Thomann Low Jazz L baritone saxophone
Guide price: £2400
Date of manufacture: 2020 (serial range: B16xxx)
Date reviewed: September 2020
I get an awful lot of enquiries relating to the
prospective purchase of a saxophone. I'm sure that most of them
come from word of mouth or recommendations from one or other of
the forums, but a good percentage come from people who've read my
site from start to finish and yet still need that extra something
to convince them they're making the right choice. I completely understand
that - its something I've done myself...drop a review site owner
a little email to ask if they have any specific recommendations.
And I know where the motivation comes from - it's that fear that
you might end up buying a lemon just because your needs don't fit
the run-of-the-mill requirements.
So when a prospective buyer emailed me to ask for a recommendation
for a modern low Bb baritone my first thought was "What d'you
want one of those for??". Let's face it, most players who hanker
after a baritone want to be able to pump out fat low As - and those
who really want a low Bb tend to do so because they're after a particular
tone (typically vintage), or because their style of playing simply
doesn't require that extra semitone...and the extra weight around
the neck that comes with it.
It was into the latter camp that this buyer fell, and I had but
two options to throw his way; get a Mauriat...or take a chance on
the Thomann low Bb baritone. I'd heard good things about the low
A version, so I figured the low Bb couldn't be all that bad...?
Besides, they have a very good returns policy - and maybe the smart
thing to do would be to buy one, whizz it down to the workshop and
let me take a gander at it...and send it back if it fails to impress.
And this is exactly what he did.
I'm kinda used to clients standing in the workshop
with an anxious look on their face, but this is usually because
they can feel their wallet lightening by the second while I groan
with barely-concealed despair at what's been put on the bench. But
this poor chap was anxious for an entirely different reason. He'd
bought a horn 'on spec' that could potentially be the answer to
all his needs - and it all hinged on whether I gave it a yay or
a nay. So let's see what he got...
This example is the L model - which, presumably,
stands for lacquered. And a nice job they've made of it too. There's
another model - the PB (Pure Brass) - which is unlacquered but factory
tarnished...if you like that sort of thing.
The horn is of single pillar construction with suitably large pillar
bases, and plates for the palm and side cup keys - all of which
look to be very neatly fitted indeed. The toneholes are plain drawn,
and all have nicely-finished rims with no signs of burrs or roughness.
Being a modern horn it has a detachable bell, and being a modern
baritone it has a detachable lower top bow (pigtail). Personally
I prefer to see the top bow itself being the point of detachment
as it allows a repairer to get tooling down the bore without having
to take the bell off - and given that baritones are prone to getting
knocks and dents in the body tube, it's a useful feature to have.
But I suppose a detachable pigtail makes it a lots easier to clean
the tubing out (which can get pretty grimy after a while). I'll
be advising the client to get a Hodge swab and start using it immediately
- if you can keep this part of the bore clean it'll mean far fewer
problems down the years.
get all the usual fixtures: there's an adjustable metal thumb hook
(replaced with a plastic one by the client), a large flat plastic
thumb rest, a nice big sling ring (18/11mm), a detachable semicircular
compound bell key pillar, a full set of adjustable bumper felts
and additional removable guards for the chromatic/side F# and the
side C. The latter is a nice feature as it's quite an exposed key
on a baritone.
The body tube clamps are worth an extra mention, being two-part
rings. It means they can be built more sturdily and aren't such
a faff should they ever need to be removed.
Similarly the pigtail brace is reassuringly substantial,
as is the cross-brace that secures the pigtail to the body. These
braces are particularly important as they provide strength and stiffness
to the top bow assembly when assembling the horn...especially if
you're given to fitting the mouthpiece after you've fitted the crook.
This always a risky proposition on a baritone, it really can put
a great deal of stress on the tubing - so a much better bet is to
fit the mouthpiece to the crook, then fit the crook to the body.
nice feature that's worth a mention is the bell brace.
At first glance it look like your bog-standard triple-point brace,
but if you look carefully (the pointy arrow is a bit of a giveaway)
you can see that there's an additional arm that extends to the apex
of the body tube. So, a four-point bell brace. We've seen these
before - and they're a very welcome addition, but it's nice to see
one at this price point. It makes the bell that much stiffer and
helps to prevent it being knocked out of line from a sideways swipe.
