Saturday, November 20, 2010

Aquilasax Alto Saxophone Review

These days, there are tons of saxophone brands, there are the eBay saxophones for $199.99 and free shipping that fall apart in one week and the better known brands like Selmer Paris and Yamaha. I was recently sent an Asian made horn from the company Do Aquilasax saxophones stand up to the well established brands, or do they fall at par with the bad eBay saxes?

  • Imitation Mother of Pearl key touches
  • High F# key
  • Metal adjustable thumb hook
  • Metal left hand thumb rest
  • Hand Engraved
  • Satin Sliver plated and gold key finish
  • Ribbed Construction
  • Blue Steel Springs
  • Includes a FAB case
Shipping: The first thing I would like to talk about is the shipping time. My saxophone was shipped by the US postal service and only took about 7 business days to arrive at my house. Considering it came from across the world, that is very fast. Mr. Wedgewood, the owner of Aquilasax made sure that the saxophone came in great condition as well. It was in a box inside a bigger box that was cushioned by styrafoam. Inside the smaller box, the saxophone was in a FAB case and surrounded by foam wedges to prevent movement as well as some bubble wrap. Aquilasax ensured that their product would arrive safe and sound.  

Shipping Rating: 5/5 Stars

Appearance: Let's face it, the appearance of items is one of the factors we judge products by. Well, Aquilasax does not lack in this area. I was sent the Satin Silver Plated with Gold Keys saxophone to review, and it looks fantastic. Aquilasax has twelve beautiful finishes for the alto sax, each with a unique engraving done by hand. The silver plated sax with gold keys looks stunning and definitely draws attention to it when played. The silver plating was nice and even, but I did notice some discolorations in the gold lacquer. Also, the floral engravings were simple yet elegant. Since this is silver plated, this saxophone is not for someone who doesn't want to put time or effort in keeping the silver from tarnishing by polishing it. 

Appearance Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Ergonomics: Overall, the ergos are okay. The thumb hook became uncomfortable after a while, but I adjusted it to be slightly diagonal, and it felt much better. The pinky table is set perfectly, and the regular keys feel great, but I found two problems. The first problem I found with the left hand palm keys. They were set very low to the body of the saxophone (can be fixed with palm key risers) and were very close to the normal keys. I found that even with a great hand position, my ring finger would sit on the palm keys and sometimes accidentally hit one during a fast passage. The second problem I had was with the alternate, or front, F key. This key was set almost a centimeter above the B key and was sometimes hard to hit. Of course, both of these problems could probably be overcome just by playing this sax and getting used to it.

Ergonomics Rating: 3/5 Stars

How Does it Play?: The most important factor in a saxophone is how easy is it to play, and does it sound good. This saxophone was definitely more resistant that my Yamaha Advantage and Selmer Super Action 80 Series II. I found that my air pressure had to be much stronger down in the lower end of the saxophone. Because of this, I would not recommend this saxophone for an absolute beginner since they would not be used to the amount of air needed. However, overtones and altissimo was a breeze, especially with the High F# key. The hardest note to play was low Bb. I tried to investigate why this was and found that the rod connecting the pinky key to the Bb bell key was loose and let the key move up and down about 2 mm. This could lead to the pad not seating well and a leak. Other than the picky low Bb, this saxophone played well up and down.

Playability Rating: 4/5 Stars

Intonation: After properly warming up, I broke out the tuner to see how well this saxophone was in tune. Asian made saxophones have been notorious for being so horribly out of tune that you can't play with others, so I was anxious to see how this saxophone would fair. I first tuned my F# (concert A) and found that I had to pull waaaaaay out to get it in tune. My mouthpiece was about halfway on the cork when it was finally in tune. Here is a chart I made with every note (including altissimo F#) and how many cents sharp/flat it was:

