If you are looking for a [normal] vintage saxophone player, you don't have to worry about who to ask. There are many jazz virtuosos in Japan who are familiar with vintage saxophones. However, the instrument in this case is not "normal. And there are probably no players in Japan who have ever played a fully working Varitone. Keeping in mind the characteristics and possibilities of this instrument, as well as its limitations, we wanted a player who could meet some of our requirements.

First, the player must be skilled in handling effectors. Naturally, this was a must. The ambiguous response of analog effectors must be controlled, and the effect itself is rather idyllic compared to digital effects. In short, the response is generally sluggish. To incorporate this tricky function into actual performances requires a high level of experience and a good sense of effects.
photo Second, it has a wide variety of musicality. Listening to jazz players using this system in the past, I realized that the true value of this electric saxophone is easily conveyed beyond the boundaries of jazz. If I played according to the bebop or modern jazz format, I would just end up saying, "Oh, I see.

The real appeal of Varitone lies in the blending of raw sound and effected sound. I dreamed of a non-genre "improvised performance" in which I could weave out phrases while being inspired by the changes in sound.

The last one was not an absolute requirement, but it had to be a player who did not use an Amesel Mark Six as his main instrument. Hopefully, it would be even better if he was a fierce player who was not so attracted to Selmer in general.

The Varitone system is a variant of the famous Amesel Mark Six with a wiring tube that stops the resonance, and a hole drilled in the precious neck. If you are a Six lover, you will be disappointed as soon as you see this instrument. And if you appreciate the original sound of a six, you may think that you don't need to go to the trouble of electrifying a six that is in such good condition, and your tension will drop right from the start. That would be a problem.

In fact, I once announced to a few players that I had something like this in my store and asked for their reactions, but as I expected, I received cold comments such as, "Oh, I know, it's a waste of money," or "It's just an effects pedal. I felt that unless a player was 100% interested in the instrument, it would be difficult to reflect the charm of the instrument in his playing. I felt that way.

Encounter with saxophonist Kunikazu Tanaka

The day after we received word from the technical staff that the amp circuit was on the verge of being restored.
First of all, I have to contact Mr. Kunikazu Tanaka.
The first step was to contact Kunikazu Tanaka. Is there really an ideal player who can meet all of them? Some said that it would be impossible to find all of them. We can't just ask Mr. ▲ to do it for the time being. If the results were not good, at the very worst, we would have to cancel the project. This would be extremely disrespectful to the players.
The first time I went to the concert, there was an ensemble of eleven baritone saxophonists. Kunikazu Tanaka is a saxophonist who has been active in the ensemble "Tokyo Mid-Low Range," which consists of 11 baritone saxophonists, and "sembelIo," a two-headed band with Yuichi Oki (p.) of Scapara. Needless to say, he has an extremely wide range of musicality, and there must have been a time when he was quite devoted to effectors. He is a self-proclaimed non-Selmer player, and if we were to ask him to play a demo of the Varitone, he would be the only person we would ask. I had decided that he was the best candidate for the job.
photo I have not even approached him at this point in time. I had not talked to Mr. Varitone for a long time, so I picked up the phone to at least contact him, but as I was pondering where to start and what to explain, I lost my coherence. I put the phone down and left the restaurant for a lunch break.
As soon as I left the restaurant, I was in the middle of the crowd on the main street. In the crowd of people on the main street, I saw a big man who stood out from the crowd by a head. He had a unique hairstyle. He was carrying a baritone saxophone, which looked like a tenor saxophone in contrast to his body. Walking up to him was Kunikazu Tanaka, the man himself. I got goosebumps. I was so grateful for this fateful encounter. I was grateful for this fateful encounter.


Demonstration performance

The result is as you can see. A few days after the fateful encounter, Mr. Tanaka came to the store. I asked him to leave the rest to me, and that was it. After the rehearsal, which lasted less than 10 minutes, including a check of the equipment, we went right into the studio to perform the demo. This demo performance was performed without rehearsal.
The location was the sales floor on the third floor of the store. It is a small space in front of the counter at the entrance. Although not visible on the screen, the intense heat beam from the spotlight was hitting him directly. In spite of such a poor environment, he gave a wonderful performance that exceeded our expectations.

I wonder how the developers of the selmer "Varitone" would have reacted if I had shown them this demo performance back in 1965. I have no doubt that this instrument will be introduced many times in the future as a source material for sound sources.

The controller box is located on the key guard below the saxophone body, and the knobs for adjusting the depth (DEPTH) and width (SPEED) of the tremolo amplitude are located on the front of the amplifier. The player himself must switch these knobs while playing the saxophone, but in past performances, the player has simply decided on the controller settings first, and then switched the NORMAL switch on and off at key points. In this "demo performance," various settings are combined within a single song, in order to maximize the Varitone's original functions. In the movie, you can see Mr. Tanaka adjusting the knobs instantly without any interruption in phrasing. Watching the demo performance while confirming the changes in sound and these actions gives a new and interesting experience.