Gets the old thumbs up. I'm also happy with the size of the mounting
back to the toneholes, I have to say how pleased I was to see that
they were all reasonably level. Now, that doesn't mean perfect -
but very few new horns can meet that challenge, so it's always good
to see someone make a half-decent stab at it, especially on a budget
Here's the low C - and you can see it's not too bad at all. Certainly
a great deal better than some of the toneholes I've seen on horns
costing quite a bit more. And this wasn't the only example on the
horn - but neither was it the worst. I checked a number and found
that at worst they matched what most other quality manufacturers
are putting out, and at best they rather exceeded the mark.
All things considered (especially the price) I'm more or less happy
And I've just realised I'm a good few paragraphs
in and I haven't have a moan yet. So here's one.
Look at that mouthpiece cork - is that not possibly the cruddiest
cork you've ever seen? It's got more holes than a piece of Swiss
cheese. The problem with using cork like this is that it tends not
to last very long, and the more holes you have in it, the more chance
there is that they will form an air path underneath the mouthpiece.
A leak, in other words.
OK, good quality cork isn't cheap - but there's probably only a
quid or so per mouthpiece cork in it...and with an asking price
of over two grand you'd think they could up the cork budget a tad.
really interesting, though, is that some of the larger holes appear
to be filled with some sort of silicone filler. I thought it might
just be the glue seeping through, but when I removed the cork (to
put a decent one on) I found that it wasn't the same stuff. So does
that mean they're using 'C grade' cork and then paying someone to
rub silicone sealant into it? Seems like a lot of fuss and bother
when you might as well fire the employee who rubs silicone into
the corks and just buy decent cork with the money you'd have saved...
And I'm not done yet...
a close peek at the tenon sleeve. Notice the slightly ragged appearance?
This is, unfortunately, very common on budget horns - they fail
to mask off the crook tenon sleeve when spraying the crook with
lacquer. It's not that big of a deal...it'll wear off in a very
short time - but while it does it'll make the crook joint feel quite
stiff and sticky...and the lacquer could be thick enough to disguise
an otherwise loose joint.
It didn't in this case, fortunately. I removed the lacquer and the
joint still sealed well enough.
I think that wraps it up for the bodywork, so
let's have a look at the action.
The very first thing I noticed was that that adjustable key guides
have been fitted. This is a very posh feature. If you think having
cupholders in a car is pretty swish, then these things would equate
to having muffin holders. C'mon, admit it, you'd buy a car that
had muffin holders fitted as standard.
they're admittedly of little use to the player - they're more of
a convenience for the repairer, but it's still nice to see them
fitted. But hang on a mo - what's that stuff they've used for buffering?
Could it be...? Can it be...? No, surely not! It's not....Elastoplast,
is it?? Bloody well looks like it to me. It looks exactly like a
So I'm going to give a point for fitting adjustable key guides -
and then I'm going to take it straight back...not so much for using
something that looks like a plaster (if it does the job and holds
up, who cares?) but because they made such a messy job of it.
And then I'm going to give the point back - because there's another
adjustable key guide fitted to the low C/Eb key. I'm nothing if
not fair, you know...
I should add that you shouldn't fiddle about with these guides unless
you really know what you're doing. If you decide you want to raise
them up a little you could end up putting extra stress on the key
barrels. It won't do much harm...but it may throw out the seat of
any pad connected to the barrel. As with most things about a horn's
action, it's all about balance.
are no stack adjusters fitted, which is a bit of a shame, but you
do get the usual pair on the G#/Bis Bb as well as one for the low
B to C# link and the front top F key. You also get an extra adjuster
between the low B and Bb down by the key cups. This is a very handy
feature to have, given the amount of flex present in such long key
barrels. It allows you to adjust the regulation 'on the fly'...which
simply means playing the horn and making incremental adjustments
until the notes pop out cleanly.
There's another adjuster up at the touchpiece end, and I'm a bit
less keen about this.
you can see, it's a standard tilting bell key table, and centre
shot is the adjuster for setting the regulation between the B and
Bb. It seems like a handy feature but in practice it's impossibly
fiddly to get it just right using the adjuster alone - and you're
better off with just a simple tab that can be bent to suit. Best
practice for setting this adjuster up is to set it just a touch
too high, then sand the cork down to suit. When setting it up in
combination with the other adjuster down by the key cups, you back
the lower adjuster off, set the touchpiece adjuster up as best as
possible and then dial in the lower adjuster.
