The New Aquilasax C Melody….

Well, I ordered mine yesterday. $835 incl shipping, which is fairly good. I ordered the matte silver body with burnished gold keys, or whatever the modern equivalent is. It comes apparently with case, sling and reeds (I specified 2.5).

It’ll be very interesting to see what it’s like, it’s something that I and a lot of people have been supporting since it’s conception, I just hope that it meets expectations. I don’t think he’ll have any problems selling the first 100 if they’re decent quality, the second batch may be slightly more difficult.

I’ll try and photograph it, and maybe record a sample, but I’ll leave the reviewing up to Alan, who will do it much better than me 🙂

UPDATE: My C Melody will arrive in a weeks time, right on cue serious concerns are being raised in SOTW and elsewhere about the transport and setup of these instruments. I’ll keep you posted of my own experiences.

UPDATE: Mine arrived today.

The sax arrived boxed and in a cloth bag inside the case. All accessories and so on were present and correct, although the gloves didn’t fit (I have extremelly big hands).

Running my fingers up the front 6 keys, I realised very quickly that the G# wasn’t well set up. For a moment I thought it was just a piece of cork that had fallen off, until I took a look at the LH pinkie stack. Uh-oh.

This has I think been seriously bashed around. All the keys are wedged open, and one of the rods is slightly bent. The little connectors were all bent, and it was difficult to know where the root of the problem lay. Suffice to say that that end of the sax was unplayable.

The second problem I found was that the neck plug was bashed in or something, I couldn’t get it out. This made play testing impossible, so I shoved my leak light up the bottom. I did notice one or two faint leaks, but nothing like those noticed by Gandalfe. Under normal playing pressure I don’t think they’d make a difference really.

On the posting front, it arrived promptly, and without having to pay customs, I’m assuming that they’ll send a bill later.

I’ve contacted Steve, I will probably be trying to exchange this for one that isn’t as damaged, under the condition that the packaging is sorted out.

UPDATE: I took the neck plug out with some pliers yesterday, it was far too tightly fitted. I’ve tried to shave some plastic off, but it didn’t really work. The neck fitted well, but when play testing it the intonation was pretty dreadful. It was worst with the Aquilasax and Original Conn mouthpieces, and best with the windcraft. The problems that I found were that the bottom 3 fingers were in tune, and the top three fingers were in tune, but in a different tuning, if you see what I mean. I think a larger chamber mouthpiece will help, so I’m going to buy a cheap tenor and see how that compares.

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48 Responses to The New Aquilasax C Melody….

  1. al says:

    There is an Aquila Sax C Melody- Initial impressions! thread currently running on saxontheweb.

  2. ukebert says:

    It’s not looking great…

  3. al says:

    Hmmm – I need to post a few thoughts, and I guess it’s more prudent posted here than on saxontheweb. I’ve supported Steve from day one and will always continue to do so, but I find his responses a little laid back. Three C Saxes have ‘landed’ that we know of, and have a combination of shipping damage and seating problems, two are at the repairers, and Mo/Anke doesn’t want hers at all because of the damage – that’s the third…

    Steve still seems to be insisting that the packing is fine “The saxes fit snugly in the cases. No movement = no damage!” and goes on to say “Perhaps I’d better block up the keywork from now. Thanks for your feedback!” Feedback ? Bit stronger than that, I think !

    I can’t see how clamping the keys in transit will get around (the reported) seating problems, ten days clamped in transit may well improve the seating a little – but I think the factory needs a ‘word’ about Quality Control, testing, and packing – if they are being sent direct from the factory… Steve seems to have stopped talking to me, understandably as he’s probably quite busy, but milandro has it absolutely right on saxontheweb, when he says “Your customers are supporting your very good initiative and will do that still, but building market confidence is difficult and expensive, while loosing it is very easy and usually are details like this that make it or loose it.” Listen to the man, Steve…

    Be interested to see what yours is like Owen, and get an Anglophile perspective on it. I did contact the anonymous UK buyer of the ebay “Collectors Special” – his is in Customs, hope Parcelforce aren’t involved in these postal disputes. I don’t know when/if mine will be available, and (to be quite honest) I don’t yet know what I’ll say if Steve ever contacts me about it. I’ve just made (another) comment about packing, this time on the saxontheweb topic.

