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Lupifaro Platinum (low Bb) baritone saxophone

Lupifaro Platinum baritone sax  reviewOrigin: Taiwan
Guide price: Unknown
Weight: 5.45kg
Date of manufacture: 2016
Date reviewed: January 2023

Looks familiar...

The last time I saw Lupifaro horn it got a proper drubbing on the review workbench. The build quality was absolutely appalling, which was a great shame because underneath it all it was actually quite a nice player. So when a client emailed me to say he wanted to bring in a Lupifaro baritone for a service I very much couldn't wait to get my hands on it to see whether it was as badly built as the tenor. Imagine my surprise when I found that it was actually quite well built. I mean really quite well built.
The client was delighted. Having read my review of the tenor he was very much expecting the worse - but no, I really couldn't find a very great deal to complain about in terms of the way it was built.

How could this be? Surely, if a company turns out iffily-built tenors it stand to reason that their baritones ain't gonna be much better. Indeed, they're quite likely going to be a great deal worse. This, of course, assumes that said company is actually making the horns....and not just buying them in and slapping a bit of bling on them.
How can you tell? Well, simply by comparing the design and features with other brands. You have to be a bit selective though - it's no good pointing to a standard swivelling octave mech and proclaiming that the horn must have been built by Selmer, because pretty much all manufacturers use the same design these days. No, you have to look a bit deeper.

But how many similarities do you have to spot before it becomes pretty much obvious that two horns from different manufacturers are likely to be the same horn? I'd say at least three - and thereafter any more similarities dramatically increase the probability that both horns came from the same place. Identifying manufacturers from the features on a horn is a popular hobby for 'stencil spotters' - whereby an unknown brand can be identified by drawing comparisons to known models that bear similarities. It's often suprisingly accurate, with the most common 'giveaways' being the bell brace and the bell key table.

That being said, there's a slight fly in the old ointment because back in the early days of Ultra-Cheap horns it was quite common to see horns that looked absolutely identical - and yet the build quality varied considerably, as did the playability. And the price.
This was due, in part, to the way the industry operated in China. Individual innovation was seemingly quite rare - and for those of us in the trade it almost seemed like there were but a handful of 'templates' which were being used by just about every manufacturer. This led, quite understandably, to some confusion among players who could readily spot the price differences on retailer websites but not so much the difference in playability between the various models. This only became apparent when you actually picked the horns up and played them.
I think its safe to say that this was a phenomenon largely restricted to that particular genre of horns.

What's really interesting about this horn is that there are pointers to two other brands - Mauriat and Thomann.
I've reviewed examples of both so I'm not going to bother running up a proper review of this horn, but because there are so many similarities it got me wondering about exactly where this horn came from. So rather than a review, this article is more of a 'comparative overview' which highlights the similarities (and any points of interest that crop up along the way) - after which you'll hopefully be able to draw some conclusions of your own.
But just in case you need a hand I've run through a few of my own at the end of this article, along with some thoughts about the nature of the market for such a niche horn by today's standards.

In terms of design and construction though, the review of the Thomann Low Jazz baritone contains all the relevant details - and you might want to open that review in a separate tab/window if you feel inclined to check out the similarities as we go...

Lupifaro Platinum baritone top bow clampLet's start up at the top end, and the first 'feature match' is the top bow clamp.
An identical clamp turns up on both the Mauriat PMB-300UL and the Thomann Low Jazz. It's a split clamp, which is to say that the ring is made in two halves with a socket and peg joint directly opposite the screw block (just about visible at the centre bottom of the shot).
I like this design - it's often the case that when removing standard joint clamps you often have to distort them in order to remove them and you always run the risk of scratching the horn...but with this design you only have to undo the screws and the clamp falls apart. Very sensible.
The bottom bow clamp follows the same design.

Then there's the raised Bis Bb pearl, with its deep cup.
Lupifaro Platinum baritone Bis BbThis is quite a distinctive feature. I could be wrong here (feel free to correct me) but I'm pretty sure that I've never seen anything like this on any other brand of baritone. Most other manufacturers that use a domed Bis Bb pearl make it line up by aligning the key geometry and using a standard pearl holder - which does rather make this arrangement look a little bit like an afterthought. It works, though, which is perhaps what counts in the end.

Lupifaro Platinum baritone top F keyJust across the way we find the top F palm key - with its round cork cup.

Moving down the horn there's the bell key table - and the common feature here is the adjustable link between the low B and Bb.
I really don't care for this feature at all because adjusting the regulation between the low B and Bb usually requires incremental adjustments. This isn't a problem on a horn that just has a plain 'tab' because you can just pop a pair of pliers on the tab and give it the merest tweak.
Lupifaro Platinum baritone bell key tableWith this design you have to loosen the screw, make the adjustment then tighten the screw up again. By the time you've faffed about with all that, the chances of hitting the regulation sweet spot are next to zero. The only way to hit it is to muck about with the thickness of the buffer (on top of the tab). It really is just so much simpler when all you have to do is bend a tab very slightly.

Next up is the bell brace - and there are a couple a notable features here.
The first is the shape of the baseplate - a plain rectangle with pointed ends.
The other feature is the additional leg that extends across the body (highlighted in red). This is an excellent feature - and one increasingly found on modern baritones...though I have spotted it on a tenor or two.
Lupifaro Platinum baritone bell braceIt provides extra support against the bell being knocked sideways - and as that's a very common cause of low note failure, it's a feature that's well worth having on any horn.
As it's such a common feature it's a bit less of a give-away than the shape of the baseplate.

