Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My Approved List Of Student Saxophones

The summer is now over and I am back after taking some time off to enjoy some time away.  I hope everyone else had a good summer as well.  

The most frequently asked questions I get from readers of my blog are usually from beginners wanting to know "if so and so or such and such saxophones are any good,  they were advertised on eBay or I saw one in my local music store and the price was right", etc.  If you look through eBay's listings, you'll see a glut of saxophones with lots of different names, and very often, they don't even give you a name, just advertise it as "gold lacquer alto, tenor saxophone", etc., You look at the price, it looks good, and you may think, it's cheap enough and it looks good in all the pictures, so I'll get this for my kid or for myself because it's good enough to learn on.  Most beginners really don't know that much about saxophones when they're starting out, and to see so many "names" and types being sold new and used all over the internet can be confusing.  This often leads to sometimes being ripped-off by a shady dealer, or in most cases buying an inferior instrument that is badly constructed, has shoddy keywork, simply won't play in tune no matter what you do.  When a beginner's parents or the beginner themselves buy that kind of horn, because it's cheap and it's "good enough to learn on", they end up frustrated and think that they are not any good, not considering that it's the saxophone itself that keeps the beginner from making any progress.

Though I have written blog posts on beginning and intermediate before, I want to update and expand on it for beginners so that hopefully any questions that I have been and will be asked can be answered.  Hopefully, the information you get here will help you select the best saxophone for you to learn on.  When you are starting out, regardless of whether you are a child or adult, it's important that you get all the information that you can and spend your money wisely, so that you can spend the rest of your time learning and making music.

First, let me give you a run down on all the real name brands on the market.  Many of the questions I get are often "is "this" or "that" saxophone any good?", and the fact is I never heard of it, because it's either just another Chinese sax dumped on the market, or possibly a store or proprietary brand, meaning that a music store or perhaps a repair tech contracts a company, usually located in China or Taiwan, to make saxophones with their name stamped on it.  It's a common practice which is also known as stenciling and has been done for many years.  I will get to these a little later in the article.

I want to start out with brands that have earned a reputation for making fine quality saxophones, whether for the professional or the student.  Some of the brands listed are fairly new, but have already marketed saxophones that have earned a good reputation for quality and sound.  Others have been with us for a long time and have been so because of the fact that they have been consistently making saxophones of the highest quality.  All but two of the manufacturers I will list make a full line of saxophones from student to professional, and these are the brands you should always consider first before plunking down your hard-earned money.  Okay, here are the names you should know.

Selmer: The most famous name in saxophones, and most famous for their professional saxophones, they also make, through their various subsidiaries, intermediate and student saxophones.  

Conn: Conn was at one time one of the greatest names in saxophones, but after WWII, the fortunes of the company declined as well as their quality.  Eventually it came under the Selmer umbrella and is now known as Conn-Selmer, and they make a line of student level saxophones.

Yamaha:  Yamaha makes some of the best saxophones in the world, student and professional, and the 23, which is now the 26, is probably the highest quality student saxophone on the market, as well as the best selling one.  

Keilwerth: Keilwerth, based in Germany, has been making top quality professional saxophones for many years. They were recently acquired by the Buffet Group.

Buffet: Although more famous for their clarinets, they have been building saxophones longer than any other manufacturer on this list.  They built their first saxophone only 20 years after Adolphe Sax invented it.  While their saxophones have never been as popular as Selmer or the other brands, they have always been of the highest quality, and it's possible to get used Buffet saxophones like the Dynaction, Super Dynaction, S1 and Prestige saxophones, all high quality professional horns at a good price. 

Yanigasawa:  Yanigasawa builds some of the best saxophones in the world today.  

P. Mauriat:  A relative newcomer to this group, P. Mauriat, based in Taiwan, quickly became a major player with their line of quality professional saxophones, and their horns are being played by many top professionals.

Antigua:  Based in Texas, their saxophones are made in Taiwan.  They were mostly known for making good quality student and semi-pro saxophones which were also widely used by high school and university bands, but with their ProOne model designed by Peter Ponzol, have entered the high end professional market. 

Cannonball:  Based in Salt Lake City Utah, started by Tevis and Cheryl Lauket, their saxophones are made in Taiwan and they make a full range of high quality mostly professional saxophones, but also have a student line.

 Chateau: The newest name on this list, their professional and semi-pro horns are already getting a lot of attention for their high quality, great sound and price point.  Made in Taiwan, their parent company Tenon, also makes Steve Goodson's line of top quality professional saxophones. 

Jupiter:  Based in Taiwan, Jupiter acquired a good reputation for building good quality student and semi-pro saxophones, and have also entered the professional market.  Their saxophones were widely used by many high school and university bands.

