Welcome to my latest review. Although things have been extremely hectic recently for me, I’m still hoping to get some of these reviews out. This most recent review was a result of Buffet Crampon USA contacting me to test out and write a thorough review on their new line of professional saxophones. I had two saxophones; a Buffet 400 gold lacquer and a Buffet 400 matte lacquer. I’ll be doing a side-by-side comparison, although I won’t have a “winner” category for these two since they are in fact the same horn, simply different kinds of lacquer.
NOTE: BOTH HORNS HAVE BEEN ADJUSTED TO PERFECTION PRIOR TO TESTING!!!
Buffet 400 gold lacquer: The first one I opened, it was actually quite a pleasant sight. Good presentation of keys, a deep, rich gold colored lacquer and very thorough engraving all over the bell, neck, all the keys, etc. The engraving wasn’t overdone, but was simply stated and elegant. I think a lot of us are spoiled by Jason Dumars engraving, but I really enjoyed the look of this engraving and the way it was done. It comes in a nice backpack style, protec-type case with pockets for accessories. Roomy and I think it looks very stylish.
Buffet 400 matte lacquer: I know some people don’t dig the look of this type of lacquer, but I think it looks downright sexy. It has the antiqued look you’ll find on the Reference 54 alto, P. Mauriat 67R, etc. It was done nicely and I think the engraving really stands out on these models. Craftsmanship of the lacquer job was good and I was impressed.
Buffet 400 gold lacquer: The basic ergonomics on these horns was very good. Keys were in the right place and they fit my hands very well. I especially liked the G# table, and I really can’t tell you why. It simply felt comfortable to maneuver around there. The pearls are slightly indented which helps leave your fingers with a comfortable resting position. The one thing I might change is the Bis key is more rounded than I would like. Easily changeable by a repair tech if it REALLY bothered you that much. After about 10 minutes on the horn and I forgot it was there. Another point of note is the C/Eb spatula is slightly raised. Coming from a vintage horn, it felt uncomfortable at first. Again, this is something that felt natural after I spent some time on the horn. Spring tensions, once adjusted, felt wonderful and I was flying over the horn with no issues. I would compare it as a mix between a Selmer Series II and a Keilwerth.
Buffet 400 matte lacquer: See above.
Buffet 400 gold lacquer: This is where I thought I was going to have reservations. Buffet does NOT hide the fact these horns are made right outside Shanghai, China. Well, in my mind, good on them! The horn is built well with sturdy braces, level tone-holes, and solid key strength. Pads were of decent (good, not great) quality. I felt the corks could have been more secure and a little more finely trimmed, but most non-techs wouldn’t even notice. Most importantly…and I think saxophonists get this as much as flautists…you FEEL like you’re holding a quality horn.
Buffet 400 matte lacquer: See above, though the cork finishing work was a little better on this one.
Response - To me, response is how quickly the horn responds to your airstream for articulation, tone changes, and volume.
Buffet 400 gold lacquer: Definitely a free-blowing horn. Excellent response throughout the range; and I was taken back by the excellent clarity on the low notes. Very crisp and resonant. The upper register responded well, but it felt easy to blow sharp if you weren’t paying attention. I felt the horn played very evenly in all registers, with a slighter change in timbre going to the low notes, seemed like a little more beef down bottom.
Buffet 400 matte lacquer: Response wasn’t as instant on this horn, still solid, but it felt like it made you work a little more it. As a result, it gives you something to push up against, which a lot of players like. This seems like it would be more suited to a person with a well developed airstream. It’s worth it though; the meat on those high notes!! Very nice. I think I can say I enjoyed the initial play testing on this one more.
Buffet 400 gold lacquer: I was very impressed on the overall intonation of this horn. On initial play-testing, I couldn’t hear any real intonation discrepancies. When I brought it to a tuner, I found the usual culprits. Sharp middle D, slightly sharp lower notes…nothing drastic and nothing that I haven’t found on almost EVERY saxophone out there. I did find it was flexible with different mouthpieces, which makes a difference for me if I happen to be playing 2nd chair and the lead player isn’t “with the tuner.”
Buffet 400 matte lacquer: Very centered and even intonation is the best way to describe this horn. Not as much flexibility as the above mentioned horn, but it “slotted” into place nicely. Low notes were slightly more in tune and I didn’t have any issues with the upper register blowing sharp.
Tone: To me, tone is the general description of the sound produced by the instrument. Adjectives like bright, dark, warm, thin, edgy etc. can be used to describe tone. I also refer to the "eveness" of the tone...this is if the tone of the horn stays consistent throughout the ranges.
Buffet 400 gold lacquer: The meat and potatoes, isn’t it? I really enjoyed the sound of this horn. It gave a warm, clear sound with excellent shaping abilities. It felt surprisingly close to my 6M VIII in its tone quality, with a little more brightness and edge. It’s by no means a “bright, edgy” horn….but it does have the ability to be used as such. I found it be a clear, warm tone…reminiscent of Yanagisawa’s A992 but just a little brighter and a tad more punch. I found myself switching between Bird tunes and Guiseppe Creston’s Sonata, and matching each style with ease (on the same mouthpiece, no less!) The warmth and clarity is an excellent asset for classical players, and jazz players will enjoy the power and punch this horn can bring to the table when needed. Overall, VERY impressed. The best I’ve played coming out of China (and most of Taiwan!)
Buffet 400 matte lacquer: Definitely similar to the gold lacquer horn, but also very different. I’m not one to make a big fuss over the lacquer changing the sound, but after playing a few “matte” lacquer horns I’ve noticed a trend (in my experience, least). These horns tend to give a dryer, slightly sweeter tone than the regular gold lacquer horns. Slipping into “Desmond mode” was almost too easy…gave me that dry, sweet, slightly singing tone that reminds me of his sound and style. It wasn’t an incredibly powerful horn, but it did well for most combo playing and I had no problem running through the Klose and Ferling with a crisp, sweet classical tone. I found this one to be more mouthpiece sensitive in regards to its sound; I noticed a huge difference when switching from a JJ HR* to a Morgan 6M, much more so than on the gold lacquer model.
Buffet 400 gold lacquer/matte lacquer: I absolutely have to give two thumbs up to Buffet Crampon; they made an excellent quality saxophone that is indeed affordable by most budgets. Aesthetically pleasing, great playing, well built saxophones are hard to come by. I believe Buffet has done it; I got plenty of compliments on the sound and looks of these horns when used on gigs. The guys noticed I had a different vibe going on…and they dug it. Price range is great; these alto’s run under $2,000 typically and come with the full package: great horn, great case, solid accessories (no I didn’t try the stock mouthpiece). Overall a very impressive saxophones from Buffet Crampon. Hopefully we'll see more from them in the future.
Feel free to add your comments; these are all my personal experiences and of course YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).
Previously: Selmer Reference 54 alto vs. Yanagisawa A992
Upcoming bout: P. Mauriat 67R vs. Conn Transitional 6M