  4. al says:

    Everything has thankfully gone very quiet again, since Gandalfe’s bombshell, whilst Wade’s forum seems blissfully unaware…

  5. ukebert says:

    Updateed 😦

  6. al says:


    Owen – very supportive as I am of Steve, I’m finding it hard to remain detached if yet more saxes are arriving damaged. Steve – if you’re reading this – DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE PACKAGING – IT’S OBVIOUSLY NOT GOOD ENOUGH !

    The picture on the right shows the label that is attached when an item is assessed for customs duty. No label = no duty, money is either collected ‘at the door’, or in the case of Parcelforce (normal delivery method) before delivery. If there’s a log-jam, yours may have just slipped thro’ un-noticed. Just as well, as you’ll almost certainly have to pay VAT (etc.) on the replacement – you don’t want to have to pay it twice !!

    Click here for a bigger image.

    Email me the long barcode number off the Customs form and the “ECxxxxxxxxGB” number off the white Parcelforce label, and I’ll find the tracking info for you, that will confirm the Customs position. Easier that way than me explaining how you do it.

    I have a Chinese return address label on the alto box, if that is also on the C box, then it would hint at where it was posted from.

  7. ukebert says:

    Will take a note of it and email it to you. If I have slipped through it’ll be very convenient, as I expect I will have to pay shipping.

  8. al says:

    Owen, I can understand that, at the moment, you’re not really amused, but I think you should amend the “exchange this for one that isn’t as damaged” by omitting the “as“….

  9. ukebert says:

    Haha, true…

  10. ukebert says:

    Updated.

  11. ukebert says:

    Alan, the factory address appears to be:

    China, Tianjin 300381
    Xi qing qu, Houtai
    Bi Ling yuan, B 25 a

    Is that the same location as your Alto?

  12. al says:

    Owen, no, on the alto box it was –

    S Wedgwood Tianjin
    300 – 384 Nan ?ai qu
    Shui shang guo ji??
    12-1-301

    (the “?” means unreadable, maybe special character, or rubbed out)

    You can see the address in the top-left of the picture a few comments back (click for bigger picture).

    Are you in contact with Steve ? He hasn’t responded to my last two emails, there seems to be a very ominous silence all round.

  13. ukebert says:

    I am, yes, he says send it back at my copnvenience. Although he isn’t the most prompt of correspondants it has to be sent. I’ll probably send it back at the weekend, after having done a more thorough sound test.

  14. al says:

    Owen, if you want any info on shipping, I’m available. I suspect you’ll use Parcelforce International, it’s the cheapest and available thro’ the Post Office. Although the cheapest ‘air’ tariff may not be able to offer full insurance, if you go for that.

    DO NOT use Parcelforce online, over the internet they use volumetrics as well as weight, which means you pay either for weight and/ or size. And guess what, a sax-sized box gets charged extra (about 50%) for it’s size.

    Go to a Post Office, last time I used one to ship a sax, the poor old dears there hadn’t progressed past using the scales, so it was the ‘weight only’ prices, lot cheaper. A phone call to a friendly human at the local Parcelforce depot confirmed that as well (“….but don’t tell anyone I said so….”). Nice people, when you can get to a human being. 🙂

  15. ukebert says:

    I’ll take you up on that Alan, I’ll try and send it early next week.

    Interestingly the sax was marked ‘gift’. Now, I seem to recall you saying something about that, what was it again?

  16. al says:

    That may be how you paid nowt ! If the [gift] box is ticked on the Customs form, and the declared value is below the equivalent of UK £36, and the address label isn’t obviously a business one – then the box gets out of Customs free ! I have been know to receive boxes with “Happy Birthday Uncle Al” written on them, some sellers happily do it, some don’t – all down to conscience.

    I think the same also applies if the [sample] box is ticked – otherwise the limit, above which Customs charges are applied, is a miserly £18.

    Downside (as mentioned on the latest topic) is that you can only claim insurance up to the declared value, and if Customs open the box (as the do occasionally) and discover a shiny new sax allegedly worth $50, they’ll probably make life difficult… Only a really good idea for knackered old saxes with smelly cases etc., for knackered old players like me…

    I paid some tax/duty on the Aquilasax alto, although Steve did mark the price down a little, as a ‘for evaluation’ item. Don’t know how Steve will fare on maybe paying duty on the one you send back, maybe you should ask him how he wants the sax declared on the Customs form – I don’t know the import ‘thresholds’ for either China or NZ, but I should imagine NZ is quite low like ours.

    Why do I hardly ever write short comments ?

