Gear4Music 'Vintage' alto saxophone
Guide price: £250
Date of manufacture: 2011
Date reviewed: August 2011
An Ultra-Cheap horn with a cheeky name
It's not often you hear the words saxophone, Chinese and vintage
in the same sentence - and when you do it's likely to be followed
by howls of derision and indignation from fans of truly vintage
horns...but you've gotta call a horn something, and I guess if you
finish it in a vaguely green and brown muddy lacquer then it's as
good a name as any.
I can understand the sentiment though, the word 'vintage' as applied
to saxophones carries with it a great many desirable things; a certain
build quality, a certain tonal approach, a sense of integrity and
longevity - so bunging the word on a mass-produced cheap horn is
a bit of a cheek...but that's marketing for you.
I'll admit there's a slight temptation to take the marketeers at
their word and judge the product to the standards the name implies,
but I like to be fair - and at the end of the day this is a £200
horn, and I'd be very surprised if there's anything even slightly
vintage about it.
Those in the know will have already spotted that it's a Yanagisawa
'knock-off', at least in terms of the key design and layout. What
the body is copied on is anybody's guess, but it's at least surprisingly
I had a good look at the tone holes and found nothing much worthy
of comment - perhaps one or two that might bear closer examination...but
then at this price if you have to look that hard to spot any faults,
you're doing very well indeed.
All the usual features are present; detachable bell, adjustable
thumb hook, removable side F# key guard, decently-sized thumb rest
and a triple-point bell stay.
The pillars and fittings are neatly attached (all bar one, as we'll
see later) and the finish is actually quite good...if not perhaps
my personal choice. There's even some decent engraving on the bell,
as well as some on the bell rim itself. Not a bad touch for a cheap
The keywork is up to the same standard as the bodywork - it's
a lot more accurately made than was common a few years ago on such
horns and includes some notable features, such as double cup arms
on the low C and B keys, a helper arm over the Auxiliary F key cup
and a well-designed and placed front top F key.
nice features include a simple fork and pin link for the side Bb
and C keys, a tilting table for the bell key spatulas and key height
adjusters on both stacks - although there are no regulation adjusters.
Note too the enclosed top E/F# barrel brace, which both prevents
these long keys from flexing in use and keeps them quiet.
A closer look at the action shows that slightly better felts have
been used than those found on older models. Yep, you still have
the corks - and potentially the issue with some of them coming adrift
due to the shonky glue that the Chinese use (what IS that stuff??)
- but the better felts are a welcome step-up nonetheless. They're
firmer, and appear to be fitted with more care.
Powering the action is a set of blued steel springs which were
really rather well set, it has to be said. This isn't that uncommon
these days - the very first Ultra-Cheap horns often had a terribly
heavy action, mostly due to the need for the springs to take up
the excess play in the keywork. Over the years the Chinese have
got better at making keys, and on some examples I've found that
the springs required hardly any tweaking at all, if any.
There's the usual let-down associated with the use of pseudo
point screws, though at the time of review I didn't find any
excessively loose keys. At a later date it might be prudent to replace
these screws with proper points - but by then you will probably
have moved on to a better horn.
As far as I'm aware there's only one Chinese horn that features
proper point screws, and that's the Bauhaus-Walstein AI series.
It's a feature worth paying the extra for, but I suspect it won't
be long before it's found on other Ultra-Cheap brands.
with the action, another area that's improved over the years is
the quality of the pads fitted to these instruments.
Sure, they're still cheap pads, but they're stiffer and flatter
these days - and on this horn they were quite well set.
I had to adjust a couple for optimum performance, but that's no
more than I'd have to do to any new horn. I daresay a decent set
of pads would make a difference to the horn's performance, but it
wouldn't be by much and the cost would far outweigh the gains.
The horn comes in a hard-shell case, fitted with proper catches
instead of the usual crappy zip - it'll protect the horn from most
knocks, but one thing to be aware of is the risk of shock damage
to the arched bell key pillar (shown here on the right). A hard
knock to either end of the case can make the bell keys act like
slide-hammers, and push the pillar back. It's a bit disconcerting
when your bell keys fall off as you lift the horn out of its case,
but fortunately it's not too difficult to fix.
Inside the case is a shove-it type swab - you'd be well-advised
to do exactly that...in the bin...and get a decent one (HW
The horn feels well-balanced in the hands. Out of the box the action
was pretty good, but with a few small tweaks it felt even better.
As is common with most Ultra-Cheap horns, the fact that the key
design is 'heavily influenced' by that found on very much more expensive
saxes means that you're unlikely to have any real problems with
the ergonomics. So - everything feels like it's where it ought to
be. Having key height adjusters fitted means you can tweak the height
of the main stacks with gay abandon. It's not something I'd recommend
you try without knowing a little more about the whys and wherefores
though - but you could do a lot worse than invest in a copy of the
Haynes Saxophone Manual
if you're interested in a spot of tweaking...
