HOWARTHS-CHILTERN-BLACK-LACQUER-ALTO-SAXOPHONEHowarth's of London have recently decided to source their own range of saxophones from Taiwan and if our sample from the first batch is anything to go by, they seem to have made all the right moves. The Chiltern is an extremely elegant alto horn, with pearloid buttons to the keys and plenty of decorative engraving that even runs on to the lip of the bell. The overall balance is excellent and the black lacquer on our sample was flawless. With very similar keywork to a Selmer series 2 and a really positive action together with double action bars on the bottom C, it’s a really comfortable player, particularly in the lower register.

Further up the stack, I liked the positioning of the palm keys and the table is super smooth and particularly easy to manipulate. With the house Rousseau mouthpiece fitted with a 2 1/2 Vandoren reed, the Chiltern produces a good, solid, edgy sound, with a big, powerful bottom end. Articulation and separation is excellent and the harmonics pop out effortlessly. There is a good dynamic range with exceptional clarity in the top register and when played softly, this instrument produces a beautiful sweet and smooth tone. The Chiltern would fit easily into most musical situations, be it a big band, small combo or a full classical orchestra. It ships in a snazzy, zippered hard shell, moulded, plush lined case with ‘D’ rings for a shoulder strap and a solid nylon grab handle. Highly recommended.

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ALPHASAX-WORLDWIND-MUSICThis is one that will interest the teachers among you. Worldwind music – aka Trevor James, realised there was a niche market for youngsters who wanted to play the Saxophone, but were disappointed when they were handed a clarinet – because their hands were too small and the standard alto sax weighs way too heavy on their small shoulders.

Based on the best selling Trevor James ‘Horn’, Worldwind have developed a simplified, full sized, Eb instrument (top D to bottom C) that weighs 33 per cent less than it’s standard counterpart and yet sounds and plays like the highly regarded ‘Horn’. Solidly built, the Alphasax has a full bodied tone and our sample had good articulation and intonation and an excellent set-up on the simple and straightforward key action. However, we did find some difficulty in rolling between the low C and Eb – why has the C key been moved (I think awkwardly) from its normal position? And also, the octave key seems a tad too far over to the right – those little hands are really going to have to stretch! Having said that, this is an excellent ‘starter’ instrument that will comfortably take young players up to Grade 2. But it has to be said that they will be in for a rude awakening when they progress on to the real deal. Following the lightweight theme, Worldwind have packed the Alphasax in a zippered, plush lined, shaped semi-hard lightweight case (the whole kit is an incredible 46 per cent lighter than a standard Alto in a normal hard case), which comes with a front zippered pocket, grab handle and back harness.

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This heavily engraved pink plated Gourmet with its groovy mother of pearl keys is quite a hefty horn. It’s clearly well built, with a bottom table that feels really solid, double arm action on the low B and C, ’roo pads throughout and a useful triple eye for the strap hook. Put to work, you can glide through the full range with ease. This is a responsive horn and those palm keys are perfectly positioned. There’s good articulation, the intonation’s excellent and the Gourmet is really at home in the altissimo, which it delivers with consummate ease. However, the dynamic range seems a little limited and this horn really lacks that centred tone that I personally feel is an essential to the jazz line. There is a tonal edginess, but there’s nothing unique to the sound. I reckon that the Gourmet is a horn that would be ideal for a big band where there is a requirement for similar tonal and timbre characteristics. Conversely, miked up, that tonal edginess might suit a soul sound or a more driving, rock orientated outfit. It all comes in a shaped, padded, plush lined hard shell case with a shoulder strap and flexible rubberised nylon grab handle.

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This sweet soundin’ horn has to be one of the best that has ever crossed my desk. And it’s been a while since we’ve had the pleasure of seeing a new Conn. But going on what this alto has to offer, it’s certainly been worth the wait. Made in Taiwan (like the Mauriats), this Far Eastern factory certainly knows how to put a good horn together. Looking not unlike a Selmer Series 2, the finishing on the silver plating is flawless and the dark felt pads set against the silver add a nice touch. Indeed, this horn oozes elegance. The overall build quality is excellent and it’s always good to see metal reflectors on the pads.

The 280 has a very positive action and is very responsive – you can fly down the keys with ease. And there is no clanking whatsoever. I particularly liked the palm key positions, added to which, the bottom table setup is really nice – the springing isn’t too hard, so it’s easy on the little finger. The top ‘F’ also works really well, as does the octave key mechanism. But here I would have really liked to have seen the stylish original underslung Conn rather than the ubiquitous Selmer standard.

Sound wise, the dynamic range is outstanding – all the way through. The 280 is a free and easy blower, that asks for little while it offers so much. Intonation is spot on, the altissimo range is easy to pitch and the bottom notes really do sing. Seriously though, this is a horn that I would recommend to any player. And because of its remarkable dynamic range, it would be equally suited to either classical or jazz. It all comes in a zippered leather case with a plush lined pre-formed interior, two zippered face pockets, two soft padded grab handles, two adjustable padded shoulder straps and a fully adjustable encased padded back harness.

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If you’re looking for a saxophone that produces a classic vintage tone, then the P.Mauriat range of horns should be high on your test list. Not only do they have the tonal characteristics of the vintage Saxophone – they also have the looks! From the burnished bronze of the Artist series to the dark lacquered brass with abalone buttons of the vintage series with the innovative vintage style super Jazz VI neck – pipe, these horns ooze character and class. The range also includes a number of custom made limited edition instruments, such as the Arc Soprano and the PMB – 302G Baritone in vintage form without the low A. There’s little doubt, that given the quality of build and the attention to detail of the P. Mauriat Saxophones, they’re likely to be giving the Selmer selection a good run for their money. Steve Goodson Orpheo alto saxophone. The black-lacquered Orpheo is a very striking saxophone. Made in Taiwan (like the Mauriats), it feels solid and is exceptionally well engineered, with good solid springing and double arm action on the low C, B and Bb. The action is positive and the palm keys are well positioned and I liked the adjustable thumb position plate.

The lack of pearl keys is a strange choice, and although my fingertips settled comfortably into the dished keys, I felt strangely detached from the instrument. I also felt slightly cramped for space – the Orpheo would probably better suit a player with smaller hands. The fitting of softer Kangaroo pads though is a real bonus, as they not only last longer but they also seem to help to give the instrument added projection – which the Orpheo has in plenty. This horn comes with two crooks, one 92 per cent rose brass for a darker sound and the other 83 per cent brass for a brighter sound.

The accompanying marketing blurb tells me that the standard brass crook delivers a ‘jazzier’ sound. I beg to disagree. For my money, the rose brass gives the Orpheo a hint of warmth and a more jazz instilled sonic palette. The altissimo is bright and clear and plays like a dream – but do we really need a top G and all the extra keywork that comes with it? It not only crams the back of the instrument, but also adds weight. The lower register is solid and flows smoothly, although I did detect a slight stuffiness – but this was probably more to do with me, rather than the instrument itself. Sonically, the Orpheo seems to have plenty at the bottom and at the top, but somehow contrives to have a less than interesting middle. I was looking for some character in the sound – some personality. Sadly, I found neither. The Orpheo isn’t a cool, emotive instrument, but very much a straightahead saxophone that will undoubtedly add weight to any Funk or Big Band. For more go to

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