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Remy tenor saxophone

Remy tenor saxophone reviewOrigin: China
Guide price: £4100
Weight: 3.17kg
Date of manufacture: 2022 (serial range: 24070xxx)
Date reviewed: August 2023

Nearly there...

Boutique horns. You don't see one for months - and then two come along at once. I recently finished up a review of a Nexus tenor in which I described it as a 'Boutweaqued' horn - meaning an off-the-shelf boutique horn that's been customised for or by the reseller. And this is exactly what we have here.
I've noticed that some people seem to dislike the whole idea; that you can buy a horn from a manufacturer, stamp your name on it and then sell it on to the general public. But it's not really anything new, it's been going on for decades. Indeed, a quick browse on any of the sax forums will throw up any number of posts from folks who've acquired a 'mystery vintage sax' and wish to know who made it.

On the face of it the dislike appears to come out of the notion that someone, somewhere is making money out of such business practices - but it's perhaps a little more nuanced than that.
Walk into any shop and you can buy a product that wasn't made by the shop owner. It's called retail. Shops buy from manufacturers and sell those goods on to the public. The profit they make is in return for providing us with a convenient place from which to purchase the things we want rather than having to go to the manufacturer...who will probably require you to buy in bulk.
For boutique horns the nuance is the feeling that Brand X is made by the same people who make Brand Y and Z, and yet the price difference between the brands can be substantially different. If you're 'in the know' you can simply buy the cheapest brand and save yourself a few hundred quid. I can understand that, because there have been times when I've seen horns whose origins I'm aware of being hyped up and sold as more than they really are...and for more than they're worth.

But it gets a bit complicated when someone takes a stock horn and customises it. The questions you have to ask yourself are "What's been done to the stock model?", "What difference has it made?" and "How much extra am I being charged for these tweaks?" If you can answer those questions you can figure out whether the horn is worth the price being asked - but answering those questions isn't all that easy. This is why some folks prefer to buy horns from, say, Yamaha - because the company structure makes such questions moot. All you have to do is find the best deal on your chosen model and you never have to worry that someone's selling the same horn under a different name at a grand or so cheaper.
So when it comes to boutweaqued horns it's always going to be difficult to pin a value on them - and in the end it pretty much comes down to comparisons. How does it stack up against the similarly-priced competition? Does it play well enough to make you feel it's worth the money?

And what about the point of origin - China (apparently). For many people that's a big issue - and let's be honest, we've all seen some appalling kit from there. But this is where the tweakery comes in because the component parts are made in China to the seller's specification and then whole lot is reworked and assembled in Amsterdam.

With all this in mind, let's take a look at the Remy tenor...
The construction is ribbed, with plates for the side keys and a handful of standalone pillars. There's a two-point Selmer MkVI style bell brace and a detachable bell. You get a teeny-tiny sling ring (14/18mm), an adjustable metal thumb hook and a flat plastic thumb rest - and a full set of adjustable bumper felts.

Remy tenor low C# toneholeThe toneholes are of the plain drawn variety, and measuring them up against a flat standard revealed that they're below the par that I'd expect to see on a horn of this price.
To be fair I have to point out that not many manufacturers get this right, so have to make an allowance - but when I see gaps like this it gets flagged up as a pretty major fail. As a general rule of thumb a gap of 1 thou (0.025mm) is enough to effect a leak, and on a standard production horn I really don't want to see gaps much bigger than a couple of thou (0.05mm).
The gap on this tonehole (low C#) weighs in at 0.4mm. That's a lot. This was the worst of the bunch, and you could suggest that perhaps the horn took a knock at some point - but I found gaps of 0.25 on the low Eb, 0.2 on the low B, 0.15 on the low D and C...and everything inbetween on almost all the rest. It wasn't until the Bis Bb and above that the toneholes fell within what I'd consider normal parameters.

