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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been searching around recently to find a professional saxophone cheaper than the big four. I've come across a few, but I need some opinions from people that have played them. I know lots of people on SOTW have been raving about the Phil Barone Saxophones. I'd really like to get one of these (Vintage alto, Bare Brass) but of course there's a few other brands people seem to enjoy like MACSAX (Empyreal Unlacquered), P. Mauriat PMXA67R Unlacquered, Antigua Big Bell Unlacquered and Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series Mad Meg. Has anyone played these that could tell me which one is best? I played the Antigua and the Cannonball and thought the Antigua was the winner, but maybe that had something to do with the saxes themselves because the Cannonball hadn't been adjusted in a few years. And as a follow up, which saxes finish looks the best out of the ones mentioned? :D
 

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Have you considered vintage?
Unrivalled for sound and build quality.....and so cool.
The "big 4" to some, are Buescher, Conn, Martin and King.
 

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I've played a cannonball alto, tenor, and Bari, as well as an old Antigua alto that needed a major tune up and an empyreal macsax alto.

Out of all those, I personally liked the cannonballs the best with regards to playability and ergonomics. The Antigua didn't feel very good in my hands (weird ergonomics) and the macsax wasn't as responsive as I would have liked. That being said, I only recently got my own alto, and the difference between the alto and Bari may have been responsible for a lot of the difference. The cannonballs have all played very smoothly and easily for me, and I play on a cannonball Bari as my main horn at the moment.

I'd give the macsax a try, if you can. Their VP is a member of one of my favorite horn bands, and while they are currently Taiwanese, I've heard that they plan to open a factory in Austin in the next five or ten years. A company that wants to return sax making to the USA deserves some support. :)

If you decide to go with cannonball, I'd recommend the brute finish rather than the mad meg. Brutes are pre-aged and look like antique brass. The mad meg is fresh unlacquered brass, and can easily turn green if you don't take care of it.
 

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Vintage can be a good choice, too. Heck, a good used modern horn will be tons cheaper than a brand new modern horn. I got a Yamaha yas52 from around 1998 (before their non-pro horns were moved to their china factory) and its a great player.
 

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did you mention what type of sax (alto, tenor, etc.) you would like to buy? (I might have overlooked that.) some brands are variable between the different types of saxes.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I'll definitely look at some vintage altos, I didn't even think of that! I really like the vintage look.
 

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To answer your initial question, I played all of Cannonball's professional offerings for alto and a P.Mauriat 67RUL. The P.Mauriat was interesting - quite Selmer-ish (I'm talking SA80II here), without quite the same evenness and color, but pleasantly more grip and edge. The Cannonballs were quite interesting in that they were notably different; personally, I prefer the Big Bell Stone series over the Vintage (the Gerald Albright series is just a pretty pimped up Big Bell Stone series horn) since it's more flexible. But none of those horns is really cheap, and they're not outstanding offerings. I'd not buy a Cannonball again (I have a Big Bell Stone series Mad Meg tenor) - not because they're bad horns, but because I think I could do better.

Honestly, I've found better horns for less money since - most of them not entirely vintage, but older (70s, 80s). Of those, I prefer (and have bought) Yanagisawas - specifically, the A-6 and A-500 are heavily undervalued (I have an A-6 and a T-500 tenor). I had the opportunity today to compare my A-6 to one of the most famed horns of all times, a late Selmer SBA - and while the SBA had a gorgeous tone, I wouldn't say that my Yanagisawa was that far behind, and it even had some clear advantages (slicker keywork, more power, fuller core sound). I can easily live with that. But I admit that I'm sort of a fanboy - don't take my word for it, try them out!

Of the vintage horns I've played (not a lot of altos among those), a Martin "The Martin" alto was the one that impressed me the most, closely followed by a King Super 20, but what struck me the most is how big the differences were by comparison - most modern horns sound a lot more like each other than vintage offerings do. If you're looking for a special kind of voice, vintage is the way to go. While I love all of my Yanis (alto, tenor, bari), I prefer my King curvy soprano and my Conn 12M bari.

M.
 

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If you decide to go with cannonball, I'd recommend the brute finish rather than the mad meg. Brutes are pre-aged and look like antique brass. The mad meg is fresh unlacquered brass, and can easily turn green if you don't take care of it.
Don't be fooled. The brute finish will get green spots just like the bare brass. It is simply a chemical treatment that looks like an aged patina. Unless there is lacquer over it (I think LA Sax does this); it will wipe/ polish off. I had an alto in the brute finish. After a month (for me that means about 5 times of playing it, as I play 90% tenor 9% bari and 1% alto); the palm keys, both thumb rests, octave key, low C and Eb, as well as where I pick the horn up by the bell were bare and shiny brass.

Don't get me wrong, Cannonball altos are nice, but if you want bare brass, get bare brass and let it age naturally. I've played the tenor versions of every horn on your list except the Antigua and Buffet. Most of the brands you selected will be hard to playtest...especially side by side. Good luck!
 

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You're in Kalamazoo? Treat yourself to a visit to PM Woodwinds and try out a bunch of horns! They have plenty of great offerings at or below the price of the horns mentioned above!
 

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Which one is the best? For who? You or the guy telling you that the Barone, Macsax, Antigua, Cannonball.... is the 'best'.
They're all the best and they all are junk. It's only YOU who can make the final decision as to which one is the best for YOU.

Personally I wouldn't trade my Martin Indiana for any of the horns you have listed here.
 

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You're in Kalamazoo? Treat yourself to a visit to PM Woodwinds and try out a bunch of horns! They have plenty of great offerings at or below the price you mentioned above!
+1
That's as good as any advice you'll get. Think about bringing a teacher or experienced player with you.... The appearance of a horn is one thing but what really counts is how it feels, intonation, etc. Don't get fooled by a horn because of the way it looks.... You can't see it when you're practicing anyway! :)
 

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For a new inexpensive but reliable saxophone, I recommend the RS Berkeley Virtuoso model which is based on the Selmer mk6. For a vintage horn, Conn, Martin, King, SML, Dolnet, Beaugnier (Vito, Leblanc), Couesnon, Buffet, Buescher or even 2nd hand "modern" horns like Selmer mk7, Yanagisawa, Yamaha, Couf.
 
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