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Sakkusu Deluxe alto saxophone

Sakkusu Deluxe alto saxophone reviewOrigin: China
Guide price: £469
Weight: 2.6kg
Date of manufacture: 2017
Date reviewed: July 2021

A step-up Ultra Cheap alto

When the first Ultra-Cheap horns hit the market back in the early 2000s they were all pretty much the same sort of deal; a dirt cheap horn based on a design copied from a rather more expensive brand. And that was it. That was all that was available. But it didn't take the manufacturers long to realise that they could make a few extra bob by producing better models.
But here's the thing - for the most part these pricier models were identical to the cheaper ones. Same body, same keys, same design; the only differences were that they were (you would hope) better built and typically came with better pads - and often came with different body materials or finishes. And it largely made sense - because while you could buy the basic model and have your repairer upgrade it, the cost of doing so would far exceed that of simply buying a better model in the first place. So it was an attractive option for folks who wanted a cheap horn...but didn't want one that was too cheap. Everyone was happy. But how good are these step-up horns? Are they really worth the extra cash?

What we have here is the Sakkusu Deluxe - the posher version of's basic model. The cheaper one comes in at around £350, which makes this version a little over £100 dearer. That's not a lot of money really, so the first question that should spring to mind is "What exactly do you get for £100 more?".

I guess the first thing you'll notice is the colour of the body. Your extra dosh will buy you a body made from red brass. Yes, it looks like bronze - but it isn't. In fact very few bronze-bodied horn are actually built from bronze, merely different grades of brass that have more copper in them. They're just called bronze because, well, marketing.
Red brass is, at least, more honest.
The construction is ribbed, with what few single pillars there are being mounted on decently-sized bases. In terms of body features you get an adjustable metal thumb rest, a large slightly domed metal thumb rest, a triple-point bell stay and a detachable bell, a good-sized 16.5/10 sling ring, a detachable semicircular compound bell key pillar and a full set of bell key bumper adjusters. There's also a detachable guard on the side F#, which is a handy feature for repairers.

Sakkusu Deluxe alto low B toneholeThe horn has plain drawn toneholes, and my first port of call after stripping down most of the horn was to check to see how flat they were. And I was rather pleasantly surprised. They weren't perfect - but they were a bit better than average, which is very definitely a major point scorer at this price. What wasn't such a pleasant surprise was to see that many of the toneholes had significant burrs on them.
Take at look at the low B tonehole. Now, I've seen some burred toneholes in my time but this is among the largest burrs I've ever seen. In fact it stopped my deburring tool dead in its tracks (you can see the curl of metal where it ground to a halt). Granted, the tool isn't particularly heavy-duty, but then it shouldn't need to be. It'll take off a sliver here and there, which is about the most I would expect to see and have to deal with.

A burr on a tonehole won't necessarily mean the pad will leak, but it will mean that the sharp edges will reduce pad life - and in the case of the pads which are normally held closed (such as the low C#, Eb and G#), often leads to stickiness. Fortunately the burrs seem to decrease in severity the higher up the horn you go, but it's a bit of an oversight...and rather a shame given that someone's clearly gone to the trouble to at least level the toneholes a bit.

Staying with the oversight theme I noticed that some of the solderwork was a bit sloppy. Just to be clear, it wasn't that there was insufficient solder (which would be very bad) - rather it was down to not having cleaned up properly after attaching some of the fittings to the body.
Most of the issues were rather minor, but they really went to town on the thumb key pillar plate. It's not so bad that I'd call it a "dog's dinner", but it easily achieves the status of being a "pig's ear".
Sakkusu Deluxe alto solderworkAnd, as with the tonehole burrs, it's a bit of a shame because most of the rest of the build is quite neat and tidy. Which leads me to wonder why they left it like this. I can only assume that whoever's in charge of the pre-lacquering prep only gets so much time allocated in which to spruce up each horn - and if the clock runs out, that's how the horn gets sent off to the lacquering department. Or maybe they just didn't care.

I'll finish up the bodywork overview with a more positive comment. The crook fit on this horn was superb. Given the issues spotted thus far I think this is more likely to be down to luck rather than judgement, but as it stands it warrants a mention and a few extra points. And the lacquering's not too bad either. The horn's a few years old, so it's lasted thus far - although due to the poor setup it has never seen that much use.

On to the keywork now, and it's much of a mixed bag again.
This horn is clearly a copy of the venerable Yanagisawa 992, so it has the benefit of a well-designed and comfortable action. That's another plus point.
Sakkusu Deluxe alto point screwHow well that action works depends on how well it's built, and it's here where we run into a few niggles - the first of which is the point screws.
They're essentially pseudo points - or, more accurately, pointed parallel screws. The point is useless - the holes in the barrels are drilled too deep for the point to actually engage on anything - so the action defaults to one mounted on parallel points...with all that that entails. However, for the time being the key barrels are reasonably accurately drilled with just a few keys showing very slight signs of lateral/axial play.
The keys mounted on rod screws fared rather well, with very little signs of key wobble or axial play. A bit, perhaps, but well within expectations for the price-point - if not a bit better than usual. However, I did find a few nasties.

