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Conn - Selmer Prelude AS700 alto header
 

Conn-Selmer Prelude AS700 alto saxophone
Origin: China
Guide price : £360
Date of manufacture: 2005 / 2007
Date reviewed : April 2006 / May 2007

Description : An Ultra-Cheap horn with a big, big name.

Conn_Selmer Prelude alto saxWhen this horn first appeared on the market you could almost hear an audible gasp of horror from the legions of players to whom the Selmer name is practically sacred. Accusations of 'selling out' were bandied about from such acolytes as "gobsmacked of Oregon" to "slightly disgruntled of Westminster", and the general theme was one of disgust that the house of Selmer should have anything to do with an instrument as cheap as this one. Then again, the Selmer corporation comprises many branches - not just the renowned 'Selmer Paris' brand - and many musicians will have unhappy memories of some of the gear that's borne the hallowed name. To make matters worse, the horn is stamped 'Conn - Selmer', so that's at least two camps smarting from the indignity of seeing the names of two giants of saxophone manufacturing stamped on the bell of a cheap saxophone ( and I still wince whenever I see a 'Mexi-Conn' ).
Times have changed though, and 'cheap' doesn't have to mean 'awful' anymore...

I'd seen one of these horns some months earlier than the current review model, and at the time I had some extremely serious concerns about the build quality - concerns that were echoed by another repairer who'd seen similar examples - but I'm delighted to report that these issues appear to have been dealt with. What we have now is a reasonably well-built horn that's essentially a copy of a professional level Selmer sax. I say 'reasonably' because at this kind of price you're going to have to accept some economies in the construction, but fortunately they're not the kind of economies that will affect how the horn works to any significant degree.
The body features all the mod-cons you'd expect these days; Detachable bell, substantial bell stay, adjustable thumb hook and a reassuringly beefy arched bell key pillar. These additions are all very nice, but what really counts is the integrity of the tone holes - and I was pleased to say that they were all level. That's quite an achievement really, it's not uncommon to find a few iffy tone holes on even quite expensive horns - and whilst I regard that as less than satisfactory, in most cases all that's required is a light dressing to even them up.

The pillars and fittings are quite neat, with no gaps at the bases or sloppy solderwork, but there's evidence of some harsh cleaning up around some of the fittings which shows up as a slight rippling under the lacquer. It's a minor point considering the price, I only mention it to highlight where the economies have been made.
I noted a couple of brown spots under the lacquer. This usually indicates poor cleaning before lacquering, and is caused by soldering flux residues leaching out of the fitting joints. In general I'd say it's pot luck whether your horn is affected by it or not - it's certainly not a problem that's confined only to cheap horns.

The keywork follows much the same pattern, quite well built for the price.
It's perhaps not as well specified as those Chinese horns based on Japanese designs - but then you could hardly call the Selmer style of keywork 'inadequate'. If anything the keys look slightly more substantial than usual, so perhaps the money saved in a less complex design has gone towards a bit more 'meat' on the keywork.
About the only issue worthy of comment was a bit of free play in the top B key barrel, and a badly aligned auto F key touchpiece.

As regards the setup, it was typically stiff. The springs appear to be stainless*, but they look rather greyer than this kind of spring usually looks - so perhaps there's another economy. Once the tension was backed off and some of the springs profiled to give a bit more 'snap', the action took on a much livelier feel.
Surprisingly enough, the key height was pretty much spot on - perhaps just fractionally high, but well within what I'd deem acceptable.

The horn comes with a light but adequate case, sturdy enough for everyday use.

Under the fingers the action feels quite solid and precise. Naturally it's not as slick as you'd find on a top-notch horn, but it's at least as good as many budget horns from Taiwan. Everything is where it's supposed to be, and a young student shouldn't have any trouble reaching for the lower notes.
It's quite amazing what a difference a bit of tweaking makes to these horns, and even if you only have the spring tension slackened off it'll pay dividends in terms of feel and response.

The horn is an easy blow with a tone that's even enough across the range. Tonewise It's slightly darker, less bright than Chinese horns based on Japanese designs, and perhaps reflects Selmer's tonal philosophy - though whether that's more by luck than judgement is debatable. Again it's of the standard of a Taiwanese student horn. I had no problems with regard to the tuning.

In the last year or so the price of this horn has risen quite a bit compared to other Ultra-Cheap Chinese horns - but what this particular instrument has to offer over all the others is a brand identity. What Conn-Selmer give you is an international distribution network, so you can walk into many music shops around the world and buy this horn and be assured that it'll be the same horn as reviewed here.
Even better, in the year between reviews the build quality has improved yet again and gone are the grey steel springs, replaced with standard blued steel. The finish has been improved too.
The tone seems better too - I remarked that the original review horn was as good as student Taiwanese horn, but the new model feels more solid and expressive.
Put it this way; if an experienced player bunged on a decent mouthpiece and blew this horn they'd probably note that it fails to meet the precision and clarity they'd expect from a £1000+ horn - but not by much though, and it's doubtful that a listener would find anything negative to say about it.

On that basis this horn represents outstanding value for money.

Update December 2010: A recent report from a fellow technician indicates that quality control standards have dropped. Until I have seen some recent examples and am able to comment first-hand on the issue I would advise caution, and as such can no longer recommend this model.

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