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P.Mauriat System 76 alto saxophone (2nd Edition)

Mauriat System 76 (2nd Edition) altoOrigin: Taiwan (
Guide price: £1750
Weight: 2.59kg
Date of manufacture: 2009
Date reviewed: March 2011

A modern, professional horn with a vintage perspective

The past seems to be big business these days - everywhere you look it's vintage this and retro that. 'Old' is out, 'classic' is in - modernism is so yesterday (which is something of a contradiction really).
I'll admit I'm quite a fan of vintage things...steam trains, mechanical devices, graceful curves and elegant styling, but I'm also acutely aware that, to paraphrase the saying, 'all that glitters is not old'. Not so very long ago people died of diseases that hardly inconvenience us today, and even something as simple as looking after the household chores was an exercise in drudgery. My own vision of 'retro' is something that takes the style and values of the past and couples them with modern technology - the end product being something that combines elegance with reliability and efficiency.
So with this in mind, how will a horn that the makers claim is 'Vintage personified' stand up to modern-day scrutiny?

Well, it's certainly built with all mod cons - drawn tone holes (thankfully all level), ribbed keywork, detachable bell, triple-point bell stay, generously-sized thumb rest and an adjustable thumb hook.
The body is very neatly put together, with all the straps, pillars and fittings tidily soldered and well-finished. It's quite 'chunky' too - the standalone pillars feature substantial bases and both the bottom bow rings and the crook socket are quite hefty affairs. This perhaps explains the rather heavy weight of the horn, coming in a good few hundred grammes heavier than most modern altos on the market...and quite a bit heavier than a lot of vintage ones.

The large diameter bell will add a little weight, but it doesn't look too out of place - as such bells often can on altos - and this might be down to the muted finish. It's a sort of brushed duo-tone lacquer, and I'm relieved to see that it hasn't been overdone. This kind of finish is quite tricky to get right but this horn has a nice balance between the lighter and darker shades. It's certainly a lot more discreet than some other examples I've seen, although I will say it tends to look better from a slight distance.
It also seems to be standing up to wear quite well, though I did note a few bare spots on some keys (such as the palm keys).

The engraving stands out, quite literally. It's cut through the finish so it looks nice and sharp, but it's perhaps a little rough under the hands. I've no doubt it will wear down in time, but if you're a player who likes to wear shortish skirts and stockings (well, we can all dream) you might want to avoid resting the bell on your leg when you sit down as it will snag.

The keywork looks to be nicely built - as with the body it's all tidy and well finished. It's also quite tough too. A criticism often thrown at horns from this region is that the keywork tends to be soft - but some careful pushing and pulling revealed otherwise.
The keys are fitted out with decent pads, which themselves are fitted with metal domed reflectors - and they're all powered by a set of blued steel springs. Better yet, the springs are of a decent length which means that they can develop a nice snappy feel when correctly tensioned.
I was a bit disappointed to find that there were no adjusters on the main key stacks. I realise that this is a horn built with a passing nod to the vintage era, but I'm sure that a few adjusting screws aren't going to detract from the image - and it saves us repairers a lot of time when it comes to setting the action up.

Mauriat System 76 bell keysThe bell keys spatulas are nicely laid out, complete with titling table on the Bb touchpiece - and all mounted on a semicircular compound pillar. There's no additional bracing for this pillar though, which is a feature that's proven to be very beneficial on other horns that use this type of pillar as it's quite susceptible to being knocked backwards if the horn takes a tumble - even when it's in its case.

Note the beefy triple-point bell brace - the treble clef infill is a nice touch.

I was very surprised at how much play there was on the point screw pivoted keys. This was quite evident when the horn came in for a service - because it rattled.
My standard test for wear on keys mounted on point screws is to grip the key barrel near the pillar and give it a bit of a wobble. Every single such key wobbled. To find such wear on a horn that had seen a good few years use wouldn't surprise me - but what would surprise me was finding that the wear was even right across the action, as it was with the Mauriat. Some keys get more use than others, so I'd expect to find that, say, the Bis Bb key wobbled a little more than the low B or Bb.
A closer inspection revealed why.

