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Eastman ETS652 52nd Street tenor

Eastman ETS652 52nd Street tenor sax reviewOrigin: China
Guide price: £3,200
Weight: 3.28kg
Date of manufacture: 2023 (serial range: A2370xxx)
Date reviewed: March 2024

Damn!

Over the years I've had a number of people ask me why I've never reviewed an Eastman horn, and the answer is simple; I've never had one come into the workshop. Yep, despite the brand having been around for a couple of decades (at the time of writing), no-one's lugged one onto my workbench.
There could be many reasons for this - perhaps the most likely being that they've never been that popular a horn over here. Or it could be that they simply weren't all that available...or the manufacturers decided that they could make more money by 'playing at home'. Who can say? But I've always said that if I wait long enough, they all come through my door in the end - though that's no guarantee that they'll be worth the wait...

This model was originally made in Taiwan but then production shifted to Eastman's own China-based factory, which also resulted in a substantial redesign of the horn...so-much-so that it's fair to say that this current model is rather different from the original. It would be interesting to compare the two variants but given their rarity over on this side of the pond I'm not holding out much hope of that happening any time soon. The prevailing consensus appears to be that the tonal approach of the Taiwanese model was 'inspired' by vintage American horns and the Chinese-built version tips more of a nod to the Selmer MkVI.

While doing the (tedious) background research I noted some discussion about the price versus the manufacturing origin of the horns - and I suppose it's reasonable to be cautious about Chinese-built horns, but there's a big difference between buying A.N. Other horn from a Chinese boutique horn maker and actually owning the factory which makes your horns. I mean, it works for Yamaha in various places around the world - and if the training and the quality control is in place along with an experienced eye to oversee the process, does geography really make a difference? Answers on a postcard...

Eastman ETS652 low C# guardBut enough of the preamble - I've been waiting quite a long time to get my hands on one of these, and as this is a brand new horn barely a week out of the shop I reckon it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty...

The body features ribbed construction, with smaller key groups on plates and a handful of standalone pillars...all of which have reassuringly large bases. There's a nicely-proportioned 16/10 sling ring, a detachable bell, an adjustable metal thumb hook and a large and very slightly domed metal thumb rest. You also get adjustable bumper felts, a fixed side F# guard and another for the low C#.
This is a very welcome addition given that this cup key is in a very vulnerable position; it's very common to see a 'double impression' on the pad seat because the key's copped a bit of a knock that's shifted the cup to one side. The solderwork on this guard is a just a touch on the overkill side - but in general the construction of the body is quite neat and tidy. Certainly nothing to be unduly concerned about.
It's a bare brass finish with a factory-applied patina, which seems to be in vogue these days. There's nothing really wrong with such a finish but you should bear in mind that it will punish you cruelly if you're a bit of a wet player or you're less than fastidious about keeping your horns clean. Bare brass and moisture don't play well together, and the result tends to be an ever-increasing number of green spots that rapidly detract from both your horn's looks and its value.

There's some thoughtful use of metals in evidence. Most of the horn is built from brass, but the top E and F# key barrels are nickel silver, as is the G key's. It's a slightly stiffer metal, so will help to reduce flex on the lengthy keys. The crook clamp is also made of nickel silver, as well as the sling ring.

Eastman ETS652  compound bell key pillarAnd speaking of stiffness I'm slightly concerned about the design of the compound bell key pillar - specifically its rather small base.
It's not a unique design - there are a number of horns out there which sport this 'half semicircular' design - but because the design is inherently weak it really benefits from being fixed to quite a sizeable base. This helps to spread the load of any knocks and bashes, and in the event of a big knock it lessens the chance of the body creasing around the base of the adjacent tonehole.
In fact if you grab this pillar and give it a bit of a tug it's possible to see it flexing slightly (or rather the body tube beneath it). A slightly larger base would reduce this by a considerable margin...and there's plenty of room for one.

