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kevgermany

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I've been thinking about posting this for some time, but what happened yesterday convinced me. I've had more than one, including ones rated OK by knowledgable people.

Before I go into details, it looks as if they're built down to a price, corners are cut, they play because of bodges, and some don't ever play well. So really cheap entry ones including some played by members like me, may have underlying problems that you're unaware of. OK if you're aware and treat it as a starter, but if there's a problem and you're a beginner, how do you know if it's you or the sax?

No names.

A sax has been giving me problems for a while now. Pads wouldn't seal, neck was loose and leaking. Not sure why/how the neck was loose, but it came to me like that. So I had the neck refitted, now seats properly, doesn't leak. But it still didn't play too well. After checking with a leak light I found that many of the pads were leaking, some badly. I decided to adjust them, but many wouldn't seal, looking more closely I noticed a tone hole had a dip in the top, this was causing one of the leaks. So I dismantled all the keys from the lower stack down. I found that not one tone hole was flat. Some were really bad, had clearly been badly sawn off in manufacture by someone in a rush who didn't care or didn't have time to sort it. After quite some time filing down the tone holes to get them flat, time to reassmble (hoping I could get away without replacing pads, cos many I didn't have). Cleaned off all the old stiff grease. Checked the remaining keys - upper stack was poor, but the soft pads were compemsating reasonably well and I'd been able to adjust. However I then noticed a very small leak on one of the LH palm keys - didn't reseat properly after opening. I opened all the small high keys. A couple, with a tone hole height of less than 2mm, had dips in them of about 1mm. The spongy pads had compensated, sort of... More filing, and starting to get worried about cutting back too far.

Eventually it was back together, re-regulated and.... What a difference. Most of the problems were gone. There's still a problem in the upper stack which I didn't dismantle. I'd been able to play through the problems with an expensive moutpiece and good technique, but it was always tricky, despite the sax having a good tone. Lubricated jeys were a lot lighter/faster (the grease had stopped previous oiling attmepts from working).

This was a premium model from a well known supplier of cheap saxes that's often recommended on the forum. I was told by the previous owner that it'd been checked over by a well known tech before sale from the supplier. Hmmm...

This isn't unique. On another one, I knew the horn was poor before I bought it (seller warned me). Similar problems, only worse. With another the price told me - I bought horn and S80 mouthpiece for little more than the price of the mouthpiece. Looks as if a young girl had stuggled with it for a year or two, then given up. This shouldn't have been like that. But it was, disguised by super soft pads. In total I've had 5 cheapo chinese. Only one has played properly, all the rest have had problems that require a technician to fix.


So what's the message?
You may get lucky buying cheap, but..... Make sure you have a decent guarantee. Treat the sax as a throw away. Get someone who really knows what they're doing to check it out properly. Any doubts, send it back. Better still buy a decent, well known make, used if you can't afford new. As soon as you're paying someone to sort out problems like this (especially when you factor in postage/transport) the savings are quickly eaten away. And this after the frustration of struggling with a problem instrument, not knowing if it's you or not. Those bright shiney saxes may be little more than just glitz. Despite stories that the cheap saxes are OK now.
 
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Ads

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""So what's the message?
You may get lucky buying cheap, but..... Make sure you have a decent guarantee. Treat the sax as a throw away.""

And People wonder why I keep recommending old Yamahas ..even if they need servicing when you get them, they CAN be serviced and the bits which wear badly on cheap saxes (Keywork parts) are as tough as nails on old Yamahas . I`m sure my YAS21 will be battling on somewhere after a lot of even high end Taiwanese horns are turned into fancy lampstands .. one thing a YAS21/23/25 is not is "Throwaway"
 

Ivan

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""So what's the message?
You may get lucky buying cheap, but..... Make sure you have a decent guarantee. Treat the sax as a throw away.""

