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.

Tempest Bass Clarinet Review

One of the first wind instruments I tried to acquire when I started at St. Croix Prep was a bass clarinet. It was a good choice because I had enough clarinet players, the transition to learn the instrument is not too rough, and it helped reinforce the bass lines in our music. The first instrument we got was a loan from my dad's school. We used it for two or three years (makes me wonder how many schools have extra instruments sitting around--I know I've had some things spare in the past couple of years) before I had the school purchase a Selmer 1430P. There are many good reasons that that model is one of the standards for schools. It has a solid tone, its durable, and the low-Eb key is on the body. The one the school owns has performed well for several years now. After returning the loaner to my dad's school, though, I needed to get a second bass clarinet for my school. Trying to save some money and intrigued by Tempest Musical Instruments, I decided to go for their bass clarinet.

First, what is distinctive about the Tempest Bass Clarinet? The body is two pieces, the neck has a tuning adjustment, and the octave key mechanism is more complicated than the Selmer.

Especially when the corks are new, the bass clarinet can be challenging to put together. Trying to keep it aligned without squishing rods or bending keys is even more difficult for a student. 

For me as a non-clarinet player, it plays as in tune with as good of a sound as the Selmer. The upper register (up to C above the staff) plays easily.

The case is okay. Since the bass clarinets pretty much live at school, I wouldn't expect it to take too much of a beating, but ours has quite a few nicks and scratches. On the inside, the soft covering has ripped away from the rigid foam padding underneath in a couple of places.

One thing I really like the screw on the floor peg. It has wings so that it is very easy to adjust.

Still, if I were going to purchase another bass clarinet for the school, it would probably not be the Tempest. While the features it has are advanced, none of them are necessary for the literature we play and some of the distinctiveness might be seen as negatives. Having a two piece body (with the Eb key on the bell) makes me nervous as a teacher because there is more stuff for students to mess up. If a student were really dedicated to the bass clarinet, I would recommend the instrument for them to purchase on their own. At $1600, I'm not sure there is anything else priced similarly that offers as much.