An Aquilasax C is en-route to me …

I wasn’t originally going to say anything until after it had arrived, but, as I’ve ‘outed myself’ on saxontheweb I may as well confirm it here. One of the new batch of C’s was shipped out to me yesterday. I had been waiting for bare-brass, but they seem a while off yet – so I’ve gone for something less exotic in the meantime, plain lacquer. I can’t resist the urge to try one any longer.

I will be giving it a thorough online review, after it arrives – which is probably 8-10 days away – both out of personal interest and to give Steve any helpful feedback that I can. In the meantime I’d better play the Aquilasax alto that I have, just to get used to (e.g.) the modern tilting table ! The old Martins are going to feel a tad neglected in the next month or so… Although it may be interesting to compare the new C sound with the elderly Martin C.

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34 Responses to An Aquilasax C is en-route to me …

  1. Mal-2 says:

    Would you do us the favor of setting up a blindfold test? Same mouthpiece and reed, same song, same accompaniment (if any). Use some sort of "spoiler proofing" so we don’t know which one is which until after we’ve heard both. It might be revealing for you, but it will definitely be revealing for us.

    If it turns out the Aquilasax and the Martin don’t favor the same mouthpiece, I would want to hear A/B tests on the Martin’s favorite mouthpiece, and another on the Aquilasax’s favorite.

  2. ukebert says:

    Good idea Mal. Hope your experience with it is more positive than mine was Alan 🙂

  3. alan says:

    So do I Owen, so do I…  😕   I’m approaching this with quite an open (and optimistic) frame of mind, but at the end of the day there is a little money left in the pot for professional intervention !  I would hope that it doesn’t go that far, and that any setup adjustments are minor.

    My playing, over the winter, has been woefully little, so I can warm up on the Martin (as well as the Aquilasax alto, to get the feel of a more modern action) – and I’ll try and find something reasonably repeatable that I can record on the Martin whilst I’m waiting for the Pheonix to land.

    Mal – the Aquilasax is going to have to like the three (tenor) mouthpieces that I mostly prefer for tenor and C-Mel – non negotiable, those are the ones I play, and that I have muscle memory for.  In order of edge/cut, mellowest first

      a)  Late Florida (post-slant) ebonite Link 7
      b)  Couf Artist (Jazz ) J9* ebonite (the slimline one)
      c)  Lawton 8*BB – metal (gold over brass, or possibly bronze ?)

    With a few other ebonite Keilwerth/Zinner blanks and Metallite M9 & M11 just for fallback.  Might be interesting to see if the 2008 C, being a more modern beast, is happier on alto mouthpieces, I have a Berg, Metallites, and a few others to try.  Of course, as well as a couple of original C’s – and the replacement Aquilasax Classic that Steve is shipping.
    So, I may just record on the Martin next (this) week, but I’ll hold the sample back for an anonymous test with the Aquilasax.  Allow me a few days to get to know it, or to adjust anything that’s needed – hopefully not much.  Bearing in mind that the Martin is a real heavyweight, and has old rivet pads, should be an interesting comparison, and I may just be able to throw another wildcard into the pack, just maybe… 

    Looking forward to this greatly – I must admit that I’ve become a little distracted from C-mel of late…:shock:

  4. Mal-2 says:

    I’m guessing that the new horn will be brighter just from having resonator pads. Also, it may be more forgiving of mouthpiece selection, particularly on more "wedged" pieces. My experiences with altos of varying age have been that there seems to be a "tipping point" somewhere around the early 1980’s, quite possibly when Yamaha became a significant player in the market. Those made after this time like paint peeler mouthpieces more than those made prior to that time, but they remain well behaved with a tamer selection as well.

    I have not laid my hands on as many other horn sizes as I have with altos, but I would not be at all surprised to find that a modern C-mel is more amenable to a wider range of mouthpieces than a vintage horn. But more choices do not always mean BETTER choices…

  5. alan says:

    I think you’re onto something there Mal, if I use a ‘paint peeler’ mouthpiece on an older sax, by relaxing the blowing I can usually get back to a relatively mellow sound but still with power – the penetration comes back when I push it.  But with the (admittedly few) modern saxes I’ve tried, the sound just ‘wimps out’ on me when I relax on the paint stripper, but really screams again when I push  – I had to go to a mellower mouthpiece for more gentle power.

    On a more refreshing note, the C is in the air, maybe even in the UK – now all it has to do is to attract someones attention (at one of several UK airports, from experience), be transported up to Coventry to the international hub, then onto the national hub, then back down south again to the local depot (maybe stopping off en-route at a regional hub for a ‘comfort break’), then out to me.  So much for the low carbon footprint !

