Saxophone Forum

by CatfishJazz
(6 posts)
2 months ago

Perpetually sharp vintage Bari

I have a 1937 Buescher Aristocrat baritone sax with an interesting problem. For a while now it has been playing extremely sharp - in the range of about 50 cents just tuning from the mouthpiece. I can get it down to about 20 cents by dropping my jaw to the floor and tuning from the neck joint. It is a low-B not a low-A, so it already runs a little sharp compared to modern horns. But this is just ridiculous.

I'd like to start by saying I am about 95% sure it's not me, because I can make other baris play in tune (I actually tend to run a bit flat.). However, my repair tech never lets an instrument go out his door if he can't play it in tune, and mine has been past him. So either he was too busy to check or he was able to lip it down into what he considered an acceptable range. When I first tried the horn before purchasing it, I thought it was fine. I was pretty new to bari then, so who knows, though. I really noticed a problem about 6 months into playing it, but by then it had already been to a repair shop I don't really trust. Maybe they broke something (they did detach+reattach the Q to remove a dent and someone fiddled with the octave mechanism).

I am at a complete loss. This is a list of stuff I have tried, all with no luck:

  • Tuning from the mouthpice. I've pulled it out to where it barely stays on, and it's still sharp.
  • Tuning from the neck joint. Not technically something you're supposed to do, but it was a tutor's suggestion. Unfortunately, I can only pull out the neck about 1/4" before my octave mechanism stops connecting.
  • Using different mouthpieces. Cheap ones, expensive ones, vintage ones, modern ones, jazz, classical, rubber, metal, all sorts of bore sizes. You name it.
  • Getting the horn repadded. It originally had Beuscher snap on pads. I've had a shop (not my usual one) repad it with snap-ons. This was also the time they fixed the dents. I took it in to my regular shop to fix the sharpness issue about a year later; they noticed leaks and repadded with regular pads after grinding the snaps down.
  • Varying reed strengths. I've played on everything from a 2-3.5 of various cuts. Yes, I have noticed that softer reeds play flatter, but it's not enough to fix the problem.
  • Messing with my embouchure. I've tried biting more of the mouthpiece, dropping my jaw, opening up my throat. Open to furhter suggestions, though.
  • Playing in different temperatures and humidities.

Thanks to anybody who's read this far down. :) I'm so out of tune all the time that the conductor of my band has asked me never to play on my poor Buescher. I just hate to give up on this beautiful old horn! I came across this post: which led me to try asking for help here.

Any ideas at all are appreciated!

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  1. by mijderf
    (85 posts)

    2 months ago

    Re: Perpetually sharp vintage Bari

    First the disclaimer.  I do not play bari.  But here is a thread from another forum that discusses this problem.  Pay attention to the 2nd posting.  That guy is a Buescher expert and plays bari very well.  His statements about the old pickle barrel mouthpieces and projection may not be immportant to you in the band you play in.  
    He also refences mouthpiece maker and refacer Eric Greiffenhagen.  He can be contacted at

    Good luck.

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  2. by historicsaxwhisperer
    (153 posts)

    2 months ago

    Re: Perpetually sharp vintage Bari

    You first mentioned that for awhile now it has been playing sharp.

    That tells me that it did not do this in the past:

    *First, lets try and rule out that it may be a high pitch as opposed to a low pitch horn.

    *Some Europeans actually special ordered high pitch horns STILL during this time frame, 1938. Does the horn have either an L or an HP marking Under the True Tone emblem on the back of the horn. Possibly neither in 1937.

    *You also mentioned the repadding. I am inclined to feel this is your issue.

    The key height may have been affected during this procedure, so I would take the horn to someone trustworthy. Ask around and find out who uses who in your area. Did you notice any difference in the overal feel at this point? Like your fingers were closer and the horn just seemed different.

    If a shop can play test it in front of you with a turner and give you an acceptable result, then blame yourself. If it truly played fine in the past, it is simply something like key height on a key or keys that stand open for the majority of notes, Maybe simply the bell keys, giving an overal smaller chamber for air and sound to excape.


    Check out this link from the museum link on this site here referring to HP and L horns



    Good Luck.

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  3. by bjroosevelt
    (13 posts)

    2 months ago

    Re: Perpetually sharp vintage Bari

    I have a high pitched vintage tenor with a similar problem to what you are facing. I am still the only one in my band who has the mouthpiece pulled almost all the way out rather than shoved all of the way in.  The horn was quite annoying when I got it.

    Solutions worked for me.

    1). Eliminate any beginner mouthpieces.  The gap on my mouthpiece is about 90.  I think that typical tenor mouthpieces are between 40 and 70.  (These are tenor measurements, not bari measurements.  Your gap might need to be is just that you need a big gap)

    2). Get an open throated mouthpiece without any baffling.

    3). Get a softer reed.  I think that changing to a softer reed has a small impact in the correct direction; but if you jump from a tip opening of 40 to 90 or so without softening up your reed, you mouth is going to be in a lot of pain.

    These changes had a shocking impact on the tone of my sax.  I think I was almost a half step sharp before I figured out the mouthpiece/reed combination I needed.  

    So even though I still play with the mouthpiece pushed in only some, I am able to stay on pitch with some adjustments to my lower jaw......I am yet to be accused of playing my sax flat.....

    If that doesn't work, you might need to consider lowering your key heights.  Yikes! 

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