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Discussion Starter #1
David and I have had a many years long discussion on dream horns, and ideal horns, etc. I think I have come to a good school of thought and an interesting list. Curious what you guys have for opinions on this subject. Of note, I have no affiliation with Kessler other than being a happy customer over the last 10-15 years, and a lot of the horns referenced below I have played, but don't currently own. They're also convenient to talk about and that could easily be something from another higher end Asian importer, but I'm going to reference them as "appliance" instruments, vs "experience" instruments.

As a doubler, I have to have a lot of instruments and the minimum list is picc/flute, Bb/bass clarinet, SATB saxes, and ideally oboe and/or bassoon.

I think that if you're committed to one or two instruments, investing in an experience instrument is worth it. They hold their value better, and you can usually find well maintained used models that won't depreciate at all.
For doublers, when looking at things like Alto or Tenor saxes where the difference between a high end appliance instrument and a good used experience instrument isn't huge, I think having the experience is worth it. Quick example is the high end Kesslers at $2k vs a YAS-82z in the marketplace now for $2300. No-brainer, I'm going to recommend the 82z. I may well end up buying a "the wilmington" alto, but I think it looks really cool, and it's $1300. I have an "experience" alto with my King, but it only works with one mouthpiece *Voll-True II, so it only plays properly with the weird custom King mouthpiece they made specifically for that horn, thanks David for that hook up....*, and it'd be nice to have something a bit more versatile.
Clarinets could probably get into that same field, but you can find a Backun Alpha for under $500 pretty regularly and with a good barrel and mouthpiece that thing is a machine. It has actually displaced my Buffet Festival as my primary clarinet because it's synthetic and I don't have to worry about it outside or in a pit.
The key with horns like the Alpha, or the Kesslers, or the Wilmington from Music Medic is that they're set up properly from the factory. A lot of the older asian "appliance" horns if you invest in a real setup with leveling toneholes, getting the pads in properly, etc. makes the experience completely different, but once you spend that money, you would have spend almost as much as an "experience" horn that should have needed less work.

There are three instruments in particular where I think an appliance instrument is a no-brainer.
Bass clarinets. The Kessler is under $2500, a new Selmer or Buffet is $15k, used ones are about half that, but it's still 3-4x the cost of the Kessler, it's insane. Unless you're playing a mountain of bass clarinet stuff and solo level, I don't think anyone can justify that. It's not even close. Low C's are required these days like a low A bari if you're playing anything written in the last 30 years, and the price gap there is just astronomical.
Piccolos-New Kessler, under $600, the next tier is $2500. Unless you're a legit flute player, why bother?
Soprano sax-sopranos just cost too much money new. $5k for a Yani is mind boggling, and even used ones have a massive price gap.


If I had to buy new, so used horns are off the market, where would I go? The rule is I have to pick horns that I have to life with for the rest of my life and I have to be practical about it.

Picc-Kessler composite. No brainer. I don't want wood instruments in a pit or outside, and at $600 I am not good enough to tell any meaningful difference between it and my Opperman.
Flute-I made a dumb decision early in life and sold my Haynes flute. I regret that every day. Heavy wall, closed tone holes, C foot, offset G. It looked like a student flute, but for doubling work it was perfect! I'd have to do a lot of hunting to see if a new model of those is made today, but I'd break the used rule for one of these.

Clarinet-Backun Alpha with upgraded barrel. At a grand, this thing plays incredibly well and being resin doesn't hurt my feelings outside or in the pit. Once in a blue moon I do have to play gigs with an A clarinet. Typically things like Into the Woods or the rare subbing with a symphony. People keep trying to get Morrie to make an A alpha and I'm just going to put that on the list. Right now I have a Selmer which is amazing, but for one gig every 12-24 months, I would borrow from a friend if I didn't get a great deal on a matched set.

Bass clarinet-Kessler. I've played a lot of gigs on a Selmer, a couple on different Buffet *I really do not like their neck angle and the way they feel*, and I just don't think that they are worth the price. Since new is the rule, it's not even up for discussion for me.

Soprano- I have bad wrists and I think the curvies are more comfortable. Kessler wins this one since the only other option is a $5k yanagisawa and that's just not worth it
Alto-Yani 020. I think the heavier weight and bronze looks cool. I play enough alto to warrant getting an experience horn here.
Tenor-I hate playing tenor. I try to avoid it if I can. I have literally no idea why since I've been playing tenor since 7th grade, but I just never fell in love with it. I'd get the Kessler in Nickel Silver because I think it looks cool and I don't really care.... Is that bad?
Bari-this one is what sparked this most recent discussion with David. I have a Taiwanese horn. It's a Selmer copy and I recently leveled all the toneholes and had the top curl soldered. It is a beast now and I really can't justify getting another one, so something like the Kessler Solist would have to be on the line there. That said, I would ask for two baris since I'm a bari player. I do a lot of outdoor gigs, a lot of wind ensembley type stuff, and in the pits they tend to get dinged and lead a bit of a rough life. I'd have to have a Keilwerth Shadow bari though. I've wanted one of those things since the first Shadows came out, and since Randall has a one-off of the finish that I actually want which is a solid nickel silver version, I'll take a Shadow.