Likewise, the two-point bell brace is a bit on the flimsy side by today's standard. This one's a throwback to the old Selmer days - and in its day it was something of a step-up from the braces that adorned many a vintage American horn of the same period. But things have moved on since then, and in the modern context stuff like this is very much a case of form over function.
Eastman ETS652 bell braceOne particularly dismal feature of a brace like this is that if it suffers severe damage it may mean having to remove the bell section in order to put it right - and at worst you might even have to have the whole thing taken off the bell. Life is so much simpler when you can just remove the brace on its own and work on it - and it's also a lot easier on your wallet.
We saw this type of brace on the Remy tenor that was reviewed recently - and it seems to me that manufacturers are bunging these throwback features on out of some sort of misguided romantic notion. There were lots of things that were good about the old Selmers, and quite a few things that weren't - and after all these years it's perhaps long past time to remove the old rose-tinted glasses...
Anyway, I was at least very pleased to note that the fit of the crook was excellent. Nice and snug with not a hint of a wobble. A first-class job.

Finishing up the body you get some nice engraving on the bell. I'd call it tasteful - it's not too baroque, and has a touch of the art-deco about it. Very nice.

On to the keywork now and I'd like to kick off with mentioning the stiffness of the keys. I'd seen some comments on the web which alluded to soft keywork - so I gave a bunch of keys a jolly good tug. I'd say they're neither notably stiff nor soft - pretty much bang in the middle, which is plenty good enough. I'd be happy to take a horn like this on a tour and not have to worry about the action dropping out of regulation. However, during the work I carried out on this horn I noted that the bell and bottom bow tubes seemed rather softer than usual (not so much the main body tube). I feel this is more of an observation than an issue of note though, and perhaps indicates that these parts have been annealed.

Eastman ETS652 tilting spatulaIf there's a theme associated with the keywork I'd say it's attention to detail. Take the low Bb tilting spatula, for example. It's connected to the low C# spatula by a small pin which sits inside a 'box' fixed to the side of the Bb key. Most manufacturers will dump a shedload of thick grease into the box and put a plastic sleeve over the pin in order to keep this sliding mechanism quiet. It tends not to last very long. The grease gets shoved up one end of the box, the plastic sleeve goes hard and then the mech start to rattle. An easy fix for this is to line the interior of the box with synthetic felt. It lasts longer than grease, doesn't make a mess and does a better job. It's the sort of tweak I'd make to a rattley horn that came in for a service - and yet here it is, already in place.
OK, it's a small thing - a very small thing - but that's what details are. Small things...that make a big difference.
But that's not the only noticeable detail about this key - there's also the wall thickness of the box section. It's normally made from very thin brass; so thin, in fact, that I've often had to patch them up where a player's finger has worn through the metal over many years. Not much chance of that happening on this horn; that box section has three or four times the wall thickness you'll see on most other horns.

Eastman ETS652 bell key tableIt's a very neat-looking horn - and in a funny kind of way it's almost too neat. I mean, the finishing on the keywork is excellent, right down to the solderwork. You'd be really hard put to find a mill or file mark on any of the keys and all the edges look super-crisp and even. But it's perhaps a little too crisp in places - such as on the bell key table. Might just be me but I think it looks a little bit 'blocky'. Could have done with a little rounding off here and there for my tastes, but I appreciate it's an aesthetic thing and you might just as easily feel it looks very sleek.
I should add that I didn't notice any particular problems when navigating the table - and I should also add that the rollers (and those on the low C/Eb touchpieces) were perfectly fitted. A small detail, again, but a joy to see.

The action makes use of a good range of buffering materials. For the most part this is composite cork and synthetic felt...with a smattering of natural cork here and there. Composite cork is hard wearing and less compressible than natural cork, but can be a bit noisy. Synthetic felt is more dimensionally stable than wool felt, resists wear better and is slightly more slippery. There are pros and cons associated with all types of buffering materials but the selection chosen for the Eastman is a reliable choice. And on the whole it's all very trim and precise...and I think I know why. It's not that there's someone sitting there with a razor blade, diligently shaving each cork and felt to size once it's been fitted to the key - it's more that the buffers look to have been pre-cut and then fixed to the keys.

