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REVIEW

KB Necks:  Shaping the


sound of the
saxophone
BY PAUL HAAR

What do Joe Lovano, John Ellis, Bob Sheppard, Ravi Coltrane, Jerry
Bergonzi, and Marcus Strickland have in common?  Beyond being world-
class players, they are all endorsers of handmade saxophone necks by Kim
Bock.  Introduced in 2016, these necks have quickly become the talk of the
saxophone world. Bock, a noted New York-based saxophonist, and
repairman, used his extensive background working with vintage
saxophones as the impetus for his saxophone necks.

Players and repair technicians alike have marveled that his necks not only
rival the vintage necks by Selmer but sometimes surpass them.  Bock was
kind enough to send me two of his more popular models, the Vanguard in
hardened brass and the Redwood in a hand-hammered copper, for a
playtest and review.

There are a number of things that impressed me about my experience


working with Bock, and many of them came before I actually got to play
one of his necks.  Bock is passionate about his products and very attentive
as a businessman. I sent him a Facebook message in October asking if he
would be interested in participating in a review.  30 minutes later we
completed a phone conversation in which he promised to send me a set of
gauges that would help custom fit his necks to my saxophone.  

1 | THESAXOPHONIST.ORG • JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019


My first opportunity to try them was with a big
band that I regularly perform with.  We typically
perform three sets, so I decided I would start the
gig on my stock neck and then use each of the KB
necks on the remaining sets. 

Before I get into the specifics of each model, let me


report that I was wrong about changing the sound
of my saxophone.  Yes, as you will read, the KB
saxophone necks do change the tonal
characteristics of the saxophone, but it doesn’t
change who your voice. I have to admit that I was
worried that these necks would force me into a
preprogrammed sound.  I am happy to report that
they do anything but.  Playing them is like using
handmade fountain pens. Despite their fine
materials and craftsmanship, they will not change
your overall penmanship.
Now, I have a lot of conversations with people who
promised to send their products.  Most fail to deliver on said
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that both of
promises.  I guess it's the nature of the business and the
the KB necks had better projection and pitch than
price you pay for dealing with creative types.  So, I wasn’t
my stock Mark VI neck.  To be honest, I was taken
really expecting much more than a promise at the
aback at how well I locked in with the section and
conclusion of our phone conversation.  To my shock, I had a
how stable the pitch center was.  Each neck gave
set of gauges delivered to my door 48 hours later. The
me a different set of colors and response and I was
process couldn’t have been more simple.  I selected the
able to use these traits accordingly in both my
gauge that fit my Mark VI and took a photo showing him
section work and in my soloing.
where the octave arm would need to be placed.  I sent the
gauges back using the enclosed return shipping label (you
THE VANGUARD M-61 BRASS
have no idea how many people fail to supply return
postage).  After they were returned, we set a timeline for
The first neck I tried was the brass Vanguard M-61
late November for him to send me two necks.  Like a Swiss
model.  This is the newest of his necks and the M-
watch, I received an unsolicited email saying the necks were
61 features a specially developed heat treatment
on there way, and one day before Thanksgiving they
that brings out tonal characteristics of the
arrived.  In a market filled with platitudes and promises,
metal.  According to Bock’s site, the Vanguard M-
having someone deliver their word and follow through with
61 model “is our most mid-tone focused neck. The
his or her promise is worthy of recognition.
sound concentration is in the high mid-tone
frequencies resulting in a very punchy and direct
THE PLAYTEST
feeling neck.”

Those who have followed my previous reviews know that I


As promised, the Vanguard was quick, responsive,
play a rare 57xxx Mark VI tenor.  Her name is Esther (named
and full of high and mid overtones that offer a
after a beloved childhood caregiver) and there is nothing
centered sound. This neck is designed to offer
that I would change about her.  So the thought of trying
back pressure and resistance, but as I have said in
aftermarket necks, even if they were handmade for her, was
the past, resistance is not a bad thing.  In fact, the
a bit unsettling.  I know the sound of a saxophone is in the
right amount of resistance offers excitement and
neck and I wasn’t really interested in changing the sound of
color of tone.  The Vanguard has a tonal
my instrument.  However, I was curious to see if the KB
impact.  You can feel the sound center as it exits
necks would perform as advertised.
your instrument, with a wonderful color that is
impressive to the core. 