It all started one day when I happened to meet Mr. Mizumoto, THE used musical instrument dealer, on the street in Okubo.
He said, "Oh, it's been a while. After finishing my business, I visited the store again. I heard the word "varitone" for the first time and thought, "What? When the actual product was brought in front of me, I couldn't help but say, "Oh! I said, "Oh!

The shiny MK6 and the amp with the "selmer" logo on it...what is this? Mr. Mizumoto's detailed explanation revealed that it was an analog effect system developed to cope with the electric age, and the "electric" modifications added to the saxophone itself were a sight to behold. The neck with a piezo microphone attached, the "piping" running through the body for wiring, and the mark6 stamped apologetically on the side of the piping...this is a rare item among rare items!

First, let's play the saxophone itself..,I am a non-Selmer player by my own admission and others.I am a non-Selmer player, but I was very impressed with the mark6! And I was very impressed with the new, almost unused feel of the saxophone.

Then, we moved on to the "energized" trial playing, which was very interesting. First of all, the echo is what you would call an electric echo of that era. The octaver did not work unless you put a certain amount of breath, or rather, you put a lot of overtones and vibrations into the tube body. The tremolo would wave like an artificial heart without mercy, and combined with the overall sense of inefficiency and poor handling, it was a lovely system.
In fact, there was a time when I was quite addicted to effects, and I used digital and analog delays, loops, envelope filters/auto-wahs, whammies, octubers, etc. (I still use them occasionally).

The varitone does not have the "thump" and sensitive response of digital at all, but considering the music of the era in which it was made, I am sure that the goal was to sound very hip. It is not hard to imagine that the sensation of having a sound that is completely different from a live reverberation "energize" one's body and leave one's body must have been a new experience for those of us born in an age where effects were commonplace. The staff on the "electric" side must have been very enthusiastic, but the saxophone craftsmen were still wondering, "Why are they doing this? I can imagine the "electric" side of the staff being very enthusiastic about the project, but the saxophone makers were still sticking the pipes together according to the specifications, while tilting their heads and asking "Why are we doing this?

I do not know how many of these systems were actually made, but I suspect that there were not many in the market. The production cost must have been high, and the competition with Barcus Berry's piezo microphones was inevitably disadvantageous, so they were probably buried in the shadows. The actual recordings by Eddie Harris and Sonny Stitt are still available (I have not heard them, by the way), but when I recorded this sound sample, I was only asked to play something that was not just bebop with effects (laugh). (Laughs.) I didn't have enough time to get to know the system well enough to record this sample sound, so I tried to do what came to my mind on the spot as much as possible. It would be interesting to record a second version of the samples for use in live performances in the future.
As a side note, later at the workshop of a repairman I know, I saw an alto that had been part of the varitone system, but was now "just an alto saxophone" with all the wiring pipes, etc. removed. It was as if I was seeing a fallen warrior, and I felt a touch of sadness in my heart.

Kunikazu Tanaka Profile

Kunikazu Tanaka was born in 1966. He has been devoted to jazz and pop music since his college days, and has since taught himself to play the saxophone. With a sweet tone and a style that has been described as "having a bird's-eye view of a wide range of music," he creates an original presence while blending in with all kinds of sounds. In addition to his jazz and other solo activities, he has participated in "sembello (a two-headed band with Skapara Oki)," "Tokyo Mid-Low Range (an ensemble of 11 baritone saxophonists)," "blackvelvets (a contemporary reinterpretation of mood music)," and "Kunikazu Tanaka jazz trio," among others.
He has performed at festivals in New York, London, Monterey, and other cities in Japan and abroad. He is expanding his field of activities.



I remember when I first met the selmer Varitone system. In advance, it was a dead stock, like new! I had only heard that it was a 140,000th American Seltenor. My heart was racing. The moment I opened the case, I thought, "Hey, who's that? I can't believe it's as good as new, I can't believe it! What's that? They're stuck together..."

To be honest, I was one of the discouraged people. The more I looked at it, the more I sighed in disappointment. The neck and body were almost intact and accident-free. It was a dead-stock Mark Six. And yet...

I managed to regain my composure and looked into this product, and found the name of Eddie Harris among the players who used this equipment back in the 60's. I listened to Harris' playing. I listened to Harris' performance. It had been more than 20 years. It brought back memories of listening to the same recordings when I was a student. Ah, I knew it. I could hear the overlapping of mosquito thin octaves in the loose funky play throughout the piece. Even at the time, I felt that the sound processing was somewhat shabby, but I had no idea that this was playing with an electric saxophone. This was the sound of Varitone. I was more and more disappointed.

The tables were turned when a part of the dying system was restored. The pickups on the neck were restored to life, so I tried playing it for the first time. The power of the imperfect but persistent octaver made me flinch. It was a different dimension from the mosquito thin octaves I had heard on recordings. I was convinced that this was going to be interesting.

Finally, I would like to thank Mr. Tomita and Mr. Sato for their efforts in tuning this troublesome instrument.

Planning staff: Mizumoto


*Finally, please enjoy the rehearsal take just before recording the demo performance. Even though it is a rehearsal, the performance is well worth listening to!