Proprietary brands are instruments made by a manufacturers, usually in Taiwan or China, for a retail store, repair shop or mail order/internet dealers with either the dealer's name or a "brand" name which is exclusive to that business.  Usually large retail stores will create a store brand in order to offer a cheaper option for students and players on a budget.  This works if the business in question has an on-site repair department that can adjust the horns before they go out, and also maintain them after they are purchased.  It's important that the store or service you buy your saxophone from can back their instruments with a good return policy and warranty that covers repairs at least in the first few months.  If the store has repair facilities, even if you buy some cheap Chinese horn, at least they can service it.  If the shop doesn't have facilities, and something goes wrong with it after the return period has expired, and you can be sure something will go wrong, and that bargain you bought won't be such a bargain.  Before you buy, make sure of all these things before you lay down any money.  As far as buying from a private seller, you always take risks, as you have no guarantees and the horn may not even be in playing condition.  My advice is always buy from a reputable dealer with a repair department, unless you know this person really well. If you don't, you will be losing, not saving money.  I would also stay away from eBay for buying a student horn, unless it's being sold by a reputable dealer that will back it up. 

Now I will go into the brands and models of student instruments that I recommend.  If it's not on this list, I never heard of it, and chances are neither has anyone else.  Just stay away from them no matter how attractive the price.

I haven't discussed renting an instrument because in most cases, rental instruments are no name, or older name brands that have never been properly taken care of, abused, and in general not very good shape.  Again, if you decide to go the rental route, just be sure that the place you rent it from has a repair department.  If the horn is not properly maintained, that will lead to the kind of frustration that can cause someone to quit.  

My personal list of the best student saxophones 

Hands down, the top student saxophone is the Yamaha YAS and YTS 26.  It is also the priciest, but for good reason.  It is solidly built, and has the best resale value of any student horn.  You may eve be able to find used 23's, the 26's predecessor in good playing condition at a great price.  The 26 is also available as a tenor.

 Yamaha YAS-26

If there is any drawback to this model, it's a minor one.  It doesn't come with a high F# key, where other student models do.  However, its solid construction and reliability negates that.

The Cannonball Alcazar is a well made student saxophone that has the look of an intermediate horn.  It gas a high F# key and has a balanced tone
Cannonball Alcazar

Antigua Winds began by offering a wide range of instruments for students and have been used by many high school and university bands.  Though they have graduated to building high quality professional saxophones, they still produce excellent entry level horns.  The AS and TS 3100 saxophones have a range up to F# and a well balanced tone.  

Antigua AS3100

Though Selmer is most famous for its high end professional saxophones, they offer several lines of student and intermediate saxophones.  The Prelude AS711 is a good beginner saxophone, having all the features of a Selmer saxophone.  Range to high F#, also available as a tenor. They also have a 400 and 500 student line, but I have found them to be rather flimsy.  The AS711 and the TS711 are much better choices.  I had a TS711 at one time, and after being properly adjusted by my tech, was used for some of my gigs where I needed a tenor.  It did the job just fine. 

Selmer Prelude AS711

You have already read my reviews of the Buffet 400, and I highly recommend them as an entry level pro model.  However, Buffet also has a good quality student model, the 100, available as alto and tenor.  It looks very similar to the 400, but less engraving, single arms on the lower keys instead of the double arms, and available only in gold lacquer.  Range up to high F#.  

Buffet 100 Alto Sax

Jupiter began by marketing high quality student and intermediate saxophones that were widely used by high school and university bands long before they entered the pro market.  The JAS 1100 alto and the JTL 1100 tenor are their student saxophones, and are worthy of consideration.  

Jupiter JAS 1100 Alto Sax

The P. Mauriat PMSA-57GC alto saxophone is listed on their website as an intermediate step up horn, but its price point is below that of a Yamaha 26, which makes it worth considering.  

 P. Mauriat PMSA-57GC Alto Sax

Chateau is the newest kid on the block, but already their professional and semi-pro saxophones are getting positive reviews.  Based in Taiwan, their parent company Tenon, also makes high end professional saxophones for Steve Goodson's Saxgourmet line.  The Chateau VCH-222 is their student sax, and it is as solidly built as their professional saxophones.  The light rose brass finish indicates that it has a higher copper content, which gives the sax a richer more complex tone, and is unheard of for a student sax and at this price point.  It also makes a great back up horn for a professional.

Chateau VCH-222 Alto Sax

Keilwerth and Yanigasawa at this time are only making high end professional saxophones, and even used models command a high price.  However, sometimes a bargain is out there, so you should always be on the lookout.  

When you go to the websites of the larger retail stores, you will often see their "specials", store brand saxophones on sale as a more affordable option from the name brands.  However, the quality of these horns are always inconsistent and more often very questionable.  

Jean Baptiste is the store brand for Sam Ash, and the consistency of quality of these saxophones vary from one horn to the next.  They are made in different factories in Asia, either China or Vietnam.  Their JB290AL saxophone however is a good beginner saxophone and is inexpensive as saxophones go.  The plus side, Sam Ash has a liberal return policy, warranties and repair shops to back the horns.  The down side, if you live near a Sam Ash it may not have an in house repair shop and they have to send the saxophones out to another store that does, and that always takes time.  If you order from the internet, you know the whole thing of having to pack it and ship either to return or repair it and it takes even more time. Regardless, it's better than buying a saxophone that isn't backed by anything.


You may not live near a music store and so you may have to rely on the internet.  Here are some online shops that you can look into, in the US and abroad.  This is a fairly comprehensive list of links, and I highly recommend doing some research, check prices and services, and even contact them and ask questions. 





























