Thank you for this very informative review. Phil BaroneI have started an independent thread for this, as the last few have gotten diluted to say the least. Here's hoping this stays on the topic of a Phil Barone Tenor.
This write up is being written after a week of having the saxophone, and playing it everyday for a few hours minimum.
Firstly, my background. I've been playing for a living now since 95, so I've a few years under my belt. I've worked in various jazz set ups, acoustic solo, duos, trios, quartets etc. jazz/funk/soul bands, played and recorded in various parts of Europe in varied venues, concert halls, a few stadiums, a certain jazz festival in Switzerland a few times...and some of the smallest bars you'd have ever seen. I've seen a bit and played a bit.
Why the write up? You may well ask, and my reason might seem odd to some of you. Like many players, at any stage, you want a good saxophone. The big four are the ones that we've all looked at, for they are the big four for a reason. With the big four goes a ‘big' price tag - I notice that the Selmer prices are on the up also.... Simply put, if you could buy a great horn, and I mean great in every way, for a fraction of the money, wouldn't you? Imagine for new players, or beginners or intermediates that would like to go up a step * but can't afford it… well, what if they could? What if we all could for a price that isn't out of reach in comparison to the big four? If we are honest, how many of us are prejudice in choosing an instrument, or a tool, or a car, or anything come to think of it, purely because of the name? I've been guilty of it, but I've also wised up, and realized that in the last few years, there exists a market that has opened up the possibility of great saxes for less money than we expect to pay. HOWEVER, what I will lead to at the end of this, is that in my opinion the Barone tenor is on par, and outplays the big four in some fields. Thus, to pay a big four price would be expected. So what happens when you don't need to pay a big four price………….?
*(Yes, I know that any good player can make any horn sound good, however, great tools make the job easier for us all.)
Unpacking and case
Horn arrived in a sturdy, not particularly attractive, yet reliable case. The sax was in a large bag, with cork holding down the usual keys….. There is something unique about unboxing a sax that you know hasn't been used before (come to think of it, any new toys unboxed are always fun!).
I did the usual grab the horn, run down the keys, see if you hear the typical pop of the pads closing down to Bb. They did. Always a good start.
Action and spring tensions
The key heights and springs were, unexpectedly, set up very well. I didn't expect this on a new horn straight from the factory, and it was a pleasant surprise. Whether or not this is standard, who knows, but I can't see why I'd have received a special one? There was an issue with the G# key that wasn't springing back as expected, but this involved just a little playing with the spring to get the tension correct. I expected that after the first few days, pads might start to seat better or worse, and that everything would start to settle in – be it good or bad, only time would tell. Well, I've had the sax a week, and it is perfect, doesn't need a thing doing to it. Again, I'll point out that for some players, this may not be the case, they may want a lower or higher action, and different spring tensions, but for me in my experience, it is great now as is.
I went for the bare brass, partly for cost, partly for aesthetics. It had a slight yellow tinge to it upon taking it out of the case, but has already started to darken after a few days. There was some spotting around the central tone holes, and in a few other areas, which is not common, and none of the other bare brass horns have had this (I've spoken to other members here, and none of them have had this on theirs). Phil has been excellent in helping me sort this out. I can but imagine it will darken well to a worn look naturally. Am tempted to pop a light coat of olive oil over it, to stop any spit marks setting in in the early days, but we'll see. Perhaps it's the Italian in me….
And what of the sound?
What can I say here that seems unbiased, objective, and fair….. Tell you what, I can but tell you my impression, and play devil's advocate with myself.
I have never picked up a horn (be it used or new) and achieved/heard a sound as good as the one that came out. I remember reading a line a year or so ago, by a reviewer stating that you could be forgiven for thinking that you are a better player than you actually are, when playing a Mauriat. Well, am sure you all know that the Barone and Mauriat are similar, coming from the same factory, and I feel that reviewer's comment applies to the Barone also.
What a sound, WHAT a sound….I couldn't say what it was at first, but then again, I didn't want to, I JUST WANTED TO PLAY IT. It is an encouraging and INSPIRING sound that came forth. Being completely objective here, the cliché ‘effortless from bottom Bb to top F#' could be used, but further to that, it is by far the best tenor I have played into the altissimo – right up to G4. Only the player's technical ability seemed to stop it. I never play above the G4, but could get these notes easier than on any other tenor.
Along with the harmonic and altissimo notes, multiphonics also sang from the horn. The impressive thing was the volume that you could split notes, and let them really scream from the sax, without danger of over blowing. Again, by far the easiest, but most musically sounding (this could be subjective as some do not class them as notes at all) tenor in respect of multiphonics.
