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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCJAAvp8F08

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoLx2stJ59g

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnuWWJX392I

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