Many smaller mom and pop or local music stores will sell or rent cheap Chinese made saxophones for students.  However, be warned, if they do not have a repair shop on premises, when something goes wrong with the horn, you're screwed, unless you already know a repair tech.  If you rent or buy the horn, it may not be in real playing condition and it can lead to frustration, where you may think it's you, but it's the instrument, and then quit before you give yourself a chance.  So always make sure the place you buy or rent from can back up the horn.

So there is my list of approved saxophones for beginners.  Anything not on this list that you buy or rent you do so at your own risk.  Remember, it's not a bargain if it can't play in tune and is poorly constructed.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Benny Carter: An Appreciation

Very few musicians in the history of jazz have had such a long and varied career as did Lester Bennett "Benny" Carter.  He emerged during jazz' early years, would become one of the triumvirate of big band alto sax stylists, the other two being Johnny Hodges and Willie Smith, wrote big band arrangements that would define the sound and instrumentation of the modern big band and would go on to be the elder statesman of jazz until his death in 2003 at the age of 96, a career spanning over 80 years.

Benny Carter was born in New York City in 1907 in San Juan Hill, the area that is now Lincoln Square and Lincoln Center.  He received his first music lessons on piano from his mother when he was a boy.  His cousin was the well known jazz trumpeter Cuban Bennett, and from that his first instrument of choice would be the trumpet, an instrument that he played even after achieving his fame and reputation on the alto saxophone.  When he moved to Harlem, he lived down the street from Bubber Miley, Duke Ellington's trumpeter at the time.  He eventually put down the trumpet and picked up the saxophone when he found he couldn't play it as quickly as he wanted to.  He started out on the C-Melody saxophone, having been inspired by Frankie Trumbauer, famous for his association and recordings with the legendary Bix Beiderbecke.  He eventually switched to alto, and by the time he was 15, was already playing professionally with the likes of Rex Stewart, Earl Hines, Sidney Bechet, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Fats Waller and James P. Johnson.

He made his first recordings in 1928 with Charlie Johnson's Orchestra, formed his own band a year later, then went on to play with Fletcher Henderson in 1930-31, becoming the band's chief arranger.  At this time he also led the Detroit based McKinney's Cotton Pickers, then returned to New York in 1932 to start his own band.  This band would include legends like Leon "Chu" Berry, Sid Catlett, Dicky Wells and Teddy Wilson.  In fact, Benny's bands would be the launching pad for many other jazz greats.  It was always said that if you made the cut in Benny's band, you would make it anywhere.  Besides the aforementioned players, others who would get their start in a Benny Carter led band would be Dizzy Gillespie, who wrote Night In Tunisia while with Benny, Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson, Art Pepper, Max Roach, to name just a few. 

In 1935, Benny Carter moved to Europe to record with Willie Lewis' Orchestra and also became staff arranger for the BBC.  He would travel around Europe and play with the leading musicians in Scandinavia, Holland and France.  In Paris, he made some memorable recordings with Django Reinhardt and Coleman Hawkins, with two of the numbers, "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Crazy Rhythm" reprised in New York City with Hawkins on his classic recording "Further Definitions" in 1961.  After returning to the US prior to the outbreak of WWII, he moved to Los Angeles, and besides forming bands out there, also arranged and composed for Hollywood films.  He was also instrumental in integrating the music unions, enabling black players to receive the same scale.

The musicians that Benny has played with and who have played for him is virtually the Who's Who of the history of jazz.  The respect that he garnered from other musicians earned him the title of "The King", and it was a well earned one.  Here are just some of the things that other greats have said about Benny Carter. 

"The problems of expressing the contributions that Benny Carter has made to popular music is so tremendous it completely fazes me, so extraordinary a musician is he" -Duke Ellington

"You got Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and my man, The Earl of Hines, right?  Well, Benny's right up there with all them cats. Everyone that knows who he is calls him "King".  He is a king" -Louis Armstrong

"Everybody ought to listen to Benny Carter.  He is a whole musical education" -Miles Davis

"He can play as many notes as anyone, but he makes it all look so easy" -Cannonball Adderley

Benny Carter on himself:
"In all honesty, I think I just played what I felt was right for me.  I think I would have done the same thing, even if I'd been born later, when Charlie Parker was influencing everybody. The truth is, I never gave it much thought.  I just played what I had to play."

Benny retired from performing in 1997, mainly because he felt that due to his declining health, he wouldn't be able to maintain the high standards he set for himself.   On July 12, 2003, Benny Carter passed away, but left behind a musical legacy that is unmatched in the history of jazz. 

I first met Benny Carter in 1979, when he came to New York after resuming doing live performances after a long layoff.  He was my main influence on the saxophone, and when I had the chance to tell him so personally, he was humble and gracious about it.  After that, he would be in New York 2 to 3 times a year to perform, and I would be at every show.  Eventually, he would find the time to sit with me for an hour or two when he was in town, and as Miles Davis said, "he is a whole musical education".  We didn't have formal music lessons.  I only played for him once, and what I played was copped from his solo from "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set" on Further Definitions.  He smiled and said he liked my sound.  Hearing that really rendered me speechless.  Maybe he was just being kind, I don't know, but in any case, the time spent with him will always be one of my fondest memories.