The ease of articulation and general dynamic contrast was evident. Particularly from bottom F downwards – there's a richness down there I've never found on another sax, both in straight notes, or subtones, pp or ff.
I've often read that it is the player that plays in tune, not the sax. I agree. However, a good sax will make this job easier, and I found myself not finding a problem in any area or on any note. Sometimes I've had to compensate on the upper register with my Selmer (depending which mouthpiece), but that wasn't the case here.
It seems odd, but I couldn't find fault with it sound wise. Having read Andy Sheppard's comment (in respect to a Mauriat) –
“…tuning is perfect and there is that woody / grainy thing in the sound that I've only previously found in my old Selmers ...”
- then I'd have to agree, and say that this is a great analogy. Some may find using the adjectives of ‘woody' and ‘grainy' strange, but he really has hit the nail on the head, albeit talking about a Mauriat, I truly believe it applies to Phil's horn also.
The whole resistance discussion also occurred to me, how some people like to have something to push against, others don't. It isn't like a Selmer, but not the opposite either. Instead, it responds so well to HOW you are playing, resistant when you perhaps want it to, not when you don't. Perhaps this last point seems far fetched, and is subjective, but that's how I feel in this respect.
You know that sound when you stand in front of a player with a beautiful tone? You won't ever hear yourself the same way as you are behind the neck playing it yourself. But this sax almost spreads the sound up to the player, this I find inspiring. It isn't the most focused sound, but that will depend on your mouthpiece set up too, as when I switched to a metal piece from my Vandoren V16 ebonite, the sound concentrated more.
The early concerns over the Taiwanese horns are in my opinion not substantiated in respect to the Barone and Mauriat horns. On this forum, I've read many player's comments that their techs have all commented how well built they are. It is a solid sax, not flimsy in my opinion, and any concerns of breaking a key….? Well, I really couldn't see how. The sax is quite heavy compared to my Selmer, on par with a Yani from memory. It does seem to have a wider bore, but as I have read on another thread, that can't perhaps be proved, it just feels it. I haven't the largest of hands compared to some players I've seen, and it definitely is a larger instrument in my hands – more akin to the Keilwerths but not as much. Some people would prefer this, but this is personal preference and would be one of the two things I would change about the horn - yes, one of only two things in entirety. The other would be the palm D key. Not sure whether this explains it well, but in respect to the hand or tear drop of the key, the top digs into my hand and sticks out into the skin - it isn't curved and smooth into the key as with Yanagisawas, Yamahas and Selmers. This can be overcome by adjusting my hand position, and is also a personal thing as I've not heard a single comment from anyone else about this.
The engraving is all over the horn and the neck, and is beautiful. I didn't order one with this engraving, so I was pleased to receive this as a bonus.
Now don't get me wrong, I own a Selmer, and a Yani, I love them both, but I think one will be going now that the Barone has arrived in my mits. Having a sax that plays so well, but also has character, is great for altissimo, soft and articulate when needed….And costs a fraction of the big four? Even people without deep pockets can have an incredible sax, be it beginners or not.
Upon re-reading what I have written here, you could be forgiven for thinking that I'm wearing rose tinted specs. I am not. I've played enough saxes to know that this Barone has attributes of older Conns (the early American sound that really kicks), the wood sound of a Selmer, the intonation and build associated with Japanese horns, and its own special…something.
I bet you thought the same as me when you read Phil's comments that these saxes are indeed something special, I bet you'd have thought, “Well of course you'd be saying that Phil, you are trying to sell them.” That's healthy and experienced skepticism no doubt from us all. The truth of the matter is that he is right, in my opinion at least. I had to pay a bit more as I am based in the UK, so had import duties. You guys in the States must be laughing all the way to the bank! Even so, the cost is a huge saving on any of the big four, and also on a Mauriat – which are from the same stable. There's also a money back guarantee if you aren't happy. Do you get that with the big four? Or with a Mauriat?
Until you try one for yourself you won't believe that they are as good as stated. As Phil says, he would not have added his name and have started this venture if he felt his reputation was at risk. It isn't.
I asked for a 7* Barone Hard Rubber piece, which is included also. It looks like it may take over as my main mouthpiece – this is an added bonus. A real ballsy hard rubber piece that kicks when you need it to.
nb. If moderators feel this would be better suited in the Bb Tenor forum, please do move it there.
addendum: I also look forward to see how this horn matures, for I also believe that played horns have more sound character. It's had the best start possible with a great character already (the sax's, not mine), so whatever it is that 'time' does to saxes, I feel can only add to it - or at least I hope so...
IL Padrino, what model Barone tenor did you buy?