All profit supporting special needs music education and Help Musicians
SYOS

Saxophones Sequoia saxophones review

David Roach

Senior Member
Subscriber
Messages
658
Sequoia review. Part 1

As promised rather a long time ago, here's my Sequoia story!

This all started for me when I first met Aldevis. We originally got together during a pass-around of a Phil-Tone mouthpiece and, after finding much in common in terms of gear interest, he showed me his Sequoia horns and asked me to play them so that he could hear the difference in various necks. At that time I wasn’t really looking to replace my current Selmer saxes, but the Sequoias were, and remained, interesting and very good value. They were definitely not the run-of-the-mill Taiwan-component horns because I could feel straight away that they had a very good sound with depth and solidity, but in a way that is entirely different from other modern saxes.

Apart from a short period in the mid-80s where I played a set of Yamahas I have played Selmer saxes for all of my 40 years as a musician. Mk6s, Mk7s, SA80 Series 2s and finally Series 3s and a Reference 54 alto. So I’m well entrenched in the Selmer sound. But lately I have felt that I would like to have the option to more readily achieve something different; something broader and warmer than I have been getting on modern Selmers: also there are areas of the modern Selmer that I feel are weak. Having footled around with most of the alternatives I had not found anything I truly liked; despite the ‘big 4’ manufacturers’ horns and some others good points, nothing grabbed me as being worth the effort of changing. I am also very aware that gear we initially perceive as ‘better’ mostly turns out simply to be ‘different’ and in trying to solve something I didn’t like by making a change of equipment I have mostly ended up with a completely different set of problems.

I had a few reservations about the Sequoias at first: Aldevis lent me a K91 soprano last year and I found the keywork was a little rough at the edges and I wasn’t sure about one or two of the necks which seemed for the sake of flexibility to disturb the octave relationships. On Aldevis’ suggestion I emailed Roberto Buttus with my thoughts and eventually forgot about it all!

However, in July this year I was in the area of Udine with the Nyman Band for a few days, so on Aldevis’ suggestion and with his help, I contacted Roberto Buttus who makes the Sequoia saxophones and Savût trumpets and set up a morning visit. I was collected from my hotel by Cristina who is Roberto’s excellent ‘right-hand’ and driven about half an hour south of Udine to the workshop. I was immediately made to feel absolutely at home, not just with the offer of coffee and the presence of so many saxophones, but through the most hospitable, friendly and caring welcome. ‘Please, make yourself at home’ has almost never felt so genuine and I relaxed immediately.

During that morning I played sopranos, altos and one tenor. I was immediately impressed by how much work had been done on the areas that I had previously found problematic. The keywork was now comfortable and smooth and the tuning issues I had experienced, particularly on the alto, seemed to have been considerably ameliorated. Roberto’s inspiring attitude is that all his instruments are a ‘work in progress’ and that he will always strive to improve them, whether by refining the keywork or by improving the bore and neck of each instrument.

Because of Roberto’s own reservations about the Sequoia tenor in the hands of someone who he perceived to be mainly a ‘classical’ player he was reluctant to let me play one: but I persuaded him that I understood each saxophone as a separate instrument, that I had as much experience on tenor as anything else, and that I also played as much non-classical as anything else. I had played Aldevis tenor (which, let’s face it he sounds spectacular on!) but found it more extensively different to a modern Selmer than I did the soprano and alto. The intonation curves on the Sequoia tenor are not set up for a ‘classical-type’ approach (stable, consistent embouchure and vocal tract from top to bottom) but work well with a ‘jazz-type’ approach where the embouchure moves quite radically between the registers, meaning that the right-hand is quite a bit sharper than the left for someone like me and, evidently, for a lot of other true classical players. However, I actually loved the tenor a lot because despite the scale the octaves were really in-tune with themselves and the palm keys exceptionally strong and in-tune. I have spent a great deal of time with the palm key registers on all my modern Selmers, working on alternate fingerings and adjusting key heights etc. etc. to avoid excessive sharpness in pitch, thinness of tone etc. and so it was with huge relief that I found all the Sequoias radically better in this area.

