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P.Mauriat Custom Class PMXT-66R tenor saxophone

P.Mauriat 66R tenor saxophoneOrigin: Taiwan (www.pmauriatmusic.com)
Guide price: £2000
Weight: 3.36kg (PMST-66)
Date of manufacture: -
Date reviewed: August 2008
(Addendums added January 2018, March 2018)

A unique and interesting tenor from one of the newest names on the market

It seems to me that every so often a new brand of horn that generates both real interest and controversy hits the market. In my own lifetime it would start with the Selmer MkVII (which generated a great deal of controversy) followed by the Yamahas, then Yanagisawa and in more recent years Keilwerth. The Mauriat range is the latest brand to capture the attention of the mass market, with pundits on each side of the fence showering praise and criticism in pretty much equal quantities.
On the face of it this might sound like a bit of a disaster to the Mauriat people, but as Oscar Wilde said "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about" - and if being a point of debate was Mauriat's intention then they achieved it, and spectacularly so.
Of course, it helps that a considerable number of very fine players indeed have come out in support of the brand - and that those less impressed generally fall into the "I don't like it personally, so therefore it can't be any good" category - and so on balance it would appear that Mauriat's horns have done rather well, all things considered.

I have to say that no other brand of horn generates as much email correspondence for me as this brand. Time and again I'm asked for an opinion on the various models, and people keep asking me when I'm going to do one of my reviews - and more to the point, why have I not already done one. Simple really, I can only review one when a client brings one in - and is able or willing to leave it with me for a few days. As these horns are relatively new on the market there simply aren't that many of them coming in for much more than minor tweaks - and it's been remarkably difficult to persuade owners to let me hang onto their pride and joy for as long as it takes to work up a review. But finally I've managed to get my hands on one, and so here, at last, is the definitive, hands-on, no punches pulled look at a Mauriat.

This particular model is the 66R (Custom Class) and is unique by modern standards in that it features rolled toneholes.
Proper rolled toneholes, that is - not the fake 'stick on' rings featured on the Keilwerth SX90R series. Better still, they were all level - which is saying something if you consider that it's a great deal harder to produce a horn with a proper roll on the toneholes than it is to simply solder a ring on the top of it (and still manage to get it wonky).
There are those who swear blind that rolled toneholes make a difference to the tone a horn puts out - and there are those, such as myself, who say it doesn't. Not that it really matters, because the 66 is available with or without this particular feature - so you can blow both horns side-by-side and make your own mind up.
Bear in mind that rolled toneholes have their own issues with regard to the tendency for the pads to stick rather more, the need for slightly stronger spring tension and the possibility of very costly repairs in the event of a big knock to the horn. In their bumf Mauriat point out the 'advantages' of having rolled toneholes but are unsurprisingly silent on the disadvantages.
One thing's for sure, you'd have to whack this horn pretty hard to do it any damage - it's one of the heaviest tenors I've come across in a long while...and it's not due to particularly heavy fittings.

This may be due, in part, to Mauriat's claim of using 'French Brass'. In terms of hype this is rather a clever one - because I bet you're thinking that French Brass means some bereted, Breton-shirted peasant knocking out sheets of golden metal to the accompaniment of an accordionist and the clinking of wine glasses. In fact 'French Brass' is just another type of brass, like Naval Brass or Turning Brass - which all have slightly differing compositions of the alloy. In the case of the Mauriats it means that there's a slightly higher copper content - and there's a strong likelihood that the nearest the brass has ever got to France is that one of the guys who makes it can say "Yes", "No" and, perhaps unintentionally, "My uncle is distressed at the dead tortoise" in French.
Does that extra copper make a difference? Only if you believe it does. 'Nuff said.
Whilst we're on the 'French aspect', the branding on the bell and the badge on the case say 'Mauriat, Paris' - and there's even a discreet tricolouer sewn into the edging at the top of the case. I rather feel the motif is a tad overdone, especially when you consider where these horns are actually built. In fact I couldn't see the horn's point of origin marked anywhere on the horn...despite there being space for New York, London, Paris (again) and Tokyo.