Eastman ETS652 corkworkBut every now and again there are signs that someone been a bit careless with the positioning of the corks - so they're shifted off to one side or set a little too far back from the tip of the key. It's really not a problem, just an aesthetic point.
And take a peek at this piece of synthetic felt on the low Bb tab (which links to the low B key). It's perfectly shaped to match the profile of the tab...but it's a little bit large all round. If you were hand-trimming these buffers, that wouldn't happen. You might not make a very neat job of it and the shape of the felt might be uneven, but this is even all round...just a bit too large.
Eastman ETS652  low B tabI'm not knocking any points off for this because the corkwork is, on the whole, very good - it's just an observation as to maybe how Eastman are assembling their horns. And it's a good idea, though they might want to replace the punch for that Bb tab felt with a slightly smaller one...

On to my favourite subject now - the point screws. Five seconds after the horn hit the bench I was backing out a point screw to see what they'd fitted - and groaned audibly when I spotted a pseudo point. But I was in for a rather nice surprise because these screws had been properly fitted. And I mean properly.

Y'see, it's possible to get a pseudo point screw to function well by drilling a hole in the key barrels such that the extreme tip of the screw (which is pointed) engages with the key barrel. This is acceptable - and better than most manufacturers manage. But on the Eastman it appears that the holes have been reamed out to match the profile of the whole of the screw tip. In other words it fits like a glove. It also means that there's some provision for adjustment as and when the action wears. Wonderful stuff, and a whole bunch of top marks are thus awarded.
I'll knock just one of those points off because I found one point screw mounted key with a hint (and really just a hint) of free play - which was at the lower end of the top E key. A quick whizz with the pillar reamer sorted it out perfectly.

Eastman ETS652 point screwsHow about the rod screws then? Any signs of floppy keys or over-drilled pillars? Am I going to have to make one of those snazzy animated gifs showing a key flapping about in the breeze?
Nope. In fact what I'd like to have made is a gif showing just how snugly the rod screws fit through the pillars (though there really wouldn't be much to see). It's all bang-on. On a good day it could almost bring a tear to my eye. Well done, Eastman. Very well done indeed. It really does warm my heart to see such attention being paid to the fundamentals; and from a player's perspective it means it ought to be a good long while before you'll need to have the action tightened.

The octave key mechanism is the standard swivelling affair, but it's set off very nicely with a large and sculpted touchpiece. I don't think the photo really does it justice because it can't show how comfortable this setup is. The slight dome on the thumb rest coupled with the generous proportions of the thumb key and a well-positioned approach angle all come together to make a very efficient setup. I'm often asked to 'dial in' thumb keys on new horns but I really do think you'd struggle to find a player who didn't find this arrangement perfectly comfortable and responsive right out of the box.
Eastman ETS652 octave mechanismOh, and there's no excess play (you're always going to have some here) in the swivelling mech. You press the thumb key and the whole mech moves - straightaway. Just like an on/off switch. Divine.

And the comfort extends to the stack action. The keys are fitted with very slightly concave abalone pearls, with a very slightly domed pearl on the Bis Bb and and oval pearl for the G#. It's perhaps a personal preference but I really quite like the feel of flat or almost flat pearls...though I think they could have pushed the boat out a little bit more with the Bis Bb dome because it just doesn't have enough of a rise on it to make it truly effective.

Similarly the lack of stack adjusters is a bit of a downer. Sure, you get the usual trio for the G#, Bis Bb and low B/C# - but a handful of stack adjusters would really come in handy. Maybe it all boils down to expense - if you're going to pitch a horn at a certain price point you may have to forego the odd luxury - though there are plenty of other horns at or below this price-point that have them.

Finishing up the horn you get simple but reliable fork and pin connectors for the side Bb and C keys, a set of (well-fitted) blued steel springs to power the action, Pisoni Pro pads and a rather large case (zippered, unfortunately) with an ample storage section inside plus slots for the crook and a mouthpiece. There are also two external zippered compartments, including a concertina'd one which works either as a music bag or can be expanded to accommodate a flute/clarinet case. It's a nice idea - though if you haven't read the instructions or been made aware of this feature you'll find yourself enjoying a rather puzzling couple of minutes while you try to work out just what's going on. I know I did.