And People wonder why I keep recommending old Yamahas ..even if they need servicing when you get them, they CAN be serviced and the bits which wear badly on cheap saxes (Keywork parts) are as tough as nails on old Yamahas . I`m sure my YAS21 will be battling on somewhere after a lot of even high end Taiwanese horns are turned into fancy lampstands .. one thing a YAS21/23/25 is not is "Throwaway"
Fairy nuff
 

altissimo

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there was an article on one of the american sax websites (musicmedic?) where they set one of their apprentices the task of overhauling a cheap chinese sax. I forget the exact details, but the problems encountered were far more than what Kev describes - loose keywork bodged with bits of leather was one thing I do remember.
When the Selmer Preludes first came on the market, everyone raved about them, I tried one and it was great, but later batches soon started to have problems and shops stopped stocking them. I think they've improved since then, but it must've been a major headache getting batch consistency

If you google 'chinese quality control' you'll find that a lot of companies that have stuff made in China face constant problems with corner cutting - entire batches of products get scrapped because the manufacturers cut corners and fitted a cheaper component than the one specified etc. It's generally assumed that at least 10% will end up rejected.
For a company importing cheap chinese instruments this means that you'd have to check each one thoroughly and that would mean having more staff and increase the price considerably.
Alternatively you can just check a few from each batch and hope for the best, ship 'em out to customers offering a no quibble guarantee and replace any that get returned, effectively using the customers as quality control. Except that most of the customers will be beginners and won't know if they've got a duff sax or if they're just not playing it well enough yet.
Ads' point about buying a cheap Yamaha is fair enough, but cheap Yamahas are hard to find these days - the last 'ratty' YAS 21 I saw on ebay went for £165, add on the cost of a full overhaul and you end up paying a lot more than a cheapo Venus.
You were lucky, Ads - if I'm not mistaken you got your 'rat' from the king of bargains, David UK and had it fixed up for a decent price by Paul Carrington. There are some sax techs who'd charge you £300 for a full overhaul.
Of course there are other options than Yamahas, if you can find a Trevor James, Buffet Evette or Jupiter that's been well looked after for a bargain price then you're into safer territory than a chinese cheapy that may or may not have issues.
This is not to say that all chinese saxes are bad, many people are quite happy with their instruments, it's just a pity that chinese manufacturers seem to have an attitude of wanting to sneak in the duff one's and hope you won't notice
 

Ads

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Ads' point about buying a cheap Yamaha is fair enough, but cheap Yamahas are hard to find these days - the last 'ratty' YAS 21 I saw on ebay went for £165, add on he cost of a full overhaul and you end up paying a lot more than a cheapo Venus.

Of course there are other options than Yamahas, if you can find a Trevor James, Buffet Evette or Jupiter that's been well looked after for a bargain price then you're into safer territory than a chinese cheapy that may or may not have issues.

This is true though on the first part, I`d rather have a fixed up 23 than a Venus in the same way I`d rather pay more for a repaired Lexus than a new Hyundai, and its rare that they need a full £300 rebuild - and Paul and Connollys are still puitting horns back on the road at sensible prices ....... I agree with your second point about bargain Taiwanese horns such as TJ Revolutions , Elkhart Deluxes , newer Jupiters (avoid the one labelled "500 series" and stick with the 567 or better) Tick-Logo Sakkusus (same as the Elky Deluxe) etc as these can represent a great bargain ........

Buffet evettes are a can of worms, they can be anything from Chinese junk at its worst to a Julius Keilwerth model only 1 step below an SX90 - some are Amati-Cortons (very serviceable if a bit agricultural) others if I remember are B&M (best avoided IMO) ..
Finding a Keilwerth Evette is like finding a Yanagisawa made Corton - the New Pot at the end of the rainbow which took over from the £20 Junk-shop MkVI as the rare pipedream .
 

