Mouthpiece and instrument designer Peter Ponzol has been working with the folks at Antigua to develop new professional quality saxophones – the ProOnes – and they have come up with some serious competitors in an increasingly crowded market. I had the opportunity to play on two consecutive days both the alto and tenor and here are my thoughts on these superb instruments.
Firstly, the most important aspect of any musical instrument to me is sound. If I'm not satisfied with the sound, I might as well stop right there. And the sound of both of these is really great. The alto has a very warm sound, the tenor being perhaps a little more open. As a matter of comparison, both are more focused than spread when compared to my Keilwerths (as are most saxes), but they seem to be a wee bit more open/spread than the average focused horn. The alto seemed to me to be a bit more focused than the tenor and the tenor seemed to have the quality leaning more towards older Selmers than, say, the newer ones like the Selmer Serie IIIs.
The tone quality is very even throughout the entire range of the saxes. There's really little discernible change going up and down the horn; very smooth, very even. Resistance seems to be about the same also throughout its range. Altissimo is fine, as it is with most of the newer upscale horns.
There are some design features that may have contributed to this evenness of sound, and to the slightly more spread sound for these otherwise focused sounding saxes, and they are the rolled holes on the bell and bow keys, and straight drawn holes on the rest, and the bell throat and size, which is between the average sized and the big bells. Additionally, regarding sound, Antigua engineers analyzed the brass alloy of post-war French saxes and used the same alloy in these saxes, along with the same annealing methodology used in the post-war saxes. I'm no sax historian, but I would assume that the metal from which the ProOnes are made would produce a sound that lovers of Selmer Balanced Actions and Mark VIs would gravitate to.
Intonation was excellent except that I found some variations in response depending on which mouthpiece I used. Ironically, on the alto I got a better classical sound with a Ponzol Vintage HR mpc than with my Rousseau.
Of course, vital to all of these tonal features, is the neck, which is a completely new design for this model sax. It's free-blowing and intonation is right on. Those of you who know Ponzol after-market necks, know how refined they are and how much in tune with neck technology he is.
The response of the tenor was amazing on the low notes and on pianissimo playing. You really could almost breathe the low bell tones. And on the other hand, these horns can blow the walls down. The dynamic range is really broad, and no matter how loud they get, they are really hard to overblow. Even at a very loud level they retain their basic sound quality. Additionally, slurred passages were fluid and tongued passages responded immediately.
Regarding the ergos, they were fine on both saxes with some subtle refinements. On the tenor, I felt that the distance between the R.H. Index finger on “F” and the adjacent “E” was a bit close and I was hitting the E pad. I compared it to my JKs and visually they seemed the same so maybe it's just something I needed to adjust to. Otherwise, the ergos were comfortable efficient.
The tenor has two strap rings, and I appreciated that because the lower ring allowed my tenor to hang almost horizontally, a real advantage when doubling on flute while the tenor is still hanging from your neck. However, I believe a reason for the two positions is also to influence the angle of entry of the neck/mps into the embouchure, so how you chose which ring, I suppose, would depend on your priorities.
Another innovation, besides the G# non-stick mechanism and the F to F# arm bridge, which helps to quicken the response in the right-hand keys (from the Modell Ponzol Keilwerth), are the Trident arms on the low keys. You can get a good close-up on them here, as well as photos of the case. These arms have adjustable screws to put added pressure on the cups on order to stabilize the vibrations of these cups, which have a tendency to flutter.
Cosmetically, the sax has engraving on much of the it, but it is done subtlety and not at all ostentatiously, like I think many of the Taiwanese saxes are engraved. Plus the engraving is hand done, not laser engraved like some of the competition. Real mother of pearl key touches. Also, I personally dig the colour of the sax, which is darker than most of the current brass saxes, like the new Selmer Serie IIs and IIIs, for example. If you've ever seen a Ponzol neck, it's the same colour. Very nice.
Regarding the accessories, the saxes come with a case, a padded, closed-hook neck strap, a polishing cloth and cork grease. Additionally, a great and unexpected extra treat for those who want it, is that new owners of the ProOne will receive a substantial discount on one of the latest model Stainless Steel Ponzol mouthpieces. These have been discussed elsewhere on the forum, but I have both the alto and the tenor M2 and can highly recommend them.
The cases are quite nice. They are two-toned black and gray with a ProOne logo in gold and silver. One thing some will be thankful for is that the back of the case is padded to add a bit of comfort when carried back-pack style. The inside of the cases have a place for the neck and a mouthpiece, and the inner form hugs the instruments well. Additionally, the case had external pockets and it comes with carrying straps.
Flash. Just in – I have seen some prices now posted, with the alto going for $2,499.00 and the tenor for $2,799.00. Frankly, I'm a bit shocked at these prices. They are somewhat lower than I was expecting. IMO this puts them definitely in a best buy category. These are really good prices for these horns – and vice verse.
In summary, these saxes are set aside in my mind from the competition by their distinct, warm sounds, the evenness of the tonal colour throughout the instrument's range, and the pure simplicity of playing at a whisper and on the low tones, while still possessing the power to blow Jericho down, when needed. Definitely these two saxes that will give the competitors a run for their money. I believe the street prices are going to be quite reasonable and anyone seeking a professional-level sax owes it to themselves to try these out before making any final purchase decisions.