Sunday, July 11, 2010
Saxophone Review: Buffet 400 Alto Sax
Buffet is one of the most famous name brands in the music industry. They make what are probably the most widely played clarinets in the world. The company begins its history with Denis Buffet-Auger who set up a small workshop in Paris in 1825 and quickly gained a reputation for making excellent 13 key clarinets. In those days, clarinets were made entirely by hand requiring slow and meticulous work. In 1830, Denis' son Jean-Louis Buffet took over the workshop, and when he married Zoe Crampon, they established the brand Buffet-Crampon. In 1844, the logo for Buffet-Crampon was designed and is the one stamped on all of their instruments to this day.
Louis Auguste Buffet, Jean-Louis' uncle, was friends with clarinetist Hyacinthe Klose who was also the author of the famed clarinet method used by many clarinet students today. Together they took the idea of movable rings which the German Theobald Bohm had developed for the flute and adapted it to the clarinet. First exhibited in 1839, the new system was so successful that the Buffet-Crampon factory was built in 1850 in Mantes-la-Ville in order to meet demand for the new clarinets.
Buffet-Crampon began making saxophones in 1866, only 20 years after its invention by Adolphe Sax. The first American made saxophone was built by Conn in 1888, and Selmer didn't begin making saxophones until the early 1920's, so Buffet was ahead of the pack. The first saxophones made by Buffet were fairly faithful to Adolphe Sax' original design, as he was licensing them.
In 1950, Buffet introduced their Dynaction line of saxophones. Many players and collectors will attest that this line of saxophones had slicker keywork and better action than the Selmer Balanced and Super Balanced Action saxes of the time. In 1957, they introduced an improved version called the Super Dynaction which was the only saxophone of the time that posed a serious challenge to the vaunted Selmer Mark VI. I know a couple of players who own them, and they swear it's the best horn they ever played. I had a chance to play one 20 years ago and I was very impressed. The action was super slick, the sound had the kind of darkness I like, but with lots of spread for either playing jazz or classical, or anything in-between. On top of that, it looked like a work of art.
Unfortunately, Buffet-Crampon never gained the respect and popularity of their saxophone line as they had with their clarinets. Selmer had cornered the saxophone market, and one thing I learned about sax players is that it's very hard to change their beliefs about something once they fix their minds. They want to try everything out there, but they do so with a fixed attitude, and very few will admit that something is better than the instrument they swear is the best ever made because everyone says so or because they paid so much for it, how can a medium priced horn made in China even compare? Fortunately, there are a few players left out there who have open minds and will judge something by its own merit, and not by its so-called reputation.
When I opened the cases of the lacquer and the matte finished saxophones, I was greeted with the sight of a beautiful work of art. Both instruments were beautifully engraved from bell to neck and on the keys and on the inner rim of the bell. The Buffet-Crampon logo is beautifully stamped on the bell, and the bell brace is solid and also has the Buffet logo on it. The gold lacquer had a deep honey color to it. The matte finish was very well done. On both horns I could not detect any flaws on the finishes, even minor ones. When I picked up the horns, I felt like I was holding a quality instrument. They felt solid and had weight behind them, nothing shoddy here. The keywork was solid and the keys just snapped into place, feeling as good as any Selmer, Yamaha or Yanigasawa that I've played. The keys were cupped so the fingers would fit neatly into them. The bell keys had double braces for extra snap and better seal. On both horns, everything was fit nice and tight. No loose keys, nothing out of place. These horns were inviting me to play them.
Buffet-Crampon has re-entered the saxophone market with a strong product. This is a saxophone that I could easily make my primary horn, a sax I would be proud to take to any gig. It looks good, it plays good, it sounds great. Then there's the price point. At around $1650.00, depending on the dealer, you are paying an intermediate price for what is essentially a pro horn. I personally think that it's the best saxophone deal out there. At the inflated prices of the top name brands, you could buy two or three of these horns. It is time to put aside any pre-conceived notions and give these horns a try. I know that it's sometimes difficult to get rid of old prejudices, but I think you'll be as surprised as I was.