Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: Phil Barone Soprano Sax

Hey everyone! Now that the fall semester is almost over, classes are starting to ease up (that is, until finals week). I have finally gotten into the "groove of things" and have finally found a way to have some free time. I haven't posted a review in a while, so I wanted to write a quick review over my Phil Barone Soprano. Now, most of you know that the products I review are sent to me; however, this is not the case for the soprano. I received a Vienna soprano for Christmas, but it was an "adventure" to play. The palm keys felt weak and clanked against the body, the cork was so fat that no mouthpiece could really fit on well enough to make the sax in tune, and the soprano just had bad intonation in general. Yes, I admit that I am far from professional and that it was my first time tackling the soprano, but my other saxophonist friends noticed these defects as well. The Vienna was a novel instrument to play around with, but I wanted a soprano that I could enjoy playing correctly, so I saved up my money and purchased a Phil Barone soprano.

"So why Barone?" You may be asking. Well, I'm sure that many of you have not heard of his brand, but I assure you that I did a large amount of research before deciding to give up over $1,000 of my hard earned money for a soprano. Phil Barone saxophones are a Taiwanese-made sax. Now, there is a difference between Chinese and Taiwanese made saxophones. The Chinese saxes tend to be cheaper and as a result, horrible to okay quality. These are the $200 saxes you find on eBay that come in all the colors of the rainbow and with the signature white gloves. The common Chinese-made sax brands include Cecilio, Selman, and Mendini. Taiwanese saxes, on the other hand, are usually more expensive. P. Mauriat, Cannonball, Antigua, and Phil Barone saxophones are all made in Taiwan. Over the years, these saxes have gained a good reputation, and they are sometimes even favored over more expensive brands like Selmer Paris. Now, I am not trying to persuade you to go and throw your Mark VIs into the trash can (I still love my Serie II alto), but some professionals are selling their more expensive saxophones for a Taiwanese-made sax. I frequent, so when I saw the numerous positive reviews for Phil Barone saxes, I knew that it was the brand for me.

Mr. Barone, the owner of Phil Barone Saxophones, is a great guy. He responds quickly to emails, will consult you on deciding which sax is best for you, and to top it all off, he makes great mouthpieces (If you have never heard of his pieces, go and check out his site. He recently released a new tenor piece called the Super New York). Since there are no middle men, he is able to set the prices of his saxes at a low price, making them a bang for your buck. So after numerous emails exchanged, I decided to purchase a straight soprano in the Vintage Gold Lacquer. I was also able to choose custom blue mother of pearl key touches, which look great on the dark lacquer. So, without further ado, lets get into the review! Remember, I did not get paid to write this review at all; this review is unbiased and as fair as possible. :)

After ordering my soprano, I had to wait very patiently for it to travel from New York to Texas. After the long wait, it arrived well packed. All the keys were corked down and the sax was well protected. The case is made by a company called GL Cases, but it looks very similar to an SKB case. It seems very protective and has handles on the side and top. The interior is well padded and has a large accessory compartment.

Phil Barone has his classic, or straight, sopranos listed for around $1300-$1400, and that is a great deal. It includes a straight and curved neck for your soprano as well as a custom faced Vintage soprano mouthpiece. The mouthpiece itself would normally cost $200, so you are already saving a bunch of money there. For now, I will tell you that the mouthpiece is amazing, but I will not go into details; instead, I will leave that for another review.

For those into aesthetic appeal, Phil Barone offers ten different finishes. I went with the Vintage Gold Lacquer, which is absolutely stunning in real life. As there are no current pictures of this finish on his website, I tried to photograph the sax in various light settings so that you could see how it looks. Also, you can request customizations for your saxophone. I have heard of people getting their bare brass saxes clear-coat lacquered to preserve the "prettiness" (I personally like the look of an aging sax). As you can see in my pictures, I was able to get a sax with blue mother of pearl key touches. Also, the saxophone is covered with a significant amount of engraving. There wasn't anything fancy like a DuMars engraving, but it was a nice touch.

Now, on to the good stuff! As I mentioned earlier, the straight soprano includes both a straight and curved neck. The soprano is keyed up to a high F#. Some people like having a high G, but I personally would not want to play that much altissimo on a soprano. :)

After unpacking my sax and marveling in all its beauty, I quickly popped the Vintage mouthpiece on it and blew, expecting a squeaky mess like my previous soprano (I thought this was the norm since I was a beginner). Boy, was I surprised! This soprano sings! On my previous soprano, I could barely get out a high D, but with the Phil Barone coupled with the included Vintage mouthpiece, I was able to make it sing through all registers. I even played a few high F#'s here and there (Yes, I know that I said that I do not like altissimo on the soprano in the previous paragraph, but hey, I just wanted to see the potential of this baby)!

After playing for a while, I knew that I was in love with this saxophone. It was full sounding, not too bright, and best of all in tune. I even considered ditching alto to play soprano full time! The ergonomics were also much better that my Vienna soprano.

So, what are the gripes? First, the lacquer wasn't very consistent. Some spots were lighter than others, but this didn't really bother me. Second, the soprano came with a rough spot approximately a centimeter long along the side of the D palm key. I'm not sure how this happened, and made me kind of sad as I like to keep my saxes in pristine condition. This scratch is rough to the touch and feels like sandpaper. It is also missing the lacquer in this area.

Overall, I highly recommend Phil Barone saxes. I took the $1k plunge (not that much in the sax world) and came out fairly satisfied (except for the above gripes and the fact that I regret not getting a curvy). If you are in the market for a soprano, be sure to check out Phil Barone saxes. You won't be disappointed.
Just some personalization :)

The case comes from a Taiwanese manufacturer called GL Cases

Phil Barone Vintage Gold Lacquer Classic Soprano
with custom blue mother of pearl key touches

close-up of the saxophone

Some of the engravings

engravings on bell

View of the blue mother of pearl key touches

A straight and curved neck are included

The Front-F key was a bit awkward to use because of it's steep angling

Each sax includes a custom faced Phil Barone Vintage mouthpiece

The included ligature isn't very good, so I switched it for a Selmer two-screw
that came with my Super Session (original ligature pictured above)

View of Front-F key

another view of the engravings

This is a pretty accurate representation
of the true color of the lacquer

Artistic shot of the soprano :)

flower engraving!

Phil Barone's logo


  1. Hi--I just came across your post when trying to find examples of Barone's Vintage Gold lacquer. Very nice looking! It's kind of hard to tell from the pics: is the lacquer over the engraving (body and engraving are the same color)? Or is the engraving done through the lacquer (making it more yellow brass colored)? Thanks!

  2. Don't feel too bad about the small cosmetic blemishes on the horn. I recently checked out a couple of Selmer Reference 54's, and I also noticed an inconsistency in the lacquer, and even a couple of lacquer blobs around a couple of key posts, which you think wouldn't happen for a horn that goes for over 6 grand. As long as your horn feels good, plays well and sounds good, and basically looks good, then that's all that matters. I'm thinking of a Barone Vintage alto for myself in either honey gold or dark lacquer. The price is right, and if they look, feel, play and sound good, then I don't care if it's a "name" brand.