Borgani OBT 'Vintage' tenor saxophone/alto saxophone/Joe Lovano
Guide price: £5000
Date of manufacture: 2022
Date reviewed: July 2022
Brand new horns; dontcha love 'em? All shiny (unless
you went for an unlacquered model) and new, and ready for gigging
straight out of the box.
Yeah, right. It's what we all hope for. Indeed, it's what we expect
once we get much above a budget price-point - but the harsh truth
of the matter is that hardly any brand new horns are as good as
they could be. Or as good as they ought to be. Some retailers will
go the extra mile and set the horns up prior to sale. This is an
excellent practice - in theory. Sad to say, some of the 'set ups'
I've seen have been bloody appalling - the last one came in with
an action so optimistically lightly sprung that the low D key wouldn't
open when the horn was laid flat. Complete waste of time.
Most players trust that the manufacturers have got everything bang
to rights, and happily go about their business...blaming any difficulties
on 'getting used to the new horn'.
But the canny ones whip their new baby straight round to a proper
repairer and have them give it the old 'once over'. It's worth it.
Even if you've bought a horn from a manufacturer that pays more
attention to the details (typically Yamaha, Yanagisawa and TJ these
days), there are always tweaks to be made that can lift the playability
that little bit more.
And thus it was that this Borgani turned up on
my workbench a little while ago. Fresh out of the box, mail-ordered
straight from Italy.
I raised an eyebrow at the client. I've written many times about
the (shall we say) tendency of the Italian manufacturers to big
up the 'sound' and wander off down the pub when it comes to the
nitty-gritty of engineering - and while I might have sighed at the
client's impetuousness, I certainly couldn't fault him for bringing
it straight round for a 'scrute'.
So how did it work out? Well, let's have a look
at what we have...
It's a Borgani OBT 'Vintage' tenor. I had a peek
at the manufacturer's site to see exactly what constituted the vintage
epithet, but as as far as I can tell it really only relates to the
finish....assuming you don't pay much heed to the marketing-speak.
Anyway, the upshot is that this is an OBT model with a scratched
bare brass finish. Fair enough.
The horn features a single pillar construction
throughout - not one single rib, strap, plate or saddle. It's single
pillars...all the way down. The pillar bases vary in style - some
are simple discs, others are thick and sculpted to match the curvature
of the body. Makes no odds as long as they're of sufficient size,
but the variation seems to be something of a Borgani quirk.
There's a triple-point detachable bell stay but the bell is soldered
on. This might seem like an anomaly but there is some logic to it
because if the horn gets damaged and the bell has to come off, the
job is a lot easier if you don't have to faff around with soldered-on
bell brace. Of course, it's easier still if you don't have to faff
around with a soldered-on bell...
The toneholes are all plain drawn - and you get the usual bunch
of fittings, such as a set of bumper felt adjusters on the bell
key guards, an adjustable metal thumb hook, a curiously-dimpled
plastic thumb rest (more on that later) and a 15/9mm sling ring.
construction was a little less than neat in places, with some evidence
of sloppy solderwork here and there.
In mechanical terms it's unimportant; as long as the part is properly
fixed to the body then that's all that really matters. Aesthetically,
though, it does matter - and especially so at this price-point.
It wouldn't have taken more than five minutes to have properly cleaned
up the overspill around this joint - and about thirty seconds to
sort out that little blob on the lower left. It's not impressive.
also not impressive is the flatness of the toneholes - or rather
the lack of it.
It's true to say that very few manufacturers turn out horns with
truly flat toneholes - but most of the big manufacturers manage
to get reasonably close to it. What you see here is the sort of
unevenness that I'd expect to find on an Ultra-Cheap Chinese horn.
I've only shown two of them, but I was spoilt for choice - there
wasn't a single tonehole on the entire horn that made it to the
"OK, well, that'll do" standard.
Of these two toneholes the upper one (Auxiliary F) is the nastiest.
An awful lot of the playability of a horn depends on this key being
set up spot on. Every tiny error here knocks a percentage point
off the performance of the horn all the way down to the low Bb.
It's perhaps a moot point on this horn because it had leaks right
from the top down.
And when I say right from the top down, I mean
from the crook downwards.
Borgani horns display their handmade credentials by dint of each
key being marked with the horn's serial number - and the crook follows
Or at least it's supposed to. This horn came with a crook that had
a different serial number stamped on it.
I mentioned it to the client, who told me he raised it with Borgani
when the horn arrived and was informed that it's because they 'match
the crook' to the horn based on how well it performs. I find this
a bit odd. I mean, it's a laudable approach - don't get me wrong
- but if it was standard practice you'd surely leave the stamping
of the serial number until you've selected a crook....because now
you have two horns with serial numbers on their crooks that don't
match that on the body.
