Sakkusu tenor sax
Guide price: £399
Date of manufacture: 2017
Date reviewed: March 2018/May 2019
A big-store branded Ultra-Cheap horn
Shop-branded horns - dontcha love 'em?
Back in the heyday of musical instrument retailing it wasn't uncommon
for some of the larger shops to order in a batch of horns from a
reputable manufacturer and have the store's brand engraved on them.
This practice is known as stencilling - and while it provided a
source of good-quality instruments at a saving over the manufacturer's
branding, it often led (in later years) to some confusion as to
who actually made the horns.
Hence barely a month goes by without someone emailing me to ask
who made the J.Wisebender tenor or the Clancy Wiggins & Sons
Saxophone forums are full of such queries - which often descend
into long and rambling threads that attempt to pin the identity
of such horns onto such features as the bell key guards or the shape
of the G# touchpiece. This is all very entertaining if you like
that sort of thing, but most players seem interested only in whether
a horn is good, gooder or goodest - which is about as sensible an
approach as it gets.
The stencil situation hasn't changed much in modern
times, other than the stores are fewer and farther between, and
the source of the horns is more likely to be Taiwan or China. This
adds yet another layer of obfuscation because, frankly, hardly anyone
seems to know what goes on among the horn makers in this part of
the world. Things reached a peak a few years ago when just about
everyone was selling an own-branded Chinese horn - a situation that
was exacerbated by virtue of the Chinese being willing to stamp
a brand on surprisingly small orders.
Things have calmed down considerably since then - due in part to
rising costs and reputable sellers becoming frustrated with the
lack of consistency...but there are still a few brave souls who're
flying the Ultra-Cheap flag, of which the sax.co.uk Sakkusu is the
latest to hit the bench.
construction is standard fare - ribbed, with a few individual pillars
that have decently-proportioned bases and are neatly fitted; detachable
bell section with a triple-point bell brace; detachable semicircular
compound bell key pillar; adjustable metal thumb hook and domed
metal thumb rest; adjustable bell key bumpers; detachable F# key
guard - which, rather curiously, is secured with a pair of steel
screws as opposed to the normal brass ones - and a surprisingly
large sling ring (16/9).
The assembly is good, it all looks rather tidy with no signs of
sloppy soldering or malformed fittings.
The horn features, as expected, plain drawn toneholes
- and to be honest, these weren't wonderful. Almost all of them
exhibited burrs. Here's the low Bb tonehole, which has a burr on
both the outside and the interior of the rim. These burrs are sharp
(as demonstrated by the fingernail shavings) and will lead to increased
pad wear and sticking as well as unreliable seating.
And almost all of them up to the top B were warped to some degree.
To be fair, you're likely to run into this problem on any Ultra-Cheap
horn but I'd say that the Sakkusu was just a little worse than average.
low D tonehole in particular was a real doozy. Slight tonehole warps
can be hard to spot with the naked and unpractised eye, but a repairer
can usually spot quite shallow warps. This warp was in no sense
shallow and stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb.
The blurb says that these horns are inspected when they're delivered
to the shop, and then inspected again at the point of sale - so
quite how this tonehole made it through the checks is something
of a mystery.
Onto the action - and the review got off to a
bad start here by virtue of the low Eb spring taking a lump out
of my wrist.
They've got the placement of the spring cradle wrong, which means
that the sharp and pointed tip of the spring sticks out past the
key barrel by a few millimetres. This is very nasty, and means that
if you drag your hand past this barrel it will impale itself on
the spring. This is most likely to happen when (as I was) you're
lifting the horn out of the case or putting it together. The resultant
injury can be quite bad, and I've still got the scar some two weeks
It might seem like a small thing, but faults like this border on
the dangerous. I tend to view minor hand injuries as an occupational
hazard, and take appropriate steps to mitigate any nasty side-effects
- but then when you're handling a bare body that's as about as tactile
as a porcupine, it's pretty much a given that you're going to come
a cropper every now and again. To suffer the same fate from a fully-assembled
horn is a very different matter indeed.
are a number of ways to fix this; you can remove the cradle and
refit it further round the key barrel, or you can bend the key arms
to alter their relationship to the barrel...or you can simply heat
the tip of the spring to red heat and bend an inward curve on it.
Takes a couple of minutes and solves the problem nicely.
And speaking of springs (blued steel, incidentally),
I noticed that quite a lot of them had been kinked.
Putting kinks in springs is generally frowned upon in the repair
trade because it's said to weaken the integrity of the spring. In
fact much depends on the spring's properties as to whether it will
tolerate a kink or not, and in some cases it can have certain advantages.
most likely reason for kinking a spring is to allow it to avoid
an obstruction 'twixt pillar and spring cradle - but none of the
kinked spring were so hindered. What this means is that someone
has kinked the springs in order to up the tension on them. Again,
this is a valid technique where the spring is obstructed by an adjacent
pillar and there's no other way to get the appropriate angle on
the spring...but, again, none of the kinked spring were affected
by nearby pillars.
