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last updated 29 July 2009  19:48

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The Orpheo 'Pro' 301-BB Series Tenor Sax - a players view

Click on any of the pictures below to see them in greater detail !

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Well, after a longer than usual journey from San Antonio, Texas, starting on 12th May 2009, and including a six-day 'stopover' in Customs, what a relief to finally see this on the Parcelforce tracking screen -

  27-05-2009     08:25    Bournemouth Depot    Parcel delivered

I'll try and give a review from a players point of view, won't be anything like as technically excellent as reviews from (e.g.) Stephen Howard - but I hope it will be useful to anyone considering buying one of these tenors - currently offered at literally 'cost prices' on eBay by Noteworthy Music in San Antonio, Texas, USA.  I think I had quite a bargain - even after paying UK VAT and Import Duty.  Alternatively I could have bought it from Steve Goodson's outlet in the UK - saxophonefactory.co.uk , just down the road from me in Bournemouth - for closer to eleven hundred pounds, that's almost US$1700 plus shipping...   

 

Click here to open the picture in a new window...I have no real way of really knowing whether this is a sax from 'clearance stock', following Steve Goodson's departure from Orpheus, or ongoing production post-Goodson.  But then again, would they carry on manufacturing saxes with Steve Goodson's name on them - I suspect not ? I've not been able to negotiate anything like such good deals on LA Sax models - so I gave up trying - although Steve was associted with LA Sax as well, his name doesn't actually appear on those saxes.  Guess we'll never really know all the intrigue, but if it's a good sax, at a great price, who really cares ? 

 

I should also point out that, over the decades, as a pro/semi-pro/amateur player (yes, I know it's supposed to be the other way round...) I've owned/played a selection of great tenors, usually only owning one at a time.  They ranged from a beautiful The Martin, a very solid Keilwerth Toneking Exklusiv, thro' a mid-range Yamaha and a couple of vintage Conn's, to a great playing "student" Corton (which stood up to the rigours of 70's 'life on the road' very well indeed) and even a quite marvellous East German Weltklang...  So that's where my knowledge base is coming from.  At the time, most of the horns were just "tools of the trade", not cherished possessions - the only criteria were that they had to be good to play, and be reliable. And I never travelled with "backup horns" - if the tenor broke and I couldn't fix it with glue, string, tape or elastic bands, then there was always the alto...  Don't remember that I had a choice of mouthpieces either, just one (usually a Berg Larsen) in each case.  It was only latterly, when I had Lawton AND  Berg mouthpieces in the tenor case, that was when  the choice - and the dilemna's - set in. Nowadays I have horns all over the place, and far too many mouthpieces.  Happy uncomplicated days, they really were !

 

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OK, back to the Orpheo - the sax arrived in a substantial cardboard box, but from the 'clunking' noise when I collected the box from the Parcelforce van, I was slightly apprehensive... Note to Noteworthy - a big cardboard box and solid saxophone case are no good if the sax can move even just slightly in the case, and the case can rattle around in the cardboard box, like it did...  Just a little bit of bubble wrap around the sax inside the case, which does normally hold the sax snug enough for taking to gigs, but is not perfect for international shipping/handling - and a little more packing in the box around the outside of the case to absorb impact and 'float' the case properly (i.e. not let it bounce around) - would have probably let the sax play "right out of the case", which it didn't !!!   It's that attention to small details, which makes all the difference, and all for the sake of just a little more very inexpensive packing material...  Not every sax shipped with less than perfect packing will be damaged in transit, but by the law of averages some inevitably will - and if one of those few just happens to be  mine, as it was, then I ain't a happy bunny...  I should add that Noteworthy offer free shipping within the US, and seem to have made an allowance for this by charging me less for the international shipping than the amount that was actually showing on the USPS sticker.   A pity that such generosity didn't carry over to UK Customs, who (I hope not literally ) sat on the box for a week and then charged me VAT/duty based on the purchase price  plus the full 'stickered' shipping cost - such is life.