Mauriat point screwsThe point screws are of an unusual design - the heads are spear-shaped. This is essentially just another kind of parallel point screw and is subject to all the flaws associated with the design - which means that if the key barrels aren't accurately drilled, the keys will wobble. And they do.
I was going to say that when the action wears, these type of screws have little or no provision for adjustment - and on a horn of this price you should expect to find proper point screws. However Mauriat have gone one better by giving you a head start and building in some wear from new.
Needless to say, the action made a right old racket - so much so that I nicknamed this horn 'The Mauriattle'.
Rather curiously, I found that side C lever upper pillar was fitted with a different type of point screw - a plain parallel type, as seen at the lower right.

Something needed to be done to quieten the action (aside from major repairs), so I resorted to using grease to lubricate the point screws. Some repairers use grease for this purpose anyway - I prefer to use a heavy oil - but I think it's a bit much when you're forced to put grease in the key barrels just to keep them from rattling.
More seriously, the movement in the keywork was enough to cause a few small leaks. You might only be able to wobble, say, the low Bb key barrel a fraction but by the time that free play comes out at the key cup it translates to a gap that can be seen with a leak light.
The 'fix', if you can call it that, is to rely on the key's spring to take up the free play and set the pad accordingly. It means settling for a heavier action though - and it's all a bit 'third rate'. The bottom line is that if this were my horn, I'd be taking it back to the shop and asking for an explanation - and quite probably a refund.

In keeping with the theme of poor build quality on the keywork, the octave key mechanism had a fair bit of free play in it too - and so the action gets the same thumbs down as I gave the Mauriat 66R, which suffered from similar problems.
Let's be very clear here - the System 76 is around the same price as the Yamaha YAS62 and not much cheaper than the Yanagisawa 901 - and if nothing else you really ought to expect the build quality to be up to that standard. As it is, I've seen horns such as the Altone with a tighter action...and for around 250 quid.

Mauriat key pearlsI suppose I might as well mention the abalone key pearls. Whether you like the way they look or not is a personal preference, so I won't go there - but I couldn't fail to notice how rough they were. I know a bit of 'grip' is a good thing for a key pearl to have, but these were way beyond that. It looked as though they were breaking down - they felt a bit thin in places, and the low D pearl in particular was looking very much the worse for wear. I've seen plenty of worn pearls down the years, but only on horns that had seen decades of hard use...not on one that's barely out of the box.

Speaking of which, the case is of the shaped variety - a semi-soft design with a zip fastener.
I do wish manufacturers would give up on these blasted zips - they might be cheap but the majority of players want proper catches on their cases. The zip hadn't failed (yet) but one of the tabs had come off already.
There's space inside for the crook and a mouthpiece - and anything else will have to go in the pocket attached to the exterior. It not exactly well-padded in places, so you wouldn't want to go chucking it around. The back of the horn in particular looks quite vulnerable but there's just a chance that the flexibility of the case walls will go some way to absorbing some of the heavier knocks. I wouldn't bank on it though.

The factory setup was typically high and heavy. I could address the key height with ease, but the built-in wear in the action limited my scope with regard to the spring tension. I also noticed, while I was fiddling around with new corks and suchlike, that the factory-fitted corks were remarkably untidy. It's perhaps a small niggle, but it does rather point to the overall lack of attention to detail.
With the point screws packed with grease and the spring tension adjusted to compensate, the action felt reasonably slick and fast. If you were to take the point screws out and replace them with proper ones I feel the action could be really rather good.
Everything fits nicely under the fingers, though the Bis Bb proved to be something of a stumbling block - it's set a bit too low really, and would benefit from a raised and domed key pearl. I noticed on a couple of fast runs using the forefinger Bb that the note really have to make a concerted effort to get the key down.
On a more positive note the front top F touchpiece was well placed and very quick in use.

