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Hanson LX (60) tenor saxophone

Hanson LX(60) tenor sax reviewOrigin: Unconfirmed, assembled in UK
Guide price: £2400
Weight: 3.32kg
Date of manufacture: 2013 (serial range: H65xxx) /2019 (serial range: H95xxx)
Date reviewed: May 2020

Hello cheeky

This is a slightly unusual review in that I'm going start it with a bit of a rant.
Long-time readers of my site will know that I'm not shy of expressing forthright opinions - and that, more often than not, I have the photos to back it up - but I usually have the decency to wait until I'm at least a couple of paragraphs into a review before I 'go off on one'. But not this time. And there's a very good reason for this. Y'see, I've just finished a service on this horn - and as any repairer will tell you (if you ply them with enough beer/whisky/cake), no matter how smoothly a job goes, there will always be a certain amount of cussing. For the most part this is confined to swearing when the tip of a needle spring punches its way under a fingernail, or a drop of molten shellac falls onto the back of your hand - but sometimes the sheer fiddliness of the job warrants a healthy stress-relieving utterance or two. It's just one among the many tools that a craftsman/woman will use to get the job done.
But there's one expletive that no-one wants to use...or hear - and it's "FFS!". If you don't know what that means, ask your parents (but don't tell them I sent you, OK?). There were a LOT of FFS's involved with servicing this horn - and when it came to doing the research I was somewhat (what's the word?)...'surprised' to see what the manufacturer had written about the ethos behind this horn.
I shall quote:

"Take a 1954 Selmer MKVI tenor.
Strip it down to every single component part.
Invest in world leading analytical and inspection technology to inspect and appreciate this old master.
Make a new saxophone with the feel and tonality that made the original MKVI a legend and add into the equation 21st century engineering to enhance key action and feel."

Doesn't that sound wonderful?
But here's the thing. There's a reason that Selmer moved on from the MKVI, and that's because it was inherently flawed. However, it was those flaws that gave it its distinctive character - and when you iron out the flaws you tend to iron out the character too. Just ask Yamaha.
I've written about this phenomenon in my review of the various Mk VI horns - but, essentially, the bottom line is that no-one really wants to make an exact MkVI copy, because without the Selmer 'badge' all you'd really have is a horn that doesn't have rock-solid tuning and an evenly-spread tone. Just ask Yamaha, again. So whenever I see someone claiming to have stripped down a MkVI and re-made it, I breathe a sigh...because sooooo many people have made the same claim, and yet no-one's been able to wrest the crown out of the MkVI's cold, dead hands. More often than not all you end up with is a YASK - Yet Another Selmer Knockoff.
But I'm led to believe that rather more work went into gleaning the specs from an original Selmer - and since the tone of a horn comes from the geometry of the bore it should follow that if you can produce a copy with accuracy, it should sound exactly the same.

At least that's the theory. Yamaha are probably the world leaders in producing consistent horns, and while one YTS62 will sound very much like another YTS62 there will always be very slight variations. It won't be much, for sure, but it really takes so little difference to make one example a 'keeper' and another merely passable.

And so I'm starting off this review with some expectations. Not my own - but those implied by the manufacturer's blurb. Unfortunately I don't have a 1954 MkVI tenor handy to check the dimensions and placement of the toneholes - so we'll have to take that on trust. But I do have some experience of playing and repairing them, and in that respect that's the bar I'll be setting for this horn. It's a tough call, but then it's a grandiose claim.
Let's see if the LX lives up to it...

Hanson LX tenot top F# pillarBefore we begin I should say that this is a two-horn review. I don't see very many Hansons in the workshop, so it's was something of a nice surprise to find myself with two in at the same time - built several years apart. The bulk of the review is going to focus on the early model - with notes on any differences to the newer model as appropriate.

The construction is ribbed (multiple pillars mounted onto plates which are then fixed to the body tube) with the few remaining lone pillars standing on moderately-sized bases, along with a few smaller plates (a smaller group of pillars mounted on a plate) for the palm and side keys.
Of particular note at this point is the size of the top F# upper pillar base - it's simply huge.
I very much like this feature because this is such vulnerable pillar - and if it cops a whack and get pushed into the body tube, it can be a properly nasty job to deal with. A large base means the pillar is that much sturdier and should be able to shrug off the lighter knocks...and not do so much damage to the body when the heavier ones come along.

