Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Saxophones

It seems that we're in the midst of a new Golden Age of saxophone manufacturing.  The first Golden Age of saxophone manufacturing which went from the 1920's through the 60's, saw some of the greatest saxophones ever made by some of the best craftsmen and women from Europe and the USA, from companies like Selmer, Conn, Buescher, Martin, King, Buffet and smaller factories like Dolnet and SML.  Eventually saxophone production in the US ceased, and for a short while Selmer seemed to stand alone as far as premium professional saxophones went, though Buffet was always present.  However, companies like Julius Keilwerth of Germany and Yamaha and Yanagisawa of Japan came along and introduced top quality saxophones into the world market and giving musicians are wider choice.  It also showed that saxophones manufactured in Asia could be made as well as the best made anywhere else.

Where earlier the best saxophones were made in either Europe or America, now the scene has shifted to Europe and Asia, with Japan, Taiwan and China producing more saxophones per capita than anywhere else.  Until the early part of the new millenium, Taiwan was producing at best, student to intermediate level saxophones of varying quality, mostly so-so or just plain terrible.  However, as the demand for reasonably priced professional saxophones grew, Taiwanese manufacturers stepped up, improving the quality of the saxophones.  Now companies in Taiwan like P. Mauriat have placed themselves in the world market as makers of high quality and even innovative professional saxophones. As for China, it has rightly earned its reputation as churning out inferior junk, but this has now also dramatically changed.  Taking advantage of the low cost of labor and production coupled with the modern factories built in China, the established makers in Europe, Japan and Taiwan have contracted Chinese factories to produce high quality saxophones in their name to their specifications.   This has resulted in giving not only students, but also professionals a wider choice of options when looking for a new saxophone.

It would have seemed almost impossible just a few short years ago for any new company, particularly from Asia, to join the ranks of the top manufacturers in the world, but it is happening.  Once a company can establish itself in the marketplace with decent quality, reasonably priced student and intermediate models, they then have the resources to develop and market higher quality pro horns at price points which gives the pro player many more options.  Many professional players need to double not only on flute or clarinet, but also need to play at least two to three members of the saxophone family in order to get those competitive gigs.  Generally, the high cost of a high quality instrument makes it difficult for many players to afford the instruments they need to get those sessions.  Now, with manufacturers from Taiwan and China building excellent instruments at a competitive price point, the pro player and student alike can have a quality instrument that won't break the bank. 

I've already discussed the Buffet 400 line, which is built in China and Taiwan, and P. Mauriat which is built in Taiwan.  I love these saxophones because they look great, play great and sound great.  P. Mauriat very quickly established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the saxophone world.  They were the first company from Taiwan in my opinion that showed that a premium saxophone could be made outside of Europe and Japan.  In a short time they were being endorsed and played by some of the best contemporary players in the world. 

Recently I have been introduced to two fairly new companies who have recently entered the saxophone arena with what I consider quality instruments.  The first is Antigua Winds, and the other is Chateau.  Antigua Winds has actually been around for a while now.  Founded in 1991 by Fred Hoey in San Antonio, Texas, its original mission was to provide students and schools with low-cost quality brass and woodwind instruments.   In the last decade they introduced a line of professional quality saxophones, and have recently introduced a new model, The Pro One, which I will discuss shortly.  The other new company I just came across is called Chateau.  They are out of Taiwan and only recently introduced themselves into the US market when they established a distributorship in California. 

ANTIGUA WINDS

As mentioned above, Antigua Winds was established by Fred Hoey in 1991 with a line of student instruments, entering the professional market in the last half of the last decade.  While the headquarters for the company is located in San Antonio, Texas, the instruments are built in Taiwan.  However, the factory is owned by Antigua Winds and the materials are sourced by them as well.  They have now introduced a new model into the marketplace which is causing a little bit of a stir.  

The new line is called the ProOne, available as an alto and tenor.  It is not known whether or not they will eventually make a soprano and baritone version of this line.  I guess it depends on the success of these two models.  The saxophone was designed by Peter Ponzol, famous for his mouthpieces and saxophone necks.  In fact, it began with him designing a new neck for Antigua's existing saxophones.  The improvement was so pronounced that it was decided to build a whole new saxophone from the neck down.  The ProOne has a couple of innovative features to be sure.  

Along with the neck, the bells keys use double arms from the rods to close the lower tone holes, which branches out to three arms over the cups.  This is called a trident arm, and it is a first for any saxophone.  The tone holes on the bell are also rolled, in order to give a better seal and better projection.  However, the tone holes on the rest of the saxophone are flat for a more centered tone.  Keys have been positioned for an even more ergonomic and natural feel, and the thumb hook and octave key thumb rest is made of metal rather than plastic for a better feel of the resonance to the hands.  So this saxophone is a hybrid of several types of saxophone designs.  They also researched the molecular makeup of brass from French saxophones of the late 40's to early 60's to reference the brass they use for the ProOne. 
Antigua Winds ProOne Alto Saxophone

Antigua Winds ProOne Tenor Saxophone

From all the buzz about the ProOne, I am itching to get my hands on one of these and give them a try.  If any of my readers or followers have the opportunity to try one, please let me know.  Once I have the chance to do so, you can bet I'll write a review here.

CHATEAU

Chateau saxophones are made in Taiwan and have only entered the US market very recently.  I have heard about them and have done a little research on them, and I am eager to see and try them.  As of this writing that is all I can say for now.  However, here are a few models to check out, and if you can find a dealer that sells these horns, give them a try and report.  Again, once I do I will do a full review. 
Chateau Tenor Saxophone Dark Lacquer

Chateau Alto Saxophone Copper Finish

Chateau Tenor Nickel Silver


It certainly looks like the game field is expanding.

You can visit their web sites  at:
www.antiguawinds.com

www.chateauusamusic.com

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