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Elkhart Series II alto saxophone

Origin: Taiwan
Guide price: £480
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: 2000
Date reviewed: August 2002

An entry-level horn with name that used to carry some clout

Yet another Taiwanese Selmer SA80 clone.
Actually, it's not as bad as it sounds - after all, Selmer have spent a great deal of time and money on development over the years and there can be no doubt that they surely know what they're doing (don't they?), so it seems entirely reasonable to 'follow their lead' when producing a new saxophone for the mass market. But, economies clearly have to be made if your aim is to turn out a budget horn.

Elkhart was a name synonymous with the great American horns of the mid 20th century - some truly phenomenal instruments came out of that era and area, but this Elkhart bears no relation to its namesakes. In effect this is a 'vanilla horn', the Elkhart name being stamped upon it in the hope that in some people's minds they'll make a connection between a mass-produced Taiwanese horn and an instrument from the legendary 'Saxophone Valley' in its heyday.
I suppose it was worth a try...

The construction of the horn is pretty much standard budget fare. Individual pillars have been used as opposed to ribbed construction ( where many pillars sit on one long strip, which is then fitted as a single item to the body ), and this is all good and well....provided you make sure each pillar is properly soldered on.
As with many horns of this genre this is not the case - and there were more than a few pillars that looked as though they were barely hanging on.
That's not to say they won't hang on.... but I'd feel more comfortable about seeing a nice, even ring of solder at the base of a pillar.

The keywork is reasonably well finished, though I noticed it tended to be of a somewhat soft alloy - and as this horn is aimed at the student end of the market (and thus kids) you can expect to see the odd bent key every now and again. This isn't too much of a problem (soft keys can easily be realigned) but it may mean that the regulation of the action is inclined to throw itself out over time through sheer leverage.
The feel of the keys was adequate - as usual the springing had been set up by a Taiwanese wrestler and needed backing off considerably. This improved the feel of the instrument no end.
Particular attention was drawn to the octave key mechanism. This was, frankly, all over the place.
They've used the standard Selmer pivoted bar, which is a fine mechanism - but it really deserves to be well made and well set up in order to give its best. Once again, after a good tweaking it was much improved.
For students with small hands I feel the layout might present a few problems - particularly with regard to the low C and the bell key cluster. The Selmer pattern has been followed here, and that's fine - but Selmers are pro level horns and you'd reasonably expect the buyers to be adults.
A good point was the use of cylindrical point screws, which allow play in the keys to be taken up easily.

The finish was adequate, though I noticed a few spots where oxidisation was starting to form under the lacquer. I'd like to say this is a problem with cheap horns, but alas it's something that's also seen on relatively expensive horns too.

A major plus point on this particular horn was that the tone holes were level - and believe me, that counts for a very great deal.
The pads were of less than brilliant quality though - and some work was needed to adjust the angles of the cups here and there.

The whole outfit comes in a sturdy case, which is very much a bonus.

Playability-wise I think the term 'unexciting' is a fair description.
Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing - it just means that the horn will only give so much and no more.
Tonewise it's clear enough, perhaps a tad on the bright side (again, no big problem for a student horn) and lacking in midrange oomph. It's reasonably even over the range, with the middle D typically being a duller note. The top end was rather good... if perhaps a little louder and brighter than the rest of the horn.
I noticed a slight growl on the top C. There can be a number of reasons for this phenomenon, it's even a problem seen on a few pro level horns (though mostly through a poor setup rather than a build quality issue) - and given that the horn was in good working order I can only assume that it's a built-in 'feature'.
The easy way around it is not to use too bright a mouthpiece. Considering that this is a bright horn aimed at students I don't think it'll be too much of a problem if a more warm mouthpiece is used.

The tuning was good, apart from that top C. It was ever so slightly flat. The regulation of the crook octave key is critical in this instance, and some careful adjustments helped matters considerably. It's not so bad that you couldn't make allowances for it (every horn has its little idiosyncrasies), and again the use of a warmer mouthpiece would help.

In summing up I can't ignore the price of this horn - it's one of the cheapest on the market, and it's by no means the worst I've seen. In that sense it's a winner, and represents a nice deal if you must have a shiny new horn on a budget, but it's quite close in price to the Jupiter - which is a slightly more adventurous instrument. Not much in it, mind.

My advice to would-be purchasers is to consider whipping the horn straight round to a repairer and having the action tweaked. Sure, it'll add £30-40 to the purchase price but it'll make for a far more pleasant instrument.

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