Remy tenor solderworkSome of the solderwork is a bit 'splashy' in places. See that overrun on the bell brace mount plate? In practical terms it makes no real difference, and you could even say that it proves there's plenty of solder beneath the plate. But if someone asked me to solder a plate on to a horn I'd want to make it as neat a job as possible. I could let something like this slide on a very much cheaper horn - but for four grand? Nah.
Especially as this is a bare brass horn. With sloppy soldering under a coat of lacquer there's pretty much nothing you can do about it without ruining the finish. No such problems on a bare brass horn - you can clean up solderwork at any point during the manufacturing process...and afterwards too.

I wouldn't say the rest of the horn was as untidy as this, but there were a few other places where things could have been much neater. Here's the side (chromatic) F# upper pillar, and I can see two things that aren't quite pukka.
The first is that the pillar base hasn't quite been correctly formed to the diameter of the body tube. Again, like the bell brace plate, it's not necessarily a structural problem but at the price-point it ought to have been better.
Remy tenor side F# pillarAnd then there's the sloppy soldering. This time you can see a few pinholes in the joint, and this could be a problem. You usually get pinholes when there's either a problem with the cleanliness of the joint, or when the joint's been overheated. And you don't know how far those holes extend under the pillar. This is a concern in terms of moisture ingress - which can lead to the joint corroding and failing over time. A long time, admittedly - but a four grand horn ought to last a very long time.

From my perspective it doesn't inspire confidence. Issues like this suggest that there was a problem with the soldering process - and because you can't see beneath the joints you have to wonder if there are going to be any other problems lying in wait down the line. And yes, you could say that's true of any horn - but when you see nicely fitting parts with neat soldered joints it does rather tend to make you feel that all's going to be well.

On to the action now, and I'm afraid there's another handful of issues to discuss - the first of which being the swedging marks on many of the rod screw mounted keys.
You could look at this in two ways - one being that it's good to see that someone's taken the time and trouble to address some inaccuracies in the keywork, and on the other hand it raises the question as to why this was necessary in the first place. Swedging is usually undertaken to take up wear in the keys or to elongate the barrels to get rid of axial (end-to-end) play....and these are not things you should have on a new horn. So that means it must have been built in at the factory.
Remy tenor swedging marksI also noted that the keys had been 'selectively swedged'. I'm none-too-keen on this technique - if there's wear/free play in the keys then all of it ought to be dealt with rather than just a bit of it (see my article on swedging for more details). However, if it's just a means of elongating a key barrel then it's not so much of a big deal - and it should be noted that at least this remedial work has been carried out...though not perhaps completely because I found some axial play in the top stack.

I also noticed that quite a few of the key barrels still had burrs on the ends. This tends to be as a result of using a rotary cutter to square off the ends. The burrs themselves make no difference to the functionality of the horn but some of them can be very sharp. If you're in the habit of cleaning your horn from time-to-time (and on a bare brass horn that's something you might have to get used to), these burrs are a bloody nuisance. They catch on your duster - and in the right circumstances they may even cut your finger.

Remy tenor key barrel burrAnd it's not like they're at all difficult to remove; all you need is a couple of turns with an inverted cone deburring tool and the job's a good 'un. It's all about attention to detail - the little things that lift the quality of a product.
Speaking of which, I'm wondering why the swedging marks weren't polished out. It's a bare brass horn so there's no lacquer to take into consideration. You don't even need to fire up a buffing maching to do it - you just stick one end of a strip of cloth in a vice, pull the other end taut and rub it over with buffing soap...then 'rag' the keys a couple of times. Takes just a few seconds.

Now, you might wonder whether the swedging marks were added by someone else - such as a repairer or a retailer - but this horn was bought direct from Remy and hasn't been worked on by anyone else since.

Next up is rather short rod screws.
Not every screw was affected in this manner, but a good number of them were. This one's the top F key screw, and you can just about see the slotted head of the screw hiding away deep within the pillar. It ought to be more or less flush with the head of the pillar.