    Parcel number: CP159478076CN
    Status: Advised
    Date / Time / Location / Tracking Event
    17-08-2008 / 13:07 / BEIJING CAPE / Left origin country
    15-08-2008 / 11:10 / Delivery Agent – CHINA / Collected from customer

    All I need to see later is those magic and elusive words “cleared Customs without charges” – fat chance ! Of course, for a real ‘result’, as the box will be plastered in Chinese characters, and Steve seems to put $US values on the paperwork, what are the odds that some overworked Customs officer might just mistake it for Chinese Yuan – currently about seven to the dollar… 😆

  6. ukebert says:

    I didn’t get charged customs, the little box labelled ‘gift’ was ticked. Don’t tell anyone though…

  7. alan says:

    Owen, the ‘gift’ thing is very diplomatic question that I ask all overseas sellers, or ‘commercial sample’ has the same effect.  But it usually needs to be ‘gifted’ AND valued at less than £34 (US$60) for it to be VAT/duty-free.  Or less than £17  if just  ‘goods’.   What pathetically low thresholds – and, needs to have an address label that doesn’t look at all businesslike, must look like it’s come from a private individual.    I’ve done OK over the years, have to get hit sometimes.

    It’s a lottery…  Steve did say "Good luck with the Customs", so lets just hope the forgetfullness crept in when he was filling in the form – as it does with all of us occasionally.  I had a sax from the States once with "Happy Birthday Uncle Al" on it, and several with "Merry Christmas" – amazing how inventive (and cooperative) some sellers can be.  But it is a Federal Offence to lie to the USPS !

  8. ukebert says:

    Hah, on my customs form the "value" was scrawled and barely legible, all I know is that I didn’t pay any customs, which was nice, ’cause the shipping back to china was pretty hefty…

  9. alan says:

    Yes, I don’t somehow think I’ll be sending mine back, whatever – even the basic untracked Parcelforce tariff would probably approach three figures – and then involving  tracking/insurance bumps it up alarmingly.  If it takes involving someone like Stephen Howard (and sincerely I hope it doesn’t...) I’ll go that route, I seem to remember that you also considered it ?

  10. ukebert says:

    I did, yes. I think it came to around £90 to ship it back, but for mine the repair bill would have been pricey as well, and on top of that i wasn’t convinced the sax was worth the money in the first place (the new necks seem to have rectified the problems that I had with intonation, mine was way out) I did have a conversation with Stephen Howard about it via email, lovely bloke by the way, and reached the conclusion that I should probably give up.

    However, now that the intonation issues appear to be fixed, if it’s not a complete write off then I’d think it would be reasonable to keep it whatever. And of course you could always take it to Steve to get it checked over, and so he can do one of his famous reviews on it. May be best to do that only if you think it’s OK 😉

  11. alan says:

    Owen – I have a degree of optimism…  Tell you what though, I had talked of introducing a ‘wildcard’ into the tests, but I’ve thought better of it.  I have a King C-Mel that’s ‘sort-of’ playable, but I tested it tonight against the Martin.  No contest.  It’ll just be a two horn stand-off, 2008 Aquilasax (with reflector pads) & 1931 Martin (with rivet pads).

    Probably record ‘Sad Samba’ (that’s the medium funky backing I used for the alto tests) and ‘Here’s that Rainy Day’ as a slowish standard.  Playing them thro’ on the Martin tonight made me realise I really do need to get some blowing time in…  I’ll be using the slim  Couf Artist (Jazz ) J9* ebonite  tenor mouthpiece – the one on the far right – best all-round mouthpiece.

    However, Steve is also shipping me a set of Conn C-Mels pads, so I can fix up this Conn Portrait C-Mel, interesting to compare  (in the future…) the Aquilasax against the Conn it evolved from.

  12. Lewis Pelham says:

     Is Steve sending you Res-O-Pads? If so, then, from experience, the best of luck!
     Also, lovely little Conn, but how are you supposed  to reach the bis key? The gap between that and the B is huge…I do not remember you with two inch wide fingers.  😕

  13. alan says:

    Lewis – no, not res-o-pads (I don’t have an oversized wooden mallet, or arms like a stevedore…) – I expect just the same pads as in the Aquilasax saxes, same factory…

    Bis key – what’s that, apart from Gandalfe’s blog ?  Never use it !  Too old to learn now 😆

  14. Lewis Pelham says:

    How we all differ on the same instrument. I use the bis key almost exclusively for Bb but I know others who favour the RH side key route.

  15. stan says:

    I use the RH side key mostly, but the bis when trilling or the index L and index R whichever seems the smoothest.