Hanson LX tenor bell stayThe horn has a small (14.8) sling ring - which is a bit on the mean side if your sling has a large hook - a large, slightly domed metal thumb rest and an adjustable metal thumb hook. You get a full set of bumper felt adjusters on the bell key guards, though I will point out that the guards themselves are made from very thin brass. On average it measures just 1mm thick - and dips down some way lower than that in places. That's quite thin for a part that's likely to take a few knocks, and as such I'd regard it as barely adequate.
There's a two-point bell brace fitted. It's of the same type that was fitted to the MkVI, and isn't as sturdy a design as the more modern triple-point bell stays that are common today.
I'm not too impressed with the bell stay body mount - it looks to be a bit on the small side...and while the mount on the Selmer wasn't that great either, it was at least a little larger. A few penn'orth of extra brass wouldn't have gone amiss here. Of course, with a removable bell ring (or semi-removable, in this case) it means that the horn is fitted with a detachable bell.
Someone pointed me to a video of these horns being made, and what I saw was someone soldering on a bottom bow joint. I had a good look at the joint but couldn't see any signs that it was anything other than glued/sealed and clamped.

The toneholes are plain drawn, nicely finished and mostly level. This is a horn with a good few bars on it, so it's difficult to say what was built in and what got knocked into it along the way - but I think it's fair to say that they were no better or worse than much of anything else I see these days. On the newer model the toneholes were slightly better in terms of level, but weren't quite so well finished - with quite a few of them having noticeable burrs.

Hanson LX tenor oversized pillar holeI wasn't at all impressed with the accuracy with which the pillars had been drilled/reamed out. I found quite a few of the keys that were mounted on rod screws has a fair bit of radial (side-to-side) play....but it wasn't down to the rod screws being loose in the key barrels (they were rather well-fitted, actually) but the fact that the head of the screw was able to wobble about in the pillar.
Here's the low C pillar, and you can see quite clearly that there's a substantial gap between the rod screw and the bore of the pillar. OK, It doesn't look like much - but when you press the low C key down, the pad will hit the tonehole and come to rest...and then the key barrel will move to take up any free play in the action, including any play in the pillar. This will result in the key cup lifting slightly at one end (the front or the rear, depending on where the force is applied).
It's unlikely to stop the horn dead in its tracks, but it'll certainly knock a percentage off the stability, response and performance. And thus it knocks a percentage off my score sheet.
Note the flat spot on the head of the screw. This is a screaming bodge. The idea behind it is that if the hole in the pillar is too large for the diameter of the rod screw, you may be able to force the rod screw to wedge itself in the pillar by beating the crap out of the screw head and splaying it out. This is essentially how needle springs are fitted. It's fine for springs, it's very not fine for rod screws.
Newer Hanson LX tenor rod screwNow, it's possible for pillars to end up this way through a process of wear and tear - but it takes an awful long time to wear a pillar to the degree shown here...and certainly a very great deal longer than this horn has been alive. Nope, this is a plain old manufacturing defect - and it's such a shame given how snug the rods were in the key barrels. I've seen this sort of thing on a lot of Ultra-Cheap horns, but at this price-point it's a pretty poor show.
Naturally I was keen to see if the newer LX exhibited the same problem, and I'm very pleased to report that it didn't. Someone got their act together - or they saved up and bought a new drill bit.
However, I did notice a bit of bodge on the low C/Eb screw. It's much the same principle, but instead of hammering the head of the screw you take a pair of snips and 'crimp' the head of the screw - which leaves this telltale dimple. This was one of a few screws I found on the horn that had been attacked in this fashion - and the truly daft thing is...they didn't need it. The rod screws were all a good fit in the pillar. And besides, the dimple is nowhere near large enough to act as a crimp and splay the head of the screw out. So what's going on?
Well, we'll find out shortly...

The body has been assembled neatly enough - no real complaints there. No scruffy soldering or mangled fittings - and the whole lot has been finished in a coat of 'vintage gold' lacquer.
I found a few blemishes here and there (resulting from flux bleed from under the base of the fittings), but nothing out of the ordinary for a horn of this age that perhaps hasn't see a great deal of maintenance or cleaning. Some horns do better, some do worse - this one treads the middle line.