I'm also somewhat sceptical because of the extremely poor fit of
the crook. It has to be said, it's about the worst I've seen on
a new horn - and surely, if someone's going to all the trouble to
play through a bunch of crooks to find the best sound, they absolutely
cannot have failed to notice that the damn thing doesn't bloody
well fit properly.
And here's the thing. The nearer to the top of
a horn a leak is, the more of an effect it's going to have. You'll
surely have heard of the saying "Rubbish in - rubbish out"
and it's fundamental to the integrity of a horn's airtightness.
If you have a horn that's perfectly airtight save for, say, the
low D key then most of the horn is going to perform perfectly well.
The low and middle D will be a touch stuffier than normal - and
the bell notes will have just that little less punch to them.
But put that leak right at the top of the horn and it'll make its
presence felt over the entire range - and if there are any other
leaks further down the horn it will just add to the accumulation
Any decent repairer will tell you how important it is to have a
well-fitting crook joint, and how much it boosts the tone and response
of a horn.
a shot of the crook tenon sleeve. A standard diagnostic test for
a loose crook joint is to draw four lines down the sleeve with a
marker pen. The crook is inserted into the receiver in the normal
playing position and then rotated back and forth a few degrees before
being withdrawn. This gives you a 'snapshot' of what's going on
in the joint and can show you just what it is you're up against.
In this case you can see that there's some contact with the receiver
at the top of the joint and the bottom. But it's not even. The upper
line has more contact at the top of the sleeve and virtually none
down the bottom. The lower line has less contact at the top and
a little bit at the bottom. This is bad news. On a joint that's
worn you'd see a similar pattern...but it would be even - so each
line would typically show some scuffing at the top end and nothing
at the bottom. That indicates that the tenon sleeve merely needs
expanding (though it could also indicate wear in the receiver).
What the pattern of wear here shows is that either the tenon sleeve
or the receiver is out of round. And possibly both.
you'd do this test without the crook clamp screw being tightened
up because it's not the job of this screw to form a seal in the
joint - merely to lock the crook in place. And also incidentally,
the animation above was made with the crook clamp screw tightened
up. That's how bad the joint was. In fact it nearly made it into
the Black Museum. It's no simple
job to correct this - you could easily find yourself looking at
a bill of £100+ by the time the joint has been rounded out,
tightened up and lapped in.
Finally, a quick word about the slot in the receiver.
Just look at the size of it! The slot is necessary to allow the
clamp ring to deform slightly and grip the tenon sleeve, but in
most cases it's about 1mm wide and is barely longer than the depth
of the ring. You could almost get a reed through that bloody gap,
and what's with it being cut so far down the receiver? I mean, that's
just asking for trouble down the line.
If you look closely you can also see that there's something going
on at the lower right edge of the slot. See that little step up?
No, I don't know why it's there either - but perhaps whoever cut
it did so after they'd come back from the pub...
up the body is some rather nice engraving. I'd call it tasteful;
it's not too florid nor too understated and sits well with the general
look of the horn.
However, this too falls down on the finishing because someone forgot
to go over the chasing and take down the burrs. It's by no means
sharp enough to cut you, but if you're in the practice of resting
your horn's bell over your legs on a seated gig you might find your
best keks are going to end up looking a bit shabby.
OK folks, on to the keywork...
first problem I encountered was that quite a few of the pillars
were too far apart. In most cases it was only by a millimetre or
so (still not good) and easily rectified with a bit of judicious
tapping with the trusty pillar mallet.
The anomalies on the compound bell key pillar were quite interesting.
I've seen people ranting on the forums about having mail-ordered
a horn and found that, on arrival, the bell keys are practically
falling off. They're often quick to blame the manufacturers - but
excess play here is very often the result of a knock to the horn.
This can happen even when the horn's in its case (it's called shock
damage) - whereby the force of the impact turns each of the keys
into miniature slide hammers. With four keys hanging of the one
pillar, something's gonna give - and it's usually the compound pillar
that gets knocked backwards.
Is that what's happened here though?
It's unlikely, because while the G# (top key)
and low B (third one down) show a large gap, the low Bb (second
key down) is fine and the low C# (bottom key) isn't too bad. Shock
damage wouldn't be selective - all the keys would show an equal
gap here with the other end of the keys flush against their pillars.
I'll have to give this one the benefit of the doubt, but let's have
a look at the rest of the keywork...
Now this isn't shock damage.
no mistake, this is a huge gap. You won't see a gap between a pillar
and a key barrel this large unless something has gone terribly wrong.
Not even fifty years of wear and tear would account for it. No,
a gap this large means that someone's been hacking at the key (often
when a key has had to be cut off the horn due to rust) or the body
has suffered some sort of trauma. Clearly neither of those two options
would apply to a brand new horn - which leaves only one possibility;
that the pillar has been fitted incorrectly.
