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Largo (Australia) tenor saxophone

Largo tenor saxophoneOrigin: China
Guide price: £240 (no longer manufactured)
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: 2008
Date reviewed: August 2008

A Chinese built Ultra Cheap tenor with an antipodean slant

One problem with my reviews of Ultra Cheap horns is that because I'm based in the UK they're pretty much confined to brands and models sourced in this country. With the rise of 'globalisation' though I'm beginning to see more international brands on the workbench, and the farthest travelled of these is the Largo - all the way from Australia, via a company called Jouelline Strings.
Why buy a horn from Australia, you may well ask? Well, if the price (including shipping) is right and the quality's up to par then it's less of a risk than buying an unknown brand in your home country. It might seem like a long way for a horn to come, but then any other Ultra Cheap horn will have started out from China anyway - so it's not as though it's a big deal these days.
It appears that the Largo people are among the small group of dealers who put a bit of time and effort into sourcing and checking their products rather than just being 'box shifters', and that means that their horns will have had technical and player reviews at some stage in their development. It also means you're rather more likely to get some customer support should you have any problems.

What we have here then is a bog-standard generic copy - probably of a Selmer, although it's possible to find copy horns that exhibit features from a number of different well-known brands.

The body is fairly typical, featuring such items as strapped pillars, detachable bell, adjustable thumbhook and detachable arched bell key pillar. The build quality is surprisingly good, the pillars and fittings are neatly built and attached - I'd even go so far as to say the solderwork is excellent, as good if not better than I've seen on many a more expensive horn.
The toneholes are all nice and level, although some were slightly rough to the touch in places. I don't feel this will be a problem for the life-expectancy of the horn though it could potentially cause the odd sticking pad from time to time. It's easy enough to fix though, just slide a sheet of 800 carborundum paper between the pad and the tonehole, press the cup down lightly and drag the paper out. Repeat this a couple of times and the toneholes will be plenty smooth enough. I didn't bother myself, and in the couple of months I've been putting this horn though its paces I haven't noticed any problems.
The bell key guards are a touch thinner (as usual for these horns) than I'd like, but the guard stays are well fitted and generously proportioned - and the bell brace is the standard three-point Selmer style ring.

Largo bell keysThe keywork is good; neatly built and suitably strong. There are no adjusters on the main key stacks (though these will be added to later models, I'm told) and the front top F key touchpiece is a round key pearl, which isn't as slick as the more modern teardrop shaped keys. It wasn't all that well positioned either, but a quick tweak brought it closer to the B key pearl and made it a tad more accessible.
On the plus side there's a simple fork and pin arrangement for the side Bb/C key trills as well as a decent and responsive octave key mechanism.
The action is powered by plain steel springs. The action out of the box wasn't too bad if a little on the heavy side, which is typical for a student horn. Most players would be more than happy with an action like this for their entire playing career - but a spot of judicial tweaking of the spring tension here and there can make a substantial difference. This is precisely what I did to the Largo, and it made the action feel much slicker and quicker. It's probably not worth rushing straight round to a repairer to have it done, but it's worth bearing in mind when the horn goes in for a general service.
That said, I note that the new models now feature blued steel springs, which will add a little more 'zing and zip' to the action with their faster response times and better power curves.
Under the fingers the keys felt comfortable and well-positioned. I felt the bell key spatulas were a little further round than I'm used to on my Yamaha, but by no means inaccessible - and aside from the aforementioned front top F key layout I had no problems at all getting around the instrument.

The keywork uses pseudo point screws for the pivots. As regular readers will know (or should by now) these don't allow for any adjustment of the action as and when it wears - but it's a simple enough job to swap them out for proper points if so required. It might be an option for those who buy these kind of horns as a backup, but the vast majority of students will have upgraded long before the action wears.

Largo tenor lacquerThe finish is a little variable - I noticed a few spots of banding (rings of slightly darker lacquer) around some of the fittings - as seen here on the crook socket. Were this a four figure horn I'd be complaining, but given the price of the Largo it's a non-issue, and I rather like the effect myself, even if I have to stare at the horn quite closely in order to see it.

The whole outfit comes in a semi-soft case that offers a nice balance between protection and weight. Like most Ultra Cheap cases it features a zip fastener. I'm none too keen on zips - if they break it means the case has, effectively, had it - but for the price of the horn I really can't complain (that much).

Given that the horn's essentially a copy of a contemporary horn I was expecting a free-blowing horn with a slight bias tonewise towards the bright without getting too brittle and harsh - which is exactly what I got. I noted slightly less definition than I'd find on my Yamaha, and a greater emphasis on the midrange that suggests the Largo closer to the Selmer sound than it is the Yamaha.
I noticed a slightly stuffy mid/lower D, and a quick peek at the low C key cup showed it to be just a tad too close to the tone hole. I tried to adjust the height by means of the bumper felt adjuster on the guard, but as is often the case with these Ultra Cheap horns the adjuster didn't want to move - so I simply sliced a bit off the felt with a scalpel. Job done, and the D opened up a treat.
The tone is pretty even across the range and doesn't thin out in the upper register (which used to be a common problem on cheap horns), nor does it feel at all unstable down at the lower end. It's a lively blow, but backs off rather nicely to a medium-warm subtone - and does so with quite surprising evenness.
It's comfortable to blow over a long session too, I used it on a couple of rehearsals and gig or two and never felt that the ergonomics got in the way. The weight's a touch heavier than my Yamaha 23 tenor, but then that's one of the lightest horns on the market - if not the lightest.
The tuning is fine - didn't find any issues at all.

All-in-all I'd say this horn is an all-rounder, and that makes it a very versatile horn. With the right mouthpiece you'll be able to modify the tone as you so wish, with larger tone-chambers bringing out the mid/low range and brighter pieces accentuating the slight bias to the bright. This makes it ideal as a starter horn - it'll be quite forgiving with a good quality student mouthpiece - and it also makes it useful as pro backup horn (a more experienced player will be able to tweak the response either way with their embouchure).
I'm told that the mouthpiece that comes with the latest models is a copy of a Yamaha piece, so beginners shouldn't have to worry too much about upgrading the mouthpiece in a hurry.

The best thing of all though is the price.
What you have here is a nicely put-together horn that feels sturdy and comfortable, and that plays rather better than its credentials might suggest - and all for around £240. As with all well-made Ultra Cheap horns, that's extremely good value for money compared with what used to be available - and with a build quality that at least matches the student horns from the established Taiwanese manufacturers and playability that exceeds them, the Largo is more than worth consideration if you're looking for a starter or backup horn.

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