Here is Benny Carter and Mel Martin discussing Benny Carter's life in music

Benny Carter in action


Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Saxophone Corner On Facebook

For all of my regular readers, I also have a Saxophone Corner Facebook page.  Although it's a closed group, I am extending an invitation to my readers to join the group.  As a member of the group, you are also free to post anything, from a discussion to a video or recording of anything that pertains to the saxophone.  You have a saxophone or mouthpiece to sell?  You can post it there as well.  This is a page for saxophones and saxophone players.  Just go to the following link, ask to be a member, and you're in.


Vintage Saxophone Restoration, Repair and Adjustment

My father, Erik Gailitis, playing a rare Conn 10M with microtuner neck in Germany, 1946.  Many musicians have argued that it's a Keilwerth copy of a Conn, but my father only played Conns, and at that time, the European market for American saxophones was bigger than for Selmer or other European makers, so some rarer and more interesting models found their way overseas.

There are a number of saxophone players, myself included, who have a fondness for vintage saxophones, particularly vintage American saxophones like Conn, Buescher, Martin and King.  Lately I've written articles on the virtues of modern horns, and why I now think they are better overall.  Yet, there is still something to be said for a vintage saxophone.  I could give you a blindfold test and most of the time you really wouldn't be able to tell the difference tone-wise between an old horn and a new one.  Ergonomics and key action are superior on new horns, so that is why I've been advocating them.  Just the same, I still love playing my old Conn 6M,  there is just something about it that goes beyond mere nostalgia.  It is a well played instrument.  My father played it for years before me, and I've been playing it over 50 years, with a four year interruption in the 60's.  

The biggest complaint about vintage American horns or Selmer before the Balanced Action was introduced, is the ergonomics and key action.  Certainly the mechanics were simpler, with fewer posts, and the left hand pinky clusters on old horns used a direct downward pressure against a heavy spring as opposed to a pivoting motion like modern horns.  Also the placement of the keys were different.  However, I have found that when a vintage horn is restored, repaired or adjusted by a technician who loves and understands vintage saxophones, then even an old "clunky" horn will play smoothly, just as they did back in the days when they were new.  My tech makes the action of my old Conn as slick and fast as any modern horn I've played, and I'm used to the key layout, so there is no problem.

If you're one of those players that have fallen in love with a vintage horn, but are not thrilled with the key action or ergonomics, it is important that you take it to a technician who is experienced and loves working on old saxophones.  They will make all the difference in whether you love or hate your horn.  I don't know too many technicians these days who really know how to adjust an old mechanism for a modern player and make it feel as smooth and light as a modern sax.  The purpose of this article is to recommend four that I know personally that will take your vintage horn and make it better, and then you won't complain about the key action as you revel in the gorgeous sound of your old horn.

In New York City, there are several that I would highly recommend.  If you live in or around New York City, or are planning to come here at some point and bring your vintage saxophone with you and find yourself needing an adjustment or repair, these are the people to see.  I won't recommend one over another because they all do excellent work and it's just a matter of contacting them, talking to them, and then seeing for yourself if you want to have your work done by them.  However, it's my opinion that you won't go wrong no matter who you choose.  

John Leadbetter/JL Woodwind Repair

John Leadbetter is the youngest and newest technician here.  He started out as an apprentice repairman at the Sam Ash Manhattan store when I was working in sales at the woodwind, brass and orchestral store.  I was in charge of maintaining the appearance of the saxophone dept., and one of my duties besides keeping the area neat and orderly, and the displays nicely arranged, was to always make sure the horns were "gig ready", meaning in the correct state of repair so when they were sold, they could play right away.  That was also necessary because we often did short term rentals for Broadway musicians and classical concert musicians who needed a different instrument than their normal one for a particular gig.  Also, all the new and used horns that came into the store had to be adjusted before they could be put out, and if a customer was buying, the repair shop would go over it and make sure it was in playing order before they took it out of the shop. 

There was a point after John began working there, that I began to notice that when a vintage horn, like an old Conn, Martin, Buescher or King would come down from the shop to be put on display, I would always play it first before putting it on the wall.  There were several repairmen in the shop, and they each worked on the horns.  However, there were always some vintage horns that looked and played better than the others.  It wasn't the horn itself, as there were identical models that didn't play as well.  Then there were those that played outstandingly.  I would take the horn upstairs and ask who worked on this.  For every vintage horn that looked and played better than the others, I found out it was John who was working on them.  Some of these horns required a complete overhaul, and John's work was meticulous.  Before reassembling the horn, he would clean it and polish it, and would look as close as possible and sometimes exactly as the horn would look when it was brand new.  John worked there for a couple more years after I left, but then left to strike out on his own and open his own shop in the West Village of New York.  In the short time he's been in business, he's already gained a solid reputation as a skilled repairman.  He understands vintage horns, and all horns, and will do a great job making it play like new.  I know from playing the horns he's worked on that when you get your horn back, it will be like butter.