The body is very neatly constructed, with all the usual fixtures and fittings including a detachable bell, adjustable thumb hook, detachable arched compound bell key pillar, generously sized brass thumb rest and a Selmer-style three-point bell stay. The pillar layout is neat and interesting. Mauriat have gone for a sort of 'broken strap' design - so instead of, say, all the pillars on the right hand stack being attached to a single strap, they're broken up into two separate straps plus an individual pillar. This is why I said that the weight of the horn wasn't down to the weight of the fittings.
The horn is well-finished in a coat of 'vintage effect' lacquer, which comprises a matt finish with two-tone highlights (which refers to seemingly random dark patches of lacquer against the gold lacquer base - and not a compilation of the best of The Specials).
I don't personally care much for this kind of finish - I'd sooner have The Specials compilation, ta.

Finishing off the body is an impressive display of engraving on the bell and bottom bow - which you'll love if you're an aficionado of the 'bung flowers everywhere' school of decoration. I note that the engraving has been cut through the lacquer leaving raw brass exposed, which may lead to some deterioration of the lacquer in the years to come.

The keywork is nicely built and a quick stress test shows it to be good and strong.
The layout is pretty standard with no particularly special features - not that a horn needs fancy features if the action's strong and well-fitted, which it is on the Mauriat...on the whole.
Mauriat octave key mechI note the use of Pseudo point screws which means that when the action wears there'll be no means by which to take up the free play in these pivots, short of swapping out the screws for proper points. Indeed, I noticed a little play in the BisBb key already - not a lot, but at least enough to give this key a tendency to rattle unless kept well lubricated. In a few years time it may mean that it will become increasingly difficult to keep the long Bb in proper adjustment.
I was equally disappointed to note excessive play in the octave key mechanism's central pivot. This is a crucial key, it takes a hell of a lot of punishment from the player, and any lost motion here makes it harder work for the player and affects the overall responsiveness of the action - and can only get worse. It's by no means a simple fix either, it really ought to be accurate from the factory given the level this horn is pitched at.

There are adjusters for the G#/Bb bridge and the low B to C# link, and that's about your lot - no adjusters on the main stacks...so if you're a tweaker or a technician you'll have to resort to the old sandpaper and bits of cork should you need to make any adjustments here.

Mauriat key pearl holderThe key pearls are abalone. Nothing wrong with this at all, providing you like the look. I spotted a couple of pearl holders that weren't as neatly fitted as they ought to be, with the top B key pearl holder having quite a substantial gap under it.
What will happen is that gunk from the player's fingers will collect in this gap and eventually degrade the finish. This will then spread over the entire face of the key cup.
I was pleased to see a large front F touchpiece, even if it was a little oddly positioned (though an easy tweak to put right) - but I was curious about what looked like a crudely filed dip on the key. It almost looks like it's meant to be there, but not quite. Similarly pleasing was the use of a simple fork and pin arrangement for the side Bb/C keys.

Powered by blued steel springs the action felt swift and positive save for the low Eb and the top D, which were way oversprung.
In terms of layout everything's where it ought to be for the average player, I can't see anyone having anything other than the usual minor 'getting used to it' issues when first handling this horn - and if they did it would quite probably mean that there aren't that many horns they'd be truly comfortable with.
I felt the palm key layout was a little more central than I'm used to, but it didn't take long for my fingers to adjust and I even found it a little more comfortable than the arrangement I'm familiar with on my Yamaha.
Mauriat bell key spatulasThe bell key table is the standard fare with a swivelling Bb spatula, nicely laid out and positioned and quite slick in operation. The overall setup was good, with the action perhaps just a tad higher than necessary - but really only just.

The case is of the shaped variety. It looks quite nice and does the job but I'm none too sure that it's built to last. It features flexible plastic handles and a nylon zipper, neither of which have a 'belt and braces' feel to them.
Given that it's a shaped case there's very little room inside for any bits and bobs. There are also a couple of feet on the bottom bow end of the case which allow it to be stood upright. I think that's asking for trouble - it's a heavy horn (and an expensive one) and the case isn't exactly what you'd consider to be 'flight spec'.