Click here to open the picture in a new window...First impressions ?  Amazingly, it's a very playable saxophone - well, it was when I'd sorted out the impact damage to the bow-C guard, which stopped the C from closing - and same with the Eb/C mechanism, which kept the Eb slightly open...  It still wasn't totally happy on the low notes, and the neck octave pad wasn't quite seating, but a bit of gentle bending sorted that problem as well.  Strangely enough I had that problem with both necks, but the octave mechanism itself was working well, so it was easier to quickly adjust both necks.  Still have the occasional 'motor-boating' on the bell B/Bb notes (despite the 'feature' rifling in the neck tenons), and C#1 is decidedly 'wooly', but I'll give both myself and the sax a little time to play each other in !  Any "setting up" prior to shipping would obviously have been ruined by the apparently rough ride and lack of packing - I have communicated my concerns to Noteworthy about the packing, and it seems that the "normal packing guy is now back", so things should improve - hmmmm....  By the way, this is a difficult sax to photograph, all that brightness and reflectivity, so the bow picture on the right does best show the differences in colour/finish between the burnished body and the bright action - click on it for a better view - that's about how the whole sax looks in real life, lovely, eh ?. 

 

The only other instant 'negative' was that this was supposed to be a new sax, but, a) the case had some scuff marks, b) the cork on the #1 neck showed some compression and darkening, and most surprisingly c) there was a rubber key riser fitted onto the palm D key !  Hmmm....  However the action was neatly corked down for shipping, so the jury is possibly still out on that one, although the evidence is pretty convincing.  Doesn't really bother me at such a cheap price, I strongly suspect it was a 'return' from a previous (non)sale.   Still excellent value for money, imho.

 

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Naturally I'd checked out this model tenor first, along with others in my '£500' range - there's even a video available on YouTube with Britain's own Derek Nash playing one - click here - so I'd even had a chance to hear one.   Not wishing to be influenced by anything said (or written) about Steve Goodson, this is purely about the saxophone, and this is a lot of sax for the money. It looks good, with burnished body and bright action and inner bell, feels good under the fingers - I've always liked dished metal touches anyway - and this is a very responsive horn with a great dynamic range, loads of power in reserve.

 

Click here to open the picture in a new window...For my own playing satisfaction, and in anything else but a VERY loud band, I think I'll be sticking to the #2 'rose copper content' mellower neck - with the mouthpiece on it in the picture - it seems to give more of a vintage depth of sound.  Most of my mouthpieces - so far I've tested it with an ebonite Lawton 8BB, plus wedge-baffled Couf J10*R (preferred) and the slimline J10*S - are very much on the edgy side anyway, so the mix of mellow neck plus edgy mouthpiece gives a few useful sound permutations. A lovely bonus is the high G / G3 key, even more useful in that I normally play E3 and F3 as alternate/altissimo notes using the front F key - and adding the G3 key to the alternate/altissimo F3 fingering produces a lovely 'ringing' G3. Of all the harmonics, G3 has always been the most inconsistent on any tenors I've owned.  Obviously the G3 key can also be used in 'standard' mode, with all the normal palm and side keys - I never had much use for the high F# keys on modern saxes, but the high G key is par more useful, given the option I'll always go for the sax(es) with that G3 key in future.   On the subject of harmonics, they all speak quite easily on this horn with the usual range of fingerings, no apparent need at all for the special 'extra' octave key fitted to the other more expensive Goodson saxes...  I've still to work out what the high C 'Whisper' pad is doing for me on the upper stack, no intonation problems found so far, so maybe it's working ?  On the subject of 'whisper', this sax really can go from a whisper to a roar, it's no shrinking violet, plenty of power in reserve.


Click here to open the picture in a new window...I was a little apprehensive about my choice of the 'burnished brass' finish, never having seen it 'in the flesh', but, although relatively bright, it's quite pleasing to the eye - from a distance it looks more like a slightly matt-finish body, with brighter gold lacquer mechanism and inner bell.  The burnished body (well, it's really lightly machined 'swirls') is reputedly covered with a very fine clear epoxy coating, so I doubt that the body colour will darken much, so, although it's quite bright, it's not exactly garish.  The Orpheo tenor finish nicely complements my more austere Aqulasax bare-brass C - they look a fine pair, especially as the Aquilasax C permanently has the alto-style neck fitted these days.  Good choice Al, the other Orpheo options were Silver (too bright !) or Black nickel (not a favourite for tenor, nice on Soprano tho').  The action is quite high, slightly clunky (that'll fit well with my other vintage saxes and the Aquilasax...), but very positive feel with those dished metal key touches - I do like those !  The black kangaroo pads feel just a tiny bit spongy, but in true kangaroo tradition don't seem to stick, although I notice that there are some very noticeable seating grooves formed already.   A nice touch is that, although the main action metal touches are concave - the alt/front-F is a metal spatula slightly angled to easily fall under the finger - and the 'Bb bis' key is actually slightly convex so there's no way that it should ever get fingered by mistake.  You'll notice in the pics that, adjacent to the 'bis' key is the unusual whisper/speaker pad.