Hanson LX tenor bottom bow ringIf I were Yoda I think, at this point, I'd be tempted to say "Strong the MkVI is in this one, yes" - because I've just noticed the bell rings.
I had a bit a chuckle at what's going on here. The photo shows the bottom bow clamp ring - with the Hanson on top and a Selmer below. They look remarkably similar...but not the same. Similar enough to give an 'impression' but not so similar as to invite accusations of fakery. Top marks for cheek, though.

Tine to have a look at the keywork - and let's start with my favourite whinge...the point screws. They're of the pseudo variety, but this is something of a moot point because the key barrels feature sprung cylinders/inserts. It's a system used by Selmer on their Reference series horns - but the big difference between the cylinders on the Selmer and those on the Hanson is that the springs on the Selmer are held captive on the cylinder (I've seen this feature on another horn I've reviewed recently...and we'll come back to that in due course). It might not sound very important, but it means that when you take a key off there's a lot less chance that the cylinder will shoot off into the wide blue yonder.
You need to watch out for this if you're dismantling the horn - you think it won't happen to you but it will. And it did to me - one of the inserts from the low Bb shot off into space, and rather than spend half an hour hunting for it in the dark recesses of the workshop I opted to make another one. Only took ten minutes on the lathe...but still.
Hnason LX tenor sprung barrelI absolutely loathe this feature. Sure, it has the advantage that the spring-loaded barrels will constantly take up any wear and tear, but it does so at the cost of a degree of tightness in the action. No matter how well you set the horn up, you'll always be able to wiggle the keys ever so slightly. You don't get that with proper point screws. When the action's set nice and tight there's a solidity and response about it that's noticeable. Of course, you have to maintain the horn to keep it that way - which is the drawback.
At least they didn't go the whole hog and use the awful sprung pivot rod on the Low C/Eb, which can also be found on the Ref.54.

But it's all academic anyway - because on the later model Hanson have very sensibly ditched the useless sprung barrels and gone back to plain old point screws. However, they've used pseudo point screws. These will work like proper points provided you drill the key barrels out only deep enough so that the tip of the screw has something to butt up against. If you drill the holes too deep you just end up with a parallel point screw...which has no latitude for taking up future wear and tear. Of course, there's a workaround - AKA a bodge - which involves stuffing the holes with bits of old pad leather. And this is what Hanson have done.
Or what they've almost done - because, rather curiously, the bell keys are still fitted with sprung barrels. But not all of them. The low C# is, and Bb, and the G# lever...but not the low B. What gives? There may well be other keys that still use the inserts, but none of the ones I took off had them apart from those mentioned - and it just doesn't make any sense. Could it be they were just using up old stock?
What was is the blurb said? "21st century engineering to enhance key action and feel". My arse.
And to add insult to injury, the original Selmer would have been fitted with proper point screws. I rest my case.

Hanson LX tenor right hand stack regulationAs you'd expect on a horn more or less based on a MkVI there are no adjusters on either of the main key stacks.
I'm a bit disappointed about that because regulation adjusters make it a lot easier to compensate for any natural flex in the keywork. It makes my job easier and it makes your horn more reliable in the long run. However, you do get the usual trio of adjusters on the G#, Bis Bb and low B to C#.
Thin plain cork has been used for the regulation buffers. It's OK, but can lead to a bit of noise - so I replaced them with compressed woven baize, which quietened things down considerably.

You get a tilting bell key table, mounted on a fixed semicircular compound pillar. Nothing much to say about this other than it differs from the MkVI, which used a group of individual pillars. You also get simple fork and pin connectors for the side Bb/C keys. No complaints there. And while we're staring at a shot of the action I suppose I might as well point out that it's all powered by blued steel springs.
I'd also like to point out that during the course of the service I had cause to bend a few keys, and found that they were really rather hard to bend. Not quite the hardest I've comes across, but better than most. This is a very good thing.

Hanson LX tenor G# padThe G# key caused a few raised eyebrows. I'd removed the key to degrease and lube it and was just giving it a quick wipe over when the pad fell out. OK, pads can and do fall out - and it's for one of two reasons, the most common being that the pad is very old and the shellac has lost the will to live. This can sometimes happen quite a bit earlier if water gets behind the pad. The other reason is that it was barely glued in from the start...and this is what caused this pad to fall out.
Check out the photo; you can just about see some flat, shiny spots on the very mean smear of shellac on the back of the pad. Those were the only points of contact this pad was making with the base of the key cup. There's just a smear on the top of the pad, a thin band just above the centre and a small blob just below. That's it. That's your lot. If this pad ever sealed against the tonehole at all it was only through sheer luck - which it clearly didn't have a lot of, because when it arrived in the workshop it was leaking like a sieve. If it hadn't have fallen out while I was cleaning the key then I'm willing to bet that a couple of choruses of 'Cherokee' would have sent it flying.

