Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Soundwear Professional Tenor Saxophone Case

Although several online stores carry Soundwear cases, I found the Pro Tenor Sax case only at Dillon Music.  Price was about $150, including shipping.  The case is interesting in design and materials.  From the advertising copy, it sounds like it would be similar to the ProTec case reviewed here.  But the outer "shell" isn't as stiff as the ProTec.  That sounds bad, but ultimately the Soundwear case provides better protection because of the generous amount of padding surrounding the horn.

This is a backpack style of case that actually works as a backpack.  The nicely made and padded backpack straps are included, not an accessory as with some other cases (e.g., Protec).  The straps even have a "sternum" strap that goes between the shoulder straps and prevents a shoulder strap from sliding off the shoulder if you bend over or bump into something.  Very stabile. 

I didn't think I'd use the backpack feature as much as I have.  I don't skateboard to a gig, ride the bus to school, fight my way through the mosh pit, or other standard uses for a backpack case.  But I can get out of the car, put on the case, and have hands free for carrying music, keys, beer, etc.  Nice.  The only way the case can fall is if I fall.  It also has a subway handle on the neck end, so if your riding the subway, you can carry it in an inoffensive manner.

Unlike the ProTec ProPac, this case doesn't have a pocket on the side that interferes with using the case in backpack mode.  The back side of the case even has reflective piping so that you can be seen when wearing this black backpack in the dark.  The main pocket is big enough for a 3-ring binder or fake book (unlike the ProPac).  A second pocket has a ridiculous number of silly little crevices for holding toothbrushes, combs, lip gloss, etc.

What the Soundwear doesn't have is internal slots for the neck and mouthpiece.  An adequately padded neck bag is included for placing the neck in the bell.  I got used to that idea.  A semi-rigid case, kind of like a sunglass case, is provided for the mouthpiece.  But the mouthpiece case has metal zipper pulls.  So you shouldn't put it inside the case with the horn if you like your horn's finish.  It has to go in an outside pocket.  Probably safe, but I already owned a little padded mouthpiece bag and I now carry my mouthpiece in with the horn.

Just like the ProTec, this case has a spit handle with one half on each side of the case.  Once connected together, the case can't accidentally open.  The closing mechanism is two parallel zippers.  The padding is a combination of open and closed cell foams bonded to a semi-rigid outer shell.  The padding is approximately 1.5 inches thick, and that's around the entire horn.  

That's about 5 times the padding thickness of the ProTec ProPac.  There are two additional loose pads inside of the case, but no information on where these pads are intended to be placed.  That's okay, because just like with the ProTec case, I immediately altered the padding and the only use I had for the loose pads was as material for making better pads.

For me, the way this case works kind of reminds me of when I broke my leg.  This was after they stopped using plaster casts and started using rigid foams and Velcro.  You put your horn in the "cast" and zip it shut, encasing the horn in stiff foam that completely immobilizes it.  It also kind of reminds me of putting on the crotch strap on a wet suit.  The horn is securely swaddled in the case.  It takes a little more time to put the horn away than simply dumping the horn in a regular case, but if you are looking for protection and not just a convenient carrying case, the Soundwear is a contender.  

As with the ProTec and most other cases, I don't like the amount of force placed on the lip of the bell by the padding.  Most cases basically hold the bell in place by the bell rim, causing the lacquer to rub off and not really providing enough protection for the bell.  I modify these cases to hold the horn in place (and the bell away from the case sides) with substantial pads at the point on the body tube between the bell key guards and the bell lip.  So I'm going to add some pads in that area.  

For material, I first looked to one of the extra pads that was provided because salvaging that pad provided me with a piece of matching fabric. 
I'm starting my autopsy by making the first incision.

What I found was curious.  The pad consisted of a piece of open cell foam bonded to black velour (the fabric) and a little piece of cardboard.  Open cell foam works if it is thick enough, but this 1/2 inch thick foam wasn't going to do much (and the purpose of the cardboard was apparently to give the appearance that the pad was substantial.)  It did provide me with a piece of matching fabric.

I used the matching fabric to make both of my "bell holding" pads.  I glued the scavenged fabric onto a piece of substantial closed cell foam.

The second included pad was made with thin layers of closed cell foam and the same cardboard.

Closed cell foam provides a more substantial pad than open cell, but I replaced it with blue foam.  The flimsy cardboard got thrown out.

Here you can see both of the newly fabricated contoured side pads below the bell lip (click on the picture).  My newly installed bell pad thickness is such that, when closed, the rim of the bell still has at least an inch of foam between it and the semi-rigid shell and the bell lip is not the pressure point holding the horn in place.  Here you can also see the interesting closing system that has two parallel zippers and a red neoprene zipper guard on each side.  The zippers constrict the case down on to the horn, holding it very securely when "pinched" between my new pads. 
I still had another loose pad left, so I decided to salvage that material and add more padding to the caseI stripped the material off of the mushy open cell foam to convert it to a firm closed cell pad.

Here's the new pad under construction.

I put this pad at the neck end of the case to give me an additional 1/2 inch of closed cell padding on an already well padded case.  I did the same on the bow end of the case.  It could be that that is where the two loose pads were intended, but the improved padding material makes me feel a lot better.  This is now a case that can bounce down a flight of stairs without concern for horn damage.

 Here's how the case works.  You can see my two added pads on both sides of the bell below the lip if you enlarge the picture.  There is also a new "blue foam" pad at the bow end and one at the neck end.  The case gets zippered shut, creating a snug fit and locking the horn in position.  The new pads just center and lock the horn in more securely.  Left hand bell keys, RH keys, split keys, don't effect the fit of the horn because all horns have three or four inches of body tube between the Bb guard and the bell lip.  Below is a 1943 Martin with LH keys.  Above was a Conn 10M. Other horns, even my Dolnet, which has different dimensions, right hand bell keys, and a substantially larger offset bell, fit perfectly.
There is a stiff plastic piece on the exterior of the zippered flap (seen as the darker patch in the picture below) right over the flare of the bell that keeps the case flared out at that point.  Neat idea, but I like the design even better with my new standoff pads added to keep the flare of the bell further from the sides.  You can see the reflective piping on the back because of the flash.  I just leave the backpack straps on all the time, but they can be removed and stored in one of the pockets.  The picture shows the side pockets stuffed full.

I like this case.  It's as light as any and, because the backpack straps are so handy and functional, I don't even think about the weight when it's on my back.  The ProTec ProPac requires spending $15 for the "accessory" backpack straps, making it approximately the same total price.  The Soundwear wins for backpackability.    It also wins for protection.  Which one wins for durability over time will have to wait, but I think I have a hunch the Soundwear will also win that test.

Update:  1 1/2 years of use (it gets out of the house at least once a week), and I have had no problems with the case.  I haven't dropped it or conducted any destructive testing, but I do toss the case in the trunk and then don't worry about whether it flops around while driving.  

Update:  Going on 5 years and it's still working perfectly and shows no wear.  It's the case I use if I'm taking sheet music.  For flights, I looked at $400 cases and then made this one for $10.

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