Reed Warbler

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Good idea to get an experienced player, preferably mechanically minded, to try out any potential purchase for you. I took a chance with a new Jericho soprano and have had absolutely no problems with it. Of course I may have just been lucky but I've not heard anything bad about them and they come with a three year guarantee.
 

jbtsax

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Ebay USA is full of brand new saxophones that are "director approved" and sell for around $200 (£120). A top quality student alto sax, the Chateau sells for $875 (£524) over 4 times the cost of the cheap, poorly made, poorly designed, sax made with inferior materials that unknowing people buy on Ebay. The real "losers" are the students who are excited to start band with their new shiny saxophone that often doesn't play out of the box, costs more to repair correctly than it cost, and has no resale value whatsoever.

If, and when the mainland Chinese learning curve and standard rises to where their saxophones can compete with those made in the best factories in Taiwan, and Vietnam the prices will rise accordingly. Till then "you get what you pay for" with regard to the models I have described above.
 

jonf

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Hmm, tricky subject, this. OK, here we go with my thoughts and observations.

  • I think that to brand the entire output of a huge economy as homogenous and of inferior quality is just prejudice.
  • When I started learning sax, well over thirty years ago, a mediocre used tenor was £290 (maybe £650 in today's values). I've still got the sax, and it still plays OK, but is nowhere near as good as the best Chinese manufactured instruments I've owned. Any sax which comes to market which plays OK and costs £200-£300 has got to be a good thing. And whatever the nay-sayers maintain, they do exist.
  • Some saxes trumpeted as great are not, in my experience (and that's my experience, not something I read on the internet) so great. BW saxes with hopelessly sticky pads and soft keywork, a Conn Selmer which was just awful. On the other hand, I've had super-cheapies which have played fine. Odyssey AS130 bought for fifty quid which played really well, some no-namers which were adequate, new for less than £100. By way of balance I have had a cheapy which was so awful I dismantled it and grew herbs in it - I just couldn't, in all conscience, sell it on.
  • I do still think that Yamaha YAS21/23/25 represent the best buy for a student sax, again, based on experience of owning over 80 saxes. However, I'd be perfectly happy with some of the alternatives I've played.
  • A lot of companies use Western sounding names, but manufacture in mainland China, including Conn Selmer, Bauhaus Walstein and Chateau.

So my thinking? Whenever you buy a sax, either go to a truly trusted retailer with a technician permanently on staff, or take someone with you who can play sax, and play well. People don't do this with musical instruments, which baffles me. If you'd never ridden a motorbike before, and didn't know an MZ from a Moto Guzzi, you wouldn't go to buy one without some sort of help, would you? So why do it with a sax?

As ever, these are my views only. Other opinions are available.
 

Zootsax

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I agree. A reputable dealer can help students find something that is worth the money. It's sad that many people are duped with extremely low prices on junk horns.
 
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Ads

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you'd never ridden a motorbike before, and didn't know an MZ from a Moto Guzzi, you wouldn't go to buy one without some sort of help, would you? So why do it with a sax? .

The Safe answer is the same there too ------- Get a YAMAHA ... Sorry couldn`t resist :rofl:
 

Colin the Bear

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Just some thoughts....

A good instrument at any price is a good instrument.

Salesmen make more money than technicians and skilled factory workers.

Advertising agencies make more than factories.

Gear with a reputation will have a premium price regardless of quality.

We English like to pay as much as we can afford for a thing and consider any low cost item to be automatically poor quality.

In my experience some of the worst players have the most expensive gear.

I'd like to get to the level where manufacturers are chasing me to play their gear.

Free is the best price.
 

jbtsax

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  • I think that to brand the entire output of a huge economy as homogenous and of inferior quality is just prejudice.
I try not to do that. If anyone can name a well made saxophone that comes from mainland China I would be very interested. To date I am not aware of any. All of the good quality offshore instruments that I am familiar with come from eitherTaiwan, or Vietnam.
A lot of companies use Western sounding names, but manufacture in mainland China, including Conn Selmer, Bauhaus Walstein and Chateau.

