Jupiter JPS-547GL soprano saxophone
Guide price: £999
Date of manufacture: 2015
Date reviewed: December 2015
The latest budget soprano, from the company
that all but invented the genre
You'd have thought that after a decade of Chinese
Ultra-Cheap horns saturating the market, there'd be no chance of
selling a student horn that's built anywhere else in the world.
Sure, some of the Chinese stuff is dreadful - some of it's not too
bad...and some of it's even really quite good. But in every case
it's way cheaper than the competition, even if you have to factor
in the cost of post-purchase setup or some remedial work.
But not everyone wants to go to those sort of lengths, and plenty
of people don't mind paying a bit extra for the assurance that what
they've bought isn't going to require any additional work before
it can be played. It might not necessarily play any better than
a cheap horn, but at least it's more likely to keep working for
And when it comes to student quality instruments
of reasonable quality at affordable prices, Jupiter have pretty
much got it all sewn up. They've got a history (going back at least
to the 1980s), they've got a reputation, a global presence and a
catalogue that used to range from the budget end of the market right
through to the pro sector - though it seems they've pulled back
from making pro-spec horns. There's a lot to like - on paper - so
let's put one of their horns on the bench and see if it all adds
Cheap soprano saxes have always occupied a rather
special niche in the marketplace; on the one hand they function
as student instruments...built for and bought buy beginners who
have a hankering to play this particular member of the family. On
the other hand they also cater for more experienced players who
sometimes need to double up on one or other of the less common saxes,
but not to the extent that it's worth their while spending a great
deal of money on a horn. Baritones share this market too - as do,
to a far lesser extent, sopraninos.
All good and well, but there's a fly in the ointment - because the
smaller an instrument is, the greater the need for accuracy...and
the sooner you'll notice where the money runs out.
A dodgy note on a bari is a mere foible - but a bad note on a soprano
can make grown men burst into tears.
The first thing that caught my eye is that this
is a single-piece soprano.
For many years, this style of body was all that was available (curved
models notwithstanding) - and then someone (Yanagisawa, apparently,
with the S880)
hit upon the idea of fitting a detachable crook or neck. But I've
always preferred the single-piece body. I'm not sure why; it's perhaps
because I feel they look a little more elegant...or at least as
elegant as a soprano sax can be - and because I always seem to prefer
the way they play. They just seem more solid in tone...more connected.
It's also one less thing to go wrong. Crook sockets can be tetchy
things at the best of times, and unless they're a perfect fit they
can knock a few percent off the tonal quality. Once they get this
small there's less surface area to play around with and the chances
of a leak developing rise dramatically...as does the effect when
it has one.
And it costs money to make a good crook socket...and on a cheap
horn I'd rather the pounds/dollars were spent elsewhere.
The construction is single pillar, with a couple
of plates for the palm and side keys. All very neatly fitted, with
good, clean solder joints.
Most of the toneholes are drawn, with those above top B being silver
soldered. This is fairly common practice these days - most likely
due to the technical difficulties in pulling such a small tone hole
out of relatively thick metal. Being silver soldered there won't
be any issues with selective galvanic corrosion, which affects soft-soldered
And they were all level too, though I did note some slight rounding
on a couple of the rims - most likely due to excessive buffing.
This isn't ideal, it means that the rim will be thinner in some
areas than others - but as long as the rim itself is level there
won't be any real-world problems.
a straight horn there are fewer body features than you'll find on
a curved one, but you do get an adjustable (plastic) thumb hook
and large domed brass thumb rest.
This is removable (held in place with a small grub screw). I'm not
really sure why it's removable - offhand I can't remember whether
or not it prevents access to the octave key's lower pivot screw,
but that would be about the only reason for this feature. Still,
it's always nice to have features...and it means it's a breeze to
fit a custom thumb rest, should you be so inclined to want one.
Finishing up the body you get a decently sized sling ring, which
is bigger and chunkier than I've seen on many larger horns. Go figure.
All things considered I was quite impressed with
the design and build quality of the body for the price, but that's
only half the story. Now it's time to turn to the keywork.
Things weren't quite so rosy here. My standard 'wiggle test' (grip
a key cup and give it a shake from side-to-side) showed some free
play on the main stack keys.