Oboe and bassoon I'm still on the fence on since I have played the Kesslers yet, and haven't played any other resin versions that I really was impressed with yet.

My current stable has a lot more experience horns in it, and once the used market opens up the line starts getting blurred with many of the instruments if you can get the right deals, and even better if it's been properly overhauled before.

So where do you stand on what I'm calling the "appliance vs. experience" horns, and where, when, and why do you think an "experience" horn becomes worth it?
 

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I'm more of a vintage guy, as I enjoy collecting as much as playing. I love the character and craftsmanship in the old saxes, especially the Conns from the 20's.

As I gig more often, I have been playing more modern saxes, as they have modern keywork, easier to adjust, and not as concerned about mishaps. I wish I had purchased one of the Aquilasax C sopranos when they were available, just to see how they compare to the ones from the 20's. I'm probably one of the few people that regularly gig with a C soprano :)

My low C bass clarinet is a Chinese made Barrington, which seems to stay out of adjustment more often than in. When it is working, it's a decent instrument, just not reliable. I wish I had spent a little more to buy a better one. Other than that, I've had pretty good luck with cheaper instruments. I sound like me on a Mark VI or a Taishan.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
and that's part of where I'm torn on my Alto right now. My Voll True is an amazing horn. It's stunningly beautiful and the sound is incredible, but it only plays with the one mouthpiece that King designed specifically for it. The keywork isn't nearly as comfortable as something more modern if the parts I'm playing are complex, and sometimes it's nice when you're at a bar, outside venue, or in a cramped pit to have an appliance instrument that you aren't so concerned about. Keep the unique, nice, cool, etc. instruments for other gigs where you may be more exposed, or just to have as part of collecting, but have an appliance for when you don't need them.
 

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...and that's part of where I'm torn on my Alto right now. My Voll True is an amazing horn. It's stunningly beautiful and the sound is incredible, but it only plays with the one mouthpiece that King designed specifically for it.
The early Zephyr altos also have pretty sketchy intonation without the right mouthpiece. But if you find an unaltered vintage Woodwind Co. mouthpiece, you might want to give one of those a try. I've got a K6 that matches well with my Zephyr and they don't break the bank like many vintage mouthpieces out there. It also has more of a modern edge in comparison to the old King Equa-Tru's.
 

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Well, here's my list. You'll see that in the case of the old saxophones nothing is made today that's quite like these.

Piccolo: Yamaha with metal head and plastic body. I have one of these that's totally beat to death and outplays pretty much everything under $3000.

Flute: Current production Japanese with C foot and closed holes (this would be a special order only in the USA): Miyizawa, Muramatsu, Sankyo, etc. Personally I would go with plated nickel alloy for body and mechanism if I could be convinced the assembly and fine tuning process was equivalent on that model to the all-silver models, as it has little or no effect on tone and the harder metal is going to mean slower wear and greater resistance to damage. Unfortunately you've usually got to buy the solid silver head to get the range of headjoint design choices. I currently play a Miyazawa silver plated with solid silver head, with holes plugged, and (unfortunately) the B foot. Some day I am going to order a C foot for it.

An alternate choice might be the old Haynes Commercial.

Soprano sax: Buescher True Tone all the way, in silver plate. (I have one of these!!!) I would like to have a front high F added, and one of these days I'm going to have to deal with putting risers on the palm keys.

Alto: Conn 6M - the best alto sax ever made in my opinion - I have had one of these since 1978, but I'd like to have one just like mine in good silver plate, just because I like the way it looks.

Tenor: I am undecided about this, though I have owned four Conn tenors in the last 40 years. I'll be honest, I haven't been totally satisfied with them. If I ever end up playing a lot of tenor again, I may just try to find a good Selmer Super in silver plate. A "The" Martin, or King Zephyr, might also be a good choice.

Baritone: Conn 12M - the best baritone sax ever made in my opinion - I've had one of these since 1984 - but no low A. One of these days I will probably cave in and get a low A horn of some type, but finances seem to work against me at the present time.

I think the ideal baritone would be a Conn 12M with a new bell made specifically for low A (in other words, conical throughout, with a larger bell flare than the low-Bb model), but the only way I'm ever going to have that will be to do it myself and I'm guessing I'd have $12,000 to $15,000 in it by the time I was done.

Bass: My ideal would be either a Buescher True Tone (in silver plate, please) but with tone holes and keywork added for high E and F, and a bis Bb added, and a front high F key as well. Or, as Conn 14M (the rare one with the Lady Face and keyed to high F) with a high front F added (I don't think it came with it). I do not have either of these; I have a Beaugnier, which is darn good but not like the Buescher or Conn would be.

Clarinet: I am a clarinet owner not a clarinet player, but if I ever got into it I think I'd probably go for one of the Ridenour ebonite models, or maybe an old Conn ebonite Albert system.

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All that said, if I had to replace the whole shootin' match at one fell swoop, I might very well just go and order brand new mid-level Yamahas for everything and declare victory.
 
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