Cardinali tenor saxophone (early)
Taiwan, most likely.
Guide price: Don't pay much
Date of manufacture: 2006 (estimated) (Serial range:919xx)
Date reviewed: July 2021
Here's something you don't see every day - it's
a Cardinali tenor sax. Before we get started there's something I
ought to make clear, otherwise things are going to get rather confusing.
The person responsible for this horn is Luca Cardinali - and he's
the chap who produced the Lupifaro saxophone in collaboration with
a Swiss company. That association seems to have come to an end and
now Cardinali is back trading under his own name.
So, this is a Cardinali - but it's an old one. Hopefully that clarifies
things in case you're looking to buy one of the newer models and
are hoping this review bears some relevance (it probably doesn't).
You'll notice that I've been a bit sketchy about
the origin of this horn. In all honesty I have no idea where it
comes from, but given what was revealed to me about the Lupifaro
tenor I reviewed back in 2019 I think it quite likely that this
is a 'boutique' horn - one that's bought in from elsewhere and rebadged.
I have a few thoughts about that, which I'll reveal a little later
So without further prevarication, let's pop this
thing up on the workbench and poke it with a screwdriver...
The construction is ribbed - at least for the main stacks, with
smaller plates for most of the ancillary keys. What individual pillars
there are are fitted with substantial bases, as are the guard feet
- bar the low Eb upper guard stay, which although it has a small
base it's silver-soldered to the bottom bow clamp (so it's not coming
off in a hurry).
The tonehole are plain drawn and were all rather nicely finished.
In fact I was rather impressed with how level they were. Sure, they
still needed a little bit of dressing to bring them to dead flat,
but they were quite some way better than most of the stuff on the
market these days. Happy to dish out a whole handful of points for
that particular feature.
The body comes with all the usual mod cons; you get a full set of
adjustable bumper felts on the bell key guards, a sturdy metal thumb
hook and a large, slightly domed metal thumb rest. The sling ring
is nicely proportioned at 17/10.5mm and there's a detachable bell
along with a triple-point bell brace.
wait a minute...what going on with that bell brace?
Clearly someone wanted to make a 'design statement' here, but was
too cheap to come up with a unique design and then pay to have it
built. So they opted for taking a standard Selmer style triple point
bell brace...and hacked half of the ring away. I mean, it doesn't
look elegant...it doesn't even look unusual. It looks exactly like
what it is, a butchered off-the-shelf bell brace. And now it's not
as stiff as it once was.
And what's even more curious is that the top of the brace doesn't
fit the holder...it's too thin. You can't see it in this shot but
there's a thick brass washer to take up the gap.
I want you to remember this last point, and also to remember the
shape of the mounting plate on the body - because it has a bearing
on the origins of this horn.
The finish appears to be a bare brass one. I say
'appears' to be because there some evidence of lacquer here and
there. There's certainly some still visible on the crook, and when
the horn was stripped down I found some on the inside of one or
two toneholes. Most curiously of all there appears to be some on
the springs (blued steel, incidentally). At first glance I thought
they might just be badly corroded, but on closer inspection it turned
out to be a layer of lumpy lacquer. I don't think I've ever seen
such a thing before, and it kinda got me wondering whether someone
went over this horn with a spray can of clear lacquer - most of
which, unsurprisingly, has long since fallen off. Or maybe someone
just lacquered the springs? Very strange.
Up close the body of the horn reveals quite a lot of light scratch
marks, which makes me wonder whether someone's gone over the horn
with a wadge of wire wool. Was this a factory finish, or was it
done by the reseller...or by the player? We may never know.
I mentioned the substantial guard feet earlier
- and here they are.
I'm always pleased to see guard feet like this. The guards take
a fair bit of punishment down the years, so it's good practice from
an engineering standpoint to be able to spread the load of those
knocks and bashes and dissipate it into the body without causing
any damage. It also means that the feet are a lot less likely to
be knocked off...which is quite a common problem.
complaints here at all - but here's another thing to remember. Look
at the shape and size of those guard feet...
Anyway, all things considered I was quite impressed
with the bodywork. It's sturdily and neatly built, with nothing
much to moan about.
But now we have to look at the keywork, and I regret to say that
here's where it all goes terribly wrong...
When I reviewed the Lupifaro I found myself appalled at the state
of the action. Rod screws were way undersized, pillars were overdrilled
- and there was so much play in the action that trying to regulate
it was a complete and utter waste of time.
And so it was on this horn.