I should say that I'd seen some reports that the fit of the horn in the case was a bit on the loose side, but in this case (sorry about that!) it seemed like a reasonably snug fit. If and when another examples comes in I'll make a point of checking it. Or you could save time by following my standard advice regarding zippered cases and sell them for a decent price while they're still all fresh and new, and then go buy a case with proper catches that'll last you a lifetime (or thereabouts).

Eastman ETS652 toneholesSo far so reasonably good, then - and if you listen carefully you might just be able to hear the CEO of Eastman lining up a ticker-tape parade by way of celebrating a pukka review.
But hold the band folks, because we have to talk about the toneholes.

On the face of it the Eastman appears to have rolled toneholes - possibly as a nod to the venerable Conn 10M? They're not proper rolled toneholes though - they've 'done a Keilwerth' by fitting a pseudo-roll to the rim of each hole, which is otherwise a plain drawn tonehole. I've covered this sort of thing in quite some depth before, and needless to say there are pros and cons associated with it. But at this point in time the biggest con is that fitting such a ring causes issues for the repairer should any of the toneholes need levelling. Which indeed they did. And such issues are, ultimately, going to be a problem for the player - and, eventually, an expense. Again, this is something I've covered before - and there's quite a detailed article here which sets of the process of dealing with uneven rolled and pseudo-rolled toneholes.

Eastman ETS652 low B tonehole warpIn terms of unevenness I think it's very fair to say that they ranged from "Oh blimey" through to "Meh". Here's the low B tonehole showing the typical peaks at the apex of the hole and the corresponding dips at the front and rear. And that's a big old gap right there. The standard test for the largest tolerable gap is to see if a fine weight cigarette paper (approx. 1 thou thickness) just about slides in. In this instance you have enough room for a piece of birthday card. I know, I tried it.

But here's the thing - there's some evidence that someone HAS had a go at levelling them because some of the rolls exhibit file marks as well as variations in the rounded profile. The upper of the images (below, left) shows the Bis Bb tonehole; note how the profile of the rim flattens out at the top. The lower image is the rear of the low B tonehole - and those tiny indentations can surely only have been made by someone tapping down a high spot with a hammer.
I suppose you could say that at least someone has had a go at sorting them out - but given the state of them (as shown) it kinda make me wonder what they were like before they were tweaked.

Eastman ETS652 tonehole rimsNow, you might ordinarily say that filing a rolled tonehole is a cardinal sin - and to some extent you'd be right. But these are pseudo rolls - and thus solid, so there's no chance of breaking through the wall of the rolls. But the whole point of a roll is in the profile that it gives the rim of the tonehole against the pad. If you change that it rather defeats the object. It also raises the question of what exactly are you paying for? If I wanted a horn with rolled (or pseudo rolled) toneholes I'd also be wanting a nicely-rounded profile on each and every tonehole. Not a bunch of assorted flats and dings.
Perhaps it's just better not to bother with the damned things in the first place. Or, as I said about the Keilwerths - make sure the tonehole is perfectly flat before you fit the roll. And then check it again.

The thing is, you can bung rolled toneholes (or variants thereof) on any horn and then makes all sorts of claims as to the benefits. It's certainly true to say that adding more material to a tonehole wall will stiffen it slightly; it's an engineering fact. Thereafter it all gets a bit sketchy...and it's in those grey areas that the marketing bods make their home.
However, there's another engineering fact - one that's rather less favourable than the stiffening effect - and it's all to do with how much pressure there is between the face of the pad and the rim of the tonehole. Put simply, if you apply 50grams (2oz) of force to a key cup that closes over a standard plain drawn tonehole, that same force on a tonehole rim that's twice the width will result in a halving of the pressure at the pad face. Think of it like walking across a damp grassy field in your flat-soled shoes and then doing the same in Cuban heels. Same weight, same field - but you will sink lower into the ground. Do it in stilettos and you might only get a couple of steps before you're wedged fast.
Eastman ETS652 low DWhat that means for a pad against a rolled tonehole is that there's less pressure available to take up any anomalies in either the pad or the tonehole. And this is the sting in the tail of using the things...you need to be that much more precise because you have less headroom for shonky manufacturing.

