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Super Pennsylvania tenor saxophone (Yanagisawa T4)

Super Pennsylvania tenor sax reviewOrigin: Japan
Guide price: Not much
Weight: 3.33kg
Date of manufacture: 1976 (serial range: 176xxx)
Date reviewed: April 2020

More super than you might expect

Stencil horns - dontcha love 'em. Well yeah, in general we do - because it means being able to buy a fairly decent horn at a much reduced price due to not having a posh name on the bell. And when it comes to the secondhand market it means that those of us with a bit of 'insider knowledge' can sometimes spot a real gem going begging that most people wouldn't give a second look.
For me though, at least with with my reviewer's hat on, they can be a right old pain in the nether regions because it often means having to trawl through blogs and forums in order to figure out exactly what it is I'm looking at - and that's really not something I enjoy. At all. So I was terribly pleased - nay delighted - when this stencil horn handed me its credentials on a plate.

It's badged "Super Pennsylvania" - and just below the name is the symbol of an S inside of a lyre. This is the trademark of Selmer London - a company quite distinct from Selmer Paris - which focussed more on distribution rather than the manufacture of instruments. Thus its range of wind instruments were bought in from a variety of manufacturers and rebadged.
I first encountered one of these back in the the '70s when the girl who played 2nd alto in my band spotted an ad in the local paper for a Selmer alto at an incredibly low price - and asked if I'd go with her to check it out. I was excited as she was as the prospect of picking up what might have been a MkVI for a fraction of its true value - so we were both bitterly disappointed when it turned out not to be a Selmer Paris MkVI but a Selmer London Pennsylvania.
But what the hell, we were there...so I figured I might as well try it, if only to be polite.
About 10 minutes later I told her to hand the money over. It was a darling little alto (probably a Kohlert stencil) - and if she hadn't have bought it, I would have.
If I remember rightly she played it for many years before swapping it out for a 'real' Selmer.

Things would able all nice and rosy if Selmer London had stuck to a single manufacturer - but as is so often the case they pitched around for the best deal....which meant that the Super Pennsylvania could be made by one manufacturer one year, and a completely different one the next. Among the manufacturers who're reputed to have made versions of this horn are Kohlert, Orsi and Borgani.
This is all good and well, but it gets a bit tedious when you're trying to nail down the origin of a horn by comparing design features - such as the key guards or the bell brace - and life (for me) would be so much simpler if they just stuck a little badge or a mark on the horn.
And in this case they did.

Super Pennsylvania crook key logoIn fact there are three clear pointers to the origin.
The first can be found on the crook key - and in case you're in any doubt at all, what you're looking at here is the logo of Yanagisawa.

This is great news! It's a Yani, right?
Well yeah...but which Yani? (I knew you'd ask).
This is a question that can often be as difficult to answer as "Who made it?" given that Yanagisawa were notorious for chucking out all kinds of variants under a single model number (take a look at the review of the Yanagisawa S6 soprano, for example) - so merely nailing down the manufacturer was only half the job.

I needn't have worried though, because they've very thoughtfully stamped the model number on the rear of the main body tube.
You have the logo repeated - and the country of origin (which in itself would narrow the field down to one of two manufacturers) - and if you look to the left you'll see the number 4. This marks the horn out as a Yanagisawa T4.
So we're all done here.

Super Pennsylvania model numberWell, not quite - because (typically) there were reputed to have been at least four major variants of the T4 over the years...and if my experience of the company is anything to go by I suspect there may well have been many more minor variations. Anyway, at this point I gave up looking; I'd got my maker and model number - and that's all I need. If you want to look into it in more detail knock, as they say, yourself out and start with this useful article on thesax.info...

Super Pennsylvania bell staySo let's get down to the nuts and bolts...
The construction is single pillar (post to body), save for the palm and side key pillars which use rather crude U-shaped cradles. The pillar bases are, on the whole, of reasonable size. There's a detachable bell, a positively humongous two-point bell stay ring (which in itself is a bit of a giveaway as to the manufacturer), an adjustable metal thumb hook, a flat plastic thumb rest and adjusters for the bell key bumper felts. The toneholes are all of the plain drawn type - and the overall construction of the body is suitably neat and tidy.