Right then and there I committed to returning to Italy to buying an alto, and on my return home I decided to buy a soprano too, if I could find one I liked. I must admit the price of these instruments has quite a bit to do with my readiness to buy them; the soprano and alto retail in Italy for slightly less than €2000.00 apiece, less than half the price of a Selmer. But, I must also make it very clear that the price is a bonus: the Sequoia instruments are absolutely up to the job musically.

~~~~

In September I returned to Italy to test and purchase a soprano and alto. I flew out Ryanair to Trieste on a Wednesday, tested instruments on the Thursday, made some tweaks and continued testing on the Friday morning and flew home on the Friday late afternoon. Once again I was treated with exquisite hospitality, collected from the airport, lodged in a winery (!) and fed and watered. Unfortunately I came down with a bug whilst I was there, but with Aldevis' (who just happened to be visiting his home town of Trieste) kind assistance I chose two excellent instruments.

In the morning of the first full day I played three of the Sequoia Lemon altos. (Yes, I know ‘Lemon’ has undesirable connotations as regards musical instruments, but let it go, let it go…). The Lemon is an unlacquered brass instrument with lacquered keywork, ostensibly designed for players who like a free blowing, broad sound. Each one was a little different in intonation and in freeness of blowing. The Sequoias come with two necks as standard, so once I had settled on a particular alto as a favourite, I played a number of necks on it and selected two that performed equally well but gave somewhat different feels. One is very open in feel, the other is more compact and focused; they have similar intonation characteristics. I may in future also try to find a neck with a more contained sound for classical work, maybe a higher copper content lacquered one.

In the afternoon I played sopranos. I had three instruments to choose from again, but two were unlacquered Lemons and one was a K91. The K91 has a higher copper content which gives slightly rose colour to the lacquered brass; it’s designed more for classical players who want a somewhat warmer and more contained sound. In the end I chose a Lemon with a good strong open tone. I had a bit of difficulty selecting the right neck – too much to choose from! Roberto very kindly allowed me to take four necks away with me. Two are the standard unlacquered, one of which is more spread than the other, one of the K91 necks and finally one special unlacquered which I believe is Roberto’s own personal neck. The K91 neck immediately transforms the instrument into a much more compact instrument tonally, but the one I have used most is Roberto’s special which has great tuning and a big sound that I can really hear well in a noisy band!

So that was September. I had a thoroughly good trip (apart from my bug which lasted only a day) and got the saxes back home without incident on Ryanair. I use a large hard-shell suitcase which fits the ‘Trekking’ style of case perfectly for touring. Both saxes went in very snugly and the case still weighed just under 20kgs even with two bottles of wine inside. This is what I recommend for touring with instruments nowadays (the wine too). No hassle at airports because it doesn’t look like a musical instrument and in 18 or so years of using this approach with the Nyman Band I have never so for had a problem.

~~~~~~~~

My next aim was to get familiar enough with the Sequoias to use them on the recent Nyman Band gigs in Spain last week and at the Barbican concert last Monday; basically 6 weeks to sort out the tuning and get any tweaks done. No problem I thought until I trapped a nerve in my right shoulder which has resulted in quite a lot of pain and a numb first finger all of which rather limited my practice time. Also I suffered the usual doubts after the honeymoon of a week or so – have I done the right thing, have I chosen the right instruments? etc and so on, you know the score. Nonetheless I did use them on the gigs and I am very pleased to report that they performed fantastically. The sound is big and fat and does not require a hard reed at all. The palm keys are excellent and I felt I could really depend on their stability, especially on the soprano, but also the lower end is really free and solid to play. OK, no sax is perfect, I still have to concentrate on tuning and breath delivery, but these two instruments have really lived up to my expectations. I have reverted temporarily to Vandoren mouthpieces and reeds in order to achieve a sort of ‘base-level’ of the instruments for me. SL4 with Blue Box 3s on the soprano, V16 A5M with V16 2.5s on alto. Very dependable, very straightforward, no extra stress. I can get loads of power from these instruments with no problems and I have found their intonation to be very solid in all dynamics.

However, I am not going to allow this to be a review without some deeper insights into the instruments which will follow in due course.

WP_20161002_09_31_21_Pro.jpg
 

David Roach

Senior Member
Subscriber
Messages
658
Sequoia review. Part 2.

The body tubes and the keywork of all the saxes are made to Roberto’s specifications in Taiwan. So far the unlacquered brass has not shown much discoloration at all and my hands don’t get that brassy smell that I experienced on other unlacquered instruments, possibly because I am mostly touching the lacquered keywork. I think it’s a good way of doing things and looks cool.

