clarinet Repair/Maint

Flute & Piccolo Head Cork

 Sax Key Adjustment Lever




New Product Videos

 mediumduckbill  ulti-300_1  ultimax_key_oil_8

Medium Duck Billed Pliers

Pivot & Roller Lubricant

Ultimax Key Oil

 ulti-200  sprg-b100  t-pal

Ultimax Cork Lubricant

Needle Springs



Upcoming Events


  • May 21 – 25, 2015: PALM Expo 2015, the 24th China International Exhibition on Pro Audio, Light, Music & Technology.  Beijing, China.  Curt will be manning the booth as always!


  • May 25 – June 2, 2015: Shanghai and surrounding area.  Curt will be visiting repair shops, manufacturing plants and has been invited to give a clinic or two!



Click here to subscribe to Bench Notes and have it delivered right into your email inbox!


Keep in touch with for news, events, product information, cool videos, informative articles and much, much more!



Copyright © 2000-2015,, All Rights Reserved.