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.  

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