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Mauriat PMST 86UL tenor header
 

P Mauriat PMST 86UL tenor saxophone
Origin: Taiwan
Guide price : £2,500
Weight: 3.39
Date of manufacture: 2010
Date reviewed : May 2012

Description : Mauriat's latest flagship pro horn

Mauriat PMST 86UL tenor saxophoneWe've all heard the expression "A tough act to follow", and I daresay that many of us in our playing careers have found out exactly what it's like to be on the sharp end of it. It's one thing to have to climb on to the stage after the band that's coming off has taken the roof down, but it's quite another thing if the tough act your following is...yourself.
Enter the Mauriat PMST 86UL tenor saxophone.

This horn is up against two major disadvantages as I see it. The most obvious is the Mauriat 66R. This horn set new standards for what a Taiwanese horn was capable of, so the 86 has an awful lot to live up to. The second, and perhaps less obvious disadvantage is the name. PMST? It sounds like an internet acronym, and a rather unfortunate one at that.
I suspect a lot of it is down to wanting to avoid choosing a name that turns out to have regrettable connotations in far-flung corners of the world...though this doesn't seem to have damaged the reputation of a certain well-known kitchen-appliance manufacturer.

So what do you get for your money?
Well, as you can see it's not an unattractive horn. Given that unlacquered horns are all the rage these days and the choice of colours seems to be limited to either a dirty yellow or a distinctly brown finish, it's nice to see a spot of colour. In spite of its looks the body is made from brass - it's just the 'burgundy' (as Mauriat put it) aged finish that gives it a reddish hue. If you're of the school that believes red cars go faster you'll probably feel that this makes the horn sound warmer...or brighter...or something.

Unlike the 66R, the 86 has plain drawn tone holes. These were all nice and level, though one or two of them were a little rough around the rim. Not a big problem, but it can lead to sticking pads, and it tends to mean the pads wear out a little quicker than they normally would.
The ad copy claims the body is handmade, in which case I would have expected little issues such as these to have been sorted out before assembly.
Speaking of which - ever since Mauriat appeared on the scene there has been much muttering among the cognoscenti about the point of origin of these horns. We all know they're from Taiwan - but there has been much discussion about how much this has been, shall we say, 'downplayed'.
To some extent Mauriat have had my sympathies, it can be extremely hard to break into the market if you don't have some sort of history behind you. Just look at how long it took Yamaha to get established. I made my thoughts on the matter quite clear to Mauriat some time ago, and I'm very pleased to see that the 86 proudly proclaims "Hand crafted in Taiwan" on the body. Now that's more like it.

Mauriat PMST 86UL  bell braceThe construction is semi-ribbed - that's to say that some pillars on the main stacks are fitted to long strips, while others sit separately. Whether that matters to you or not depends on whether you feel such things make a difference to the tone. Personally I feel that there are rather more important things to worry about.
All the fixtures and fitting were neatly attached - and the horn features the usual array of mod-cons, such as a detachable bell and an adjustable thumb hook...though not a removable side F# key guard (more of an issue for repairers than players though).
Keeping it all together is a reasonably sturdy triple-point bell brace, complete with Mauriat's attractive treble clef logo (below).

So far it's all looking as rosy as the horn's tinted finish, but here's where things go a bit off-colour.
I'm always banging on about how useless pseudo and parallel point screws are - and the 86 is a perfect example of why this is so.
Sure, these type of screws can work - if the corresponding holes in the key barrels are precisely drilled...and if the action never wears. Fat chance on both counts. Where they completely fall down is where the key barrels have been drilled oversize - you end up with built-in play straight out of the factory.
I found plenty of it on the 86. In fact in two places it was so bad that the functionality of the action was crippled - neither the long Bb fingering via the Bis Bb key worked or the low C# closing mechanism off the low B. In both cases this was entirely due to free play in the action.
Mauriat PMST 86UL  low C#Where other examples of such play existing it merely meant dealing with a sloppy action that was inclined to rattle. It isn't the first time I've seen such iffy build quality on a Mauriat's action...and they're in danger of becoming knows as 'Mauriattles' (you can work that one out).
In the interests of fair play I should point out that this horn is two years old - but let's temper that with a bit of perspective.

For a start the owner isn't a hard-drinking, hard-living, hard-boppin' jazzer. The horn gets moderate use and gets look after - and at this price point I wouldn't expect to see such action problems for a player like this for at least a decade. At least.
He also brought in a Yamaha 61 tenor at the same time for a tweak. This horn had been played so much the lacquer had been worn off it, and yet there was hardly any free play in the point screw action. And get this...the 61 uses parallel points (the later models switched to proper point screws).
The final nail in the old coffin is that the wear wasn't 'symmetrical'. That's to say that when a point screw mounted key wears it tends to wear at both ends at the same rate. What I found on the Mauriat was that some keys had wear at one end but not at the other. It's the smoking gun that points to poor manufacturing quality.
I fixed the Bis Bb and C# by fitting proper point screws - which would be no big deal on a £500 horn...but at two grand plus?