Here is the link to his website:

Perry Ritter

Perry Ritter has been repairing woodwinds in New York City now for about 35 years now.  I know several players who have their woodwind instruments worked on by him, and they all swear by him.  Here is the link to his website


Bill Singer

Bill Singer has been repairing saxophones in New York for over 40 years, and one of my friends and a great player, Ellery Eskelin, who only plays vintage tenors (he owns a Conn Gold Plated New Wonder, A Conn 10M, and a Beuscher Aristocrat) has his horns worked on by him.  Here is a video showing when Bill restored Ellery's Buescher Aristocrat.


Here is the link to Bill Singer's website


Remember, if you have a vintage horn, the right technician can make the difference in whether it will play like it should, or play like an old clunker.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Review: Buffet 400 Baritone Gold Laquer Finish

Five years ago, when I was still working in music retail sales, a young man came into the store with his parents to buy a baritone saxophone.  He had played alto in the school band, but he liked the baritone and was given a spot in the school band to play it.  The baritone assigned to him by the school was not very good to say the least, and anyway, he wanted to have his own baritone.  Since he was a serious student and practiced faithfully every day, his parents decided it was worth investing in a new instrument for him.  The selection of baritones we had at the store at the time wasn't very extensive.  We had a proprietary store brand for 2 grand, that although it looked good, I knew would be a lemon.  The other baritones I had were a Yamaha 52, for over 5 grand, and a P. Mauriat 302GL for about $4200.  Both were more than the parents could afford.  The kid tried the store brand, and it seemed to play and sound well enough.  However, I knew from past history of this horn that it simply wouldn't hold up.  I was right.  A month later, he came back with it, showing me how a soldered post had just detached from near the octave key.  It was also apparent to me that he did not abuse or otherwise mishandle the horn in any way.  Although it was past the date to return it, he was still within the warranty period where he would get free repairs and adjustments. The tech resoldered the post and he took it home.  A month later he is back with his parents, and he shows me that a couple more posts have detached, as well as a keyguard.  Once again, close inspection revealed no abuse or mishandling.  It was the lemon I knew it would be.  So I worked it out with the regional manager to take the saxophone back.  Though it was past the exchange limit as well, we allowed them to either make an even exchange for the same horn, which he didn't want, or what his parents paid could be put to the purchase of a new one.  They opted for a new one, but were still worried about the cost.  It was almost impossible to find a good, pro quality baritone that was under 4 grand.  I told them that the Buffet 400 was an excellent baritone, and that a well-known pro baritone player, Lauren Sevian, who is also my friend, played one. At that time, they were going for around $3400.  However, although we didn't have the Buffet 400 baritone in stock, I knew that they had them at the Buffet showroom in Manhattan. I sent him there with his parents and they had both the gold lacquer and the matte finish.  He fell in love with the gold lacquer horn, and once his parents approved, I made out the purchase order and he was able to take the horn home that day.

Several months later he came back to the store to get some reeds and I asked him how he liked his Buffet 400.  He nodded and smiled, and said he loved the horn. Great sound great action.  Fast forward 5 years and a few weeks ago I am now officially retired and in the store to pick up a couple of books and check out some horns that I haven't played that I would like to review.  Unfortunately, since I retired, the new department manager doesn't really know much about saxophones, so the selection is whatever the main warehouse sends, and they never seem to have any more big names, the best they have being a Yamaha 26 and 480 and a couple of Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series saxophones.  As I am looking over some books, the young man, whose name is Victor is now 5 years older and just having finished college walks into the store dragging his Buffet 400 baritone behind him.  After high school, he went to the Manhattan School of Music, and was now taking private lessons to further his music education.  He actually got interested in playing in a classical context, and was taking the private lessons from a classical saxophone teacher.  I asked him about the 400 and how he was getting along with it.  He told me that the sax played great and that it was very reliable,  having only the usual minor adjustments that were needed, but no major repairs.  He loved the sound and that it was a sturdy, dependable instrument.  Since I had come into the store with the intention of trying out a couple of horns, I also brought all my mouthpieces and my Legere reeds with me.  I happened to have my Meyer 5 baritone with me, so I asked him if he minded if I try it.  No problem.  

