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Keilwerth saxes (S/A/T), Selmer clarinets (S/B), Altus Azumi flute
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Here's my review of the current SX90 sopranos. I've tried to write it objectively and to include as many details as possible (while keeping it concise) to be of use to potential purchasers.

Please let me know if you think I've left anything out. I'll post a sample recording (or two) to this thread within the next few days.

Intonation:

  • Intonation and tonal consistency is generally excellent throughout the range of the horn, with the exception of E2 which is a bit sharp, and C3, which is a bit flat. Overall, compared with my Antigua, it takes me much less effort to play this horn smoothly and in tune.
  • Compared with my Antigua and with other horns I've tried, the intonation on the SX90 is a bit less "locked-in" and more flexible (think fretted vs. fretless bass). Personally, I prefer this. It makes it somewhat easier to bend and smear notes when you want to and, more generally, to play expressively. However, it could be a problem for new or infrequent soprano players, and it might make this horn less than ideal for classical players.


Tone

  • The tone is on the dark side of the spectrum. In trying out a bunch of horns last summer, I found that my Antigua, like the Yanagisawa 901 & 991s on which it is modeled, tends to be dark relative to other horns, and especially compared to modern Selmers and Yamaha 875s, which sound quite bright to me.
  • Compared with my Antigua, the sound of this horn is not obviously brighter or darker, but it sounds somewhat "thicker" or "richer", as if there are more overtones present.



Mechanism & Ergonomics

  • The keywork feels smooth, crisp, and solid. It is here that the quality difference with my Antigua is largest and most obvious.
  • Unlike the original version of the (one-piece) SX90, the top octave pip is mounted in the front. I think that this is a better design as it keeps the speaker hole from getting blocked by condensation. It's also the easiest way to visually distinguish the newer Leibman-influenced horns from the older horns with the same model number.
    OctaveKey.jpg
  • In contrast to many of the sopranos that I've played and playtested in the past, the left- and right-hand key stacks on the SX90 are offset exactly as they tend to be modern altos and tenors. The effect of this configuration on soprano feels larger to me than it does on the bigger horns. It changes the overall balance of the horn, and I'm still getting accustomed to it. Overall, I can't say whether this configuration is better or worse than the inline configuration. However, one good effect of the offset is that it tends to rotate the hands so as to move the the palms closer to the palm keys.
    SideKeyHeights.jpg
  • The left hand thumbrest and the neckstrap ring are also in slightly different positions from those found on most sopranos, with the thumbrest offset slightly counterclockwise (right) of center, and the neckstrap ring offset slightly in the clockwise (leftward) direction.
    RingAlignment2.jpg

    I think that this setup aids helps better balance the horn, but it also makes it such that the neckstrap, when used, must pass under your left thumb. I usually play with a neckstrap (for stability), and I found that my normal strap didn't work very well and tended to interfere with my use of the octave key. However, this problem was ameliorated by using the Balam strap that I normally use to play tenor. It's overkill for the soprano, but it works.
  • The placement of the right-hand side keys is perfect. I have relatively big hands and, as a result, I've never played any horn on which I didn't feel it necessary to build up these side keys (sopranos tend to be especially problematic) but on this horn, they fall right under my right palm. This is ideal for me, but it means that these side keys may be a bit too high for players with smaller hands.
  • As on all SX90s, the left hand palm keys are adjustable, so these also work very well for me. However, the F palm key sits a bit to close to the LH key stack and I found it really easy to accidentally hit it. My solution was to remove the jam nut and lower the touchpiece as far as possible into its receiver. The friction should be enough to keep it in place without the jam nut, but I added some clear nail polish on the threads for good measure.
  • With this setup I can easily hit the palm and side keys without removing my fingers from the key pearls or otherwise contorting my hands.
  • The left hand spatula is flatter and closer to the saxophone body than on other horns, while the right-hand (Eb/C) spatula is considerably deeper (more concave) than on most other horns. I think both of these designs work very well.
    RHSpatula.jpg
  • The pearls on the stack keys are concave, while the bis key pearl is convex and very thick. As a result, I found that I would frequently let the B key leak when fingering bis Bb on rapid passages. My solution was to modify the bis pearl (by filing, sanding, and polishing) so that its upper edge better matches the edge thickness of the B key pearl.
    BisPearl.jpg


Setup

I know that Matthew's went over the horn (e.g., removed cork wedges, checked for leaks, etc.) before shipping it out, but I'm not sure how much setup they did. In any event, the details belowlikely include elements of the setup done by both Keilwerth and Matthew's.