During the course of the service I carried out on the instrument, I had cause to do a spot of dentwork and tonehole levelling - at which point I was surprised at how soft the brass was. Actually, more than surprised - taken aback would be a better description. A gentle tap with my tonehole mallet that should have resulted in a minuscule drop in the level of the wall resulted in a dip that then required lifting to bring the tonehole rim back to level. I didn't make that mistake again.
I noticed this too on the key cups - many of which were warped and so required levelling. I don't think it's the softest brass I've seen on a horn (that would have been on an old Chinese Parrot alto...which was practically made of butter), but it wasn't far short. However, the key arms themselves seemed to be rather stiffer - which is really where it matters.
There's a coat of clear lacquer on the horn, and it seems to be on there well enough. I've seen comments that suggest that it didn't hold up that long, but on this horn (at least) it's doing fine. I had to resolder the guard foot in the shot above, and you can see just how little of the lacquer was lost during the process.

Super Pennsylvania compound bell key pillarThe compound bell key pillar is of an 'interesting' design.
The base is reassuringly large, but the pillar itself is just a slab of brass fixed perpendicular to the base. There's almost no strength in it at all in terms of resistance to being knocked back (as it was) - but what really made me chuckle was the additional plate that had been soldered onto the head of the pillar to add a bit more meat for the point screws to sit in.
It's functional, I'll give it that - but pretty it ain't.

While we're here I might as well mention the point screws. As you can probably see they're proper point screws of the shoulderless variety, which means they're constantly adjustable and will take up any wear and tear in the action with a mere turn of the screw. About the only drawback to these type of screws is that because they have no shoulder to them there's no mechanical means of locking them in place - so a drop of threadlock is in order. I usually recommend Loctite 222 (purple, weak strength) but you can use a smear - and only a smear, on one side of the screw - of Loctite 243 (blue, medium strength), which has the advantage of being far more widely available and has a better tolerance of oil contamination. Be advised that if you use too much of this stuff it can make it very difficult to remove the screws (though heating the pillar will help matters considerably).
I may as well mention the springs too, which are of the stainless variety. They're excellent - and on no account should you consider swapping them out for blued steel springs. The action has been designed to accommodate their mechanical properties...so leave them well alone. They won't rust, they're unlikely to break, they're very tolerant of even quite clumsy tweaking and they'll like outlast you and me both.

Super Pennsylvania side key linkageThat just about wraps it up for the bodywork - save to mention the sling ring.
Well, it's not so much a ring as a staple. Nothing really wrong with this design - and it may well even have some advantages over the traditional ring, but I rather suspect it's been made this way because it's cheaper to do so. It's of a decent size, so will accommodate even the largest sling hooks.

And this is also a good shot of one of the U-channel pillars - seen here holding the side Bb key. Like the staple sling ring they're cheap and functional - though I tend to feel they look a bit cheap 'n nasty (they were liberally used on late Weltklang horns). With so little metal around the head and thread of the screw they tend to wear out quite fast (which allows the rod screw to rock, and thus the key) and it's very easy to strip the thread out if you're a bit heavy-handed with a screwdriver.
Note the balljoint link on the Bb key. This is another feature I don't much care for because it's prone to rapid wear - and when it wears it becomes incredibly noisy and gives the key a rather imprecise feel. You just can't beat a simple fork and pin link here.

Super Pennsylvania  octave mechHere's another balljoint, on the octave key mech.
Its use here is even more unwise than on the side keys because the octave mech takes a hell of a beating - and swivel mechs can wear quite quickly if not properly maintained. This makes the mech more imprecise...and by the time you factor in the additional wear from the balljoint it all gets a bit approximate over time.
And then it rattles like hell unless you keep it well lubricated (which you usually don't, which is why it wears out in the first place).