If you've been following this site for a few years you might have
noticed that I've had something of an on/off relationship with Gear4Music
They started off well, and featured in the review of a generic Chinese-built
alto - at which point they got a firm thumbs-up. Since then I've
had a number of reports from buyers that pointed to a drop in quality
control, so much so that I felt obliged to remove my recommendation.
This horn goes a very long way towards correcting that, and would
have done so without hesitation were it not for one small issue.
mentioned earlier that all the pillars and fittings were neatly
attached, bar one - and here it is.
Here's a shot of the bell key guard - this was how the horn arrived
in the box. As you can see, one of the guard feet has popped off.
Now let's be completely fair here - these things happen, and not
just to cheap horns. Granted, it's far more unusual to take delivery
of an expensive horn and find that something's come adrift in transit,
and yes, the old saying 'You get what you pay for" still carries
weight...but there's always room for some perspective.
Because this horn was needed for a deadline it was decided to simply
have it repaired rather than contact the retailer - who would have
replaced the horn without any fuss, so I have no beef with that.
However, it does mean that either these horns aren't properly checked
before they're shipped out, or that they're not as well-packaged
as they ought to be, or that they don't take knocks quite as well
as more expensive horns. I feel these issues are fairly reflected
in the price. Quality control, packaging and build quality all cost
money - which is why you can now pay anything up to £700 for
a Chinese-built alto. Yes, you'll get a better horn and it will
stand more of a chance of arriving in one piece...but you'll pay
for the privilege.
the plus side - the G4M alto blew straight out of the box right
down to a subtone low Bb, even with the detached guard foot - and
have a look at the photo of the repair...a properly soldered joint
with no lacquer damage. I'm not going to say there wasn't a degree
of skill involved (and, fellow repairers, let's be honest - a bit
of luck too) but the fact that the finish withstood the heat is
commendable. That's a big thumbs-up.
A job like this costs around £10-20 depending on how smoothly
it all goes, so some might consider it worth having done rather
than shipping it back to the supplies. You might even find they'd
prefer to refund the cost of the job rather than deal with the hassle
of arranging to have a replacement horn shipped to you. Never hurts
Tonewise? Well, what exactly are you expecting? If you think that
merely making one horn look like another means that the tone will
be the same, you'd be wrong. And if you thought that making a horn
cheaply means it won't sound any good, you'd be wrong again.
Simply put, it's got a nice medium-bright tone - not too harsh,
certainly not muddy and indistinct. It's a flexible tone too, the
choice of mouthpiece will make a big difference (the one supplied
with the horn is useless) - so fans of the modern, contemporary
sound can pop their baffled pieces on and make those top notes scream.
More laid-back players can stick with large-chambered pieces and
bring out the midrange and lower end. This horn will do it.
I said I'd be surprised is this horn had anything vintage about
it - and I am. Compared to a great many modern horns, this one has
at least a passing nod to the warmth of horns of old. It's just
there, in the background. Credit where credit is due, it's an unexpected
and welcome feature and it raises this horn above the run-of-the-mill.
It has none of the unevenness that used to plague cheap horns from
a couple of decades ago, and none of the tuning problems either.
Sure, it's not as cultured a tone as that from the horn on which
this is based - in a side-by-side comparison with a Yanagisawa 992
it's instantly obvious that the Yani is more refined (as it ought
to be), but you might be very surprised at how little difference
there is considering the vast difference in price - the Yani is
around ten times the price.
What's interesting to note is that this horn was bought by the
player who owns the 992. Both horns were brought in for a service
- the Yani because it's been a year since it was last tweaked, and
the G4M because it had just been bought. Why would someone who owns
a 992 want to buy a cheap copy? He's off on a trip around Europe
and wanted to take a horn with him. What could be better than one
that feels much the same as the 992 (in terms of ergonomics), that
gives a credible performance and that costs less than the price
of a decent phone or a respectable pocket camera?
Travelling can be a risky business - things get damaged in transit,
people have a few too many Margaritas and fall over, and sometimes
you stray into areas which the locals tend to steer clear of. It
makes perfect sense to travel light and cheap - and if the worst
happens you're an anecdote up and only a couple of hundred quid
But to label this horn as just a cheap travelling toy is to seriously
underestimate it. Put side-by-side with a student horn from years
gone by, such as the ubiquitous Corton or Lafluer, and the G4M will
kick them firmly into a corner...and then stamp on them. Players
of my generation who started out on such monsters as the Guban Luxorsolo
(Romanian), the B&M Champion (East German) and the aforementioned
Corton (Czech) would have broken down in tears of joy at the chance
to have played a horn like this. Even later arrivals like the Jupiter,
which was considerably better than any other student horn in the
same price range, can't quite match the performance - let alone
the feel of the action.
Taking into account the problem with the bell key guard, and offsetting
that against the quality of the action, the finish and the horn's
performance - and finally the price - I feel more than comfortable
about putting the G4M back on the recommended list.