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  1. #1
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    Default CE Winds Alpha Alto Review

    ... in several parts, as I get to it, edit stuff and add pictures.

    Several months ago, poster CE Winds (from CE winds) said that he'd ship me an alto to test out. After an initial shipping problem -- probably their dispatch folks saw a new horn invoice for $0 and then halted the shipment process -- I picked up a brand spankin' new Alpha Series alto saxophone from the USPS this morning. Took all of three days to get here, so not bad.

    I do want to mention that, while I have had some things sent to me for review, they've never been new instruments. Couple old ones from a business thing I was attempting to work out and some CDs, but not new saxophones. New shiny = happy Pete. I'm mildly disappointed it wasn't a bari, though. (I know, I know: easy horn to damage.)

    Quickie details:
    * Make/Model: CE Winds Alpha BL.
    * Made in China. I'll confirm this when I unwrap the horn.
    * Price: $749, on the price tag. Currently $699 on the CE Winds website.
    * Eb alto, lacquer finish.
    * Target audience: student to intermediate; back-up horn.
    * Form fitting, semi-rigid case that has several different straps/handles for however you want to carry it, including backpack straps.
    * Two included mouthpieces: a no-name one that feels plastic, with a Rovner-like ligature (rubber strap with metal interior) -- the CE Winds website says it's supposed to be hard rubber -- and a CE Winds "Gold Genesis" metal one with metal ligature ($129). Comes with three mouthpiece caps (one metal, two plastic) and an extra metal ligature (one of the metal ligs was ... not exactly round, so it's good there's an extra).
    * Reed (Fred Hemke, 2.5), plastic tweezers (I don't know why. If it's for springs, a plastic crochet hook would be better), polishing cloth and decent-looking neck strap included. Oddly, no cork grease.

    There's also a nice care guide with instructions on how to remove the packing corks, an inspection checklist and the warranty paperwork, that looks like it's signed in real ink. A nice touch, IMO.

    I have not gotten that far with the horn, yet. I just unpacked it and took pictures (which I'll eventually post); I haven't even unwrapped the horn. Based on quick visual inspection, it looks like a Selmer S80 clone. This isn't bad because I'll be testing it against my wife's 1981 Selmer Omega, which was Selmer USA's pro horn and plays like a happy medium between the Mark VII and S80. I'll also pit it against my memories of the several Yamaha 23s and 52s I've owned or borrowed. I'll also try the mouthpieces, just for G Whiz, but I'm probably going to most of my testing with my Rascher, as that's the one I normally use. My wife will test with her old C*. I've also got a fancy Korg electronic tuner that says I play mostly dead-on in tune on my wife's horn, so I'll use that for play testing.

    If you take a look at that other CE Winds thread, they want to compare the Alpha alto to the Yamaha 475. That means that I have fairly high expectations. However, I'll still be happy if it plays up to a Yamaha 23, as you can buy a CE Winds alto and tenor AND have some extra cash left over for the price of a YAS-23.

    =============

    If there's any feature anyone wants me to specifically check/look at, please post.

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    Hey! I have an extra 1.5 hours to play with! I'll continue my review:

    Here's the part where I get a bit more disappointed.

    I figured out what the tweezers are for. I, unlike most computer techs, do RTFM (hey, how else was I going to find out like Windows 2000 isn't supposed to be used in a nuclear facility, for air-traffic control or for life-saving health equipment control?): it's for extracting the various packing corks. That's the good. The bad is that the horn I got was missing packing corks for the low C, B and Bb (which are supposed to be there, according to the manual).

    I then took a LOT closer look at the horn.

    1. I mentioned packing corks, no? There are corks for the lower stack right under the left-side pants guard (the manual calls it the "back lap guard"). There were three deep scratches on the horn's body next to this guard. I'd conclude, that while I had a scratch-free tool to REMOVE the corks, the person that INSTALLED them didn't.

    2. Now, the Yamaha student and intermediate horns are famous for having the Yamaha logo "silk screened" onto the bell in a couple different colors, depending on when the horn was made. The Alpha has the CE Winds logo engraved ... poorly. Looks a lot like the results I'd have if I took a needle spring and used that to engrave the horn.

    This is apart from the standard engraving, which is on the left side of the bell (as you play). That engraving looks very Selmeresque and looks like it was probably done prior to lacquering, whereas the CE Winds logo looks like it was done after lacquering. Your mileage may vary, but the CE Winds logo engraving just looks a lot different.

    3. There's a bit of orange-ish/red ick in several places on the bell. I think this might be polishing compound. There's also a bit of key oil and debris on some of the posts.