And here's an absolutely perfect illustration of why all of this matters. Here's the state of the low D key when the horn came into the workshop. In spite of my applying a decent finger pressure you can clearly see that there's a leak down the side of the pad. This won't do the clarity of the D much good - and certainly won't do the lower notes any favours either. But now look at the shot of the flat standard placed atop the tone hole. See where the light's coming from? It lines up exactly with that dip in the tonehole rim. This is what warped toneholes do - and, incidentally, it left the shop like this. So much for the 'professional setup on every horn that leaves the building'.
The problem gets worse when you consider the keys that are held closed by springs - such as the G#, the low C#, side Bb and C and side F# etc. You can't press harder on these keys, so you either have to up the spring tension (which doesn't do the feel any good) or put up with a loss in performance.

OK, so let's have some perspective. In terms of flatness the toneholes aren't the worst that I've seen (and obviously not the best), but they're nonetheless below-par as compared to the norm these days - which, unfortunately, isn't a particularly high bar.
They can be levelled, but it will be a lot more hassle (and thus expense) than dealing with plain toneholes - and the need to do so becomes more acute given the load distribution. Now, I know there are plenty of folks out there who'll say it doesn't matter (most of whom, unsurprisingly, seem to own horns with known tonehole issues) - but there are at least as many who say it does. And then there a very, very great number of people who don't say anything at all, but have an instinctive aversion to buying a product which may turn out to have problems down the line - and go buy something else. Such as a Yamaha...or a Yanagisawa. Just sayin'.

However, there's something of a workaround to this issue - and it's here where Eastman pulls off a double-whammy.
There's a certain amount of flexibility built into a pad, and you can take advantage of this by distorting them around the warps in the toneholes in order to take up the leaks. It's not what you'd call 'best practice' - at least for anything much larger than a gap of a thou or two - and when the pad inevitably shrinks it will do so unevenly, which is when the leaks reappear.
This 'fix' relies on one simple proviso; that there's enough shellac (or hot melt glue) behind the pad to support and hold any such adjustments. And is there on the Eastman? No, there is not.

Eastman ETS652 padsAye, it's that old chestnut - good quality pads and so little pad glue that even Ebenezer Scrooge would baulk at such parsimony.
I really can't fathom why manufacturers do this. Compared to the many other components that go to make a horn, the cost of shellac (or hot melt glue) is practically peanuts. And yet the stuff is fundamental to the performance and reliability of the instrument. It's essentially 'dead cheap but critical' - which really doesn't sound like the sort of thing you should skimp on. But here we are again.
I suppose if you really wanted to reach for something positive you could say that at least the coverage is pretty good (I suspect the shellac has been painted on?) - but that's about it.

And here's the thing; if you're going to save a few bob by leaving the toneholes all wonky you really can't afford to be mean with the ol' shellac - because there won't be enough to fill out the gaps and support the pads when you try to match the pad to the peaks and troughs. You could certainly give it a try - and you might have some initial success...but it won't last. If you pull a section of a pad down to accommodate a dip in the tonehole, the pad will only be held in that position by whatever glue happens to be between the side of the pad and the wall of the key cup - which will be practically nothing at all. With nothing to support the base of the pad it'll either crack or, if it's hot melt adhesive, stretch over time - at which point the pad will sink into the key cup and let the air through the resultant gap. It's really not great.

I have to say I'm really rather disappointed. This horn was doing incredibly well up until this point. I wish the toneholes had been even just a little bit better, and I could have got by with a bit of a frown and a wag of a finger - but I can't give this a pass.
With all that said, this horn still sort of played when it came in. The client who bought it spent quite some time trying out various horns and was satisfied that this was the best of the options (including, interestingly enough, the new DS version...which they said wasn't as responsive as this model). But when I played it I could immediately tell that I had to up my finger pressure to get the horn to play to its full potential - and as the client was about to set out on a four-month cruise tour my advice was that this issue was not going to get any better...and as the pads settled in it was likely to get a whole lot worse. The small leaks present now would just get bigger. You could likely get away with it on a horn with plain toneholes, but with rolled ones? I wouldn't bet on it - and it's my job to guarantee that a horn will stand up to such wear and tear.
And so given that the client liked the horn so much they opted to have me properly level all the toneholes and reset the pads. It ain't a cheap job.
Eastman ETS652 low D sortedAs for that shonky low D tonehole - here it is after I'd spent 15 minutes on it, gently tapping high spots down and carefully lifting low ones...with an absolutely minimal top dressing to bring it all together. See any chinks of light poking through? Nor me.

