Gearhead: Mindi Abair Stays Unattached

When pumping her high-wire solos to the crowd, this Grammy-nominated sax virtuoso cuts the cord

Mindi Abair
Mindi Abair

Combine Cannonball Adderley with Clarence Clemons, pour in a large beaker of R&B, garnish with eye-grabbing stagecraft, and you have the essential ingredients of a performance by Mindi Abair. The Grammy-nominated saxophonist, singer, and songwriter—whose credits range from Aerosmith to American Idol to Dave Koz, Jeff Golub, Keb’ Mo’, and her own group, the Boneshakers—was on the road to promote her album No Good Deed (Pretty Good for a Girl) when we tracked her down to ask how she delivers her signature sound.

“Obviously, it starts with my saxes,” she says. “With the Boneshakers and some of the touring acts I play with, I have to be heard over a loud band. I find that Yamaha horns can cut through while still sounding full, big, and dynamic. Plus, they can stand up to the rigors of touring—something I couldn’t say about some of the vintage horns I played earlier in my career.”

Other essentials include La Voz and Rico reeds and her signature Theo Wanne mouthpiece. “Theo is amazing,” Abair says. “We were working on developing a mouthpiece together for years. Then one night, all my gear got stolen after a gig. So I called him and said, ‘We need to finish this—now!’ Not only do I love the mouthpiece, but I’m proud that other players use it as well.”

Abair says her secret weapon is an Audio-Technica wireless microphone system. “People don’t realize how important a good wireless can be when playing sax with amplified instruments,” she explains. “It isn’t like playing with upright bass and a drummer using brushes in a small club. My rig needs to project the horn’s tone over electric guitars, bass, and drums, and do it without feeding back. Also, I need a mic that sounds accurate and—something people may not think about—doesn’t slip off the horn when I move! Fortunately, our wireless system is bulletproof onstage. It lets me be me.”

Saxophones: Silver-plated Yamaha YSS-82ZRS Custom Z soprano, YAS-82ZIIS Custom Z alto, YTS-82ZIIS Custom Z tenor, and YBS-62S baritone

Mouthpiece: Mindi Abair Signature alto mouthpiece by Theo Wanne

Reeds: La Voz Medium Soft (soprano and alto), Rico Royal 2.5 (tenor and baritone)

Wireless System: Audio-Technica ATW-R3210 receiver, ATW-T3201 body pack, and PRO 35cW clip-on microphone

Emile Menasché

Musician, journalist, and author Emile Menasché has composed soundtracks for Oscar- and Emmy-nominated documentaries. He is jealous that his dog Hudson gets more attention from passersby whenever they’re seen in public together.