In the beginning, there was the Grafton. It was an extremely lightweight alternative to the normal brass alto sax; an instrument with something of a cult following and a hit with the likes of Ornette Coleman and a few other top players.
After many years of gap, the Vibrato Sax continues in that tradition – offering a plastic-bodied alternative to a regular brass saxophone. The body, keywork and pads are all made from various forms of plastic (the keys are particularly cleverly designed – but more on that later), leaving only the springs and a few screws being metal (so, no, you can’t play it in the shower).
We’ve joked to a few customers here in the shop when they first pick one of these instruments up that however light you expect one of these saxes to be, it’s a lot lighter than that. Really, the vibrato alto feels to have virtually no weight compared with the brass saxophone or any normal metal instrument. I’ve just weighed one- 715g, about the same as a mug of tea! As such, there is a clear case for these instruments- both for younger players and anyone suffering neck or back problems (in fact, one of our first Vibratos was sold to Mornington Lockett, to tide him over while recovering from a back injury).
“The Vibrato feels to have no weight compared to a normal sax.”
The keywork is especially clever. Instead of a rigid cup holding a soft pad, Vibrato Saxophone has followed on from an older design with a ‘floating pad’ system. Each pad is made from a semi-rigid silicon material which is mounted on the key arms; giving a potentially very leakproof system, though one that can take some familiarisation.
Those who press down heavily may find that, at first, keys won’t seal correctly; a light to medium touch is required to evenly seat the pad on the tone hole; not ‘an issue but something players should be aware of when they first pick up one of these horns and put their neck strap.
Oh- and have you noticed that the pads are available in a variety of colours, allowing saxophone players to customise with a variety of colour options?
While the Vibrato doesn’t pose a threat to some of the better alto saxes currently on the market, they are astonishingly playable with a smooth jaw motion– easy blowing with a light but rounded sort of tone. They ship with a standard narrow tip mouthpiece (a white one- obviously), & a ring-style ligature. As with their weight, many folks in the shop have been astonished just how ‘sax-like’ these horns sound; the tuning, like the soft keywork, is something that may require some getting used to but – with some practice – it is workable.
They might seem quirky, but these horns simply work too well to be dismissed as a gimmick. The Vibrato seems to be earning its place in the instrument roster here at sax.co.uk.
The vibrato saxophone is a versatile instrument that can really make your notes come alive. Whether you’re playing a long note or a quick quarter note, incorporating vibrato into your playing can add depth and emotion to your sound. It’s perfect for jazz solos, big band performances, or any situation where you want to stand out and captivate your audience.
So, how do you get started with playing the vibrato saxophone? Here are some quick tips:
- First, it’s important to have a solid foundation in your technique. Make sure you have a good embouchure and proper breath support.
- Once you have that down, you can start experimenting with adding vibrato to your playing. Start by playing a long note and gradually introduce a subtle and controlled wavering in pitch. You want to create a gentle pulsating effect that enhances the sound without overpowering it.
- Vibrato is not meant to be constant throughout a piece; it should be used selectively to add expression and emphasis to certain phrases. Experiment with different dynamic levels and see how they change the overall impact of your playing.
- Listen to professional saxophonists like Kenny G, who excel in this technique. Pay attention to their control, speed, and depth of vibrato. Try to emulate their style while still adding your own personal touch.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and explore different ways of incorporating vibrato into your playing. Remember, your goal is to produce a unique and expressive sound that sets you apart from other saxophonists.
Check out the boys from sax.co.uk playing the Vibrato sax:
Remember to start with a strong foundation in technique, experiment with different dynamic levels, and listen to professional saxophonists for inspiration. With practice and dedication, you’ll be able to play the vibrato saxophone with confidence and create a sound that truly stands out.
About the author:
Jules Lawrence is an active performer and is assistant manager at the Sussex branch of Sax.co.uk – the world’s largest saxophone retailer.