Lupifaro Platinum (low Bb) baritone saxophone
Guide price: Unknown
Date of manufacture: 2016
Date reviewed: January 2023
The last time I saw Lupifaro horn it got a proper
drubbing on the review workbench. The build quality was absolutely
appalling, which was a great shame because underneath it all it
was actually quite a nice player. So when a client emailed me to
say he wanted to bring in a Lupifaro baritone for a service I very
much couldn't wait to get my hands on it to see whether it was as
badly built as the tenor. Imagine my surprise when I found that
it was actually quite well built. I mean really quite well built.
The client was delighted. Having read my review of the tenor he
was very much expecting the worse - but no, I really couldn't find
a very great deal to complain about in terms of the way it was built.
How could this be? Surely, if a company turns
out iffily-built tenors it stand to reason that their baritones
ain't gonna be much better. Indeed, they're quite likely going to
be a great deal worse. This, of course, assumes that said company
is actually making the horns....and not just buying them in and
slapping a bit of bling on them.
How can you tell? Well, simply by comparing the design and features
with other brands. You have to be a bit selective though - it's
no good pointing to a standard swivelling octave mech and proclaiming
that the horn must have been built by Selmer, because pretty much
all manufacturers use the same design these days. No, you have to
look a bit deeper.
But how many similarities do you have to spot
before it becomes pretty much obvious that two horns from different
manufacturers are likely to be the same horn? I'd say at least three
- and thereafter any more similarities dramatically increase the
probability that both horns came from the same place. Identifying
manufacturers from the features on a horn is a popular hobby for
'stencil spotters' - whereby an unknown brand can be identified
by drawing comparisons to known models that bear similarities. It's
often suprisingly accurate, with the most common 'giveaways' being
the bell brace and the bell key table.
That being said, there's a slight fly in the
old ointment because back in the early days of Ultra-Cheap horns
it was quite common to see horns that looked absolutely identical
- and yet the build quality varied considerably, as did the playability.
And the price.
This was due, in part, to the way the industry operated in China.
Individual innovation was seemingly quite rare - and for those of
us in the trade it almost seemed like there were but a handful of
'templates' which were being used by just about every manufacturer.
This led, quite understandably, to some confusion among players
who could readily spot the price differences on retailer websites
but not so much the difference in playability between the various
models. This only became apparent when you actually picked the horns
up and played them.
I think its safe to say that this was a phenomenon largely restricted
to that particular genre of horns.
What's really interesting about this horn is that
there are pointers to two other brands - Mauriat and Thomann.
I've reviewed examples of both so I'm not going to bother running
up a proper review of this horn, but because there are so many similarities
it got me wondering about exactly where this horn came from. So
rather than a review, this article is more of a 'comparative overview'
which highlights the similarities (and any points of interest that
crop up along the way) - after which you'll hopefully be able to
draw some conclusions of your own.
But just in case you need a hand I've run through a few of my own
at the end of this article, along with some thoughts about the nature
of the market for such a niche horn by today's standards.
In terms of design and construction though, the
review of the Thomann
Low Jazz baritone contains all the relevant details - and you
might want to open that review in a separate tab/window if you feel
inclined to check out the similarities as we go...
start up at the top end, and the first 'feature match' is the top
An identical clamp turns up on both the Mauriat
PMB-300UL and the Thomann Low Jazz. It's a split clamp, which
is to say that the ring is made in two halves with a socket and
peg joint directly opposite the screw block (just about visible
at the centre bottom of the shot).
I like this design - it's often the case that when removing standard
joint clamps you often have to distort them in order to remove them
and you always run the risk of scratching the horn...but with this
design you only have to undo the screws and the clamp falls apart.
The bottom bow clamp follows the same design.
Then there's the raised Bis Bb pearl, with its
is quite a distinctive feature. I could be wrong here (feel free
to correct me) but I'm pretty sure that I've never seen anything
like this on any other brand of baritone. Most other manufacturers
that use a domed Bis Bb pearl make it line up by aligning the key
geometry and using a standard pearl holder - which does rather make
this arrangement look a little bit like an afterthought. It works,
though, which is perhaps what counts in the end.
across the way we find the top F palm key - with its round cork
Moving down the horn there's the bell key table
- and the common feature here is the adjustable link between the
low B and Bb.
I really don't care for this feature at all because adjusting the
regulation between the low B and Bb usually requires incremental
adjustments. This isn't a problem on a horn that just has a plain
'tab' because you can just pop a pair of pliers on the tab and give
it the merest tweak.
this design you have to loosen the screw, make the adjustment then
tighten the screw up again. By the time you've faffed about with
all that, the chances of hitting the regulation sweet spot are next
to zero. The only way to hit it is to muck about with the thickness
of the buffer (on top of the tab). It really is just so much simpler
when all you have to do is bend a tab very slightly.
Next up is the bell brace - and there are a couple
a notable features here.
The first is the shape of the baseplate - a plain rectangle with
The other feature is the additional leg that extends across the
body (highlighted in red). This is an excellent feature - and one
increasingly found on modern baritones...though I have spotted it
on a tenor or two.
provides extra support against the bell being knocked sideways -
and as that's a very common cause of low note failure, it's a feature
that's well worth having on any horn.
As it's such a common feature it's a bit less of a give-away than
the shape of the baseplate.
Spot anything unusual about that auxiliary F key
barrel? Looks rather silvery compared to the brass.
I initially thought it might be a nickel silver key barrel. This
isn't an uncommon feature - it turns up on horns from time to time,
and the reason for using nickel silver is that it's a little bit
stiffer than brass and a little bit more resistant to wear. It's
also more expensive, which is why it's not universally used for
saxes (though it is on smaller instruments like flutes and clarinets).