    While you might think I'm being overly picky, CE Winds does say that they do a $150 Professional Setup on the horn (linky; you have to choose the drop-down for "lacquer" to see this). For $150, I'd think the horn would be cleaner and scratch-free. Hey, the only problem with any of the Yamahas I had was that the pearls popped off my YBS-52 because it was shipped to me by truck in western New York.

    4. The joint between the bow and bell, almost exactly in the front center, has a bulge in it. It's impossible for me to photograph, but you can feel it. Might be on a weld line or something.

    5. This horn has plate construction, i.e. the keyposts are soldered to a plate and the plate is then soldered to the horn's body. This is considered a good kind of construction because it's more durable -- a perfect choice for a student/intermediate horn. However, the soldering to the body is quite noticeable in the upper stack: there's a good bit of overrun.

    Sill haven't actually PLAYED the horn. These small problems might be something to overlook if the horn plays really well.

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    I am anxiously awaiting the intonation chart where you tune to your fav tuning note (concert Bb works for me) hand the tuner to an assistant and then play each note while your assistant marks the intonation plus or minus 5, 10, 15, and 20 cents for each note across the full range of the instrument. That is what tells me the story on quality. This assumes of course that you can get the instrument to play, which isn't always the case with low-mid quality instruments.

    I'd prefer the intonation test be done with a known quantity, a middle of the road #5 Meyer, Otto Link plubber, or Hite mouthpiece if possible.

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    hey, how else was I going to find out like Windows 2000 isn't supposed to be used in a nuclear facility, for air-traffic control or for life-saving health equipment control?
    I think you'll find that this holds true for any multi-user/multitasking commercial operating system like Windows. I sure the hell wouldn't use OSX or a prepackaged linux install for those applications. I would prefer a narrow-purpose real-time system set up proprietarily for those specific purposes.

    er, what were we talking about??

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    Quote Originally Posted by JfW View Post
    I think you'll find that this holds true for any multi-user/multitasking commercial operating system like Windows. I sure the hell wouldn't use OSX or a prepackaged linux install for those applications. I would prefer a narrow-purpose real-time system set up proprietarily for those specific purposes.
    For what it's worth, I compile my own kernels, build my own systems, harvest my own reeds and attempt to hammer my own sax. I also plan to plant my own grenadilla tree in order to carve my own clarinet.
    Ben

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    I would be most interested to hear a professional tech's review of the quality of the manufacturing, the quality of the materials used, and the quality of the "set-up" or adjustment from the factory and/or dealer. Mike Nye is a good sax tech in the Phoenix area.

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    Mike Nye? Isn't he the "Science Guy"? I'd love to meet him! Loved all his shows ...! Er, what? "Bill"? You sure? OK. I sit corrected. I'm sure Mike's a nice guy, as well, though.

    Anyhow, I don't want to do TOO much shuttling around this horn, as am the guy that's responsible for it. If'n you know Mike's number ("Mike Nye the Sax Guy," NOT "Bill Nye the Science Guy." "Mike Nye the Sax Guy," NOT "Bill Nye ....") I don't mind giving him a ring. Please do note that the Phoenix area is huge: I live 34 miles east of the exact center of Phoenix -- and the "area" extends another 6 miles east of me. The west side stretches to almost LA. OK, I keed, I keed. The end of the area you could consider "Phoenix" is only 60 miles west of me. Yes, I've driven it. Takes about 2.5 hours in traffic. I remember being impressed that Google maps had info on the dirt roads out there.

    If you can't find a number, tell me what you're looking for and I'll do my best.

    I'll try to get to some play-testing tomorrow evening. I just kinda ran out of time today.

    ============

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gandalfe View Post
    I am anxiously awaiting the intonation chart where you tune to your fav tuning note (concert Bb works for me) hand the tuner to an assistant and then play each note while your assistant marks the intonation plus or minus 5, 10, 15, and 20 cents for each note across the full range of the instrument. That is what tells me the story on quality. This assumes of course that you can get the instrument to play, which isn't always the case with low-mid quality instruments.

    I'd prefer the intonation test be done with a known quantity, a middle of the road #5 Meyer, Otto Link plubber, or Hite mouthpiece if possible.
    I'm anxiously awaiting you sending me a Meyer, Jim .

    In a manner of speaking, if CE Winds is pigeon-holing the sax as a "step up" horn, the C* wouldn't be a bad test-bed. Hey, they've slapped a $130 mouthpiece in the case, after all. That's about what a new Selmer Soloist costs.

    The thing is that I've played almost exclusively the Rascher throughout my entire career and on all pitches but C melody. The last time I used a Selmer mouthpiece was an old Soloist on my Keilwerth-made Bundy bari and a Selmer LT on my Buffet Dynaction alto back in 1987-1989. I've played a few other mouthpieces, but not for great lengths of time. So you'd be asking me to fight BOTH a new horn and new mouthpiece. That's not necessarily a good combo and would skew some data. Finally, if the horn doesn't play well with a GOOD mouthpiece, it's not going to play well with a "middle-of-the-road" mouthpiece.

