P.Mauriat System 76 alto saxophone (2nd Edition)
Guide price: £1750
Date of manufacture: 2009
Date reviewed: March 2011
A modern, professional horn with a vintage perspective
The past seems to be big business these days - everywhere you look it's
vintage this and retro that. 'Old' is out, 'classic' is in - modernism
is so yesterday (which is something of a contradiction really).
I'll admit I'm quite a fan of vintage things...steam trains, mechanical
devices, graceful curves and elegant styling, but I'm also acutely aware
that, to paraphrase the saying, 'all that glitters is not old'. Not so
very long ago people died of diseases that hardly inconvenience us today,
and even something as simple as looking after the household chores was
an exercise in drudgery. My own vision of 'retro' is something that takes
the style and values of the past and couples them with modern technology
- the end product being something that combines elegance with reliability
So with this in mind, how will a horn that the makers claim is 'Vintage
personified' stand up to modern-day scrutiny?
Well, it's certainly built with all mod cons - drawn tone holes (thankfully
all level), ribbed keywork, detachable bell, triple-point bell stay, generously-sized
thumb rest and an adjustable thumb hook.
The body is very neatly put together, with all the straps, pillars and
fittings tidily soldered and well-finished. It's quite 'chunky' too -
the standalone pillars feature substantial bases and both the bottom bow
rings and the crook socket are quite hefty affairs. This perhaps explains
the rather heavy weight of the horn, coming in a good few hundred grammes
heavier than most modern altos on the market...and quite a bit heavier
than a lot of vintage ones.
The large diameter bell will add a little weight, but it doesn't look
too out of place - as such bells often can on altos - and this might be
down to the muted finish. It's a sort of brushed duo-tone lacquer, and
I'm relieved to see that it hasn't been overdone. This kind of finish
is quite tricky to get right but this horn has a nice balance between
the lighter and darker shades. It's certainly a lot more discreet than
some other examples I've seen, although I will say it tends to look better
from a slight distance.
It also seems to be standing up to wear quite well, though I did note
a few bare spots on some keys (such as the palm keys).
The engraving stands out, quite literally. It's cut through the finish
so it looks nice and sharp, but it's perhaps a little rough under the
hands. I've no doubt it will wear down in time, but if you're a player
who likes to wear shortish skirts and stockings (well, we can all dream)
you might want to avoid resting the bell on your leg when you sit down
as it will snag.
The keywork looks to be nicely built - as with the body it's all tidy
and well finished. It's also quite tough too. A criticism often thrown
at horns from this region is that the keywork tends to be soft - but some
careful pushing and pulling revealed otherwise.
The keys are fitted out with decent pads, which themselves are fitted
with metal domed reflectors - and they're all powered by a set of blued
steel springs. Better yet, the springs are of a decent length which means
that they can develop a nice snappy feel when correctly tensioned.
I was a bit disappointed to find that there were no adjusters on the main
key stacks. I realise that this is a horn built with a passing nod to
the vintage era, but I'm sure that a few adjusting screws aren't going
to detract from the image - and it saves us repairers a lot of time when
it comes to setting the action up.
bell keys spatulas are nicely laid out, complete with titling table
on the Bb touchpiece - and all mounted on a semicircular compound
pillar. There's no additional bracing for this pillar though, which
is a feature that's proven to be very beneficial on other horns
that use this type of pillar as it's quite susceptible to being
knocked backwards if the horn takes a tumble - even when it's in
Note the beefy triple-point bell brace - the treble clef infill is a
I was very surprised at how much play there was on the point screw pivoted
keys. This was quite evident when the horn came in for a service - because
My standard test for wear on keys mounted on point screws is to grip the
key barrel near the pillar and give it a bit of a wobble. Every single
such key wobbled. To find such wear on a horn that had seen a good few
years use wouldn't surprise me - but what would surprise me was finding
that the wear was even right across the action, as it was with the Mauriat.
Some keys get more use than others, so I'd expect to find that, say, the
Bis Bb key wobbled a little more than the low B or Bb.
