Wallace Trumpet Mutes
Mutes are of course an integral part of colouring brass sound and although this market is well catered for, there’s always room for a new kid on the block – particularly if they’re bringing some innovative ideas to the table. Wallace Brass is one such company. We tested three of their aluminium range and were impressed with the build quality, design (particularly the rubber end base) and general finish as well as being amazed at just how light they were. First up to the bell was the ‘Aluminium Straight’. These sort of mutes can often produce a harsh sound, but the Wallace model managed to temper this with a softer, richer delivery, although still having plenty of presence and intensity to the sound. It was also very consistent across the full range. Second up was the ‘Aluminium ‘5’ Straight’. This mute offered a more mellow and smoother sound than the ‘Straight’. However, it was less ‘muted’ than the ‘Straight’ with more of the instrument coming through. Last up was the ‘Adjustable Cup’ combination. The ‘V’ shape has a clear, sharp tonal colour and there is a lot of resistance. The ‘Bowl’ shape on the other hand, although still having a high resistance, is very mellow when placed right into the bell. Even though these mutes are machined from lightweight aluminium, the ‘Adjustable Cup’ combination made our test horn feel very bell heavy. It’s a shame that Wallace don’t yet produce a single ‘Fixed Bowl Shaped Cup’ model as we feel that this would not only be considerably lighter than the ‘Combination’, but would also deliver a very satisfying mellow tone. For more go to www.wallacebrass.co.uk
Tom and Will Instrument Cases
There is a plethora of backpack based instrument cases around at the moment and the almost comically named Tom and Will is one of the forerunners in the field. The designers have clearly been taking apart the outdoor industry’s Daysacks and rejigging the layout with a few extra additions – some good, some not so. We took a look at the trumpet case from the Standard range and the alto saxophone case from the slightly higher spec’d Academy range. Both ranges are made up in strong abrasive resistant nylon denier and come with detachable padded backpack style harnesses. The Standard Trumpet case featues a protective heavy duty, ribbed nylon pad to the bell end of the case and has a half length customised nylon zip that is backed by a strong, fixed baffle to protect the instrument from water penetration through the zip. The baffle is backed by heavy velour covered padding which also runs around the rest of the interior of the case with an added removeable circular pad to the bell end and a separate padded velour covered pouch for mouthpieces. To the exterior is a large zippered pocket running the full length of the case and a lightweight velcroed grab handle. There is also another lightweight nylon grab handle to the top rear of the case. What is not quite so clear is the reasoning behind the detachable, lightweight, zippered and padded brief bag that rides piggyback on the inside face behind the harness. It might be deemed “safe” in that position, but I found having four heavy press studs from the strap and buckle attachment against your back rather uncomfortable. Used as a separate entity the brief bag is fine, but I wouldn’t want to carry it in its attached position. The Academy case is much the same as the Standard, except that it is covered with a higher grade of nylon denier with green piping, is double zipped – but oddly missing the baffles and has leatherette covered grab handles. The ballistic, ribbed, bass protection is there, however, there is no zippered side pocket. The zippered padded brief bag sits piggyback in the same position as on the Standard model, but is now clean faced with buckle attachments to the rear. Both cases come with reusable, leatherette address tags. For more go to www.tomandwill.com
New to the Nord fold for 2010 is the extraordinarily lightweight (18kg) Nord Piano, an 88 key stage piano with weighted hammer action. Needless to say, the build quality follows the normal Nord high standards and the piano can be used with the new Nord piano pedal that provides the functionality of all three pedals found on an acoustic grand piano. The standard panel to the top of the instrument provides a well designed user interface, which allows the player to store settings for later use or alternatively to use the sounds and effects as they go along. Velocity response can be adjusted as can key transposition. There is also the Nord Resonance Ready pianos feature that can be activated from the panel, creating a wonderfully realistic acoustic vibe to the Nord sound. Although the piano comes equipped with its own sound set of acoustic and electric pianos and harpischords, other piano sounds are available as free downloads from Nord’s website. If you wish, you can even discard all the loaded sounds (not that you’d want to!) and replace them with a downloaded set. The Piano also comes with an effects bank, which includes tremolo, auto-wah, a phaser, a flanger and a lush chorus. And there’s even a choice of various speaker models and if you’re into extreme sounds, a Drive knob for powerful Tube amplifier distortion. Currently the market is awash with good stage pianos and it will be interesting to see how the Nord Piano squares up to the competition – particularly the new Korg SV1. For more go to www.soundtec.co.uk
John Packer Saxophones Models 042A & 045S
There are a myriad models of saxophones available at the budget end of today’s market and launching a new instrument, or in this case, series of instruments is a risky road to run unless you’ve gone overtime on the R&D. John Packer’s have clearly “done their stuff” and produced a series of saxophones from which we chose to test the 042A Antique finish tenor and the 045S Silver plated alto. Both instruments were fitted with our own hard rubber Otto Link 6 mouthpieces coupled with Rico Jazz Select 3 reeds. The 045S Alto comes with a derivative of the Conn underslung crook with the octave bar being wider than normal and therefore less restrictive to the player. Touch pieces are set with abalone and the etched detailing to the body is thankfully under, rather than overstated. We found the action light and very responsive with intonation that was spot on and an octave mechanism that worked a treat. However, the ‘D’ palm key felt slightly high and the top table Bb was a bit of a stretch, but I’m sure that this is something that the individual player would in time get used to. The 045S produced a consistent sound with good dynamics, but although there is a full and mellow tone, we felt that it lacked that essential sonic ‘edge’. However, had we had a Yamaha mouthpiece with a 2 reed, we reckon that we might have been able to coax out a little more bite.
The 042A tenor is a particularly easy blower, with a rich, warm, mellow tone, plenty of “edge” and a truly extraordinary dynamic range for an instrument in this price bracket. Although the action is nice and light and the palm keys are well positioned, we found that the ‘D’ key was set slightly lower than on our Selmer model and as such presented an odd fingering position.
Overall there is much to recommend these horns and it is not surprising that they are popular with pit musicians in the West End theatres. After all, they produce a very rounded, generic sax sound and crucially for jobbing musicians come shipped with a semi-hard, preformed, shaped denier covered sax case with a 3/4 zip, zippered front pocket, grab handle, detachable shoulder strap and the inevitable, retractable back harness. For more go to www.johnpacker.co.uk
Sabian HHX Fusion HiHats
A new range of hihat cymbals that combine the dark tones and crisp stick articulation favoured by jazz drummers with the volume and power to cut through high volume front lines has been launched by Sabian. The HHX Fusion Hats, part of the company’s Modern Dark series, are top-end B20 cast bronze models and come in 13in and 14in sizes with different type cymbals on the top and bottom, hence the term ‘Fusion’. The top cymbal is a HHX series, medium weight, pin-lathed model while the bottom is a heavy, HH un-lathed, hand-hammered type. The combination of the smooth top cymbal and raw bottom produces a dark, well defined stick sound with a strong foot pedal ‘chick’ while the HHX top, with the new Tone Projection design, adds the extra volume to cut through a big band’s horn barrage or the roar from a wall of Marshalls. (JN) For more go to www.sabian.com