P. Mauriat PMB 300UL baritone saxophone
Guide price: £5999
Date of manufacture: 2010 (Serial range: 0751xxx)
Date reviewed: September 2018
Born to run
If you're looking to buy a pro-spec alto or tenor
at a reasonable price, or even (to a more limited extent) a soprano,
there's quite a wide range of horns to choose from. You'll have
the usual options of a Yamaha or a Yanagisawa as well as number
of horns from the larger Taiwanese manufacturers. You might even
be able to nab a Keilwerth, or something from one of the smaller/boutique
manufacturers such as Rampone or Eastman etc. But if you wanted
a baritone of similar quality your choice, essentially, boils down
to either a Yamaha or a Yanagisawa.
Or at least that's the way it used to be until Mauriat arrived on
I should imagine the good folks at Yamaha and
Yanagisawa were rather miffed at the intrusion given that they'd
had this corner of the market sewn up for years. Sure...there were
options from Selmer and Keilwerth - but hey, have you seen the prices?
For the punter, though, more choice is always a good thing - and
a bit of healthy competition keeps the manufacturers on their toes
(and the prices in check)...but it's not enough to simply punt out
a horn at a particular price-point, it's got to come up with the
goods in a head-to-head comparison.
This is the hard part. And let's be frank here, while Mauriat have
always done quite well in terms of delivering horns that are lively,
interesting and very playable, they've fared rather less well when
it comes to the scrutiny of the workbench. Or at least my workbench
When this example turned up in the workshop I
had it marked up for a review before I'd even got the case open.
How could I not? In terms of the marketplace it's a very important
horn, and given Mauriat's propensity to lean towards a richer, more
'vintagey' presentation, it represents a very tempting option for
those players who're looking for something a little bit different.
I don't mind admitting I was quite excited by this horn - a pre-repair
playtest showed it had a lot to offer and a quick poke around the
keywork suggested that it might not have quite so many of the issues
I've found on other Mauriats. Could it be a contender? Let's find
There are three versions of the PMB300 - the one
featured here is the UL, which denotes the absence of lacquer. Yep,
it's a bare brass baritone.
It's a popular option these days, and offers the player the chance
to buy a brand new horn that looks like they've owned it almost
forever. There are pros and cons to bare brass finishes (which I've
discussed before), and whether or not the finish will be a practicable
proposition for you depends largely on whether you're the sort of
player who spits out a lot of moisture on a gig, or one who tips
the bell up at the end of the evening and spots barely a dribble
running out. Keeping a horn this big clean is a lot of (hard) work
- but on the plus side its size means it's a lot easier to get in
under most of the keywork to mop up any drops of water. If you're
a wet player and you don't keep up this level of maintenance, this
baritone may well end up looking very shabby indeed in a very short
space of time.
If this sounds like rather a lot of faff (and it is), have no fear
- there are two other versions of the 300; one in brass with a very
nice dark gold lacquer and the other in bronze, with what looks
to be a matt lacquer finish. Don't confuse them with the 301, which
is a cheaper horn...or the 302, which is a low Bb version of the
construction is single pillar (or post to body) with the only exception
being a plate for the palm keys. The pillars feature nice, chunky
bases...which should be beefy enough to withstand the rough and
tumble of a baritone's life.
The bell is detachable via a two-piece ring clamp at the body to
bottom bow joint, and there's a similar clamp on the top bow to
allow for dismantling. They've placed it on the crook side of the
bow - which means that it allows for (relatively) easy cleaning
of the crook bow...but isn't much use if you need to gain access
to the main body tube for dent work etc.
The detachable bell brace is a four-point design (shown below, in
the keywork section) - which is simply a standard triple-point brace
with a perpendicular arm that's fixed to the front of the body tube
between the G# and Aux.F toneholes. Triple-point braces are good
at spreading the load from a frontal impact to the bell, but don't
fare so well at keeping the bell in line if it cops a sideways knock.
As such knocks are far more common than frontal impacts, this extra
arm will go a long way to keeping the bell in place.
get the usual raft of modern body features, such as an adjustable
metal thumb hook, a large, slightly domed metal thumb rest, bumper
felt adjusters on the bell key guards, additional bracing on the
top bow, detachable semicircular compound bell key pillar and an
extremely useful three-position sling ring.
Not only is this a very neat feature, it's also built like the proverbial
brick dunny. Just look at it! It's not so much a sling ring as a
knuckle-duster for a digitally disadvantaged pugilist (a three-fingered
boxer, in case you were wondering). But better still, it actually
works...by which I mean that switching your sling hook between the
three holes alters the way the horn is balanced. Thus you might,
for example, favour the top ring when you're standing, and the lower
one when sitting down.
