Buffet Crampon S1 and Prestige alto saxophones
Guide price: £1300 for the S1, £1500 for the Prestige (used)
Date of manufacture: 1975 (S1), 1985 (Prestige)
Date reviewed: October 2006
Buffet's first version of their premier S range
of pro horns
I've remarked in other reviews of Buffet horns that the company has had
relatively little success with their range of saxophones - as compared
to other manufacturers of similar 'clout', and indeed to their own highly-regarded
range of clarinets - and yet it hasn't prevented them from being innovative.
Or brave, even. To go to all the trouble and expense of designing and
producing a premier range of horns when previous models haven't exactly
wowed the market is quite a risky proposition - and so whatever the outcome
of this review, credit has to be given for such a bold move.
I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone by reviewing the basic S1
and the Prestige horns side by side.
They're essentially the same horns in terms of build and design, with
a few notable differences - and much of what was written about the S1
tenor applies to both these horns.
Well, there's certainly no disguising the main feature of the Prestige
(right) - just look at the colour of that body compared to the standard
S1 (below left).
OK, so these days using anything but brass for sax body can hardly be
described as esoteric - but when the Prestige first hit the shops it was
a genuine talking-point. And rightly so - the last time anyone strayed
from the straight and narrow path that is the traditional brass body was
around the mid 1950's, when the Grafton
plastic alto made its debut.
It was a brave move by a company who hadn't exactly made significant inroads
into the world of professional level saxes, despite its considerable reputation
for its range of clarinets, especially when you consider what they were
up against in terms of competition from the now well established marques
of Yamaha and Yanagisawa.
reason for the use of copper was supposedly to give a different tone than
might be had on a brass sax. Indeed, it was even suggested that the because
copper warms up more evenly than brass it will sound better - and it will
continue to improve as the instrument gets warmer.
So copper is a good conductor of heat. It's also pretty good at releasing
it too...and if you suppose that the tonal theory is true then you also
have to accept that the horn will cool down quicker than a brass one,
and that means you'd be forever blowing air into the horn just to keep
the temperature up during a (typically lengthy) drum solo.
Fortunately it's just marketing spiel (AKA bollocks).
What's a fact is that copper is softer than brass. Much softer.
This means it's rather easy to put a dent in the body.
Oh well, at least it looks nice eh?
The Prestige came in because of transit damage. A cheap case and a careless
shipper resulted in the horn taking a whack whilst in the case. The most
common transit damage is that of the outer bell rim taking a bash transmitted
through the case, and this is exactly what had happened to this horn.
a particularly sturdy horn that would show no damage from such a knock,
but with a well-designed bell brace and strong brass with a bit of spring
in it you might get away with just a bit of a bent bell rim.
Unfortunately these horns have a dreadful bell brace (apparently
it's supposed to improve the resonance...or something like that.
Yup.) and the Prestige's copper body has all the stopping power
of a paper hat - and the end result was a dirty great dent in the
body under the now deformed bell brace.
On the plus side...because the copper is soft the dent hadn't bent the
body or taken out the adjacent tone holes. On the minus side again, what
might have been a £20 "straighten out a bell rim" job
is likely to turn into a "Blimey guv, that'll cost three figures
There's no removable bell on these horns either...
The bodywork on the S1 is identical, save for a few differences in some
of the fittings.
Most notable is the thumb hook, a bulky swivelling design that really
isn't all that comfortable
or consistent. I'm guessing the idea here is that no matter what
angle your thumb's at, the hook moves to accommodate it. This would
be fine if were at all comfortable - but it isn't, and all that
happens is your thumb remains consistently uncomfortable no matter
what angle it's at. The Prestige has a standard swivelling plastic
thumb hook, though I'm led to believe that this only appeared on
Another difference is the crook socket - the Prestige is slightly more
robust but incorporates the top F# tone hole. The crook has a slightly
larger cutaway on its tenon sleeve in a corresponding position to take
into account the various angles that players might want to set the crook
All in all the S1 is well put together, with generous bases to the pillars
and neat solderwork - just what you'd expect from a premium horn.
The keywork follows the same pattern and is well made, and really quite
Both horns feature some unusual design features, with the S1 sporting
the almost legendary adjustable spatulas on the low C/Eb.
perhaps legendary isn't quite the right word...notorious perhaps?
It seems to me to be design for design's sake, and achieves nothing
that can't be done on an ordinary setup with spot of careful bending
(and it's not like you need to adjust these things more than once
or twice in a horn's lifetime).
It isn't that they don't work, it more that they make the low C and Eb
keys feel a little detached and unresponsive. It's a regular chore to
keep the adjustable mechanism spot on, and the whole caboodle is a sure-fire
recipe for key noise. That said, the dished rollerless spatulas make for
a swift change between the C and the Eb...so it's not all bad news.
Thankfully someone saw sense when it came to the Prestige, which features
good old-fashioned plain keys with rollers.
In a similar vein, the bell key cluster is also quite unique. In this
instance though the mechanism actually works rather well - though I should
point out that the same arrangement on the S1 tenor wasn't nearly as slick
in operation. This is probably down to the extra weight of the tenor keys...a
few extra grammes seems to make all the difference.
it most definitely is - and I can see that not everyone will take to it
immediately, but it you give it a chance and spend some time getting used
to the unusual feel you'll find that it's quite a slick mechanism.
My reservation though is that the bells keys sit on a single pillar, which
is likely to move in the event of even a moderate knock.
The Prestige features a top F# key, and both horns use a curious double
arm arrangement for the middle F# and top F# touchpieces.
The tenor review
goes into detail about this mechanism, so I won't repeat it here other
than to say "Why?".