It would seem, then, that someone just kinked them because that's
what they do. It didn't seem to present any problem on this horn
(at least not after a few months of use), but how they'll stand
up over a longer period of time is anyone's guess.
Note the detachable compound bell key pillar - and the 'enclosed'
fork connector on the side C key. This works in exactly the same
way as a standard forked connector inasmuch as it's possible to
crimp the forks together (or push them apart) to adjust the amount
of free play in the connection. The only advantage (such as it is)
of an enclosed connector is that it looks a bit neater and you're
less likely to catch anything on the forks.
The action was reasonably snug. There was some
play in the palm and side keys, and in the top stack, but it's not
the worst I've seen...and it's as good as I've seen on far more
expensive horns. For the price I'd say it was acceptable - and even
the pseudo point screws had been fitted quite well. You get no stack
regulation adjusters - but you do get height adjusters...though
only on the lower stack. Can't
really complain about that for the price.
The corkwork was typically Chinese - scruffy in places and secured
with that weird glue that only they seem to use. It's soluble in
cigarette lighter fluid and melts with heat at a very low temperature
- so I suspect it's a very low melt point plastic adhesive. Either
way it's not wonderful stuff, and seems to lose its grip at the
sight of a drop of oil...or when the sun comes out.
You can see here, on the low D key, that it's all gone west already.
There's a Selmer-style swivelling octave key mech
fitted, and it's not bad at all. Nice and slick in operation and
quite well made too. A particularly nice feature is a bit of sculpting
on the touchpiece, which makes it feel just a little more comfortable
under the thumb.
Someone's bound to ask me what the horn is based on, and the answer
is "I don't know". It seems more generic than other Chinese
horns I've seen - at least in terms of the keywork - but if I really
had to point a finger in one direction I'd say that it's influenced
more by a Selmer than a Yamaha or a Yanagisawa.
The sales blurb says 'High quality Pisoni pads'
have been used. I'll admit I was sceptical because the pads seemed
really rather soft, which is not a quality Pisoni pads are generally
associated with - so I took one out...and sure enough, it says Pisoni
Mypads on the rear.
carry Mypads in stock - they're a general-purpose quality pad suitable
for student/intermediate grade horns, and tend to be of a medium
hardness. The pads fitted to the Sakkusu were much softer than this
- about as soft as a Hermes pad...which is a brand that will send
shivers down the spine of any repairer who's encountered them.
Why the difference? Well, the most likely reason is that when you
order a significant quantity of pads from a maker you can probably
specify your own parameters within a given price range/pad model
- and in this case they've gone for a felt core that's probably
listed in the catalogue as 'Rather Squishy'.
There are pros and cons to using such soft pads - mostly cons, it
has to be said - but they're certainly useful if the toneholes are
rather less than level. They don't so much seal the tonehole as
smother them with a pillow. Of course, this has an unfortunate effect
on how the action feels under the fingers. But given the state of
the toneholes I'd say the choice of pads was probably sensible -
though even the softest pad would have found it hard to cope with
the warp on the low D tonehole.
Not that they didn't give it a damned good go, judging by the depth
of the impressions in the pads. There's precious little shellac
behind the pads (hey, at least it's shellac), so there's no chance
that any of the pads have been floated in any kind of fashion -
and it would appear that a combination of crude shims and very heavy
compression has been used.
It'll work...it just won't work for very long. At least long enough
to sell the horn, I guess.
Wrapping up the keywork we have a set of concave
plastic key pearls with a domed Bis Bb and flat ovals on the G#
and side F#.
The whole outfit comes in box-style case, complete with the usual
array of crappy zips. It's not the sleekest of cases but at least
it's gives a fair amount of protection to the horn and has plenty
of space inside for your bits and bobs.
a quick word about the finish.
The horn is finished in gold lacquer - and from a distance it looks
quite nice. However, close-up it's not so good - and some variation
in colour is visible along with a few drips. Personally I wouldn't
worry about it - but despite how cheap such horns are they don't
generally exhibit such problems from new. If you spot lacquer blemishes
on a horn in the shop, my advice would be to ask for a discount.
10% is a good bet.
The setup was quite poor. Even a quick flash of
the leaklight showed quite a few leaks. Many of these were down
to the pads having relaxed after being compressed, but some of them
were due to regulation corks that had squashed, broken or simply
slid off the keys. In all fairness it was probably much better than
this at the point of sale - but then again it's equally fair to
say that a proper setup involves averting future problems as well
as dealing with existing ones. This horn was bought in December,
so it's only three months old and hasn't seen a great deal of use
- which just goes to show how quickly a poor setup can break down.
suitably tweaked the horn felt nicely balanced in the hands. The
octave mech, with its sculpted touchpiece, is particularly noteworthy
- as is the large sling ring. It might seem like a minor point,
but a ring this large makes it so much easier to sling up a horn
when you're swapping between horns on stage. Perhaps not a killer
feature on such a cheap horn...but still a feature nonetheless.