Might not sound like much of a feature, but when you're swinging
nigh on six kilos of horn round your neck, anything that aids your
comfort is a real boon.
Note the guard around the side Bb cup key. This is a nice little
extra, and will help to protect this vulnerable key from inadvertently
opening as it brushes against your clothes, or from being bent out
of line by a knock (another common problem on baritones). It would
have been nice if it was detachable, but it ain't (and neither is
the side F# key guard lower down the horn)...but that's a minor
speaking of guards, the palm key toneholes up on the top bow are
equally well-protected - and I'm very pleased to report that these
guards are detachable (you can see the F# guard in the shot above).
You might well be thinking "Meh, who needs palm key guards?
They don't have 'em on Yamahas and Yanagisawas!" - but these
keys often get bent out of line (usually through careless handling
of the horn, and sometimes as a result of rubbing against the case
lining) and are a very common source of leaks. I think they're a
great addition to the horn, and just as useful as four-point bell
braces and triple sling rings. On the flip side though, all this
extra beefiness adds to the weight of the horn...
Take a look at that angled guard pillar on the left. It's an...unusual...design,
to say the least. It does the job though, but it can't have been
cheap to manufacture.
And while you're there, have a look at the base of the pillar dead
centre of the shot. I'm not sure what's going on there, it appears
to be a pillar with a small base that's been soldered onto a larger
one. It works well enough, to be sure, but I can't help but wonder
why they didn't just fit the shaft of the pillar to a larger base.
About the only explanation that makes any sense is that the original
design left the pillar a tad too short, and that fitting it to a
secondary base was the cheapest way of sorting it out.
The toneholes are plain drawn and were were reasonably
level - at least to the eye. Checked against a flat standard they
showed discrepancies of between one and two thou, with the bell
key toneholes being among the worst affected. In technical terms
that's quite a lot, but from a practical point of view it's pretty
average for most horns these days. While the pads are fresh and
new they'll happily cope with a small warp, but as they get older
(and stiffen up) they're going to leak a little. It's not perfect,
but realistically it's what you get these days...and while you could
certainly improve the response and reliability of the horn by having
the toneholes levelled, I'd suggest having them checked and levelled
as and when a pad needs replacing. A good compromise for a baritone
would be to have the bell key toneholes (from low C downwards) levelled
as soon as possible, and thereafter deal with the others when the
horn needs servicing. That said, the toneholes were nicely finished
with crisp but not sharp edges and smooth rims. If nothing else
it's a massive improvement over Mauriat's piss-poor attempts at
making rolled toneholes.
That's the body, then - and overall I'm quite
impressed with what I found. The construction is neat and tidy,
as is the soldering, and there are some very useful features as
well as one or two nice extras - including some engraving up the
body tube (if you like that sort of thing).
Moving on to the keywork now and I'm a little disappointed to find
that that there are no regulation adjusters on the main stack keys.
Given all the extras the body flaunts, I'd have thought a handful
of adjusting screws would have been small beer. You do, however,
get the usual adjusters for the Bis Bb, G# and low B to C# link
- and a pair to adjust the relationship between the low Bb and A.
was actually very pleased to see (and feel) a reasonably well-engineered
low A mech on the Mauriat. As far as I'm concerned the gold standard
for low A mechs is held by Yamaha, with its simple twin-armed thumb
key that runs beneath the keywork on the front of the horn and connects
directly to the bell keys. The Mauriat's mech runs down the rear
of the horn and features an intermediary key between the thumb key
and the bell keys - which has two levers that connect to the low
Bb and A independently.
Because of this intermediary key it's not quite as slick and as
switchlike in operation as the Yamaha mech - but it's certainly
no slouch, and it has the advantage of providing a far easier means
of adjusting the relationship between the Bb and the A (you can
see the adjusters either side of the bell brace).
All the adjusters were quite hard to turn (this
is a good thing), but once I'd got them turning they ended up being
too loose (this is a bad thing). It's common practice to secure
adjusting screws with some sort of low-strength threadlock, which
makes them resistant to turning (but not immovable) and maintains
that resistance for as least as long as it takes to make a handful
of adjustments. When a threadlock gives way after a single turn,
it probably means it ain't threadlock...and maybe a drop of lacquer
was used instead.
If you feel the need to make any adjustments you'll need to add
some fresh threadlock, otherwise the screws will probably wind themselves
out of regulation fairly quickly.
