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Antigua A590-SPC soprano saxophone

Antigua A590-SPC soprano saxophoneOrigin: Taiwan
Guide price: £450
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: 2005
Date reviewed: April 2005

A budget soprano that could have been so much more...

I was very impressed with this horn on first sight. There's no doubting that modern manufacturing methods allow even the cheapest instruments to look rather good - and the combination of an unfussy design, a rather baroque bell engraving and a spotless silver plated finish make this horn look a beaut.
Of course, looks aren't everything - but as far as the bodywork goes it matches them in terms of quality.
Nice, sturdy pillar bases - well fitted too; neat layout; two crooks (straight and curved); substantial upper thumb rest and adjustable lower thumb hook - and not a warped tone hole in sight.
No doubt about it, I really couldn't find anything much to fault with the construction of the body.
I would have liked to have seen a beefier bell key cluster pillar. As it is, it reaches nearly halfway across the top of the body - it wouldn't take much to run it all the way and join it with, say, one of the G# key cup pillars. This would add a great deal of strength to a key cluster that's typically in the firing line when the horn takes a knock or a drop.

Antigua E keyThings seem to go rather badly wrong when it comes to the keywork though...
The photo on the left shows the right hand stack E key. Look carefully at the arrowed point where the key arm meets the cup. Notice that gap? The key arm design is fine - but it's rather short - or the cup has been fitted too far forwards. Essentially then, all that holds the key cup at the correct angle is the thickness of the key arm over that gap, and it just ain't enough.
If you think that's bad (and I do), the top B and Bis Bb keys are much worse.


Here's the Bis Bb key arm, note how thin the key arm is above the peak of the arc.
There are little anomalies like this dotted throughout the keywork - and what that means is that the keywork is rather weak.
Antigua Bis Bb keyI think had this been a clarinet or a flute I would still have commented on the precariously thin key arms - but this is a sax, and as such there's more weight on the key arms, and more pressure on the keys during use. Given an enthusiastic player - or perhaps a less than gentle one - it's highly likely that the key arms will flex and bend (not only from front to back, but left to right too..which is a real cause for concern on those cups where the finger pearl sits to one side of the cup), thus throwing out the regulation. This is very much not a good thing.

It's a pity, really, because the keys themselves are otherwise just as well made and finished as the body.
And if you think it's something of a non-problem...well, I see plenty of otherwise well-built horns with bent keys. Bending a key isn't always about brute force applied once...

Whilst I'm grousing, I'm a little suspicious of the springs. They're silver in colour, which generally means stainless steel or a nickel alloy - but they don't look quite right somehow, leading me to suspect that they're either cheap stainless springs, or plain steel with the blued finish removed (which would be rather curious). In any event they're a little on the soft side - and whilst the springing can be tweaked to lighten the action, and that's always a good idea on any instrument, I don't know how long they'd hold their tension.
The design and placement of the auto top F key touchpiece is awful. As fitted, it's way too far back to be of any use and it required a great deal of bending and adjusting just to get it somewhere functional. Bending keys to make for a slicker action is a bona fide technique - but there are limits as to how much and often you can bend a key before you seriously weaken its integrity.

Antigua top GOn a more positive note, there's a top G key (sitting right above the top F# key, pictured left) - though I found it rather hard to reach in use but that might be due to my having rather long fingers - and the bell key spatulas (pictured right) feature a plastic swivel link between the C# and B touchpieces, as seen on Yanagisawa horns (from which this horn draws more than a little inspiration).
Pseudo point screws are used, and whilst these are better than parallel points they still don't allow for as much adjustment as proper point screws.

Antigua bell key spatulaThe whole outfit comes in the typical Taiwanese bog-standard black case - it's adequate, functional, but dull.

If it's a shame that the keywork is so frail, it's an even bigger shame that this horns plays so well.
It really does. Gone are the days when a budget soprano used to mean a sound like a duck being squashed - this horn has bundles of grunt, and plenty of refinement to balance it.
Naturally, it lacks the depth of the pro range sopranos tonewise - but hey, it lacks the price too!
It has the usual tendency for cheaper horns to sound a tad over-bright - but certainly nothing that couldn't be tamed by the use of a mouthpiece with a big chamber (it's worth ditching the supplied mouthpiece - it's adequate, but rather bright. Good enough for starter, but the horn is capable of more). More importantly, it has the typically 'ethereal' sound that a lot of people look for in the soprano sax, the kind of sound that makes you want to go sit in the bathroom and play winsome ballads, revelling in the echoes as you do the classic major to minor to major switch.
And if that sounds like I enjoyed playing this horn - I did. I even dug out my fake book and blew through a few old faves.

The key layout felt fine under the fingers (save for the top G as mentioned before), and the action responsive enough for me not to notice anything unduly out of place. Both the tone and the tuning were even across the range, and even the top G sounded clean and bright.
I tried it with a sling (there's a ring fitted), but didn't much like the position it forced me into as regards the embouchure...and the strap fouls the left hand thumb, which is irritating at best.

I wanted to say that this was an excellent budget horn. It has the looks, it has the tone and the tuning, it even has the price - but when it comes down to it there's simply no point in investing in a horn that isn't likely to withstand being played.
As it was, I had to make a few adjustments after I'd played it a while.
So I can't recommend this horn - but I will say this much. If the manufacturers would address the issue of the thin key arms alone they'd have a very smart product indeed. Whack on a set of decent springs, tweak that Auto F key design and they'd have a killer horn at a decent price on their hands. And so would we.

Addendum 15/01/07: I'm very pleased to see that recent examples are very much better built with regard to the keywork, which makes these horns well worth considering if you're on a budget.

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