Well, let's see...there's:What characteristics do those of you who "obsess" over the qualities of saxophones in a similar group think are the most significant.
It would be especially interesting to hear from repair people, instrument makers and longtime owners of many instruments, but the inevitable jokes and stories are all good.
~Mechanical Response (and related ergonomics)
~Quality of build (related to reliability/longevity)
~Quality if Finish
For me, the top two have always been Tone and Build. To me, it is the Tone which gives a horn its particular 'signature'.
However, Tone is of little use IF the horn Build is such that it has to be taken into the tech 3x/year for significant adjustments and corrections.
Intonation, IMHO, has always been an 'issue' which I think is overtalked. I have worked up over 1500 saxophones, probably 66% vintage, 33% modern. The vast majority had really NO intonational problems at all...this includes old 1920's split-bellkey models all the way up to contemporary new horns.
Yes, some older models tend to have more 'flex' to their intonation, but for me this is part of the 'sax experience' and really, is quite controllable and easy to dial into with a little playing time on the horn, and proper mouthpiece choice.
And quite honestly, a LOT of older models are as straight-arrow intonationally as any Yama or Yani. And...guess what ? ...a LOT of modern models can require as much intonational-dialing into via embouchure as an old model. So a lot of this is, IMHO, myth...
Blowing response - this is a BIGGIE and often gets left out of conversation unless you start talking to pretty experienced and serious players, but it is a significant aspect to what may make a horn model GREAT as opposed to just OK. This is one place where the entire horn becomes elevated, IMHO. This is where a model's greatness may be defined.
How does the horn respond to subtle changes in the players blowing/embouchure ? Can color and variation be coaxed out of the horn ? When you blow into it, is it as if you have to work to make it come alive ? Or is it like grabbing onto a moving train which is leaving the station ? (as in...it is almost telling you...."let's GO, buddy, I'll take you there !" Super 20, Conn Artists, Buescher 'Crats, Martin Committees, Holton 23X and 24X series, Keilwerths, Selmers, Borganis, R&C's, B&S's, Beaugniers, German Kohlerts, the better Pierrets, Yama 82's, Yanis, Eastmans, to name a few....they have this quality.
(A fellow on the other Forum made a really interesting statement recently, which describes this dynamic. I am paraphrasing, but it went like: "when I pick up my XX model, I play it and I feel I can do anything I want with it...when I pick up my YY model, I play it with the feeling 'OK, what is it gonna let me do ?" )
Build Quality - after Tone, of utmost importance. THIS is where MOST contemporary horns fail, oftentimes miserably (and I do NOT just mean cheapies....there are some very popular models and brands which have pretty high pricetags which fit right in this category, shockingly. (I will refrain from naming them, just to avoid starting a shootout).
But THIS is where many horns cannot pass muster. And THIS is the sort of thing which a new owner cannot really ascertain. It is a TEST OF TIME element, often. The horn, off of assembly line, may start out in quite good tack from the standpoint of regulation, lack of key play, etc. But will it hold up to normal/moderate playing ? Or higher-frequency playing ?
How good is your horn if, again, you have to bring it to your tech 3-4 times a year because it keeps getting leaks ?
Some horns, new and frsh out of box, already exhibit ridiulously poor precision of build. Others start of pretty 'tight', but their mechanisms, etc just are not fabricated well enough to keep in good, reliable regulation. There are even some brands (now we are getting into the cheapies) which, quite honestly...are just gonna get to the point where after a couple of years of moderate playing, they have moved towards unrepairable (or "the repair is gonna run more than the horn is worth, and there's no guarantee after the repair it won't need it again in a year").
Finish and Aesthetics - matters not to me at all....although (with due respect to those who get hooked on this stuff) I pretty much hate bling and faux antique finishes....just gimmicks. As far as Bare Brass, I personally fail to understand the draw (unless someone has fallen for teh whole "bare brass gives the horn a better tone because it allows the naked metal to resonate more' malarkey. To me, you are just buying yourself upkeep problems.
But with that said, we DO want a good, quality finish....not lacquer which wears or discolors quickly, not a faux finish which 'rubs off' in areas which are commonly touched, not cheap plating which begins to show its bras beneath within a few months of new ownership, etc...
Whew...done (for now)