Sopranoed! WX5ed! Fluted! But… Argh!

UPDATE (27 March 2014):

Hold on! Looks like my students were wrong, and there is one sax tech somewhere in Saigon. Problem is, I’ll have to track him down myself: I went to the music shop my student mentioned to see if they had something that could remove the stuck swab, and they told me that, no, they can’t, but there’s a saxophone repairman in District 10 who can do it. They called him and he confirmed that he could.

The catch? They tried to tell me I couldn’t go there myself, I had entrust the horn to their care. Which, I explained, was out of the question. I said that I would be happy to pay them, but I’d be coming along. But it’s far, they told me, as if that would change my mind. I said I was not going to put my horn in someone else’s hands whom I have never met, who I don’t know, and hope he didn’t screw up the horn. I will be in the room when he removes the swab, at the very least, because I don’t want the octave pip damaged.

(There’s a delicate little “pip” inside the neck; that’s what the swab is caught on. If he tries to ram it out, that’ll bork the horn seriously.)

It boiled down to the shop refusing to tell me who the repairman is because they don’t want to lose future business from me. Which is stupid: I’m pretty sure I found the guy in ten minutes flat searching online, but now I’ll also be determined to tell people not to go to the local shop where I asked first, because they’re zero-sum-minded twits. They want a cut of the repair fee for nothing more than being a contact, which: if you can’t repair the instrument, give me the name and contacts of the person who can. Don’t act like it’s top secret information: that’s just not cool.

Which is why I won’t be going back to Mozart Music in front of the Sky Garden apartments in Phu My Hung. If they’d just given me the information, I’d have had nice things to say. But trying to force me to pay them for something they can’t even fix themselves? Meh.

By the way, the repair (and sax sales) shop I mentioned? In fact, I suspect it’s this guy, going by a post I found on the local saxophonist board. So, you know, it’s not like they had some deep, hidden, obscure secret information. Off to email the guy and see if I can work out a time when I can drop by, get my soprano looked after… and maybe recork my tenor neck, while I’m at it. (Maybe he’ll even let me snake a leak light through my flute, while I’m there?) And he seems to have loads of saxes for sale (temptation!) as well as an array of mouthpieces… maybe I can find something interesting for my soprano there, who knows?


Okay, I officially have enough music gear to keep me busy for years to come… but I can’t use all of it.

I managed to pick up my Selmer soprano saxophone, my Yamaha flute, and the Yamaha WX5 wind controller my friend Mark received for me in Seoul… and I also have on hand a bunch of tenor and soprano sax reeds my friend Joe picked up for me in the States, so I’m pretty much set in terms of new challenges.

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Or so I thought. But there are a couple of hitches…

The soprano sax was my most exciting retrieval. It’s a Paris Super Action 80 from ’83 or ’84, which I received as a high school graduation present. The two mouthpieces that came with it are underwhelming, though I like the hard metal Selmer C** better than the hard rubber Selmer C*. Both play alright, though, and I’ve switched between the two over the years… though I think once I’ve practiced a bit more, I’d like to try find a mouthpiece for the soprano that gives it more of the sound I want.

I thought the soprano was in surprisingly decent shape, considering it sat unplayed for years on end. (Almost a decade, but not quite.) It definitely needed a tune-up, and probably a repad, though I was able to play sort-of-not-badly on it, so I was excited. But when I finished playing on it, I decided to try swab it out… only to discover that my really smallish tenor neck swab got stuck in the soprano neck. By stuck, I mean jammed in good and tight. All the stupid fiddling and struggling I did thereafter just made it more necessary that the horn see an expert for proper extraction… and while I was fiddling, one of the lower pads just went ahead fell out. (Not because of the fiddling, just because it was dry as a bone and ready to fall out.) So the soprano is out of commission for now… I daren’t fiddle more, for fear of damaging the octave pip on which the swab is caught; I figure I’ll just go someplace where I can get it repadded (and have the swab removed) on my next visa run.

From now on, it’s pad-savers only for the soprano, I swear! It’s a bit heartbreaking to have the horn unusable for a few months, but then, given the way a pad fell out, and the fact that I haven’t managed to find a sax repairman in Saigon, it was likely to be that way anyhow. I will ask around, though: there’s at least a couple of orchestras in town, so there has to be someone who repairs woodwinds. Maybe the soprano will make a comeback sooner than I thought… but probably, I’ll be taking it to Tom’s Woodwind Repair Shop in Kuala Lumpur, or a repair place in Bangkok, in a few months. I only hope it’s possible to do a complete repad (or overhaul) within the timeframe of my trip… or, rather, I suppose I’ll need to decide the length of my trip based on the time needed for an overhaul.

