P.Mauriat Custom Class PMXT-66R tenor saxophone
Guide price: £2000
Date of manufacture: -
Date reviewed: August 2008
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 has to (or is
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.
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)
The body is very neatly constructed, with all the usual fixtures and
fittings including a detachable bell, adjustable thumb hook, detachable
arched bell key compound 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 '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
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.
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.
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.
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 (some might
consider this horn to be beneath the Mauriat, but those in the know will
recognise it for the giant-killer it really is), 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
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 MKVI's 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 contemporay 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 let-down 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
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.