Low A baritone sax extension
There can surely be no greater disappointment than
buying a beautiful vintage bari sax and duly trotting along to a gig -
only to be confronted with a piece of music that calls for a low A.
Naturally, you can up the note an octave - but it can never be quite
the same as a wondrously thunderous low A, and you could be forgiven for
feeling a twinge of inadequacy for having a bari that only descends to
a modest low Bb. But now your worries are over! Yes - at last, I am about
to share with you the greatest trick in the vintage bari player's handbook...the
home-made low A extension!
First off you need to secure some materials. You'll need a sheet of card
(about 18" square should do it), not too stiff and heavy; some wrapping
or masking tape; a pencil and a pair of scissors. The design principle
is simplicity itself. As the low Bb is the last note on the horn there's
nothing beyond it save for the remainder of the bell. In order to achieve
a low A all that's required is that the bell is extended, and you can
do this by making up an extension that fits down the bell.
So, start by rolling the card into a cylinder that fits down the bell
of the horn - but that doesn't reach as far as the low Bb tone
hole (I'd avoid going this deep anyway, as the taper of the bore makes
it difficult to construct a neat cylinder). Note where the edges overlap
and run a pencil down the seam , remove the card and cut it an inch forward
of the mark to leave a bit of overlap for later adjustment if required
(think about this - you want to cut the card slightly too large). Then
line up the seams to the mark as before and run a length of tape down
them to create a cylinder.
Now, push the cylinder back down the bell until it feels snug. This should
leave you with about a foot or so of the cylinder extending beyond the
Now assemble the sax ready for playing.
If you have a tuning meter, now's the time to get it out. It will help
in gauging how much card has to protrude in order to produce an in tune
A. If you don't have a tuner, you can use a piano or a tuning fork to
tune to - and if you don't have either of those then you'll have to use
your ear. Bear in mind that you can download freeware 'piano' programs
from the web that will turn your computer into a rudimentary keyboard
- good enough to give you a note to tune to.
The idea now is to blow a low A and move the cylinder until you get it
To blow a low A, just blow your low Bb.
By now you will have figured out that the drawback to the low A attachment
is that you lose your low Bb.
Generally speaking this shouldn't be too much of a problem - pieces that
call for a low A won't often require a low Bb.
So, blow your new low A and check the tuning. At this stage it's likely
to be very flat, and you'll need to reduce the amount of card protruding
from the bell. Push the cylinder down into the bell a little.
Keep an eye on the portion inside the bell - if it reaches the low Bb
tone hole or begins to distort, remove the cylinder and cut off a couple
of inches off the bottom and try again. Continue thus until you feel you've
found the right spot for the cylinder.
Now, make a mark round the cylinder where the bell flare drops into the
bore proper. You need to wrap tape around this mark to act as a stop to
ensure that the cylinder sits in the same position each time it's used.
You might have to fiddle a little to get it exactly right - so apply the
tape a little at a time and only build it up once you're sure you've got
the right spot.
Once done, seal up the edges of the cylinder with tape to prevent the
And there you have it - a simple but surprisingly effective low A extension.
If you feel so inclined you can experiment with the tuning. Some players
may find that the attachment throws the low B out of tune a tad. If so,
spread the difference by moving the tube to give the best compromise.
Feel free to experiment with the basic design. For example, if you can
find a sheet of reasonably thick plastic you can take advantage of its
springiness to make an attachment that can be rolled up and stored down
the bell of the horn (storage is admittedly a problem for the cardboard
model - how about using Velcro for the seam?), and lined up in situ by
marks on the plastic (you'll find that you might not have to be as accurate
as you'd expect). You might want to glue paper on the outside of the plastic
to prevent it scratching the horn - and some tape on the edges would be
a smart idea.
You may also like to decorate your attachment - a nice coat of gold spray
paint for example.
I mentioned that you might be surprised that you didn't have to be too
accurate with regard to positioning, and you may be even more surprised
(and a bit miffed if you've just made a nice cardboard attachment) to
know that you can get a reasonable low A just by rolling up a magazine
and shoving it partway down the bell. It doesn't even need to form a complete
cylinder, the simple addition of an extra few inches length to even a
part of the bell wall is enough to change the tuning.
With a decent magazine, and a bit of practice with regard to placement,
you can turn your low Bb bari into a low A one with barely a beat missed.
Please note: I am not open to debate as to which magazine imparts
the best tone, though personally I find the Sunday Supplements provide
the best source of magazine material.