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Rare Saxophones Super Tone Series VI TS-7306L

Rare TS7306L tenor reviewOrigin: Taiwan (Rare Hardware Co Ltd)
Guide price: Around £2000
Weight: 3.27kg
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 brand.

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'.
Rare TS7306L low C# burrFortunately 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.
Rare TS7306L bell braceAt 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'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'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.

Rare TS7306L sprung barrelOn 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.

Rare TS7306L low C barrelOn 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'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.
Rare TS7306L top D key playIf 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 D key.
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. Rare TS7306L octave mech playNote 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 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.
Rare TS7306L low C padAll of which can be avoided by using the correctly-sized pad for the key cup.
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 operation.
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 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 to detail.

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.

Rare TS7306L tenor bellTonewise 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 appealing.

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 under £1500.
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 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.

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