This is a book I had heard about for quite a while but had never taken the time to purchase even though I was very interested in getting it. A couple months ago while researching for my recent horn purchase I stumbled across Stephen Howard’s website because he had some excellent reviews about some of the horns I was looking at. The interesting thing about the reviews is they are written both from the perspective of how the horns play as well as his observations of the horn on his repair bench. You should check them out along with a lot of other great content here but that’s not what I want to talk about today.
I reached out to Steve via email to ask him some more questions and he was very approachable, very knowledgable, and just seemed like a nice guy so I decided right then and there to get his book. I’m really glad I did because it is an amazing resource.
The book covers the gamut starting with very basic guidelines for beginners regarding things such as what to look for when buying a horn, the differences and relative strengths of buying new vs. used, vintage horns, the big four brands, the new breed of Asian horns, etc. He gives some great matter-of-fact advice about everything from the effect of finishes on sound to the best beginner choices for mouthpieces and reeds to proper care and preventative maintenance. If you’re thinking about getting into playing the saxophone you should get this book and really pour through the first couple of chapters to empower yourself to make good decisions. It’s great for new players (or almost any player who is interested) to have this kind of background information at their fingertips.
Of course, I’ve been playing for a very long time so much of that information was pretty rudimentary for me. But that’s where the rest of the book takes over. Starting at chapter 11 the last two thirds of the book is a pretty comprehensive beginning repair guide – something Haynes manuals have been famous for so it’s not surprising. You can learn tons of great stuff and you can get about as adventurous as you want with this information. You can learn how to replace a neck cork or reseat pads but you can also learn about replacing pads and springs. Steve is very clear about the need for a qualified repairman but if you ever find yourself in an emergency situation this book could be a lifesaver.
On the other hand, if you have an interest in becoming a repairman and you don’t have anyone around to apprentice or study with then this might be one of the best, most approachable ways to get started, I’ve looked at some other repair guides over the years but they are much drier and harder to read even though they may go into much more depth. You could always get your feet wet with this book and then move onto more advanced guides if you like it. I had thought for a long time that I might want to start repairing horns but that ship has probably sailed. For me, though, this is a book that I find interesting and informative and it’s advanced enough since I don’t intend to get quite as adventurous as the later chapters describe.
One more thing of note is the quality and number of pictures. This book is a feast for the eyes and a saxophone geeks dream come true. They are bright, crisp, and colorful and they provide a level of immersion that I have never seen in a repair book before. It’s just as fun to look at all of the cool pictures as it is to read about regulating a horn. The copy I got is hardbound and I’m not sure if there’s a paperback version but I find myself wanting to buy an e-book version so I can have it with me on my iPad for emergencies on the gig.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro I think there is enough information to keep you happy here. In another review I saw someone say that this is a book that should come packaged with every saxophone sold and I agree with that wholeheartedly. I bought my copy from Amazon.com and it was money well spent. Do yourself a favor and buy this book and check out Steve’s website for more great information as well.