There's no tilting bell key table on this horn - which, depending on your preference for such things, could be a good thing or a bad thing.
I quite like a non-tilting table, so this goes down on my score sheet as a plus. However, it's not the best example of the genre I've encountered - and while it's entirely functional it's rather less slick in action than I'd hoped for, and it gets a bit clunky and vague when you're trying to whizz around it chromatically.
I'm not really sure why - each of the keys works well enough in isolation (the C# has a fair bit of flex in it though) and there's nothing really wrong with the layout...it's just that as a whole it's a bit less than wonderful.

Super Pennsylvania bell key tableIn keeping with this basic approach there are few concessions for home tweakers.
You get a pair of adjusters over the G# and Bis Bb arm - and that's your lot. Nothing on the main stacks, and nothing on the low B to C# link. If you want to make any adjustments you'll have to get busy with bits of cork and some sandpaper.
On the plus side you get a set of proper mother of pearl key touches (all concave) - and on the minus side you might have noticed that there's no top F# key on this horn. That's not such a big deal really as it's a note that's readily available with a 'false fingering' - typically octave key+front top F+A+side Bb. If that sounds a bit flat you can substitute the Bis Bb for the A, which usually sharpens it up.

And that, my friends, is about it. There really isn't that much more to say about this horn - which really isn't such a bad thing. It's quite a simple design, it's well made, it doesn't really have any quirks to speak of - and there are few things to point and laugh/frown at.
It's clearly an early(ish) design from Yanagisawa, which I think shows up in the use of balljoints and the slightly clunky bell key table (as compared to their later models) - but in its day it would have been a lot better than most of the competition, and certainly better built.

Likewise, there's little to say with regard to how it feels in the hands. It's all nicely laid out, and the use of long stainless steel springs give the action a very nice and responsive feel. I really can't see many people struggling with the action, save for those who like to dash around the bell notes.
It's also a reasonably light horn, which might be an important consideration if you have a gyppy back - though if it comes in its original (and heavy) box-style case you might well put your back out lifting the thing in and out of the car.
So let's cut to the chase and see how well (or otherwise) this thing plays....

Super Pennsylvania tenor bellIt's an interesting blow. Tonewise it's immediately warm - which comes as something of a surprise - and if that's not your cup of tea you might be inclined to write it off as being stuffy. But it isn't. Stuffy horns tend to have little definition, and not much response either - but this one has plenty of both.
Another characteristic of stuffy horns is that if you push them, they simply won't play ball. But this one does; the more you put into it, the thicker the tone becomes...until it gets quite booty in that old '50s rock 'n roll style. You know, lots of mellow grunt that you can feel in the pit of your stomach.
If you back off, though, it has a very gentle and considered approach that borders on the wistful - and it maintains this tone no matter how quietly you play...right into subtone, and even up until the point where the note is just a whisper. It also has a lot of stability. You can push and push this horn and it just won't crack the note.

Now, I said it's immediately warm - because if you put a little time into getting your embouchure around the notes, it starts to brighten up. Doesn't take long, maybe 15 minutes or so - but little by little you begin to hear and feel a bit of shine and glitter around the edges of the notes. I rather liked this, it gives the impression that this is a horn that rewards anyone who sticks around long enough to tease out the zip and zing rather than just handing it to you on a plate from note 1. Even so, it still retains a rather nice softness in its response.
Were it not for this feature I'd be inclined to mark this down as a somewhat limited horn - but whether by accident or design it's quite a quirky horn that will have a lot of appeal to those players who don't much care for their tenors to be brash and shouty.

Back in the day this horn was built and sold for the intermediate market, and I think that shows up in its playing credentials. It doesn't quite have the clout of some of the more expensive horns of the day, but it still puts on a good show - and will still easily square up to many modern horns in the same category.
And there's a very good chance that any of the earlier T4 variants will exhibit exactly the same playing characteristics, given that the variations in design are almost certainly going to be related to features rather than the body tube.

The best of it is that these stencil horns rarely command high prices and can still be picked up very cheaply indeed. Assuming, of course, that the seller hasn't read this review...

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