  • I individually checked each key for lateral and torsional play and only found one (the auxilary C#2 key near the top of the left-hand stack) that had any discernable movement. In my experience, this is very good for a new horn.
  • The tension on the stack key springs was very even and perfectly set.
  • The LH palm keys, however were under far too much tension, as were left-hand spatula B key and the the right hand spatula Eb key.
  • There was a minor timing leak in the right-hand stack; one that wasn't noticeable until I got the leak light out. I suspect it resulted from expansion of pad felts and/or timing corks over the wait between when Matthew's checked the horn and when I recieved it. I noticed that, as with most new horns, the pads were set up to have pretty deep seats, so this was bound to happen over time.


Value


Now for the main question: is the horn worth the price?

This is a difficult question to answer definitively because everyone's threshold is different.

Personally, it's the best soprano that I've ever played, but it's also quite expensive. I have it insured, and I can say that if something happened to it and a copy was available locally (or in stock online) at the price I paid for it, I wouldn't hesitate to replace it.

However, if I knew that I had to deal with 11 months or more of hassle and repeated delays again (as detailed in this thread), I would probably try to make do with a different horn.
 

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Dear MMichel,

Thank you for your thorough evaluation and feedback, and for what I feel are respectfully good comments for this instrument. I agree that delays in production are unfortunate and not ideal, and we are working to improve this without jeopardizing the level of quality to which you have just affirmed.

Thank you again for your support!
#WeAreKeilwerth
 

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Glad to hear that your saga ended positively. If you really enjoy the horn, hopefully you'll soon be able to forget about the long wait.

Compared with my Antigua and with other horns I've tried, the intonation on the SX90 is a bit less "locked-in" and more flexible (think fretted vs. fretless bass). Personally, I like this. It makes it somewhat easier to bend and smear notes when you want to and, more generally, to play expressively. However, it could be a problem for new or infrequent soprano players, and it might make this horn less than ideal for classical players.
I assume that Keilwerth has essentially written off the classical market, assuming the company was ever truly interested in it in the first place.

I think that this setup aids helps better balance the horn, but it also makes it such that the neckstrap, when used, must pass under your left thumb. I usually play with a neckstrap (for stability), and I found that my normal strap didn't work very well and tended to interfere with my use of the octave key.
I used to play a JK SX90II soprano, and I recall that the neck strap position was about the same.

Now for the main question: is the horn worth the price?
Which was ... ?


However, if I knew that I had to deal with 11 months or more of hassle and repeated delays again (as detailed in this thread), I would probably try to make do with a different horn.
Acquisition bottlenecks caused by barely there JK production are probably a reason that the "Big Four" of saxophone lore seems to be more often conceived as the "Big Three" these days.
 

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Great review MMichel.

How do you feel about the overall fit and finish? Does it feel like a Keilwerth compared to the altos and tenors in the SX-90 line?

Some of your pics have a slight greenish tinge to the gold lacquer, but I suspect that it's the lighting in the room.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Great review MMichel.

How do you feel about the overall fit and finish? Does it feel like a Keilwerth compared to the altos and tenors in the SX-90 line?

Some of your pics have a slight greenish tinge to the gold lacquer, but I suspect that it's the lighting in the room.
Yes, it looks and feels like a Keilwerth. The greenish tinge is the specular reflection of my backyard lawn (I didn't think about or notice this when taking the pictures). The key touches and pearls feel the same as those on the altos and tenors and the spacing of the keywork also feels pretty close (it definitely feels "bigger" and more spread out than, say, the action on a SA80II soprano). The only significant differences are the left-hand spatula, which is a bit flatter and more compact than on the bigger horns, and the right-hand spatula, which is deeper (more concave) than that on the bigger horns.
 

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I assume that Keilwerth has essentially written off the classical market, assuming the company was ever truly interested in it in the first place.
This is not correct. We have never "written off" any segment of market. It is the preconceived ideas that the instrument is "designed" for classical or jazz that prevents an open mind to the possibility that it can be used for any style of music. Our instruments are designed to be good instruments first with their own qualities and characteristics. It is up to the player to choose if it works for them and in what musical context, and there are players who do choose JK for classical music.
 

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This is not correct. We have never "written off" any segment of market. It is the preconceived ideas that the instrument is "designed" for classical or jazz that prevents an open mind to the possibility that it can be used for any style of music. Our instruments are designed to be good instruments first with their own qualities and characteristics. It is up to the player to choose if it works for them and in what musical context, and there are players who do choose JK for classical music.
Of course the choice is up to the player, but the manufacturer's design decisions influence those choices. E.g., Keilwerth was no doubt aware that many classical soprano saxophone players prefer an instrument with a curved neck. By eliminating that option from your lineup, you must have realized that you were reducing the number of classical players who might be interested in a JK soprano. Sure, a good horn is a good horn, but some good horns also cater to the specific preferences of a particular market segment.
 

