Be suspicious of instrument bling

If you are considering buying the newest, hottest instrument, accessory, gadget, etc., it’s worth asking yourself a few questions:

  • Is this item made out of materials that are usually used for fine jewelry or the dashboards of luxury cars?
  • How likely is it that the most visually-attractive materials also happen to have the ideal acoustical qualities? Is there really a good reason to believe that this particular material sounds better than other materials that happen to be less pretty and less expensive? Is there some reason to believe this couldn’t be made from practical and low-cost materials like steel or aluminum or oak or birch, or any of the incredible and endlessly varied synthetic materials?
  • Does the item come in a variety of materials at a variety of price points, with the most expensive materials being pushed as the best-sounding?
  • Does the marketing pitch sound like it might really be describing how the material looks, rather than sounds? “The brilliance of silver,” “the smooth dark sound of grenadilla,” “the rich sound of our proprietary gold alloy,” “the complex character of our highly-figured maple.”

You should use the instruments that work best for you. If precious metals and fragrant exotic woods make you happy and you can afford them, then you should have them. But be careful not to get caught up in a sales pitch that is more about bling than about real benefits.

5 thoughts on “Be suspicious of instrument bling”

  1. Spot on, Bret. This post reminded me of a certain woodwinds accessory company (who shall go unnamed here) that sells a ligature made primarily of string, with a minimum amount of metal parts (e.g., the screw). When I read about how the cryogenically treated gold parts “significantly” improve resonance and response (as opposed to the less expensive model, which has silver parts), I become a bit suspicious. And all this for a mere $200! Yeah, okay.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for this, Bret. I know your article is talking more generally about what to watch for, but I’m curious what you think about the lefreQue “acoustic bridge”. The marketing sounds like exactly what you are describing, but it’s being endorsed by some heavyweights (yes, they might all be paid endorsements) and also by personal colleagues. I haven’t had a chance to try one out yet, and given your skepticism I thought you would have the most pragmatic opinion on the product.

    Reply
    • I haven’t tried one and so can’t give any kind of informed review. But the concept seems sketchy to me, and certainly the emphasis on shiny jewelry metals is suspect.

      Most gadgets etc. that claim to emphasize or improve the vibrations of the instrument’s body seem to me to affect how the player hears themselves much more than how anyone else hears them. (See the Backus article listed in the notes of this old blog post for some good science on instrument body vibrations and their audibility.) However, if something affects the way I hear myself, then that might change the way I play (which someone else can definitely hear).

      Reply
      • Your statement that “Most gadgets etc. that claim to emphasize or improve the vibrations of the instrument’s body seem to me to affect how the player hears themselves much more than how anyone else hears them” is right on, in my experience, and better stated than I’ve been able to articulate. I play with another gadget on my instrument (not a LefreQue, but a previous “fad” from about 15 years ago). It works great for me. Do I sound different to my audience? Not sure, but it makes ME feel like a million bucks when I play. It may be a placebo effect, but if the end result is a performance I’m happy with, it’s worth it to me. I don’t push them on my students, as I’d rather they put a couple hundred into repairs or upgrades rather than the latest trend.

      • Not sure how I stumbled across this post almost 5 years after the fact. But I do find the Le freQue acoustic bridge a curious one. I know there are these “heavy screws,” too, that screw onto the saxophones (I believe in the lyre screw hole) that claim to make a difference.

        I’m open to the possibility but a little skeptical, too. But I will say that your statement, “if something affects the way I hear myself, then that might change the way I play (which someone else can definitely hear)” sums it up for sure.

        Two instances of that come to mind. for one, I notice that any time I’ve tested a P Mauriat sax (several, now) I notice that the horns seem to always have a bit of “back pressure” to them – in other words, my Cannonballs blow freely like blowing through a garden hose; the Mauriat always seems to have a little resistance to the air flow. It DOES affect the way I play when I’m on one.

        The other thing I notice that makes a difference too (which is why, although I’m skeptical, I’m open to the idea that it might make a difference) is that I notice a difference even with ligatures. One in particular is a Rovner that I have that has different “tone plates” that drop into a slot inside a pocket in the ligature. Playing with or without the plates does make a difference. In this case, I think it is more “resistance” that I feel, but that resistance does affect the way I hear myself, and like you said, I think it makes me feel different when I play, which, I believe, affects the sound.

        Good web site, by the way.

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