Next, there’s the WX5, which is a great wind controller. I can see why people were so divided when it came to preferring this versus the Akai EWI 4000s: both of them are outstanding instruments, each with its own virtues. I think the Akai is slightly more responsive, but whether that’s a reasonable price to pay for the learning curve–in terms of the octave rollers, and in terms of the fingering–I’m not sure. For me, the ultimate wind controller would be a hybrid of the two: the note- and octave-keys of the WX5 (with a bit more springiness) and the mouthpiece and built-in synth of the EWI 4000s. I rather prefer the WX5’s slender body to the heftier EWI 4000s, and using the proprietary WX cable to connect it to the VL70-m unit I’ve had since last year, I finally got why some people swear by the combination.

The only problem is that, being that the electricity in our apartment building isn’t properly grounded, there’s a background hum that accompanies the audio when I plug the VL70-m into my computer. I can still use the WX5 to sequence MIDI, of course, and I will be using it for that purpose. But it’s a bit frustrating to have a killer wind controller setup, that isn’t easily usable because of the electrical setup.

The good news is that my flute seems to be in pretty good shape. Not perfect–the lowest couple of pads seem to have dried out and lost their crease, so they’re not sealing quite right, but in general, pretty good. I’ve never been all that good at flute, so I’m not sure how much of the problem is me, of course, but I suppose I’ll have to get it looked at. I also need to give it a good cleaning with a flute-polishing cloth, if I can find one–the special ones designed to remove tarnish, I mean–as it’s silver-plated, but I foolishly left it out for a couple of weeks back during a Bucheon summer a few years ago, and it’s tarnished as hell. A little tarnish is normal and common, but this flute is pretty dark! Still, that doesn’t affect the sound, so I guess the flute is good to go.

I was debating earlier today whether to focus on soprano or flute for a while, but the decision seems to have been made for me: the soprano isn’t in any condition to play, not even if I could get the stuck swab out right now, which I really, really can’t at the moment. I fear in the long run it’s going to require the swab being mangled into shreds so that it’s easily removed. Sigh. But in any case, I figure for the time being I can focus on building my flute skills, making it my primary instrument for the next six months or year, since I’m at a point now on tenor where I can maintain by picking it up a few times a week. By the time I’m solid enough on flute to be ready for something new, I should be in a position to get the soprano overhauled, I hope.

Incidentally, since I couldn’t get the needed supplies for recorking the neck of my tenor, I picked up some plumber’s tape, which is a passable substitute, albeit a temporary one. It’ll do for now, until we’ve moved someplace where I can get the thing recorked properly. I also grabbed one of my sax stands–the one that is heavier, but also more easily portable (because it folds up). The other, lighter-but-more-unweildy stand is in storage in Seoul; I plan to hang onto both, in the vain, faint hope that I’ll have an alto sax (or a second, better, tenor sax) in hand within a few years. That should do me for now, I suppose: it’s plenty of gear, and it’s all new-to-me, even if in reality some of it badly needs repairs. Even my tenor could use a little work–the overhaul it got was a quick job, and some of the repairs done have come undone in the year since it was performed–but it’s hanging in there for now, and so am I.

That’s the state of musical everything in Gord-land. Well, sort of. I haven’t talked about my musical projects, which, mainly, consist of trying to record a decent solo on “Stolen Moments”:

… which is hard not because it’s a minor blues, but because, well, if you’re listening to the embedded video above, the solos are just so perfect. So absolutely nailed-down. And, I mean… listen to that flute solo… because I play flute, badly, I know: that’s some serious flute playing. But all the solos are incredible, and my own are so… well, rudimentary, I suppose. It’s hard getting past that. I’m also working on a recording of a good ol’ Duke Ellington tune, but that’s less high-pressure and more about trying to get the tenor to sing with a little of that Johnny Hodges vocalizing musicality:

My other ongoing project is getting some music made for Mrs. Jiwaku’s ongoing film project. I have a couple of rough sketches up at Soundcloud:

… but those tracks are kind of “busy” and I’m working on more atmospheric stuff that can be used behind the voiceover/narration stuff. We’ll see what Mrs. Jiwaku says: she’s the director, after all…

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