I don't generally recommend that players fiddle with adjusters unless
they know what they're doing, but in the case of this lower adjuster
there's really not a lot to go wrong. You give it a tweak, play
the horn, tweak it again...and so on. If if starts to get worse,
back the adjuster off and start again. It's worth making a small
mark on the adjuster before you start, so that if all gets a bit
too much you can simply put it back to where it started from.
There are often similar adjusters on some low A baritones, but I
wouldn't advise you fiddle with these. Regulating between two keys
is simple enough, but between three is rather more tricky. You have
Incidentally, the setup of the table isn't the
best I've seen - the C# connector sits at a very odd angle at rest.
It looks wrong - however, the mech works absolutely fine. In fact
it's really quite good.
I'm also none too impressed with the length of that buffer cork
on the G#. That's just asking to be knocked off. Better to go with
a shorter cork and stick a thick felt disc to the body.
Speaking of which, aside from the mouthpiece cork
and the weird Elastoplast stuff, the cork and felt work was reasonably
neat and tidy - and definitely a step up for the usual fare I see
on cheaper horns.
also like the use of sockets for the corks on the palm keys (same
as are fitted to the lower stack - but not the top stack, which
just has plain key feet). It's not what I'd call a 'necessary' feature,
but it's a nice touch - makes you feel that someone's put a bit
of thought and flair into the design of the horn.
As for those key pearls, they're proper mother
of pearl. The main stack pearls are slightly concave - bar the Bis
Bb, which is slightly domed - and there are flat oval pearls fitted
to the G# and side/chromatic F# touchpieces.
a standard swivelling octave key mech fitted. Nothing much to say
about this other than it's exceptionally well-built. Not a hint
of free play, in either the key barrels or the swivel arm. That's
Note the cross-brace, and in particular the large mounts at each
end. Very nice indeed.
I suppose I should also mention that although it's not shown, the
octave key touchpiece is the usual sculpted affair that follows
the shape of the thumb rest - and while I'm clearing up details
I ought to point out that the action is powered by a set of blued
And now it's time for my traditional whinge about
point screws - and the Thomann has set itself up for a proper tongue-lashing.
They've fitted spear-headed point screws.
all the designs of point screws, this has to be the most...well,
pointless (yeah, I know, I know). I really can't see the benefit
of the damned things - but that's what's fitted, so you'll just
have to get on with it. And I've seen these screws before, on the
System 76 alto (we'll come back to that later...).
As soon as I saw them I figured there'd be a bodge somewhere, so
I pulled a key off and dug around inside the key barrel. Yup, sure
enough, out pops a piece of cork. It's the old story...fit a shonky
point screw then stuff a lump of cork or leather into the key barrel
to hide the fact that the screw's incapable of doing its job.
But wait a mo...(and here's the knockout punch
for this horn) the action on this horn is tighter than a bandleader.
There's barely a wobble to be found anywhere. Not on the rod screw
nor the point screw action. In fact it's at least as good, if not
better, than the action on a Yanagisawa - and that's saying something.
what's with the pieces of cork? I guess they popped them in there
by force of habit - but the fact of the matter is that the key barrels
have been drilled/reamed accurately enough to allow the point screws
to work like parallel points. Yes, they have certain
disadvantages - but for the time being they're as snug as they
need to be.
While we're on the subject of screws, take a look at this rod screw
(on the side C cup key). See that little indentation just below
the screw slot? That's another bodge, that is - and it's a very
common one on cheap horns - it splays out the head of the screw
and makes for a tighter fit in the pillar.
here's the curious thing. The screws fit fine, they don't need to
be splayed out. The pillars have been drilled accurately, there's
no need for any bodges. I wonder if perhaps it's a way of locking
the rod screws in place - but, again, provided they're done up nice
and snug it shouldn't be needed. All it really means is someone
in the factory has completely wasted their time. Very strange.
