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Bauhaus M2 alto saxophone (pre-production sample)

Bauhaus alto saxophoneOrigin: Taiwan (www.woodwindandbrass.co.uk)
Guide price: £1600
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: 2008
Date reviewed: August 2008

An unusual and distinctive horn without the typical price-tag

When the first generation of Ultra Cheap horns from China appeared on these shores I speculated that their arrival in the marketplace would prompt a response from the Taiwanese who, up to that point, had dominated the entry-level horn market. I suggested that the established manufacturers would see their customer base dwindle with alarming rapidity, and this would force them to either step out of the business or find another niche.
With at least a couple of decades worth of experience in instrument manufacture and a substantial industrial infrastructure in place it seemed highly unlikely that they'd simply give up and go home - and so they upped the ante and moved into the professional market.

This move was led, initially, by new brands such as Cannonball etc. - and in later years Mauriat joined the fray. This was followed shortly by upmarket models from already established makers such as Jupiter.
Given the apparent popularity of such models these days it would seem that the Taiwanese have pitched it about right (for the time being) and now that there's some spare capacity within the manufacturing arena it appears that much smaller retailers are taking advantage of the products available.
One such company is Bauhaus.

Never 'eard of 'em? Not under the Bauhaus name perhaps, but you might well have heard of them in their previous guise of Walstein - in which they established a reputation for supplying the upper end of the Chinese output, backing it up with a strong after-sales service.
In common with a few other retailers, Walstein were very pro-active in respect of their involvement with the manufacturing process of their range of Chinese horns - which might not have led to perhaps the cheapest horn of the genre available on the market but arguably one of the best in its price-range. This appears to be a philosophy they've carried over to their new range of Taiwanese built horns, aimed more at the advanced and professional player.
It's an unusual and distinctive name for a horn, and one that immediately brings to mind that movement founded by Walter Gropius.
Indeed, I note that the choice of name has already caused some debate on the various sax forums - some of it along the lines of 'How very dare they!'
I'm a little surprised at this reaction given that the tenet of the Bauhaus movement was that there should be no distinction between form and function (and other lofty ideals). In short it seems to me to mean that an object ought to be as uncomplicated and as functional as possible and have an aesthetic beauty all of its own.
Well if that's not the very essence of a saxophone I really don't know what is...

And as if I even need to prove that point, take a look at this little beauty.
Now, I'll admit that I'm not all that keen on silver plate as a finish on a horn, but even I have to concur that this is a very lovely looking horn. I think what gives it its particular appeal is the large bell - it seems to lend the horn a sort of 'crescendo' effect, as though it can barely contain itself as its flowing, graceful lines develop from the tip of the crook downwards.
But enough of this flowery badinage, let's cut to the meat and gristle and take the thing to pieces.

Bauhaus alto bell key pillarThe body is well constructed and features straps for the main stack pillars. The rest of the pillars have quite substantial bases to them as do the bell key guard mounts (along with nice, beefy guards) - all of which adds up to quite a heavy alto. Other notable features include a decent bell brace, a detachable bell, a nicely-sized sling ring, a large and comfortable brass thumbrest and a very useful (for repairers at least) detachable F# trill key guard.
The bell key compound pillar is of the arched type and features supporting brace to prevent the pillar being knocked back (quite a common problem with this design of pillar if not correctly and sturdily implemented). It's perhaps a tad unnecessary given the build quality and I'm inclined to think it looks a bit 'industrial', but I can't fault the 'belt and braces' ethos. It's removable anyway, so if you felt that it detracted from the horn's aesthetic appeal you could always remove it - just be careful not to allow the horn to take a bottom bow hit in the case as the resultant hammer action could knock the arched pillar back.
The toneholes were neatly finished and level.

The finish is exceptional - and with no sloppy soldering around the pillars and fittings the coat of silver looks even and deep. The engraving is nicely done, if a little fussy for my tastes (to be honest I rather prefer none at all), but I note that it's been cut through the silver plating. This means it will tarnish in time. I doubt it'll be a problem, unlike engraving that's been cut through lacquer, and you'll be able to keep it clean with an occasional wipe over with a drop of cigarette lighter fluid. The engraving continues around the rim of the bell. Because its been cut through the plating it hasn't been possible to polish it hard, so it feels slightly rough to the touch - but not excessively so. In time this will wear off with handling - but you might want to avoid resting the horn on your legs if you're wearing your best stockings.
The logo on this horn is laser etched - I'm told that full production models (this example is a sample) will have a stamped logo (see the Bauhaus-Walstein tenor review), which should look rather better.
(As of October 2009 current models now have the stamped logo and the engraving is plated over).

Bauhaus alto bell key spatulasThe keywork is as well built as the body and looks equally as neat and tidy. It's finished in gold plate, and normally I'd say that mixing silver and gold on a complex item is a no-no - but it seems to work quite well in this instance. It features double arms on the low C and B keys, a tilting bell key spatula (left hand pinky table), good old-fashioned fork and pin links on the side Bb/C trills, a generously proportioned and well-placed front top F touchpiece and adjusters on the main stacks. The very best feature however is the accuracy with which the keywork is fitted, there's not a jot of free play anywhere - and that's in spite of the point screws being of the bullet type. In the event of any eventual wear these screws can be replaced with proper points - but given the apparent hardness of the keywork I feel it's likely to be quite some time before you'd need to consider this option. It'll certainly be worth the upgrade though, as and when necessary.
If I have one criticism it's of the use of gaudy Abalone key pearls. It's a small thing, and obviously a personal preference, but I don't think it does anything for the horn's looks. You may well disagree, and that's completely fine. I believe that production models will have different key pearls.
I rather feel the crook octave key looks a little less elegant in comparison to the rest of the keywork, but then again I can't deny that it's substantial - and that's perhaps a very wise move considering how much abuse this poor key suffers during handling of the crook.