  17. al says:

    By the way, there’s no charge for this import/export consultancy – although a nice chap on saxontheweb did say that he’d saved enough (when he imported his sax, using some of my hints) to go on a holiday.

    Meanwhile, from muggy Dorset 😦

  18. ukebert says:

    Hmm, I had another look at it today, What is wrong with the low Bb I cannot quite make out, but somethings not right. When I take it off its all fine, when I put it on it won’t move, and depreses all the other keys. My guess is either: 1) the little connectory gubbins has been bent. I can see no evidence of this. 2) The Bb key touch has been bent. I see slight evidence of this, but it’s a pretty sturdy bit of metal or 3) an appaling set up issue.

    I really don’t know which, however I took off the Bb key, and all the problems immediately vanished. When I took it off I had a little play. Firstly I was really rather impressed with the sound, slightly edgier than my Buescher, but in a good way. I liked it. Others may as well. Quite a dark tone at times. I took off the Bb key, and all the problems immediately vanished. C is still flat (upper C), even using ballad fingering, but I think a larger chamber mouthpiece might help. I was using the Aquilasax, which is quite a small chamber. There were only 2 leaks, Low C and Low B, which I was expecting anyway.

  19. Gandalfe says:

    Guys, my tech was very clear; the damage to the C sax I received happened before packaging. The damage for example to some of the keys in the lower stack had to be done before the bell was put on or some such. I’m not a tech, but I stand by my tech’s accessment that this instrument has serious design and setup problems. I was pretty clear in the notes my tech provided.

    I’m surprised how cavalier some people are about discussing ways to escape taxes. It might be hard to say you didn’t know the brand new sax that you ordered wasn’t a gift. But I suppose sometimes it’s just easier for big government to let the low-level skimmers go because of the cost of pursuing legal action vice the tax amount the government loses.

  20. ukebert says:

    That’s the British way of doing things Gandalfe 😉

    I think there may be serious problems in quality control, i’ve seen your pics and my sax was nothing like as bad. My problems I think are shipping related. What I may do is get it looked at, and see what a tech thinks.

  21. ukebert says:

    Besides, I could legitemately plead ignorance 🙂

  22. al says:

    Gandalfe – it’s not really ‘skimming’, I’m almost fine about paying dues on new kit, it’s expected. But to pay 25% extra on purchase price AND shipping costs, for old instruments, with money that’s already been taxed to the hilt – that’s taking the mick.

    Even with new kit, ukebert should have paid up to 25% on the Aquilasax, but because we’re getting over a postal strike it almost certainly snuck thro’. So (in theory) ukebert would have paid his 25% duty/tax, then he asks Steve for a replacement, pays the return shipping costs, and then pays another 25% duty/tax on the incoming replacement ! Expensive exercise ! No easy way of claiming the first lot back, as a private individual. Businesses can do it, American tourists can do it when they leave the UK with suitcases full of Burberry, but can we ? Nah…

    So, has your Aquilasax C gone back to Steve, and how is Randall progressing with the intonation on his ? I’d just like to hear that someone, somewhere, has got one and is over the moon…

  23. ukebert says:

    Well, I’m going to talk to Steve about it, and see whether I can get a replacement low Bb key. I don’t have the patterns, but I think it’s bent in transit. Steve did offer to pay the repair costs, I’m sure that its just that key so I may take it to a tech to get an expert opinion on what I should do.

    To be honest, the intonation is not great, but it’s defeatible, like Englands rugby side; it’s just the middle C that’s the problem, and that would probably be solved with a different mouthpiece. I’ll report back if I may.

  24. al says:

    Owen – I don’t know what you’re checking tuning against, but make sure that a range of notes on the sax are as in tune with the outside world as they can be (obviously not the middle C) – e.g. A below the break and E above (A1, E2). If the sax is based around Steve’s 1919 Conn, then the ‘one sweet spot’ thing might still be relevant, outside of which, rogue notes can get really worse.

    At the end of the day, maybe the C tonehole(s) can be slightly tweaked, I’ve heard of building up the bottom lip down inside the tonehole – makes it slightly oval, but effectively moves the centre of the hole up… One problem note out of twelve is a good average.

    Think it maybe needs a friendly tech to have a quick look at your problem areas, could be a cheaper option – to ship the sax back to China or NZ by air is going to cost you almost £80, with very little insurance (and that’s guesstimating the packed weight at 6kg. with a light case – could be more ? Should say the gross weight on the Customs form). Plus you could get hit for VAT/duty on any replacement, and who pays for shipping it to you ? Think you have a bit of haggling room if it’s a relatively ‘quick fix’ over here, talk to Steve – could be the cheapest option for him as well.

