Sakkusu baritone saxophone
Guide price: £1300
Date of manufacture: 2017
Date reviewed: July 2019
It's heavy, man
I've said many, many times that the best approach
to buying an Ultra-Cheap horn is to consider the purchase price
as being merely a starting point, and to whizz the thing straight
round to your repairer and spend a few more quid on having it properly
set up. It makes the purchase that bit more expensive, but you end
up with a better and more reliable horn.
In the case of the smaller horns (sopranos and altos), such tweaks
may be necessary just to get the thing working properly - but on
the larger horns (tenor and baritone), which are rather more forgiving
of leaks, the tweaks are about improving upon what's already there.
With Ultra-Cheap baris having been around for quite a few years
now I'm noticing that quite a few clients are opting to buy them
secondhand and then shell out for a full strip-down service. This
probably won't win them any prizes in a 'biggest bargain' competition,
but it does mean they end up with a much better horn at a price
that still compares very favourably to the cost of a new-but-leaky
one. And it makes sense on a horn that would otherwise cost £1000+
simply because of the scale of economics. The cost of the work is
pretty much the same across the board, no matter what size the horn
- you just have more headroom on a baritone.
This example came to me straight from the seller.
The first time the buyer laid his hands on it was after I'd serviced
it. He simply wasn't interested in trying it un-tweaked because
he figured it would likely have all sorts of problems. And how right
It's the cheaper of the two Sakkusu baritones marketed by sax.co.uk,
and at a retail price of £1300 it's one of the cheapest baritones
available new these days. It may well seem like a lot of dosh for
a cheap horn, but you've only got to spend a couple of minutes looking
at the prices of (shall we say) rather more respectable horns to
realise that it's at least half the price of a 'name' brand...and
a hell of a lot less than a bari from one of the more renowned makers.
In theory this horn ought to be quite a good bet.
My standing advice to would-be purchasers of cheap horns is to default
to buying from a reputable dealer if you can't get a recommendation
on a particular brand. I give this advice on the basis that such
sellers are likely to take more care over checking the horns before
sale, which means you're less likely to end up with a lemon. If
the shop has on-site repair facilities it may even mean that the
horn has been thoroughly inspected and perhaps even tweaked - as
is claimed to be the case with sax.co.
This isn't a new horn though, it's had a couple of years of what
looked to be light use in the wild - but it won't be at all hard
to distinguish between wear and tear or damage and those issues
that came built into the horn from new. So let's pop it up on the
bench and see whether it delights or disappoints.
The construction is single pillar (post to body),
with a handful of small plates that house a couple of pillars each.
The pillar bases vary in size, and for the most part are adequate
or even generous in proportion - but there are a couple of curious
This pair of pillars for the octave key mech and the top E are fitted
to a particularly vulnerable spot on the top bow tube with some
of the smallest pillar bases on the entire horn.
makes no sense at all - and even less so when you consider that
there's yet another pillar (for the top F# key) fitted a little
way around the bow that's shorter than either of these two pillars
and yet has a larger base.
You could, I suppose, make the argument that having
these pillars only weakly attached is a sort of a safety feature.
If they cop a sideways knock there's a fair chance that they'll
pop right off the top bow without distorting the tube much. It's
a valid argument - but one that's rather scuppered by the fact that
if the pillars cop a whack from above, the smaller pillar bases
will be less able to spread the load and are more likely to stove
in the top bow. Having seen the results of such impacts many, many
times I'd always opt for larger pillar bases.
By-the-by, that's not a lacquer dribble running down from the taller
pillar's base - it's the distorted reflection of the pillar. I'll
admit it caught me out when it came to editing the shots, and I
briefly wondered how on earth I could have missed a dirty great
dribble in the lacquer. I was all poised to type "...and another
thing..." when I realised what was going on.
Continuing with pillar bases, this pair of pillars
for the bell keys have to carry quite a lot of weight and stress
- but the bases aren't especially large and they've sliced a lump
off the lower pillar's base in order to get it into position.
would have been so much more sensible to have put these pillars
on a single plate, but that would mean more expense. In fact if
you look very closely you can see that the lower pillar started
off identical to the upper one...and subsequently had one of the
heads lopped off (note the flat spot on the side of the head) and
the base sliced. This is actually quite a good way of cutting down
on production costs, and is sometimes used on horns that cost considerably
While we're here I guess now's as good a time as any to mention
that the point screws are of the parallel type, with a point on
the tip. They differ from the pseudo type inasmuch as the point
is distinct rather than gently curving into the shaft of the tip.
These are only accurate if the key barrels have been drilled to
a snug fit, or the holes are shallow enough to allow the pointed
tip of the screw to make contact with the bottom of the hole. Unfortunately
neither of these requirements had been met, which meant that almost
all the point screw mounted keys were wobbling about on their pivots.