Remy tenor rod screwThis is an issue both in terms of fit and finish, and in respect of long-term reliability. You might not know it but pillars wear. Whenever you press a key down the rod screw moves ever so slightly, and over a period of time it widens the diameter of the hole in the pillar. This is why vintage horns often need to have pillars bushed - or oversized rod screws fitted. A pillar like this is going to wear quicker than one in which the rod screw contacts the entire surface of the hole drilled through it. Yes, it'll take a long time....but it'll still happen.
So it's not something to worry about for now - but it's still sub-standard on a horn of this price, and I often wonder how it comes about. I mean, if I were making up a set of rod screws for this horn I'd thread a long piece of stock up, fit it to a key then mark where it needs to be cut so that the head lies flush with the pillar. Repeat as necessary. If I were making screws for more than one horn I'd take a set of measurements from the first one and make the next set to those dimensions. I might even knock up a jig so's I didn't have to measure anything again. It's simple and obvious, surely?
So what's going wrong? Is it perhaps that the factory only has a selection of sizes in stock - and that's yer lot? It can't be that they're fitting the rods into the wrong keys because for as many keys that have short rod screws you'd see others with the head of the screws sticking out of the pillars.
Remy tenor point screwAnd what of the 'reassembly' process? As discussed earlier I can well imagine people having an issue at shelling out many thousands of pound for, essentially, a Chinese/Taiwanese horn - but the big selling point of this horn is that it's given a thorough post-manufacturing workover. So why weren't such issues addressed at that point? For four grand I want to see properly-sized rod screws please.

The point screws are of the pseudo type, and our old friend the sprung insert has popped up again. Or should that be popped out?
I've railed against these things in a number of reviews now, but the thing that really, really annoys me is that if you're going to use the poxy things could you at least ensure that the inserts are held captive on the springs? Because if they're not, the damned thing are liable to pop out of the key barrel with some force when you take a key off and disappear into the wide blue yonder.
Notwithstanding the fact that this system gives the point screw mounted key a mediocre fit I can at least report that none of them suffered with the binding issue I've seen on a few other horns (Borgani in particular)...whereby the insert gets jammed in the key barrel and renders the whole system ineffectual. So plus points there, I suppose.

Remy tenor key pearlsA quick note about the key pearls. They're proper mother of pearl, only very slightly concave in profile with flat ovals for the side F# and G# touchpieces. The Bis Bb pearl is equally slightly domed - and I think they've missed trick here. The transition from B to Bis Bb isn't too bad - you're not likely to catch your finger in the gap - but take a look at the pearl holders.

On the B and A keys there's a chamfer leading up to the pearl, but on the Bis Bb the holder is rather more cylindrical. This makes no sense to me, especially with a relatively flat pearl fitted. And I use the term loosely because the pearl's a touch undersized for its holder. Put a chamfer on it and stick a larger and more domed pearl in it and it'd make a nice improvement to the feel of the action.

Remy tenor bell key tableYou get a tilting bell key table mounted on a fixed semicircular compound bell key pillar - which should be sturdy enough to shrug off all but the most severe knocks and bashes. Nothing to complain about here - but I spotted something a little unusual down at the lower end of the low C# lever.

What you're looking at here is the low C# cup key - and the spring that lifts it up when you press the C# key down. What's strange about this is that there's no dedicated cradle for the spring to sit in. Rather, it has to sit in the cutaway that's provided for the adjusting pin (which can be moved to set the height of the C# touchpiece).
Remy tenot low C# cup springThere's no particular problem with this, it's just that I've never seen it before - and as such it's a 'tell'.

A tell is a feature that can help to identify who made a horn. Remember those mystery vintage horns I mentioned at the top of the review? Sax sleuths use tells such as the layout of the bell keys or the design of the bell brace to point to a particular maker. It's not always entirely conclusive though, but if you can spot enough tells on a horn it's generally a reasonably accurate way of working out its origins.
And what does this tell say about this horn? I dunno. 'cos I've never seen this feature before - but I would say that features like this, the point screw inserts, the short rod screws and the iffy solderwork make for a handy checklist that might come in useful one day.

