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Buffet S1 tenor saxophone

Origin: France (
Guide price: £750 +
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: 1971 (approx.)
Date reviewed: January 2003

A professional model from a manufacturer with a fine pedigree in classical woodwind instruments

Buffet have long been regarded as being among the world leaders when it comes to clarinets, yet their saxophones have never seemed to enjoy widespread appeal. In theory there ought to be no good reason for this - but in practice...well, read on...

The most striking feature of this horn is the keywork, or bits of it at least.
From the top, down to the G key, all seems pretty much as standard - but after that it seems to get a bit awkward.
I've seen a lot of keys down the years - I've seen where manufacturers have adopted a very 'industrial' design to the keywork, others a more elegant approach, still others a definitely functional philosophy. The S1 seems to have had an attack of design for design's sake.

Buffet S1 low CTake a look at the low C/Eb keys. The complicated bit of business you can see nestling behind the key barrel is a mechanism for adjusting the height of the key spatulas (the bit you press on).
I can understand the motive - I'm often adjusting the height of these keys for players...but that's the whole point, you can usually bend and twist these spatulas enough to satisfy most people's needs - and when it's done, it's done. There's rarely any need to adjust them again in any short space of time.
In use these keys feel slightly less responsive than ordinary keys and the extra weight and friction limits how light the springs can be set.
The dished touchpieces work surprisingly well, pushing the finger to the centre position and thus speeding an Eb to C jump.

Buffet S1 side F#Just up from the low C key are the top F# and side F# trill keys. Note the arms that extend upwards from the key touchpieces. On any other horn these touchpieces would be attached to the lower arms, and that would be all that's needed - but Buffet have bunged on this strange 'under and over' mechanism. You can see how much extra keywork is involved (i.e. everything above the touchpieces) - and for what? I assume it's supposed to make the top F# and side F# trill more positive in action - but it doesn't seem to do anything of the kind. It's yet more friction (where the touchpieces have to rub against the key arms) and more weight.

To be fair though, Buffet have made some weight savings...unfortunately in the wrong places...

Buffet S1 bell braceThe bell brace consists of nothing more than a bit of plain brass rod, with a bit of a bend in it.
Granted, it's an improvement on the simple straight rods you often seen on vintage horns - but this horn is hardly what you'd call vintage, its creation coming several years after the advent of the Selmer MKVI. A simple stay like this provides lamentable support for the bell, particularly from knocks to the side.
On a horn of this quality I'd have expected a far beefier brace - though I'm given to understand that the design of the brace is all to do with resonance. Hmmm.

Similarly, the entire bell key spatula cluster rests on a single pillar. No big deal in normal use - but these bell keys are inclined to take the brunt of even the smallest knock given that they stick out quite a way from the body of the horn.

These bell keys bear pause for comment too. Buffet have come up with quite an elegant design for the interlinked spatulas, but yet again it doesn't quite seem to work. It's not so bad that you wouldn't perhaps get used to it, but my feeling is that it would have been a better design had the spatulas been slightly larger. Again, I found the mechanism limited the minimum working spring tension.

The side Bb and C keys use a pin and barrel arrangement, and wear here lends a hesitant feel to the action. Similarly, the unusual octave key mechanism feels a bit less sprightly than it ought to be. There's a swiveling thumb rest fitted too. Another neat idea - but in practice I found it annoying to find it had shifted position from time to time. There's a screw to tighten it, so I would assume it could be tightened enough to prevent it from swiveling out of your preferred position.

The horn feels 'big' under the fingers even with a moderately low action - which could be due in part to the height and positioning of the finger pearls. Overall the action feels rather 'clumpy'. Not stiff, not slow, just a bit leaden. This isn't an action your fingers can glide over.

The build of the horn is as good as it should be. Despite the basic, functional look of the pillars and keys they're nonetheless well made and well fitted. The body seems very sturdy, with a soldered bottom bow joint. Ordinarily I'd have said that was a good thing...but with that flaky bell brace I just don't know...

In playing, the S1 revealed a slightly constricted feel. It wasn't that it lacked resonance and body, it was rather that it seemed to have a cut-off point. Push this horn hard and seems to sulk.
Given Buffet's orchestral credentials it appears wholly reasonable to mark this horn as a classical instrument - refined and careful tonewise, a little loathe to party. A gentleman's saxophone.
It seems a bit odd then that of all the 'S' series horns, the S1 was considered to be the 'jazz' version.

Of particular note is the pitch of this instrument. Buffet apparently made two models, one for the European market and one for the American market. The European model is pitched slightly sharp at A=442Hz. This shouldn't be too much of a problem for the experienced player to cope with - but beginners might find the subtle difference a bit disconcerting.
With this in mind though I felt the low C was inclined to lean to the sharp side - but not so badly that a player couldn't accommodate it in the embouchure eventually.

A capable horn then - quirky, challenging...yet reserved.

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