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B&S 2001 alto saxophone

B&S 2001 altoOrigin: Germany
Guide price: £900 (used)
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: Late 1990s
Date reviewed: April 2006

An unusual and distinctive pro horn that might be too 'nice' for its own good

There's a lot of mystique surrounding this little-known manufacturer (now no longer in business), which is perhaps typical of the cohort of manufacturers based around the German/Czech block - and whilst a little mystique is sometimes good for the image, a little too much can result in obscurity.
This appears to have been the fate of the B&S range of horns, and although you can find small pockets of dedicated fans dotted here and there around the web you might be harder pushed to actually find one of the horns.

B&S's last flagship range was the Medusa series and although it looks much the same it's said to be a completely redesigned horn, at least as far as the alto is concerned...though I'm led to believe that the Medusa tenor version is closer to the 2001 model.

Keen saxophone spotters could be forgiven for assuming this horn is nothing more than a Keilwerth stencil. I can't say I'd blame them for coming to that conclusion - there are some stark similarities, most notably the distinctive bell flare and the various gadgets found on the keywork. I think it pretty safe to say that there are more than a few Keilwerth influences knocking about on this horn - and, given the history of B&S as a company and its associations, that's not really all that surprising.

The body is well made and assembled. Pillars and fitting are neat and tidy and the horn is well finished in a matt gold 'vintage' lacquer. It's not really to my taste, but it's well done - though I wonder what the horn will look like once it has a few years of life on the road under its belt.
The engraving is quite stylish too - neatly done and not too overstated.

It has all the usual pro features - adjustable thumb hook, detachable bell, generously sized sling ring...and one of the meatiest bell stays I've ever seen. I was particularly pleased to see a nicely braced bell key pillar arrangement (you can see the bracing arm inbetween the A and G key cups).

The keywork is just as sturdily built, and as well finished. Some nice touches include nickel silver key barrels for the longer keys, and this looks quite nice set against the 'old gold' finish.

B and S 2001 alto palm keysThe palm keys feature the same adjustment mechanism as found on the Keilwerth horns, which allows the player to adjust the height and lateral angle of the touchpieces. The top E key also has an adjust on the bumper cork to allow the player to set the opening height of this key. I don't know how useful a feature this will be, but it's there anyway and doesn't add any significant weight to the horn - and it's perhaps a slightly odd concession to convenience when you consider that there are no adjusters on the main stack keys...where they're really needed.

There's also an anti-stick mechanism for the G# which, like the adjustable palm keys, follows the Keilwerth design. It works, after a fashion, but I feel it's unnecessarily complicated - and the addition of a small spring to the lever that sits over the Aux.F/G# keys adds a little bit of extra weight to the bell key action. It's not much, admittedly, but if you disable the spring you gain a bit of snap to the bell key action.
As for the bell key spatulas themselves, they're of the Selmer tilting table type - and whilst they worked well enough I felt they were perhaps just a little clunky when compared side-by-side with the bell keys on a Selmer SA80 alto.
B&S 2001 alto G#The front F key is simple, but with its long arm and rounded touchpiece it's both comfortable and adjustable. Likewise, the use of fork and pin levers on the side Bb/C trill keys is both simple and highly effective.
High marks too go to the shaped and rounded octave key touchpiece, which I found very comfortable and slick in use.

Not such high marks for the fitment of the top F# key pearl. It didn't quite fit, leaving a gap around the top edge of the pearl holder. A small point perhaps, but this is a pro level horn and that implies (to me, anyway) perfection. Nooks and crannies like these in the keywork are ideal places for gunk to collect (which isn't particularly pleasant in itself), which provides a foothold for corrosion (verdigris).

The whole action is powered by blued steel springs and I was pleased to see that proper point screws had been used throughout - which will make it much easier and cheaper when the time comes to have the wear and tear in the action taken up.

The horn feels comfortable enough under the fingers. Once the spring tension had been reset and balanced I found the action to be brisk and precise.

It's obvious that the manufacturers have gone for a warm tone, but in playing I have to wonder if they haven't perhaps overdone it.
There's a very distinct difference between, say, a Yamaha YAS62 and a Conn 6M, which marks out the change in tonal philosophy from vintage to contemporary horns - but what both horns have as professional quality instruments is bags of life and energy. This is what the B&S seems to lack, that inner core tone.
If tone were clothes, the YAS62 would be Tom Cruise in an Italian suit...the 6M would be a James Dean in baggy trousers. The B&S would be Humphrey Bogart in a chunky knit jumper- it's kinda slick and cool tonewise, but a bit too snug and cuddly for its own image.
That's not to say that it's not a pleasant blow. It is, but that's maybe its's a bit too 'nice'.
I found it quite a stiff blow too, particularly when pushed. It'll coast along very nicely as you noodle around, and can get quite bootsy down the lower end, but when it comes to soaring, soulful top notes it just doesn't let rip. I also noticed a bit of a growl on the top C, which would suggest that this is a horn that will be quite picky about which mouthpiece gets shoved on it.

It certainly has the feel of a good horn but I think its tone means it would appeal only to a very specific group of players. Indeed, whereas plenty of players might play other makes of pro level saxes and consider them to be "Good, but not what I want" - they might well find themselves saying of the B&S "I don't actually like it".
I think it suffers by comparison - I found it quite a jolly little blow on its own, but when I switched to a Yamaha 62 and then a Yanagisawa 992 it felt like someone had suddenly opened all the doors and windows and let all the sunlight in, and once you've felt that wonderful sense of openness it's very hard to go back to the rather introverted B&S.

But for those to whom a very warm sax appeals, the B&S is unquestionably 'toasty'.
With some careful experimentation with bright mouthpieces this could prove to be a very appealing horn for someone who likes the vintage sound but wants all the mod-cons with it.

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