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Borgani Pearl Gold tenor saxophone

Borgani Pearl Gold tenorOrigin: Italy (www.borgani.com)
Guide price: £2600
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: 2004
Date reviewed: September 2005

Another esoteric horn from the flamboyant Borgani marque, squarely aimed at the retro hornster

I have something of an admission to make.
When I last reviewed a Borgani tenor it was the Ponzol model. If you read the review you'll see just how impressed I was with the horn, despite some misgivings over the build quality.

A few months back I had the opportunity to work on a more up to date Borgani tenor - but I was so disappointed by it that, quite honestly, I lacked the enthusiasm to review it.
Having been presented with another opportunity to work on an even more up to date model I felt I really couldn't put off the inevitable - and hunkered down with a screwdriver to expose the horn in all its glory...or lack thereof.

I would say that this version lacks the elegance of the Ponzol model. I'm not entirely sure why - I suspect it's a combination of the pearlised finished and the larger-than-normal bell flare (being 6 1/2 inches to the normal 6 inches). It's not a great deal of difference, but then perhaps it doesn't take much.

One of the first things that strikes you about this horn is its weight, or rather its lack of it. I suspect this is largely due to its relatively simple construction - with individual pillars as opposed to ribs - but I would imagine that some weight is lost in the slight flimsiness seen elsewhere. It's not something you might be immediately conscious of, but if you happen to have, say, a Yamaha YTS62 to hand it's well worth making a comparison. If you intend to stand for three hours with a saxophone hanging from your neck you might find the weight factor to be of significance.

The overall build quality is about the same as the Ponzol - that's to say that in places it's good, and in other places it's a bit less than good. The pillars have sturdy, wide bases, but some of the fittings are a bit less than solid.
One feature that caught my eye was the lock screw for the adjustable thumbhook. It's a split nut. Nothing wrong with that per se, but what are you gonna do when you want to adjust the hook? Most people can lay their hands on a large screwdriver...which pretty much covers just about every other adjustable thumbhook screw, but you'd need a special tool to adjust this one...and unless that comes with the horn you're liable to make do with whatever you can lay your hands on (and when you have to adjust a thumbhook, you really have to adjust it, right there and then). In my experience, adjusting a split nut with anything but the proper tool always ends in tears.

I noted a few slightly warped tone holes. Nothing outrageous mind you, and certainly an improvement to those on the Ponzol model. A slight dressing was all that was required to bring them to level.

Borgani bell stayBearing in mind the slightly wider bell, my attention was drawn to the bell brace. You'd be surprised at how much flex there is in this brace, and I feel that a more substantial affair would provide more security in the event of a knock to the bell. I didn't notice the same degree of flex on the Ponzol version, but that horn had a soldered bell joint...this one is detachable.

Borgani bell key pillarIn my review of the Borgani Ponzol I pointed out the apparent weakness of the bell key compound pillar. As fitted to that horn it comprised just a single arm, and I felt that this lent this rather vulnerable pillar very little support indeed. It seems that either my comments were taken to heart, or someone on the design team spotted the same potential problem, and so now this pillar sports an arm that connects to the body just above the G key tone hole. All well and good, and I certainly won't criticise the nature of this improvement - though I will point out that rather than make a whole new pillar it looks as though the new arm has simply been soldered onto the original pillar, and none to neatly either. Look too at where the right hand arm meets the body, and the cushion of solder that indicates a poor fit to the body. I can't say that this necessarily means a weak joint, nor is it particularly obtrusive - but it's still a bit sloppy considering the price of the horn.

Carrying on with this theme of neatness, or lack of it, take a look at this shot of the A key. Note where the fingertouch arm attaches to the key barrel, and then compare it to where the Bis Bb cup arm attaches to its barrel. See the difference? One joint is neat and sharply defined, the other is, well, blobby. I certainly can't Borgani A key armmark it down for functionality, but, again, these horns are expensive, and that ought to indicate a degree of precision and craftsmanship. Note the Bis Bb key touchpiece (just visible in the bottom right corner) is a very unusual design - a hefty brass dome as opposed to the usual dinky pearl. It's excellent, it's a real winner in terms of functionality.

There's a sense of flimsiness to the keywork, and yet in places it's almost over-engineered. For example, the link that connects the B to the Bb, and the G# key to the B and C# spatulas - on any other horn these would be quite thin brass plates, but here we have quite substantial pieces of metal. No complaints there (save for a slightly badly fitted G# pearl), the spatulas take a good deal of pounding down the years and beefy links will help to maintain the regulation. Likewise the low B and C keys have double arms that add a touch of stability to these large key cups.

Borgani bell key spatulaI mentioned an improvement in the accuracy of the tone holes, but I must offset this with a note of a couple of warped key cups. To be fair, this is a significantly less serious problem than warped tone holes (though it has the exact same effect, i.e. a leak) and it could be down to a sloppy repair rather than poor manufacturing - it's not unknown for some repairers to tap a key cup with a hide mallet in order to 'level' a pad.
What was undoubtedly due to a poor setup were a few key cups that were angled incorrectly, leaving leaks at the rear of the cup. Examination of the pad impressions showed that this was a fault from new rather than something that had occurred over a period of time.