I was never much of a baritone player, always felt as if my sound was a little tubby and not to my own liking.  Gerry Mulligan I wasn't.  Not even Seymour Mulligan.  However, after getting a decent baritone sound from the Phil Barone I tested a little while ago, I figured I would try more baritones and get a little more accustomed to them so I can review them and also maybe at some later time, like if I win the lottery, to get one.  I would eventually like to have a full range of saxophones in my collection if that will ever be possible.  We went into the practice room and I slipped the reed and mouthpiece on and began.  I did need a little warm-up since the first couple of notes came out sounding like a loud belch.  However, after a few minutes, I was able to get in my groove and proceed to play some baritone.  Since the baritone is also pitched to Eb like the alto, I merely transferred some alto tunes I play to the baritone.  
Key action. like the other Buffets I have played is solid, and after 5 years of constant playing, I couldn't detect any tell-tale rattling or noise.  The baritone is used frequently in jazz and rock music, and everyone reading this is I am sure familiar with the traditionally rough, gruff sound the baritone has in those contexts.  However, I also listen to a lot of classical sax soloists, quartets and ensembles, and the baritone is capable of  very graceful, cello like tones.  I tried playing the cello part from the 3rd movement of Brahms' 2nd Piano Concerto, since I always thought it's a beautiful piece and that it would be a perfect piece to be transcribed and adapted for a classical baritone player with a piano accompanist.  The Buffet 400 bari played with a smooth tone.  It has a dark, deep tone, and like the alto and tenor versions, I found that from that darker core, you could achieve a greater tonal and dynamic flexibility and range.  This also makes this saxophone fit into any musical context that you want to play it in.  The tone was well balanced and the intonation spot on, and again, like the other 400's, altissimo was also easily achieved.  I then played some tunes like "All The Things You Are" and "Sophisticated Lady".  All in all, the Buffet 400 is the kind of baritone saxophone that can be played in any musical context.  I can also say that this is one of the better baritone saxophones out there and at its price point, is probably the best deal around.  If you want to make the baritone either your primary instrument or are a working pro that needs a full range of saxophones for gigs, shows and recordings, or just to add one to your saxophone arsenal, the Buffet 400 baritone is really the best buy out there.  You can have a more expensive baritone, but not necessarily a better one.

Here are a couple of videos of Lauren Sevian, a Buffet 400 artist, playing the 400 baritone



You can hear the Buffet 400 baritone in a classical context in this video. The alto is a Buffet Senzo.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Review: Chateau TYA900E3, TYT900E3 Alto and Tenor Saxophones

The holidays are over, the Groundhog predicted an early Spring, and judging by the mostly mild weather we've had here in New York, I'm inclined to believe that.  In fact, as I write, it is quite sunny and mild and looking and feeling much more like Spring than winter.  I hope that all of my readers had a blessed holiday and new year.  I recently retired officially, and this has given me more time to go out to live performances and see many of my friends, visit them at home and doodle on their saxophones, and once again to go out to various retail and repair shops and play test saxophones. I have had the opportunity to play a lot of new saxophones recently of varying price ranges, and in the coming weeks, will be publishing reviews on them, as well as other articles.  My reviews will concentrate on new saxophones, since there seems to be many new models and brands popping up every day.  Many more retail stores and repair shops are also marketing their own proprietary line of saxophones in order to offer their clients a brand new but inexpensive saxophone for learning on or for their school music programs.  For example, I recently reviewed a series of saxophones from Phil Barone, a New York based repair tech and maker of fine mouthpieces, and he offers a very extensive line of saxophones that are of professional quality but priced at student and intermediate levels.  Although the resale value of a proprietary sax from a repair shop is next to nothing, the advantage is that it can be had for a price that a student or a working professional on a budget can afford, and is backed by the repair shop where you can always take it for repair and maintenance or address any quality issues directly.  If the sax is from a retail store, make sure they have a fair return policy and a repair facility on the premises.  If a store can't back up their instruments, skip them. 

In October of 2014, I did a review of two Chateau alto saxophones, the TYA753 with a vintage finish that was 92% copper with matt gold lacquer keys, and the TYA760, solid nickel with gold lacquer keys.  I was very impressed with the build quality, playability and sound of these saxophones.  I recently had the chance to try the Chateau TYA900E3 alto sax and the TYT900E3 tenor.  The Chateau label is a relative newcomer to the market.  These saxophones are built in Taiwan by the Tenon Corporation.  They have built saxophones for other labels in the past but are now marketing their saxophones under their own brand, as many other Taiwanese companies are now doing as they have stepped up their game, building saxophones of excellent and professional quality and can now step out of the shadows and into the spotlight on their own merits.  The Chateau brand, along with other Taiwanese brands like P. Mauriat and Lien Chang are producing saxophones of excellent quality and at affordable prices.  P. Mauriat for example has already established themselves as a top professional brand, along side Selmer, Yamaha, Keilwerth and Yanigasawa.  I would also include Buffet, but it's an odd quirk in the music business that their top professional saxophones, which are among the best made in the world, haven't gotten the attention or even consideration of the other brands.  However, their 400 line has been doing very well, and my next review is on the 400 baritone.  

I once again visited my friend and repair tech of over 30 years at his home, where he does repair work for a select few (fortunately I'm one of them since the quality of his work is beyond excellent), and buys and sells saxophones new and old.  He used to have his own shop in New York which he worked out of for nearly 30 years, but excessively high rents drove him out.  He now works privately out of his home for his regular clients.  Visiting his house is like being in a saxophone and flute museum.  The walls of his work area and living room are exposed brick, and he has vintage saxophones and flutes decorating the walls.  For example, he has 4 original Adolphe Sax horns, from 1848, 1852, 1865 and 1868.  He has one of the few slide saxophones ever made.  He has a nice collection of Conn New Wonders, Transitional and prewar M series saxophones, as well as King Super 20's, Martin Committees, Buescher Aristocrats and 400's, Selmer SBA and Mark VI, all of which he sells. He also buys and sells newer horns, not as an exclusive dealer, but he manages to acquire them and then quickly sell them.  He calls me frequently to try out any new or old horn he has acquired, likes to get my take on them, and I am happy to oblige because it gives me access to saxophones I can review here.

