DESIGN & BUILD
Truly, when it comes to the saxophone’s sound and personality — as well as its intonation — the neck “is key.” It’s fairly obvious that this is a “modern taper,” meaning that the reference point in terms of its curvature and overall design is not a vintage Conn, or Buescher, or other vintage American make but some incarnation of Selmer, or Selmer “clone.” The neck design concept is along the same lines, at least to my eye and ear, as the Taiwanese Selmer-influenced and the Japanese “clones.” This horn has a different personality than some of the well known Taiwan brands — it is darker down low, I think, and more ringing up high — but it is in that vein, thanks in large part to its neck design.* From a manufacturing/finishing standpoint, the neck is one of the Walstein’s strong points; one thing I like about this line of saxophones — and this is absolutely not the case with some of the “Big Four” manufacturers, the biggest of them in particular — the tenons and receivers are actually fitted at the factory. Not only that, but unlike even some very famous models of the past, the sleeve itself is of a solid thickness, durable and resistant to damage. I have seen a review of the Walstein where a player was unhappy about the neck cork because it was too thick for his mouthpiece, out of the box. When I first unboxed the Walstein tenor, myself, the neckcork was certainly thicker than one well-known manufacturer’s but that’s a good thing (the latter manufacturer’s neckcork absolutely always has to be replaced, out-of-the-box, because it’s too thin). I did not have to sand the neckcork to get a good fit; I keep a large-diameter vintage Link on my worktable, in face, solely for the purpose of compressing new neckcorks, so that when the mouthpiece is properly fitted the fitting will stand up over time. My Ponzol II-V-I fit well after compressing the cork with grease and my work Link, but on the whole you want your neckcork to come out of the box on the thickside. If it’s on the thickside, you can fit it without having to replace the whole neckcork. If it’s too thin, or if it will quickly compress and become too thin (which absolutely will soon be the case if you have natural cork and it fits smoothly right out of the box), you are going to have to replace it if you want a dependable seal without erratic motion.
* UK saxophone specialist Stephen Howard’s reviews of the Walsteins feature some commentary on the sound and other aspects of Walstein saxes — to link to his review, as well as links to other discussions on the web, click here
Unlike some earlier generations of ROC-manufactured saxophones — and I have witnessed this phenomenon myself on those older generation instruments repeatedly, as I mentioned above — these mainland-made instruments do not suffer from soft keymetal issues. UK repairman Stephen Howard, well known as a straight shooter as well, has run tests of keymetal on the Bauhaus Walstein, comparing it against the performance of Yanagisawa and other saxophones. Not only do these saxophones feature double keyarm reinforcements, but the metal itself is more solid than saxophones costing many times more (see Howard’s webpages, via the links, here, to view his experiments).
Some reviewers have found the keywork to be influenced (or copied, depending on wording) by Yanagisawa. This makes some pretty obvious sense, given the phosphor-bronze choice of brass alloy — just the look and choices aesthetically — and other trademark Yanagisawa-esque touches that are not found on other Asian makes (especially the Yana-esque thumb hook design), but it is probably fairest to say that the keywork is fairly typical for Asian “copy” makes. I do find the keyboard less spread out than the Taiwan makes, whose most immediate influence, just going by feel, seems obviously to be Selmer’s SA-80 series. That, too — the closer spacing of ergonomics — tends to encourage comparisons to Yanagisawa. Certainly, as mentioned above, some of the unique additions to what’s considered potentially stock keywork are typically Taiwan-inflected, for example:
“Low F# Helper Bar”:
Just to the left of center in the photo above, the thin, curving arm with the screw-adjuster is what was once, previous to ROC saxophones incorporating it, generally only a custom touch. It is a great idea and genuinely does add some stability to what is conventionally, and often, an area where instability develops in any saxophone’s adjustment. The F# cup, which is closed by F, E, and D, also has the job of closing the G# and Bis keys; that’s a lot of duty for one key. The helper bar removes flexion between F and F#, under the pressure of the other keys, and due to the length of the key’s conventional rear linkage’s length, while adding another point of support and stability to the F# itself. The attachment as designed is much better than the custom “helper bar” attachments of the past because it attaches to the keytube, rather than the side of the F keycup; it adds or “helps” the F# without compromising the F keycup’s balance. Personally, I think the ideal design would have the foot of the helper bar touch closer to the spine, so that its force is more directly on the center of the cup, but it is a handy inclusion, for sure. It’s possible that one of the modifications I will make, between receiving from the UK and delivering to the customer is to bend the helper bar to be closer to the spine of the F#.
Yanagisawa-influenced thumb rest and clothes guard, ROC-styled removable F# trill guard:
click to enlarge
click to enlarge
Walsteins are made from very thick brass alloy — this can be felt when pinching the bell between thumb and index finger, but the proof is in the body’s resistance to damage. When this tenor arrived in New Orleans, it had taken some abuse in its travels from Great Britain, and the Eb guard showed it. The guard was crushed down from impact, and jostling in shipping, yet the guard feet did not even partially dent the bow (on most horns the impact would have). This in a way communicates two things about these saxophones: (1) the brass itself is very thick and sturdy and (2) the keyguards actually do what they are supposed to do, protecting the body and keywork from damage. When the keyguard takes all the damage, dentwork time and costs (which could have included damage to toneholes) are circumvented with either a repair to the existing keyguard or a replacement.
The basics, the body and mechanism — from a mechanical standpoint — are phenomenally good for the price. Where some may find differences between the Walstein and expensive brands is in the finishing work — the fine handwork that is labor intensive. The keywork does feel a little less “round” — literally the keytouches feel less “round” — than on brands costing a few thousand dollars, but this is of course one of the reasons a saxophone of this basic, bedrock quality can be brought to market at such a modest price. These saxophones, to put it bluntly, cost barely more than most of my overhauls, and with a little adjustment they play almost ridiculously well.