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Gear4Music baritone saxophone

Gear4Music baritone saxophoneOrigin: China (www.gear4music.com)
Guide price: £1000
Weight: 5.68kg
Date of manufacture: 2007
Date reviewed: January 2008

A generic baritone clone from China at a remarkable price

When the first decent Ultra-Cheap horns turned up on the market a few years ago I already had my eyes on the horizon. I figured that if the Chinese could turn out a respectable alto or tenor sax for around £200 then it shouldn't be long before they got around to producing a similarly cheap baritone.
I'll admit to being a tad impatient - I rang up a couple of importers and asked them when they'd be getting a cheap baritone in. I was quite surprised by the response...quite a few of them felt there wasn't any market for a baritone, though they were quite happy to press ahead with getting soprano saxes in.
"You're mad" I told them "No-one wants a soprano really - I mean, what use are they? In over 30 years of playing no-one's ever rung me up on a Friday night and asked if I can dep on soprano on the Saturday...the soprano is what you buy when you want another horn and don't need an alto or a tenor but can't afford a bari!"

OK, so I'll admit I was slightly biased - but I'll stand by the fact that the baritone is enormous fun. Just about every sax player who has a go on one enjoys the experience - and if they could be bought cheap enough then it's quite likely that just about every sax player would have one. They're useful too, forever popping up in horn sections etc. - and for small ensemble work they make a nice change from the alto or tenor from time to time.
The big problem is the price. A decent student bari comes in at a shade less than £2500, and although used baris can be had from around £700 they're often pretty old and beaten up. Ideally you need to be able to buy a working example for about £500-600, which is pretty much an impulse purchase price to the average multi-sax owning player.

In the meantime, how does £1000 for a baritone grab ya?
Behold - the Gear4Music baritone.
At first sight this baritone appears to be modelled on the Yanagisawa B9930, with its distinctive integral peg (note the stub, just visible below the low C key guard on the bottom bow) - but there are number of features on this horn that aren't found on Yanagisawas but are on Yamahas, which suggests that what we have here is a sort of hybrid between the two brands.
That's no bad thing - for example, some might find the addition of a peg stand useful; there are twin octave key holes on the body; the low C key features a double arm and the low A mechanism features twin arms. In effect then this horn is a Yanagamaha...or a Yamagisahwa (I have a horrible feeling that amalgamating honourable Japanese names in this fashion is probably a social faux pas eclipsed only by flashing your privates at the Pope).
On the down side it has the absurdly small sling ring as found on all the Yanis - and, strangely enough, no top F# key.

The body features all the usual gubbins - detachable bell and top bow, beefy bell to body brace, additional bracing to the top bow and an adjustable thumb hook. Build quality is quite good overall, the solderwork is tidy, the tone holes are level, the pillars are well fitted - and the finish is really pretty good.
As noted on other Ultra-Cheap horns, the bell key guards are on the thin side.

The keywork is well put together too. If there's one thing a baritone needs it's solid keywork. With such large keys and long key barrels there's a tendency for baritone keywork to be a tad spongy and imprecise. Fortunately the G4M has quite stiff keys (as noted on the Walstein - another Chinese horn). This is a boon on a baritone, and it enables far more accurate regulation and balancing of the keywork - which translates into a more reliable and accurate action.

However, the G4M kind of shoots itself in the foot by inaccurate reaming of the pillars. What this means is that the holes in the pillars that the rod screws fit through are ever so slightly too large. This allows the rod screws to flex...and when that happens it affects the regulation of the action. It's not by much, granted, but it's enough for me to have felt it necessary to shim some of the pillars (this was done by carefully soft soldering a very thin brass foil tube into the pillar - it sounds like a bit of a bodge, but as the rods don't move in the pillars there won't be any wear...so it doesn't need to be a particularly 'tidy' job).
The tragedy is that there's no free play on the keywork (so you couldn't simply fit oversized rod screws...unless you were prepared to ream out the key barrels), which indicates well built keys...which are subsequently let down by the shoddy reaming of the pillars.
I would hope that the manufacturers address this issue in time - it's a relatively easy fix and would improve the instrument's quality significantly in the long run.

The main stack keys feature adjusters, which is a very real help when it comes to setting up the action - and the action is powered by stainless steel springs. To be more accurate I suspect the springs aren't so much 'stainless' as just 'not blued steel'. That said, they seem to work OK.
The placement of the keys is fine - I noted no big issues regarding the ergonomics, save for the positioning of the front top F key. A little tweak here could bring the touchpiece more in line with the top B key and make for a swifter transition between the two.
The point screws are of the pseudo type. The keys that use them appear to be well fitted for the time being though, and it's an easy enough job to replace them as and when the action wears.
I say 'as and when' because unlike the altos and tenors that come in at around the £200 mark, these baritones are unlikely to be considered 'disposable'. It would make sense to carry out regular maintenance on these horns - it might even be worth contemplating the price or a repad one day if the retail price doesn't dip much lower than it currently is.

The setup was good, with the action being really quite well adjusted in terms of key height. Likewise the spring tension - though I did find I had to increase the strength on a couple of the lower keys. The pads are of reasonable quality - typically inclined to be a tad sticky initially (cigarette lighter fluid will sort this) - and surprisingly well seated.