This brings me back to the Chateau saxophones.  He called me up a few weeks ago to tell me he had a bunch of new saxophones from Taiwan that he wanted me to try before he sold them.  The others were made by Lien Chang and a company called Sadhuoo.  I already played and liked the Chateau saxophones, I had heard a lot about Lien Chang as they were actually the very first saxophones made in Taiwan and I met the American distributor a few years ago, but I never heard of Sadhuoo, though I was told that they made saxophones and mouthpieces for other labels and now were also trying to break into the market on their own.  However, before they do that, they will need to come up with a brand name that will be more easily identifiable to the market.  I will also review these saxophones in upcoming posts.  Having already had a good experience with the Chateau saxophone, I was eager to try the two he had.  Both saxophones, like the other ones I tried, came in a rectangular cloth covered hard case.  The case is similar to a ProTech style case. It had an extra large pocket on the outside for carrying books and sheet music and accessories, with the logo gold stitched on it.  
 As is obvious by the photos and the model numbers, both saxophones are the same model, so this gives me a good idea of how they play side by side.  There are certain model lines where the full range of horns from soprano to baritone are consistent and play equally well across the board.  I find that true particularly of Yamaha, Keilwerth and Yanigasawa.  With Selmer, and this is just me, I find that while their altos and tenors are consistent, I have had varying playing experiences with their sopranos and baritones, which I never liked as much as their altos and tenors. I can't say why, but other players have told me this too.  I do find a consistency with the sound of the full range of P. Mauriat saxophones as well. I have liked the recent editions of Cannonball saxophones and find that they also are consistent throughout their range.  

Chateau TYA900E3 Alto Saxophone
The first thing about both saxophones is that from a visual perspective, these are absolutely gorgeous saxophones.  They are both among the most beautiful looking saxophones I have seen.  The deep, cognac lacquer gives the saxophone a vintage hue, and is really stunning.  The finishes of both horns were evenly applied. I saw no uneven spots or lacquer blobs anywhere.  The deluxe hand engraving was on the bell, bow, bell rim and neck and really stood out, adding a very luxurious look to the saxophone, which if you didn't know was a Chateau you might mistake for a Selmer Reference 54.  Like other modern saxophones, they range from low Bb to high F# and they employ ribbed construction.  Other features of both saxophones were rolled tone-holes, the real ones rolled from the body and not soldered rings, double arms on the low C, B and Bb keys for extra stability and in better regulation, a brace to stabilize the G#-Bb pinky cluster, beautiful abalone key touches, and a larger bell.  The brass is 85% copper, which gives it a warm, complex tone that is also flexible.  From an aesthetic standpoint, they are first-class looking instruments, and will look good no matter what the gig, whether it is classical or jazz.  The keywork had a very positive feel.  The keywork was solid and the response up and down the horn, from top to bottom felt precise and sure.  Part of this may have been due to the fact that my friend adjusts every saxophone he gets, but just the same, I think the keywork is built so that any proper adjustment of the horn will result in excellent mechanical action. 

For the alto I used my trusted Meyer 6M mouthpiece with a Rovner Dark ligature.  I used to use LaVoz medium reeds, but lately have been using Legere Signature 2.5 reeds exclusively.  They give me exactly the sound I want consistently.  It is the only synthetic reed right now I can say that about.  Each one lasts long enough to make them also very cost effective.  For every one reed of the Legere I use, I would have gone through at least 3 or 4 boxes of cane reeds, and as any player knows, they are getting more and more expensive.  The Signature reed allows me to shape the tone any way I want like a cane reed, but without the inconsistencies of cane. For the tenor, I use the Jody Jazz Red 6 with the tongue removed (I prefer an open chamber) with a Rovner Dark ligature that actually came with the mouthpiece, and also a Legere Signature 2.5 reed.

I have written in my reviews several times of what I call the "WOW" factor when I play certain saxophones.  That happens when I play the first notes, and what comes out of the saxophone takes me by surprise and greets me with a sound that has many qualities that I consider essential for a saxophone to be worthy of consideration.  The first thing is that as soon as you blow into the mouthpiece, does the horn speak right away or do you have to coax it?  What always makes me go "WOW" right away is when I blow the first notes and the sound just comes out with power.  This has nothing to do with actual volume, but with the ease a clear tone comes out of the horn.  From that point, I will know what the saxophone will be capable of.  Well, I can say that when I first blew into the YTA900 alto, I was "WOWED".  The sound was rich and deep.  It has an initially dark, classical tone to it, and I found that I could really stretch out on this horn and play a very wide range of music.  In fact, it was as nice a tone as I have heard in any of the best saxophones I've played.  The first thing I played was a classical piece "The Old Castle" from "Pictures at an Exhibition" from Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky, as well as the alto part from "L'Arsienne Suite" by Bizet and "Claire de Lune" by Debussy.  The tone was clear and sonorous, and I found that I was able to play the lower notes with ease and they sounded full and rich without sounding "tubby", and the high notes including altissimo just popped out without sounding shrill or thin.  That is another thing I always look for.  If I play the high notes and they make my ears ring, then it's not a horn I would play. Any classical player would do very well with this horn, in both the tone, mechanical and looks department.