This is not good.
On a more positive note the rod screw action was, by and large,
reasonably good. A few wobbles on some of the smaller keys, but
nothing major on each of the stacks.
The toneholes are of the plain drawn type, bar
those on the top bow - which have been silver (or hard) soldered
on. This is unusual, and is a manufacturing technique usually confined
to sopranos where the diminutive size of the palm key toneholes
means it's easier and safer to solder the toneholes on rather than
trying to draw such a small hole out of the body tube and risk having
to scrap a body because one of the toneholes split during the process.
But you'd hardly call the top bow tube on a bari 'small', and I'm
really not sure I've ever seen soldered toneholes here - apart from
on horns where all the toneholes are soldered on, obviously. It's
clear from the anomalies with the pillar bases that production costs
have been pared to the bone - so I'm really not sure why they didn't
just draw these toneholes out like everyone else does.
I'm even more surprised that no-one's made a 'feature' out of it;
"Hand-soldered top bow toneholes...for uninterrupted bore profile,
enhanced resonance and purity of tone"...
because they're silver-soldered there'll be no issues with selective
galvanic corrosion (whereby soft solder rots away over a long period
of time and causes the joint to fail) - so on a 1 to 10 scale of
things to worry about it ranks about -5. However, what ranks about
7 or 8 on the worry scale is the flatness of the toneholes - or
rather the lack of it.
Hardly any of the toneholes approached even a broad sense of level
and a generous handful had very severe warps which were plainly
visible to the naked eye. The low C pulled a double whammy by virtue
of having a notch slap-bang in the centre of a warp.
As with most warp shots the photo only tells half the story - because
as large as the visible portion of the warp is (and it is large),
there's just as big a warp on the other side of the tonehole.
notch, in particular, is concerning because while a slight tonehole
warp can defeat the eye, a notch tends to stick out like ukulele
player at a hard bop gig.
OK, granted - if you spend all your time checking over expensive
horns you very quickly fall into a pattern of assuming (quite reasonably)
that the manufacturers have got the basics sorted. When you're checking
Ultra-Cheap Chinese horns the mantra is "Expect
Aardvarks'. You simply can't take it for granted that no-one's
filled the horn up with pasta sauce, or even that it has the right
number of keys.
If you're marketing a line of Chinese horns you really ought to
be up on this sort of stuff - otherwise people might begin to assume
that you've seen the issues...but can't be arsed to sort them out.
All of which is extremely disappointing for me because it renders
my advice of "buy from a reputable dealer - preferably one
with an in-house repair facility" a complete waste of time.
I am not, as the saying goes, a happy bunny. I suppose you could
argue that since the horn's been in use for a couple of years it
may well have suffered some trauma that resulted in skewed toneholes,
but such damage is usually easy to spot (the dents and bent tubing
tend to give it away) and it still doesn't account for the notches.
But let's cheer things up by having a look at
the bracing on this horn.
There's a very substantial Yamaha style triple-point bell brace
which provides good support against frontal impact and, by virtue
of the secondary arm that stretches across the body, additional
support against side impacts. I rather like this design as there's
a degree of collapsibility built in - which is to say that in the
event of a severe impact the brace will distort somewhat and help
to dissipate the energy, thus reducing the damage to the main body
tube. Granted, it can be a sod to realign a bent bell brace - but
it's a lot cheaper than having to deal with a bent body.
knock a point or two off because the fit and alignment of the brace
is a bit shoddy (look at the twist on the secondary arm where it
sits on the lug). It's quite common to see that this lug screw has
been broken off because someone's noticed the arm is a bit off kilter
and has attempted to correct it by tightening the screw down. Don't
do this - it simply isn't strong enough to do the job. By all means,
check that the screw is tight and the arm is locked in place - and
then leave it well alone. Or take the whole brace off and realign
it off the horn.
The top bow brace is an interesting variation
on a theme.
The central boss is pretty much standard, but the brace itself is
usually a semicircular plate of brass that's attached to the bow
at three points (at the edges and again at the bottom of the bow).
It's a reasonable design, but it tends to be slightly less effective
on Ultra-Cheap horns because they skimp out on the thickness of
done away with the plate here and gone for a simple crossbar, and
quite a substantial one at that. I've no complaints at all about
this, save for some scruffy soldering where the bar is fitted to
the bow tube - and the rigidity is further bolstered by the additional
crossbar that runs from the crook socket to the body (seen at the
rear of the shot). The whole lot adds up to a good amount of support
for the bow, which'll go a long way to preventing the tube from
being distorted when fitting the crook and mouthpiece.
