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Borgani Ponzol Vintage tenor saxophone

Origin: Italy (
Guide price: £2000+ (when new)
Weight: -
Age of review model: Not known, approx. 6 years?
Date reviewed: March 2003

A pro model horn made with a back-to-basics retro approach

For many saxophonists, the name Borgani will ring a distant bell that reminds them of less-than-wonderful student instruments. I thought they'd all but disappeared from the woodwind world, and then suddenly they pop up with a very expensive saxophone that bears the name of a very much respected saxophonist and woodwind designer.
It seems though that this relationship didn't last - there were relatively few Ponzol models made - and Borgani have since associated themselves with (amongst others) Joe Lovano.
Will this horn live up to its namesake...?

The Borgani Ponzol tenorThe first thing that hits you when you see this horn is the finish. Actually, there is no finish - the horn is unlacquered - and yet the tarnishing on it looks decades old.
This horn has been treated to 'distress' it, to make it look like a vintage horn - and it's been done rather well - but owning a horn that's had its finish worn away by years of constant handling is one thing - buying a brand new horn that's faked to look shabby is quite another thing. But no matter, it's purely cosmetic - so it's just a matter of personal taste.

Another striking thing about this horn is its simplicity. There are no fancy gadgets, the pillars are basic and functional, the keywork is spaciously laid out - even the engraving on the bell is discreet. There's no top F# key, which some players might consider to be an economy too far (though auto F + BisBb + side Bb gives a stable and tuned alternative).
One concession to modern design is the F to Aux.F key cup brace - and the particularly sturdy crook socket is worthy of mention.
This simplicity makes for a very light horn.

Borgani have opted for a soldered joint where the body meets the bottom bow. This adds support to the structure and lessens the risk of leaks - and because this is an unlacquered horn there will be no loss of finish should this joint need unsoldering to effect a repair.

Someone told me that one of Borgani's designers once trained with the people from Conn - which explains the rather bizarre use of those awkward Conn locknuts on some of the point screws. I say bizarre as there are better ways to secure a shoulderless point screw these days.
Then again, there aren't that many point screws on this horn - and Borgani have opted for using long rods on the low B and Bb keys. There are all sorts of reasons why this isn't a great idea (wear being one of them).

I loved the design of the key cups - what I'd call 'retro', with smoothly rounded, deep cups. These, coupled with the plain keywork, gave a very precise and nimble feel to the action.
Having said that, the action was incredibly noisy. It seems to me that the underlying philosophy behind the design of this horn was to make a modern version of a vintage horn. All very commendable - but I think that replicating the various knocks and rattles of a vintage horn is taking the philosophy a tad too far.
The main problem was the use of plastic tubing buffers and foam bumper corks - a session with a sheet of felt and a scalpel blade quietened things down considerably.

Borgani bell key pillarOf more concern is the bell key compound pillar.
As can be seen, this consists of a curved bar that projects up from the body adjacent to the A key tone hole. This is a fairly common design these days, though on most other examples the bar forms a complete semicircle and is attached to the body at each end. Here there is only one mounting point, and in my opinion this allows the bar to flex.
Maybe not such a great concern in normal use - but definitely a liability should the horn receive a knock.

I also wonder what the effect of long-term stress on the single mount point may be.

I'm afraid I had to mark the horn down on the tone holes. There were at least six tone holes that were slightly warped. I could see no evidence of peripheral damage to the instrument, so I'd conclude this was a manufacturing defect.
To be fair, the warpage was slight - though it must also be noted that the tone holes are quite shallow to start with....not a lot of room for manoeuvre when it comes to levelling the dodgy holes.

As I reassembled the horn I became aware of a sense of 'cheapness' in places. The key guards were ever so thin, the guard screws were less than beefy, some of the keywork was a bit lightly built in places and the key pearls weren't that well fitted.

Having reassembled the horn I found I could forgive it these small transgressions - it is such an elegant looking beastie.

The case wasn't up to much for a horn of this standard - and bearing in mind the design of this instrument I think you'd be well advised to invest in a superior case.

Playing this horn was a delight. It's quite unlike anything I've ever played before.
My immediate impression was of, well, immediacy. This horn speaks freely, almost percussively - no matter how fast and hard you play it, each note seem to be picked out with distinct clarity.
This often indicates brightness in a horn, and yes - this is a bright horn... but not bright in the way that a Yamaha is, it's more subtle than that. It's almost as though the horn holds something back from you, you can hear the undertones as you play - hinting at hidden depths in the tone.
I get the feeling that this is a horn that will benefit immensely from careful matching with the right mouthpiece - and you may find that your current mouthpiece might not be the right one for the job. My much-loved Dukoff D8, which makes a glorious noise on my Yamaha tenor, made the Borgani sound (frankly) bloody awful - and the low notes just didn't want to come out to play. My workshop Vandoren T25 simply oozed a crisp, focussed sound.
Personally I found it hard to put down, it's an extremely interesting horn that delivers much and promises more tonewise...and better than that, it's inspiring.

As it stands, it makes for a truly superb rock and funk horn - the incisiveness is truly remarkable. With some careful mouthpiece matching it will warm up into a first class jazzer.
Tonewise it's not a Selmer, it's not a Yamaha either - Borgani have hewn their own unique sound from the rock, and that in itself alone is a feat worthy of merit.

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