I recently performed a full overhaul on a Dolnet Royal Jazz alto saxophone in gold plate. The Royal Jazz is the same as a Bel Air model, with the addition of a microtuner on the neck, a high E trill, a forked Eb, a high F# (which on this horn was configured as a fourth palm key), and G# trill key. This particular horn was in satin gold plate with flat gold plating on the keys and engraving, with a protective coat of lacquer, a very rare finish for Dolnets.
The first thing you notice about this horn is that it is HEAVY. At first I chalked it up to the extra keywork, but as I got into it I realized it was also because the horn was built like a tank. Heavy, thick body and neck, with very thick hinge tubes and rods on the keys made for a very sturdy and heavy sax.
Pros: Built solid, plenty of material to work with. Not one you are going to dent easily or take out of its case to discover it has gone all out of sorts during the ride in your car trunk or the subway.
Cons: Although built solid, not built well. Some soldering not done very attractively. Some keywork and keyguards not completely symmetrical. Whoever was on buffing duty the day this horn was made wasn’t too careful around posts and toneholes, leaving me to correct some seriously wavy toneholes and some posts that weren’t even flat! These are the type of mistakes I expect to see on an import student horn, not a French pro horn.
All in all, it was a pretty exhaustive overhaul, and I really had some time to get to know the horn. I had a feeling that fairly open key heights was what this tank of a horn wanted, so I started off fairly open. After some tests with a tuner, I opened them up even more, and ended up with a VERY loud, very powerful and very well in tune horn, including altissimo, which popped out very nicely. Overtone series based on the low Bb, B, C#, and C were pretty easy to get out and pretty well in tune with themselves. I had the best results using a medium- large chamber piece. Succesful pieces were my Morgan 3C, a Woodwind Co. B5, a Riffault, and a Penzel-Mueller. A “name” piece that would be equivalent would be something like a Slant Sig Link.
Ergonomically, the horn was alright, but nothing special. It would definitely take some getting used to for someone used to playing Selmers all their life.
Overall, it was not the best build quality or ergonomics I have ever seen, and in fact may rank somewhere around the lower middle. Luckily, nothing was so bad it couldn’t be fixed in the way of mechanics or gotten used to in the case of ergonomics, and all was well once I had finished, except my sore hands from tacking on an extra 15 or so hours to the job getting everything right that should have been right already. But once it was done, all of that faded away when I felt the horn vibrating like mad under my fingers.
Judging this horn from the inside out, I can see why people report mixed experiences with Dolnets. It was pretty sensitive to key heights, and demanded a more open setup than usual- although it paid off with a bigger sound that most altos. The build quality wasn’t great, and it doesn’t take a great leap of logic to think well, if they made a gold plated “Artist” type horn with the mechanical shortcomings I saw, who knows what the next one off the line might be like?
I would suppose that with Dolnets, it may be best to try before you buy- but if you get a good one… you’ll be happy you tried it.