That aside, the keywork was quite well put-together - though it was badly let-down by a very heavily sprung action. No big deal, again, a couple of minutes with a spring hook sorted it, but a pro horn should be better than this out of the box.
A nice touch was the domed Bis Bb key pearl against the concave pearls on the main stacks. This seems to be standard issue these days and makes for a very slick feel when going for this particular note. I'm also inclined to feel the Abalone pearls work quite well against the horn's finish.
Other points of note include the simple, but effective, fork and pin connectors on the side Bb/C keys and the teardrop touchpiece for the front top F...which was nicely positioned...and the comfortable metal thumb rest for the octave key mech.

A quick word about how the unlacquered finish is holding up. This horn provides an ideal opportunity to see how such finishes hold up in the 'real world'. Sure, they look great in the showroom and at a distance, but how do they fare 'up close and personal' after a couple of years of moderate use?
Not that well, to be frank.
Mauriat PMST 86UL bell keysThere were rather a few patches of verdigris on the action, typically in the places where moisture gets blown out of the bore and gets sprayed onto the keywork.
The bell key spatulas in particular have suffered, but you can see in the other photos that there are spots of green here and there all over the horn...few, if any, of which can be seen on the main photo that's taken from a few feet away.
At present I would say this level of crud isn't too harmful, but if left for much longer it will start to pit the brass. It'll be a good few years before it does any significant damage, but it would be sensible not to let it get any worse - and if it were my horn I'd be thinking about having it removed pretty soon.
It's not a difficult job...some cigarette lighter fluid and perhaps a drop of vinegar will shift it, but this will also strip the reddish patina. Bit of a tricky one, that.

In all fairness the level of corrosion will depend on how wet a player you are, and how careful you are with regard to cleaning up after a session. A few wipe-downs with a dry cloth would have gone a long way to keeping this horn a bit tidier, and the occasional dab of car wax polish would certainly help.
I guess the key point to bear in mind is that unlacquered finishes aren't maintenance free...which is perhaps why sax players of old shouted 'Hoorah!' when lacquer was first used - and if you feel it might be an issue for you then you'll be pleased to know that the 86 is available with a choice of two silver-plate finishes (bright or satin) and in gold lacquer.

Under the fingers the 86UL feels just like any modern professional horn - everything is where you expect it to be and for the vast majority of players it'll be as comfy as a pair of slippers (provided you get the spring tension eased off).
The Abalone pearls work well - I find them to be just a little bit grippier than Mother-of-pearl - and they're not too deeply dished.
The problems with the free play in the action were evident to me, when compared to the Yamaha tenors I had in the workshop at the same time the Mauriat felt a great deal less tight and a lot more 'agricultural'...which meant the Yamahas ran like sewing machines, while the Mauriat ran like a sowing machine. Granted, you might not notice it if you don't have anything to compare it to - but if you do, you will.

"Leans towards the warm" it says at the top of my scribbled play-test notes, and I think that captures the essence of this horn to a T.
Tonewise it's smokey, with a tendency to warmth at the edges where other horns would show a touch of brightness. I'd even go so far as to say it's almost a very slightly introverted tone. It's really not by much though, just a hint, and it's much more noticeable when played against other horns.
The low end is particularly big - nice and boomy - but, I felt, at the expense of a bit of crackle. I like a bit of crackle down the bottom end...it's the difference between Isaac Hayes and Bing Crosby. It's as though there's a sort of cushioned effect to the sound - plump, yet soft, which is nice - until you want to kick some arse, and then it gets a bit tiring.
Things are fine at medium volume, there's plenty of richness and life, but when you go quiet that warmth takes over a tad too much. I noticed this tendency on the 66R. A good horn should go quiet yet maintain the fizz, but the 66R sounded a little like a cloth had been draped over it and lost a bit of definition. The 86 carries this tendency forward, and when trying one out I'd recommend you spend some time seeing how it does at low volume. It might seem like an obvious point - but you'd be surprised at how few prospective buyers bother to spend much time at all playing horns quietly in the shop.

Just for fun I put it up against a couple of contenders in the shape of a Yamaha purple logo 62 and the TJ RAW.
The Yamaha was definitely a great deal narrower in tone - less spread, less depth, but in its favour it had a great deal more sparkle. With a large-chambered mouthpiece that midrange can be teased out, and you'd still have plenty of glitter at the edges to play with.
Up against the RAW the 86 struggled rather more. Not only does the RAW have the same kind of tonal spread, it also has more fizz and crackle. You don't have to work for it, it's built in, it's right there under your fingers. What's also right under your fingers is a better action...much tighter, much more responsive...more of an 'in' your hands approach rather than the Mauriat's 'on' your hands feel. It also backs off with more grace than the 86 - simply because it's a lot easier to quieten the fizz than it is to pull it out of the warmth.

I think the Mauriat has a lot going for it - were all things equal I'd say it was a fine horn that will suit a large number of players who like to start off with a full, warm horn and tweak the tone via mouthpiece choices - but things aren't equal.
The build quality of the action on this horn was a serious problem - and in this respect the TJ RAW completely trumps it - and although it's a very personal things I still feel the RAW does it again on the tonal front - and finally there's the price.
I came away with the feeling that the 86UL has got to do better on build quality or price - and preferably both.

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