Soprano

The bore of this instrument is basically that of the Yanagisawa but with many tweaks that Roberto has made. Despite my enthusiasm for this soprano, this particular instrument has one or two intonation issues that I would like to see minimized in the future.

The low E, Eb & D get progressively flatter which leaves the low C feeling a bit sharp and the low B and Bb feel a bit uneven and constrained.

The middle C and C# have excellent tone quality but lean to the sharp side: this is quite good when coming from the middle D which in itself is surprisingly well in tune, but I have been used to the rather flat middle C & C# of the Selmer so some thought and work is needed on my part to adjust these tendencies and I have been adding various fingers to the C# to flatten it a little which makes a welcome change from the frankly rather nasal quality of my Series 3s’ middle C#.

Perhaps the most problematic thing (relatively) is the weakness of the middle E, not a great note on any sax, but again this needs work on my part and I will have to devote a good amount of long note practice to really train myself and that note to behave well. Lastly, the top C, C# and D are a bit flat: it’s not entirely unexpected, but they are flat to the extent that I have to close my throat up and bite a little which reduces the vibrancy of the tone. Also the top D seems quieter than the notes around it when I’m playing in a group: I think this is an aural illusion because the sound is projecting itself to the side maybe? It’s something I have to make allowances for at the moment for sure. Top Eb & E are fantastic notes, really strong, clear and solid. Top F and above get a little less predictable, but that’s as much to do with learning to voice them as anything else and these are notes that are less predictable on any soprano.

Alto

The bore of the alto seems in my experience to be slightly reminiscent of a Selmer S80 Series 2, but more free blowing, better intonation below the break and with a better palm keys. My only real criticisms of the alto are that with one of the necks the middle G# has a little of the instability of the S2/3, the tendency to drop the octave which is annoying but the other neck is better in this area. In fact I would like to see a neck that lowers the octave spread a tiny bit generally, but it’s so much better than almost any other alto I have owned because it’s tuning is very linear. My Reference 54 is what they call ‘squirrelly’, i.e. there are areas that are suddenly sharper or flatter which creates the need to radically change the oral cavity within a simple scale. A linear instrument enables you to play a scale with gradual changes (or maybe one radical change at the break) which keeps tone more even and intonation a heck of a lot easier.

The top C# is quite sharp in pitch in comparison to the notes around it but it’s not a deal breaker and it really is a characteristic of most altos: Roberto told me he is planning a to work on a compensation mechanism akin to the soprano (and similar to the Selmer S3 alto I suppose) which will ameliorate this issue. Otherwise I am very happy with its scale and resonance and I feel that some practice will reap positive results rather than the frustration I have occasionally felt with alto intonation.

Keywork

The keywork Roberto uses from Taiwan is what I would term ‘generic’; it’s basically common to both instruments so unless specified, these are universal comments. It’s not bad at all, in fact the action itself is excellent and surprisingly so for this price of instrument. Robert really shows his one side of his genius in how he sets an instrument up. The barrels that hold the rods are beautifully machined straight so that wear and tear is as even as it can be, minimizing the possibility of keywork starting to become lose over time. I have found no extraneous movement in any of the keys at all, something I cannot say for any other saxophone I have played, and I have played a lot of saxes, especially in the last two years: I’m not going to name names, but there have been a few highly vaunted newcomers to the scene in the last few years that are frankly not well put together. So the action of the Sequoias is terrific, but a few keys do need to be redesigned.

The front top F key is unsatisfactory to me at the moment, it’s too small, too low, not easy to rock onto especially for my long fingers.

The mid/low F# trill key was badly positioned on both instruments for me and Roberto showed his brilliance again by altering both for me on the spot. But the alto is still not quite right for me and I slide off it quite frequently because my finger is forced to strike that key at right-angles: on the soprano the key has lost a bit of leverage in the adjustment. The whole way the RH little finger stack is positioned is different from what I’m used to; I think it’s OK in itself, but it changes the angle my third finger RH takes that F# trill key and it needs to be redesigned IMO. However I admit that the F# trill is not a key I use much, but it’s important to get everything as comfortable as possible.