  16. al says:

    It is peculiar, on sax I use the RH side Bb literally exclusively, on flute I use the RH finger, and on clari a combination of both…    Never the bis…

  17. Lewis Pelham says:

    To a large degree I think it depends upon the keys in which one plays. Going from side key Bb to A as in the flat keys would seems the most preferable, and fastest.
     As I play with guitarists, my Bb is usually A#, & transferring from "side key A#/Bb" to G# it makes sense to favour the bis key.

  18. al says:

    I think we’ve totally derailed the original Aquilasax subject, but this’ll keep me amused until the Aquilasax arrives (still in the black hole, somewhere…) and then I’ll start afresh.

    I put my blissful ignorance of the bis key down to the fact that I learnt clarinet formally (at school) but – as soon as I could after leaving school – I then swapped it for an alto sax, in a second-hand shop in Bath.  I self-taught myself sax after the changeover, without even a book.  Just found the keys, by feel.

    There was no ‘official’ bis key on the clarinet, so I never used it there – and I’d already learnt to play without really looking at the keys, so I probably never ever noticed that extra little button on the sax, until I was too far down the road of sax playing !  And the rest, as they say, is history 🙄

  19. Lewis Pelham says:

    Presumably Alan, your saxophone will sport the curved (tenor) crook. Why should I regard the underslung octave rocker as something special? Perhaps it stems from the days when only "exotica" such as the TH&C &10M were so equipped. To me, it still looks something special.

  20. al says:

    Yes, it will have the underslung tenor neck – the C is a tenor replacement, I don’t want an oversized alto.

    When I frst moved up to London in the late 60’s I used to stand in Shaftesbury Avenue, window-shopping at all the gorgeous saxophones. In one window was a King Super 20 tenor with an underslung neck – I guess this is as close as I get to it – and across the road there was a Grafton alto smiling at me. And, as a struggling musician recently ‘up from the sticks’ – with no contacts – I had more chance of flying to the moon than being able to afford to buy either… 😕

  21. Mal-2 says:

    If you’d bought that Grafton, I can see two possibilities.

    1. You’d play it to death, and be unable to repair it when it broke. Years later, when you saw the prices they’re fetching, you’d want to jump out a window.
    2. You’d have hated it and let it sit in a case. Maybe you’d sell it off and have the same ending as 1. above, or your quid would be tied up in something you didn’t want to play.

    Either way, it’s probably for the best that you couldn’t even consider the Grafton.

  22. alan says:

    I know Mal, the Grafton would have been quickly broken – and I wouldn’t have subjected a King Super 20 to the years of abuse that my old tenor took.  Just around the corner, in Charing Cross Road, was a music shop called Macaferri’s Musical Exchange (?) – with usually at least one unwanted silver MkVI tenor…  And Lewingtons, selling slant-sig Links on the cheap 😯

    Silver instruments were associated with military/silver bands, no self-respecting player would have been seen dead with a silver horn in the 60/70’s 😕   If you sent a sax in for an overhaul, it was often relacquered as a matter of course, how things have moved on.  And all the young players were moving on to metal mouthpieces, Bergs rule !

    I know what I’d do if time travel was a reality !  The only flaw is how to get the currency of the period – it’s become quite collectable – the price of ‘old money’ has risen almost as as much as the value of the instruments and mouthpieces. 😦

    btw – The Aquilasax seems to be still patiently waiting in a container on GB soil, whilst the more ‘Express’ parcels continue to push to the head of the queue… Will today be the day that it emerges, blinking and disorientated, into the bright sunlight, and into the eagerly waiting clutch of the Customs and Excise ? Be gentle, lads – always seems to happen in the afternoon… Maybe after a liquid lunch ?

  23. Lewis Pelham says:

    It’s the nine year old on Christmas Eve syndrome…I know it well.
     I sincerely hope that it is as good as my Aqilasax soprano….about £250 including metal mouthpiece & it is faultless….well, as faultless as any sop can be. Heavily constructed, good attention to detail, well finished and good intonation.

  24. alan says:

    Exactly – if the sax doesn’t clear today and/or there’s tax/duty to pay – with Bank Holiday Monday shutdown in the loop, it won’t arrive until (at the very earliest) middle of next week. 

    However, I am enjoying playing the Martin C again, after too long a layoff –  despite a moment of extreme angst  when I found I had no mouthpiece control – but a Vandoren 1.5 had somehow got mixed in with my Rico Royal 3’s, panic now over !  In fact I may drop back to Rico Royal 2.5, try that later…

    I suspect it won’t be an either/or situation with the C’s.  I’ll keep my Martin C whatever happens, but it’d be nice to have a modern C as well.  It’s worked out that way with the 60’s Martin Magna alto, and the 2007 Aquilasax alto – they are different enough to not compete with each other !

