Schiller Bari Sax Review

One of the instruments I bought for my school early on was a baritone saxophone. Without enough money to purchase the standard, school-approved, Yamaha YBS-52, I opted for a Keilwerth ST-90. It was not the best choice.

Now, it is true that the school baritone saxophone is often abused, mistreated, and uncared for. But the instrument we received has never been as good as I hoped (except it did start off nice and shiny). Tone is a little thin, but pitch (especially in the upper register) is difficult to control. The keywork has been solid (getting repaired just fine after being banged around and dropped), but the thumb rest seems poorly designed (it slips and slides around the screw that is supposed to hold it). The shows more than its age (8 years)--after all, it mostly stays in the band room. All that said, I feel pretty good about putting the Keilwerth bari in the hands of a 7th grader. I'm not worried about it getting busted, and so it still serves a useful purpose.

I present all this about the Keilwerth bari to provide a contrast with the Schiller model we got two years ago. It comes in a hard case (with wheels!) and our model has a matte gold finish. I have only let the older bari players (high school) play it regularly, and so it has perhaps been treated a little better than our first bari. It has suffered some knocks and scrapes, but the finish still looks good. It has had a couple adjustments at the shop after these bruises with no problems.

The sound on the Schiller bari is the best part. It is warm, plays in tune throughout its range, and independent sources have complimented it. We used it during both jazz bands's performances at the Eau Claire Jazz Festival, and the judges who heard it in each group praised the players and the instrument itself.

At this point, I feel pretty good recommending the bari we got.

 

Schiller Bassoon Review

Today's (brief) instrument review is of the second bassoon I purchased for my school: the Schiller Elite III wood bassoon.

I purchased a second bassoon right as I had a 7th-grade student who was interested in making the switch from flute. She learned how to play on the instrument two summers ago and has continued playing through today. It has also been played by a fellow teacher (and bassoonist in college) as well as the solo high-school bassoonist at my school. The student using it played principal bassoon in the Minnesota Junior Winds this past year.

In two years, there have been no significant issues with the instrument. The most significant annoyance is that the boot cap is somewhat loose and occasionally clatters to the floor. It went in for a tune up in March 2016 to fix some leaks and has played great since then (as well as before!). While in the shop, they made a new L-shaped piece to replace the one that had been lost for the joint lock.

The instrument plays in tune, the keys work smoothly, and the finish on the instrument looks good. It has sustained some scrapes and bruises, and I don't expect the case to last more than five or six years.

The price new was around $1300, and I don't think I could have found a better value.

If you have questions, email me or post in the comments.

Prince Music + Instruments (Review)

Readers of this blog may note that I have tried a number of instruments from overseas and given some favorable reviews to a number of them. Since I'm looking out for a relatively small budget while trying to build up the instrument inventory and the whole band program at a newer school, I have to consider cost as a critical factor on any purchase. This has led to a pretty open mind and lots of trying of new things. For this week, I'd like to describe my experience at Prince Music Company a few weeks ago.

A couple families have asked me about the instruments carried by Prince Music, so I wanted to check out what they offer in person. The prices are comparable to some other dealers on the low end, but having a more local connection to dealers like this would be nice. Prince Music carries the most common starting instruments for band (as well as strings, though I won't be dealing with those since I don't have the expertise to do so) in up to three different models: student, student+, and intermediate.

[Why do we designate instruments this way? There are some "beginner" instruments which are fine for a student to play through high school. Also, having "professional" features on a "beginner" instrument may be a brilliant marketing tactic, but having a high-F# key on a 5th grader's saxophone is like putting 5-disc CD change on your kid's tricycle..]

I tried quite a few instruments--basically all the models available for flute, clarinet, alto and tenor sax, trumpet, and trombone. The branding appeared to be either Slade or Etude on all instruments, and several were labeled "made in China." There were marked differences between the lines (Student vs Student+ vs intermediate), and the short story of the review is to stay away from the regular Student models. 

Student

No serial numbers. Poor quality craftsmanship (evidenced by some misshapen parts, like a pad holder on a clarinet and sloppy soldering on the brass instruments). Hard to tell if the sluggish valves on the trumpet were due to mishandling or something else, but the Student line instruments all felt worse than the ones I am used to playing. Pitch was more or less fine (adequate on everything the saxophone--as I have found common on the low end saxophones, the upper octave gets sharper and sharper the higher you go up). I brought all my own mouthpieces and reeds, so I assume that the stock mouthpieces would only sound worse (since that has been my experience so often before).

Student+

You could start a beginner on these instruments. Though I have questions remaining about how long they would last, I didn't find anything terribly wrong with the instruments in this line. The quality, for instance, of the bracing and soldering on the trumpet was noticeably better. Everyone likes having a serial number on their instrument, so that's another plus! The saxophone Student+ is only $50 more than the student model, and that extra $50 gets you something that is perhaps worthwhile to play. While I think there are better options out there, the Student+ models that I tried would at least be okay to start a student on.

Intermediate

I'm really not sure what the real-world difference between "Intermediate" and any other type of instrument is. I have a feeling that it is a term that is at least sometimes used to get another product category--You don't want a professional instrument yet? Okay, how about something at the intermediate level?

In the case of the Intermediate instruments at Prince Music, I found very little separating them from the Student+ line. When I pick up my own Bach Stradivarius (model 37, regular lead pipe), I immediately notice some pretty significant differences compared to my Getzen-made Canadian Brass trumpet. The differences between the Student+ and Intermediate level instruments seemed to be negligible. For instance, both the Student+ and Intermediate trumpets have a rose-brass lead pipe. Does the Intermediate instrument have a better tone? Maybe, but it would take more side-by-side playing to figure it out, and if you're wanting to do that, you probably don't want to be looking at the cheapest line of instruments you can find.

Summary

While the Student+ (and Intermediate) instruments tended to play fine, the considerably lower quality of the Student line raises doubts in my mind about all the instruments. I would not want a student on one of the Student instruments, and I would also be hesitant to try buying one of the others without some sort of guarantee on it.