Another NAMM show has now come and gone. Every year, music retailers & professionals converge in “sunny” Anaheim, CA in order to be wowed by the musical manufacturing community with their latest and greatest gear. The only difference in 2013 was that the weather was terrible! It was rainy and overcast the whole time… which I find an interesting comparison as many music stores across the country feel that this represents the current music market – cloudy.
However, the purpose of my annual report is simple: to let you have a little peak in to the latest and greatest that our industry has to offer.
This year was better attended both in manufacturing presence as well as in attendees than the last 3 or 4 years. This is a welcome trend to many at NAMM, but to me, I found it a little more troublesome. One of the main reasons I attend NAMM is to find excellent values. Many times, these values can be found by small manufacturers that come from Asia to show off their product to the US buyers. However, in the past few years, the number of these actual factory representatives has continued to dwindle and I had not been able to figure out why, until now.
One of the suppliers that I deal with direct in China for our entry-level Solist branded instruments let me in on the answer. Basically, these factories now are making so much product for the various bigger distributor companies that they no longer need the smaller individual music store accounts. Some even are under contract by these various larger distributors to not attend such shows. While this might not mean much to the average consumer, it does tend to limit the quality of the “off-brand” low-cost instruments to the general public. Whether this is good or bad, only time will tell. It does make me glad that we have done all the work over the past 10+ years to build relationships with these factories that no longer come to these shows for one reason or another.
But enough of my general commentary. Here are some of the products that caught my eye at this years NAMM show!
Keilwerth MKX Professional Saxophones
Keilwerth has had a tumultuous few years. Over the past decade, they have had 2 different distributors in the USA, then had none, then went into insolvency (bankruptcy) to later be bought out by Buffet. I could spend an entire series of blog posts as to the history of what went on there but that’s not important. What is relevant is that in late 2010, Schreiber-Keilwerth was purchased by Buffet out of insolvency. Buffet USA became the sole US Distributor for Keilwerth and Buffet Group in France quickly started to streamline the Keilwerth brand. Almost immediately, Buffet discontinued (at least for the US market) student (made by Jupiter) and intermediate (made by Amati) Keilwerth branded saxophones. This made sense as Buffet already had developed its own Asian made student and intermediate line of Buffet saxophones.
Buffet continued to streamline the Keilwerth professional line of saxes down to only 4 total models/finishes of their flagship professional SX90R alto & tenors. The sopranos were quickly discontinued as well and all “new projects”, such as the Dave Liebman sopranos & SX90 “Tone King” altos and tenors, were cancelled. Buffet was determined, it seemed, to streamline Keilwerth professional saxophones in to a more marketable brand.
Enter the new MKX professional series saxophones.
These saxophones are a hybrid of European manufacturing. The neck, bow & bell are made by Keilwerth in Germany with the bow and bell utilizing the same bore design as the SX90R series pro saxes. The body is “European” made. While Buffet would not release the actual manufacturing partner, their stress was on the fact that the MKX is a 100% European made sax. I could give my guess but I won’t as it really doesn’t matter who is making it. This sax actually resembles a project that I had suggested years ago to Keilwerth before they went into insolvency. Back then, we imported direct from Germany and I had a great relationship with the people at the factory. I felt strongly that this type of project could really benefit their brand name as well as the sax playing market as a whole.
So what is the MKX? The MKX is truly a different playing sax than the SX90R. While it maintains much of the tonal style of Keilwerth saxes (Big & Rich), the horn did have a more focused, core sound to it that would likely be easier for many players, especially high school players, to control in terms of response and intonation. However, if you are a big fan of the traditional Keilwerth pro feel and response, you will likely find the MKX to be a bit stuffy and restrictive due to this bore. But keep in mind, this horn isn’t designed for the Keilwerth owner… it is designed to compete with the Taiwanese “professional” models already in stores.
That last part brings me to the one thing about the MKX that I did NOT like. One of the ideas behind the horn is marketing based in my opinion. Dealers who carry the MKX have to commit to stocking a small batch of the horns (1 alto & 1 tenor of both finishes, gold lacquer & vintage – a total of 4 horns) and these dealers cannot use the internet to sell them. This means that you will not find them listed for sale new online on ANY dealer website, eBay or any other internet based medium. The idea is that they want to help dealers justify stocking the horns without worrying about being undercut on the price. I personally think that this is a bad idea because it is based on the premise that dealers across the country actually have the demand from their local market for professional saxes and that the internet hurts that demand locally. I personally believe that the buying tendencies of the player looking for a professional saxophone has fundamentally changed and that buyers are now looking online as their first choice. Regardless, this I think will frustrate the consumer as limited information about the MKX will be found online. Heck, I would wager a bet that in a few months, people searching for information on the Keilwerth MKX series saxophones will likely find this blog post and get more information here than their local dealer can give them!
They are a well built sax and in the end, they play great. They are stripped of many of the traditional Keilwerth special features (no soldered rim tone holes, no G# lifter & no adjustable palm keys) but they are definitely in the Keilwerth family of sound and performance and are a horn worthy of a test whenever someone is looking at buying a new horn.
Buffet Senza Copper Saxophone
Buffet was not done releasing just 1 new sax at the NAMM show, but several as a group. They showed off the prototype for their new Senza sax. This new Buffet, French Made (yes, you read that correct), solid Copper saxophone will surely ignite an interest from fans of the old Buffet Super Dynaction and S1 Prestige saxes. No pricing was give and in the end, no definitive information on release date but they did have the sax!
