This German made horn has to be the lightest horn that I’ve ever laid hands on – and it’s not that I’m used to handling Monettes or Taylors! No, this horn is really light and it’s well balanced. Coming with hand lapped Monel pistons with boxed bronze springs, there is no doubting the quality of the components, although I did find that the spit slide on the second valve was a tad tight. I was also somewhat surprised that there was no tap on the third tuning slide. And if I’m being really picky why doesn’t the curve on the front crook match that of the back pipe?

That said, the Challenger is an extremely easy player with no real change of resistance over 21/2 octaves, and has a tone that is both smooth and even across the full range. The light hand hammered one piece brass bell with its French bead wire gives a sharper bell rim edge and by implication, an improved projection. However, I felt that the overall sound was somewhat on the bright side, so I changed the supplied 3 mouthpiece for one of my own (Taylor) 3’s which is slightly heavier and found a darker tone that I felt had more jazz character.

Although there’s no denying that the build quality and finishing is excellent – our sample came in French gold lacquer (there are silver and gold plated options), I was left feeling that the balance between lightness and strength could prove to be an issue when taking the Challenger “on the road”. Happily however, the instrument is supplied with a heavily padded, rectangular hardcase, with quality catch locks and grab handles.

For more go to www.philparker.co.uk

Anyone who is looking to learn the flugelhorn these days is spoilt for choice and this Walstein Chinese-made horn (above) is yet another example of these excellent Far Eastern products. As always, the finishing and plating quality is superb and you could be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at an instrument three to four times the Walstein’s price point. But of course, as I’ve mentioned before in this column, we’re much more interested in how well the mechanics of the instrument work and the quality of sound that an instrument produces. Unscrewing and detaching the valves immediately suggests that the metal used in the production of this particular Flugelhorn is of a reasonably high quality. The valves are tight and well machined and there is no suggestion of potential cross threading and no rough edges. Springs are however bottom loaded, making the system more susceptible to wear and tear – but this is something that I’d expect from a Chinese-made instrument. Two mouthpieces were supplied with my sample – a conical Fasch F1 and a cupped Bobby Shew.

The former combination produced a brighter sound, while the Bobby Shew model was, needless- to-say harder to drive, and delivered a sweeter, warmer soundscape. The Walstein has good intonation and proved to be an effortless blower and never faltered from top to bottom. The sound it produces is clean, if a little bright, but there is very little flexibility in the sonic palette, which won’t necessarily suit the solo jazz player. However, this horn will sit well within a band setting or in an environment where the sound needs to be clean and controlled. I would expect this flugelhorn to develop a more flexible sonic palette over time, and it’s one of those instruments I’d like to come back to it in 18 months to see what it might have to offer having been “played in”. It comes in the now standard moulded PVA case with a strong zippered denier cover. There is also a lightweight grab handle and straps with caribiner clips for carrying either over the shoulder or as a back-pack. For more go to www.woodwindandbrass.co.uk

This German made horn has to be the lightest horn that I’ve ever laid hands on – and it’s not that I’m used to handling Monettes or Taylors! No, this horn is really light and it’s well balanced. Coming with hand lapped Monel pistons with boxed bronze springs, there is no doubting the quality of the components, although I did find that the spit slide on the second valve was a tad tight. I was also somewhat surprised that there was no tap on the third tuning slide. And if I’m being really picky why doesn’t the curve on the front crook match that of the back pipe?

That said, the Challenger is an extremely easy player with no real change of resistance over 21/2 octaves, and has a tone that is both smooth and even across the full range. The light hand hammered one piece brass bell with its French bead wire gives a sharper bell rim edge and by implication, an improved projection. However, I felt that the overall sound was somewhat on the bright side, so I changed the supplied 3 mouthpiece for one of my own (Taylor) 3’s which is slightly heavier and found a darker tone that I felt had more jazz character.

Although there’s no denying that the build quality and finishing is excellent – our sample came in French gold lacquer (there are silver and gold plated options), I was left feeling that the balance between lightness and strength could prove to be an issue when taking the Challenger “on the road”. Happily however, the instrument is supplied with a heavily padded, rectangular hardcase, with quality catch locks and grab handles. For more go to www.philparker.co.uk

Proving the point that sharp angles make little difference as to how a brass instrument plays, the small bore Vulcan produces a very dark, rich sound with plenty of depth. The pistons are very smooth and the valves are as quiet as you like. True, there is some resistance when you start to push and it does take some driving in the upper register but the reward is well worth the effort. Made out of a heavier gauge copper than normal, the whole instrument is nickel plated, not just for the looks, but also because nickel is incredibly hard wearing. There are also a couple of nice touches – two opposed water taps to release water more quickly and a very individual ‘Mr Spock’ inspired finger hook. Info: www.taylortrumpets.com

If there were marks for quality of finish, this flugelhorn would be up there with the best of them. It also handles well and has a good balance. But although it’s good to see a well turned-out instrument, needless to say, I’m really more interested in the sound it produces and the quality of the various parts and fittings. The supplied generic 7 mouthpiece is clean with a standard cup and no surprises. Playing the instrument produces a straightahead, brassy sound that is easy to control, but at the same time, not very subtle. There is no smokiness here. I even tried an alternative mouthpiece, but the 550 still produced the same sonic characteristics. Interestingly enough, driving the bottom end proved to be a real pleasure, as the 550 sailed through the lower register.

Tuning was accurate and there was clearly a good vacuum. The valves however were a little disappointing. Having played as well as it had I was looking for springs built into the top, but instead found a basic valve design with bottom springs. I was also concerned that there was a possibility of cross-threading when taking out or inserting the valves, a sure sign of cheaper tooling in manufacture. Overall however, the 550 projects well and would undoubtedly have a presence in an ensemble setting, but sadly leaves little room for tonal and timbre interpretation from the individual player.

Coming in a tough nylon Denier zippered case with a sumptuous preformed PVA interior, it has a large exterior zippered pocket with multiple pouches, a backpack harness, a shoulder strap and two comfortable leatherette grab handles. An excellent straightahead or starter instrument, but ultimately not tonally flexible enough for most jazz musicians.  www.bandbandm.co.uk

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