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Walstein tenor header
 

Walstein tenor saxophone
Origin: China ( www.woodwindandbrass.co.uk )
Guide price : £549
Date of manufacture: 2007
Date reviewed : Aug.07

Description : A second-generation Ultra-Cheap Chinese horn, based on a Yanagisawa design.

Walstein tenor saxophoneIt's been a few years since the very first credible cheap horns from China hit the marketplace. In those early days competent models jostled cheek-by-jowl with less well-built specimens, but even then it was obvious that consumer demand would force standards up.
The Walstein tenor is a product of the ongoing co-operation between Chinese manufacturers and western dealers; the former having the skills and the means to produce instruments cheaply, the latter having a need for consistency and quality.

The 'inspiration' for this horn is the Yanagisawa 992 tenor. I say 'inspiration' because although it's clear that quite a lot of copying is in evidence, it's rather difficult to say just how much. Certainly the keywork bears some obvious similarities - but it's a great deal harder to determine whether the body does. For example, the 992 and the 991 horns feature an 'underslung' octave key - clearly not present on this horn.
It's apparent that a number of Chinese manufacturers are making one body and fitting it with different keys - and subsequently claiming it to be a copy of whichever horn the keywork is based upon. More often than not the distinction is somewhat blurred - I've seen so-called Yamaha copies with Selmer -style octave key mechanisms etc.
To be perfectly frank it's quite academic which horns these copies are based on - it's going to be either a Yanagisawa, Yamaha or Selmer...and at the prices these horns sell for, who really cares as long as they work.

On the face of it, it's a nice looking horn. The body is phosphor-bronze, the keys are plain brass. There aren't any real benefits to using phosphor-bronze as a body material ( aside from the specious tonal debate ) other than it makes a change from brass and looks quite snazzy.
It certainly looks substantial enough, and this is borne out when you pick the thing up. It's really quite heavy - which straightaway answers the popular criticism than these Ultra-Cheap horns are somewhat lightweight.
In terms of build quality the horn is surprisingly respectable. You have to look pretty close to see small cosmetic flaws in some of the fittings, and if you do you'll note that everything is quite firmly attached to the body. It's not quite as neatly built as the Yanagisawa, but easily on a par with many a Taiwanese horn.
Whilst you're poking about you might like to check the integrity of the tone holes. They're all level.
It's patently obvious that this is how they're meant to be - but warped tone holes have often been a problem on cheap instruments. This factor alone bodes well for the reliability of the horn - something that one or two rather more established manufacturers would do well to take heed of...

About the only things I would class as being slightly flimsy are the bell key guards - though they're certainly adequate enough to protect the horn from everyday knocks. In the event of a more substantial bash it's debatable whether the horn would be worth fixing anyway from an economical standpoint.

Finishing up the body is a detachable bell and an adjustable thumb hook...which even has the dimpled base as found on the Yanagisawas. I note that the sling ring is slightly larger than that found on the Yanis - which means you won't have problems fitting some of the more substantial sling hooks to it.

The keywork is really rather good, both in terms of build and finish. Much more importantly it's also quite accurately fitted. This really is fundamentally important to the functionality of the instrument - sloppy keywork means bad regulation, which means leaks.
My only real criticism of the action is that the point screws are of the pseudo type, and thus have no provision for taking up wear in years to come. Something of a moot point in this case though - by the time the action wears you'll either be well on your way up the upgrade path, or the pads will be so worn out that it'll be time to buy another horn completely ( it won't be worth repadding a horn that's this cheap to buy in the first place ).
On a brighter note, the action is powered by blue steel springs - which lends the horn a snappy, responsive feel under the fingers.

As per the Yanagisawa horn on which the Walstein is based it features such enhancements as double arms on the low C and B keys, linking rollers on the bell key spatulas, fork and pin linkages on the side Bb and C...and even adjusters on the main key stacks, which I believe are absent on the Yanagisawa.
All well and good, but the best feature is that the action's layout is very similar to that of the Yanagisawa - which means it's laid out well.