Thing is though - it's not nickel silver...it's
stainless steel. On the face of it this seems like an excellent
idea. Key barrels are prone to wear and require remedial work from
time-to-time to take it up. A barrel that was very resistant to
wear would save a lot of time and money, right?
not quite. Although a steel barrel will wear very slowly it'll still
wear, and at some point that'll have to be dealt with. But how would
you do that? Best of luck trying to swedge a steel barrel - and
if you wanted to fit oversized rod screws you'd have to ream the
barrel out. Best of luck with that too. You'd probably end up having
to grind the barrels out with a series of rods of ever-increasing
diameters. That wouldn't be cheap.
But putting that aside for the moment, let's
have a look at how the steel has been used on this horn. There are
three keys with such barrels. The Aux.F seems like a sensible choice
- it sees a lot of use and needs to be one of the most precise keys
on a horn. But they've missed a trick because only the longer portion
of the barrel is steel - and if you wanted to maximise wear resistance
on this particular key you'd make the smaller barrel out of steel.
Then there's the low D key. Wear on this key isn't usually a big
deal. Although it links to the Aux.F key it's common practice to
'under regulate' it so that the flex in the keywork doesn't prevent
the D pad from closing fully and cleanly. This is especially true
And then there's the A key. It's much the same story as with the
D key, though there is a slight advantage in having more precision
here. However, you'd get the most benefit from steel barrels if
you fitted them to both auxiliary keys and the top B key...and if
you had any spare steel left over I'd recommend you sorted out the
front top F key too.
There's also the issue of mixing materials. All
the other barrels (and pillars) are made of brass - and these will
wear at the normal rate. This won't be a particular problem until
you reach the point where you need to fit oversized rods. As this
would be extremely difficult your options are likely to be limited
to swedging the brass keywork and fitting bushes in the pillars
so that you can stick to the stock rod screw diameter.
Given these issues, and the choice of barrels they've gone for,
it rather looks to me that they've gone for bling rather than bang-for-bucks.
I think it's worth mentioning it because it shows that it always
pays to think carefully about what appears to be an upgrade. Sometimes
it gives you more than you bargained for and less than you hoped
up is the adjustable key guide for the bell key barrels and the
adjuster/arm that sits between the low B and Bb keys.
Both of these are distinctive features - but while the B/Bb adjust
appears on the Thomann and the Mauriat, the key guide only shows
up on the Thomann (as far as I can tell).
there are the point screws. These are spear-headed. Very unusual.
I've only ever seen them before on a Mauriat and the Thomann Low
Jazz. But, interestingly, not on the Lupifaro tenor. Sticking with
screws, there's one difference on this horn as compared to the Thomann
and the Lupifaro tenor - none of the rod screws had crimped heads.
Tonewise the Lupifaro is a very nice blow indeed.
It shares a very great deal with the Thomann Low Jazz in that it
has quite a contemporary tone that's reined in slightly by virtue
of being a low Bb baritone. It felt a bit more precise than the
Thomann - a bit smoother and more integrated, but not to the point
where I'd say it was anything more than the difference you'd find
between any two identical horns. The client certainly likes it -
and in preference to his Selmer MkVI bari...so it's no slouch.
There's never been that much of a market for a
low Bb bari (with no top F#) since low A models became commonplace,
so I very much doubt that this is a bespoke horn. I mean, who's
going to go to all the trouble of making up jigs and templates for
such an esoteric horn when the production runs are likely to be
incredibly small? Only a very large company could afford to take
such a chance - and if such a company went ahead and made one it'd
be commercial suicide for a smaller manufacturer to compete. Well,
as it happens there is a company that makes a low Bb bari...and
it's Mauriat. Or at least it appears to be. Suffice to say they
were the first to produce a low Bb bari in recent years - which
was quite a bold but laudable move. But then Thomann started selling
a low Bb bari under their own brand name - and very nice it was
too...though like the Lupifaro it shared a number of features with
guess you could suggest that the keys and fitting are bought in
and the Lupifaro's body is handmade - but, for the reason stated
above, I would think this extremely unlikely.
Which poses an interesting question...namely who's actually making
these things? Is it Mauriat - and if so, why do they appear to be
selling one of their own horns to OEMs? That doesn't strike me as
being a very profitable exercise if you've essentially cornered
the market. It makes a great deal more sense if someone else is
building these horns and Mauriat et al are simply buying them in
and rebadging them.
However, the question arises as to exactly what,
if any, are differences between the various offerings. For example,
the Thomann Low Jazz retails at around £3000 and the Mauriat
PMB-302 comes in at £5000 - and the Lupifaro was an eye-watering
£7000...and that was back in 2016. They can't all be the same
horn, can they?? If they are, the implications are very unpleasant
I would like to think that there are two possibilities; either there's
one manufacturer of these baritones but that they make various body
versions; or there are various manufacturers but that they're all
using the same ancillary components. I don't really know for sure...so
take your pick.
The Lupifaro has a stamp on the body that says 'Made in Italy'.
How much of it, if any, was made in Italy is a mystery to me...
So there you have it - an overview of the Lupifaro
as compared to other remarkably similar horns. Is it worth it? Hard
to say. One thing's for sure, you're not likely to see too many
of them on the market. At the price they were selling for originally,
and given that they only go down to low Bb, I doubt that very many
players would have been tempted.
And then you have to wonder whether the very much cheaper Thomann
will do the same job - or indeed the Mauriat. Something to think