all the accessories that the average sax player owns, the humble sax strap
(or sling) is one of the most overlooked - and yet it's one of the most
It has to fulfil three functions; support the instrument securely, to
do so comfortably and to be readily adjustable. A great many straps I
see fail on at least one of those requirements, the most common being
they're difficult to adjust, and quite a few fail on all three.
An awful lot of beginners persevere with a poor quality strap simply because
they have no idea that anything better exists - and many advanced players
stick with a strap they chose many years ago just because it does the
job...and never mind that there might be better designs out there now.
I have to admit that I fall into that last category, but in my defence
I'll say that I've been very happy with the BG straps I've been using
for the last twenty or so years as they more than adequately fulfil the
three requirements mentioned above. However, a recent purchase of a new
camera strap gave me cause to reconsider.
I'd bought a rather large lens for my already heavy camera and it soon
became apparent that the simple strap I'd chosen years ago for my old
Nikon film camera just wasn't up to the job. I'd effectively doubled the
weight of the camera, and my neck was feeling the strain. So I did the
sensible thing and bought a new strap for it.
Well, the idea might have been sensible but the way I went about it wasn't.
Decades of playing sax ought to have taught me that it's not enough to
'get what everyone else is having' or to be swayed by marketing spiel
- but I'm rather afraid that I bought a swanky strap with a stretchy neoprene
neck band. The thing is, I would never have bought such a thing for sax
playing - there are at least a couple of very good reasons why a stretchy
strap isn't ideal (lack of stable support, extra compression on the neck,
sweaty), and after just a week of using the new camera strap I realised
the extent of my mistake. So I fired up my browser and started to do some
research - and then it struck me that I never put this much work into
choosing my sax straps, and yet they're something I use every day.
OK, so I chose the brand I use out of about three or four contenders,
but that was years ago and I haven't really taken the time to see what's
new on the market. Until now, that is.
Having browsed a few websites and forums I came across many favourable
comments made about the Cebulla strap - designed and produced by Johann
Cebulla - and decided that I really had to try one to see if it lived
up to the claims made of it.
The most intriguing of these claims as that the design of the padded neck
piece is such that the back and sides of the neck don't bear any weight
(and thus no compression) - which in turn leads to better blood flow to
the brain, which results in less fatigue. Such a claim is both interesting
and appealing, obviously.
Once the strap arrived the first thing I did was check the quality of
the hook. I've only ever had one hook break on me, and that was just the
locking mechanism - but I've dealt with the damage resulting from a broken
sling hook many times, and it's seldom pretty (or cheap). As expected,
the hook was sturdy and well-built, with a quick and smooth locking mechanism.
It also incorporates a swivel mechanism, which, like a locking hook, is
pretty much a standard feature of quality slings these days.
The sling straps are of the cord type. I was initially slightly dubious
of this as I prefer the perceived security of a wide band (although the
true strength of a strap can be said to be in how the strap or cord is
joined to the neck strap), but I was assured that the cord was strong
and durable enough to more than deal with the weight of the heaviest sax
over a very extended period of time. Just to be on the safe side though
I hung it off the ceiling and swung on it a few times. Seems fine to me
(and quite good fun too!). The straps have to be cord too, in order to
allow the adjusting buckle to work.
There are many aspects of the Cebulla strap design that are simple and
elegant, but the buckle is top of the list.
The mark of a good one is that it should slide with ease - when you want
it to - and that it should do so whether the adjustment required is a
small or a large one. It should also stop dead where you leave it, and
stay there. It should also be easy to get your fingers around in a hurry,
quite possibly when your hands are hot and sticky. It does this, perfectly.
So much so that I found myself quite mindlessly sliding it up and down
on a gig, just because it moves so easily.
Swapping between horns is a breeze. The hook lock slips off quickly and
snaps onto another horn in a jiffy, and it's just a quick whizz on the
adjusting buckle to set the height. With my BG straps I tended to be an
advocate to the two strap method...one for tenor, one for alto - but the
Cebulla is so fast in adjustment that there's really no need for another
real 'business end' of this strap is the neck piece. This is 'sculpted'
- so the strap only fits properly one way - and comprises two layers of
soft leather inbetween which are sandwiched two piece of moderately thick
padding. These pads are arranged to that they sit either side of your
neck while leaving the vertebrae bridged. Because the pads raise the ends
of the strap away from your neck, the sides are left free - so all the
weight is distributed across the two large muscles at the rear of your
You can see on the left how the two side pads form a bridge over the rear
of the neck. This shot was taken with the weight of a tenor on the strap
- and you can quite clearly see a significant gap over the back of my
neck. Sharp-eyed readers may note that I don't appear to be wearing any
clothes. I am, I just took my shirt off - once again proving just how
much I sacrifice in order to bring you the news on the latest products.
When I first got the strap I was suffering from a stiff neck. This was
due to lugging a heavy camera around for the previous few days on that
damned stretchy strap - but putting the Cebulla strap on and hanging a
tenor sax on it showed up a very unexpected bonus. The two raised pads
on the neckpiece massaged my neck muscles every time the sax moved. I
could increase the effect by removing the sax and pulling down on the
hook with my hand. I must have cut a strange sight as I sat there rolling
my head around, but it really helped to ease the stiffness.