Sakkusu Deluxe alto D pillarI was removing the palm keys and heard that all-too-familiar and very distinctive cracking noise from cured superglue as the top D came away from its pillars. No two ways about it, this is an out-and-out bodge - akin to chucking a raw egg in your car's radiator to plug up a leak. The D key barrel is just a tad too short - and rather than swedge the key to fit or simply replace it with one that does, they bung it in place and then pop a drop of superglue at one end of the barrel. Give it a minute to set then press the key down to break the bond to the pillar - and whatever superglue hangs on after this process keeps the barrel from moving from side to side.
I used to see an awful lot of this back in the early days of Ultra-Cheap horns, but it's not so common anymore - and it's disappointing to see it on what's marketed as a deluxe model.

Sakkusu Deluxe alto adjustersThere are some nice keywork features; you get double cup arms on the low C and B keys, enclosed fork and pin connectors for the side key (simple and slick), an F# helper arm (of limited effectiveness at any price), a tilting bell key table, a swivel-based octave key mechanism with a sculpted thumb key and a set of blued steel springs to power the action. All very nice.
You get some adjusters too. Apart from the usual trio on the G#, Bis Bb and low C# there's a full set of key height adjusters on both stacks. I would have preferred to have seen regulation adjusters, as these are more usual both to the repairer and the home tweaker - but it's better than nothing.

A word of caution if you're tempted to adjust these screws. They're typically locked in place with some sort of gunk. I'm not entirely sure what it is, but I don't think it's proper threadlock. Nonetheless it's strong enough to require you use considerable force to move the screws - and because they're made of a type of brass that's quite brittle, you run the risk of breaking the heads. The way around that is to apply a little heat to the screws. You can either touch them with a soldering iron, or warm them up with a hair dryer...or a gas torch if you know what you're doing.
Doing so will probably present another problem though - namely the strange glue that the Chinese use to fix the corks and felts to the keys. Gawd knows what it is, but it's very definitely sensitive to temperature...and quite a low temperature at that.

Sakkusu Deluxe alto key corkIt was touching 30 degrees C in the workshop while I was servicing this horn, which was plenty hot enough to see some of the corks begin to slide off the keys - as you can see here, on the base of the side Bb fork connector. To be fair this is a common problem on pretty much all Ultra-Cheap horns - and while a cork like this is quite easy for a DIYer to replace, heating the stack height adjusters may well loosen the regulation corks on the tops of the key feet...and that would be most unhelpful indeed.
It did occur to me that you'd think they'd have sorted out some decent glue after all these years. I mean, at the very least they could use superglue; it's not as if they don't have any because they've used it for bodging the top D key...

You get a set of slightly concave plastic key pearls, with a pair of flat oval touches for the G# and the side F#.
You also get a domed Bis Bb pearl - and normally I'd flag this up for a bonus point or two. However they've made a bit of a boo-boo, because the pearl is too thin.
The upshot of this is that any benefit you might accrue from having a domed touch is completely lost due to your finger hitting the rim of the holder as you roll it forward.
Sakkusu Deluxe alto Bis Bb pearlAnd just to add injury to insult, it sometimes gives your finger a bit of a nip as the Bb key goes down. It's fixable, but it's not a particularly easy job; you can alter the angle of the pearl holder...but this would result in some distortion of the pad cup, which would have to be corrected (and the pad reset). Or you can remove the pearl, file down the leading edge of the holder and fit a thicker pearl or put some backing beneath the original one. It's a lot of faffing about for something that should have been addressed in manufacture.
You might also notice that the other pearls aren't exactly a tight fit in their holders. I was in two minds as to whether to dock points for this, what with the relatively low price of the horn - but then it occurred to me that I've seen better on cheaper horns. So that's that.

The reason this horn was sent in for a service was that it warbled when playing the low notes. Upon inspection this turned out to be down to a number of leaks on the main stacks, of which the low F was the biggest culprit by a considerable margin. I took the pad out to have a close look at it and found this. It's a shim. A dirty great shim. Shimming pads is generally frowned upon among conscientious repairers, but it's a valid repair technique under certain circumstances...if done properly and for the right reasons.
This example is neither. I mentioned earlier that the toneholes were reasonably level - and indeed, the F tonehole is exactly that. So that's one reason why a shim should not be necessary.
Sakkusu Deluxe alto F padPerhaps the key cup is deformed? I checked - and no, it wasn' that's the other reason a shim might be needed that's out of the window.
In fact the reason a shim was used is that the cup angle is wrong, and rather than correct it at the assembly stage someone's just bunged in a slab of cardboard. OK, sure, it's a cheap horn and these are the kind of shortcuts that regularly turn up on such things - but whoever did this wasn't doing themselves any favours because they neglected to put a decent amount of shellac in the key cup (something I noticed on other pads I removed). When you use a shim that's this crude there's just no way the pad will achieve a reliable seat without quite a bit of jiggling about - and if you want to jiggle pads about, you need to sit them on a good bed of shellac or hot melt glue.