In my opinion the RH side keys - the top E, side C and Bb – are well positioned in the vertical plane and far better for me than my Series 3 soprano, but they are a little too close to the body for my hands. This is not an uncommon thing for me and I accept that a sax needs to be playable by people with small hands, but I wish it was a factory alternative to have them built further out. I will eventually get some Sugru and build them up, as I will with the palm key Eb & F. Roberto would have done this for me but it would have taken longer than I had in Italy.

The Bb bis key is perfectly positioned on both instruments. So much so that I had not even thought about it until writing this review.

The LH little finger stack – G#, low C#, B & Bb – are well positioned and work smoothly. Roberto tweaked the position of the Bb lever a little on both instruments so that it sits a little higher than the B, something I prefer.

Otherwise, the main keywork has a good positive feel to it. I do have quite light fingers despite their length and I hate to press hard on keys and I find the springing very comfortable. I will be interested to see how it wears in over the years. It’s not the same as the Selmer keywork I am used to but it has not posed any problems whatsoever in concert. Roberto wants eventually to move the keywork manufacture to a CNC plant in Northern Italy – an area which is surprisingly advanced in engineering terms. At that point he will have greater control of key sizes etc.

Cases

The Sequoias come with very good trekking cases. I’ve used they on tour already and they give me confidence that the instruments will travel well.

The soprano case is internally a bit like the old Yamaha hard soprano case in that it is rectangular and has an exceptionally useful area for reeds and mouthpieces which is parallel to and in front of the main instrument compartment. This area also has slots for necks and mouthpieces. The case is well padded but the foam is a bit harder than the foam in the BAM trekking cases which I have used for years now. Shoulder straps are very comfortable and ingeniously store under a Velcro’d flap. It closes with a zip. There is a large front pocket big enough for A4 music sheets, and lots more besides. I like to have a case that I can put my repair kit, pens, pencils, gloves in winter and maybe a light jumper when I’m travelling and this one does all that. It’s solid but light and has good handles on the side and top end. Also, something I really appreciate is the Velcro flap that comes over the two halves at the point of the side handle when the case is closed: this goes a long way to preventing the horrible accident I had with my last Mk6 alto which I dropped onto a stone floor when I had not zipped up my case (just before a gig….).

WP_20161117_15_25_24_Pro.jpg


The alto case is similarly excellent but is more conventional internally in that it has an area next to the bell for reed and mouthpiece storage, plus a hollow for another mouthpiece and a neck. It has two pockets on the front for music etc etc.

WP_20161117_15_31_43_Pro.jpg
 

Jeanette

Organizress
Cafe Moderator
Messages
26,293
Thanks for taking the time to report David, it's really useful to have info like this about a sax, especially lesser known ones :)

Jx
 

David Roach

Senior Member
Subscriber
Messages
658
Thanks for taking the time to report David, it's really useful to have info like this about a sax, especially lesser known ones :)
Jx

Thanks Jeanette. I predict that Sequoias will become renowned and treasured instruments in years to come. My very sincere hope is that Roberto and his company can progress in a way that allows him to continue his excellent high standards, to continue improving his instruments and to make good money for a healthy and morally outstanding company.
 

Ivan

Undecided
Subscriber
Messages
7,526
I'd like to add my small review of Sequoia Lemon tenor, which I purchased 6 months ago, July 2018

I tried Aldevis' tenor at the Cafè meet in Manchester a while back. I was impressed by the feel of the horn; a solidity, a resonance under the fingers, and an assured sound. It felt alive. From then it was my choice as a next tenor after my Selmer SA80ii with which I had been monogamous since the 1980s. I spent short stints at music shops playing diverse worthy tenors with my mouthpieces and reeds, but nothing (apart from R&C Two Voices) grabbed me. Even the fabled Signature RAW failed to surpass my faithful Selmer

On the principle of try before you buy, and try more than one at that, it seemed a good idea to go to Roberto Buttus' workshop (sorry if I did you out of a commission @aldevis ). When to go and whether I could smuggle the idea past the Significant Other eluded me for a good while. In July last year I took the family to hear Aldevis perform in the castle above Trieste (and eat well and drink decent wine and get excited by brinjevec and Vesuvian tomatoes, and travel in the region to lovely Lake Bled in Slovenia and the Istrian Peninsular, all of which was an easy sell)