Of course, there's another pillar at the lower end of this key that
might be out of position - but it has two other heads on it; one
each for the top E and F# keys. As both of these keys were a reasonably
snug fit it meant that the side C upper pillar was the one that
was out of place.
as with the wobbly crook, I'm struggling to see how this was allowed
out of the factory. It's clearly not right, and equally clearly
visible. Someone, at some point, had to say "Meh, that'll do".
Well it won't do - so I put it right.
All neat and tidy, right? Yep - but what if this had been a lacquered
or a plated horn? No matter how skilled (and lucky) you were, there
would have been a witness mark that showed where a pillar had been
But did I need to move the pillar?
The Borgani features sprung inserts on all the keys that are mounted
on point screws. We've seen these before on other horns (Selmer
uses them on some of their horns) - the idea being that they're
supposed to provide a self-adjusting action. I've
never been a fan of them. In fact the worst example of them I've
seen was on another Borgani -
the OBA alto - in which I noted how many of the inserts were
jammed in the key barrels.
With this in mind I checked each and every insert
to ensure they were able to move back and forth within the barrel.
I'm not going to say I'm happy to report that I found only one that
was jammed - because even one is too many, but it's at least an
There's not a great deal you can do about this.
If you start poking around down the barrel there's a chance that
you'll drive the insert in even further - and if the key was reasonably
snug beforehand, it certainly won't be now.
If the key isn't snug and the insert is jammed you're either going
to need to drill the damned thing out and make a new one...or you're
going to have to put some kind of 'filler' into the key barrel to
take up the gap.
So with this ability for the action to self adjust,
could I have left that pillar be? Yes, I could. The inserts would
have taken up the free play - and in fact in order for the system
to work you actually do need a little bit of a gap between the pillar
and the end of the key barrel. But not as much as that.
It's bodgey and sloppy - and it's not what you'd expect to see on
such an expensive horn.
while we're here, take a look at the end of the key barrel on the
left. See how rough it is? See how rounded it is too? Almost all
the barrels were like this. Squaring up the key barrels is an important
part of key fitting. It ensures a good contact between adjacent
keys or pillars which helps reduce wear, it helps to keep dirt from
finding its way into the action - and it looks neat and tidy. This
is particularly important on a high-end horn - after all, would
you be happy buying an expensive car on which none of the doors
lined up with each other? Of course not; above a certain price you
expect such things to be 'just so' - and if they're not, well, there
are other brands that do manage to get such niceties right.
So much for the point screws, what about the rods?
Oh my, where to begin...
There were two major problems here; the first was that the rod screws
were undersized (or the key barrels oversized - take your pick),
and the second was that the the pillars were similarly affected.
What that leads to looks like this.
is the top stack, and there are two things going on here. The inaccuracy
in the rod screws is allowing the keywork to move back and forth
- and the same inaccuracy in the pillar is allowing the rod screw
itself to move. That's a double whammy. In terms of how this affects
the action it means that it's virtually impossible to regulate the
action properly. If you press any key in the upper stack down it
also brings down the Auxiliary B (shown in the gif). Ideally you'd
want this key to come down the same amount and at the exact moment
as the key you pressed. But when there's this amount of play in
the action, the Aux.B key is going to push back against it and take
it up...which means the key will open slightly. And that's a leak.
And never mind that it makes the action feel bloody awful.
really experience the full horror of it you can do no better than
take a peek at the low C/Eb keys.
Granted, the play here is a great deal less critical than that on
the main stacks but it'll still have an effect on the accuracy of
the low C pad seat, and it isn't going to do the feel of the action
any favours. And yes, although I'm rather stressing the keywork
(as can be seen by the slight movement of the lower pillar), this
amount of play can only get worse over time. Almost all the larger
rod screws were affected in this way along with a few of the smaller
ones - and those keys that weren't still exhibited axial play. Much,
much more to the point - none of it should be there, not on a brand
new horn in this price bracket.
For the geeks amongst you I can report that the
original (large) rod screws came in at 2.98mm diameter and that
the smallest size rod that fitted snugly through the most overdrilled
pillar was 3.18mm. On paper that's just a 0.2mm difference - but
you can clearly see what that means for an action. In order to fix
the action I had to ream out all the larger keys and associated
pillars to 3.18mm.
The smaller keys (palm and side keys etc.) weren't so badly affected,
but still required work to snug them up and to ensure a proper fit
between the pillars.
mentioned the curiously-dimpled thumb rest earlier, and here it
is. Anyone know why they did that?
It's not a solid lump - if you press a fingernail into to, it deforms...which
means it's quite thin. Not sure how that's going to stand up to
wear over the years. I also found it slightly annoying under the
thumb, but that might just be me.