With a new pad (properly) fitted, I set to degreasing the rod screw - and found this.
Hanson LX tenor G# rod screwThis was a bit of a 'What the...?' moment. The Hanson G# rod screw is on the right - and on the left is an example of how a normal rod screw should look. There are all sorts of things going on here. For a start there's no way that taper behind the thread should be there, and what on earth has happened to the thread itself? Half of it appears to be missing, and what's left is only just barely there.
It has to be deliberate. I mean, if you're making/assembling horns you'll have a collection of parts bins full to overflowing with all the bits and bobs you'll need - and if someone at the factory made a boo-boo with a rod screw you'd just hmmph, chuck it away and pull another one out of your stock. What you wouldn't do is think "Oh my, that's weird!" and then fit the bloody thing to the horn - because it'll very likely lead to the sort of problems that'll take far more time to sort out than the cost of another rod screw.
So why have they done this? The most likely explanation (aside from an empty parts bin) is that the geometry of the key fit was out. When this happens you often find that when you tighten the rod screw up, the key will bind. You could, of course, just back the screw out a bit - but that will probably mean it'll work its way out in no time at all. By cutting a taper up at the thread end you can relieve whatever strain is causing the binding. So it's a bodge, in other words. It may also suggest an out-of-round key barrel.
Remember the rod screw with the crimped head? Well, there's another way to get around a binding key and that's to lock the rod screw in a certain position if the key binds when the screw is driven fully home - and the bodgiest way to do this is to raise a burr on the head of the screw so that it bites into the pillar and holds the screw in place. Of course, this chews up the bore of the pillar. Nice.

On measuring the screw I found it to be a 2.78mm diameter screw with a 2.78 M2.4 x 0.45 thread. The same as used on a Selmer MkVI. Fortunately my parts bins we're rather better stocked than Hanson's - and I decided to take a chance and pull out a Selmer tenor G# rod screw. And whaddya exact fit, right down to the length of the screw. And the key fit didn't even need any tweaking. How about that...

Hanson LX low Bb padGiven my experience with the G# pad, and being rather concerned that other pads may have been just as badly fitted (and might subsequently fall out once the horn was returned to the client) I gave every pad a bit of gentle tug on the reflector to see what would happen. The Aux. F popped out, as did the low E, and the low Eb, and low C#, and low B and low Bb...which was particularly bad.
It was even less well-glued in than the G#, despite being a considerably larger pad - having a mere two points of contact. You can see these points quite clearly on the key cup. There's some ineffectual shellac in the centre of the pad but the rest of it remains as clean as the day the pad rolled off the production line.
I could be wrong but I think this is possibly the worst example of pad fitting I've ever seen - and believe me, I've seen some rubbish in my time. It's all the more galling because these are decent pads - Pisoni Mypads, with a plastic reflector. They're pretty much the industry standard no-nonsense quality pad - not too hard, not too soft, well made and quite accurate. If you don't fit them properly you're just wasting your money (and everyone's time) and you might just as well fit the cheapest pads you can find, for all the difference it'd make.

It also leads to more expensive repair bills.
Fortunately for this client I have a policy of sticking to my quotes - unless things go very badly wrong. I feel it's my responsibility to examine the horn thoroughly when it comes in and properly assess what needs doing. But in so doing I make certain assumptions - one of which is that the pads will be at least reasonably well fitted (more fool me, perhaps). Sure, most pads fitted to new horns rarely come up to the standards that any half-decent repairer will work to, but they're usually at least 'workable'.
The next time I get a Hanson LX in, I know I'll have to up the quote to take into account the fact that all the pads will have to be checked...and that some of them are likely to fall out. And if they're doing this on the LX, what about the other horns they produce?
"But aha!", you say, "This horn comes with a 5 year full service warranty. Just send it back and they'll have to sort it!". This is true, but the problem is...this horn did go back for a service. 'Nuff said.