A closer inspection revealed why.
point screws are of an unusual design
- the heads are spear-shaped. This is essentially just another kind of
parallel point screw and is subject to all the flaws associated with the
design - which means that if the key barrels aren't accurately drilled,
the keys will wobble. And they do.
I was going to say that when the action wears, these type of screws have
little or no provision for adjustment - and on a horn of this price you
should expect to find proper point screws. However Mauriat have gone one
better by giving you a head start and building in some wear from new.
Needless to say, the action made a right old racket - so much so that
I nicknamed this horn 'The Mauriattle'.
Rather curiously, I found that side C lever upper pillar was fitted with
a different type of point screw - a plain parallel type, as seen at the
Something needed to be done to quieten the action (aside from major repairs),
so I resorted to using grease to lubricate the point screws. Some repairers
use grease for this purpose anyway - I prefer to use a heavy oil - but
I think it's a bit much when you're forced to put grease in the key barrels
just to keep them from rattling.
More seriously, the movement in the keywork was enough to cause a few
small leaks. You might only be able to wobble, say, the low Bb key barrel
a fraction but by the time that free play comes out at the key cup it
translates to a gap that can be seen with a leak light.
The 'fix', if you can call it that, is to rely on the key's spring to
take up the free play and set the pad accordingly. It means settling for
a heavier action though - and it's all a bit 'third rate'. The bottom
line is that if this were my horn, I'd be taking it back to the shop and
asking for an explanation - and quite probably a refund.
In keeping with the theme of poor build quality on the keywork, the octave
key mechanism had a fair bit of free play in it too - and so the action
gets the same thumbs down as I gave the Mauriat
66R, which suffered from similar problems.
Let's be very clear here - the System 76 is around the same price as the
Yamaha YAS62 and not much cheaper than the Yanagisawa 901 - and if nothing
else you really ought to expect the build quality to be up to that standard.
As it is, I've seen horns such as the Altone
with a tighter action...and for around 250 quid.
suppose I might as well mention the abalone key pearls. Whether
you like the way they look or not is a personal preference, so I
won't go there - but I couldn't fail to notice how rough they were.
I know a bit of 'grip' is a good thing for a key pearl to have,
but these were way beyond that. It looked as though they were breaking
down - they felt a bit thin in places, and the low D pearl in particular
was looking very much the worse for wear. I've seen plenty of worn
pearls down the years, but only on horns that had seen decades of
hard use...not on one that's barely out of the box.
Speaking of which, the case is of the shaped variety - a semi-soft design
with a zip fastener.
I do wish manufacturers would give up on these blasted zips - they might
be cheap but the majority of players want proper catches on their cases.
The zip hadn't failed (yet) but one of the tabs had come off already.
There's space inside for the crook and a mouthpiece - and anything else
will have to go in the pocket attached to the exterior. It not exactly
well-padded in places, so you wouldn't want to go chucking it around.
The back of the horn in particular looks quite vulnerable but there's
just a chance that the flexibility of the case walls will go some way
to absorbing some of the heavier knocks. I wouldn't bank on it though.
The factory setup was typically high and heavy. I could address the key
height with ease, but the built-in wear in the action limited my scope
with regard to the spring tension. I also noticed, while I was fiddling
around with new corks and suchlike, that the factory-fitted corks were
remarkably untidy. It's perhaps a small niggle, but it does rather point
to the overall lack of attention to detail.
With the point screws packed with grease and the spring tension adjusted
to compensate, the action felt reasonably slick and fast. If you were
to take the point screws out and replace them with proper ones I feel
the action could be really rather good.
Everything fits nicely under the fingers, though the Bis Bb proved to
be something of a stumbling block - it's set a bit too low really, and
would benefit from a raised and domed key pearl. I noticed on a couple
of fast runs using the forefinger Bb that the note failed...you really
have to make a concerted effort to get the key down.
On a more positive note the front top F touchpiece was well placed and
very quick in use.