In an ideal world there'd be none at all, but that kind of accuracy
tends to cost money - so with budget horns it's not so much a case
of whether there's any play or not, but how much there is. Fortunately
it wasn't much, and while I'll knock a few points off for it, I'm
not going to cry in my beer.
I noticed some free place in the octave mechanism.
It's of the ubiquitous swivelling type, which is a nice mechanism
- but one that doesn't tolerate too much free play in the build.
And there was a fair bit of it in the Jupiter's mech. Luckily most
of it was confined to the tips of the swivel bar, and you can see
in the photo that there's a visible gap between the split ball head
of the swivel bar and its accompanying socket.
I say luckily because it's pretty easy to deal with inaccuracies
here. The 'old trick' is to stick a screwdriver blade into the slot
on the ball and splay it open - but it tends to chew the end of
the ball up and you run the risk of snapping half of it off. It
also still leaves you with metal-to-metal contact, which tends to
wear and get rattly no matter how fastidious you are with lubricating
it. Better by far to pop a Teflon sleeve over the ball...though
it may be necessary to ream out the socket hole a tad. It's not
an expensive job.
key pearls are plastic, slightly concave, and there's no domed Bis
Bb pearl. However, you get a teardrop-shaped front top F key (the
Jupiter goes up to top F#), but the placement's a little bit odd.
It's set way back over the Aux.B key, and because of the design
of the key it's not really possible to move the touchpiece any closer
to the B key. This means there'll always be a significant gap between
the B and F keys, which makes it rather more difficult if you want
to roll your forefinger up for the F. It's fine if you lift your
finger and move it up...but rolling, I'm afraid, is verboten.
Note the adjusting screws for the regulation.
These are very handy but they do rather rely on there being no play
in the keywork. That said, if you do have play in the keywork then
they come in handy for evening out the inevitable compromises made
necessary by having to take up the slack. It's a great deal easier
(and quicker) to turn a screw than it is to faff about sanding bits
of cork - especially when setting up an action that's more 'suck
it and see' rather than 'by the book'.
The lower stack also has a full set of regulation adjusters, but
I wasn't very happy about the state of the corkwork beneath them.
used some sort of synthetic cork (which is fine), but it's rather
thick and squishy (which isn't fine). They've also used a very poor
glue, and every single one of them was loose. This is also not fine.
Regulation buffers, be they cork, felt or synthetic,
need to fulfil several functions. They sit between two connected
keys and have to transmit motion from one key to another - and must
do so with repeatable accuracy, with as little friction as possible
and with the least amount of noise. So they need to be thin, tough,
secure and quiet. Repairers are always arguing about which material
is best; some favour cork, some prefer felt or synthetic material
and still other opt for Teflon - but the one thing they all agree
on is that they should be as thin as possible and very firmly attached
to the key. If they're also quiet, so much the better.
These corks, though, fail on just about every point - though they're
undoubtedly quiet. I'll give them that.
The slight free play in the action makes things worse. By the time
you've pressed a key down, taken up the slack in the action, passed
on the motion to a piece of squishy cork that might not be in the
same place it was when you last pressed the keys down, it's anybody's
guess what will happen...though my money's on a dirty great leak
at the other end of the key stack. And they've missed a trick here
- because if you've got a bit of slop in the action then the one
thing you really, really need is really thin, solid adjuster buffers.
It won't be perfect, but your odds of being able to find a working
regulation compromise will have increased exponentially. It's a
shame, because that's a nice set of adjusters there. Oh, and you
also have adjusters on the Bis Bb/G# bridge and the low C#.
I should point out that none of the other corks on the horn were
loose, if a bit scruffy in places - though one was missing from
the top Eb key (and this was a brand new horn).
a tilting bell key table, and this is mounted on a single compound
pillar. This design is a bit precarious - there's not much meat
at the base, and in the event of a knock while the horn's in its
case it's quite common to find this pillar gets pushed backwards
(due to hammer action). On the plus side,the G# lever arm's lower
pillar (just out of shot) adds a bit of rigidity to the structure.