Of course, you'll be wondering if the pads on the newer LX were any better (same brand of pads, but with metal domes reflectors). Only very slightly, I'm afraid. They've made a better job of smearing the shellac over more of the pad base, but it's still barely enough to merely stick the pads in the key cups.

Hanson LX tenor octave mechThere's a bog-standard swivelling octave key mech, and about the only thing of note here is the size of the thumb key. It's pretty big.
I'm really not sure why they made it that large - even a player with extremely large thumbs isn't going to make use of the full depth of the touchpiece. They really could have made this part a little bit smaller - and then used the brass they saved to make the bell key guards thicker...
The metal thumb rest is comfy enough, but on the newer model they've changed it a flat plastic job - which I feel is a bit of a shame.

There's a full set of Abalone key pearls (which look rather nice against the lacquer) with a very slightly concave profile, save for the Bis Bb which is very slightly domed. In fact it's rather more flat that it is domed, but we'll let that one slip - and there are flat oval pearls fitted to the side F# and G# touchpieces.

I mentioned earlier that I'd seen the sprung barrels with the non-captive inserts on another horn I'd reviewed - and in fact it's two horns; the Rare TS73061 and the Lupifaro Platinum Vintage.
I'd been struck by a vague sense of deja vu ever since I started taking the horn apart, and thus curiosity got the better of me. So I dug out my archive shots of those two horns and did some comparing. Aside from the sprung key barrels there was little about the Rare that matched up (at least as far as I was able to see), but the similarities with the Lupifaro were...uncanny.
To be sure there's always going to be a degree of 'convergent evolution' between manufacturers - especially in these global times - but when the similarities start to pile up it's no wonder that the questions start to form. So I got a piece of paper out and jotted down the similarities - and came up with this little lot:

Hanson LX tenor low Eb keyB/Bb centre guard stay, bell ring, compound bell key pillar, palm key plate, thin bell key guards, sprung barrels with non-captive springs, crushed rod screw heads (though at least not mangled like on the Lupifaro), overdrilled pillars and the large thumb key touchpiece - which you can see in the inset in the shot above.

Of all the above commonalties I'd say that the sprung barrels, the compound bell key pillar and the thumb key are the most distinctive - and there's another even more distinctive feature the two horns share.
Here's the low Eb key. On the top is the Hanson, below is the Lupifaro. Note the very chunky spring cradle (in which the working tip of the spring sits). You'll not find this on a MkVI, so it's not a copied feature - it's unique to whoever made the keywork.
Note too how the low Eb spring is canted back at quite an angle. This is very unusual - so much so that this, in combination with the spring cradle, is something of a giveway.

I'm sure if I looked a bit harder, or had a Lupifaro to hand to take some measurements from, the list would grow.
So what are the implications of this? Well, some time ago - just after I published my review of the Lupifaro tenor - I got an email from a client who claimed to know some 'inside information'. It made for an interesting read, and I had no reason to doubt the veracity of it, but if I simply published every bit of unconfirmed info that turns up in my inbox on a regular basis I'd probably find myself in big trouble quite quickly. Which is only right and proper. But I can certainly 'say what I see' - and what I'm seeing here is a horn that bears more than a passing resemblance to an apparently completely different marque.

This raises a few questions, because I have conflicting information about where the Hanson LX is manufactured. What we know for certain is that this horn is not made in England - it's assembled here. I've no problem with that, it's the same setup that TJ uses for the TJ RAW series. When it comes to where the component parts come from, it all gets a bit muddy. 'Internet lore' says that the bodies are made in Germany - which I find rather surprising, especially if the same body (or one that looks remarkably similar) is turning up on an apparently Italian horn. The keywork appears to come from somewhere undisclosed, but my source tells me that the whole lot comes from China.

Putting my Devil's Advocate hat on I could say that what makes one horn different from another is their body tube dimensions - and without measuring them I have no way of knowing how different (or otherwise) they are, aside from playing them (which isn't always an entirely conclusive process - though the Lupifaro played very well indeed).
It could also be the case that the pillars and fittings came from the same source, and were simply bought in by whoever made the body tubes. But that doesn't make a great deal of sense given that everything has to line up once the horn is assembled. Certain pillars have to be a certain height and certain pillar bases and plates have to fit around toneholes etc. It would make more sense for whoever built the body to make all the fittings that go with it - and it's reasonable to assume that they're capable of making more than one design of body to suit the client's needs. There's at least one factory in China that offers this service.
Buying the keywork in is a reasonable option - it's a different manufacturing process from that of making body tubes and fittings, and a company set up to make keys would have no trouble producing them to a custom specification.

