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Nuova AS3GL alto saxophone

Nuova AS3GL alto saxophoneOrigin: China
Guide price: £360-£300
Weight: 2.4kg
Date of manufacture: 2013
Date reviewed: September 2014

A budget horn with a surprising origin

Yes, it's another Ultra-Cheap horn review...but this one's a little bit different.
The vast majority of such horns are made in China, in factories whose names you've never heard of. These can be bought by anyone who sets up a company and throws a big enough order at the makers - and what this means in terms of quality is that everyone is wholly reliant on the quality control at the factory being up to the mark.
Because the quality control is often, shall we say, 'sketchy', some buyers will 'bolt on' their own quality control - which means having a repairer check each and every instrument before sale. This is the exception though, rather than the norm.
Another option is to install your own personnel at the factory - either to provide in-house training for the makers, or to assess the output quality at the factory gate.
Still another option is to own your own factory...and that's where the Nuova comes in.

It's built by KHS - who are the big boys behind (amongst others) the Jupiter brand.
Jupiter horns are well known and, generally, well-regarded in the industry. Their horns were originally built in Taiwan, but in the 1990s some of the production of their budget range was shifted to China - and it's here where the Nuova comes from. Indeed, it says so on the body - the word 'China' is stamped below the serial number.
So if it's made by KHS, and KHS make Jupiter horns - is it a Jupiter?
Short answer - I don't know...and I don't really care. It doesn't matter what's stamped on the horn, or where it's made - what counts is the end result.
But what also counts is that KHS are very experienced makers, and aren't likely to turn out anything that's complete rubbish (though, admittedly, I never cared much for the Jupiter 500 series saxes).
So - we have the factory, we have the experience and we have the implied quality control...let's see what it all adds up to...

Nuova compound bell key pillarThe construction is standard fare, with drawn toneholes (all nice and level), a detachable bell, adjustable thumb rest and a triple-point bell stay. A little more noteworthy is the use of individual pillars on the main stacks as opposed to ribs - and I'm pleased to report that the pillar bases are suitably large, which means they're less like to fall off. Similarly, the guard stay feet are a little larger than normal. There's also a generously-proportioned sling ring, which will easily accommodate a large locking sling hook.
Finishing off the body is a large plastic thumb rest and a set of adjustable bell key guards. And the adjusters work. I checked. There's no side F# key cup guard (the cup that sits just above the thumb hook), but I wouldn't worry about that if I were you.
It's all quite neatly put together - and although I noticed one or two minor blemishes on some of the pillar bases, I wouldn't consider it anything to worry or complain about at the price. In fact my only real quibble is about the design of the compound bell key pillar - it's a bit weedy, and could really do with some beefing up...or a bit more bracing.
The whole horn is neatly finished with a coat of gold lacquer.

As per the body, the keywork is pretty much standard too. There's a top F# key, a tilting table for the bell keys and a set of concave plastic key pearls.
There are no adjusters on the main keys stacks - either for key height or regulation - though there are the usual adjusters for the G#, Bis Bb and low C#. On the plus side the side Bb/C keys have a simple fork and pin connection, there's a large and comfy teardop-shaped touchpiece for the front top F key and the G# touchpiece is nice and long...which should make it suitable for a wide range of hand sizes.
Nuova bell key spatulasThe build quality of the keywork is pretty good for the price. Sure, I found a couple of slightly wobbly keys, but the key barrels are all nice and neat with no signs of crimping or superglue (two common botches I've seen on many a Chinese-built horn) to take up the free play in badly-made keys.
The pads look to be OK too. They're not likely to be of super quality, but they're certainly not rubbish.
Over all, I'd say I was quite impressed with what I saw.

As expected on a horn at this price, the points screws are of the pseudo variety - save for those on the compound bell key pillar. These are shoulderless point screws - so they'll have a degree of adjustability. Technically-speaking, only two of the screws are points...the third being a rod screw with a point on its tip. Finishing off the action is a set of blued steel springs.