Tonewise it's something of a curious horn. My first impression was one of a tendency to the warm - it feels like it has plenty of power, but there's just a sense of something being slightly held back. It's an easy horn to play, though perhaps not as free-blowing as many modern horns. I suppose I'd describe it as having a slightly creamy sound...which sounds like a very good thing, but it refers more to the feeling of thickness rather than a sense of being smooth.
It's by no means an unpleasant tone, the low end in particular is very nicely rounded - and it was a very enjoyable blow while I was noodling around on it. But when I came to push it I found that it kept on resisting - I wanted that low-end richness to follow me as I blew harder and louder, but it just didn't want to know. Comparing it to a MKI YAS62 was an eye-opener. Switching between the two horns I found myself asking of the Mauriat "Where's the life?". The 62 is a more naturally strident horn, but it feels very much like the tone can be tailored to your wishes. The Mauriat in comparison seemed a bit two-dimensional. It almost feels like they've tried to make an alto that sounds like a tenor - and in so doing have overlooked what it is that people buy an alto for.
I then played it alongside a silver-gold Bauhaus M2 and found the comparison even starker. The M2, with its similarly large-sized bell, exhibits the same sense of low-end richness - but couples it with a healthy dose of fire and edge. Better still, it retains that relationship as you blow louder and move up the scale. More importantly, both the Yamaha and the Bauhaus have rather more 'headroom' tonally, which means you can choose the level of brightness by selecting a mouthpiece that tends to the warm or the bright depending on your preference. It's very much harder to coax brightness out of a naturally warm horn without the mid-range ramping up and destroying the clarity.
The tone is even throughout the range, which is normally a good thing, but in this instance I found myself wishing that it would get brighter towards the top. Tuning is spot on though - no complaints there.

Mauriat have gleaned a bit of a reputation in the non-too-distant past of making much of an association with 'French saxophones'. Terms such as 'French Brass' and a small tricolore attached to the seams of their cases are obvious pointers to certain well-known make and model of saxophone. This rather unsubtle approach got up the noses of quite a few people (though it did mean that people talked about the brand) and in recent times there appears to have been a softening of this approach. The tricolore has gone, but there's still a name badge that says "P.Mauriat - Paris".
However, this horn came with a crook that had "Super VI" stamped on it - which to my mind is the saxophone-world equivalent of putting on a pair of boxing gloves and shouting "Come on if ya fink yer 'ard enuff mate!" at the current world heavyweight champion.
So I obliged...and put the Mauriat into the ring with a 1958 Selmer MkVI alto....and rang the bell for the first round.

In case you're already reaching for your wallet with a view to putting a bet on the result - don't was a knockout to the Selmer in the first ten seconds. Just as with the YAS62 and the Bauhaus M2, the Mauriat felt dull and stifled. What appears to be richness when the horn is played by itself soon turns out to be muddiness when compared with the Selmer. This is what made the Selmer the legend it is - it achieved that very tricky balance between depth and brightness that is the holy grail of tone. Granted, it did so at the expense of evenness and tuning - but what it gave in return made plenty of players feel it was worth taking the time to learn to play around the compromises.

I think if your idea of a vintage horn is one that's predominantly warm then the Mauriat is going to be quite interesting. It's a 'nice' horn, a relaxed horn, a very laid back horn - and as there's currently a trend for all things vintage I'm sure it'll appeal to a lot of players.
However, what with the free play in the action and the other niggles it gets brutally kicked into the corner by the build quality of the similarly-priced competition - and if 'Vintage personified' stands for integrity of build and care and attention to detail, which is surely what it does, then the Mauriat System 76 alto fails to live up to that standard.
As for the 'Super VI' on the crook - well, as much as I'm a fan of modern horns - and as much as I don't regard the Selmer MkVI as the last word in saxophones, I think if I owned one of these I'd put a bit of tape over it and try to pretend it wasn't there.

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