Rare Saxophones Super Tone Series VI TS-7306L
Taiwan (Rare Hardware Co Ltd)
Guide price: Around £2000
Date of manufacture: 2018 (Serial range: 710xxx)
Date reviewed: September 2018
I'm willing to bet that on first seeing this review
the question that popped into your head was "Well now, what
do we have here?"
I don't blame you - it was the same question I asked myself when
this horn turned up in the workshop. And after 30 minutes of scouring
the internet I was still asking myself the same question.
Have you any idea how hard it is to research a horn made by a company
called 'Rare Saxophones'? I eventually found the manufacturer's
site - which didn't really provide much information of any use -
and a few vague mentions of the brand on a couple of forums.
Not that it makes much difference to me - I just report on the build
quality - but it's at least useful to have some perspective when
dishing out the plaudits and brickbats. I found just one site advertising
this horn for sale (from where I derived the guide price) and, of
course, I had some information from the owner of the horn.
It seems a little strange that there's no real 'presence' for these
horns, but then again there are quite a few Taiwanese horn manufacturers
out there (more than you might think) who perhaps prefer to make
horns for other companies over marketing and promoting their own
All of which leaves me with very little to say
by way of an introduction - so let's get this horn onto the bench
and see what's what...
As the model name (and the layout of the keywork)
suggests, there's a whiff of Selmer influence floating around. On
closer inspection you'll see rather more tangible 'influences' -
so it'll be interesting to see whether these features translate
into a tonal similarity. You can hold your breath if you like, but
I wouldn't recommend it.
Straightaway you can see that this is an unlacquered horn which
has been chemically tarnished. If you like that sort of thing you'll
be pleased to hear that it's been quite well done, with a nice balance
between the 'fake tan' and the underlying brass. It's a popular
finish these days, but players who have a tendency to (shall we
say) blow a bit wet may find that such horns end up going a bit
green. You can, of course, prevent this from happening - but it's
a lot of work and you'll have to be pretty fastidious at mopping
up any dribbles after each playing session...which (and trust me
on this) quickly gets to be very tiresome. For now, though, it looks
quite nice - helped by a dash of hand engraving on the bell.
The construction is ribbed (multiple pillars/posts mounted to a
single plate), and what few standalone pillars there are have decent-sized
bases - and all are fitted quite tidily, with no signs of sloppy
soldering. However, a quick peek inside the bore reveals a number
of small dimples that correspond to the position of the pillars
(and other fittings). You'll see such dimples on modern Selmers,
and it means that the fittings have been spot-welded to the body.
Word has it that it's only a very light weld - just enough to hold
the part in place prior to soldering - but, as many repairers have
found, the welds are tenacious enough to cause some fairly major
headaches should any of the fittings need to be removed. It's not
such a big deal on a bare brass horn, but anything with lacquer
on it is likely to suffer significant cosmetic damage until the
repairer realises that the fittings are not going to come off by
the usual means. In maintenance terms it's a completely bonkers
idea. In contrast to the large(ish) pillar bases, the guard feet
are a bit on the small side.
The toneholes are all plain drawn, and while they
looked level almost none of them passed testing with a flat standard.
To be fair most of them were within what passes for the usual spec
these days, with half a dozen or so (mostly down the lower end of
the horn) exhibiting more significant warps.
I noticed that some toneholes had noticeable burrs on them. A burred
toneholes gives a less reliable seal against the pad, and leads
to stiction (especially on pads that are normally held closed at
rest) and advanced pad wear - so it's officially 'not a good thing'.
there's an easy way to check for this - simply run your fingernail
up the tonehole wall. It should slide neatly off the wall - if it
catches and shaves off a piece of fingernail, it's got a burr on
it. Be careful though - if you dislodge or break the burr it'll
expose a razor-sharp shard of brass which can plunge itself into
your finger in an instant. This usually hurts. A lot.
Unfortunately, upon dismantling the horn I found that while only
a few toneholes had external burrs, almost all of them had internal
ones...which are nigh on impossible to check for with the fingernail
test (unless you have very, very small hands).
Here's a section of the low C# tonehole. The narrowed section in
the centre is where I've removed the burr from both sides of the
tonehole wall - and, as you can see, it's reduced the effective
width of the rim almost by half.