Up the road from Trieste is Roberto's workshop where I spent a morning and had the best time playing to my heart's content on three Lemon Tenors. Roberto and Cristina showed exemplary courtesy and I was given a tour of the workshop while Roberto extolled his ideas on materials, manufacture and projects in the pipeline. Whilst I played Roberto was genuinely interested in my opinion and he encouraged me to play fully through different dynamics (“Go on Ivan, push it”)

From the first blow I had exactly the feeling I had when I tried Aldevis' Sequoia three years before. Of course, I had invested time, money and expectation in being there in the first place, but I tried to be as objective as I could and I had told myself there was a chance I would be disappointed. Thinking back to all other horns I had tried, to my own Selmer, I was confident the Sequoia took the lead. I compared necks too. Each horn has a brassy brass neck and a rosy brass neck. I felt a difference between them, with the rosy neck being more subtle, considered and interesting. Yup, the materials thing may be balderdash, but I report what I thought at the time

Since then I have had a good while to play and assess the horn. I have not been disappointed. In fact I still feel excited each time I pick it up. The horn feels alive and responsive and the sound I make is really down to me

Observations:

1. Ergonomics. The layout is excellent (at least for the hands used in this review). The left palm keys sit proud of the body right into my palm. I built up my Selmer keys with Sugru and measuring the elevation from the body, they match the Sequoia exactly. The keywork feels solid, quick and precise. The only quirk I can find is the Eb/C# keys travel a distance that means rolling one to the other requires careful right pinkie positioning
2. Sound. Big and beefy, shy and retiring and everything in between. The front F high notes speak just as clearly as their palm key twins. D2 is full on. Intonation is saxophonic, with D2 playing sharper. I started with a relatively narrow lay, softly spoken mouthpiece that I replaced with a wider piece which has opened up the raucous side of the horn, but kept all of the subtlety
3. Value. This sax is extraordinarily good value. But there is an inevitable off-the-forecourt devaluation and a Sequoia may not keep it's second hand value longer term in the same way established brands can. I cannot envisage getting rid of this sax and I bought it in the knowledge it was a keeper
4. Workmanship. The key work feels robust, but I haven’t done a Steve Howard style test of bendability and torque. Neither have I removed screws to inspect their points. Solder is neat but visible where pillar meets body presumably because it isn't covered by lacquer. The body is unlacquered, lemony in hue, but spots appear here and there from moisture. If shiny is your thing, then unlacquered isn't. I was an unlacquered-agnostic, but I like the contrast of the bright lacquered keys against the body

So in a nutshell, this horn ticks all boxes. I’m so pleased with the instrument that seeing another in the Yardsale has made me wonder if one Sequoia tenor is enough
 
Last edited:

saxyjt

Saxus Circus Maximus
Subscriber
Messages
4,316
Oops! :oops:

How'd you beat me to it?

I wish I could fly down to Trieste and grab a few of these horns... After tasting them thoroughly. Perhaps I will set this as self indulged retirement gift. But that's not anytime soon...
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
Cafe Moderator
Messages
12,179
Just a few notes:


it seemed a good idea to go to Roberto Buttus' workshop (sorry if I did you out of a commission @aldevis ).
I strongly recommend visiting Roberto's workshop. It is half way between Trieste and Venice and has many lovely places to visit, in the neighbourhood. It makes no difference in my commission, but it helps soothing relational issues that may occur.
Vesuvian tomatoes
They are called "piennoli" and are delicious
The only quirk I can find is the Eb/C# keys travel a distance that means rolling one to the other requires careful right pinkie positioning
This is very different compared to any other sax. Roberto's vanity.
I find it much quicker than my Selmer, once the pinky is resting on the keys.
In July last year I took the family to hear Aldevis perform in the castle above Trieste (and eat well and drink decent wine and get excited by brinjevec and Vesuvian tomatoes, and travel in the region to lovely Lake Bled in Slovenia and the Istrian Peninsular, all of which was an easy sell)
That makes me think of a 4 days cafesaxophone course in town. At walking distance there would be the school, the Castle, the main square and a moltitude of bars and restaurants.
Something involving a rhythm section and tunes to play...
 

Ivan

Undecided
Subscriber
Messages
7,526
That makes me think of a 4 days cafesaxophone course in town. At walking distance there would be the school, the Castle, the main square and a moltitude of bars and restaurants.
Something involving a rhythm section and tunes to play...
That would be a very exciting proposition
 
Top Bottom