And as we're talking about the side keys I was very pleased to see
that they feature plain fork and pin connectors from the lever keys
to the cup keys. Very nice, very simple, very slick and reliable.
finally, there's a set of good quality pads fitted - Pisoni Mypads,
no less - and they all seemed to be well set. Better still, when
I removed one to see how well it had been glued in I was greeted
with a sight that fair brought a small tear to my eye. This is what
I like to see - I want none of that "li'll dab'll do ya"
malarkey when it comes to the pad glue...I want to see it positively
lathered on. OK, so it's hot-melt glue rather than shellac - but
that's just fine, all that really matters is that there's enough
of it to fully cover and support the base of the pad in the key
cup. I'm very pleased indeed. And so should you be if you buy one
of these horns, because it means the pads will maintain their seat
over a prolonged period of time - and if any need adjusting, your
repairer won't end up cursing.
Rounding off the package is the case. And what
a case. It has a plastic shell - it's not especially rigid like
a Hiscox or a Walt Johnson, but it's streets ahead of usual bit
of hardboard covered in some sort of nylon fabric.
interior is either expanded foam or polystyrene covered with the
usually furry black fabric, into which the baritone fits like a
glove. There's a decent-sized accessory compartment and some individual
slots for the crook and a mouthpiece. And it has proper catches.
Not two, not three but four of them that fit flush into the aluminium
trim when closed. And there's a pair of wheels built in to the case
- and pretty robust they look too.
It's a fantastic case - and here's the thing...as it's made to take
a low Bb baritone there's a reasonable chance that it might fit
some vintage baritones that have keys on the right of the bell.
OK. so you may have to do a bit of modding here and there...but
where else can you buy a decent low Bb bari case these days that
doesn't cost an arm and a leg?
It doesn't look like Thomann sell the case on its own - but I've
Under the fingers the Thomann feels as nimble
as any modern bari, and rather slicker than the price suggests.
The spring tension out of the box was pretty good, but a couple
of keys had been set a little on the light side. Bari keys are big
- there's a fair bit of weight to them - so you can't set them up
like an alto or a tenor an expect to get away with...especially
on the tricky balanced keys like the G# and the low C#. A few adjustments
here and there sorted it all out.
And...there's really nothing else to report. The ergonomics are
fine (for most people, I'm sure) and it's really quite a responsive
action. No complaints at all.
The weight is worth a mention. It's significantly lighter than a
low A baritone, but a fair bit heavier than vintage Bb one. That's
only to be expected, what with the extra keywork and the beefy fittings.
But it does rather catch you by surprise. There's a sort of sense
that because it's a low Bb bari it's going to be 'vintage light'.
Call it an optical illusion.
Tonewise it's quite a bright baritone. At least
that was my first impression.
I'll admit I was a bit surprised - low Bb baritones are supposed
to be all about the warmth and depth of tone, aren't they? Well
yeah, but since when you have you seen a low Bb bari that wasn't
built before the late 1970's? Things have moved on since the days
of the old Conns, Martins and Bueschers (at al) - and there's really
no reason at all why a modern low Bb baritone should sound laid-back
as its forebears. But then again it's common knowledge that a low
Bb bari has more 'roundness' than its low A counterpart.
And then I worked out what was going on. Yes, it's a touch on the
bright side but almost all of this is down to how the upper end
plays. You know how it is, an older bari generally does very well
in the lower octave - gets a bit pinched from mid D to F and then
gets quite nasal from octave G upwards. Modern low A baritones are
far more even-toned - though admittedly it comes at the expense
of some richness. I just wasn't expecting to hear the same evenness
on a low Bb bari.
Took me a few minutes to get my head around that, after which I
found that it warmed up nicely. Don't get me wrong though, it's
not going to give you what, say, a Martin will - but it's going
to give you a bit more than a typical low A job. Think of it as
a bridge between the vintage and the modern.
Any niggles? Well, I found there a bit of a 'croak' on the top G
(in a kinda soulful way) and the middle D seemed a little dull -
but after another half an hour or so of playing it both of these
niggles faded into the background.
And then it got warmer still. At this point I can't be sure whether
nostalgia had kicked in (memories of my old Buescher and Martin
baritones) or that my embouchure had simply wrapped itself around
the horn's core tone - but it really started to mellow out. And
what a joy the low B and Bb notes were. Without that extra length
of bell they sounded so punchy and vibrant....like 'proper' notes
rather than just stopping points on the way to the low A. In short,
it's immensely playable. No problems with tuning either.