So what we have here, then, is rather a lot of circumstantial evidence - upon which I cannot draw any firm conclusions. All I can really do is say "Hey! Look at this!" and leave it up to you to decide what it all means...
However, I'm not really that fussed where a horn is made - only how well it's made and set up...and whether it's being sold at a price that's commensurate with its build quality. But still, it's nice to know...right?

Hanson LX  tenor later modelAll of the above is based on a model built in 2013 - which has since been superseded by this model on the left (this is the bronze body version). As far as I can tell it's pretty much the same horn with a few tweaks here and there. By far the most important tweak from a mechanical/feel perspective is that of the point screws - which I mentioned earlier. The other differences I spotted are as follows:

Low C/Eb touchpieces about 5mm lower, flat side top F touchpiece (curved on the older model), different decoration on bell rings, slightly shorter G key touchpiece arm, top F and body octave pip combined on a single mini rib, oval bases on single pillars, no raised ridge on bottom bow plate, flat plastic thumb rest, slightly wider bell stay ring, no lyre socket, kink in middle of G key barrel (straight on older one), a larger bell rim (by around 5mm) and Selmer-style domed metal reflectors on the pads.

If you're buying new it's obviously academic as it'll be this model that you get - but if you're looking for a used LX you may feel you'd want to go for one of the newer models. If so, the most visible features to look out for are the mini rib on the top F# and the kink on the G key.
The flat bottom bow plate on the bottom of the horn and the change in design of the side top F touchpiece are also easy to spot - both of which you can just about see in the full horn shots - and look out for the black plastic thumb rest.

Hanson LX tenor new model differencesThe older model turned up in a box-style zippered case, but the new horn comes in a shaped semi hard case. It's the usual zippered affair, with storage slots for the crook and the mouthpiece...and nothing else. However, there's a zippered pouch and a wallet with magnetic clips on the exterior of the case, and there's also an integral harness built in which will help with carrying the case around.
It's a reasonable case and will provide a decent level of protection - for at least as long as the zip lasts.

The horn feels reasonably light around the neck. At 3.32kg it's a little bit heavier than the MkVI, but still at the lighter end of the scale for tenor. In fact it weighs exactly the same as a Yamaha YTS61.
The action on the newer horn (which has never been tweaked) was pretty good. For the most part the springs had been set to what I'd call a medium strength - which'll be just fine for most players - with almost only the bells keys being a little too heavy for my liking. Not a lot in it though, and after a few minutes' tweaking with a springhook I got the action nice and light.
I said 'almost' because there's a design flaw on the top B key which means the spring is too short. It's quite a thick spring - and short, thick springs rarely give a good snappy feel to a key...and there's only so much you can do to tweak the response of them. Had it been half as long again it would have been fine.

Because it's largely based on a MkVI it feels pretty much the same in terms of key layout, which means that few players are likely to struggle with reaching any keys.
The difference between the feel of the keys mounted on sprung barrels on the older horn and keys mounted on ordinary point screws on the newer horn is mininal...but it's still there. The latter feels just that little bit snappier and more responsive. I dare say you'll not notice it unless you play an old and a new model side-by-side - so I wouldn't let it put you off picking up an older model on the secondhand market.

So after all the tears, the drama and the bloodshed, what can I say about the playability of this horn?
The really big question is, obviously, does it play like a MkVI?
Yes. And no.
Tonewise it's got that Selmer thing going on. You know, a broad soundstage with a bit of a lift in the midrange and the sense that you can take this horn to any kind of gig and it'll fit in just nicely. If you push it a bit it'll growl nicely, and if you back off and smooch it'll present you with a nice velvety tone. It's got a decent amount of poke if you want it, but it doesn't get too brash or shouty.