  25. ukebert says:

    I think you’re right Alan. I’ll see if I can get it to Mr Todd.

  26. al says:

    I must say, in all honesty, that I have yet to hear of one satisfied customer…. Has anyone else heard anything ?

    😦 Sorry Steve, if you’re reading this – but we all keep delicately tip-toeing around the subject, someone has to say it.

  27. ukebert says:

    Steve says there are…

  28. al says:

    Owen – if Steve’s talking to you, then please mention that one or three of them should be asked to publish their happiness on the saxontheweb topic, to redress the balance !

  29. ukebert says:

    Is he not talking to you then? :S

  30. al says:

    Obviously not… But then, is there much to say – under the circumstances ? All I can honestly say, is that out of all the people that I know, and all the people that they know, there hasn’t been a single “What’s all the fuss about ? They’re great” that I’m aware of.

    I am, however, amazed and heartened at the amount of respect most people have for Steve, and/or don’t want to ‘rain on’ his project – comments to me have been specifically stipulated as ‘just between you and me‘.

  31. ukebert says:

    Hmm, I dunno, I’m thinking about getting Steve Howard to take a peek at it, I’ve been keeping him updated with the project.

  32. al says:

    Owen – that’s a brilliant idea, he’s reviewed King & Martin C-Mels, isn’t at all biased about ‘C’ saxes, and he’s also got a very open mind about Chinese instruments.

    Do you want to email me about the “I dunno…” ?

  33. ukebert says:

    Nothing specific, just tuning. I’m not sure whether it’s fixable, but I just dont have much time at the moment. I started my first job last month, and I still haven’t got into the swing of things. What with the internet, practice and so on, there isn’t much time. Ironically however I have been playing uke more.

  34. al says:

    I know the feeling, it’s 12:58 (or two minutes to midnight after the clocks change) and I’m catching up on emails etc. Being an insomniac is a definite advantage. 🙂

  35. ukebert says:

    See I’m not an insomniac, I just regard sleeping as a waste of time 🙂

  36. al says:

    [Quote] “See I’m not an insomniac, I just regard sleeping as a waste of time

    So did I when I was younger, that’s why I’m an insomniac now, never really developed proper sleep patterns, and, in theory, you need progressively less as you age, so no hope now… 😦 But we digress, back to Aquilasax !

  37. ukebert says:

    Hmm, little help for me then 🙂

  38. al says:

    What, on the subject of sleep, or Aquilasax ? Sorry, this all deserves a happy ending, keeping fingers crossed…

  39. ukebert says:

    So am I…

  40. al says:

    For anyone not on Steve’s mailing list, here is the latest news –

    =================================================

    C sax news 003
    October 2007

    My fourth visit to the factory charged with making the 1st new C saxes for 40 years ended with success.
    The first batch I sent out was a personal disaster with several being badly damaged in transit and some customers also gave feedback on the design, pointing out what they considered faults in arrangement or construction.
    So the first customers became unwitting guinea pigs or an expensive market survey if you like.
    I was then faced with the problem of cultural confrontation. How to get the factory to help me solve the problems!
    They were very helpful and I discovered that they now believe that the C tenor has a future. They have adjusted the sax to solve an intonation problem. We did a lot of experimentation and found that larger chamber mouthpieces have better intonation. They also moved the pinky cluster closer for ease of playing and they are going to send me some extra boxes for shipping.
    Lastly, they have promised to speed up production and so the good news for you is that there will be some available before Christmas and they will be better.

    Nathan Haines has also made a short recording for me on the new C and it is now up on my website, on the C mel page. It was recorded on a silver C with a Berg alto mpc.
    The intonation is off a little but the tone is beautiful.

    Happy Honking

    =================================================

    Steve has a nice ‘Nathan’ sample on his C-Sax page, don’t know that I like the alto sound, but very polished.

    I still prefer my slightly less sophisticated “Blues for slicing into my left thumb” tenor sound… Nathan’s intro phrases are strangely familiar, could be me, until it gets tricky. I really must get a few ‘be-boppy’ runs off pat, so I can sound more jazzy. (Pat ? Who’s Pat ?) 🙂

  41. ukebert says:

    Hmm, in that case I may send mine back and get a new one on warranty.

