The Antigua range of Saxophones has proved very popular with the enthusiastic amateur and student – and going by this Alto horn, it’s easy to see why. With a fully ribbed annealed brass body and a detachable bell, for just under £500, this is a lot of horn for your money. And the high end specs don’t stop there. The clear laquered keys are power forged and include a high F sharp, while the low Bb spatula keys are of the tilting variety for that extra smooth action and ease of playing. Added to this, there are independent palm keys and double skin pads. The horn blows well, but in truth you will need to replace the generic 4C mouthpiece with a more suitable piece to get the most out of this instrument and to appreciate the rich, rounded tone that the Antigua can produce. And it all comes in a solid, lockable, pre-formed case with top and side handles.

With its dark ethereal tones, the Alto Flute is seeing something of a renaissance, particularly in jazz circles, and the Trevor James company have just produced a couple of excellent silver plated models in the shape of the “Performers” and the “Masters.” Both instruments come with a hand cut embouchure hole and blow like a dream, offering the player extraordinary tonal flexibility, while the double skin yellow pads give an accurate airtight seal that produces a clear and immediate response every time a key is pressed. Indeed the whole key mechanism on both of these flutes has been designed to give the very best in comfort and ease of playing. The Masters model though is exceptional, with a 925 solid silver head joint and French style pointed key arm mechanism. We reckon that this is a flute that will outshine many twice the price. If you prefer a curved head joint, you’ll enjoy playing the silver plated Performers, which also comes with a straight head joint or a combined double head package. The Masters however, only sports a straight head joint. But whichever way you look at it, these flutes are very definitely where it’s at.

Have you ever wished you could buy your perfect saxophone straight off the shelf? If so, your prayers are answered. The Trevor James company has produced the Signature Custom range, which allows the player to mix and match the individual sections of the saxophone to make up an ideal instrument. Choose from 925 silver, gold lacquer, rose brass, unlacquered and bronze for either the crook, body, bow or bell. Just imagine the possible tonal variations! Each and every part of these instruments is hand built in the company’s own workshops in deepest Kent. They all feature added quality components, such as a double braced low C and C sharp keys and extra adjustment screws and felts on the body under the tail arms. Competitively priced, each instrument comes supplied with a Hiscox moulded flight case.

There’s a lot of competition out there at the budget end of the sax market, and to survive these days, you’ve got to have an excellent product. This Bb Tenor from Cranes is not quite a revolution, but it’s certainly a revelation. Made like many in Vietnam, it offers incredible value for money. The pads give a clear "pop" rather than a dull thud, and the rocking table keys have an easy action and are well balanced. Like most of the current crop of horns coming out of the Far East factories, it is also fitted with that high F sharp key to facilitate an easier access to the higher register. It comes in gold lacquer finish and blows like a dream, but you’ll undoubtedly want to upgrade the generic mouthpiece to something a little more ‘playable’.

The Akai EW1 4000S (pictured right) is an extraordinary piece of kit. An electric wind controller sound module, its fingering system incorporates touch sensitive note keys based on the same fingerings as those for the saxophone or clarinet, alongside its own idiosyncratic collection of plates, buttons and shift rollers. For instance, the octave shift rollers allow a player to shift pitch through an incredible eight octave range, while the adjacent glide plate gives a portamento effect, smoothly and continuously sliding the pitch up and down.

Other effects include the mouthpiece vibrato sensor, a transpose button and the two pitch bending plates – one up – one down. Playing the EW1 successfully will present quite a challenge even to the seasoned player and setting your own personalised note key and breath sensor levels is essential to a confident beginning, although you’ll no doubt find your right thumb falling back onto the touch sensitive pitch bending plate, or your left thumb inadvertently slipping between the octave shift rollers.

But it is the mouthpiece of the EW1 that we found the most interesting and organic part of the instrument. It not only contains the very effective vibrato sensor, but it also contains a breath sensor, which not only responds to tonguing techniques, but also responds very sensitively to the different characteristics of wind pressure, allowing the player tremendous freedom of expression. Away from the sharp end, the 4000S has 100 internal preset programmes, not all of which it has to be said are vastly different. Each of these can be assigned by number to a key note, allowing a player easy access to a particular programme during a live performance. Wind based sound modules are undoubtedly one of the most exciting and creative musical tools around and the soundscapes that can be created with the EW1 4000S are almost limitless. For more info go to www.sax.co.uk

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