 

Click here to open the picture in a new window...The much heralded 'wide' Saxgourmet RH thumbhook is indeed very comfortable for my arthritic thumb (as a result of decades of unsympathetic thumbhooks and horn section synchronised-acrobatics), and although I was a bit apprehensive about the round domed RH thumbrest, it is quite large (unlike some of the vintage ones) and allows my small hands to stretch between it and the LH pinkie table quite easily with little discomfort.  In fact the relatively gentle domed slope seemed to allow my thumb to perch near the edge more securely than a flat thunbrest would.  The three-ring straphook provides a range of at-rest hanging angles from 'nearly horizontal' to 'not quite smacking me in the mouth' - ao I think I'll probably stick with the middle one.  Incidentally, the strap provided has a good padded neck band, and the (metal ?) plastic covered hook has a slight kink in it to allow it to 'click' onto the strap ring, so it won't easily slip off.  The high-G / G3 mechanism is a very long rod that runs up the back of the sax, feels a bit strange as  it flexes when I pick up the tenor with the normal hand-grasp, although there is a guide to stop it from flexing too much - just feels a bit weird having that long extra rod 'round the back, VERY useful key tho' !

 

It'll take a while to really get into the sax, feels 'bigger' in my hands than even my 30's Martin (stencil) tenor, which will now get relegated to 'backup' tenor, or for those slightly dodgy or adventurous occasions like 'Jazz in the Harbour'.  Another bonus (for me, anyway) is that despite the slightly longer body on the Orpheo - I read somewhere that it was to keep the G3 tonehole below the neck tenon area - the sax JUST fits into my trusty aged Berkeley moulded tenor case that I've had since the late 70's.  In it's time, the Berkeley tenor case has variously accommodated (and totally protected) a Conn, a Keilwerth, a Weltklang and two Martin tenors - seems nothing is too big for it !  The substantial wooden case supplied with the Orpheo is just too bulky, and the pseudo(?) brass fittings look just to flashy and inviting - so I'll mothball the new case and use my much more modest and low-key Berkeley, with it's very substantial shoulder strap, it's been everywhere.

 

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All in all, I really don't think that I'll regret the purchase, and the sax feels that - with a bit more familiarisation - it'll really grow on me and could well be with me for the foreseeable future.  I owe it to myself to try all the decent tenor mouthpieces in my box on the Orpheo (I'll pass on the one supplied with the sax), you never know, there may be a gorgeous 'sleeper' amongst them, but, so far my favourite wedgy Coufs seem very ideally suited - in fact I've just picked up another wedgy Couf J10*R, it should be winging it's way from Austria at this very moment.   I'll might just treat myself to one other Goodson sax, as my birthday is imminent, and the money's not doing much good in the bank.   I'd thought about a matching  Orpheo alto - but I must admit I'm also very tempted by a lonely Goodson soprano that Noteworthy has - a cute little curvie in black lacquer....  Nothing against the Orpheo alto, but I noticed how easily and expressively Derek played the Orpheo tenor and Goodson soprano, whereas he seemed a little less adventurous with the Orpheo alto...   Maybe he'd just been listening to Steve's sales pitch for a little too long ?  The things pro musicians have to do for money !  :)

 

Click here to open the picture in a new window...So -  to summarise ?    Well, at the original UK dealers price of over £1100 - it's got some stiff competition from the likes of Walstein and even John Packer.   You need to buy at a discount, which I did - but then who would pay the full price ?  For that, I got - and it's still growing on me -

i)  at last, after decades of "almost solid" high G's -  an effortless G3 (yeah !) with a choice of tones-

ii)  very easy blowing  

iii)  solid construction, does actually feel like a bit of quality - far outreaches the price tag

iv)  wide dynamic range, really goes from a whisper to a snarl

v)  a tenor sax that I just like playing, what more can you ask...