2 | THESAXOPHONIST.ORG • JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019

  
 I was able to shape the sound to I can best describe the experience The KB necks project very well
achieve just about any tone color I as what one would encounter in and offer less pitch flexibility than
desired.  If I wanted to play old- tasting a rich, full-bodied my Mark VI neck without
school, swing tenor, I had access Bordeaux or exquisite Swiss sacrificing tonal variety and
to all the punch and power I chocolate. flexibility I am looking for.  In the
needed.  Likewise, if I wanted to end, I found my Mark VI neck
spread the sound and create a Like the Vanguard, I was able to played somewhere in between
Stan Getz quality, it was ripe for access a variety of colors.  Again, each model.  Be reminded that
the taking.  Oddly, the ability to the richness of the materials and these necks will not make a bad
replicate a smooth, heathery tone design allowed me a completely tone sound good any more than a
was my favorite part of playing different palette from which to Rolex is going to improve your
this neck.  Don’t get me wrong, I draw.  I really enjoyed exploiting ability to tell time.
could ring your bell if I needed to, the warmer, lower overtones,
but the flexibility really allowed creating a husky tone that was Like anything handmade, quality
me to hear what the music was really nice while playing a comes at a price.  In this case, a
calling for.  ballad.  In contrast, I could lean high price.  The Vanguard Brass
into the sound, edging it to create retails at $1,180 and the Redwood
I think one of the most appealing a husky Texas Tenor vibe. Hand Hammered Copper for
aspects of the Vanguard neck was $1,240. However, the quality of
the tremendous feeling of energy I CONCLUSION craftsmanship is unmatched in
experienced.  Once I found my my experience, as is the customer
voicing, I could just feel the I used a variety of mouthpieces service.  Yes, there are cheaper
saxophone come alive in my with each neck and found that I aftermarket options out there, but
hands. The ability to feel the brass could really change the colors and I have yet to experience the sonic
ring beneath my fingers was complexity depending on the uniqueness the KB necks
intoxicating.   neck/mouthpiece paring.  For offer.  You simply know that you
example, the Vanguard paired are getting a product of quality
REDWOOD HAND- with a Florida Otto Link or a Retro when you play them.  Given the
HAMMERED COPPER Revival UK Special really brought variety of alloys and designs
out the aggressive qualities of the offered, the discerning
This neck is visually stunning. The instrument. Likewise, using a saxophonist would do well to visit
hand-hammered treatment is Drake Bergonzi or 10MFAN Classic Kim’s store and get fitted with the
applied after the neck is formed with the Redwood really exploited perfect neck.  Like a bespoke
for added strength.  The resulting the richer, darker qualities of my tailor, this is one of the truly
“dimpling” creates a work of art Mark VI. custom options that live up to its
and would be worthy of billing.  Should you choose to try
ownership simply for its aesthetic I really loved playing these necks them by mail or in person, you
qualities.  The Redwood played but couldn’t reach a decision as to are sure to be rewarded.-PH
just as it looks: rich, velvety, and which was my favorite.  Just as I
with complexity.  It is freer would reach a conclusion, I would
blowing than the Vanguard as well change mouthpieces or change
as darker in tone.  Too often, dark reeds and I would go right back to
can indicate stuffy but nothing the previous neck. So, the big
could be further from the truth in question is: would I switch to a KB
this instance.  I found it neck?  Yes, I very easily could.  For
fascinating that the Redwood me, it is simply a matter of
maintains the projection and pitch achieving a different color and
associated with the Vanguard feel.  
while offering a completely
different set of colors

3| THESAXOPHONIST.ORG • JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019

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