I know for a fact that the Chateau saxophones marketed in the U.S. and elsewhere are manufactured by Tenon Industries who have their own plants in central Taiwan, and Vietnam. They are not made in mainland China.
 

altissimo

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and its rare that they need a full £300 rebuild - .
you try telling that to ____ _______ (name withheld due to potential libel) I've taken saxes into a repairer with a few pads needed replacing and a bit of tweaking, only to be quoted £300 for a full overhaul - and how do you haggle when he's the only guy in town?
Now I live in the east midlands I may someday figure out the magical combination of trains and buses that will get me to Paul Carrington's lair in Flintham.

It's likely that at least 50% of the saxes that come out of China are quite playable, although, as been pointed out on here before, the economics of servicing and repadding may not be sustainable and when examined closely with a critical eye, may not live up to the quality of Yamaha or Yanagisawa

I've considered getting a cheap chinese alto myself, something to take the strain off my beloved Martin for rougher gigs, but the problem is that most of them are sold mail order and it's not possible to try before you buy. I recently had a go on a whatever the cheapest model is Trevor James alto and it was a decent instrument, no doubt it's made in China, but TJ take quality control seriously and as a result it's £150 more than the Venus. This extra money represents hundreds of hours spent communicating with the manufacturers, travelling to and fro to inspect the production line and a great deal of care and attention. It would also help keep a small local music shop in business. But £350 would also get me another Martin..

"We English like to pay as much as we can afford for a thing and consider any low cost item to be automatically poor quality" - I hope I'm around when you're buying lunch :cheers:
I always thought we're a tight fisted bunch with short arms and deep pockets, brought up on the legacy of wartime rationing
 

kevgermany

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Point I'm trying to make is that some of the so called bargains aren't, including some of the stuff recommended by some on the forum.

There is good kit around at a fair price. But - assume a cheap sax is built down to that price, and make decisions accordingly.
 

jonf

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Kev's point is absolutely right. If you pay £250 for a sax, what you're getting is a £250 sax, not a Yanagisawa (or insert alternative quality brand name here) for 10% of the price. Some of them are very playable at that price. Whether they will still play well in 10 years time, I'd doubt, but that's scarcely the point at that price level.

Reasonable quality inexpensive instruments made in China, which I have played - again, actually played, not read about on the internet - include SMS Academy Jericho, some Bauhaus Walstein, Odyssey and John Packer. All played fine.

Incidentally, to add some balance', the two worst saxes I've ever played were made, respectively, in the US in the 1970s and France in the 1960s. Just my personal experience. (That said, the next worst was Chinese!).
 

Clivey

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Gear, Gear, Gear, GAS

We all love to get sold a bargain for sure.

For what it`s worth, My Bentley ( Chinese)Series 2 Clone is a terrific horn Now but it required hours & hours of upgrades ( adjustment and buffering materials) and a new Chinese neck to get it this way. I`d have died to have a horn as good as this when I started out but all I had was my pretty rubbish Arta Guban, but the thing was I loved that horn so much I`d take photos of it and just stare it it when it got too late to play. It was loving that horn that drove me to overcoming all the crap and giving it the hours to get the most I could from it. and when I moved to the Conn I had my work cut out for me to get the best I could do on that too, which included a couple of on stage nightmares in front of pretty big audiences.

The Industry / business relationship is absolutely existential but Music is Art and can`t be bought and paid for in beans only blood, sweat, pain and often tears too. The honest answer to the Gear thing is that if you want to get the most from gear you need to play the damned horn you`ve got and need to play it lots .A lot more than most ( included myself) are prepared to do.
 

aldevis

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A £300 horn works as an alternative to £300 spent hiring one. Some serious companies would fix issues, if a teacher recognizes them.
Also the first batch is always better, to enter the market.
I had great experience with Robbie at Jericho and with Jon at John Packer. I have also seen both bad Jerichos and JP.

I always explore possibilities for my students, and I reviewed a Jupiter made horn (ROC) that sounded promising. But we are talking of £500 price tags, like a SH YAS25.

