Venus AS512DN alto saxophone
Guide price : £179-£235 depending on finish
Date of manufacture: 2009
Date reviewed : October 2010
Description : An Ultra-Cheap alto from a manufacturer with a growing
of the most common concerns expressed by potential buyers of Ultra-Cheap
Chinese saxophones is whether they will last. Much of this is due to reading
scare stories written by people with an axe to grind, coupled with the
experiences of buyers who have often chosen unwisely. One of the very
first such instruments I reviewed is still going strong some four years
later - and my own Chinese tenor (that lives in the boot of the car) shows
no signs of failing after at least a couple of years hard labour.
All the same, I like to keep an eye on how the genre as a whole is standing
up to wear and tear - so the chance to review an Ultra-Cheap horn that's
been in use for some time is always welcomed.
This particular Venus alto is about a year old. It's been in the hands
of a 12 year old student in that time and has suffered the rigours of
being lugged to and from school, as well as putting up with (shall we
say) less than careful ownership. That fact that it made it into the workshop
in the first place was down to an 'incident' involving a heavy hand and
a rather careless crook fitting episode...which resulted in a slightly
I'm not at all concerned about the damage, I've seen it on horns right
across the price spectrum - but I was very keen to see how a sub £200
horn was doing after a year's use.
But first a quick rundown of the instrument's qualities, quirks and features.
I would imagine the first thing that catches your eye is the finish.
The black lacquer body (or it could be lacquer over black nickel plate)
and gold lacquer keys are a striking combination - but if there's one
thing black lacquered horns are noted for it's how quickly they can look
shabby once the finish gets damaged. This is particularly an issue if
ever there are repairs needed to the body, such as solder or dent work.
These 'heavy' repairs will often result in a little damage to the finish,
and whilst it's possible to touch up any such damage on a clear or gold
lacquered sax it's extremely difficult to completely hide it - and even
more so with a coloured finish.
There is also the issue of how long a finish remains in good order - and
unaffected by manufacturing defects such as acid bleed and poor quality
lacquer. I was, therefore, quite impressed to find the finish was still
in excellent condition - and better still, had been very well applied
in the first place.
As you may know, I tend to err on the side of the traditionalist when
it comes to finishes and favour a plain clear or gold lacquered finish,
but I appreciate that young players in particular prefer something a little
more individual. And why not?
If a lurid pink or sleek black finish encourages a student to take up
and practice the instrument then I'm all for it.
The build quality of the body is really rather good, very neat and tidy.
I did notice one discrepancy though - some of the tone holes are a little
rough on the rims. Not all, mind you (which was odd), just a few here
and there. I didn't notice any problems (such as sticking or worn pads),
but it would be as well to have such issues dealt with as it could cause
problems at a later date.
The body sports all the usual features, such as a detachable bell, adjustable
thumb hook, three point bell brace, detachable side F# key guard etc.
and all the pillars and fittings are neatly made and attached.
have some reservations about the bell key compound pillar which consists
of a single pillar with a multiple head. There are a lot of keys hanging
off this pillar, and some sort of bracing would seem wise. This pillar
seems to rather susceptible to case-shock damage - where a heavy knock
or a drop causes the instrument to jar inside the case. This can cause
the bell keys to act a little bit like a slide hammer and direct all the
shock energy into the compound pillar.
That being said, it seems to have survived thus far.
The keywork is also nicely built and finished. Compared to some other
Ultra-Cheap horns it's slightly less well-featured. For example there
are no adjusters at all on the main stack keys, which makes it a longer
job for repairers to regulate the action, and rubber bumper 'felts' have
been used - which makes the bell key action a little noisy. These can
be swapped out for proper felts, though I can't see any reason why they
weren't fitted in the first place as they appear on similarly priced horns
from other manufacturers.
As expected the keywork is suitably robust - as I found out when altering
the position of the front top F touchpiece, which had been set too far
back over the B key cup to have been useful.
The tilting bell key table (as seen above) is well made and laid out,
as was surprisingly slick in action. It's a difficult key-group to get
right, but whether by luck or judgement Venus seems to have come up trumps
with this one.
My one real criticism of the keywork is that in spite of the rest of the
horn having a snug action, the octave key mechanism had quite a lot of
free play built into it. To be more precise the socket holes that the
swivel bar ends fitted into were slightly oversized, resulting in five
or six millimetres of excess movement on the octave key touchpiece...and
a sloppy feel to the whole mechanism.
Nonetheless it didn't affect the playability of the horn, and with the
fitment of a couple of thin nylon tubes to the swivel ends the whole problem
I should say that I haven't seen such play on other Venus horns that have
come through the workshop, so I'm prepared to give the brand the benefit
of the doubt and flag this example up as being unusual in this respect.
The pads are standard quality Chinese ones. These seem to have improved
slightly in the last couple of years, being slightly less sticky and a
little flatter than before.
The action is powered by a set of stainless steel springs. Though not
as good as blued steel (or quality stainless) they nevertheless work very
well, and to be quite honest the action feels rather well sprung.
The whole outfit comes in the usual generic case.
Under the fingers the Venus felt well laid out and quite well set up.
I actually had to raise the action a touch, which was quite a surprise
- cheap horns often have too high an action from new. The only obvious
issues were the play in the octave mech and the noise/vibration from the
rubber bumpers - everything else seemed to be where it was supposed to
be, and did what it was supposed to do. The front top F key tweak paid
dividends - the teardrop-shaped touchpiece is a boon, but it has to be
in the right place if it's going to do its job properly.
The Venus is quite an easy blow. Tonewise it's obviously a modern student
horn, with a lively feel to it and with perhaps just enough warmth to
keep the tone from dropping into shrillness. The low notes were crisp
and punchy and the top register was clean and precise. The tone is even
enough across the range and the tuning is fine.
I've had the Venus brand on my list of recommended
Ultra-Cheap horns for some time time now, and have seen a number of
examples over the last couple of years or so - but this is the first time
I've formally reviewed one. It's quite a tough test for such a cheap instrument
to undergo a review after a year's use, but I think it fared very well.
Couple that comment with other comments I've seen dotted around the web
from other Venus owners, which seems to indicate that this is a consistent
and reputable brand, and it seems pretty clear to me that Venus maintains
its place on my list.
I would knock off a point or two for the play in the octave key mechanism
and the rubber bumpers, but both are minor issues and could be dealt with
quite easily - which would make the horn feel and play as good as it looks.
Considering the sub £200 price for the basic model, the excellent
finish, the general build quality and the playability, I feel the Venus
represents very good value for money - and given that the example reviewed
has stood up to a year's use in the hands of a young beginner I wouldn't
have any qualms about recommending it as a good, sturdy student instrument.