Other features include a pin and barrel mechanism for the side Bb and
C keys - along with the usual problem of wear and noise this mechanism
brings, despite the barrels being made of plastic. There's also a rather
curious octave key mechanism that appears to be something of a throwback
to earlier days - and like the bell key cluster it seems to work rather
better on the alto than it does on the tenor.
terms of maintenance there are no adjusters on the main stacks. Not a
huge problem if you never do any home tweaking, but a bit of nuisance
if you do - and a complete pain for repairers.
In overall feel the action is quite nippy. This is a distinct contrast
to the tenor, which felt very dead and lumpy. The altos have an almost
'switchlike' feel to the keys. I wouldn't go so far as to say the action
had the same sort of kick and response as you'd find on a Selmer or a
Yamaha etc., but I think you'd only notice the difference if you were
used to playing these other horns.
Even when lightened the action retained the switch feel, and I can see
that kind of precision appealing to quite a few players.
One final comment regarding the action is how noisy it can be. The stack
key feet are quite large in terms of surface area, and the cork buffers
seem to punctuate the action with a bit of a slap. This is easily resolved
by removing the cork and fitting the key feet out with felt.
It's a worthwhile modification, particularly for the S1 which already
suffers from that noisy low C arrangement.
There has been some debate surrounding the tuning of the Buffet Prestige
What it boils down to is that Buffet apparently made two types of Prestige,
one pitched at A=440Hz for the US market and one pitched slightly higher
at A=442Hz for the European market.
With such a small difference in pitch you'd think it would be hard to
tell, what with the average player being quite capable of adjusting the
embouchure to correct the natural compromises present in any saxophone
- but actually the difference is quite tangible.
I tuned the Prestige to A=440Hz, using my testbench Rousseau 3R mouthpiece.
This piece is a superb all-rounder, able to accommodate a huge range of
horns from various periods, so when it shows up a problem it's a very
good bet that there really is one. With the tuning set at A=440Hz I noticed
quite a lot of drifting in the upper register. Top G in particular seemed
rather wild, and the tuning meter's needle swung back and forth as I ran
up and down the scale. When I dropped to the lower octave the pitch flattened
quite significantly - so much so that I had to work my embouchure quite
hard to bring the tuning into line.
I then pushed the mouthpiece on a tad to raise the overall pitch.
The change was quite dramatic. Although I was now reading very slightly
sharp on my concert A, the tuning meter was much more stable across the
scale - and even the upper G seemed to have calmed down. I still noticed
the dropoff on the bell notes, but not to the same extent as before, and
by nothing that couldn't easily be handled by simply getting the embouchure
used to the horn.
Not only was the tuning much better, the tone improved too - it was much
more stable, much more even and centred.
It's worth mentioning that although the European tenor is also tuned to
442Hz, it doesn't appear to be quite so intolerant of mouthpiece position.
You might be concerned that this renders the horn useless for ensemble
playing, but the few percent difference isn't going to cause any real
problems, and being ever so slightly sharp has never been a bad thing
for a horn section.
Tonewise I was quite surprised by the Prestige. All the Buffets I've
played before have all been very 'withdrawn' in terms of tone. To a certain
degree I feel this is true of the Prestige, but in comparison with the
other models it's significantly livelier. This would appear to be at odds
with the marketing spiel of the day, which claimed that the copper body
would give a darker tone overall.
Quite the reverse, I'd say - the Prestige is by far and away the brightest
of the Buffets I've played. Having said that, there's still that sense
of the horn holding back - if you really push the tone you can actually
feel the resistance. It's quite a strange combination - that bright, full
tone coupled with a sort of limiting resistance.
Perhaps the best description I can come up with is that the Prestige has
a 'tonal microclimate'. As long as you stay within the bounds of what
it can handle it'll give you a beautifully precise tone...but push it
too hard and it really lets you know it's not happy.
But here's the strangest thing...if you blow right through that resistance,
and I mean really blow, the thing starts to growl a la Tom
Scott. Oh yeah...it gets dirty...but boy do you have to give it your all
to get it.
It does have darkness too...and when I say darkness I don't just mean
the lower harmonics are to the fore, I mean it's really quite a sinister
tone. If you play, say, a nice fat major scale, the horn seems to punt
it out without any real conviction - but switch to a minor scale and suddenly
it's all flashing eyes and cloak and dagger. Very gothic.
You can still play upbeat stuff on it, but I found that I needed to back
off the power considerably to get a sense of lightness to the tone...and
there was always the feeling that there was a moustachioed villain standing
behind me, whispering "Go on...flatten that third...you know you
In contrast, the plain S1 is much more like the other Buffets I've played.
The tone is decent enough, pleasant even, but there's that nagging sense
of restraint. Interestingly enough the two horns sound almost identical
in the lower register, with the Prestige being ever so slightly broader
in tone. It's when you move into the upper octave that you really notice
how pinched the S1 sounds in comparison.
By way of an experiment I swapped the crooks around. The Prestige crook
didn't quite fit the S1 (being rather tight halfway on) but even here
you could tell that the upper register had much more guts. As expected,
the S1 crook reined in the top notes on the Prestige, but not by as much
as on the S1 - which suggests that it's not all in the crook.
To be brutally frank, the S1 sounds like an 'also ran' beside the Prestige
- but taken on its own it's a capable enough horn provided you're aware
of its limitations. It would sit very well in a quartet, either classical
or lounge jazz, but you'd find yourself working unnecessarily hard using
it in a more demanding environment perhaps.
The Prestige is the best of the Buffet range I've played so far, but
like all Buffets it's by no means a 'jobbing horn'. It's distinctive,
it's quirky, it's obstinate, it's passionate - and if the Selmer MKVI
is the granddad of horns, then the Buffet Prestige is the moody teenager.
Love it or loathe it, just don't buy one on a whim and expect it to play
by your rules.