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P. Mauriat PMB 300UL baritone saxophone

P.Mauriat PMN-300UL baritone sax reviewOrigin: Taiwan
Guide price: £5999
Weight: 5.96kg
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 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 the scene.

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? Yeah, right.
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 anyway.

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 out...

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 301.

Mauriat PMB-300UL top clampThe 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.

Mauriat PMB-300UL baritone  sling ringYou 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 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 whinge.

Mauriat PMB-300UL baritone  bow guardsAnd 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, 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.
Mauriat PMB-300UL baritone  bell braceI 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 down).
I wouldn't recommend trying to bend this adjustable tab.

Mauriat PMB-300UL octave mechYou 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.

Mauriat PMB-300UL padsDecent 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.
Mauriat PMB-300UL baritone  Bis BbNo 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.
Mauriat PMB-300UL baritone bellAnd 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 soundscape.
It's a very 'meaty' horn, very melodic, but with touch of sleeve's 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.

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