  25. Lewis Pelham says:

    I know several accomplished saxophonists with just one horn and one mouthpiece…I envy them; not having a choice they avoid the complications.
     With this in mind, I have for several months, played my R&C tenor exclusively….but the mouthpiece is a different story! I love the stuffy soft Ben Webster sound of the STM Link, I love the ease of blowing of a Berg 95…everything is a compromise & I have finally(?) settled on the RPC…..for today at least; it does everything, except that it is naturally very loud. Playing it in the house is akin to driving a 260 Modena Ferrari at walking speed…but I really must find an established set-up…. I really do envy those one horn chaps….Hey Ho.

  26. alan says:

    Just for info, as the Aquilasax C didn’t surface this week, I gave the friendly local Parcelforce depot a ring on Friday, and quoted the last tracking info – 17-08-2008 / 13:07 / BEIJING CAPE / Left origin country

    "Ah yes, bit misleading that…" said the man – seems that in normal times that’d mean that it’s gone to the ‘International’ side of Beijing Airport, in a pod with other packages destined for the UK.  Under normal circumstances it’d be on a plane out within a day or two, but he added the punch line – "don’t forget that Beijing Airport is currently awash with Olympic goods/kit/luggage and every other form of clutter you could imagine – and then some…" 

    All competing for limited air-freight space.  So it may not even have left China yet…    Wasn’t patience originally a Chinese virtue ?  “Patience, Grasshopper…” Sigh !  😕

  27. Dear C-mel buffs, I’m very interested in buying the Aquilasax C-mel.I love my 140000s Buescher, but it has a few pitch-issues and an altissimo G I can only produce with a lot of air.On the blogs I see many people telling about ordering or waiting for a  c-mel but disappointingly few descriptions and reviews of the horns. Can anyone explain why that is so?best greetings SPS: If you care to hear the Buescher, listen to the solo on "Look What Jazz has Done to Me" on

  28. Mal-2 says:

    I find I can produce altissimo G on the Buescher only by using the fingering for G# and lipping it down. No problems getting it to respond though. Like you, that is one of the things I hope will be improved by the addition of a high F# key.

    If I just barely open the side-C key, I don’t have to lip down much, but that’s not easy to do in fast playing. I’ve considered adding a mechanism to just barely crack that pad open, putting the touch right beside the G# trill (or where the high F# is normally found on more recent horns).

  29. stan says:

    How about one of you fellows playing this one on C Melody.

  30. alan says:

    Soren – if ever my Aquilasax C turns up (last tracked at Beijing Airport, on 17th August – nothing since, but then it was during the Olympics) I intend to do a full review and playing test after it arrives…  It’s out there, somewhere 🙄

    Stan – I know sax players who have devoted a lot of time to learning ‘Giant Steps’ -and most are still trying…  Tell you what, you supply the backing track, and I’ll give it a go ! 😆

  31. alan says:

    Well, it arrived today – slight cockup on the tracking, but, as it totally managed to avoid any Customs charges, you won’t hear me complaining.

    I’ve started a review on my NEW blog – yes, that’s right, the NEW blog – I’ll be moving everything from here across to it sometime next month, this will be a way of announcing them both… Here’s the link.

    When you’ve seen the (ongoing) review, click on the ‘Home’ button(s) to get back to the NEW blog front page, there’s a post explaining why the move is happening. Any comments appreciated, no need to login. All the website pages ‘behind’ the blog will not change – this is to make my life 500% easier…

    I’m off to play the Aquilasax C now, it’s bloody brilliant (sorry vicar…)

  32. Mal-2 says:

    I see someone showed the model (who I believe is also the engraver — I hope she gets paid extra) where her fingers are supposed to go on the keys. 😉 I notice even the picture on Steve’s site has been updated. It’s a subtle change, but a wise one.

    I just wonder why the model horn is unengraved. Black nickel is the best of all finishes for showing off a quality engraving, and it’s a shame there isn’t one.

  33. Lewis Pelham says:

    Black nickel is indeed the best finish on which to display engraving. It is also the most difficult of the usual finishes on which to engrave.
    It is the hardest, with a very real fear of the engraving tool skidding away instead of digging in.
    I would imagine that engraving the inside of the bell flare of a nickel plated sax must be the ultimate, and most feared, Trade Test for a tyro engraver.
      Now…where do I place my fingers again?   🙂

  34. alan says:

    As I’ve started the Aquilasax review on the new blog, I’d consider it an honour if you’d follow this link and add further comments to the Aquilasax C Sax review page there… It has a very short initial sound sample, just added !

    No need to login, it’ll accept you all, you can click on home to see the rest – at the moment it contains just slightly out-dated copies of the topics from here, I’ve been testing it out… Soon to move over there, so I’ll ease you all in gently...

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