The relatively decent action makes a big difference, though a lot
of its response is lost because of the squishiness of the pads -
and even after levelling the toneholes it doesn't have much of that
nice 'poppy' feel. It's still not bad though.
At 3.62kg it tips the scales at the heavy end for a tenor, and that
extra half a pound or so over the average soon makes its presence
known around your neck.
Other than that, everything seemed to be where it ought to be and
I doubt many people will have any issues with getting around the
Tonewise the Sakkusu is OK. It comes across as 'steady' rather than
'exciting'. It's not bad, by any means, and tends to hover around
a medium/warm presentation - but doesn't seem to have much of that
"Blimey! It's only 10% worse than a Selmer/Yamaha/Yani"
thing going on.
I'm in two minds about that. I can appreciate that first-timers
will value a horn that's steady and undemanding, but one of the
joys (and there aren't many) of an Ultra-Cheap horn is that it often
has quite a lot of the poke of the horn it was copied from.
The tone was mostly even across the range, though I noticed some
deadening on the top A. It's often a tricky note tonally, and there's
nearly always a bit of a drop-off here, but it was more audible
than usual. No problems with the tuning though.
than that it's a fairly easy blow. Perhaps not as free-blowing as
other horns but equally not as resistant as others. For its intended
market it's probably just about right.
Bear in mind though that this is after a strip-down service and
a hefty package of tweaks.
So, is it worth it?
Frankly it's borderline. The horn comes in at a quid shy of £400
- but you do get a sort of 'value pack' in the shape of a Yamaha
mouthpiece and a tutorial DVD. I'd say this works out to about £40
retail. Then there's the seller's claim that the horn is inspected
twice..and comes with a free service within the first year. So that
However, given the faults I found on this example I'm not so sure
the inspections seem to add much to the value. Granted, you do kinda
get what you pay for with an Ultra-Cheap horn, and there are always
going to be a few niggles...but some issues go beyond 'you get what
you pay for' and really ought to have been addressed in at least
one of the checks.
terms of the competition there's really only the Gear4Music tenor
at this price point (in the UK, at least). Most companies seem to
have given up on the extreme low-end of the market and have settled
for selling not-so-ultra-cheap horns - probably on the basis that
the build quality is less problematical. It's been a while since
I've seen a recent example of a Gear4music tenor (anyone got one
they'd like to bring in?) and their quality control has been patchy
in the past - however, they've always tended to blow very well and
have rather a lot of 'ooomph'. They're £70 cheaper too - though
you get no extras, and no service beyond 'If you don't like it,
send it back'.
Had I not found quite so many faults with the
Sakkusu it would have been an easy win - but as it stands it still
looks like it's worth spending out a bit extra on a proper setup...in
which case you might as well go with the cheaper option. It's a
tricky choice, I'll admit - but as the Sakkusu comes with a free
service in the first year you could always have a repairer run up
a proper inspection of the horn, then take it back to the shop to
have the faults dealt with.
Addendum: May 2019
I've seen two other examples since this review
was published - the first being an identical model with almost identical
The second of these (shown here), dates from the middle of 2018
and is finished in what looks like brushed black nickel but is apparently
just black(ish) lacquer over what looks like a scratched brass finish
(possibly an electrophoretic lacquer). Midnight black, they call
it. It has to be said, the finish is really rather good - though
this is likely to be due in part to the tendency of the two-tone
finish to hide any minor dribbles and suchlike. It costs an extra
£20 or so for this option.
The tonehole rims were still burred - perhaps
not as badly as the example reviewed above, but still sufficient
to be able to shave a fingernail on them - and although the toneholes
were slightly better in terms of level, there were still a handful
that were in definite need of attention.
The action, too, seemed to be slightly better - though I did spot
a naughty bit of superglue on the octave swivel upper pillar that
was taking up a bit of free play. As for the Eb spring (the one
that bit me last time), I'm happy to report that someone had got
the length of the spring right this time, so it didn't stick out.
The spring cradle's still in the same position though - and whoever
it is that has a penchant for kinking the springs is still at it.
The setup wasn't that good, which explains why
this horn has spent most of its life under the owner's bed.
It had a few choice leaks here and there which while not sufficient
to stop the horn dead in its tracks, nevertheless made it a very
stuffy blow. The burred toneholes were also making the pads stick.
Once sorted out the horn was a decent blower - but if you're hoping
that the snazzy black finish will impart a darker tone to the horn,
you're going to be very disappointed...because it sounded just like
the other examples I've seen. Not too warm, not too bright, just
nice and steady in the middle.
All-in-all I'd say this example was slightly better
than the first two I'd seen - but not sufficiently so as to slap
a 'New! Improved!' sticker on it (I'd want to see the tonehole burrs
sorted, at least), and I'd put it down to the inevitable variation
you'll see in any Ultra-Cheap range. But on the positive side at
least they're not getting any worse.
However, the build/setup issues still make the Gear4Music a cannier