It’s an interesting sax with many things that caught my attention. The biggest though was in the neck. The neck had 2 things that I actually did not like. First, the bore uses a weird “crinkle” (for lack of a better term) in the back of the neck. This is intentional and I am sure that they have reason for it. However, from a repair end, I look at this as a structural weakness that will lead to bent necks. Furthermore, the bore of the horn is designed in such a way that the High F# tonehole protrudes in to the tenon socket of the neck. This means that the tenon on the neck has a cutout for the tonehole. I have never liked this concept for a myriad of different reasons. However, that’s just my opinion.
Keilwerth Sopranos – Including the Dave Liebman
As I mentioned earlier, after the Buffet buyout, one of the lines that was completely stopped was the pro sopranos. Well, they’re back. Unfortunately, we did not have time to really play and evaluate them at the show so I will hold off on that for now. Pricing has also not been fully released.
They did have their new Dave Liebman soprano back. This was one of the new projects that Keilwerth was working on right before they went in to insolvency. The horn has some interesting key designs to it that at glance, frankly looked dumb. However, in the hands, I found it surprisingly comfortable. So until we have one in hand to play and evaluate, that’s all that I am going to comment on this horn… but I at least took some pictures!
Backun Clarinets – Protege & Alpha
Backun had a great display of clarinets. A year ago, they were displaying prototypes for the Protege clarinets (more info here: https://www.kesslermusic.com/backun/protege/clarinet.htm). These clarinets are finally slated to hit dealers’ shelves later this month (so we are told). Backun however also was showing off their new composite “Alpha” clarinets. Backun is really going all out with their clarinet line and moving into a true full line clarinet manufacturer. More information on the Alpha’s to come.
Bach LR19043B Series Trumpets
Bach released a new line of trumpets that many are referring to as a “Mariachi” horn. While they were a great sound for the Mariachi group “Mariachi Sol De Mexico”, these are not JUST a Mariachi horn. They have several very unique features to them, and I believe they will serve as a launching for the new 190 series Bach Stradivarius platform.
So what is a 190 Series? Basically, it is a 180 Stradivarius that uses a 2 piece valve casing with Nickel-Silver upper balusters. This feature has only been recently added back in to the Bach lineup in the past 2 years with the Artisan AB190 series trumpets. However, the original Bach trumpets used this. The benefit of the nickel-silver upper baluster is that they add mass to the center of the horn. When a trumpet is built properly (without stress at the solder points), this extra mass gives a richer core tone. Ever since Bach implemented their newer manufacturing techniques back in 2007, this was one feature that I have been asking to see put on to standard Stradivarius trumpets for years.
The LR190-43B should be pretty easy to figure out for the Bach trumpet buff. The LR190 would indicate that the horn uses the 190 platform (2 piece casings as described above), lightweight body, long reverse leadpipe. The 43 would indicate a #42 bell… but the B will throw some off. The “B” indicates Bronze. Players are not used to this option on Bach trumpets. We are used to Brass (standard – 70% copper, 30% zinc), Goldbrass (more copper, less zinc) and Sterling Silver – “Sterling Plus” in the case of Bach which is 99.9% pure silver. Bronze ups the copper even more than in Goldbrass but ditches the zinc and replaces it with Tin. Bronze usually indicates an 88% copper, 12% tin mix but this is not 100% set in stone. In fact, the look of the metal in person leads me to believe that it is more than likely a 90% copper, 10% tin alloy.
In the end, the trumpet was an amazing horn with power, depth of tone, focused core, but not bright at all. It was a versatile horn and people who I have talked to who had a chance to play this setup were very impressed.
I personally do not expect Bach to stop here. I fully expect in the near future that we will see the whole gambit of Bach trumpets open in to the 190 platform. Personally, I want to see a 190-37B with #25LR leadpipe. I bet that horn would blow the lid off the trumpet market!
Kessler Custom Clarinet & Flute
These are not really NAMM based items but since we are discussing new products, I figured what better place to announce than here?! We are finishing up design specifications on the 2 newest products in our Kessler Custom lineup.
Kessler Custom Clarinet – With our new clarinet, you will find a professional French based bore & key design that plays open, in tune and incredibly responsive. The clarinet will feature an advanced bell bore design for improved response across the break, clear throat tones and improved upper register response. The clarinet will be setup with white leather pads throughout with a few specific pads setup with the synthetic Master Series pads that offer similar tonal performance to cork but without the noise. Each clarinet will include one of our Kessler Custom by Backun professional mouthpieces ($175 mouthpiece). We are still finalizing whether we will go with an all wood clarinet, or a 70% wood dust 30% ABS synthetic – or perhaps both. Pricing will be set after we finish material evaluation but the target price is $729.
Kessler Custom Artist Series Flute – These flutes will feature a nickel-silver alloy (alloy is Japanese made) body & keys, with French style pointed key arm construction, open hole, low B, off-set G with split E. All headjoints will be hand-cut with a Solid Silver riser. French style case with leather case cover. This flute will likely come in around $549.00
We will also offer our Kessler Custom Artist Series Flute with a package upgrade that includes a C# trill key and carved wood inner case for $679.00
Both products should be available this summer.
I love to provide this report every year. Of course, there are a great deal more product at the show that I see that I don’t comment on. If there was a product that I didn’t comment on, it is not necessarily due to a negative opinion. Rather, I want to report on the things that I found particularly interesting and frankly, can’t comment on everything. If there was an item that you know was at the show that you would like to hear my thoughts on, drop me a message and I will be glad to comment.
Also, I apologize for grammatical errors – no sleep, too much coffee and at times, I like to ramble which gives my fingers the difficult task of keeping pace with my brain!