If you've read some of my previous posts you know I've been an enthusiastic TK Melody owner for almost a year now. I love my tenor and alto as much as ever, and I now have several students and friends that feel the same way about theirs. Last week I was asked by Perkins Music here in Maine to demo horns at the Maine All State Music Festival. I was excited because it meant I would get to play not only the TK Melody line but the new Viking Legend Series tenor (the brainchild of TK Melody's U.S. distributor Rich Maraday). While the TKs got plenty of attention, the real star of the exhibit hall was the Viking. People couldn't stop talking about how great it sounded and how much they loved the classic "cognac" gold lacquer.
As the name suggests the Viking Legend tenor is designed to play and sound like an older horn. While many "new vintage" saxophones seem to be a cross between classic French and American horns, the Viking is an unapologetic Selmer copy right down to the absence of a high F# key and classic French floral engraving. The horn I played had a beautiful dark gold "cognac" colored lacquer that I've only seen on early Mark VIs. The Viking is also available in gold and silver plating as well as the more modern brushed antique finish. These horns are made in Taiwan, part of the new generation of pro horns coming out of Asia. Unlike the brightly colored abalone key touches many Taiwanese companies use, the Viking comes with the classic white mother of pearl key touches that most saxophonists seem to prefer. The overall appearance of the horn is classic, elegant, and beautiful.
The first thing you notice when you play the Viking is how free blowing it is. It will take all the air you give it, but the sound remains focused even in the low register. Many of the newer horns have slightly larger bells that tend to get boomy and spread in the lower register, but this is not the case here. Viking describes the horn's neck as being "fast tapered for increased response". My experience was that this horn really spoke clearly from top to bottom. The altissimo came out easily and the intonation was excellent. The comments I got from other saxophonists and teachers were "tons of projection", "creamy", "focused core sound" and "full spectrum of harmonics". From the player's perspective you really sense a nice "zing" to the sound. This horn seemed to be a great match for the Otto Link Slant-style mouthipece I use, and I suspect it would work great with other low baffle mouthpieces too. Rich Maraday told me the brushed antique finish horn plays darker, but I prefer the brighter more lively sound. In this way the horn reminds me quite a bit of a Selmer SBA.
The feel of the Viking is what really sets it apart for me from other modern saxophones. When I first picked up the horn I couldn't believe how little it weighs, possibly the lightest modern pro horn I can recall. On the Viking website they tout the horn as having "reduced post rib construction & special brass for increased vibration and feedback". Part of what makes playing the Viking so much fun is the feeling of the brass vibrating like crazy. You can really FEEL your sound, not only under your fingers but all around you. Again, this reminds a lot of some Selmer SBAs I've played over the years. Modern saxophones tend to be so heavy that getting the metal to vibrate to the point where you can feel the sound is near impossible. Some makers have tried to remedy the problem by offering a raw brass horn for those after the vintage French sound, but the result is still not quite the same as the original. By opting for a lacquered Selmer copy made with less brass and their special neck design, I believe Viking has gotten closer than anyone to copying the late 40's and early 50's Selmers.
The other thing I loved about the Viking in terms of feel was the key layout. The horn has a much slimmer feel in your hands compared to any other Taiwanese saxophone I've tried. I would compare the action more to that of a Japanese horn like a Yamaha Custom Z, which I consider to be a great feeling horn. The palm keys are nice and close to the body which I've always liked, possibly because I have smaller hands. Overall the action and key layout is almost identical to a Mark VI.
There are so many saxophones being produced today that it's easy to overlook a great new product unless the company bombards us with a massive advertising campaign. I have tried, and even owned, a lot of what's out there. For me the sign that a horn is a winner has always been when I can't put it down. After playing the Viking for two days straight, putting it down and walking away was definitely hard. I hope I get asked to demo the Viking again so I can play it some more!