SMS Academy Jericho J6 alto saxophone
been a tough time lately for the Academy brand. For a few years now it's
been a source of decent budget-priced student instruments that have been
quietly selling without making too much of a fuss. But last year the company
suffered a fire at its warehouse (the place next door caught fire) and
business took a bit of a nose-dive as the company rushed around trying
to find a new place to relocate to. They did this...and guess what...another
It also gave them the chance to check out the manufacturers to see what
was new on the market. Unlike some retailers of ultra-cheap instruments,
Academy has always picked a manufacturer and stuck with them - developing
a relationship, feeding back comments and working to improve the standard
of the product. The best retailers all share this methodology, and while
it doesn't make for the quickest 'buck' it nevertheless builds a loyal
customer-base. However, it's equally wise to keep an eye on what's new
- and to recognise when it's time to move on.
The most notable change is the design of the horn. Most, if not all,
of the ultra-cheap horns are 'based' on one of the main brands - such
as Selmer or Yamaha. I say 'based' because simply having a few obvious
similarities (such as the design and layout of the keys) is no guarantee
that the body is anywhere near a copy. In fact it's not uncommon to find
that a factory will make several models, each of which is claimed to be
'a close representation' of a well-known brand, but when pressed they
grudgingly admit that the body tubes are identical throughout the range.
The construction of the body is semi-ribbed; there's a rib that runs
down the length of the entire upper stack, which keeps on going down to
the side F# and continues all the way to the low C upper pillar. The bottom
stack, in contrast, uses individual pillars.
keywork was particularly good. Not only was it quite neatly made, it was
well finished with a coat of nickel plate and, more importantly, quite
snug on the pivots. This is where a lot of cheap instruments fall down
- the looks are good, the keys are tidy, but everything wobbles about.
As you'd expect at this price point, the point screws are of the pseudo
type (as fitted to rather more expensive horns these days), but because
the key barrels haven't been drilled too deeply they're able to function
as proper point screws. This means that at a later date it will be possible
to take up a little wear and tear by reaming the pillars.
the hands the horn felt very comfortable. Of particular note was the placement
of the bell key spatulas and the low C/Eb touchpieces - all within easy
reach. This bodes well for players with smaller hands and should make
this an easy horn for youngsters to handle. Another consideration is the
weight. At 2.45kg this is one of the lighter horns on the market. Some
people associate a lack of weight with a lack of build quality - which
leaves them a bit of explaining to do when told that the Yamaha YAS275
alto tips the scales at just 2.3kg...and if their reply is "Well
that just proves my point!" you can tell them that the Selmer MKVI
weighed the same. And you can add "So there!", just for good
The set up was quite good too, with the main stack keys being evenly sprung with a medium-firm tension. Being picky I would say that I would liked to have seen the palm keys sprung just a tad lighter, but then there's some merit in having these set a little firmer for beginners...they often rest their hand on these keys, which opens them unexpectedly and leads to a lot of very strange noises. Best of all, I didn't have to make any adjustments to the regulation - the horn played right out of the box.
As soon as I blew this horn I recognised it. It had that same punch,
clarity and response you get from a Yamaha. This surprised me, given what
I'd said earlier about copies not quite being copies - but there's no
denying that there's definitely a 'chip off the old block' thing going
on. It's like a breath a fresh air, and in quite a literal sense. When
compared side-by-side with a couple of other ultra-cheap horns, the Academy
was by far and away the easiest to play and the most 'alive'. However,
it doesn't resort to a tendency to be over-bright to achieve this - tonewise
it still retains plenty of depth, it just strips away the muddiness that
a lot of cheaper horns can suffer from.
A couple of weeks after I posted this review I had a client bring in
a copper plated version (with clear lacquer over the top), bearing the
new stamped logo. I was very keen to see this as I've often seen major
differences in the build quality between sample and production runs. I
had a good look over the horn but couldn't find any notable differences,
which bodes well for consistency.