Now then, the difference is that this horn is
15 years old and the Lupifaro was practically brand new. However,
I know what 15 years' worth of wear looks like - and even if the
owner had played this horn day in, day out for all those years (and
he hasn't), it still wouldn't account for the wear. Perhaps the
biggest clue comes from the fact that while all the keys were able
to wobble about on their pivots, there was very little evidence
of axial (end-to-end) wear. You don't get one kind of wear without
the other - they go hand-in-hand; so when you only have the one
kind of wear it always points to a manufacturing defect.
Let's start off with some figures. The fitted rod screw diameter
on the main stacks and larger keys was 3.16mm. A 3.23mm rod was
a sliding fit in most of the keys - but some of the pillars had
been drilled out to 3.42mm. Here's what that looks like:
can seen that there's a very considerable amount of movement in
the entire top stack, and it's very easy to see the head of the
rod screw moving back and forth in the pillar. You could spend all
the time in the world getting the pads to seat correctly, but with
this amount of play in the stack you'd never be able to dial in
the regulation between the keys so that the auxiliary B (the key
I'm holding) closed at the same time as the B or A keys. No matter
what you did, you'd always have a leak somewhere on the stack. And
because it'd be up at the top end of the horn it would have an effect
all the way down the instrument.
By the time you've added in a similar amount of free play on the
bottom stack plus some other play (which we'll come to shortly),
you're really going to struggle to hit the low notes cleanly or
with any real clarity.
Clearly this needed to be sorted out, but I ran
into a bit of a problem. Y'see, stock rod screw blanks come in standard
sizes - and the largest that was available was 3.23mm. This was
fine for the keywork, requiring only a few keys to be reamed and
a couple to be swedged - but it was nowhere near large enough for
the holes in some of the pillars. I could have perhaps sourced a
larger stock rod - but at the diameter required it would have thinned
out the barrels a little too much for my tastes. I could also have
resorted to peening the pillars (essentially squeezing them to close
up the hole) - but this isn't a very lasting fix, it disfigures
the pillar...and it isn't really effective when dealing with such
a large discrepancy. So the only other option was to fit bushes
to the pillars.
involves reaming out the pillars to a larger size (say 5mm) and
then making a brass tube that fits precisely into the hole, then
soft soldering it place. The tube is then reamed out to the required
size (taking care to align the hole with the rest of the pillars)
and the bush is trimmed to restore the profile of the pillar.
Here's the bushed pillar, all finished up and reamed out to take
the new size of rod screw. It's quite a lot of work - and while
it's a reasonably common job on horns that have seen 50+ years of
hard use and little maintenance, it's not something you'd ever expect
to have to do to a 15 year old horn of any reasonable quality.
The other play I alluded to came from the point
screw mounted keys.
The point screws are of the pseudo type, and these can only work
well if the holes in the barrels are drilled so that the largest
diameter of the screw's point is a snug fit...or the holes are shallow
enough that the point of the screw can engage on the bottom of the
hole. Unfortunately the barrel holes on the Cardinali were oversized
in every respect - and in order to make the action appear to be
a bit less worse than it actually was, someone's stuffed each hole
with a wadge of cork. That's Kwality - with a capital K.
this kind of free play right is a lot of work, and usually involves
either swapping out all the point screws for oversized ones (assuming
you can find or, more likely, make them), or swedging the ends of
the key barrels...which seldom works terribly well and looks untidy.
Or you can bush the barrels and ream them out to the correct size...assuming
the client's budget will run to that much work.
I used a different method, which I'm keeping under my hat...
As for the smaller rod screws for the ancillary
keys (side keys, palm keys etc.), these had play in them too - and
rather than muck about with pillar peening and key swedging I simply
reamed the barrels and fitted oversized the rods to them.
Build quality aside, the rest of the action is
just what you'd expect to find on a modern horn.
I was particularly pleased to see a full set of regulation adjusters
on both stacks, plus the usual trio of adjusters for the G#, Bis
Bb and the low C#. There's a decent swivelling octave mech fitted
which, once tightened up, was as smooth and slick in operation as
you'd ever need it to be. You can't quite see all of the large metal
thumb rest, but it's a solid lump of metal that tapers down towards
the body. That's another feature to remember for later. Similarly,
take note of the length of the crook receiver. It's a good 5mm longer
than most - as is the tenon sleeve on the crook.
cork and felt work was impressive - and neat and tidy too, with
much use made of composite cork in those places where compression
and/or friction might be an issue. Might not sound like a very big
deal, but it's nice to see someone paying attention to the little
details that make a horn more reliable over time.
Likewise it's nice to see simple fork and pin
connectors used for the side Bb and C key. No fuss, no nonsense
- just a solid, reliable and slick mechanism.