  42. al says:

    Yes, the ‘reworking’ changes things a bit, why keep an original design sax which might be considered ‘flawed’ ? Especially as one of your concerns was intonation, which seems to have been addressed in Mk II. I don’t know whether you have big or small hands, but some of the keys looked a bit of a stretch for tiny old me, so moving the pinkie cluster is also probably a bonus.

    Steve should try the sax on a Chinese player, to assess comfort, especially as it may eventually be aimed at younger players. Quite a ‘compact’ nation, the Chinese – I’d fit in well… Wonder why Steve hasn’t broadcast all this on saxontheweb ?

  43. ukebert says:

    Hmm, have I got big hands? Well, i can reach an octave and a fifth on teh Piano…

  44. al says:

    Pretty quiet here lately, but the latest info from Steve’s Aquilasax website is :

    October 07: Instead of making a splash, the introduction of the new C is more like a drizzle. The first batch of 20 were sent out with insufficient packing and most have been damaged and will be returned . The next batch is hoped for by Christmas and will be better packed.
    Oct 27. Went to the factory to sort out the schedule, packing supplies and look into some improvements. Should result in a better condition and quality sax sooner. Expect the next part batch in November.

  45. soybean says:

    Someone mentioned Steve based the Aquila on his Conn and maybe some other vintage horns. This is a good place to start, but only as a beginning. The ideal thing would be to model it on a computer the way Yamaha and Selmer do on their new horns. This method shows the ideal bore size and best tonehole size & placement. There’s no reason a modern C-Melody shoud be any more out of tune than any other sax.

  46. al says:

    soybean – yes, my understanding is that the body of the Aquilasax is based on measurements taken from Steve’s 1919 curved neck Conn C-Mel, featured at the top of this page.

    There would have had to be a few changes, e.g. all the bell toneholes are now on one side, the body has been lengthened to allow the high F# key (and the neck correspondingly shortened), and of course the keywork/mechanism is modern. But, the internal dimensions are still “1920’s stretched alto” – as far as I am aware…

    It would be interesting – as previously mentioned by Lewis – if a true modern C-Tenor could be designed with properly scaled down tenor sax body dimensions. That may well then have more dynamics. However, that would require significant R&D costs, and result in a price much higher than the Aquilasax. To my mind, a happy medium would be the Jim Schmidt Contralto body, but with standard sax fingering. Sigh. But who will ever make an affordable one, without a proven market, and, (sorry to say this, but someone has to) if Steve doesn’t ‘pull his socks up’ pretty soon there will be lost interest and goodwill.

    For Steve to say in his ‘news’ email that (quote) “So the first customers became unwitting guinea pigs or an expensive market survey if you like.” is a bit lame. Yes, “unwitting guinea pigs” coughing up two-way shipping costs, unless those were refunded along with purchase price ? A great relief (still tinged with some disappointment, it must also be said) that my preferred ‘bare-brass’ finish on the new Aquilasax wasn’t available in the first production run – but should I now still want to buy one ? The jury ‘is still out’ on that count.

    Late 20’s (or early 30’s) C-Melody saxes – imho – improved dramatically towards the end of their lifespan. As an example, my 30’s Martin C-Mel doesn’t really have an appreciable intonation problems, great tone, improved mechanism and keywork – as good as the same-era alto and tenor. But, unfortunately, with the stretched-alto bore, still low on the “power” scale 😦 So, as Jim Schmidt has done, (quote) “I was able to find the correct dimensions for this new size horn by calculating from the bodies of Tenors and Altos. But that was only the begining…“.

    I’ll stop now, probably said too much already…

  47. Lewis Pelham says:

    Legitimate and carefully (even tenuously) worded I would say Alan…there is nothing wrong with telling the truth.
    I just love your comment “…Happy Birthday Uncle Al…” not even H M Customs could argue with that. 🙂
    On the subject of secure packaging I must say that my R&C tenor was shipped from Italy with it’s fitted case enclosed only in a cardboard box, & there was no damage whatsoever. It has to be said though that the hardcase holds the horn more snug and secure than any case that I have seen…absolutely cocooned in velvet covered foam.
    Consequently, I feel that the problem with Steve’s C Mels is the fact that the case is only “semi rigid”… perhaps Viagra would help.
    My Aquila soprano, in semi rigid case, is currently winging it’s way to me, hopefully undamaged.

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