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Manufacturer: RS Berkeley
Model: Virtuoso Alto Saxophone

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By: TS   See all of this user's reviews  on Mar 09, 2012

By: Steve Neff

About 6 months ago I had a new member to my site named Les Silver. Les signed up for online lessons and we exchanged quite a few emails and phone calls talking about my lessons and in our conversations he told me about his saxophone line that he has been developing over the last few years. He really peaked my interest when he said that the tenor was a copy of a 85,000 Mark VI and that Michael Brecker had tried it.  I knew Les had been a partner in AMT mics and knew Brecker and many other heavy players so I believed what he was telling me. I told him I would be very interested in trying the sax if he could send me one to try.

Les sent me a gold plated one last month to check it out and I was quite surprised by how well it played. I knew they were made in China so I already had the thought that this might me a piece of junk and was trying to keep my hopes in check.  I was very surprised when I played it and actually liked the sound that came out. Below, I have outlined some of the things that I like about the sax and some of the things that I think could be improved:

Appearance- the sax looks incredible. The gold plating is perfect and I couldn’t detect any imperfections. The plating is a honey gold color similar to my Selmer Reference 54 alto. The engraving is  great looking and is all around the edges of the bell and down the side.

Build Quality- The horn looks to be very solid. I was worried the key work would be made of cheap metal that would bend easy but the sax looks like it is solid and of quality metal. Just as solid as my SBA.  I took it to my tech who lightened the springs and reset some of the pads that were’s sealing and he thought the horn was a well built horn(and he has seen thousands). The horn did have quite a few leaks in it when I received it but I usually expect that when I try a new horn.The other thing that I would of liked to see on the horn is metal domed resonators. This horn has the falt metal resonators with a screw or something in the middle holding it down. The whole time I was playing it I kept wondering if metal resonators like my SBA has would improve it. I  have a feeling it would.

Tone-  You can judge the tone of the sax from the recordings and the youtube video. I found it to have  more resistance than the SBA I play on. It also seemed quite a bit darker and fatter sounding to me. I do feel like it has a nice core to the sound like the early Vi’s are known for. I haven’t played any great VI’s from that era but from what I understand they do have more resistance than SBA’s and more of a core to the sound. Because this sax plays different than the SBA I felt like it required a different mouthpiece.  It’s funny because the JVW link I played on it is my favorite piece on my SBA for funk and pop stuff but I find it a tad bright for jazz playing. On the Virtuoso the JVW link is perfect for my tastes for jazz. I could play it all night long. Some of my darker links were too dark on the Virtuosos for me.

Intonation- The intonation on the horn is one of the best I’ve seen. It’s pretty darn close to perfect up and down the horn. It was actually a struggle to not bend notes down that are quite a bit sharper on my SBA. For instance the middle DE and F notes are about 10-15 cents sharp on my SBA and I have learned to adjust to that to get them in  tune. The notes on the Virtuoso are much closer to  0 so I found myself going a bit flat. I know this would be fine if I played the horn for awhile.The only note I had trouble with was the 3rd octave F# using the front F key and side Bb. This note was really flat for me. I could play it fine using an alternate fingering though.

Ergonomics- The hand position felt great on the horn with two exceptions. The octave key position is farther to the left(as you look at it) than on Selmers so it puts your left hand pretty far above the side D key.  Also, the Low C and Eb spatula keys are further to the left(as you look at it) than on Selmers. This puts my right hand pinky on the edge of the Eb and C keys which I didn’t mind too much but where it was a pain was when you have to slide your pinky across that table and it would get caught on the sharp edge. These are two issues that Les and the manufacturer of the sax are redesigning from what I’ve been told. Everything else about the ergos is great. The left hand pinky keys are  great and the  position of all the other keys was perfect for me.

Final Thoughts- Over the years I have played hundreds of different tenors that my students have had. Selmers,Yamahas, Yanagisawas, Cannonballs, Buffetts,……….and more. This is one of the best I have played as far as intonation and tone. I would have no problem recommending it to my students who need a great pro horn. Many of the horns I just listed had issues with intonation that would drive me crazy to be quite honest. This is one of the few horns I have played that I feel like I could take out immediately and gig on. No problem!

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