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 gap the Vibrato Sax continues in that tradition – offering a plastic bodied alternative to a regular horn. 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 a 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 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 have 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 leak proof system, though one that can take some familiarization.
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 .
Oh- and have you noticed that the pads are available in a variety of colours, allowing the sax to be customized 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- 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.
Check out the boys from sax.co.uk playing the Vibrato sax:
About the author:
Jules Lawrence is an active performer and is assistant manager at the Sussex branch of Sax.co.uk – the worlds largest saxophone retailer.