Gear4Music/Rosedale BTS-500G baritone saxophone
Guide price: £1300
Date of manufacture: 2007/2017 (Rosedale)
Date reviewed: January 2008/May 2019
A generic baritone clone from China at a
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
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' (yep, they're
just plain steel, and will rust if they get wet). 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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Update May 2019:
baritone is ten years younger than the Gear4Music example above
and the only real difference is that it's now branded with Gear4Music's
own brand name - Rosedale.
In every other respect it's identical, at least as far as the eye
can see. As such, the technical features described on the horn above
apply equally to this model - so this update will be merely an overview
of any changes in build quality in the last ten years.
Or mostly identical. This model features a top F# key, and it looks
like the sling ring is a little bit larger (20/13). The side F#
key has an oval pearled touchpiece rather than a rectangular bar
and the side Bb/C keys have an open fork connector rather than the
closed one of the example above.
I may well have missed a few other small details - bit that's rather
the point...they'll be small details rather than any substantial
There's been some improvement to the overall build quality because
I noted surprisingly little evidence of play in the keywork.
The older example suffered from overdrilled pillars, which allowed
the rod screws to wobble (and thus the keys). This example fared
much better - and while it wasn't perfect it was at least as good
as the average student horn from Taiwan.
There were a few exceptions though; the front top F touchpiece had
a slightly overdrilled pillar - but what I initially thought was
severe barrel play on the palm keys turned out to be down to the
rod screws not being fully screwed home. Phew.
was also quite a lot of play in the octave mech. This isn't at all
uncommon on Ultra-Cheap horns, and even less so on baritones.
Most of the play is at the swivel arm tips, though there's still
some on the central pivot. You can see that there's quite a lot
of movement in the mech without the octave key pad moving significantly
- which corresponds to about 5mm of downward movement on the thumb
key before the mech begins to move the octave key pad. That's quite
a lot of free play (or lost motion) even for a large horn.
Fortunately the rest of the mech is reasonably tight, which means
that it can be greatly improved by a few relatively simple tweaks.
In this instance I simply fitted the tips of the swivel arm with
heatshrink tubes - which takes up the free play and helps to quieten
an otherwise rattly mech.
I didn't do anything about the play in the central pivot because
you can easily overdo it on cheap octave mechs - they're rarely
made that accurately and will quickly bind up if there isn't at
least a small amount of slop in them to take up the discrepancies
in the key geometry.
The point screw action wasn't bad at all, considering pseudo points
have been used.
A handful of keys had slight wobbles on them, but again these were
no worse than the sort of play I've seen on many Mauriats - and
while I might have frowned a bit (can't help it), there wasn't anything
that was critical enough to require immediate attention. I sorted
it anyway (can't help it, again).
I found a nice Aardvark
too, on the top D key.
Whoever put this horn together got the angle of the top bow slightly
wrong, so that the top of the arch on the D key arm hits the bow
tube. This makes a very satisfying clunk, and limits the opening
height of the key....so you get a lot of noise and a slightly flat
top D into the bargain.
seen this before on cheap baritones, and while I wouldn't say it's
endemic it's certainly something to watch out for.
It's easy enough to correct...you just have to file a bit off the
key arm. It's not a problem - there's plenty of metal to spare,
and it saves you the very real (and expensive) chore of trying to
adjust the angle of the top bow.
If you do it neatly and finish it with a chamfer and a spot of clear
lacquer you'll be hard put to spot it had ever been tweaked.
In spite of these faults I'd still consider it an improvement over
the earlier examples I've seen, though this gain was rather offset
by some problematical toneholes.
While I'm usually happy to recommend Ultra-Cheap baritones if you're
on a tight budget, I always do so with the proviso that you'll need
to spend a little bit more to have them tweaked - and one of the
most cost-effective tweaks is to have the bell key toneholes levelled
(low A to low Eb).
These are often the worst culprits for warps, and having them levelled
can make a very big difference to the playability of the horn.
The Rosedale had moderate warps on all these toneholes, but the
low A, Bb and B had distinct 'notches' in their lower side. These
notches are too small and well-defined to be caused by distortions
in the body tube - and are usually caused by someone being a bit
heavy-handed with a buffing wheel. In order words the notches have
been ground out of the tonehole walls.
You can persuade a pad to cope with a large, long warp (at least
for a while) but getting one to accommodate a sharper dip is a very
different matter, and you'll always be better off addressing the
cause of the problem rather than trying to work around it.
rest of the toneholes weren't too bad - not perfect by any means,
but within expectations for such a cheap horn. On the plus side
the rims were reasonably well finished.
The setup was OK. This horn's seen a year or so of use and seemed
to be standing up to it pretty well. A few corks had gone west,
some of the pads had swelled a little and the keywork was running
a bit short of oil. Nothing very serious.
The supplied case is the same - a dirty great box-style case with
a zippered lid. It's good enough, provided you don't knock it about
too much - and since the original review was published it's become
clear that the wheels on the case aren't screwed into anything substantial
enough to prevent them being knocked off if you drag the case over
anything much rougher than a dancefloor. And the zip fasteners will
break (you can buy repair kits off ebay, though I've not yet tried
In terms of playability this horn presented itself as a little
darker and more laid back than the example above. As luck would
have it I had a busy week for baritones and was able to compare
this model with an early Gear4Music, a John Packer JP044 (MkII)
and an old Bauhaus Walstein. The old Gear4Music was the punchiest
of the lot, with quite a crisp tone and lots of attack - and the
Bauhaus was by far the richest and most expressive. The John Packer
sat more or less in the middle - and on first trying the Rosedale
when it came in I'd have placed it at the back of the pack. However,
once it had been tweaked it squared up quite nicely to the John
Packer. From a personal perspective I preferred the cut and clarity
of the old Gear4Music, but that would have been in the context of
using it in a soul/blues band horn section...where the extra grunt
would come in handy. For more 'exposed' baritone work I'd go for
the Bauhaus Walstein - but both the John Packer and the Rosedale
do well as all-rounders.
I suspect that if you could blag another crook you'd probably find
you could change the response quite dramatically.
So, some plusses and minuses for the Rosedale compared to the Gear4Music,
but on the whole I'd say there'd been a small net gain in build
quality. With that said, ten years have gone by and the asking price
hasn't gone up that much...so it's probably slightly better value
for money than it used to be.
The one caveat is that Ultra-Cheap horns can be very variable -
both in terms of one example to the next and in one batch to the
next - so the onus is on the buyer to check for issues as soon as
possible after purchase.
I cannot stress how important this is, especially for a horn that,
while still relatively cheap, costs over a grand. For example -
whilst writing this update I heard from a player who bought a Rosedale
baritone and was advised by his repairer to send it back due to
excess play in the pillars - which he wisely did. Some issues will
be reasonably cheap to sort out, other rather less so - so it pays
to consider a post-purchase checkover as something of a necessity.
But if you get lucky, and/or you fork out for a proper set up, the
Rosedale doesn't do a bad job at all.