Of more note is the distance from the thumb rest to the octave key
touchpiece. That's quite the gap there. One of the reasons you fork
out piles of cash for an expensive horn is that (you hope) more
thought has gone into making everything as slick and precise as
possible. That gap is not slick or precise and is about twice as
large as it ought to be.
....Whereas the pillars on the thumb key are rather
smaller than they ought to be.
See how the key barrel projects out past the face of the pillar?
What's happened here is that Borgani have used the smaller sized
pillars (as found on the palm and side keys) but with a full size
key barrel (as found on the main stacks). Granted, it's a very minor
point - but it bugs me something rotten.
pads are unbranded, but they look to be of at least decent quality
- and they're glued in place with a reasonable amount of hot melt
glue. However, they seem to be quite soft and have been set with
very deep impressions. It's debatable whether or not that matters,
but most repairers these days tend to use at least medium-firm pads
set with a light impression - and most manufacturers fit medium-firm
pads to their horns.
It's a curious choice, unless you consider that
trying to seat a firm pad with a light impression on a wonky tonehole
is a truly Sisyphean task. Much easier to whack in a soft pad and
clamp it down hard until it takes a seat. It works...for a while
And speaking of soft and squishy, the corkwork
on the Borgani is not much to write home about. Indifferent sums
it up nicely. It's not terribly neat in places, and there's limited
use of more modern materials. Some plastic/silicone tuning has been
used where a lever arms connects to another key, but it's quite
squishy. It's a minor point, but it slightly affects the feel and
response of the action. Other manufacturers of horns at this price-point
(and well below it) are using buffering material more intelligently
- and with more neatness. And given that there are no stack regulation
adjusters on this horn, a bit of composite cork or synthetic felt
here and there really wouldn't have gone amiss.
Well, I don't know about you but I'm rapidly running
out of the will to live - so let's wrap up the tech specs with a
few good points and get to the crux of the matter.
Proper mother of pearl key touches, nicely domed metal Bis Bb touchpiece,
fork and pin connectors on side keys, F# helper arm, blued steel
springs, elegantly-rounded key cups...and comes in a Bam Softpack
Under the fingers the horn feels...no, wait...what's
The difference between how this horn came into the workshop and
how it left it is chalk and cheese. If the build quality seen here
is indicative of what Borgani are chucking out at the moment then
you're not going to be able to buy a Borgani that feels like it
did after I'd tweaked it unless you chuck another £500 or
so at it. And if you chuck that much at the action of just about
any half-decent horn, it's going to feel just fine.
When it came in it was weak, stuffy, indistinct, tiresome and uninspiring.
By the time I'd finished with it, it had a solid, presentable, middle-of-the-road
slightly warmish sound - though perhaps a little understated when
compared to my TJ RAW. In fact I'd go so far as to say that the
tone is almost identical to that of the RAW, except that the Borgani
has a softer response and doesn't have that nice glittery shimmer
around each of the notes.
But none of that really matters, because the bigger picture here
is about expectations. That's your expectations when you fork out
five grand for a horn, and my expectations when someone brings me
in a high-end horn for a service. I mean, what do you expect for
that much money? A horn that works straight out of the case? An
action that's slick, responsive and reliable? Some integrity of
build, some artistry perhaps? It's clearly not too much to ask because
Yamaha can do you an 82Z at around four and half grand, or an 875EX.
Yanagisawa will see you right with a TWO20 for much the same price
- and if you push the boat out just a little you can bag a Selmer
SA80II for just over five grand. Fancy something a little different?
Rampone and Cazzani's R1 is about four and a half - and bang on
five grand is the very lovely Andy Sheppard.
All of these horns have one thing in common;
they're well-built. You get what you pay for. Sure, they all have
niggles - but nothing showstopping. Calling what I found on this
horn niggles is like having your leg slowly chewed off by a carnivorous
sloth and saying "It's only a flesh wound".
I mentioned earlier that I'd been to the manufacturer's
site - and had been regaled by lots of effusive marketing-speak
about the ethos behind the 'vintage' brand.
I have to say I'm impressed. Not only have Borgani striven to provide
you with a horn that attempts to match the look and sound of yesteryear's
horns - they've pulled out all the stops and provided you with an
action to match. Yep, when you buy a Borgani vintage you get a vintage
sound, a vintage look...and an action that feels like it's seen
70 year's worth of wear. Now that's what I call attention to detail.
I thought long and hard about how to approach
my review summary. Should I be diplomatic? Should I be cryptic?
Should I just present the evidence and let you make up your own
mind? Or should I say what I really feel?
What I feel is angry. Sure, I get annoyed when I see silly errors
and slip-ups that should have been caught during quality control
- and I get frustrated when I see the same mistakes being turned
out time and again. But there was almost nothing on this horn that
passed muster and I simply couldn't work out why anyone would think
this kind of build quality was acceptable on such an expensive horn.