Intonation Rating: 3/5 Stars

Mouthpiece: This sax came with a mouthpiece that looked like a plastic replica of a Selmer C* everything was the same except the inside was horseshoe shaped instead of a square. I put a Vandoren blue box 3 on the mouthpiece and tried playing it on my Selmer Serie II. It was actually a decent mouthpiece with the exception of the occasional squeak every now and then. It was very easy to play, and I could easily live with this mouthpiece as a backup for my current setup.
Mouthpiece Rating: 5/5 Stars
Ligature: The mouthpiece came with your standard two-screw ligature. I was expecting an okay ligature that would serve it's purpose of holding the reed in place without muffling the sound. At first, the ligature was stuck, and it took a while to get it to open and close. After that, I had to unscrew it almost to the point of it not even being screwed together to get it to fit with a reed on the mouthpiece. After the first time, I did not have to unscrew it so much because it seemed to conform to the mpc.
Ligature Rating: 4/5 Stars
Mouthpiece Cap: The included mouthpiece was accompanied with a nice metal cap. The mouthpiece fit well and the gold lacquered cap complemented the saxophone well. The metal wasn't thin, so this is a good quality cap.
Neck strap: The neck strap was made out of a very soft material with a swivel closed hook. It was very comfortable and seemed to be built well. However, I pulled the strap all the way up to the point where it was almost choking me and it was still too long! Maybe this strap is made for tenor, bari, or tall people. Even though it's too long, it will serve as a good backup strap.
Neck Strap Rating: 2/5 Stars
Reeds: Included with every purchase is a box of 10 brand reeds. I was sent a box of strength 2.5 reeds with my saxophone.Upon first inspection, I found the thickness of the reed at the end was varying from reed to reed and even end to end of a single reed (for example, one was cut so it was thick on the right and thin on the left). I also found most of the reeds' tables to not sit flat. This of course can be fixed with a little bit of fine sand paper. These imperfections seemed a bit discouraging, but I still tried one. I chose what I thought was the best one, soaked it and slapped it on my C*. Overall, the tone was very airy and full of squeaks. I also found these to be way harder than marked. These 2.5 reeds played more like a Vandoren Traditional 3 or 3.5! If you were buying this saxophone as a beginner, these reeds would definitely be too hard for you, and there would be too many imperfections to get a consistent, even tone.
Reeds Rating: 2/5 Stars
White Gloves: Yes, the infamous white gloves. Many people say these little white accessories indicate a musician no-no, but I personally wouldn't judge a sax by what accessories they give you. The gloves were a perfect fit and were fun to play with them on. They also were good for polishing the saxophone. :)
Cork Grease: The essential accessory for a new saxophone. Often, I find that it's hard to jam a mouthpiece on to the cork when it's a new sax, so this is very helpful.
FAB Case: This rectangular fabric case is really nice quality. It reminded me of a Protec case as it has a wooden lining, zipper closure and a velcro closing. The case is very lightweight and has a huge front pocket to hold music. There were removable backpack straps included which added a nice touch to this case. On the inside, there are separate compartments for the saxophone's neck/crook, mouthpiece and a decent sized spot to hold your reeds, metronome, neck strap, etc. The color may not be for everyone (it was gray fabric), but you can always replace your case. I would have much rather preferred a black fabric case (It turns out that black is standard, it is just they were sent a shipment with gray cases as well).
Case Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Cleaning Cloth: Included was a nice cloth to polish up your saxophone. 
Metalpro Mouthpiece: I was also sent this beautiful brass lacquered mouthpiece to review. This mouthpiece retails $65 and includes a mouthpiece cap and ligature. When I first picked it up, I was surprised at the weight. This thing is heavy! I immediately test played it and found that the projection was great, and the tone sounded good. However, it did take awhile to get used to playing a metal piece.
Mouthpiece Rating: 5/5 Stars
Accesories Rating: 3.75/5 Stars

Cost: $490

  • cheaper than a pro saxophone
  • a great "step-up" horn from a beginner horn
  • only a little bit more than a no-name eBay horn and much better quality
  • aesthetics are great, this horn is beautiful!
  • lots of nice accessories
  • the stock mouthpiece is decent
  • a nice case is included with lots of storage room
  • packaging is sound, so your saxophone will arrive safe

  • Reeds aren't that great
  • there are some imperfections in the lacquer
  • possible leak in low Bb (could be only my saxophone)
  • silver is high maintenance 
  • awkwardly placed front F key
  • right hand palm keys very low to body

Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
At less than $500, you get what you paid for if not more. The saxophone plays, looks great and includes some great accessories. Sure, there are discolorations in some parts of the saxophone and the reeds are hard to play, but this saxophone is worth every cent. The only problems I had with it were the palm keys and the loose Bb key. Overall, this saxophone is worth the money, and I would recommend it to any person looking to upgrade.

 The saxophone pictured with all the accessories
 A beautiful finish
 Do you see the similarities?
 The other mouthpiece sent to me
 The box of reeds sent to me

No comments:

Post a Comment