The horn has the usual package of modern features,
such as an adjustable (metal) thumb hook, a large and slightly domed
(plastic) thumb rest, semicircular compound bell key pillar (non
removable), adjustable bell key bumpers and a detachable bell.
I'm going to knock a few points off for the bottom bow clamp because
I was able to turn the clamping screws two full turns each before
they snugged up nice and tight. Not that the joint would have leaked,
because whoever assembled the horn had been very generous with the
sealant...and I'm going to knock a few more points off for having
to remove dirty great lumps of it from the bore.
the other end of the detachable bell there's a two point bell brace.
In spite of the horn having many features that allude to later Selmers
(SA80/Ref54 etc.) the bell brace is a throwback to the MKVI. Bit
of an odd choice, really - while it was a good design in its day
it's been kicked into a corner by the sturdier three-point mounts
that are fitted to most horns these days. And if you're at all inclined
to a touch of OCD you might find that the way in which the body
mount has been fitted slightly skew-whiff will drive you nuts eventually.
One modern feature you won't find is a top F# key (because marketing),
though it's still available via the usual fake-fingerings.
A quick word about the sling ring. It's a bit
small. It measures in at 14/8, which is slightly smaller than the
usual 15/8 ring that seems to be the standard these days. If you've
got a way with figures you'll realise that the ring is, functionally,
no smaller than the standard...it's just made from thinner brass.
It's adequate, to be sure, but (and call me old-fashioned if you
like) I like to see a bit more meat here. Just don't even think
of using a metal sling hook...it'll eat through such a thin ring
in no time at all.
And I wasn't terribly impressed with the fit of the crook. It wasn't
completely awful, but I had to snug up the clamp screw to its fullest
extent to get it to hold the crook firmly in place. On any other
horn I'd be telling the owner that the joint is about six months
off being too loose - and that now would be a good time to have
it tightened up. On a brand new horn that's a big fail.
to the keywork now, and it's here where the influence of the contemporary
Selmer is strongest - most notably because of the use of sprung
point screw barrels.
The idea behind this feature is that the sprung sleeves inside the
key barrels maintain a constant pressure against the point/pivot
screws (of the pseudo type, incidentally) and therefore do away
with the need to adjust the screws as the action wears. In theory
it's s fine idea, but in practice it means that these keys will
never be as precise in fit and feel as standard keys - and the whole
system relies entirely on the accuracy of the sprung sleeves...both
in terms of how they fit into the barrels and how the tip of the
screws fit into the sleeves.
It wasn't great. Even on the best example of the design (on a Selmer),
there's always a little axial (end-to-end) play on such keys....but
the Rare also suffered from radial play (side-to-side). Not very
much, admittedly, but enough to make me go 'Hmmm' - and to note
that such wear will only get worse over time.
While I'm whinging about point screws I should point out that hardly
any of them were screws in tightly enough. Some were just plain
loose, others were barely finger tight in the pillars. Point screws
need to be snugged up nice and tight - either by virtue of being
screwed tightly into the pillar or by the use of a locking system
(locknuts, grub screws, nylon collars, threadlock etc.). There's
no excuse for such inattention to detail, especially on a horn that
features sprung barrels.
the plus side they've eschewed the bloody awful sprung rod used
on the Ref54's low C/Eb keys and gone for a plain old rod screw.
However, you can clearly see the hole in the C key barrel has been
drilled a little off-centre. In practice it doesn't make much difference
to the functionality of the key...it's just a bit careless.
What was worse was the fit of the rod screw in the key barrels.
I measured the rod screw at 2.78mm diameter...and found that some
stock rod of 2.84mm fit the barrels and the pillar perfectly. That's
a 0.06mm discrepancy - which doesn't sound like a lot, but it's
enough to make the difference between a key being snug on its pivot
and one that's able to wobble slightly. I made a new rod screw,
as it would have been far more work to make the original fit properly.
The palm key were similarly affected, requiring the existing 2.46mm
diameter rod screws to be replaced with 2.56mm diameter ones.
What struck me as rather odd about this was that
although you can buy rod screw stock in any diameter you like, you
tend to find that certain sizes are common. Looking at a stockholder's
chart it's immediately evident that the rod on the low C/Eb key
is one size too small, and the palm key rods two sizes too small.