There's also an adjuster for setting the regulation
between the low B and Bb. I'm not a great fan of this design simply
because, as an adjuster, it's quite crude. You have to undo the
screw, move the link to the desired position and then tighten up
the screw. Sounds fine on paper, but out in the real world you find
that no matter how careful you are with positioning that link, the
moment you tighten the screw up it all moves around. I suppose you
could set it in more or less the right place and then tweak the
regulation by adjusting the cork (and hope you don't oversand it)...but
it's so much simpler with a plain metal tab (that you bend up or
I wouldn't recommend trying to bend this adjustable tab.
get a bog standard swivelling octave key mech with a nicely sculpted
touchpiece, and the side keys feature simple but effective fork
and pin links. I was little surprised not to see any double key
arms on the bell keys, but perhaps Mauriat were getting a bit conscious
of the weight by the time they'd finished blinging up the body.
There's a tilting table for the bell keys and a hefty teardrop-shaped
touchpiece for the front top F. Speaking of which, there's a little
bit of a gotcha on the top F touchpiece lever. If you dismantle
the horn, it's almost impossible to fit the top F touchpiece lever
after the top stack has been fitted. It's just about doable if you're
brave enough to carefully lever the front top F touchpiece out of
the way - so if you dismantle the horn I'd recommend popping this
key on before you fit the top stack. It's not an uncommon gotcha
- it's just a bit trickier than usual due to the size and stiffness
of the front top F key.
And I guess it's time for my usual rant about
the point (pivot) screws.
As expected, they're pseudo points - of the spear-headed
variety. I've seen these before, on a Mauriat System 76 alto of
a similar age - and I wasn't at all impressed.
I'm still not impressed, but the point screw action on the baritone
was far, far better than on the 76 alto - in spite of it having
seen eight years' worth of use against the two on the alto. As such
I think it's fair to say that more care had been taken when drilling
out the key barrels on the baritone, and although I spotted a few
keys that had a bit of play in them I wouldn't rush to say it was
particularly excessive. Of course, with this type of point screw
it'll only get worse over time - and at some point ('scuse pun)
it'll need taking care of.
pads are fitted (Mypads by Pisoni), and upon removing the G# pad
I was very pleased to see the base of the pad was completely covered
with glue (hot melt glue). To be honest I was also rather surprised,
because previous Mauriats I've worked on have had pads glued in
using the 'little dab'll do ya' method.
Well, it wasn't long before I had cause to remove more pads - and
yep, sure enough, normal service has been resumed. Almost. In fact
I think this pad (low C) is a contender for the 'least amount of
glue without the pad actually falling out' award. Clearly someone
else has reset or replaced the G# pad and had taken the opportunity
to do the job properly. I ended up pulling out and re-glueing quite
a few pads in the end, simply because they needed resetting - and
you can't reliably reset a pad that doesn't have enough (or practically
any) glue behind it.
That they got away with such a lacklustre pad
job is down to the baritone's natural forgiveness of minor leaks,
and the reasonably level toneholes - but it's rather sub-par for
a horn that's looking to compete with a Yamaha or a Yanagisawa.
If there's an upside to this it's that if you already own a PMB300
and you're quite happy with the way it plays, it'll get noticeably
better once it's had a decent service. It's always nice to have
something to look forward to.
Finishing up the keywork you get blued steel springs
to power the action and a set of concave abalone pearls which fit
nicely against the subtle colours of the bare brass body. The G#
and side F# keys have flat oval pearls fitted - and there's a slightly
domed pearl on the Bis Bb key. I'd normally mark this up as a nice
touch, as a domed Bis Bb touchpiece really smooths out the forefinger
roll from the B, but Mauriat have made a bit of a pig's ear of it.
For a start, the pearl holder is rather deep. It lines up nicely
against the B when the keys are open, but what you want is for the
Bis Bb pearl to line up with the B touchpiece when the B is closed.
In fact ideally you want it to sit slightly below the B - but the
way it's designed here means it sits some way higher than the B.
big deal, surely? The domed pearl will still ensure a smooth transition,
right? Well, it would...if the damn thing actually sat higher than
the rim of the pearl holder. When you roll your finger forward it
rolls straight onto the sharp(ish) rim of the holder. It's only
the very centre of the pearl that protrudes above the rim...and
then only just.
The holder's too tall and the pearl's too thin - but let's be (a
little bit) fair here. The B touchpiece arm is separate from the
key cup, so there's a chance that it may have been bent down at
some point in the past. This would certainly throw the relationship
with the Bis Bb out. On that basis I'll give Mauriat the benefit
of the doubt - with the caveat that as I'm typing this, I have one
eyebrow raised. As for the Bis Bb pearl - that's simply a straight
fail. And it's a little bit undersized too.