I played this horn when it came in and felt it to fall very much in the 'straight-ahead' tenor category - not too dark, not too bright, with an even tone throughout the range and a nice amount of stability. But it also sounded a bit dry. You know how some horns have that bell-like ring to them...that sort of inbuilt reverb, if you will? It didn't have that. It sounded just a little bit...dusty.
If that was all it achieved I'd mark it up as being a bit laid back and perhaps comment on my feeling that while it was quite a stable blow, it wasn't particularly exciting and didn't seem to step up to the plate when you pushed it.

But with the toneholes levelled and all the leaks dealt with it began to show its true colours. Tonewise it still has that straight-ahead all-rounder thing going on, but there's so much more headroom to play with. It became a much more steerable horn, with a nice bit of fizz and crackle on hand for the lower end and some sweet clarity available at the top. And you can leave it at that, if you like - just nicely coasting along. Or you can give it some welly and push it...and this time it leaps into action. It also has more 'pop'...more percussiveness, more definition to the start of the notes. It doesn't mumble anymore; you can play it as softly as you like and the clarity remains. It's a nice blow.
And with the toneholes all nice and level there's a solidity to the action. You can play it fast or slow and there's no drop-off in the tone due to fumbling your finger pressure. In fact I'd go so far as to say that this was the biggest difference...the tonal improvements are just a nice bonus.
The client bought this horn because of its response, and I can see why. It's a very balanced horn - neither too free nor too resistant. I like to think of this kind of response as being very 'workmanlike' - no fuss, no bother, just pick it up and get on with the job.

It feels nice under the fingers, too. Some of that, for me at least, is going to come from the relatively flat key pearls - but putting these aside it's still a very well-laid-out horn. Pretty much all the manufacturers are hitting that target these days, and what makes one horn stand out from another in terms of feel often boils down to quite subtle things - such as spring geometry and the tightness of the action. Eastman seems to have got all these points covered.
And as an added bonus the horn tips the scales at the lighter end of the market. It's not as light as a Selmer MkVI, but it's lighter than a Yamaha Z or a Yanagisawa WO...or my TJ RAW.

Eastman ETS652 tenor lower stackAs I said earlier, the Eastman has a few nods to a couple of the great horns of yesteryear. Fortunately for you - though perhaps not so much for Eastman - I had a 1947 Conn 10M in and a couple of freshly-tweaked MkVI tenors in. One's an early one and the other's from the late 60's.
I reckon it's reasonable to assume that if you so much as hint that your modern horn has some kind of connection to one of these vintage stalwarts, you really shouldn't mind if someone decides to do a side-by-side comparison. So here we go...

Kicking off with the Conn 10M it's a straightforward no contest. The Conn is instantly louder, the sound is more spread around you and the tone almost makes the Eastman sound two-dimensional. It put me in mind of something that happened over the weekend of the play-testing. I was fumbling around with a glass of olive oil and managed to drop it on the kitchen floor. The glass broke and the oil spilled out. Made a bit of a mess...but not much of one. Now, had I dropped a glass of red wine it would have gone absolutely everywhere. That's the Conn. The sound goes everywhere. The Eastman feels a little sluggish and thick by comparison.
And as comparisons go the two horns are so far removed from each other in presentation that there's no point wasting any more time on it.

Next up we have the early MkVI. I was expecting to be over and done with this comparison even more quickly than with the 10M, but it seems I was sorely mistaken.
OK, so the Selmer has a slightly more open sound. Playing the two horns side-by-side you can hear how the tone of the Eastman wraps around you a little more - but if you disregard that for the moment it's surprising how close in tonal approach these two horns are. Would I say the Selmer is the better of the two? Yes I would. If I had to buy one or other of these horn, would I pay double the price of the Eastman for the Selmer? No, I wouldn't. I'd go for the Eastman and spend some of what I'd saved on a different mouthpiece.
Yeah, it surprised me - but we all know how variable MkVIs can be, and my gut feeling was that this example was a little more laid back than most I've tried from this period.