Further down the horn there's a key guide for the bell key barrels,
which lends them a bit of support...or at least it would do if it
weren't for the fact that one of the barrels wasn't so much sitting
in the guide as hovering above it. It's a minor point, as the guide
is really there to help prevent the barrels from being bent while
handling the horn (or in the case of a bit of a knock), but there
Note the point screws. These are proper shoulderless points. Jupiter
have been using this pillar/screw combo for years, and it allows
you to take up any wear in the key barrels as and when it becomes
noticeable. However, the rest of the point screws on the horn are
of the usual cheapo pseudo point type - but I'm at least very pleased
to note that the key barrels have been accurately drilled, so there's
no free play from the off. Very impressive, for a budget horn -
and a very great deal better than Mauriat's previous efforts with
these type of pivot screws. Given that both companies are in the
same area (more or less), maybe the boffins from Mauriat should
pop round to the Jupiter factory to see how its done...
Finishing up the action you get a set of reasonable
quality pads that seem to have been quite well set, though I noted
some stickiness on the smaller ones - and the action is powered
by blued steel springs. And it's here where things fall down somewhat.
I had two of these sopranos come in for a setup within a month of
each other, and both for the same reason; the action felt awful.
And it was.
It's not uncommon to find that new horns have been set with quite
a heavy action - even the best makes are guilty of this - which
is why it always pays to shell out for a proper tweak. Makes a big
difference, and can sometimes completely transform the way an instrument
feels. But there wasn't much helping the Jupiter.
It wasn't that bad below G, but the top stack was dreadful, and
no matter what I did to the springs I just couldn't get any real
zip and zing out of them. It's a combination of the key geometry
and the length of the springs...there's something not quite right.
And it's not so much that the action feels heavy, it's more that
the springs seem to have a 'progressive' feel to them. That's to
say that when you press a key down, you'll feel a certain amount
of resistance before the key suddenly gives way and closes. It's
almost switchlike in feel. But on the Jupiter it felt like the springs
were constantly pushing back at you...and the further you pressed
the key down, the more they pushed back. Very odd.
I dare say this can be corrected, but I rather suspect it would
require replacing some of the springs - perhaps with stainless or
even phosphor bronze ones. And of all the quibbles I had with this
horn, this was by far the most irritating. Aside from that issue
the keywork fits nicely under the fingers, with the only bone of
contention being the excessive reach required to hit the front top
I'd say it's a slightly stiff blow. That's different from 'resistant'
insomuch as a resistant horn can still still be punchy and bright...and
the Jupiter isn't. My very first impression was that of having a
'frog in the throat' - that slight gritty huskiness in the voice
that often heralds the onset of a sore throat or a cold. That's
not to say it's unpleasant (the tone, not a sore throat), and it
has the advantage of reining in the soprano's natural brightness...which
is a tonal quality that can very easily run into shrillness in the
hands of a beginner. It's also quite even-toned across the range,
though for once I found myself wishing it could perhaps get a bit
shouty...at least at the top end. I had no problems with the tuning.
When all is said and done I feel the JPS-547 is
a bit of a mixed bag.
I'd say the build quality is just about bordering on under par for
the price, but only just (and taking the competition into account).
There are some good features, and one or two things that could be
improved with a few simple and inexpensive tweaks.
Some aspects of the action are quite good, and I was rather impressed
with the quality of finishing (build, lacquer etc.). I'm also very,
very impressed by the case. It's absolutely brilliant. Just look
at it - it's a real, proper, no-nonsense, down-to-earth, traditional
box-style case...complete with proper catches. You even get metal
feet and corner trims, and fully-enclosing plastic bumpers on the
ends of the case.
It's not a small case (for a soprano), but you at least get plenty
of storage space for your bits and bobs. The case alone gets an
11..and that's out of 10. Fantastic.
But the wheat must be weighed with the chaff,
and the amply-proportioned chanteuse must vocalise...and you've
got to look at what else is available for the price.
The first thing to consider is that this horn costs nigh on a grand
- so it's not so cheap. Then again there's not much else available
cheaper that isn't built in China...and we're all well aware of
what a minefield that can be.
But then again there's a world of difference between a no-name ebay
special and an Ultra Cheap horn presented via a reputable dealer
- and while these are likely to have a few build quality issues
it's not as though I can say the Jupiter has none. You might, arguably,
do just as well opting for a cheaper Chinese horn of reasonable
quality and spending the difference having it properly tweaked and
set up. Sure, you probably won't get the quality of finish, or the
outstanding case - but you might well find (and in fact you probably
will) that it's a better blow - because when all is said and done,
the 547 isn't a particularly joyful horn to play.