- after all that - the moment of truth. What do I think of the Thomann
Low Jazz baritone?
I really struggled to find anything to moan about. I mean...I really
struggled. Sure, I took a pop at the mouthpiece cork, the lacquer
on the crook tenon and what looks like bits of sticking plaster
in the key guides - but c'mon, even for someone as picky as me,
that's really scraping the bottom of the critique barrel.
Yeah, OK, so the point screws aren't the best in the world - but
(for the time being) they're doing OK.
The playability is fine, the ergonomics are no problem, the tuning's
good...and the tone, while being a little on the bright side, is
eminently workable. But the build quality just shines and shines.
I'm truly, honestly impressed - and given that this appears to be
a Taiwanese-built horn there's a very good chance that the build
quality will be consistent between examples.
The client that bought this horn said that there
was some gossip on 'the forums' that perhaps these horns aren't
made in Taiwan...rather they're made in China. Well, you know what?
Who gives a damn when it's this good? It's up there with some horns
that cost two or three times as much money. In fact it shames some
of them. It warms my old heart to see this sort of build quality
at this kind of price point - and let me tell you this; it very
seriously raises the bar by which other budget horns must be judged.
I know £2400 isn't a small sum of money, but it's not a lot
of a dosh for a baritone - and in terms of what else is on the market
it's very clearly at the cheaper end of the scale. If whoever makes
this horn can ship out this sort of quality at this kind of price
I think it's only fair to ask other manufacturers to meet this standard.
How about the competition? That's an easy one - there is no competition.
No-one else, aside from Mauriat (at least as far as I'm aware),
makes a mainstream low Bb baritone sax...and they're asking five
grand for it. And if you've read any of my Mauriat reviews you'll
know that I'm very less than impressed with the action on their
However, the elephant in the room is that this bari only goes down
to low Bb - and while there's a small market for such horns the
vast majority of players want a bari that goes to low A.
So you have to ask yourself - if the low Bb version is this well
built...what's the low A (the BariPro) version like? It very likely
comes out of the same factory (the fixtures and fittings look identical),
and if it's built anything like the Bb version it'll be bloody good.
And it's a mere £2500. I've asked Thomann to confirm whether
the low A version is made by the same people who make the Bb bari
but, as with my enquiry about the availability of the case on its
own, they haven't got back to me.
* Had a reply to my query - well half a reply
anyway. I'm told that the Low A model is made in the same Taiwanese
factory as the Bb model - so that's excellent news. However, they
didn't mention the case at all.
In terms of the competition for a low A model
there's the sax.co.uk Sakkusu at £1300 - but this is unashamedly
Chinese...with all the issues that that entails. Then there's the
Sakkusu Deluxe at £1700. I haven't seen one yet, so you're
on your own - and then there's a big jump to the Elkhart SXB at
£2700. But why bother? If the Thomann BariPro is only nearly
as good as the Bb version, it'll be a complete steal at the price.
As it happens, I have a client who own a BariPro. He's a professional
player, and he's delighted with it - and thus far (and it's been
about five years now) he hasn't needed to bring it in for servicing.
Finally, is it a Mauriat? I doubt it. OK, yes,
the spear-headed point screws have been seen on a Mauriat System
76 alto - so I suppose it's possible that there's some connection
with the people that made this bari, but it could be something as
tenuous as simply having bought a load of point screws from them.
But what swings it for me, funnily enough, is that this horn is
too well-made and too cheap to be a Mauriat.
With that said, there can't be very many manufacturers turning out
modern low Bb baritones - the market simply isn't big enough....but
if there is a connection it still doesn't explain (to me, at least)
why the Mauriat costs twice as much. That's about as much thought
as I've given the matter, and I'm happy with that.
You're also likely to find this horn (and its
low A counterpart) available from a variety of sellers under different
names - and at different prices. It's essentially a 'boutique' horn
- one that can be bought by anyone and rebadged as required. You'd
have to do your homework though, but given some of the very distinctive
features on this horn it shouldn't be too hard to spot a match.
So there you have it, the Thomann Low Jazz baritone.
One of the best bargains I've ever seen. If I needed a low Bb baritone,
I'd buy this one.