Buffet (Keilwerth) Expression alto saxophone
Guide price: Unknown
Date of manufacture: Circa 1991
Date reviewed: May 2005
A pro level horn from the Keilwerth stable under
Here's one for all you 'stencil horn' fans!
In case that means nothing to you, a stencil horn is an instrument made
by one manufacturer and stamped with the name or brand of another. This
was a popular system of marketing way back around the 1930's, and almost
all the big manufacturers produced stencil horns.
The drawback of this system though is that sometimes it can be rather
hard to determine exactly what sort of quality your stencil horn is -
and the advantage is that you can pick up a potentially very expensive
instrument at a very reasonable price simply because few people have heard
of the name stamped on it.
And so it is with this horn - the Buffet Expression.
I admit that I'd never heard of it before it turned up in the workshop.
Upon examination it was immediately clear that it was built by Keilwerth.
What's less clear is precisely what model it equates to.
As far as I can tell, going by certain design features, it's an early
version of their SX90. The keywork looks practically identical, as do
a lot of the body features. One or two features are missing (such as the
extra G# gizmo) which suggests that the mechanism wasn't around at the
time this horn was built (I can't see why they'd exclude it and still
leave the other features in).
Aside from a Buffet Crampon bell brace and some minor detailing on the
crook and bell, this horn appears to be an SX series horn in all but name
- and this review will most likely draw many comparisons with the SX90R
Build quality is good overall - the pillar design and placement lend
the horn a reasonably neat and tidy look, and as per the SX90R I
feel the pillar bases are a little unsubtantial...a wider base makes
for a more secure pillar.
I had to level off quite a few tone holes on this horn. In fairness
I have to say that the horn had seen some use, so it's only right
and proper to make allowances for the years it's been out in 'the
field'. However, some of the tone holes had rather strange notches
in them - and as these were lacquered over they must have been built
into the horn.
No big deal to put right though with a little dressing of the tone
I'd say that the fitting of the pillars and fixtures was average
- on the whole pretty good but with one or two exceptions. The lower
Bb key pillar was sitting on a not insubstantial bed of solder,
for example. Perhaps not a critical fault, but rather scruffy nonetheless.
palm keys feature the same adjustable touchpieces as seen on the
Keilwerth SX series horns. I'd commented before that I felt these
were perhaps a little too lightly built but I saw no signs of stress
where the touchpiece meets the threaded shaft, and this on a horn
that's clearly seen some use. All the same, I still feel that these
keys would be less resilient in the event of a knock, which is a
common occurrence to these keys.
Having the facility to adjust the palm keys could be something of
a double-edged sword - can you ever be truly happy with their placement
when you know you can keep on adjusting them? I simply set them
up so that they looked right and then forgot about them - but then
maybe I got them in the right place first time round. Disregarding
the potential drawbacks, it's an effective way of ensuring that
the palm keys can be adapted to suit a wide variety of hand sizes.
bell key spatulas are nice and sturdy. I particularly like the rather
beefy slot and pin arrangement for the C# link. It's a lot quieter
than the usual enclosed arrangement and a lot easier to maintain.
It makes for a slicker action too.
Similarly, the side Bb and C keys use a no-nonsense slot and pin arrangement
that's both sturdy, slick and quiet in use.
Proper point screws have been used throughout, so there's plenty of scope
for taking up any free play in the action as and when it wears. The keywork
is powered by blued steel springs.
One noticeable difference from the SX series is the 'normal' key pearls.
I'm not a fan of the thick pearls Keilwerth now use, and I felt that the
plain pearls made the action feel a little slicker under the fingers.
In playing, the horn's a nice easy blow. I felt that the perhaps the
mid/low D, which is always a tricky note, was a little more shaded than
I'd like - and some careful adjustment of the low C key height helped
to even this out a little.
Otherwise the tone across the range was even, and the tuning's just as
In terms of tone I found the horn to be a little too laid back for my
taste. I probably ask a lot, but I like a horn that can coast along quite
nicely at a comfortable blow and yet keep up with me as I blow harder.
I felt the Expression resisted a little too much, particularly at the
That's not to say it's a bad sound, just a personal preference - and it
perhaps points to a tone that's well-rounded and yet a little 'contained'.
I guess it's fair to say that makes it a very stable horn, and one that
will appeal to the player who likes a tone that errs on the warm side
and doesn't need to wail! The flip side of that is that the horn won't
'shout', and that's makes for a more relaxed blow ( you don't have to
exercise so much control over the top notes ).
I should imagine that a bright mouthpiece would shift that equation slightly
- but perhaps not as much as on, say, a Yamaha or a Yanagisawa. Naturally,
with a tendency to the warm the low notes were rich and full but the payoff
was perhaps a little less attack and clarity.
The action felt fine under the fingers - the only issue of note was that
I felt the bell key spatulas were a tad lower and angled too far into
the body than suits me (something I didn't notice on the SX90R alto, so
perhaps there's been a change here?) but certainly not beyond anything
that you wouldn't become accustomed to - and it's not beyond the realms
of possibility that the spatulas could have been adjusted for a previous
I'm left with a favourable impression of the Expression, it's a very
capable horn that will have an obvious appeal to players who like a well-rounded,
warm sound tonewise- and without the issues that have plagued the SX90R
series with its tone hole rings it's likely to be a far more reliable
horn. Better still, its 'disguise' under the Buffet brand name should
mean that you can pick one up for a very reasonable price...at least before
this review becomes widely read!
I shall refrain from telling you what my client paid for this horn, it
would only spoil your day.