If I had to choose for a student, I would make sure I check the horn, and recommend the company with the best communication and return policy.

After few years I still sometimes use the JPs. They definitely paid for themselves.

I like naming horns, if you haven't noticed.
 

kernewegor

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Just some thoughts....

A good instrument at any price is a good instrument.

Salesmen make more money than technicians and skilled factory workers.

Advertising agencies make more than factories.

Gear with a reputation will have a premium price regardless of quality.

We English like to pay as much as we can afford for a thing and consider any low cost item to be automatically poor quality.

In my experience some of the worst players have the most expensive gear.

I'd like to get to the level where manufacturers are chasing me to play their gear.

Free is the best price.

Colin the Bear has, as usual, produced some very thoughtful comments expressed absolutely clearly and pithily. One or two may be arguable in detail or degree, but are surely true in essence.

Cultural differences exist, of course: we Cornish like to pay as little as we can for a thing and consider any high cost item to be automatically a rip-off....

Dr Johnson once said that it is not necessary to be a carpenter to critisise a chair. That is unarguable. However we have no information on how many chairs collapsed when Dr Johnson sat on them.

I was for many years a boat builder and later a marine surveyor. I would warn anyone against taking advice from a yachtsman on boat construction, quality of build and materials. Performance and handling, yes, but for construction, boatbuilders who do a lot of repair work are the ones to ask - or surveyors with the same background and experience...

Construction of cars... ask a mechanic, not a driver. Televisions...television repair man, not a quiz show fan...Saxophone construction... ask a saxophone repair expert...

Stephen Howard's website strikes a chord (!) with me. His reviews name not merely the manufacturer and the model but also the year of manufacture - important, because quality of a model can vary over time. His detailed reports are models of clarity and precise description. He deals in the measurable and the observable and avoids speculation and generalisations. If the instrument he is reviewing has faults, they are clearly and impassionately described. He does not pull his punches, however hallowed the name of the manufacturer.

He has a scientific approach and analytic methodology. In one article he describes how he precisely tested the resistance to bending of keys from a very expensive Japanese sax and a cheap Chinese sax. He found that the expensive sax had significantly softer metal... refuting generalisations which are commonly bandied about....

I'd suggest that anyone thinking of buying a saxophone should read and reread Stephen's articles and try to develop a balanced and informed approach to assessing quality, workmanship, and how to look for faults which even new, unused and very expensive instruments may have.

His review of ultra cheap Chinese horns will surprise many...

Facts, Mr Gradgrind, facts...
 

altissimo

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I just noticed the March 2014 postscript on Mr Howard's cheap horn article and this may be pertinent -

"As things stand now I'd say that the next big hurdle is consistency. In larger terms this relates to general build quality. It's often the case that I'll examine an Ultra Cheap horn and find that the body is rather nicely built...but the keywork less so...and vice versa. And this on the same brand/model.
Sometimes it's just a single flaw which lets the horn down - a warped tonehole or a key with a chunk missing out of the cup wall.
The truly frustrating thing about this is that when they do get it right, the results are often surprisingly good"

obviously I'm quoting out of context and the full article is worth a read - http://www.shwoodwind.co.uk/Reviews/Ultra_Cheap_horns.htm
 

jbtsax

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Kernewegor's points are well take. As a player, music teacher, and repair tech I take the long view and ask if the instrument is made in such a way as to be both dependable and repairable if something should break. Something that looks nice and plays pretty well at first, but soon breaks down due to shoddy workmanship and poor quality materials is a poor investment in my view. What good is any tool if you can't depend on it to work when you need it to?

Several years ago a make of automobile hit our shores with an attractive price tag and quite good styling. It was called the Yugo. Lots of folks soon regretted buying one because they would have been more appropriately named the "You Don't Go". Any mechanic could have looked past the cosmetics and warned the customers about what they were getting into.
 

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