It seems to me to be an extraordinary coincidence that the correct
rods were stock sizes (rather than simply random diameters) - and
it suggests that rather than merely sloppy manufacture, someone
made a mistake with the drill sizes. Just a guess, though.
I also noted that some of the rod screws were a touch on the short
side, which meant the heads sat well inside the pillars. It's not
a major dealbreaker (until such times as you have to deal with a
rusted-in screw), it's just a bit sloppy - and I tend to feel that
the world is a better place if the heads of the screws lie flush
with the face of the pillar. On top of all this there was noticeable
axial play in almost all of the keys.
you want some idea of what this amount of free play looks like,
here's an animated gif showing the range of movement on the top
It's beyond excessive - which is about as bad as it gets - and as
such I'd categorise it as (in my best Michael Caine voice) "Flappin'
about in the bloody breeze".
By now I should imagine you'll have a pretty good
idea as to what the rest of the action was like. The Bis Bb arm
was way offline against the adjuster, the G# key barrel had a bend
in it and the octave key mech had so much free play in it that you
could press the touchpiece down 5mm before anything happened.
I was going to do another animated gif, but ennui had started to
set in - so you'll have to make do with looking at the gap between
the central split boss and the arm that sits over it. Note
the slot in the ball-end of the arm (on the left). These splits
allow for a small amount of adjustment. You dismantle the mech and
slide a thin, blunt blade into the slots and (very) gentle ease
them open a pad. If you're lucky you'll get it right first time,
and the mech can be reassembled minus the free play. If you overdo
it you'll have to pinch the slots down a little and try again. And
if you're very unlucky the ball will spit completely in half.
A better bet is to fit Teflon sleeves over the ball-ends and the
central boss - though this often means you'll have to ream the sockets
out slightly larger.
On the plus side (yes, there is one), the keywork
seemed nice and stiff - quite resistant to bending. The corkwork's
OK too, if a little scruffy here and there - and cork is very much
the word...save for the bumpers there's barely a drop of felt anywhere
on the action. No big deal, but it does mean the horn tends to sound
a bit 'thuddy'. A few judiciously-placed pieces of felt will take
care of that. Some better choices could have been made with regard
to the stack regulation corks too (there are no stack adjusters
on this horn) which were rather thick and squishy.
You do, however, get the usual adjusters for the Bis B, G# and low
B to C# links - and I'm happy to report that the side Bb/C keys
feature simple fork and pin connectors. No complaints there.
I have some concerns about the pads. A number
of them where somewhat undersized. This isn't too much of an issue
where the diameter of the pad is significantly larger than that
of its accompanying tonehole (the low E, for example), but it can
be a problem where the pad isn't much larger than the tonehole...such
as on the low C, as shown here. Pads tend to roll off at the edges,
which means you have to be that much more precise when trying to
achieve a reliable seat close to the edge of the pad. And a gap
between the pad and the key cup will allow moisture in under the
pad, which increases the likelihood that the pad will become waterlogged,
and shrink - which further degrades the integrity of the pad seat.
of which can be avoided by using the correctly-sized pad for the
I found that some pads were Mypads (apparently), and some were branded
'Mercury' (never heard of them...but they appear to be a budget
brand), and those that I removed had very little shellac holding
them in place.
The keywork is powered by blued steel springs
- save for the palm and crook keys, which are fitted with flat bronze
springs. There are pros and cons; bronze won't rust, so the springs
are likely to last longer...but it's not as strong as steel, so
the spring have to be proportionally thicker...and they tend to
lose their strength over time. This might be why two of them were
set way, way too heavy - making the palm keys almost a two-handed
No problem, just whip the keys off, get some pliers on the springs
and just bend them backwards to ease off some of the tension.
At least that's the usual fix - but the springs turned out to be
fantastically brittle. The merest (and I really do mean the merest)
tweak and they simply snapped in half. For a bronze spring that's
incredibly unusual, and the most likely explanation (or indeed the
only one) is that something went awry during the tempering process.
Consider it a warning - don't attempt to adjust the palm key springs
unless you have spare springs to hand.
Finally (phew) you get a full set of real mother-of-pearl key touches...though
I feel duty-bound to point out that I feel the pearl holders are
a touch on the shallow side.
I'm told that it came in a bog-standard semi-soft
zippered case - which the owner immediately ditched and replaced
with a Hiscox case (with proper catches). I shall say no more...