Note the branding on the pad - Pisoni Mypads. One of the advertised features of this step-up model is that it uses Pisoni pads. Very nice. But hang on a mo...doesn't the basic model use these pads too? Well certainly the tenor I reviewed back in 2018 did - so it's not so much of a 'special feature' after all.

Sakkusu Deluxe alto low BSpeaking of deformed key cups, I spotted one on the low B.
You can that there's a leak dead centre of the pad where it crosses the apex of the body tube - and if you look along the edge of the key cup you can see that it rises ever so slightly exactly above the leak.
That's a warped key cup. Chances are it wasn't made like that - rather it got that way when the assembler found a problem with the cup angle and resorted to bending the cup rather than the key arm to fix it...and they probably did so because this key has dual cup arms, which make it a bit trickier to bend them evenly. Another shortcut, in other words.

Given that this is a Yanagisawa copy I was pleased to see that the manufacturers have gone the extra mile and copied the Yani's standard box-style case. Granted, it's nowhere near as well-built as the original's case - but it's a good design...and it has a pair of catches rather than a dreadful zip. Full marks there, nothing to complain about. Likewise the Yamaha mouthpiece that's bundled with this horn.
And I'd like to wrap up the technical review by noting that there's something missing from this horn...and it's the serial number. There isn't one. Couldn't find it anywhere. I looked in all the usual places, I looked in all the unusual places - I even looked in all the places where no-one ever looks for a serial number. Nada. Nothing. No serial number. No big deal, just something of an oddity really.

In the hands the horn feels pretty much as you'd expect for a Yani copy. The ergonomics are spot on, there are no awkwardly-placed keys, and after a few judicious tweaks the action felt reasonably smooth and responsive. It's never going to be as good as the real thing but it's really not bad at all. How long it'll stay that way is up in the air, but it'll be fine for the intended lifespan of a horn like this (i.e. one from which you'll upgrade in due course). The spring tension is set to medium firm over most of the horn, with most of the side/bell keys being set rather firmer than is necessary. You can make a significant improvement to the overall balance of the action by reducing the tension on these springs. There's no particular problem with having a medium firm action - or even a firm or a light one - on a horn....for the most part it's just a matter of personal preference; but balancing the springs to achieve a more uniform feel is always a good bet and is the sort of thing that really ought to be done as standard during the course of a set up.

Sakkusu Deluxe alto sax bellAnd how does it play? I'd says it plays as well as any other Ultra-Cheap Yani copy. Tonewise it's something of an all-rounder; not too bright, not too warm - just nicely in the middle ground.
You can forget about any guff alluding to the red brass giving it 'added warmth and projection', because it sounds exactly the same as all the brass Yani knockoffs I've played...and if you're expecting a different body material to give you more projection, I know a guy who may have a bridge you'd be interested in. The only Yani copy I've ever played that had more warmth and grunt than the original was the Bauhaus Walstein. It looks nice. That's it. And it plays nice too - and as with so many Ultra-Cheap horns, it plays rather better than its price would suggest. In this department it wins maximum points.

So, is it a buyer...or should you look for something else?
There's not a great deal of competition at this price-point. You have the Gear4Music Rosedale at around £350 (which also comes with Pisoni pads). There's the Elkhart 100AS at around £450 - and the Conn-Selmer AS650 at £500. The Gear4Music looks to be a Yamaha copy - and, on the whole, these tend to be quite a nice blow. I've not seen the Elkhart but their basic models tend to be OK - and then there's the Conn-Selmer. It's £30 dearer, but I've been quite impressed by the build quality of their budget models. However, you don't get a Yamaha mouthpiece with that would add another £25 or so to the price.
I noted in the review of the cheaper Sakkusu tenor that you might be better off buying the cheaper basic Gear4Music model and splashing out on some tweaks - but it's not quite so clear cut with this horn simply because of the reasonably level toneholes. In terms of build integrity this a feature that's well worth having - because levelling off a full set of toneholes isn't a particularly cheap job. It would easily demolish the price difference between the dearer Gear4Music and the Sakkusu Deluxe...assuming the former had wobbly toneholes.
But then there all the other niggling issues; the superglue, the shims, the bent key cup, the scruffy soldering and indifferent pad seating. I think many of the build issues reinforce my take on cheap Chinese sax production as being 'give with one hand, take with the other'. It's like you only get so much quality - and if you choose to improve it in one area, another area suffers. It's very frustrating.

Taking all things into consideration I'm going to give the Sakkusu a recommendation....with a caveat. It only just merits its 'deluxe' status, and I think you'd get a better deal by throwing a few extra quid into the pot and going for the Conn-Selmer AS650 - but if your budget is tight and you want something that's a bit of a step-up from the basic model, I think this is a reasonable bet.

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