Bauhaus M2 alto saxophone (pre-production sample)
Guide price: £1600
Date of manufacture: 2008
Date reviewed: August 2008
An unusual and distinctive horn without the typical
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
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
It's an unusual and distinctive name for a horn, and one that immediately
brings to mind that movement founded by Walter
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
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
And as if I even need to prove that point, take a look at this little
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.
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 it's 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).
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.