December 2003

Paraschos Wooden Saxophone Necks

Why do we categorize the saxophone as a woodwind instrument? Frankly, the only thing that separates saxophones from brass instruments is a square foot of Kidd leather and a sliver of cane. Well, that is until now.

Direct from Roberto's Woodwind, that purveyor of sartorial excellence for the saxophone, comes the only product for saxophone that truly merits the title "wood" in woodwind. The product is a custom line of wood saxophone necks created by the Greek music company Paraschos. Palisander wood, to be exact, which is an extremely dense hardwood found in the equatorial Africa and Madagascar regions. It is often used for its resonant qualities in instruments like recorders and claves.

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Paraschos Wooden Saxophone Neck

I first learned about the Paraschos neck while perusing the exhibits at the 13th World Saxophone Congress this past summer. When I asked about the performance abilities of the necks, Roberto Romeo, owner of Roberto's Woodwind (and sole North American distributor) responded, "It produces the same effect as a fine Cognac on the palette. It has complexity, depth and power." He went on to say that it made your sound bigger, improved the altissimo and provided less backpressure. Sensing my skepticism, Romeo invited me to take a few alto necks back to my hotel room and try them out-and it was one of the most amazing sonic experiences I have had in years.

If you are like me, the first question that comes to mind is, "Why has it taken so long for someone to create a neck out of wood?" I don't know the answer. To my knowledge there has never been an attempt to make saxophone components, other than mouthpieces, out of wood.

Using its expertise working with the Greek hydraulis organs, Paraschos makes necks for all makes and models of saxophone, from soprano (both straight and angled necks) to baritone as well as flute head-joints and bassoon bocals. Additionally, Paraschos has designed necks that are easily adaptable for horns like the Mark VI, which has spanned 30-plus years of production.
Aesthetically, these necks are beautiful. If you never bothered to play them, the necks could easily grace your office as a fine work of art. Rich in detail, each neck is meticulously crafted with full, rich wood grains. Polished brass fittings bookend the wood for the neck-cork and receptacle that fits into the main body of the saxophone. The necks utilize an undercarriage design similar to the old King Super 20 saxophone. This may be for appearance or to provide extra strength with less stress.

They look good but these necks are all about sound. Remember those claims Roberto made? They are true. The first thing a player will notice is how free-blowing and smooth their saxophone plays with Paraschos necks. One might think that wood would mean dark and stuffy, but that is not the case. If anything, it offers more rich middle and low overtones without sacrificing the projection that brass offers. My first Paraschos experience was on an alto. I immediately noticed that the palm keys had greater projection and, yes, the altissimo rang with tremendous clarity.

I mostly play vintage Mark VI saxophones, but I did have the opportunity to try the baritone model neck on a Selmer Series II. The Series II baritone never impressed me as an instrument with strong tonal character, but with a Paraschos neck one might mistake it for a vintage horn. While the alto and baritone models are impressive, it is the tenor model that is truly outstanding. On my 1957 Selmer the tone barked with the commanding presence of a Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas reunion.

Prices are high but not out of line with other custom necks made of silver or gold plate. The cheapest neck is $352, for the baritone, and the most expensive is $682, for the tenor. Each comes with a five-year, full-replacement warranty against cracking. Care is minimal: just swab out the neck as you would a clarinet; no oiling is necessary.

If you're a saxophonist (either jazz or classical) who views playing as a passion rather than a hobby, you owe it to yourself to try these. I am certain you will love them as much as I did.

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