I mentioned earlier that these Ultra-Cheap horns were often criticised for being lightweight, and in particular the keywork was purported to be soft and bendy. This is most definitely not the case with the Walstein.
During the course of my review I decided to tweak the height of a few keys and found it quite tough going to physically bend them.

The pads seem adequate for the job. I don't doubt that they're quite cheap ones, but they looked OK and were well seated. It's worth commenting that setups on these horns these days is less about fixing obvious errors such as ill-seating pads and wobbly keys, and more about tweaking the action to suit the player's needs.
Some of the corkwork looked less than neat, but nonetheless functional ( now how picky is that!? ).

As far as the build quality goes then, this horn represents outstanding value for money already...but all the build quality in the world counts for nothing if the horn doesn't blow very well.
As it happens though it blows well, very well indeed.
There are those who believe that the material a horn is made from has an effect on its tone. I don't subscribe to that view for a number of reasons - but if you're expecting a phosphor-bronze horn to be full and warm in tone then the Walstein isn't going to disappoint you.
The overall tone is medium to warm. The depth of tone increases towards the lower end, so much so that the low notes are really quite remarkable in their richness. This feature alone is worth the asking price for the horn.
Going up the scale the tone remains on the warm side, but has enough edge to maintain the clarity - tuning was good throughout.
I tried a variety of mouthpieces with the Walstein, and the only one I noticed any problems with was my Dukoff D8. This tended to make the top end sound a bit pinched initially - but as I use this piece almost exclusively with my Yamaha 23 it occurred to me that I was trying to play the Walstein like a Yamaha. I gave the horn an extended blow with this piece and noticed the top end starting to fill out.
I tried the mouthpiece that came with the horn. It's slightly better than those I've played before, but unless you're lucky and get a good one ( and it really is pot luck with these things ) you'd be well advised to replace it immediately. Beginners should budget another £30 or so for a Yamaha piece ( but see addendum below ).

In terms of the feel, the action is positive. Factory setup is surprisingly good for such a cheap horn, but it still benefited from a few tweaks here and there on the main stacks. Being based on the Yanagisawa, the key layout fits under the fingers a treat - and I noted that the right hand layout feels a little large under my fingers...same as the Yani does.

The whole thing comes in a fitted semi-soft case, which is both light and quite strong - certainly good enough for general use.

I liked this horn on the whole - and although it's not perhaps what I'd look for tonewise ( and nor is the Yanagisawa ) it's nonetheless quite an interesting horn.
It's clear that horns like these aren't going to oust the established brands when it comes to experienced players looking for a top quality instrument, but at the same time the playability of them is a great deal better than it ought to be for the price. In terms of the horn's target market - the student - it excels in every area and completely overshadows otherwise competent horns like those by Jupiter and Trevor James in both quality and price. It also fires a warning shot across the bows of Taiwanese manufacturers who're hoping to find shelter in the higher end of the marketplace.

Value for money wise it's absurdly cheap - I'd be tempted on looks alone - and as a second generation Ultra-Cheap horn it has more going for it than earlier Chinese horns which, although adequate, weren't always that distinctive.
More than that though, you could buy a horn like this on the strength of its tone - and up until now that's been the province of horns that have exceeded the £700 mark.
As such it represents a very fine beginner's horn - and many a more advanced player will find it'll make an ideal backup horn, or just an interesting alternative.

I had the chance to compare this horn side-by-side with a Yanagisawa 991 - the results proved to be quite interesting. You can check out the article here.

Addendum Dec. 2008:

What with the global 'credit crunch' and rising costs everywhere the price of the Walstein tenor has gone up since this review was published, but along with the rise in price comes a significant upgrade. The horn now sports a set of Italian leather pads, and while this might not sound like much of an improvement it actually makes quite a difference. The original ( Chinese ) pads were basic and functional - but they were slightly soft and inclined to be rather sticky initially. The new pads are firmer and a lot less sticky and have improved the overall response of the horn. The action feels faster and more positive and the definition between the notes is more precise. The pads feature slightly larger reflectors for the bell notes, and these bring a nice crispness to the tone without sacrificing the low-end grunt for which this horn is noted.
Given that prices are rising globally, the Walstein would have maintained its value for money even without this upgrade - with it it's better now than it ever was.


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