On to the later MKVI...and that's a relief. This is more what I was expecting; the newer Selmer has a more three-dimensional sound to it. Yes, it's a little bit brighter than the Eastman (and the other Selmer) but this brightness doesn't come from more top end in the tone but rather more clarity. It's cleaner. There's also more cohesiveness in the Selmer, it just feels more polished. Would I pay double for it? Bit trickier this time. I think if I had to seriously dig deep in my finances I'd probably still take the Eastman. If I could afford to buy the Selmer and not notice the cost I'd very likely have that. But don't think that's it not a close-run thing.

Finally - and given that the Eastman is pitched (at the time of writing) at exactly the same price as the TJ RAW, it seems like a bit of a no-brainer to have them square up to each other.
And, well, for me it's a clear win for the RAW. It's just much 'bigger'; more of everything. But...and this is important, it's my TJ RAW and I'm used to it. If it were a boxing match it wouldn't be a KO - it'd be a judges' decision on points, and a close one at that. There might even be some booing from parts of the crowd.

Drawing all these impressions together, what do we come up with? Purely from a player's perspective the Eastman is a nice horn; it's more than competent. Of the four horns I pitched it against I'd say it sits, tonally, between the early and later Selmers. But here's the thing, it put on a good show against all of them. If you chose one on the basis of its tone alone, you wouldn't be getting a bum deal. Taking that into account, and the price, leaves me having to make a rather difficult summary.

Eastman ETS652 tenorI find myself somewhat conflicted with this horn. On the one hand the general build quality is very good indeed. I would even go so far as to say that I found this horn to be a much-needed breath of fresh air. After the recent run of 'Boutweaqued' horn reviews it was just so nice to come across one that seems to have been put together by someone who cared. There's been some attention to detail given - and someone's taken the trouble to tick the box marked 'Mechanical Integrity'. I like that. A very lot.
And then there's the price. At a touch over three grand it puts many other boutweaqued horns to shame. More than that, it steals their pints then points and laughs at them.
I'll be very frank; I wanted to be able to say "In yer face, Remy!", "Take that, Borgani!", "How d'you like them eggs, Lupifaro!!" I mean, build quality like this for a touch over three grand? I'll take that any day of the week. And then it all went south when I placed a precision standard over the toneholes. That's why I put "Damn!" at the top of the review.

Are there any silver linings? Yeah, there are. For a start there's the price. Ignoring the Wannabes we've got hefty competition in the shape of the Yamaha 62, the Yanagisawa TWO1 and the aforementioned TJ RAW. All great horns - but all somewhat different in tonal approach to the Eastman. Which means there's still some room in the marketplace. In terms of the quality of the action the Eastman is right up there with them, no problem at all - and it has the tonal credentials to stand its ground. But the sodding tonehole issue sees this horn fall at the last fence. You could spend £200-£300 getting the the toneholes sorted, but then you're into Yanagisawa WO2 territory...and that's quite a lot of horn for the money. And then you've got the TJ RAW at the same price as the Eastman. Ouch.

I can really see how this horn would appeal to many players, and I would dearly love to give it a wholehearted recommendation - but I can't. But I can sweeten the pill. At the asking price it's a little bit of a bargain, so you have some leeway when it comes to getting the horn sorted out properly. If you're truly wedded to the tone and the response, it'll be worth the extra dosh.
To Eastman I would say...you are so very nearly there. You could afford to spend another £100 at the factory (much cheaper than a repairer's rates) to bring those toneholes into spec - and bung that cost straight on the retail price. Folks who like the tone will pay the extra. Hell, they'd probably even fork out an extra fiver for some more shellac. And the icing on the cake is that you'd get a solid gold review from me...and I'd be telling folks to at least try one of these horns. Honestly, this horn deserves it.
I'm still going to say that...but with the caveat that you might need to spend a few hundred quid on this horn to get the very best out of it in the long term. That's the best that I can do presently.

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