When blowing the horn the first thing that struck me was how free blowing it was. I suppose the rolled toneholes and the vintage look put me in mind of a horn that was likely to be a tad resistant - a meaty blow - and I almost tripped up over myself when the notes flew out of the horn. Impressive, I thought.
The next thing that struck me was how soulful this horn is tonewise. It's a moaner - the tone is complex and tinged with a sort of cry at the edges of each note. It's really quite moreish, the more you push it the more it cries and the more you want to play it.
I did a straight comparison with my faithful old Yamaha YTS23 (a horn that comprehensively out-punches its weight), and whereas the Yamaha produces a clean, stable tone the Mauriat lives rather more dangerously and feels like a horn that gives its best when you drive and steer it hard.
That said, when you back off it drops down to a nice, rich smouldering tone with just a few sparks around the edge to hint at a potential that hasn't quite been restrained.
The tone is very even across the range and the sparkle of the lower notes carries through to the top octave, where the upper notes blow with clarity and considerable depth of tone. It has plenty of definition too, there's no sense of the notes muddying at speed. This is a characteristic of bright horns, but the 66 does it without sacrificing its generous midrange response nor becoming overly brilliant as the pitch rises. Even better, the tuning remains rock-solid - as it should do.

When the Mauriats first appeared on the market a few years ago there were a number of players who claimed to have ditched their previously cherished MkVIs in favour of one of these new 'pretenders to the throne'. Naturally this raised a few eyebrows, but having spent some time with the 66R I'm beginning to see how this might have come about.
Specifically, you'll see quite a few comments such as 'This horn feels just like my old MkVI'. Well, as you might imagine I've played a lot of MkVIs and I'm rather more inclined to say that if you like the way the old Selmers feel and play then you'll probably find this horn will appeal to you - but then I don't particularly favour the Selmer response personally (preferring instead the more contemporary horns) and yet this horn appealed to me...so make of that what you will.
It's undoubtedly an interesting horn that's more than capable of being judged upon its own merits, and I can easily see how some players might consider it to be a horn that could tempt them away from long-held allegiances.

Bottom line then - this is a unique horn, with some very interesting qualities that can't be dismissed out-of-hand by anyone who's been around long enough to sample the competition - and the competition's pretty fierce. Where the Mauriat succeeds is by offering something that's a little different from everyone else, yet isn't too far off the beaten path - and that's not a bad achievement on the whole.
There were a few disappointments though. The play in the octave key mechanism and the poorly attached pearl holders are a letdown at this price-point, and could be easily (and should be) rectified during manufacture - and the case seems a bit on the cheap side, and not terribly useful for the average gigging horn player who carries lots of reeds and other assorted bits and bobs.
I could tolerate these issues at £700-900 - but not at nigh on two grand plus.
And whilst I feel the rolled toneholes are something of a marketing gimmick, I nonetheless do have to applaud the accuracy with which they're implemented as well as the policy of offering the same model with plain toneholes. There is also a version available without a top F#, just in case you feel the addition of this extra tonehole detracts from the tone.

One final impression - I think it's actually rather a shame that Mauriat appear to have gone to some lengths to disguise the origin of these horns. OK, I guess it's all about marketing but this is a thoroughly decent horn that can sit on the shelf alongside Yamahas, Yanagisawas, Selmers et al and give them a damn good run for their money...and in some cases beat them, hands down.
Maybe I feel it's about time someone recognised just how good the Taiwanese are at building horns - because had this horn been available back in the 60s or 70s we'd have been beating each other senseless to get our hands on one first.

If you're tempted to try a Mauriat (and by golly you should be!) you'll find that Mauriat's range is an extensive one, and the biggest problem a prospective buyer is going to have is trying to decide exactly which model best suits them. One thing's for sure though - it'll be a hell of a lot of fun finding out.

Addendum January 2018:

Mauriat 66R low C# toneholeSince this review was published I've seen a number of 66R horns with minor tonehole issues, and in the last year or so have noted that the problem seems to have become more common. My worst fears were confirmed when I recently reviewed a Mauriat PMXA-67RUL, which had very poor rolled toneholes - and I subsequently saw a relatively new 66R with similar build issues.
And then a client brought in a brand spanking new 66R for examination - and this is what I found.

The photos show just two toneholes on the horn.
The first is the low C#, and you can clearly see that there a very significant warp across the front of the tonehole. In fact it pretty much covers half of the entire rim. And it doesn't stop there either, because the rear of the tonehole is none too special either.

The second is of the low C - and while it's not quite as bad it's still way beyond acceptable. There's a warp at the front and the rear of the tonehole - and given that the low C pad is notoriously difficult and picky to seat, it's really not going to help matters by having a tonehole that's got more curves than Marilyn Monroe.