There are no stack adjusters on the horn (for regulation and/or key height) which is a bit disappointing, but you do get the usual trio of adjusters for the G#, Bis Bb and low C# - plus adjustable pins for the front top F and low C# levers.
Remy tenor sling ringI'm very pleased to see simple and efficient fork and pin connectors on the side Bb and C keys but not that thrilled about the dinky little sling ring. Would another couple of millimetres or so have killed them? I find small sling rings can be a bit faffy when you're in a hurry, and in some instances can limit which brand of sling/neckstrap you can use.

The pads are of excellent quality, being black Pisoni Pros. They've been fitted with custom oversized solid brass reflectors with a matt finish. Looks very swish.
Better still, plenty of glue (hot melt glue in this instance) has been used to set the pads in place. I know I make a fuss about such things but it really does make a lot of difference when you have to reset a pad. Nothing worse than trying to tease a leak out of a pad seat and then finding that there's not enough glue behind the pad to retain the reset in place.

Remy tenor padsWrapping up the action is a set of blued steel springs to power it and a good combination of neatly-applied felt and synthetic keywork buffers. And you might have spotted that there's no top F# key on this horn - and if that's a dealbreaker for you, don't's available as an optional extra.

Under the finger the action felt just fine. It's clear that some time has been spent on setting the key heights and the spring tension. It's swift and responsive - and due to the careful choice of buffering materials, nice and quiet.
I noted no particular problems with the layout of the keys.

When the horn came in I gave it an initial play-test to see what sort of character it had, and was rather disappointed. It seemed a bit stuffy and lacklustre. A subsequent examination revealed the extent of the tonehole problem - which struck me as something of a great shame given that it was clear to see that quite some time and effort had been spent installing and seating the pads. But this is the nature of uneven toneholes; you can use various techniques to mould the pads around such discrepancies but sooner or later the pads are going to move. They'll shrink and expand over the course of getting wet and drying out, and they'll also relax a little over time. So the horn comes off the workbench working just fine. It'll still work fine when you try it out in the shop - and it'll still work fine once you get it home and put it through its paces at a few gigs. And then it slowly starts to lose its edge and responsiveness - and you probably won't even notice it because your embouchure learns to compensates for it.
If you're lucky it'll carry on working in this fashion for quite a while - but if you're not you'll find that there comes a time when you start to struggle (usually starting with the low notes). And if you're really unlucky you'll take it along to a repairer who blows half a dozen notes on it, shoves a leaklight down it and says "Ye Gods! Leaks like a bloody sieve!"

Once the leaks had been sorted out I was better able to give the Remy a fair crack at showing what it could do - and straightaway I ran into a bit of a 'gotcha' on the side Bb key. I was running though a chromatic scale on the play-test when the horn suddenly stopped dead in its tracks. Couldn't get anything below A. And here's why.
Remy tenor side Bb padThe oversized reflector had just caught the edge of the tonehole and was preventing the key from closing. A close inspection shows that the reflector is barely smaller than the pad impression. Nothing wrong with long as you can ensure that the key never gets knocked or the action doesn't wear. In the case of the side key both things are extremely likely - with the latter being inevitable sooner or later. I'd suggest shaving a couple of millimetres off the diameter of the reflector just to give it a bit of leeway. A subsequent knock or looseness in the action might well result in a small leak, but it wouldn't stop the horn dead. Very much an accident waiting to happen.

Once I'd got that sorted I set to putting the horn through its paces, and I believe the expression I'm looking for is "Goodness me!"
I'd pulled out three other horns by way of a comparison; my TJ RAW, a 992 Yanagisawa and a Purple Logo Yamaha 32. The latter was a bit of wild card, but I though it might add a bit of perspective. It never really had the chance, and nor did the 992.