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I still have a few more mouthpieces that I've yet to try, although currently it's a hard choice between the ebonite Lawton 8BB and a brace of 'wedgy' Coufs - the two Coufs with the Rovner ligs in the picture below.    I did say that I had too many mouthpieces - but who knows, there may be a gorgeous sounding "sleeper" amongst them...  In reality, those that don't sound amazing on either the Orpheo, or my Martin "Melody Master" stencil, will be leaving me very soon - life is too short for the mouthpiece carousel.

 

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The downside ? Apart from an impractical warranty -   I keep feeling that there must be a snag, but as yet I haven't anything other than a couple of little niggles...

 

You never know, I may even put up some sound samples soon !  Here are the stock high-resolution pictures - in reality my tenor is just a little bit darker, not much, just a little -  (I'll convert these links to thumbnails in the next revision of this review...)


front    back    left    right

                                (pictures courtesy of the Noteworthy website)

 

And here's the original ebay listing, almost accurate, but read on for how it really was....

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Click here to open the picture in a new window...This is a totally new design of saxophone introduced by the folks at Orpheus Music and is being offered for sale by the saxophone division of Noteworthy Musical Instruments located in San Antonio, TX.

The saxophone at hand is an Orpheo Pro Model 301-BB Series Tenor Sax. This is in a Rare Hand Hammered Burnished Brass.  This is then given a clear lacquer coat to make this unique art design last.  It is comparable to hand hammered timpani bowls.

This horn has it all: Full ribbed construction, double arms, Black kangaroo pads with slick metal boosters, steel springs, detachable bell/bow section, the highly acclaimed “High G key”! With High F# and front F, a wide thumbhook, three ring neck strap hook, two necks and lavish engraving throughout!!!!

The instrument is Brand New. It comes complete with ONE YEAR Warranty, Mouthpiece, neck strap, and case. PLUS FREE SHIPPING !

 

Except that -

a)  The finish is "comparable to hand hammered timpani bowls" - ????  Nah, it's just machined swirls !  Nice looking tho', I'll admit.

b)  "lavish engraving throughout!!!! " - Nah again, even with four exclamation marks, there's still only just the small bit of engraving on the bell, that'll teach Noteworthy not to copy and paste from their other ebay listings !

c)  And I'm still not totally convinced it was a "Brand New" saxophone - even with Capital Letters - do Brand New horns come with a slightly scuffed case, compressed/darkened neck cork, and a Runyon palm key riser on the palm D ?   Ooops Noteworthy...

d)  - and those dark pictures, c'mon, that's maybe how the sax looks by moonlight, but in reality I was reaching for the sunglasses when I first opened the case.  Good job I'd already seen the other set of pictures on your website...  Although the brighter finish is growing on me, it would be utterly gorgeous if it really looked like your pictures in the listing...

 

But, I'll readily admit that it's still, an amzing horn - even with UK shipping and VAT/import duty included.  As Steve Goodson himself commented, on his forum, when I mentioned the purchase - " You got a real bargain !  That is substantially less than the manufacturing costs !  "    That's what I like to hear !

Click here to open the picture in a new window...Update - I've since purchased a matching "Burnished Brass" finish Orpheo Pro model 201-BB Alto sax (direct from Noteworthy/Orpheus/Solyricon/MusicFactoryDirect/JBMusicFactory - not thro' ebay) - also with two necks - currently (28 July)  having departed US shores on it's way to me.  Lets hope Customs will be kinder to me this time ?  Seriously, whatever they call their sales outlets, Jim / Jerry and Gloria are great to deal with, once you have their attention...  Well, with email addresses for all those companies, and answering ebay messages as well, they must be finding communications a little challenging, to say the least !  Best to phone...

 

( to be continued/expanded, and I'll also review my Orpheo Pro Alto - OR201BB  here, when that arrives in early August ! )

 

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