It's deeply, deeply disappointing to see stuff
like this on my workbench. I cannot recommend it.
played it for a couple of weeks the client asked me to make a couple
The first was to replace the thumb hook. I didn't personally find
it too uncomfortable, but he did - and we both agreed that the slotted
nut (used to tighten the hook down) was fussy and not terribly reliable.
So he purchased a Yamaha thumb hook assembly, which I duly fitted.
It's a much nicer arrangement - plus it allows for a degree of height
second mod was to replace the dimpled thumb rest. It didn't take
him very long to find that the dimple was distracting and uncomfortable
- so I made a replacement rest in cocobolo. It also allowed me to
make the rest slightly larger in diameter, thus dealing with the
overly large gap between the rest and the thumb key.
With these modifications in place, and the remedial work carried
out to bring the horn up to the proper spec, I'm delighted to report
that he's very happy with it.
*Or at least he was. While he was at the workshop I brought
my TJ RAW tenor in for a bit of a comparison - and let him have
a blow of it. He seemed impressed - but rather more than I imagined.
He emailed me a while back to say that he couldn't get the sound
and feel of the RAW out of his head. I suggested that spending some
quality time with the Borgani would surely cure that...but it didn't.
He subsequently bought a RAW and will be selling on the Borgani.
That doesn't take anything away from the Borgani at all - we each
have our tonal preferences - but it perhaps goes to show that buying
a horn on spec because you've read a few forums and watched a couple
of videos is never going to be a replacement for actually trying
out a horn before you part with your money.
November 2022 - Borgani Vintage alto saxophone
Shortly after the above review was published I had a client contact
me to arrange inspection/repair of a Borgani horn. It's the same
model as the one above, but this time it's an alto.
thought about running up a separate review but as the design/build
is identical to the tenor and the particular focus of the review
would certainly be the build quality, I felt it made sense to place
This example was bought new in May of 2022, direct from the factory
at a cost of around £4000. In terms of the manufacturing timeline
I can't, of course, be certain about which horn was built first
- but as they were both bought within a month or so of each other
I think it's quite reasonable to assume that they paint a consistent
picture of recent manufacturing standards.
Naturally I was quite keen to see whether the build quality differed
from that of the tenor, and to kick off with I'm pleased to report
that the crook was a reasonable fit. It also bore the same serial
number as the horn - so I presume that whoever did the 'crook matching'
decided that the crook that was built for this horn was the best
One of the first things I noticed was that the expansion slot in
the crook socket/receiver had been rather more neatly cut than that
on the tenor. I still feel that it's rather too long given that
it extends almost half the length of the tenon sleeve.
So that's the good news done and dusted.
The bad news is that the action suffered from almost exactly the
same faults as I found on the tenor - resulting in most of it needing
There were some differences though; in some places the action was
slightly better than on the tenor, in other places slightly worse.
Swings and roundabouts.
The client told me that the horn arrived with a damaged crook; the
tenon sleeve was dented and the mouthpiece tube opening was out
of round. Neither of us could work out how this could have happened
in transit because the horn was shipped with the crook placed down
the bell, in a padded bag. It therefore seems likely that it was
dropped or somehow crushed before being packaged up with the horn.
contacted Borgani about this and they had him return the crook,
which was later sent back to him repaired.
Obviously it would have been nice if it hadn't happened in the first
place but you certainly can't fault Borgani's response.
So let's walk through the action and see what's what...
First up, the palm keys. As per the tenor the rod (or hinge) screws
were undersized for the pillars and key barrels, resulting in quite
severe play in the keys. You could perhaps remedy the situation
by swedging the barrels but that would still leave you with the
issues of the overdrilled pillars. You could perhaps peen these
up - but you'd still have to make a new rod screw because the fitted
one is too short.
Might as well bite the bullet and upgrade the whole lot with a new,
larger diameter rod screw. Sorts everything out in one go. The Eb
key was similarly poor - but the top F just barely scraped past
the test and was upgraded anyway...just for consistency's sake.
The low C/Eb key suffered from the same problems.
I suppose you could say that it's not that much of an issue because
the spring tension will tend to take up such play - and it will,
provided the tension is high enough.
of course, limits how light you can set the action - and in any
event it's not the job of the springs to take up defects, they're
there to simply power the action. In the meantime it makes the action
feel spongy and imprecise - and as the action wears still further
(which it will do, at a faster rate than normal) it'll eventually
get so bad that even the springs can't deal with it. So that's another
upgrade job then.
The main stack keys were somewhat hit and miss.
Some keys were wobbling on the rod screw, some were a passable fit
- but this was academic because both stack rods were undersized
for the pillars.