Now came time for me to play some jazz, rock and pop tunes.  I always start off with jazz ballads and blues and the first tune I played was "The Nearness Of You", followed by another favorite "My One And Only Love".  This is definitely a ballad horn, but then I figured it would be by the way it played the classical tunes.  I played some blues, and I got a Johnny Hodges like tone from it, which is a good thing.  In my opinion, Johnny was the best blues player on alto sax and if you don't believe me, listen to any of his solo recordings away from Duke Ellington, where he played mostly blues and jump numbers.  I always modeled my blues playing, as well as ballad playing on Johnny Hodges, and this saxophone was able to get the kind of lush tone that was Johnny's hallmark.  Then I played a couple of Benny Carter tunes or versions of popular standards as played by Benny.  I ran through tunes like Benny's "Blue Star", as well as tunes that he covered like "One Morning In May", "August Moon", "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set", "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" and "Blue Lou".  Then I played Cannonball Adderley's "Work Song", Art Pepper's version of "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To", "Parker's Mood" and "Now's The Time" by Charlie Parker, "Take Five", by Paul Desmond, and my usual not quite successful attempt at playing Jimmy Dorsey's "Oodles of Noodles".  In every case I got the sound I was after and the mechanics allowed me to easily execute the tunes and respond to my touch with no excess play in the keys that would give me unwanted grace notes.  I then played a few pop tunes, like the obligatory "Baker Street" riff, and Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are", which was actually originally played by the late, great Phil Woods.  I played a couple of Jimi Hendrix tunes that I found work very well on the sax. "Little Wing", and "One Rainy Wish".  When I pushed it, I could get an edgier tone that was still lush and full.  My feeling was that if you put the right kind of mouthpiece on it, you would be able to get whatever sound and play in whatever style you preferred.  If you are a studio player, or a working pro that has to play many musical styles, this horn can do it for you. 

Chateau TYT900E3 Tenor Saxophone
All the aesthetic and construction points of the alto apply to the tenor version as well.  As beautiful a tenor sax as I have ever seen.  I fit my Jody Jazz mouthpiece on it and once again, the first notes I blew into it made me go "WOW".  It was simply one of the nicest tenor sounds I ever heard.  I have played them all, from Conn Chu Berry and M series saxes, to Buescher True Tone, Aristocrat and 400 saxophones, Martin Handcraft, Centennial, and Committee I, II and III and Magna saxes, King Zephyr and Super 20's, Selmer Modeles 22, 26, SBA, Mark VI, VII, SA 80 and SA 80 series II and III, Reference 54 and 36 saxes, all of the Yamaha, Keilwerth, P. Mauriat and Yanigasawa saxophones as well as some fine saxes by Buffet, and lesser known makers like Cuesnon, Dolnet and SML, and this tenor, as well as the alto could stand toe to toe with any of them as far as I am concerned.  I played one classical piece "The Swan" by Camille Saint Saens, and it had a cello like quality to it, which makes sense since it is originally played on that instrument.  Then I went for the blues and jazz ballads and tunes.  Like the alto, this tenor had a full and rich. well-balanced tone in all registers, and whatever I wanted to play, the horn responded in kind.  Want to play some Lester, or Ben, or Hawk, or Trane, or Sonny?  This horn can help you.  Of course, if you just want to sound like yourself, this horn can help you too.  I concluded by playing Clarence Clemons solo on "Jungleland".  I finished playing with a deep sense of satisfaction, wishing I could take these horns home.

I found these saxophones to be as really good as anything out there, regardless of price point.  The alto is going for around $2500, and the tenor at around $2800, though I have seen them for even less than that on various dealer web sites.  In appearance, mechanical action and sound, these saxophones are as good as any of the bigger name saxophones.  As much as I really loved the latest editions of the Selmer Reference 54, I have to honestly say that these two saxophones are every bit the match for that horn, and for less than the price of one Selmer, Keilwerth or Yanigasawa sax, you can have both the alto and tenor version of the Chateau 900 saxophones, and still have some change left over.  This is especially significant if you're a serious student who wants a better sax, or a working pro on a budget that still needs a top notch instrument for gigs and studio work.  For all intents and purposes, the Chateau 900 saxophones are excellent pro level horns, though some advertise this as a "high level Intermediate" horn, or a step up horn. It is in my estimation better than that.  Construction and build quality is solid, and they have the feeling of being a horn that will play and last for years.  These are killer horns, and if you are in the market for a new horn, or a better horn than you're playing, and not hung up on name, then I would give these saxophones serious consideration.

For more information visit their web sites


Here are a couple of videos demonstrating these saxophones.  He is constantly referring to them as high level intermediate horns or step up horns, but from my own playing, they are far better than that. 

If you're wondering why I haven't posted videos of myself playing the horns, it's because I am not making any money from this blog, and until Google allows me to make money from advertising, I just don't have the cash to buy the equipment needed to do make a good video.  However, as soon as I can, I will get a Zoom video recorder and then make video demos for future reviews, as well as putting them on older reviews. Bear with me.