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Couesnon Monopole II alto saxophone

Couesnon Monopole II alto saxOrigin: France
Guide price: From £450 (a steal!!!)
Weight: -
Manufactured: Early 1960s
Reviewed: August 2007

A pro-spec alto from a vintage maker that very few people have heard of...yet

You'd think, wouldn't you, that if you bought a tenor by 'Brand X', liked it very much indeed and then decided you had need of an alto - the one made by Brand X would be a safe bet. After all, the tenor floats your boat - stands to reason that the alto should too.
As it happens, it's actually not that common to find a player who has a 'matched pair' of saxes. In fact, where the brands do match you're more than likely to find that the model numbers differ (I, for example have a Yamaha 23 tenor, and a Yamaha alto - but it's the 62 model).

The simple reason for this is that what works well on one sax might not work well on another - so whilst the tenor of a particular make and model might have a fat, lush tone...the alto might be rather more brighter in comparison.
The sole reason that this particular alto appeared on the bench is that the owner had previously bought a Monopole II tenor, and liked it so much (as did I) that he promptly bought an alto - sight unseen, unplayed and untested.
Quite a risky proposition, only made less so by the fact that this vintage brand is relatively unknown and the prices are subsequently quite low (for the time being...).
The big question is - did he get a peach...or a lemon?

I shan't dwell on the mechanical details too much - the alto follows the same pattern as the tenor...if you're interested, just click the link above for a breakdown of the build details.

A couple of details differ; the position of the sling ring is a little suspect - it's fine when playing the horn whilst seated, by when standing the horn tends to hang to the left. This isn't a huge problem, but it can become a little fatiguing to not only have to support the horn's vertical angle but to keep it in line as well.
Fortunately it's a relatively easy fix - just have the ring repositioned (you will lose a little of the lacquer though, and have a mark where the ring used to sit).
The other minor point is the position of the low C guard stay post (note that the alto bell key guard is a one-piece affair, unlike the tenor which has two guards to span these tone holes) - it's right up against the low C tone hole. In the event of a knock to the guard of sufficient strength to put a dent in the horn, the stay post will drive the tone hole completely out of level. Given that, like the tenor, the tone holes are of the rolled variety, this could be a big problem. Care will be needed when handling this horn - and some time and money spent on selecting a good case will pay dividends.

Couesnon Monopole II alto crookLike the tenor, the alto features the double-socket crook.
It's worth drawing attention to this feature if only to point out that you're advised to check that this joint isn't loose when buying one of these horns.
It's not that it's an impossible fix, it's just rather involved and could cost rather more than it costs to have a standard crook tightened.
Beware in particular of cracks or evidence of filing/sawing around the slot (as closed by the screw) - both indicate that work may be needed to ensure a properly snug and well-sealed crook joint.

The keywork is much the same - the geometry is obviously different as it's a smaller horn, and this helps to resolve a couple of issues found on the tenor. Thus, the front F key is better placed on the alto and the palm keys are a little more accessible.
There's also the unique switchable articulated G# mechanism, and whilst the bell key spatula action is rather lighter and more responsive than that on the tenor, it's still noticeably better when the articulation is switched off.
Still, as with the tenor it's nice to have the long as you remember what it's set at before you take a solo!

But enough of all that...the sole reason the client bought this horn was because of blowing qualities of the tenor.
Similarly I approached the alto with pretty much the same hopes whilst still being mindful of the fact that I've made this kind of comparison many, many times and been rather disappointed...

Well, I blew barely five notes on it and wouldn't have been at all surprised if a gospel choir had appeared out of nowhere behind me and began to sing in exquisite and glorious harmony.
This little alto just oozes soul.
Just like the tenor, the tone of the alto seems to capture the very best of the vintage genre and blend it seamlessly with the brighter, punchier contemporary tone. The final result is a tone for all seasons.
But surely, if you're a jack of all trades you're a master of none?
Not so...this alto has so much flexibility that it takes a mere tweak of the embouchure to lay the tone back or kick it into overdrive. It is, frankly, stunningly articulate. Tonewise it's a little more even than the tenor (as altos tend to be) - the low/mid D is cleaner - and I didn't notice any tuning problems.

What can I say? I was delighted and enthralled by this cheeky little alto, and even more delighted to find that it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the tenor in terms of playability.
For me its biggest appeal is its ability to span the tonal genres - and whilst I realise that not everyone will consider that to be a quality worth having, I'm certain that no-one will disagree that it's no mean feat for a manufacturer to successfully pull it off.
As per the tenor, horns from this marque are relatively unknown and can still be bought for a price that's frankly ridiculous when you consider what they're capable of. That's likely to change once ebayers and the like start finding reviews like if you're after a sweet little blower with an individual touch, get one while the going's good.


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