And, of course, all these detachable braces means that the bell
is detachable - as is the top bow. On this horn the top bow comes
off where it meets the main body tube, which is advantageous if
you need access to the body to straighten it out or remove any dents.
Might as well mention the octave mech while we're
looking at it - and it's the standard swivelling type. As the horn
is loosely based on a Yamaha design, you get two body octave key
pips, which help to enhance the clarity and tuning of the mid range
(D to G).
It's a good mech, though on cheaper horns it tends to suffer somewhat
with flexing and sloppy key fit - so can feel a little approximate
sometimes. You might be tempted to have the mech tightened up, but
this often means the whole thing locks up. If it's working, leave
it well alone and just keep it lubed.
As for the rest of the body features you get an
adjustable metal thumb hook, a large flat metal thumb rest, a reasonably-sized
16/10mm sling ring, bumper felt adjusters on the bell key guards
and provision for fitting a spike to the bell - which provides support
when playing in the sitting position.
If you can find a long enough piece of metal you could, in theory,
use a spike when standing - though you'd have to be rather careful
when swinging the bari around on stage in case you take out the
guitarist's amp - or, if you're very unlucky, the bass player's
As for the keywork, there's really not a lot to
say about it that hasn't already been covered.
It's a Yamaha(ish) copy, so the layout and ergonomics are plenty
good enough - and you get the standout feature of all Yamaha baris
in the shape of the excellent low A mech. I've said it before and
I'll say it again - it's such a good design that it really ought
to be the de-facto standard for all low A mechs - and even though
it's not as well-built as the genuine article it's still streets
ahead of the competition in terms of its ability to close the bell
keys with a degree of accuracy and its switchlike feel.
a minor point - the thumb key on this horn was set way too low,
such that you had to roll your thumb right back and almost off the
thumb rest in order to actuate the key. It really needs to be much
higher (in the position shown), so that you can simply lean the
thumb back to hit a low A and roll straight forward again to go
into the octaves. It's an easy enough fix...just bend the touchpiece
up. However, it's a hefty bit of metal - and if you tried to lift
it up while it was attached to the horn it would merely drive the
key arms on the opposite end of the key into the body tube. You
have to remove the key and clamp the base of the touchpiece before
bending it. And contrary to what you might think, Chinese keywork
is really rather stiff and won't bend easily.
Another nice feature is double cup arms on the
low C, B, Bb and A keys - though I really don't know why they don't
go the whole hog and double up on the low C# cup arm.
The key pearls are all plastic, and concave. They're not great but
they do OK. A worthwhile upgrade would be to dig these out (they
come out easy enough - though you could always just wait until they
fall out of their own accord) and pop a set of proper pearls in
- and while your at it, a more domed Bis Bb pearl wouldn't go amiss.
You also get a standard tilting bell key table and simple fork and
pin connectors for the side Bb/C keys.
The pads are of the usual Chinese fare - they're
not brilliant but they're OK, if inclined to be rather sticky sometimes.
They'd do even better if the toneholes were level, and this would
also avoid the need to attempt to reseat them - which is usually
a waste of time because, as was apparent on this horn, there's simply
not an even spread of glue on the back of pads. If you're lucky
you get a miserly dob of hot melt glue in the middle of the pad
and a cursory smear somewhere towards the periphery. If you have
to adjust a pad seat you have to pull the pad out and coat the entire
rear face with glue before refitting and setting it.
of the big problems with large horns is the tendency for the long
key barrels to flex - and to help mitigate some of this there's
a generous sprinkling of key guides dotted around the horn. They're
all of the cup type - as opposed to the clamp type seen on many
other horns (Yanagisawa in particular) - and none of them were buffered.
Whether they were like this from the off I can't say - but it has
to be said that the Chinese are particularly lousy when it comes
to gluing cork on...the strange glue they use seems to dissolve
into a gooey mess over time. The guides will still work without
the buffering, but it adds significantly to the noise the keywork
makes in use - so it's well worth making sure that there's something
in the guides to prevent metal-to-metal contact. Cork or felt is
just fine - leather works well too, and at a pinch you can even
use thick paper.
I think that just about covers the keywork other
than to say that they action is powered by a set of blued steel
You get a standard semi-soft box-style case with
the horn, complete with a crappy zip fastener that will break or
fail at some point. There's plenty of room inside for all your bits
and bobs. There's also a pair of wheels on the bottom end of the
case to assist with dragging the whole lot from the car to the gig
venue - but if you use this feature on anything but the smoothest
surface you're likely to find that the wheels will be torn right
off the case...taking a large chuck of chipboard with them.
Under the fingers the baritone feels as good as
you'd expect given that it's essentially a copy of an expensive
horn. Once the wobbly keys had been dealt with the action became
far less vague and substantially quieter, and with a few judicious
tweaks of the springs here and there it almost bordered on nimble.