And as for the case - I can't comment, because
it wasn't in its original one...but the owner of the horn says it
came in a hardshell case with catches and wheels - which is encouraging.
Under the fingers the Mauriat feels surprisingly
light. The owner of this horn has the action set a touch high, but
this didn't seem to slow things down at all - and in common with
other pro-spec modern baris there's very much a 'big tenor' feel
about it. The only issue of note was the aforementioned Bis Bb key
pearl, though I should say that the owner isn't troubled by it at
all...and he's very much what you'd call 'a respectable player'.
The triple sling ring is a very nice touch and really came into
its own when switching between a standing and sitting playing position.
It's perhaps not what I'd call a killer feature, but once you've
tried it you'll be wondering why all baritones aren't fitted with
it. Other than that I had no trouble getting around the keys and
found that the low A mech worked very well indeed.
The action doesn't quite have the precise feel of the Yamaha, but
that's more down to the use of those weird point screws rather than
any design issues. And while the action may have been light, I can't
really say that horn itself was - at a sniff under 6 kilos it's
one of the heaviest baritones on the market. That's the price you
pay for all those extra guards, the chunky joint rings and the extra
bracing. That said, the Yamaha 62 is only 5 or so ounces lighter
- which might not feel like much if you pick the horns up one after
the other, but will certainly make a difference over the course
of a gig.
I've had lots of things to say about Mauriat's
horns in previous reviews - some of which you might agree with,
some of which you might not. However, I think we can all agree that
Mauriat have carved themselves a niche in the market by producing
horns that are confident and personable in presentation. There are
no shrinking violets in the line-up.
so it is with the PMB300. It's an easy blow - not too free, not
too resistant - with a very eager feel to it. Tonewise it becomes
clear pretty quickly that Mauriat have set their sights on a straight
path between the punch and cut of the Yamaha and the sonorous grunt
of a vintage horn - and I'm very pleased to say that I think they've
made a good job of it. In fact I think they've made a damn fine
job of it.
I'm going to say that it lacks some of the precision of the Yamaha
and Yanagisawa baritones, but that's not a criticism - it's a trade-off,
and what you lose in precision you more than gain in a much broader
It's a very 'meaty' horn, very melodic, but with touch of sleeves-up
rough-and-readiness that probably isn't going to endear itself to
the classical crowd, but will certainly appeal to the sort of player
who wants to make their presence felt. And if that means nothing
to you - try this; It's the Bruce Springsteen of baritones.
I have only one quibble with the tone, for which
I must don my reviewer's hat. It gets a bit grainy from time-to-time...a
little bit throaty. Most of this seems to peak around the top G,
which is traditionally a difficult note for baritones. I feel I
have to mention it because it's a Marmite thing; some players will
love it, some will hate it. I, however, can take my reviewer's hat
off now and say that I absolutely love it. And I love it because
while it's there all the time, it's not overstated. It's just right.
It's perhaps why this baritone differs slightly from the 'characteristically
Mauriat' blow- which tends to make their horns more at home when
you're giving it large. When you back off and smooch it, they often
seem to sulk a bit. The baritone retains some of the grittiness,
which just perks it up at quiet volumes.
What about the competition, then? Assuming a six
grand budget and a bit of shopping around, you should be able to
bag yourself a Yamaha 62. This is a superb baritone, and while I
love its clarity I can well appreciate that it doesn't suit everyone.
Then there's the Yanagisawa - and everything up to and including
the 991 competes on price. They tend to be more laid back than the
Yamaha, and arguably more refined...and perhaps more of an all-rounder.
And, realistically, that's about it. For now, at least. If/when
the Yanagisawa WO series baris make an appearance there's likely
to be a bit of a shift in the marketplace - and if TJ ever get around
to making a RAW baritone, well, all bets are likely to be off. There's
not a great deal of tonal difference between the various Yanagisawa
models, and the Yamaha is...well, a Yamaha - so the Mauriat brings
some much-needed perspective to the marketplace. And, dare I say
it, a bit of grit into what many players feel has become a relatively
sterile corner of the saxophone world in recent years.
In the meantime I'm going to give the PMB300 the
old thumbs up. Yes, there are a few reasonably minor build issues
- and yes, they could do with being (a lot) less mean with the pad
glue - but when weighed up against the asking price and the performance
of the horn I reckon the scales tip in Mauriat's favour. Just.