Speaking of solid, the keywork was reasonably stiff and took a fair
bit of effort to bend it - which again bodes well for long-term
reliability. And just for good measure there's a double arm on the
low C cup, which helps prevent twisting of the cup.
There's the usual tilting bell key table - which is fine, though
I felt the G# touchpiece was just a tad undersized for my tastes
- and if you've taken a good look at the opening shot you'll have
seen that there's no top F# key on this horn. Not that you can't
get a top F# - the usual front top F+A+side Bb does the job nicely,
and if you feel it's a bit flat you can substitute the Bis Bb for
quick word about the pads; they're Pisoni Pro pads - so they're
top quality. Better still they've been properly fitted and set,
with plenty of glue in the key cups. Not entirely sure what sort
of glue it is, but I'm hedging a bet on some kind of synthetic shellac.
Either way it's nice to see they haven't skimped on it.
Wrapping up the keywork you get a full set of slightly concave proper
mother-of-pearl touches with a slightly domed touch for the Bis
Bb and flat ovals for the G# and side F#.
So all in all it's been a bit of a mixed bag for
the Cardinali - but how did it perform in the playtest?
Under the fingers the horn feels quite good - or at least it does
now that the action's been tightened up. When it came in it was
as loose and rattley as bag of spanners, and almost as unwieldy
- but with everything all nice and snug there really wasn't anything
to moan about. Except perhaps the slightly small G# touchpiece.
That's it. That's your lot.
It's just your typical modern action - probably a mash-up of various
designs. A Yamaselmagisawa, if you will. Unless you have exceptionally
large or small hands you'll find that everything's where it ought
to be. And it's a nice action too - the long springs give it a nice
Tonewise I'd say it's a text book 'straight-ahead'
tenor. Y'know, not too bloaty in the midrange, not too shrill at
the top end. It's even-toned across the range and responds really
well to changes in your embouchure, such that you can shift it slightly
brighter or darker as you wish. And as you might imagine that also
means it's quite a responsive horn - which shows its credentials
in a nice bit of percussiveness when you push it a bit. I liked
that very much, it's the sort of liveliness that appeals to me in
As far as tonal quality goes I'd say it's up there with the likes
of Yamaha et al - it's definitely a big step up from a typical intermediate
horn and easily capable of showing some of the pricier Mauriats
a hard time. An interesting horn, in other words.
brings me back to the question of its origins.
Now, remember all those features I pointed out? I've seen them before,
and the place I've seen them before is on the Bauhaus M2 series
of horns. If you look for the mentioned features in the reviews
of the M2 Pro
and the M2
Earth Series you'll find matches for each and every one of them.
The longer crook receiver and tenon sleeve, the crook clamp with
the extended lyre holder, the hefty tapered thumb rest, the rectangular
bell brace body mount and the large guard feet. As for the bell
brace and that brass washer...note that the Bauhaus has a secondary
arm that extends from the bell brace across the body. The washer
on the Cardinali is filling the gap where that arm would have sat.
So it's a Bauhaus M2 under a different name,
right? Pretty much. I mean, when I compared the playtest notes I
see that I picked up the Cardinali's ability to shift its tonal
approach when you changed the embouchure - and I noted exactly the
same thing on the Earth Series horn. It's possible that it might
be a slightly different body by the same manufacturer - hence the
similar features - but my gut feeling is that it's the Earth rebadged.
But what about the appalling keywork? There was
none of that on the Bauhaus - you got a well-built action that matched
the price ticket. I can't in all honesty say what's gone on. Could
the body and keys have been bought in from different manufacturers?
Seems unlikely...why go to all that trouble? Why did the action
exhibit exactly the same faults I found on the Lupifaro? Was someone
(and I use the term extremely loosely) 'tweaking' the action? This
horn predates the Bauhaus Pro by just a few years so I guess it's
possible that the manufacturers upped their game in the interim
period, but I'm struggling to believe that they would go to all
the trouble of building quite a nice body and then slapping a load
of dodgy keywork on it. There's just something about it that doesn't
So what's the final verdict?
It's that the Cardinali is a very competent horn, that it's probably
as Italian as a pizza from Dominos...and that it's not worth buying
unless you can pick one up dead cheap - because you're in for £300-£500's
worth of remedial work to set the action right. You also have to
consider that this horn is 15 years old and may have been worked
on in the past. I very much doubt that anyone who worked on it would
have loosened the action - but they certainly might have levelled
the toneholes. The pads look right for the age of the horn (only
a couple had been swapped out), so I'm pretty sure it's in mostly
But if my description of the horn floats your boat, just look out
for a secondhand Bauhaus Earth Series. You won't be able to tell
the difference, I'm sure.