This is especially problematic on stack key groups because there
are a number of keys that are linked together - and if there's wear
or free play in any one of them it'll throw the regulation out...and
that will lead to leaks.
the lower stack there were noticeable gaps between the key barrels
and the pillars, with the worst example being that on the low D
At first glance it might appear that the pillar's been knocked back
- but it hasn't because its face is parallel with the next pillar
up the stack. So it's either been fitted too far back or there's
a problem with the length of the key barrel. And that of the low
I found something very curious on the top stack; look at the height
of the B key's barrel in relationship to the adjacent pillar. What's
going on here?
It looks as though the B key's barrel has been drilled off centre,
but it hadn't been - rather it's the pillar that been drilled off
whack. It's not a problem, per se, as long as all the holes in the
pillars line up (which they did) - it just looks a bit naff and
isn't at all ideal in terms of providing the maximum bearing surface
for the B key barrel and the lower barrel of the Auxiliary B key.
could be fixed, but it's a bit of a big job. You'd have to remove
the pillar, fit a small extension piece to the base to raise the
overall height - fill the screw hole, refit the pillar and then
drill out a new hole.
The thickness of the pillar bases varies depending on where they're
placed, so I'm wondering if perhaps the wrong base was specified
for this pillar as a one-off error. I won't really know until another
alto comes in - and if it exhibits the same problem it's likely
to mean that the stock pillar for this position is too short.
side key cups were spectacularly awful.
Here's the side C key - and you can clearly see the rod screw poking
out from the gap between the end of the key barrel and the inner
face of the pillar. I've seen this sort of thing before - on vintage
horns that have been around the block a good few times without so
much as a lick of servicing. And on some of the worst examples of
Chinese-built Ultra-Cheap horns.
Here's a more detailed look at what's going on.
On any well-made horn the key barrel butts up against the head of
the pillar at the red line - which represents the perpendicular.
This results in a nice, neat joint that ensures the key is held
snugly in place - and maximises the bearing surface...which reduces
When a pillar is made it's usually left a little oversized on the
bearing side (that which faces the key barrel) and at the time of
fitting the keys a small tool is used to cut this surface to ensure
it's perpendicular to the through hole (which the rod screw sits
in) and that the key fits between the pillars.
process is call 'facing'. Similarly, the key barrel will be made
a little longer than necessary so that it too can be faced off to
fit. This process can be done before finishing (applying lacquer
or plating) or afterwards. In some cases the body is finished after
the pillars have been faced and the keys are faced later.
If the manufacturing process is suitably accurate it's possible
to make the parts to a tolerance which either eliminates the need
for facing or reduces it to a minimum. This is fine for a much cheaper
instrument, but on a high-end horn it's reasonable to expect that
some key fitting will have taken place.
The disparity between the pillar and the key barrel in this instance
is, well, massive - and, for me at least, it raises the question
as to how this came about. Could it be that the pillars and barrel
were faced - and then the person who polished the horn completely
buffed the nuts off everything? Seems a bit unlikely. It would account
for some of the rounding off on the barrels and pillars that we
saw on the tenor, but surely nothing as severe as what we see here.
And given the disparity and the fact that the key was able to move
axially between the pillars, there can't have been any facing carried
out at all. Which leaves the only other possibility; the pillars
and barrels were made like this...and then bunged on the horn. That's
a bit crappy.
a very revealing shot of just how oversized the pillars had been
drilled. As I said earlier, you can tighten the barrel up on the
screw all you like, but that huge amount of play in the pillar is
just going to render the work a complete waste of time. All in all
I had to upgrade all of the rod screws bar the G# and low C# cup
keys (which at least shows that Borgani can get it right...sometimes).
As for the keys that are mounted on point screws it was pretty
much the same affair as on the tenor. The alto didn't have the mispositioned
pillar on the side C lever key, but most of the pillars were too
far apart in relation to the length of their corresponding keys.
And, of course, they all had the characteristic rounding off on
the barrel ends.
checked all the sprung inserts and, again, just like on the tenor
found one in the side keys that was jammed - the side Bb lower one.
Might just be a coincidence or it might indicate that there's a
problem with the inserts in the side key levers. Won't really know
for sure until more examples come by the workbench.
In terms of the construction the alto was more neatly assembled
than the tenor. I had a good look around but didn't spot any sloppy
solderwork - so maybe the person who assembled this horn is a bit
more of a dab hand with the old gas gun than whoever put the tenor
Toneholes? Same old, same old. None were even reasonably level,
some were really quite poor indeed - like the low C tonehole shown
Very few manufacturers seem to be able to turn out horns with flat
toneholes these days, but most do a rather better job than this.
fully tweaked the horn was very much improved from the state in
which it came in. The action felt far smoother and slicker, the
response was much better and it was far less of a struggle to play.
The only thing I didn't much care for was the physical response
of the low C# key - it felt a little bit less than snappy. I did
some tweaks and swapped out some buffering, which helped - but my
feeling is that the geometry between the lever key and the cup key
is wrong. But due to the handbuilt nature of these horns it might
just be a one-off.
