Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Reviews from the repairer's workbench
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
 

Jupiter 989 'Artist' tenor saxophone

Jupiter 989 Artist tenor saxophoneOrigin: Taiwan (www.jupitermusic.com)
Guide price: £1400
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: 2007
Date reviewed: August 2007

One of the new breed of 'super-Taiwanese' horns, marking Jupiter's continuing foray into the pro market

Since the 1980's the Jupiter brand has been synonymous with good quality student instruments.
On the face of it that statement sounds a little like damning with faint praise - in fact it's a compliment, and a very large one at that. When the brand arrived on these shores the market was largely populated with mediocre budget instruments, and the Jupiter range brought instruments that it was genuinely possible to get excited about.
They've pretty much dominated this sector of the market ever since, at least until the arrival of decent Ultra Cheap instruments from China blew the market completely apart.

Jupiter seem to be taking a two-pronged approach to the change in the market, relying on their established credentials to maintain sales in the student sector (a short-term goal, I'd imagine) and moving production upmarket into the pro range. Very astute, I'd say.
The 900 (or Artist) series represents their first pro-quality saxophone.

In terms of build quality, Jupiter have always had a decent reputation. Whilst I wouldn't say their instruments were superbly built, they were at least as good - if not better- than you had a right to expect for the price.
That quality has been maintained with the Artist model, and perhaps even slightly improved.
The body is tidy and well finished and features a very sturdy bell stay, a removable bell and an adjustable thumb hook. A nice touch is the addition of a removable side F# guard, which is a boon for repairers when setting what is usually a very awkward pad to reach.
I would have liked to have seen slightly larger bases on the pillars - probably not necessary, but it's nice to have the reassurance of a well-secured pillar on a generous base.

The bell sports an attractive logo badge. I rather like this feature - it's distinctive, and makes a nice change from yet another fancy engraving job.

Jupiter 989 bell key spatulasThe bell key spatula pillar, whilst relatively beefy, is a single mount affair. I've said it time and again - this compound pillar is particularly susceptible to a whack, and should it receive one it's quite possible that it could result in a great deal of damage to the horn. It's not a big deal to extend the pillar to form a semicircular arch, as seen on if a little untidily implemented) the Borgani Pearl Gold, and other saxes.

I noted that the body was relatively soft - this particular horn came in as a result of a tumble from a sax stand (the young player had placed the horn on the stand back-to-front) and received a nasty dent to the top F# upper pillar. I warned the client that I might have to unsolder the pillar in order to remove the dent...but it popped out with hardly any effort at all. Good for me, perhaps not so good for you once the horn is subjected to the rigours of gigging.

The keywork is well built and quite neatly finished - but mounted on pseudo points, which offer no means of taking up wear in the action at a later date (you'll have to replace the screws with proper points).
Proper mother-of-pearl touchpieces are fitted, and the Bis Bb key features a domed pearl - which make the key a great deal easier to operate.
The front F key touchpiece is nice and large, though it was slightly misaligned out of the box. A quick tweak put it right, and it'll work for all styles of fingering.

There's a simple but precise octave key mechanism which feels very slick in use, and this simplicity is carried over to the fork and pin arrangement on the side trill keys.
Once curiosity is the use of a single rod, mounted on point screws, for the low C/Eb key.
This design has been seen on some Selmer horns, albeit with a coil spring fitted in the middle of the rod. I'm sceptical about this arrangement as it seems to me that it gives you all the drawbacks of a rod screw (wear to the key barrels and a pain to sort out when the keys get bashed) and none of the advantages of a point screw mounting. I suppose it saves a couple of bob in manufacturing.

Jupiter 989 tenor stack adjustersOne very nice feature is the design of the stack adjusters, the base of which ends in a hexagonal head. This works for me in two ways - firstly it gives the adjuster a large surface area, which helps prevent it chewing up the buffer cork, and secondly it's useful to have something substantial to grip if and when the adjuster jams (as they sometimes do in later years).
Note too the nylon insert in the tall pillar to the right; this prevents the F and F# key barrels from whipping. Another excellent, simple and practical feature.

Topping off the action is a set of blued steel springs.

Everything felt like it was where it should be - and the little touches like the generous front F touchpiece and the domed Bis Bb pearl made the action feel very comfortable under the fingers.
On the whole the action is very well laid out and surprisingly well set up from the factory. I felt I would have liked it a tad lighter and a little lower, but it's not so far out that I would feel it necessary to rush round to a repairer unless something else cropped up that made the journey necessary.
Jupiter saxes have always had a reasonably decent action (for a student horn), and the 989 shows its professional credentials by being rather slicker in operation - as you'd hope.

Topping off the horn are two crooks - one in brass, the other in bronze. Hand-hammered, apparently.
A quick word about the case - it's essentially a soft one. Although it has a couple of stiffening panels, these are confined to the sides - the top and bottom of the case is soft, and this offers virtually no protection against the inevitable knocks and bashes that happen in transit. I certainly wouldn't feel happy about putting a grand's worth of saxophone in such a case...I've seen what can happen to a horn when the case fails to protect it from really quite small knocks.
Whilst I'm having a moan, I baulked at the brown leather touches on the otherwise black case - it gave the whole thing the air of a spiv's suitcase. Of course, you might like it!

Tonewise it's typically contemporary. Medium-bright across the range, and quite free blowing. I liked the degree of attack to the notes, and the crispness of the tone, particularly down the lower end - though this came at the expense of richness.
Changing to the bronze crook brought about a fraction more roundness to the tone - but the change is so small that I'm inclined to think it's rather more down to luck than judgement. Where I've used aftermarket crooks in the past I've noted far more significant changes. Still, it's always handy to have a spare...
The clarity of the tone appealed to me, but this can often be a double-edged sword in that clarity by its very nature is revealing - and I felt this showed up at the top end, where the tone seemed to close in a little.
I felt I struggled a little to find a niche for this horn's tone. It's not that it's bad - it's nice - but I wouldn't go so far as to say it's distinctive. To be fair that's a very personal view - and there are often advantages in having a horn with a neutral tone - but I feel that whilst this horn is definitely 'one for the list' when you're out shopping for a horn it might face some stiff competition...particularly from the other super-Taiwanese horns.
All said and done though, it's an enjoyable and lively blow - and I think it does Jupiter credit that the horn can withstand comparison against many a more expensive horn.

In terms of value for money it's quite a tricky one. Give or take a few quid it's effectively a four-figure horn - and at that price-point you have a right to expect a great deal for your money.
The most notable competitor in this range is Yamaha's 475 - at about £200 more. That's quite a competitor too - Yamahas have an excellent track record and consistently outplay many a more expensive horn. In purely mechanical terms the Yamaha just pips the Jupiter - but in terms of playability and tone the choice is a little harder, as personal preference must always be the deciding factor. I still feel too that the often-underrated basic Yamaha 275 horn has to be considered.
It certainly represents one of Jupiter's best models to date, and if you have a strict budget ceiling of £1500 it's worth certainly worth serious consideration - though you'd be well advised to check out the Bauhaus pro tenor first.

 

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2015