I made mention of the archaic point screws used in the Ponzol tenor review - the old Conn type, with the lock nut. I was greatly pleased to see that these had gone, but was equally disappointed to find that they'd been replaced with 'pseudo' point screws. I've said it time and again, and I'll keep saying it, these are next to useless when it comes to providing a means of taking up free play in the action. Indeed, this horn had free play on the points already...not something you'd expect to see on a two year old horn. Trying to take up this play with this type of screw is pretty pointless (nice pun there), and there'll come a time when the screws just can't be adjusted any further. Most players know just how flaky the Bis Bb key regulation can be when the A key comes down on it, and having free play - even a little of it - at each end of the Bis Bb key barrel just isn't going to help matters.
Fortunately these screws can be removed, thrown away in disgust, and replaced with proper point screws.
I also noted some excess free play in some of the rod screw barrels. Again, this amount of wear didn't correspond to two year's worth of playing, especially as the rod screws were well lubricated. A spot of free play on the Auxiliary F (the key above the low F) is a surefire way of introducing leaks that have a knock-on effect right down to the bottom end, and even the extra bracing arm on the F key cup won't correct this kind of problem.
A quick note about the regulation - there are no adjusters on the main stack key feet. This means that regulation of the action had to be done the old-fashioned way, by sanding down the thin cork buffers.

The overall setup was average. Blued steel springs have been used throughout, but the action was set both too high and too hard. A tweak of the springs and some extra felt really improved matters. It's a simple action, nothing very fancy, and such actions are usually capable of being very swift indeed with the right setup.

The finish is good - if perhaps something of an acquired taste...
I can't say that the pearlised gold lacquer does anything for me - and I can only wonder at what the horn will look like in the event of it needing any major work to the body - but I can see how some people would warm to this art deco finish.
Indeed, the owner told me that on a recent gig a very attractive young lady came up to him and fairly swooned over the sax. She even asked to have her photo taken with it. My client, naturally, obliged, and stood with the sax in one arm and the other around the young lady. He was rather crestfallen when he was told that she only wanted the sax in the photo...and not him as well.

I have to mention the case. It's bloody awful.
It's a shaped case, quite tough looking, but there's scant padding at the low Eb key guard and even less around the bell rim.
The catches are unusual - there are three of them, and they're sprung in the closed position. Opening the case is a bit of a palaver - as soon as you unhitch a catch it springs itself shut again. Not fully, mind you, but just enough to stop the lid from opening. This wouldn't be too much of an issue with just two catches...but there are three on this case. Think about it...
It's even worse when it comes to putting the horn back in the case...because you're more than likely to to have one hand less (you'll be holding the sax).
It should be easy enough to spot the guy who designed the case - he'll be the guy with three arms and a bitter grudge against sax players...

Enough, then, of the technicalities...time to blow the thing.
It must surely be something of a racial stereotype to accuse the Italian of being less than fastidious when it comes to engineering, but consummate artists when it comes down to, well, art.
I've seen this time and again with Italian instruments; They're the scruffy Gypsy girl with the voice of an angel, they're the rough diamond that almost blinds you with its intensity and clarity. You almost get the sense that they know what matters, and if there's any inconvenience to be paid through slightly less than clinical accuracy, well, what's a few niggles between friends?
Maybe that's why all the musical terms are Italian, it's perhaps the language of art, of expression.

This horn captures that essence beautifully.
I can't say that it's as distinctive as the Ponzol Borgani, but then why should it be? That horn occupies a niche all of its own - this one sits in with the pack, but resolutely at the front of it. From the rich sonority of its low notes to the clear cut of the top, it's an effortless blow. And it has that certain indefinable something that all good horns should have, playing it is a voyage of discovery.
I have no idea as to how much difference the slightly larger bell flare makes to the tone, given that it doesn't really affect the bore in any meaningful way, but one could be forgiven for feeling that it's responsible for the big sound this horn puts out. It's perhaps a case of the looks matching the sound, function following form, as it were.

The action felt quite sprightly under the fingers, nothing much seemed all that out of place, and although I wouldn't say it was as light as a Selmer MKVI or as slick as a Yamaha 62, it was nonetheless responsive and precise after I'd tweaked it.
Tuning was good over the range too, and just as importantly the tone slid gracefully from the fat lower tones to the nice cut of the upper notes. It's worth focussing on those upper notes too - it's not uncommon for even relatively expensive horns to run out of steam up the top end, but the Borgani seems to have tone to spare up here...a real boon for all you bad salad (sad ballad) fans!

I'd consider this to be a very versatile horn. It'll back off nicely to blend in with a section, it'll project when required for a soloist...and it'll roar when you really need to push the boat out. I don't know that you could consider it to be a genteel horn tonewise - it's got a bit too much of the 'cheeky chappy' about it to sit well in an orchestral setting. If I have any misgivings it's over the build quality, and although this horn has some unique features tonally inasmuch as it's a nice blow, I wouldn't say that it's so nice as to make me not want bother with the competition. That being said, it can stand on its own merits and should certainly be a consideration for the prospective buyer - though it's up against some pretty stiff, and better built, competition. Just budget for a decent case.

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