Tonewise it's a nice blow. Like the tenor it leans towards the
warm. If I had to throw a comparison at it I'd say the the Selmer
BA would be a good bet. It's got that enhanced midrange response
which makes it a great ballad horn - and just the right amount of
polish and shine on the upper harmonics. I noticed a slight pinching
on the tone on the top C, but then that's something I often notice
It's got a lot of presence too. You know how some horns seem to
'sound introverted' - like the sound that comes out of them wraps
itself around you rather than project outwards? Well, it's not at
all like that. It sounds like it's loud, even when you're playing
quietly. That's a nice touch. It'd be a nice horn for those players
who like their altos a little bit on the tenor side.
Having been very disappointed with the tenor I really was rather
hoping the alto would pass muster. Followers of a particular brand
are understandably rather indignant when an example gets a poor
review - and it's often the case that the cry of "But it's
just a one-off!" goes up. But we had all this with the Keilwerth
SX90R. If you work on horns for long enough and you really understand
the engineering processes involved you can generally spot a trend
coming a mile off simply by knowing how the mistakes were made.
It's also understandable that folks might say that perhaps someone
had a bad day, or that the person who does the quality control was
off on a sickie when a particular horn made it out of the factory
gates. Frankly they're pretty poor arguments because it still leaves
the question as to whether the manufacturing process and subsequent
inspection is adequate for a horn of this price.
I think the alto addresses that question, quite unequivocably. Or,
to put it another way, "Fool me once..." - well, you can
fill in the rest.
I couldn't recommend the tenor and neither can I recommend the
alto. I sincerely hope that the folks at Borgani will give their
collective heads a bit of a shake and have a very serious think
about how they're going to compete against the likes of Yamaha,
Yanagisawa et al - because the horns are potentially very good....they're
just knackered by indifference. It's a bloody shame.
April 2023 - Borgani Jubilee 'Joe Lovano' tenor
I've had a couple of people take up my offer to look over their
Borgani horns - one being this Jubilee 'Joe Lovano' model (estimated
build date around 2010 - serial range: 195xxJ) and the other being
an OBS soprano...for
which I'll do a separate review. As this tenor is essentially the
same mechanical design as the Vintage (right down to the scratchy
engraving on the bell) I'll skip over the basic details and simply
summarise my findings.
The body tube is nickel silver, finished in what
seems to be a sort of frosted silver finish. The keywork is brass
- and what at first appeared to be gold plating turned out to be
gold lacquer over nickel plate and (then) gold plate. This is rarely
a good idea; lacquer just doesn't hold onto plated surface at all
well, and this accounts for the rather tatty appearance of the keywork.
I should also mention that the alloys used for both the body and
keys are incredibly hard. In rebuilding the action and precision
levelling the toneholes I found that quite a lot of elbow grease
was required - particularly so when sorting out the toneholes. Tech
note: If you're taking on one of these horns for tonehole work I'd
recommend bumping up your usual price by 50%.
Given that it's a nickel silver body you'd expect
the horn to be a bit heavier than the brass version - and so it
is. It tips the scales at 3.31kg, which makes it 70 grammes heavier...or
around two and half ounces in old money. Not a great deal really,
and rather less than I would have expected.
As far as the construction of the body goes there's not much to
comment on. There are the usual variety of pillar bases - but for
the most part everything's neat and tidy.
toneholes, though, were all over the place. Here's a shot of the
low Bb. It wasn't the worst - it was just the easiest to photograph.
It's absolutely bloody hopeless. But hey - this is an old(ish) horn,
right? It's been round the block a bit, it might have had a knock
or two. Yep, it's entirely possible - but after almost 5 decades
of tweaking horns you kinda get a feel for what's 'damage' and what's
'carnage'. Putting on my 'reasonable hat' I can discount the bell
key toneholes...but I wasn't at all hard put to find other equally
shonky toneholes on the main stacks.
On the plus side Borgani have sidled around this problem by fitting
the squishiest pads available. Now, I'm not one of those protagonists
for the old 'extra hard pads are the gold standard'. They feel desperately
awful under the fingers and require a very great deal of precision
in the action and a lot of skill in setting them - which are, sadly,
in very short supply these days. But most horns should work just
fine with, say, Premium Deluxe pads or even just bog-standard medium-hard
brands - but the Borgani needs extra-squidgy pads to disguise the
inherent problems in the build.
The play on the keywork was abysmal. As per the
wobbly toneholes I reckon I'm pretty adept at spotting what's down
to fair wear and tear and what's down to shoddy manufacturing. It
takes a very great deal of time to wear the keywork to the degree
this horn exhibited; certainly far longer than the age of this horn.