This is perhaps the killer feature of an Ultra-Cheap horn - the
key layout hasn't been designed to be cheap and merely good enough
for students, it's been lifted straight off a horn that would suit
The aforementioned low A mech is a delight, the octave mech is quite
responsive and I doubt many people will have any problems with the
layout of the tilting bell key table.
While the action may be reasonably light, the
horn itself isn't. It's really rather heavy. In fact it's one of
the heaviest baritones I've ever seen. I usually point out when
a horn is particularly light or heavy, and it's usually in the order
of a few tens of grammes (a few ounces, in old money) - but this
thing tips the scales at a whopping half a kilo heavier than the
heaviest baritone I've reviewed to date (the Rosedale). That's just
over a pound. I even checked to make sure there was nothing stuffed
down the bell like a stand, or some cloths...or a pound of self
raising flour. But no, it really does weigh that much.
can't see much in terms of build quality/robustness that would explain
the extra weight - but I guess the pair of clamps that are fitted
to the bell to hold a spike look like they'd account for a fair
chunk of it. If you weren't using the spike you could lighten the
weight of the horn by a couple of ounces (I weighed 'em) by removing
the clamp nuts and chucking them in the case.
Tonewise the Sakkusu does OK. It's quite even
across the range (the double body octave vents help) and has good
stability. It's not a particularly stiff blow, neither is it especially
free-blowing - it's just nicely in the middle. It's what I'd call
a competent performer...but it's a bit boring. It doesn't quite
have the richness of, say, the Bauhaus and nor does it have the
slap and punch of the old Gear4Music. I wouldn't even call it introspective
- by which I mean a horn that seems more comfortable at low volumes
- because it doesn't back off particularly well; there's a sort
of general dryness to the tone that seems to come to the fore when
If you've never played a bari before you'd probably be quite happy
with it - and I guess that's reasonable compliment. But should you
find yourself presented with the opportunity to play a different
bari you might end up noticing just how much is missing from your
own horn. Of course you can modify the tone by sticking a different
mouthpiece on it, but I don't think the horn will ever shake off
its underlying dryness.
What about the competition?
On the face of it it's realistically two-horse
race, with the basic Sakkusu (there's a deluxe model available for
an extra £400) up against the Gear4Music
Rosedale at the same price - but the Sakkusu is supplied with
a Yamaha 5C mouthpiece, which is a nice bit of kit that'd normally
set you back £50 or so. That's a win for the Sakkusu.
Both horns suffer from build quality issues, for which the only
leveller (quite literally) is going to be throwing a couple of hundred
quid at your repairer to sort them out. That's a draw.
The Rosedale is a rather more ebullient blow and benefits from having
a bit of fizz and crackle even when you back off the volume. That's
a win for the Rosedale.
You get a free service after a year with the Sakkusu. I'm somewhat
sceptical about the worth of this given what slipped past the pre-sale
checkover, but it's still a win. You could lever this advantage
a little bit more by giving the horn a thorough inspection before
taking it in for its service. A quick read of any of the reviews
of Ultra-Cheap horns will give you some idea of what to look out
for. If you're on good terms with your repairer (and you really
ought to be) and have a bottle of wine to spare, you might just
be able to persuade them to spend five minutes writing down a list
of things that need sorting.
On points alone, then, the Sakkusu takes the gold
- but that assumes you assign equal weight to the playability as
to any of the other features...and out in the real world I tend
to find it's something of a trump card.
And speaking of weight, the extra pound or so this horn weighs over
just about anything else I've seen should be something to consider
quite carefully. The sax forums are awash with bari players complaining
of neck and back problems, seeking advice on which straps or harnesses
will ease the load. It's a common and very real issue. If you're
unconvinced, just pop a small bag of flour (unopened, for preference,
yeah?) down the bell of your horn and sling it around your neck
for half an hour.
Summing up, then - some pros and cons (as usual).
The Sakkusu is no worse in terms of build quality than anything
else on the market at the same price. It's also no better - and
while it's a competent performer my personal feeling is that it
lacks a bit of sparkle. You could spend a bit more and go for the
deluxe version - but it looks remarkably similar to the Rosedale.
Now, that's not to say they're the same horns - but they're certainly
(more or less) the same design. Single cup arms on the bell keys,
screw-in peg on the bottom bow, oval pearls on G# and side F#, crook
clamp screw on the right hand side of the receiver...
I've been fiddling with Chinese horns for long enough to know that
horns that look alike may well be very different from each other
in the way they play - but given the playability of the Rosedale
versus the basic Sakkusu and the price-competitiveness of Gear4Music,
I have a sneaking suspicion that it might be the better deal in
more ways than one. I won't know for sure until I've seen a deluxe
Sakkusu on the workbench...