SMS Academy Jericho J6 alto saxophone
Guide price : £299
Date of manufacture: June 2012
Date reviewed : July 2012
Description : An Ultra-Cheap alto with a lot to shout about.
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
At this point most people would have taken it as a divine message and
given up, but like the Phoenix from the ashes (well, two of them I suppose)
they rose up and carried on.
I asked them why - given that things are pretty tough in retail at the
moment, particularly in the music business - and the answer that came
back was "Because we love doing this!" Can't say fairer than
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.
Their last premium horn, the Scholarship Series, was pretty good - a no-nonsense
sax that easily held it own against the competition, so I was keen to
see how the new '2012' series would compare.
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.
Clearly this horn takes a lot of inspiration from a Yamaha, a YAS62 no
less - at least if you look at it from a distance.
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.
It comes with all mod cons - a detachable bell, adjustable thumb hook
(plastic), removable side F# key guard, top F# key a decently-sized cling
ring and a large, very slightly domed plastic thumb rest.
The tone holes were nice and level, though one or two of them could have
been slightly better finished off - I noted a touch of roughness to the
rims in places.
The finish was very good though, a nice, neat coat of lacquer on the body
over a set of neatly fitted pillars. This example was laser engraved with
a logo, but I'm told that this is being changed to a stamped logo. It
makes no difference to the horn other than it looks a bit neater - and
as laser engraving is often cut through the lacquer it will mean that
there's less chance of oxidisation forming around the cuts over time.
While I'm on the subject, the bell key compound pillar is mounted on a
single pillar with quite a small base. I was about to cry 'Aha! This is
a weakness!" and then realised that it's exactly the same as the
one on my Yamaha 62 - and that hasn't been fallen off in over 25 years...so
I suppose I can't complain.
Holding it all together is an oval two-point bell stay. A three-point
stay would have been my favourite, but altos are quite small and light
and don't suffer from as many hard knocks as the larger saxes.
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.
Not so on this horn - I had to look quite hard before I found a slight
wobble (on the top B key), but it really was quite slight and presented
no problems with regard to playability.
I felt the octave key mechanism had a touch of free play on the swivel
pin, but it was borderline - and more than accommodated for by the slickness
of the rest of the mechanism.
There's a teardrop shaped front top F touchpiece that's nicely placed,
simple but effective fork and pin connectors for the side Bb and C keys,
regulation adjusters on both main stacks and a quick check with the screwdriver
showed that all the screwed-on key arm pins were nice and tight (often
a failure point on ultra-cheap horns).
Of special note, to me anyway, was that the corkwork was quite neat -
and thin felts had been using to buffer the regulation screws. That's
a nice touch, as is the use of felt for the bell key bumpers rather than
a lump of hard rubber or squishy foam.
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.
Topping off the action is a reasonable set of pads - which were quite
well set - and a set of blued steel springs to power the action.
Finally, it comes in a standard semi-soft zip-fastened case - which is
light and functional.
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
On average it makes this sax about 150 grammes lighter than most of the
competition in the same price range, which might not sound like a great
deal but is actually quite significant if you're a young player with a
big lump of brass hanging from your neck.
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.
It's a fresh, invigorating tone - it's like a playful puppy, it has that
sense of gentle urgency...you can almost hear it saying "Play another
note! Play another note!"
I really liked this. There are a lot of decent horns out there that can
be bought for just a few hundred pounds, and I'd be more than happy to
use on of them on a gig - they'd do the job, no problem at all - but I'd
enjoy playing one of these.
The tone was nice and even across the range too, and there were no issues
with regard to tuning...even on the altissimo notes.
I tried the mouthpiece that came with the sax. It was passable, but this
horn really does deserve something rather better. A Yamaha
3C or 4C would make a lot of difference for a very small additional
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.
When all is said and done I was very pleased with this horn. Yes, I found
a few niggles to complain about - but nothing very serious, and certainly
nothing I'd quibble about at the price. Better still though, I found rather
a lot more to like. In every respect it's a good cut above the ultra-cheap
horns around the £200 mark, and perfectly fills the gap before you
get into the Bauhaus Walstein price range.
Of particular note is Academy's returns policy; where most retailers in
the business give you 14 days to make up your mind as to whether you want
to keep the instrument or return it for a refund, Academy give you 30
days. It just makes things a bit more relaxed for the buyer, and that's
always a good thing.
Given the design of this saxophone, the build quality, its response and
playability, the price and that very generous returns policy, I'd say
it all adds up to the best value-for-money package in this category.