Mauriat 66R low C toneholeAnd these were just the two toneholes I was able to fit a standard to without dismantling the keywork. Leaks were evident from the A key downwards - and, in short, the build quality was utterly disgraceful. I'd have thrown this horn back on the basis of these two toneholes alone, let alone whatever other problems the horn had.
What's especially galling about this is that these issues got past the person who made the horn, the person who QC checked the horn and the person who sold it - and I really can't believe that no-one spotted these problems.

But why would you buy such a horn in the first place?
Well, it's possible to disguise tonehole problems by compressing the pads to force an unnaturally deep seat into them. It works well...for at least as long as it takes to sell the horn. But give it a couple more weeks and the pads start to relax. When this happens they're no longer able to follow the contours of the tonehole warps...and so the leaks begin to appear.
This is pretty much the point at which this horn was brought in for examination - and my verdict was, quite reasonably, to throw it back at the seller and demand a refund or a replacement. And indeed the owner did just that...and they didn't walk away with another Mauriat.

Given this example and that of the other recent 66R I examined - and the issues highlighted in the 67RUL review - I'm completely withdrawing my recommendation for this model, and any other Mauriat horn that features rolled toneholes. The best I can do is suggest caution...and an examination by an independent repairer as soon as possible after purchase. Or just buy something else.

Addendum March 2018:

Mauriat PMST-66 tenor saxA PMST-66 turned up at the workshop for a service, so I took the opportunity to run up a quick review as it's essentially the same as the 66R - the most significant difference being that it features plain drawn toneholes rather than rolled ones. In every other respect it appears to be identical - so it makes sense to tack it onto the 66R review as a model variant.

Of chief interest (to me, at least) was whether or not the toneholes would be level. Given the poor showing from the rolled tonehole models, I had high hopes that this much simpler design would show a marked improvement in accuracy.

Mauriat PMST-66 low C# toneholeWell, I can live in hope.
Here's the low C#. This was the worst of a collection of warped toneholes that ran from the low Bb up to the top A - and you can see it exhibits a typical hump at the apex of the tonehole...which leaves a dip at the front and rear.
Most of the other warped toneholes followed the same pattern - and while you can probably just about get away with it on a key that's normally held closed (low C#, Eb etc.) such anomalies on keys that are normally held open will have a very real impact on the performance of the horn.
This is because a closed key exerts a degree of compression to the pad, which helps to maintain a malformed seat. Pads on open keys will tend to relax between playing sessions, so there's a greater need for accuracy.

It also explains why the client was less than happy about the performance of the horn - and this wasn't helped by a fair amount of play in the keywork. This was mostly confined to keys pivoting on (pseudo) point screws, the top stack and the palm keys. As it's not a particularly well-used horn, this amount of slop could not have come from fair wear and tear.

Fortunately it's relatively easy to deal with warps on plain drawn toneholes - and once they'd been levelled out, the pads reset and the action tightened up, I'm pleased to say that the horn revealed its true colours in the shape of a full-bodied, robust presentation with plenty of grit and sparkle.
The improvement in the response was extremely noticeable. All those little leaks and wobbly keys each take a toll on the immediacy of the note production, and because it's an accumulative effect it gets worse as you press more keys down. With all the issues sorted out, the horn regained its 'pop'...which gives each note a sort of percussive start. This really helps when you're playing fast, complex lines - or simply stabbing out single notes as part of a section...and it's exactly the sort of quality that's supposed to come as standard from a pro-grade horn.
Any different to the 66R? Not as far as I could tell. If there was any difference at all it's likely to be about as much as the difference between any two apparently identical horns.

If you're impressed by the tonal offering of the 66R but concerned about the issues with the rolled toneholes, the sensible thing to do is to rush out and buy the 66. The only problem is that you probably can't - because Mauriat don't make it anymore.
I'd guess that they found it wasn't as popular as the R model, possibly because some players seem to think that rolled toneholes are a kind of magic bullet. Or maybe they felt that it impacted on the 'exclusivity' of the R model. Who knows?
What I do know though is that it's expensive to set up a production line for a particular model, and having done so you'd have to be completely bonkers to simply stop making that model if there was nothing really wrong with it - and you'd do what every other manufacturer does and slap a different model number/price on it.
So if you quite like the idea of a non-rolled tonehole Mauriat 66, it'll have to be a secondhand one.
Or another model.

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2015