Bauhaus alto padsThis horn features kangaroo skin pads (more often known simply as 'roo skin pads'). Roo skin is a great deal tougher than traditional leather whilst also being rather more supple (it's been used for top quality motorbike wear for quite some time now precisely because of these qualities), and it also exhibits less stickiness than leather. To find these kind of pads fitted to a production horn is a very welcome bonus and with due care you should find these pads will last rather longer than standard leather ones. A very interesting feature of the pads is the use of porcelain reflectors.
Quirky it may be, but when you consider how much gunk gets onto the pads it starts to make perfect sense to use a material that's completely impervious to moisture and grime (OK, so they could have used plastic). The reflectors are quite domed, but they don't appear to affect how low the action can be set (within reason, obviously). Perhaps the only caveat is that should you need a pad replacing you might have to have one built using the original reflector. If you lose a pad (it does happen from time to time) you might have to make do with a standard one until such times as your repairer can source a replacement. I'm told that such spares will be carried by the retailer.

Bauhaus alto thumb restThe ergonomics are good, the keys are sensibly laid out and fit very well under the fingers. The large thumb rest in particular makes for a swift and positive action on the octave key. About the only negative comment I'd make with regard to ergonomics is that the G# touchpiece could benefit from being a tad longer. It's not that my finger misses it, but I find I'm hitting it right on the outside edge - another 5mm or so would bring a bit more security. That said, I suspect that given enough time to get used to the layout of the keys my overall hand position would change enough to compensate for this.
In terms of feel I was most pleased about the setup on this horn. Actually I think that's probably an understatement - I was really quite surprised at how well set up and balanced the action was. Being really picky I think I might have preferred a slightly lower right hand action, say by 2mm or so, and I also think that the key stops on the right hand stack would be better with a little felt on them rather than just plain cork. For the vast majority of players this alto would feel absolutely fine right out of the box, and probably rather better than many of its more expensive competitors - and if every example is as well sprung (blued steel, by the way) as this alto you're going to be in for a real treat.
In fact, at the time of writing I had a Yamaha 62 alto in for a setup - usual job, tweak the pads a little, lower the action and back off and balance the spring tension. This results in what I consider to be a mighty fine action. The Bauhaus felt almost like this, straight out of the packaging. That's impressive.

Bauhaus alto caseThe case is decent enough, being of the shaped variety. In terms of storage space it's pretty dire and a player with more than a couple of boxes of reeds is going to be hard put to find anywhere to store them. However, it's light and strong and gives adequate day-to-day protection. I don't much care for the zip fastener though - if it breaks it effectively means the end of the case.
One design aspect of the case that really should be changed is the pair of feet at the bottom bow end. This allows you to stand the case upright - which means the horn's got further to fall when someone inevitably knocks the case over. Such features might be OK on a higher-spec case (and only just), but my recommendation to the makers would be to round these feet off so that they still give the case a bit of knock protection but won't allow the case to be stood up on them.

In terms of the build quality this alto has a lot to live up to when it comes to blowing it - and I'm very pleased to say that it does, and more.
I had the opportunity to compare it to the Yamaha YAS62 alto I was working on and it struck me that if, tonewise, the Yamaha was akin to a brilliant white paint job, the Bauhaus would be rich cream. It has a warmth about it that isn't half-hearted (say a kind of pastel shade, or a 'hint of lavender') and yet isn't overstated (light brown) - it's just a very nice balance between a contemporary bright horn, such as the Yamaha, and a vintage boomer.
And balance it has, in spades. The transition between the lower and upper octaves is exceptional - and you'll even be hard put to find a difference in tone between the low B and Bb...something that often plagues horns that tend towards the warm.
Is that such a big deal? I think so - in struggling to please two entirely distinct markets you can often end up with a product that pleases no-one. Where the Bauhaus wins through is that it couples the ease of blowing of the Yamaha with a big tone, and the result is a powerful combination that doesn't break up when you push it hard.
You can hear this most clearly when you play it with a rock 'n roll growl - the Yamaha, with its naturally bright tone, does pretty well, but the Bauhaus steps up a gear. It almost like you can hear the horn saying "Ooh yeeaaahhhh brother" and it feels as though it'll take whatever you're able to push into it. Back it off and the horn ticks over beautifully without becoming muddy and imprecise.
In my books that's the mark of a good horn - the tone isn't one-dimensional - and more importantly there's a seamless transition between the many tone colours a decent horn is capable of.

So what we have here then is a very nice horn. Nicely built, attractive, well designed and presented - and a lovely blower. Surely it doesn't get much better than that?
Well, there's the price to consider. When it first appeared on the market in 2008 it sold for around £900. People how bought one at that price would have got an absolute bargain, and should now be grinning from ear to ear. Since then, prices have risen all round and the M2 now sells for a weighty £1600.
I tried this horn up against the ubiquitous Yamaha 62, and it withstood the comparison with honours - and that's a horn more than capable of seeing off horns well into the £2000 bracket - which effectively means it squares up to the likes of the Yanagisawa 992, the Yamaha Customs and, dare I say it, the Selmer SA80 III. Rather more crucially it goes head-to-head with all the other 'super Taiwanese' horns, such as Mauriat etc. - and for a little less cash.

If you're moving up on a budget from a starter horn the Bauhaus is an absolute must for your list of horns to look at - and if you're looking for a pro quality horn, or just something different from the norm, you might be surprised at how little you have to spend.

 

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2015