Gear4Music baritone sax pegI mentioned this baritone had a peg stand - and here it is.
As can be seen, it's quite a simple affair - but nonetheless sturdy.
The idea of the device is to provide support for the baritone when the player is using the sax in a seated position.
I had a go at this but found it a bit disconcerting, as though the bari was caught on something. Because of the angles involved the peg doesn't take all of the weight, but it does make a fair bit of difference as it means the sling (or neckstrap) only has to support the forward weight of the bari and not the downward weight too.
I can see some players finding this a real advantage.
One point to note is that the peg may not be compatible with your saxophone stand - some stands leave the bottom bow quite close to the floor and there might not be enough height to accommodate the peg.

Rounding off the package is a decent semi-soft case (it even has wheels!), which does a pretty good job of balancing the need for protection without being overly weighty - and there's plenty of compartment space for all the bits and bobs that bari players seem to accumulate.

Tonewise the G4M is typical of a contemporary baritone. It tends towards the bright, which gives it a punchy and clean tone - but it's not so bright as to be brash and shouty. Such baritones respond well to a wide variety of mouthpieces, so it wouldn't be at all difficult to warm the tone up with the right choice of piece. A basic Yamaha 5C piece imparted a lovely richness to the tone without removing the crispness of attack. The response is very good, and even quite rapid passages presented the horn with no problems relating to definition and clarity.
It's quite even across the range - I only noted only a very slight muting to the top G, which can be a problem on many baritones, and that suggests to me that the twin octave vents on the body are helping to lift the notes from mid D to G quite nicely. The only other point worthy of mention is that I felt the mid/low D to be a teeny bit louder than its surrounding notes...but that's something your embouchure would soon accommodate automatically.
Tuning is excellent across the board, no problems at all - even the fake-fingered top F# hit the meter dead centre.

Just for fun I recorded a short sample of me bimbling about on this bari. The sound quality isn't fantastic - I just used the computer's mic - but it'll give you a rough idea of how the horn sounds.
Incidentally, although I've sorted the play in the pillars on the upper stack on this horn, the lower stack remains to be done...and you can hear that it doesn't appear to affect the playability. For equipment geeks the mouthpiece used is a 70's ebonite Berg Larsen of unknown lay (probably a 100/2, judging by the brightness) with a Rico Plasticover 4 reed.
*(Note: I had an email from a colleague called Nitai who noted that the sample is a semitone flat! I checked the Berg Larsen mouthpiece against the one I use for gigging, and the Yamaha 5C I used for the review, and sure enough it's half a tone flat. This is because the Larsen will only fit halfway up the cork and has a longer shank than the other two pieces - so that low A at the end is actually an Ab! As it's only a simple sample to demonstrate the tone I shan't bother to change it in a hurry - but I'm glad it wasn't played against an accompaniment...).

Gear4Music baritone low A leverAs luck would have it I had a client bring in a Yanagisawa 901 bari at the time I was reviewing the G4M horn, so we did a side-by-side test with the two baris. The Yani clearly has a better build quality, and consequently the action feels that little bit slicker under the fingers - although the G4M positively trounces the Yani with regard to the low A mechanism. I've mentioned the sponginess of the Yani's low A mech in its review, and the stiff keywork of the G4M coupled with the double arm arrangement (seen here on the right) of the low A mech puts it some considerable distance ahead on this point.
As far as I'm aware there are currently only three designs of low A mech on the market (on Chinese horns, at least). The Yani mech is similar to the Yamaha (and G4M) mech, but only has one arm coming off the touchpiece - the other design features a single arm that goes around the rear of the instrument. This design is perhaps just slightly better than the Yani design, but it's still nowhere near as positive as that on the Yamaha.
It's worth noting that this key layout can be seen on other brands of Chinese baritone saxes, and that they all appear to be very similar horns - if not exactly the same.

In terms of key layout there's little to choose between them, both horns felt comfortable under the fingers.
As regards tone there's a difference, though it's not as much as perhaps it ought to be. The Yani is more refined and rounded - though both horns blow easily. As per the comparison with the Yanagisawa tenor and the Walstein, the Yani has a more focussed and smooth top end...but that's using the same mouthpiece for each horn. If you were to use a slightly more open piece on the G4M you'd bring a little extra roundness to the top end, thus reducing the difference between the two horns.

All in all a pretty impressive performance for the G4M bari, especially given that it's a whopping great £2600 cheaper!

All things considered I would say that if you buy one of these baritones it would be very well worth having it professionally tweaked. It used to be that this was my standard advice for the Chinese altos and tenors, but the build quality on these has, in general, improved considerably - you're quite likely to find that most of these horns will work straight out of the box.
To be sure, the baritones probably will too as they're very forgiving when it comes to anomalies in the action - but the price of a proper setup will pay huge dividends in terms of performance here, and there's really no reason why a baritone should feel clunky and spongy. As regards the play in the pillars I would say it would cost around £60 to sort it out once and for all if you feel it matters to you.
As it stands the nearest competitor to the G4M bari is the Jupiter, at around £2500. These are decent enough horns for the price...or at least they were; aside from the action issues noted on the G4M bari it's at least equal to the Jupiter, and arguably better in playability terms. The price is the clincher though...at a mere £1000 it's quite simply an outrageous bargain.

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