Straight out of the box the horn felt very clunky
under the fingers. Not clunky in terms of the ergonomics (it's a
Selmer layout more or less, after all) but clunky in terms of the
bloody noise it made. With all that cork and free play in the action
it was bound to rattle around a bit - but once those issues had
been dealt with it felt quite nice. In fact it felt rather good.
I found this a bit annoying, to be honest. I mean...you can set
up a clunky old student horn and improve it to the point where it's
reasonable (because that's as good as it'll ever get) - but the
difference between this horn in its out-of-the-box state and post
a Stevie-tweak job was chalk and cheese. It wasn't bad at all -
and if it wasn't for those poxy sprung inserts on the point screws
it'd be even better. It just bugs me that this level of feel is
in there somewhere, and it's being knackered by a lack of attention
As mentioned earlier, there's no top F# key on
this horn - but the note's readily available by using the octave+front
top F+A+side Bb key....though it's a touch on the flat side. If
you substitute the A for a Bis Bb it brings the note bang into tune.
Other than that there's not really a great deal to say about it;
as with most modern horns with modern ergos, it's pretty much bang
on for the vast majority of players.
it's quite a curious horn. I'd say its general approach is slightly
on the mellow side. It's not especially dark - and neither is it
bright - but there's something about the way each note develops
that nudges you towards a sultry, smoky subtone. Part of that will
most likely be down to the blowing resistance. It's by no means
stiff blow, but if you're a fan of free-blowing horns you'll definitely
notice how the horn seems to push back at you. That's neither a
good or a bad thing, simply a matter of preference. It put me in
mind of a car that has a soft suspension - you wouldn't want to
go charging around a racetrack in it, but if you were heading out
for a long motorway drive or simply a spot of cruisin' around, it
would be ideal.
Sure, you can tighten up your embouchure, whack on a bit of '80s
vibrato and get that soul/funk thing going on...but it almost feels
like the horn is whispering "Is this really necessary?"
in your ear. So you ease up and back off, and the horn whispers
"See? Now that's much better isn't it?". It's an
interesting quality, and if you have a penchant for a Dexter Gordon/Ben
Webster style of playing you'll very likely find this horn very
For me, though, I found this quality to be something
of a wall. Sure, you can push past it (somewhat), but it's a lot
of effort - and I guess I'd say that it's at this point where the
money runs out. It doesn't have that "Well, what shall we do
now?" approach that a more refined horn gives you. And, it
has to be said, despite its 'pretences' towards a Selmer, it simply
doesn't have the expansive tonal landscape of a horn of that calibre.
Against that I have to say that the top end, in particular, is very
nice. A lot of tenors can get rather nasal and brittle up at this
end of the range, but the Rare almost seems to switch into midrange
alto mode. There's a distinct creaminess to the notes.
There's enough uniqueness about this horn to raise
it above the A.N Otherhorn status that tends to get slapped on Asian
horns - and, for me, that transcends the relatively minor issue
of whether or not you like it. I don't personally like it, but I
still feel it adds something to the overall 'global sax palette'
rather than just merely adding to the noise. Given the drubbing
it got on the workbench, that practically counts as high(ish) praise.
So - would I recommend it?
This is where it gets rather tricky. At the price I found it for
on the web (£2000 ish), absolutely not. The build quality
isn't up to it, and in this respect the competition at this price
point simply pounds the Rare into the dust. It's up against the
likes of the Yamaha 480 and the TJ SR - and, if you want a horn
on the more gregarious side, the Bauhaus M2.
However, the owner bought it direct from the factory - and by the
time the purchase price, the tax and duties and the cost of a couple
of hundred quid's worth of work were added up it all came to a little
That changes things considerably - and at that price, with the niggles
ironed out, it's very much a contender (and I'm relieved to report
that he was very happy with the way it played). I'd still advise
caution though - I've never been convinced of the efficacy and reliability
of the sprung point screw barrel thing, even when it's been built
with care...so I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this become
something of an issue on the Rare down the line.
But from a playability perspective, £1500 is a fair price
for a distinctive horn...if you can be bothered to go to all the
trouble of finding/importing one, and then having your repairer
sort out all the issues on an otherwise reasonable horn that's been
rather thrown together.