Spot anything unusual about that auxiliary F key barrel? Looks rather silvery compared to the brass.
I initially thought it might be a nickel silver key barrel. This isn't an uncommon feature - it turns up on horns from time to time, and the reason for using nickel silver is that it's a little bit stiffer than brass and a little bit more resistant to wear. It's also more expensive, which is why it's not universally used for saxes (though it is on smaller instruments like flutes and clarinets).

Thing is though - it's not nickel's stainless steel. On the face of it this seems like an excellent idea. Key barrels are prone to wear and require remedial work from time-to-time to take it up. A barrel that was very resistant to wear would save a lot of time and money, right?

Lupifaro Platinum baritone  keyt barrelsWell, not quite. Although a steel barrel will wear very slowly it'll still wear, and at some point that'll have to be dealt with. But how would you do that? Best of luck trying to swedge a steel barrel - and if you wanted to fit oversized rod screws you'd have to ream the barrel out. Best of luck with that too. You'd probably end up having to grind the barrels out with a series of rods of ever-increasing diameters. That wouldn't be cheap.

But putting that aside for the moment, let's have a look at how the steel has been used on this horn. There are three keys with such barrels. The Aux.F seems like a sensible choice - it sees a lot of use and needs to be one of the most precise keys on a horn. But they've missed a trick because only the longer portion of the barrel is steel - and if you wanted to maximise wear resistance on this particular key you'd make the smaller barrel out of steel.
Then there's the low D key. Wear on this key isn't usually a big deal. Although it links to the Aux.F key it's common practice to 'under regulate' it so that the flex in the keywork doesn't prevent the D pad from closing fully and cleanly. This is especially true of baritones.
And then there's the A key. It's much the same story as with the D key, though there is a slight advantage in having more precision here. However, you'd get the most benefit from steel barrels if you fitted them to both auxiliary keys and the top B key...and if you had any spare steel left over I'd recommend you sorted out the front top F key too.

There's also the issue of mixing materials. All the other barrels (and pillars) are made of brass - and these will wear at the normal rate. This won't be a particular problem until you reach the point where you need to fit oversized rods. As this would be extremely difficult your options are likely to be limited to swedging the brass keywork and fitting bushes in the pillars so that you can stick to the stock rod screw diameter.
Given these issues, and the choice of barrels they've gone for, it rather looks to me that they've gone for bling rather than bang-for-bucks. I think it's worth mentioning it because it shows that it always pays to think carefully about what appears to be an upgrade. Sometimes it gives you more than you bargained for and less than you hoped for.

Lupifaro Platinum baritone  low B adjusterNext up is the adjustable key guide for the bell key barrels and the adjuster/arm that sits between the low B and Bb keys.
Both of these are distinctive features - but while the B/Bb adjust appears on the Thomann and the Mauriat, the key guide only shows up on the Thomann (as far as I can tell).

Lupifaro Platinum baritone  point screwFinally there are the point screws. These are spear-headed. Very unusual. I've only ever seen them before on a Mauriat and the Thomann Low Jazz. But, interestingly, not on the Lupifaro tenor. Sticking with screws, there's one difference on this horn as compared to the Thomann and the Lupifaro tenor - none of the rod screws had crimped heads.

Tonewise the Lupifaro is a very nice blow indeed. It shares a very great deal with the Thomann Low Jazz in that it has quite a contemporary tone that's reined in slightly by virtue of being a low Bb baritone. It felt a bit more precise than the Thomann - a bit smoother and more integrated, but not to the point where I'd say it was anything more than the difference you'd find between any two identical horns. The client certainly likes it - and in preference to his Selmer MkVI it's no slouch.

There's never been that much of a market for a low Bb bari (with no top F#) since low A models became commonplace, so I very much doubt that this is a bespoke horn. I mean, who's going to go to all the trouble of making up jigs and templates for such an esoteric horn when the production runs are likely to be incredibly small? Only a very large company could afford to take such a chance - and if such a company went ahead and made one it'd be commercial suicide for a smaller manufacturer to compete. Well, as it happens there is a company that makes a low Bb bari...and it's Mauriat. Or at least it appears to be. Suffice to say they were the first to produce a low Bb bari in recent years - which was quite a bold but laudable move. But then Thomann started selling a low Bb bari under their own brand name - and very nice it was too...though like the Lupifaro it shared a number of features with the Mauriat.
Lupifaro Platinum baritone  maker's markI guess you could suggest that the keys and fitting are bought in and the Lupifaro's body is handmade - but, for the reason stated above, I would think this extremely unlikely.
Which poses an interesting question...namely who's actually making these things? Is it Mauriat - and if so, why do they appear to be selling one of their own horns to OEMs? That doesn't strike me as being a very profitable exercise if you've essentially cornered the market. It makes a great deal more sense if someone else is building these horns and Mauriat et al are simply buying them in and rebadging them.

However, the question arises as to exactly what, if any, are differences between the various offerings. For example, the Thomann Low Jazz retails at around £3000 and the Mauriat PMB-302 comes in at £5000 - and the Lupifaro was an eye-watering £7000...and that was back in 2016. They can't all be the same horn, can they?? If they are, the implications are very unpleasant indeed.
I would like to think that there are two possibilities; either there's one manufacturer of these baritones but that they make various body versions; or there are various manufacturers but that they're all using the same ancillary components. I don't really know for take your pick.
The Lupifaro has a stamp on the body that says 'Made in Italy'. How much of it, if any, was made in Italy is a mystery to me...

So there you have it - an overview of the Lupifaro as compared to other remarkably similar horns. Is it worth it? Hard to say. One thing's for sure, you're not likely to see too many of them on the market. At the price they were selling for originally, and given that they only go down to low Bb, I doubt that very many players would have been tempted.
And then you have to wonder whether the very much cheaper Thomann will do the same job - or indeed the Mauriat. Something to think about.


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