Wednesday, December 3, 2014

JazzLab's SaXholder Review



I've had saxophone related neck problems for as long as I can remember. The neck not only supports your head but is a conductive area for your nervous system. Hanging several pounds of brass from the neck is an ergonomic nightmare. Not only do you need to compensate for gravity causing sore muscles but the pressure a conventional strap creates restricts blood flow, pinches the many nerves running through this area and possibly choke part of your throat depending on strap design and how big a horn you play. This creates tension and pain in the neck (literally), nerve problems and possibly long term injuries; some players have reported tingling or losing sensation in their fingers as a consequence. Choosing the right neck strap is a serious matter!


I've been very happy with Just Joe's Sax Gel Strap. It is quite pricey at $79 + shipping but it is well worth it. Not only is Joe Rohrbacher an all-around great guy, but he truly cares for his customers and spent a lot of time in the R&D phase before finding the best possible materials and design. All of his straps are also hand-made assuring unequaled quality (straps that aren't up to his standards can be found in the "Specials" section of his website for a slightly lower price). This is the only strap I could use when tenor was my primary horn and the only one I will use with alto or other horns. I had all but abandoned any hope of ever being able to use a regular neck strap before finding this one (and I had tried just about everything including the obvious competitor Cebulla).

The problem with most alternatives to the traditional strap design is that they all either restrict movement or create tension and ultimately pain in other areas of your body. I had gotten used to wearing a BG harness but it was far from ideal, in the way it looks but above all in how it restricts movement, positions the saxophone too close to your body and does not allow for fine adjustments.

Good posture is often overlooked but I believe it contributes to getting a great sound.

This is where JazzLab's SaXholder comes into the picture. The advertising style is a little tacky but don't let this fool you. The SaXholder is a great solution to an age-old problem in the form of a premium product.


jazzlab saXholder ready to use
The contraption in all its glory


The way this works is that you put the handles on your shoulders which will be supporting most of the weight of your instrument, and the adjustable abdominal support bar rests and slightly pushes against your abs.

As you can see from the picture below, the saXholder comes neatly packaged with instructions, a drawstring pouch and an alternative cord for using it with a bass clarinet and bassoon. Also notice it can be folded to make it easier to store away or carry around. It will actually fit inside the bell of a tenor sax but not smaller horns.


saXholder packaging with pouch, manual and extra string
Neat packaging


To be totally honest, I was afraid the abdominal rest would be a deal breaker but that's not the case at all. It does not apply enough pressure to dig into your body and the (rotating) resting plate is large enough that it remains comfortable over a long period of time. If anything, it could be used as a tool to remind developing musicians to use their abdominal muscles to support their tone.

I was also concerned about the open hook design but it actually works great. It feels solid and has a tab which helps secure the horn.


saXholder hook with secure tab
Great design


The shoulder handles are very sturdy yet have some flex in them in order to make them more comfortable. They are adjustable but I found the process quite awkward, even with an helper giving feedback. Adjusting the handles basically mean twisting and bending them which requires a fair amount of strength and as a consequence makes it hard to fine tune the curve to a perfect fit. The counter effect to this is that once they are adjusted, the shoulder handles will keep the shape you gave them.

The support bar is height adjustable so you can choose where it rest on your abdominal area. The resting plate rotates 360 degrees and moves back and forth on its axis to conform to the shape of you body and movements. I have found the plate most comfortable in its horizontal position while standing and vertical sitting down.

I have to say the saXholder completely delivers on its promise of a pain free alternative to neck straps, without the restrictive feel of harnesses. The horn feels much lighter than I've ever experienced as shoulders are much stronger and better equipped for supporting weight than the neck. The string and hook position feels just like a regular neck strap and allows for as much freedom of movement. No more fighting against a horn that pushes against you which is the number 1 problem with harnesses. I wish the string was easier to adjust though. Compared to my JJ's Gel strap which is extremely easy and fast to adjust the saXholder's string length adjustment isn't as smooth.


jazzlab saXholder adjustment tab could be improved
Needs some work


The biggest problem with the saXholder is that it's tricky to use sitting down if you like to play your horn on the side. As you shift to the side, the saXholder lacks a proper adjustment for this position and tends to just shift to the side along with the horn, applying more pressure to the shoulder on the opposite side and slightly lifting the other shoulder handle. The support bar and resting plate also tend to shift with the horn which , again, creates an awkward sort of balance, or lack of it. It's still usable but if I sit down with the saXholder I find myself putting the horn in front of me which puts unwanted stress on my wrists.

It also can be more challenging to use with certain clothes than a regular neck strap. With a jacket, you either have to slip the shoulder handles between your body and the jacket, or put the saXholder on first. If you're wearing any kind of warm clothes and need to rest the saXholder on top of them, the added bulk will throw off any adjustments you may have made without them. It doesn't make a radical difference, but enough that it could become distracting. I would also be weary of resting the saXholder over slippery textile although the handles are covered with a slip resistant rubber-like material.

It also just looks.. weird. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather look weird than be in pain, but for gigs I'll keep on using my trusty Just Joe's Gel strap. It's faster to put on, faster to adjust, easier to carry in a case & doesn't look out of place.


Before we wrap this up, here's a summary of pros and cons:

Cons:

- Shoulder handles hard to adjust
- Height adjustments could be smoother
- Looks odd
- Can shift if you play on the side, especially in a sitting position
- Can be awkward with certain clothes

Pros:

- Does save neck from stiffness and pain
- You barely feel the weight of the horn
- Does not shift tension and pain to another part of the body (shoulders more robust)
- High quality materials
- Allows for hours of pain free playing
- Once adjusted, it stays put and works great
- Abdominal support bar not hindrance (could even be used as practice tool for developing musicians)
- Can be adjusted for sitting position
- Open hook feels secure
- Feels as free as a strap, or more, unlike conventional harnesses


Would I recommend the saXholder? Yes with a few caveats. If you do a lot of your practicing or playing in a sitting position it may get frustrating and slightly uncomfortable in the long run. If you care about how you look on stage, need a strap that is quick and easy to put on, take off and adjust, again, there are better solutions out there, however and this is crucial, none of them will provide the amazing relief to neck tension and pain that the saXholder does. I've personally been using it exclusively for practicing for the past few months and I've experienced much less fatigue, neck stiffness and headaches. This is worth dealing with the slightly awkward sitting ergonomics. Going back and forth between playing with a conventional neck strap design and the saXholder is also seamless.

You can purchase the saXholder on Amazon (affiliate link) for $45 which is a bargain for what you get.




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