The photo on the right shows how the pads lift the strap away from the side
of the neck. Again, this shot was taken with the weight of a tenor on the
strap - though I've turned my head slightly to accentuate the gap. It won't
be this large in practice - but the fact that there's a gap at all is very
Of the big claim made about this feature (reduced fatigue) I don't in all
honesty think there's much in it - for me, at least...I think perhaps some
of the advantages here might be dependent on how you're built - but I did
notice that my throat felt more relaxed. I'll say this much though - I did
a few gigs with the Cebulla, including a couple of 2am finishes, and I noticed
that when I took the strap off to put my horn away, I didn't automatically
reach up and give the back of my neck a little rub.
That's practically a routine...bow after the last encore, put sax on stand,
remove strap, turn and look for the sax case...rub neck while doing so.
I'm inclined to think that any such benefits are likely to show up in the
long term rather than be "Oh wow!" improvements, but I have every
reason to believe that they're there.
Ultimately though, I don't really care whether the strap fulfils its
claim - because it's so amazingly comfortable to wear.
This may sound odd, but my old BG strap was comfy too...in such a way
that for the most part I hardly knew I was wearing it. The Cebulla is
comfy in a very different way, you know you have the thing on, but you
love having it on. It's a bit like having a favourite old leather armchair
that just fits you like a glove.
Because it's primarily a leather strap it's going to take a little time
to wear in - and that means it's going to end up like that old leather
chair and mould itself to fit you precisely. I'm really looking forward
wouldn't be characteristic of my reviews if I didn't dwell on a shortcoming
or two, but this is all I could find. The neck strap is quite bulky compared
to plain straps, so it'll take up a little more room in your case. If
you wear it under a jacket it might make your collar stick out a bit.
I prefer to have the strap against my skin, and on a really hot gig I
felt the neck piece gripped a tad. This might be more about my style of
usage though - I often double up on backing vocals, so the horn gets slung
to one side and I turn my neck into a mic. To be fair the Cebulla site
states that if you wear the strap against the skin you might want to use
a cloth to prevent sticking - but perhaps a more elegant solution would
be to stick some fleece or padded silk over the cushioned areas? I'll
experiment, and post the result here at some point.
As of May 2012 the straps have been updated (photo, left).
As you can see, the metal buckle is now available in a rather sleek-looking
black finish - and if you look even closer you might spot that the cord
is a bit beefier. It seems some players found the original cord was prone
to slipping (though I haven't noticed it on mine), so it's been increased
in thickness slightly and in now 16-braid gauge. It's a tad stiffer to
slide than the old cord but still a great deal easier to move than most
other straps I've tried.
The carbon-fibre strengthened hook has been upgraded too - it now supports
up to 58kgs. That's enough to carry 16 tenor saxes around your neck at
update (March 2013) - and this time the buckle is the focus of attention.
The principle behind the design is that the extended arms increase (or
decrease, depending on how you look at it) the angle at which the strap
cords hang from the neck pad, which in turn means that there's less pressure
from the side of the pad against the neck.
I was a bit sceptical about this initially, but I've been trialling it
for a couple of months now and I have to say that it works, and quite
well too. It makes more of a difference the further up the strap you place
the buckle - which would normally tend to pull the ends of the neck pad
into your neck. As such it's an ideal design for players who want to use
a single strap for a wide variety of instruments.
However, it also works if, like me, you tend to use it with instruments
that only require the buckle to be moved within a couple of inches of
the hook. There's definitely a little less sideways pressure on the neck.
It's not as noticeable as when using the strap with the buckle further
up the cord, but it's still there.
Another advantage is that the size of the extended buckle makes for very
quick and easy adjustments, especially when swapping between horns on
stage. I liked the strap for this feature alone - the reduced pressure
to the side of the neck is just a bonus for me.
It's also much more comfortable when using it with baritone and bass saxes.
The Cebulla is available in a number of sizes, and a couple of designs.
If you're confused about which size to go for, measure the strap you have
already. I found the 57cm strap was just right for tenor work. It will
take an alto with ease too - and will just about do a bari (depending
on where the sling ring is). I've recently got a 60cm version, just to
give me a bit more leeway on the bari front - and that works very well
on tenor. You can choose between a carbon-fibre strengthened hook or a
brass one, and opt for a black or deluxe brown neckpiece. Prices range
from around £30 for a basic small strap up to around £45 for
a deluxe large one - and there's even a version with two hooks. They're
available direct from the manufacturer's website - www.cebulla-saxstrap.de
- or from www.saxstraps.co.uk
in the UK.
All in all I don't think 'recommend' is any where near a strong enough
word for this sax strap, I think if you're a sax player and you see someone
using a Cebulla you just have to ask if you can try it. Better still,
just go buy one - they're not terribly expensive considering how well
they're made and they just plain work. And very well at that.