Tonewise it's something of a curious horn. My first impression was one
of a tendency to the warm - it feels like it has plenty of power, but
there's just a sense of something being slightly held back. It's an easy
horn to play, though perhaps not as free-blowing as many modern horns.
I suppose I'd describe it as having a slightly creamy sound...which sounds
like a very good thing, but it refers more to the feeling of thickness
rather than a sense of being smooth.
It's by no means an unpleasant tone, the low end in particular is very
nicely rounded - and it was a very enjoyable blow while I was noodling
around on it. But when I came to push it I found that it kept on resisting
- I wanted that low-end richness to follow me as I blew harder and louder,
but it just didn't want to know. Comparing it to a MKI YAS62 was an eye-opener.
Switching between the two horns I found myself asking of the Mauriat "Where's
the life?". The 62 is a more naturally strident horn, but it feels very
much like the tone can be tailored to your wishes. The Mauriat in comparison
seemed a bit two-dimensional. It almost feels like they've tried to make
an alto that sounds like a tenor - and in so doing have overlooked what
it is that people buy an alto for.
I then played it alongside a silver-gold Bauhaus M2 and found the comparison
even starker. The M2, with its similarly large-sized bell, exhibits the
same sense of low-end richness - but couples it with a healthy dose of
fire and edge. Better still, it retains that relationship as you blow
louder and move up the scale. More importantly, both the Yamaha and the
Bauhaus have rather more 'headroom' tonally, which means you can choose
the level of brightness by selecting a mouthpiece that tends to the warm
or the bright depending on your preference. It's very much harder to coax
brightness out of a naturally warm horn without the mid-range ramping
up and destroying the clarity.
The tone is even throughout the range, which is normally a good thing,
but in this instance I found myself wishing that it would get brighter
towards the top. Tuning is spot on though - no complaints there.
Mauriat have gleaned a bit of a reputation in the non-too-distant past
of making much of an association with 'French saxophones'. Terms such
as 'French Brass' and a small tricolore attached to the seams of their
cases are obvious pointers to certain well-known make and model of saxophone.
This rather unsubtle approach got up the noses of quite a few people (though
it did mean that people talked about the brand) and in recent times there
appears to have been a softening of this approach. The tricolore has gone,
but there's still a name badge that says "P.Mauriat - Paris".
However, this horn came with a crook that had "Super VI" stamped
on it - which to my mind is the saxophone-world equivalent of putting
on a pair of boxing gloves and shouting "Come on if ya fink yer 'ard
enuff mate!" at the current world heavyweight champion.
So I obliged...and put the Mauriat into the ring with a 1958 Selmer MkVI
alto....and rang the bell for the first round.
In case you're already reaching for your wallet with a view to putting
a bet on the result - don't bother...it was a knockout to the Selmer in
the first ten seconds. Just as with the YAS62 and the Bauhaus M2, the
Mauriat felt dull and stifled. What appears to be richness when the horn
is played by itself soon turns out to be muddiness when compared with
the Selmer. This is what made the Selmer the legend it is - it achieved
that very tricky balance between depth and brightness that is the holy
grail of tone. Granted, it did so at the expense of evenness and tuning
- but what it gave in return made plenty of players feel it was worth
taking the time to learn to play around the compromises.
I think if your idea of a vintage horn is one that's predominantly warm
then the Mauriat is going to be quite interesting. It's a 'nice' horn,
a relaxed horn, a very laid back horn - and as there's currently a trend
for all things vintage I'm sure it'll appeal to a lot of players.
However, what with the free play in the action and the other niggles it
gets brutally kicked into the corner by the build quality of the similarly-priced
competition - and if 'Vintage personified' stands for integrity of build
and care and attention to detail, which is surely what it does, then the
Mauriat System 76 alto fails to live up to that standard.
As for the 'Super VI' on the crook - well, as much as I'm a fan of modern
horns - and as much as I don't regard the Selmer MkVI as the last word
in saxophones, I think if I owned one of these I'd put a bit of tape over
it and try to pretend it wasn't there.