Friday, February 21, 2020


I know some of you just don't do sheet music. Hell, most of the time I get by with a lead sheet, and I've been using a style template in LibreOffice for that. But this is genuinely easier.

There's no GUI... just filter the file with chordpro on the command line, and you get a cleanly formatted PDF lead sheet with guitar tabs. Easy-peezy.

Mini Pocket Sax

Mini Pocket SaxI've purchased one of these little mini pocket saxes. I purchased one of these (not from here, but frankly I don't remember where I bought it online, and I don't read Chinese, which is what my receipt is printed in.) Even though the ads say "Mini Pocket Sax", I'm calling it LittleSax, because that's what the mostly Chinese fingering chart says it is.
Now, I've made a few instruments like it already: two out of PVC pipe and one out of a Yamaha B alto recorder (I had to build a custom adapter to marry it to a clarinet mouthpiece). I wanted to see how it stacks up.

Really, I wanted to see how bad a job I did.

So I get the package today, long enough after ordering it that I completely forgot I did order it, from where, and for how much (my bank records say it was around $30, and I didn't pay extra for shipping, so they probably shipped it by tossing it out to sea in a bottle).

It came in a plastic bag, inside a velvet bag, inside a bubble-wrap mailing envelope. It also came with a bamboo reed, a plastic reed, and a fingering chart. The packaging's not a big deal, as I know from experience that you can pretty much drive a car over one of my PVC instruments and it will be unscathed. At first glance, this pocket sax is durable, but wouldn't stand up to that kind of abuse. It's made of ABS, much thinner than the standard PVC pipe I used, and though ABS is pretty strong, this instrument is molded with fairly thin walls and the rigid plastic could crack under unusual stress. I don't plan to test that.
The ligature broke on the
first adjustment
As for the rest of the construction... how can you mess up a tube? Answer: you can't. But you can mess up the only non-plastic part, which is the ligature. My ligature broke on its first adjustment, before the instrument was even played once. The ligature itself is extremely, mind-bogglingly cheap. The connection is soldered on, and mine was a cold solder joint. That's not a huge problem, as many musicians replace this bit anyway, but to come out of the box non-functional is just... wrong. In any event you can replace it for under $10 at any music store. $3.99 gets you a ligature better than the one shipped.
The arrangement of holes on this LittleSax is different from the ones I've created, and from a recorder. The LittleSax uses a tenor sax mouthpiece instead of a clarinet's. Also, the mouthpiece doesn't appear to be replaceable. Either this thing is glued down tight or it's just torqued down tight.

The ads claim that it sounds very close to a sax. I'd say that's not entirely true. It does sound nearly identical to a clarinet, the same as every other instrument of this variety I've tried. So if a clarinet sounds "very close to a sax" to you, they're right.

Here's the instrument to show scale:

For comparison, here's my hybrid model, made from a Yamaha recorder, a Leblanc clarinet mouthpiece, and some PVC tubing:

And here's my total homebrew, with nothing but PVC and a mouthpiece (also Leblanc)

Within each instrument's range, they sound pretty much the same. The LittleSax is ever-so-slightly different owing to its conical cross-section.

Personally, I prefer the recorder/clarinet hybrid even though it's noticeably larger than the other two instruments. The fingering is more natural, and I prefer the clarinet mouthpiece. My second favorite would be the all-PVC homebrew. It is, as I said, nearly indestructable, and if you were to throw it into a fire, except for the mouthpiece it's literally pennies to make.
I'm not as fond of the newbie. The LittleSax requires me to do an odd little "Vulcan neck pinch" to get my fingers on the holes, and I'm not as happy with the tenor sax mouthpiece. But it works, and if you don't want to fiddle with the math to get the holes right on your own construction, it's a pretty good deal at the sale price.

Why do I like these? Well, I have a clarinet. I'm terrible at it. Terrible. But I do play a pretty good recorder. And for the price of a mouthpiece and a few pennies to make an adapter, I can get sound identical to a clarinet with fingering identical to a recorder. What's not to like about that? These are great little hybrid instruments, and you should try one, whether it's this brand, another, or one you make. Get it instead of that crappy ukulele you've been eyeing.

Oh, and as for the quality of my construction... not too damn bad. ;)