I started off by playing a few licks and runs on the RAW, then switched to the Remy...and found myself wondering if I'd actually switched horns. The response is that close. I really had to dig deep to eke out the differences but I got there in the end. Tonewise the Remy is what I'd call a straight-ahead tenor. Nicely balanced, not too dark nor too bright. Evenly toned (with a slight shading on the middle D...but that's not uncommon, and familiarity with the horn will iron that out) with just a touch more blowing resistance than the RAW.
And I think pretty much all the difference lies in that resistance. The RAW is a little more open, perhaps a tad louder with just a hint more sparkle down at the lower end. But it's close, so very close - and if I didn't know it was the Remy I was playing rather than the RAW I would have said that I felt my reed was just starting to signal that it was on the turn.
Now, I can see how the RAW appeals to so many players - but by the same token the Remy surely will too. It's just a tiny touch more reserved and gives you a little bit more to push against.
And if you're wondering whether that's a good thing it's pretty much how a Selmer MkVI presents itself (to me, at least). It's not a horn that gets in your way, though, and that's a very fine quality.

Remy tenor trouser guardAnd that perhaps should come as no surprise because the ethos behind this horn was to produce a 'modern' MkVI. Have they pulled it off? It's difficult to say. As much as I like the MkVI, it's not a horn I choose to play; there are some things about it that just don't float my boat. But there are some other things about it that I really do like - and so I chose a horn that has those things...and not the ones I don't care for. I would say that the Remy, for me, meets that criteria...which begs the question "What doesn't it have that the MkVI does?"
Well, that's the rub. Part of what makes a MkVI a MkVI are its flaws. It's not a perfect horn. The reason the Selmer SA80 isn't a MkVI is because Selmer wanted to iron some of those flaws out (as the rest of the market was doing at that time).
But I said that the Remy was a straight-ahead tenor - and to my mind (feel free to completely disagree) the Selmer MkVI is the archetypal straight-ahead tenor. So rather than get bogged down in tonal nuances I tend to go straight for the feel. I want a horn that's more evenly-balanced, I want more reliable tuning - but I still want that 'head down, get on with it' feel.
I didn't really bother with the 992 and the 32. Oh, I gave them a cursory blow but there really didn't seem to be much point. When a horn blows this well comparisons are rather moot. It's a great player - you might like it, you might not. T'was ever thus...but like the RAW it's definitely worth making the effort to find out.

And if you're hovering between the two, here's another consideration. The RAW is a hefty horn - it weighs in at 3.5kg, which makes it on the heavy side compared to the rest of the market. The Remy is a very sprightly 3.17kg - so if you like the RAW but don't feel you can manage the weight, the Remy is going to be a very good bet.

So it gets the old thumbs up - but with some important caveats.
The Remy comes in at a touch over four grand, which puts it up against some fairly big hitters. There's the Yanagisawa TWO1 at just under four grand and the Yamaha 82Z at a few hundred pounds more than the Remy. Filling in the rest of the gaps you have an Eastman, a Rampone and a few Mauriats. And you have the TJ RAW at just over three grand. It's certainly true to say that the build quality of the Yamaha, Yanagisawa and TJ RAW exceeds that of the Remy (out of the box) - and that's a worthy consideration I always recommend buyers to take into account.
However, there's a somewhat personal element involved with this horn inasmuch as it was bought at a time when the builder, Remy Veerman, was dealing with illness and other problems...and the horn was purchased at a very favourable price. There's a saying in the industry - "You're only as good as your last job", and in the case of makers or builders I guess you could say "You're only as good as the last horn you made" - but I'm going to cut some slack on the review and say that the build quality on newer models is likely to be that much better. There are still some issues that could do with sorting out but I wouldn't consider them to be game-changers. But, of course, I'll add to this review if and when other examples come my way.

In the meantime the Remy is a very, very capable horn that won't put your back out, and one that's likely to appeal to players who want at least some of that whole MkVI thing - and it's individual enough to make the price more palatable.