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I assume that Keilwerth has essentially written off the classical market, assuming the company was ever truly interested in it in the first place.
This is not correct. We have never "written off" any segment of market. It is the preconceived ideas that the instrument is "designed" for classical or jazz that prevents an open mind to the possibility that it can be used for any style of music. Our instruments are designed to be good instruments first with their own qualities and characteristics. It is up to the player to choose if it works for them and in what musical context, and there are players who do choose JK for classical music.
I have to echo this statement.

When I was in college and playing classical music all the time, my JK has a glorious, full and very vibrant classical tone. 90% of the tone of the instrument comes from the mouthpiece-reed combination, another 9% from the player themselves maybe, maybe 1% from the instrument.

I think the rich full tone of the Keilwerth horns make for a great full classical sound (with the right mouthpiece), and offer a different perspective to the usual Selmer/Yamaha domination of the classical studios. And they project more, which is great for soloists, too.

I have also played King Super 20 tenors (the quintessential rock and roll horn) for classical music with very nice results, again, with the right mouthpiece-reed combination.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I was just putting together a review of the Drake New Era Mouthpiece for Soprano when I realized that I never got around to posting a clip of this horn.

So I recorded a brief clip to do double duty. In the short clip below, I demonstrate the horn over most of its range by noodling over a couple of choruses of "All the Things You Are".

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1N6qKT2iguGUtCKwped8hLRwVlI8trIgW

FWIW, I'm playing a Drake New Era Mouthpiece (0.070) with a Rigotti Jazz 3L reed.
 

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… I assume that Keilwerth has essentially written off the classical market, assuming the company was ever truly interested in it in the first place.…
Not sure what Keilwerth is aiming for, but I can assure you that the SX90 is an amazing alto for classical music. The scale is very even and easy to play in tune. The tone quality is round and warm, perfect for blending with other instruments.
 

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I was just putting together a review of the Drake New Era Mouthpiece for Soprano when I realized that I never got around to posting a clip of this horn.

So I recorded a brief clip to do double duty. In the short clip below, I demonstrate the horn over most of its range by noodling over a couple of choruses of "All the Things You Are".

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1N6qKT2iguGUtCKwped8hLRwVlI8trIgW

FWIW, I'm playing a Drake New Era Mouthpiece (0.070) with a Rigotti Jazz 3L reed.
I'm using the older Drake Liebman model .75 opening on my 1997 black nickel SX90 one piece soprano. D'Addario Jazz Select 3S unfiled reeds.
 

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Keilwerth Tenor 75th. Anniversary model
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Hello;

A question please. I’m considering a 1991 SX90 been in storage. Should I have concerns??
Say the pads?
They are asking $2100.00 the pictures show it to be in excellent condition
I believe it could be purchased for $1500.00
I play a KW 75th anniversary tenor
Thanks and I hope I’ve done this correctly
Best;
JMSmith
 

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Hello;

A question please. I’m considering a 1991 SX90 been in storage. Should I have concerns??
Say the pads?
They are asking $2100.00 the pictures show it to be in excellent condition
I believe it could be purchased for $1500.00
I play a KW 75th anniversary tenor
Thanks and I hope I’ve done this correctly
Best;
JMSmith
If it has original pads, they're at end of life, probably already fried. Even if they still play now, they won't in a year, but in that case at least you get to try the horn for a while before you sink an overhaul into it.
I don't know the Keilwerth soprano market. I would consider $1500 a reasonable price for a Yamaha 875 or 62 in need of an overhaul, and since those are both direct competitors it probably isn't ridiculous. Check sold listings on ebay and any used JK sopranos for sale from the prominent dealers, and call some reputable techs in your area to get overhaul price estimates.


  • The tone is on the dark side of the spectrum. In trying out a bunch of horns last summer, I found that my Antigua, like the Yanagisawa 901 & 991s on which it is modeled, tends to be dark relative to other horns, and especially compared to modern Selmers and Yamaha 875s, which sound quite bright to me.
  • Compared with my Antigua, the sound of this horn is not obviously brighter or darker, but it sounds somewhat "thicker" or "richer", as if there are more overtones present.
I always find people's perception of Keilwerths fascinating, because players can never seem to agree on whether they are bright or dark!
I found the tenors and alto I've tried to be slightly on the bright side but very rich, kind of like a brighter Martin. I haven't tried a soprano, but I've heard them described as bright a number of times too.
 

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If it has original pads, they're at end of life, probably already fried. Even if they still play now, they won't in a year, but in that case at least you get to try the horn for a while before you sink an overhaul into it.
I disagree entirely with this. There is no evidence presented here about the condition of the pads. Thus I must assume you are stating that since the horn is from 1991 the pads will go bad soon. I have 50 saxophone. I have a 1935 Martin with the original pads in it that look like new. I have had numerous horns from the 50s and 60s with original pads that were fine. The question is if its been played a lot.
 
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