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
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 well-built.
I had a good look at the tone holes and found nothing much worthy of comment
- perhaps or 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
All the usual features are present; detachable bell, adjustable thumb
hook, removable side F# key guard, decently-sized thumb rest and a triple-point
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 horn.
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.
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.
As 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 cam 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 to
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 horns.
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 to ask.
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 down.
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.