Update December 2023

Another Remy tenor turned up on the workbench for a thorough shakedown after the owner, who bought it direct from the manufacturer, had seen the above review and felt that his horn was underperforming.
This one's a slightly later model, but only by a few hundreds difference in the serial range - and I was quite keen to see whether the problems that hampered the earlier model would be in evidence on this one.
And, alas, they were - but to a slightly lesser degree.

Remy tenor 2407xxx octave keyThe first thing I noticed was that there was quite a lot of free play on the thumb key, and this proved to be down to incorrect placement of one of the pillars.
You can sometime swedge a bit of free play out of key barrel that's mounted on point screws, but it's a bit of an ask to remove this much play. In any event the sprung inserts preclude that particular technique (at least not without having the ream the bores for the inserts out again), so the simplest solution was to move a pillar. On a lacquered or plated horn this would be something of a disaster - but on a bare brass horn it's a simple matter of unsoldering one of the pillars, moving it slightly and resoldering it. Clean and polish the joint and let it tarnish to match the rest of the horn...and you'd never know there'd been a fix.

Remy tenor 2407xxx plam keysThere's some evidence of swedging work on many keys, though I'm pleased to report that the burrs on the key barrel faces weren't in evidence.

The palm and side keys were particularly bad in terms of free play - even after the swedging - so-much-so that I felt it necessary to replace the rod screws with oversized ones in order to not only take up the play in the key barrel but also the pillars. And it wasn't 'just a bit' of play. On most rod screw upgrade jobs you'd be looking at stepping up the diameter by one notch. In this case the rod screws measured 2.48mm across the diameter. The next standard size up is 2.56mm, but there was so much free play in the pillars that I had to jump up another step to 2.62mm. That's the sort of jump you'd expect to see on a 50+ year old horn that's been around the block a few times.

Remy tenor 2407xxx  side C keyThe problem with the overly-short rod screws on the palm and side keys remains, with the side C key being particularly badly affected.
The head of this screw was more than halfway deep in the pillar. Not good.
Thing is, you wouldn't have noticed - because at first sight the screw appeared to be more or less flush with the face of the pillar...but it was only like this because it hadn't been fully screwed in. That's a bit naughty.

This theme continues for most of the keywork to varying degrees, with some notable free play spotted on the Auxiliary F key. This is an especially nasty place to have wear because this key only closes by virtue of a link to the low F, E and D keys. What that means is that the Aux.F can only come down over the tonehole as far as any of the other three keys will which point the spring pushes back against the free play and a leak appears. So that's everything below F working at less than 100%.

Remy tenor 2407xxx crimped rod screwI spotted our old friend - the crimped rod screw head - on the low C/Eb key.
We've seen this on a few other boutique horns in the past and its function appears to be to splay out the head of the rod screw in order to disguise a poor fit in the pillar. Which was a bit odd because this screw was a decent fit. Go figure.

The toneholes were still below par. Not quite as bad as on the previous example but still well outside what should be considered acceptable. Here's the low D, which was pretty much the worst example on the horn. That gap on the right side of the hole measures out at 0.25mm...which is around 10 times the size of a gap that would constitute a leak.
Remy tenor 2407xxx low D toneholeAs I say, this was the worst - but there wasn't a single tonehole on the horn that didn't require some levelling.

On the plus side I can report that the soldering on this example was a great deal tidier than on the last example - but it's still concerning to see build quality issues turning up a few hundred horns down the line. In the horn's defence I can say that it was purchased at a seemingly low price, which might suggest it had been outed as 'B stock' - thought the client has no recollection of that being mentioned at the time of purchase.

From my perspective that takes quite a lot of the sting out of the deal. It's a nice horn at the end of the day, and if you can pick one up for a fair price and throw a few hundred quid at it to bring it up to spec you've got a good horn that's a bit of a bargain.
But if later models turn up at full price that still exhibit these build issues they're going to get properly roasted...








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