So far so vague. Let's get down to the nitty-gritty.
It keeps itself nicely in control right across the range - and that's perhaps its biggest departure from the Selmer. It doesn't have that quirkiness, or many of those flaws which lift what's essentially a 'straight ahead' tenor out of the crowd. It's also softer. There's a hint of that Selmer crackle to the notes, but it's laid back...muted. Oh, don't get me wrong - it's not by much, at all, but it's there nonetheless. There's a little unevenness across the range (like the Selmer has), but it's not so distinct - probably due to that lack of of crackle - and I felt that the low B tended to dip in terms of punch against its immediate neighbours. I don't want to seem like disparaging this horn (because I'm not), but it seems to me that it plays like a MkVI that's got a bit of a leak up at the top end. Know what I mean? It's all there...but not quite.
Now, if you picked this horn up and blew it on its own I think you'd be pleasantly surprised by it. It's confident, assured, punchy and responsive - with just a hint of resistance that allows you to get your teeth into it. I think many players would like it - it's inoffensive and capable. But if you then picked up a MkVI I think the first thing you'd feel is just how much energy the horn has, how much it feeds back to the player, and how each note seems to have that inexplicable shimmer to it. There's a reason (over and above folklore) that people pay big bucks for a MkVI, and much if it is down to how the horn feels when you play it.

Hanson LX tenor bellThe LX makes a very reasonable stab at it - a very reasonable stab indeed - but it's not quite enough to make you swoon. And so it needs another advantage. And it has one - namely the price. At £2400 it's a steal, especially when you look at the competition. Which consists, in the main, of the Yamaha 480. This is a very different horn indeed - and while it's a good one, it's also very contemporary. If you're looking for a dark tone, the Yamaha probably isn't going to appeal much to you. Pushing the fiscal boat out by another £300's worth gets you the Yanagisawa TWO1 or the Yamaha YTS62 - both of which would be rather more worthy competitors....and, as usual, there are a couple of Mauriats buzzing around at just under or over the price of the Hanson. They usually put on a good show, but they have nothing in this price bracket that's particularly special.
Just to make sure I blew the LX against a purple logo YTS62, and come up with pretty much the results I expected. Both horns have a kind of authority to their tone - there's that instant feeling of money well spent - and in many respects they have a lot in common. They both have a well-developed sound, they're responsive and agile - and they both feel like they'll handle anything you care to throw at them. But the LX has just a bit more darkness to it and a slightly fatter midrange presence. I'd call it a draw - which isn't bad going considering the LX is a fair bit cheaper.
I tested the later model and found that it was ever so slightly softer tonally than the older one - but only ever so, and certainly well within the range of variation I'd expect to see between any two 'identical' horns. If you thought the difference in tone was down to the the bronze body, I'm about to disappoint you - because I swapped the crooks around and sure enough, the older horn's crook on the newer horn brightened it up considerably (and vice versa). I very much suspect the crooks are the same, and what we're seeing here is a 'pot luck' difference (which is why you should always try swapping crooks around when trying out a particular horn in the shop).

I guess the question you might be asking at this point it "If the body was made to exactly the same specifications as a 1954 MkVI, how come it doesn't sound exactly the same?". And some of you may also be jumping up and down with glee and shouting "See?? I told you! It's all in the vintage brass!!"
The (boring) truth of the matter is that it's actually really, really hard to copy a horn. As I said at the top of the review, even 'identical' Yamahas have subtle variations in tone...and that's on horns that have all come off the same production line, using the same tooling and the same materials. Some of what made the MkVI the horn it was is going to be down to how it was made.

In summing up I think it's fair to say I was rather disappointed by the older LX. Oh, not in the way it played - it ticked all the boxes on that score - but by the succession of build-quality issues. It was a good horn at a very fair price, and it really deserved to be put together with a little more attention to detail. A good service will sort out most of these issues, and as such I wouldn't be too hasty to disregard it as a viable horn on the secondhand market if you buy wisely.
As for the newer model, the build quality has improved somewhat - and although the point screws still aren't proper points they're at least a lot better and less fussier that the sprung barrels on the older model (bell keys aside, of course). It plays the same, it feels slightly better - there's really not much to dislike about it in that sense. However, there are still a few build niggles which let the side down a tad. If these could be sorted out at the assembly stage - even if it added another £100 to the asking price - this would be a killer horn.
Given the playability of the horn, though, and the extremely competitive price (not to mention the five year full service warranty) the LX makes it onto my list of recommended horns. If you had to spend another £100-£200 having the niggles sorted out, it'd still be worth it.


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Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2020