Nope, there's no doubt about it - the sloppiness in the keywork
was built in from the factory.
the G# cup key, showing rather more than the kind of wear I'd expect
to see on a much-gigged horn from the 1930s. This is particularly
nasty because the regulation arm that sits atop this key (to prevent
it from opening when the bell keys are pressed) won't have the ability
to stop the back of the key cup from lifting - at least not unless
you screw the adjuster way on down...but then that will prevent
the Aux.F key from fully closing. Either way you look at it, this
horn would nearly always have had a leak on or around the G#.
This key is entirely representative of all the other rod screw mounted
keys, which makes setting up the regulation with anything approaching
even vague accuracy completely impossible - and as such the client
accepted my recommendation to ream out the keys and pillars and
fit oversized rods.
Regular readers of my reviews might recall my
taking Yanagisawa to task for presenting a five grand horn with
just 0.15mm of play in the top stack (which, credit where credit's
due, they subsequently sorted out). I didn't need a set of precision
feeler gauges to measure the axial slop in the Borgani's keywork
- I could have poked the tip of a screwdriver into some of the gaps.
And just to drive the bodgey point home, almost all of the rod screws
were too short.
the low C# cup key rod, hiding away deep inside the pillar...
You might not think this matters much - at least from a mechanical
perspective - but pillars wear in much the same way that key barrels
do, and the less 'meat' you have wrapped around the head of the
screw, the sooner you'll get free play.
The point screw mounted keys threw up something
of a surprise. When I inspected the horn I noted that most of these
keys exhibited a noticeable amount of play. Upon stripping the horn
down I found out why.
Unlike all the other Borganis in this review, the point screw mounted
barrels aren't fitted with those awful sprung inserts - but here's
the thing; they look like they've almost been drilled to
take one. And I say almost because the holes are quite some way
larger than the diameter of the screw point, and much deeper than
the length of the point - but not deep enough to take an insert.
It's a sort of halfway house which leaves the keys wobbling about
on their pivots - because neither the diameter of the points nor
the (pseudo) tips are able to make constant contact with the key.
shot shows the length of the screw's tip against a reamer - with
the red line indicating where the end of the key barrel would be.
As you can see, the hole in the barrel is almost half as deep again
as the length of the tip. The proper fix for this would be to make
up a set of bushes and solder them in place, thereafter reaming
them out to match the profile of the point screw. This is, of course,
quite an expensive operation - so Borgani have got around the problem
by stuffing the barrels with some sort of fibrous synthetic material.
And, naturally, being Borgani the stuff they've used has turned
out to be either insufficient or unsuitable. Or both.
The truly daft thing is that there's a reasonably cheap and effective
fix for this - namely using a piece of suitably-sized nylon (or
some other robust plastic) tube. Simply cut it to the right length,
pop it in the key barrel and then fit the key. It lasts a good long
while, does a good job - and it's something the average DIYer can
Anyway, I think you get the gist - it's quite
clear that this example conforms to the standard seen in the models
reviewed above, and there's really not much else that's worth saying
about it other than once the build issues had been sorted out the
horn was left with rather a nice action and a much more positive
feel under the fingers.
I'd describe the Lovano as having a somewhat warm presentation.
It's a bit of an odd one actually, because it's not warm in the
sense of, say, a Martin or a Conn - rather it's more than there's
not quite as much brilliance around the edges of the notes as you
might expect. I suppose I'd describe it as a straight-ahead jazz
tenor that's just a little bit soft around the edges. Compared to
the Vintage I'd say it was a slightly more laid-back horn - y'know,
a bit relaxed and not quite so eager.
But, of course, these are very individual horns - so I'd expect
to see some tonal variation between otherwise identical models.
It also suffers from a touch of unevenness in places. The A is noticeably
muted compared to the B and the G, and there's a distinct murkiness
to the middle D...perhaps a bit less so on the low D. You'll notice
it more when playing very quietly - when you push the horn a bit
harder it evens out a bit more. I guess the mark of such horns is
that they're supposed to be distinctive, and in that respect it
fulfils the brief. It only remains to be see whether that's something
that floats your boat.
As for my comments about the scratchy engraving on the Vintage tenor
- the client who owns the Lovano informs me that the bell will rip
through a pair of tights in no time at all. You have been warned.
Bottom line, then. It's a nice horn with a distinct tonal presence
- but severely hampered by imprecise toneholes and dreadfully sloppy
keywork; all of which will cost many hundreds of pounds to fix properly.
Factor this in when purchasing.
If you've recently bought a Borgani and are concerned
or curious as to whether your horn suffers from similar issues,
you are invited to bring it along to the workshop for a free inspection.
In the course of the inspection I shall examine and test the instrument
and take photographs as necessary, whereafter they will be added
to the this review (good or bad). In return for your time I will
carry out a basic setup and lubrication job on your sax free of