My Musical Equipment Closet

An opinionated collecton of short reviews of saxophones and woodwinds and the accessories which they require.

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Location: Santa Cruz, California, United States

"Other cultures are not failed attempts at being us. They are all unique manifestations of the human imagination and the human heart." Wade Davis

Sunday, May 06, 2007

And the winner is . . . Vespro!

I've been in a lonely crusade for more than ten years now to wipe conventional student instruments off the face of the earth. Yes, I mean the venerable Bundy and the Yamaha YAS-23, as well as a host of dumbed down other woodwinds which cause kids to lose interest in playing long before their parents have made the final payment.

Believe me, the music retailers know this and capitalize on the "yo-yo effect" that brings the horn back to them before the contrat is up (with substantial penalties). With the once-over from the back shop, back it goes into the rental pool, doomed to find another sucker.

The YAS-23 and the various strains of Bundy (viz. Selmer USA, derivatives now made in Taiwan and who knows where else) were designed in the fifties. Why are they dumbed down? They lack a note now considered a requirement for a saxophone--F#. Their pinkie table lack articulations, which are necessary for arpeggios from the bottom of the horn going up or the top of the horn coming down. These articulations are interlocks causing the left hand little finger to cause more than one note in combination with the other fingers.

It's not like it's new and revolutionary technology. The Universal Saxophone Method. which any day now is going to celebrate its 100th anniversary (and holds the distinction for the best method ever written for the saxophone IMHO) mentions the little-finger articulations as being then new, covered by Evette's patents. So, with that mention I'd estimate that every saxophone made after a certain date (for Conn that date was in the middle thrities). But, for whatever reason, the folks at Conn Selmer and Yamaha keep cranking out horns without articulations so young players never gain the facility necessary to arpeggiate a Bb minor chord. How many of these players, disappointed, fall by the wayside is anyone's guess.

I believe that the best student horn is a professional horn. Student line Bundy and Yamaha saxophones may look flashy--they tend toward light lacquer finishes with contrasting nickel-plated keywork. But try to play one of these dogs with fleas and you'll see what I mean by "intentionally hobbled." What the manufacturers gain from a saxophone which for thousands will be the end of the line in saxophone playing I could not say. But know this: Conn was perpetrating the same crap when I ws starting out back in the early sixties. I had the choice in 4th grade between a new flashy-looking Conn and a Conn 6M, a pro horn made in the late thirties, covered with green rash and dents. My dad was a musician and he made it clear that it was no contest. The old Conn was a far better horn.

So, to sum up this part of the blog entry today, if you're picking out a horn for someone you love in a school band program, BEWARE of the horns sold by most music retailers as "student horns." They are little more than instruments designed to come back to them and to rent out again and again, something that would happen a lot less if the horns were up to a professional standard to begin with.

We saxophone players actually have it easy with our instruments. I believe the finest saxophones made nowadays go for $4000-$7000 NEW! Used, anywhere from $800 to $3000 and some careful shopping and you've got it made. Now, our flute playing brothers and sisters are dealing with top instruments for $2500 to $25,000, and the more you pay the subtler the differences between the flutes, generally speaking. Used pro flutes tend to gather around $1500 for Japanese models and $3000-$7000 for a used Haynes or Powell. (Both companies are still in Boston, and both were sold to Asian manufacturers, BTW.) Your results will vary, but you can see that you get a lot for your saxophone dollar by comparison.

Which brings us to the latest arrival at the Closet, the Vespro line of saxophones.

They come in alto, tenor and soprano, and each of them is available in gold epoxy lacquer, silver plate with silver plate keywork, and black nickel with silver keywork. Now what makes these Vespro astonishing is that they're going to occupy the marketing niche of the beginner horns, although they have no dumbed-down beginner horn features.

I played the first production arrivals in San Antonio last week, and I must say I was impressed. The finshes were flawless. With my mouthpieces they sounded like pro horns. With the stock mouthpieces they sounded a little less edgy, which is cool for school band.

I must say I'd have no trouble using one of these as a back-up horn, or on a cruise ship, where a pro horn can really take a few lumps in the course of a contract. (Ask me.)

More importantly, I would recommend them without hesitation for a beginner. I've gone through them so far with two repair techs and both were impressed with the build quality and playability.

So, let's get down to the prices and features:


2 necks, High F# AND High G, playable stock mouthpiece with backpack model case.

Retail (which nobody pays but which is often the basis price on a rental contract) is $1350, you should be able to find them for around $1100.

This instrument is a screaming high note player with dead nuts pitch. If you play another saxophone, this is a very compelling buy for a soprano, which you're likely to play less.

Alto, to High F#

Retail is $1300, and look for a dealer who'll sell them at around $1150.

This alto is great! I played the silver-plate model, which has a coat of epoxy lacquer so tarnish maintenance isn't a consideration, like some manufacturers I could name. This horn will cost LESS than the YAS-23 while it outplays it by a mile.

Tenor, also to High F#

Retail is $1600, I'd look for it in the $1300 range.

I played the black nickel model, which also has a protective coat of epoxy lacquer. Big fat sound in the low register. High register plays like there's no tomorrow. I'd put it up against the YTS-23 any day. Nice bell engraving, with the lacquer finish peeking through the engraving.

All these horns are available in Gold Lacquer, Anodized Black Nickel with Silver Plate Keys, and Silver plated body, also with Silver Plate keys.

Look for an announcement when the new Orpheus site is online for more pictures and a matrix of the Features/Benefits.


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