There's a semi-soft shaped case supplied with the instrument. As far as these things go it's pretty decent - at least a cut above the usual Chinese offerings. There's limited storage space inside the case (save for a slot for the crook and the mouthpiece), but there's an accessory pocket attached to the exterior. There's also a single shoulder strap provided.
As with most of these budget cases, it has a zippered fastener.

In the hands the horn feels quite good. The keys are where I'd expect them to be, and nothing felt too cramped not too much of a stretch.
And it feels like a sturdy horn. Some cheap horns feel, well, cheap. They feel a little rattly and vague, but the Nuova feels rather more solid. For sure, it doesn't feel as slick as, say, a Yamaha, but then again it's a fraction of the price. Businesslike is a good description - a no-nonsense feel.
About my only criticism would be that the concave Bis Bb key pearl is a bit uncomfortable under the fingers. A domed Bis Bb pearl is a very cheap and easy upgrade, and makes such a difference to the feel of the top stack action.

Nuova bell braceI can't really say what the setup out of the box was like as this horn had suffered a bit of a knock while in its case, thus pushing a few keys out of line - and therefore it's not really possible (or fair) to comment on any irregularities without knowing for certain whether they were built in or as a result of the knock.
However, in the course of repairing the instrument I had cause to bend a few keys - and I can tell you that they're pretty stiff. This bodes very well for reliability.
Other than that, the pads that were still seating were doing so very well; the corkwork was reasonably good and both the action height and spring tension was bang on the middle ground. All of which means there's a very good chance of one of these horns playing right out of the box...and remaining that way for quite some time.

Tonewise I think the word 'middling' fits it to a T. Ordinarily you might feel this is something of a put-down, but in this case I think it describes perfectly how it sits between, say, the cut and edge of the Academy Jericho horns and the lush warmth of the Bauhaus Walsteins. It's neither too bright not too warm, which makes it ideal for its target market (young students). But it still got some life and sparkle when you push it.
All-in-all I found it to be rather a jolly little blow, and I can see how its tonal approach will go some way to smoothing out the inevitable squeaks and squawks of a beginner as they travel along the road to saxophone stardom. Of course, some of the tonal response will be down to the mouthpiece - but I couldn't test this because the owner of the horn had (probably quite wisely) ditched the one that came with it and replaced it with a Yamaha mouthpiece. I'd recommend doing the same in any event, as I've not yet come across a mouthpiece bundled with a cheap horn that's been much cop.
With a half decent mouthpiece on, it's an easy blow - not too resistant. The tone is reasonably even across the range - in fact it's really rather good considering the price, and I had to fight to keep myself from drifting into a bit of a ballad-fest (that's a compliment).
As for tuning - no problems at all.

Nuova - Made in ChinaThe price of the Nuova seems to be a bit variable - its full-blown retail price (which no-one ever pays, unless they're extremely unlucky) seems to be around the £500 mark...which is clearly way too much for a horn of this quality. The 'discount price' (AKA the real price) seems to vary - and I've seen it on sale from anything around £360 down to just a tad below £300.
At £360 I'd say it's a fair bet. It might not have quite so many 'bells and whistles' as some of its competitors, but it compensates for the lack of features by its build quality - and as far as I'm concerned, build quality is king. If I were a player looking to buy a cheap second horn (say a tenor player looking for an alto), I might prefer a horn that had more of a particular tonal concept...say the liveliness and punch of the Jericho, or the lookalike key layout of one of the many Yanagisawa copies - but I'd still be swayed by Nuova's build and feel.
If, however, I was a complete beginner, the choice would tend to swing more towards the Nuova simply for the build quality.
At just under £300 there's even more of a swing towards it.

It's not a perfect horn by any means - but that's, as they say, what you get for the money. At this end of the market any horn you buy is going to have some issues, but the Nuova's advantage is that it's 'honestly built' - which is to say that while it may have the odd wobbly key, no attempt has been made to hide it with a botch job. This makes fixing such issues more of a practical proposition...you only have to fix the problem, you don't have to undo a patch-up job first. Having these kind of horns set up by a professional repairer is always a good bet - and I'd go so far as to say you ought to factor that into the price (add another £40 or so).
As such I'm happy to put this horn on my list of recommended instruments.

 

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