    I also must ask the question that others may be thinking: what's "plubber"?

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    *Bill* Nye is the Science Guy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pete View Post
    I'm anxiously awaiting you sending me a Meyer, Jim .

    I also must ask the question that others may be thinking: what's "plubber"?
    Sigh, I have given so many mouthpieces away to young students. Plubber is what I call a mouthpiece that isn't all plastic, not all rubber, but a mix. Could be a misnomer. I'm not really a mouthpiece guy (aka expert). I just know what I prefer.

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    I thought it might be related to an obscure Fred MacMurray reference:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054594/

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    Quote Originally Posted by JfW View Post
    *Bill* Nye is the Science Guy.
    Psst. I know. Re-read my post .

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    Day 2 with the horn.

    I actually got it out and played it. Again, I used my Rascher mouthpiece and the included reed and ....

    It's very easy to blow. I can even play harmonics fairly easily. Low notes speak very well and don't require much effort. However ....

    I noticed that there are some intonation irregularities, particularly in the lower stack notes in both octaves. The chromatic fingerings for things like C and F# seem to be less in tune than their normal counterparts
    (oxo | ooo and xxx |oxo, respectively).
    I don't have EITHER of my chromatic tuners here, tonight, so I'm going to have to wait until my wife brings them back from the school she subs at. 'Course, I might just download a tuner app from the App Store .

    Again, this might be an adjustment issue. There are quite a few adjustment screws on this thing. (Don't worry, CE Winds! I won't tinker!)

    The horn feels a little "different." The keys are set up "ergonomically," so the top stack is a sort of "radial" set-up, with each key in a bit of an arc. The lower stack is at an angle, too. Even though the keywork look is very Selmer S80, the feel is a bit "Bundy" to me. This might be something I need to acclimate to, though. Hey, all horns feel a little different.

    I also feel that the right hand thumbrest is a little too high up on the horn's body. While it is adjustable, I have to move it all the way to the right to make it feel mildly comfortable. However, I do have fairly large hands. My wife may say it feels just fine, when she tries it. However, I'll also be interested in seeing where the thumbrest is on her horn to compare the difference.

    The last comment on keywork is the extreme lower stack, C and lower. As mentioned, the horn has the Selmer S80/VI keywork setup, including the G# cluster. I have to really drop my finger on the Bb or the C# key will start to open. That's a bit more difficult for me, as I've had my pinky broken for me a couple times and that finger isn't all that strong. A small adjustment issue, I'd think, in either the mechanism that keeps the C# closed or fiddling with the spring could fix that -- or disabling the "articulated" G#, altogether.

    Allow me to back up a bit to the comment I made yesterday about the CE Winds "engraving". While I was tooting the horn, my 7-year-old daughter came up to me, pointed to the logo and asked, "Daddy, what are those scratches on the side?" In other words, I didn't exaggerate what I said yesterday .

    Oh, JBT? I might drop Bill Mike a line and see if he's interested in looking the horn over. He's not terribly far away from here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pete View Post
    Psst. I know. Re-read my post .
    my bad

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    If I understand this correctly, the horn you have Pete, came from the factory with all the packaging still in place--including all key corks. Right? Since it is a known fact that even the horns that are among the best in the world like Selmer and Keilwerth, need adjustments and a proper set-up (although I still don't know why this should be necessary) prior to sale, I don't necessarily see intonation issues caused by possible key height issues unusual. The problem is figuring out if the key heights are actually the culprit.

    Call me a snob, but I'm not swayed by low prices of modern Asian horns as a backup. However in all fairness to the company, I'm not their target market either. (My vintage bias is showing.) As far as a possible option for my students is concerned, I'm still a believer in being able to try before you buy, and having a local store stand behind the product you buy. It will be interesting be read more of your compare/contrast impressions to the Yamahas. I have always believed that they are among the best, if not the best, of the student horns. (I'm talking about the ones made in Japan. I don't know what the newer ones are like. Aren't they now too made in Taiwan, or in the R.O.C.?)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Helen View Post
    If I understand this correctly, the horn you have Pete, came from the factory with all the packaging still in place--including all key corks. Right?
    Nope. It has a "Free $150 standard professional setup" that's done at CE Winds. Also, as mentioned, it was missing some of the packing corks.

    I've had all of one brand new horn shipped to me, my old YBS-52. It didn't have any packing corks at all and arrived OK. The reason why I mentioned the missing corks in the CE Winds case is because their manual says that they're supposed to be there.

    Quote Originally Posted by Helen
    ... Yamahas ... Aren't they now too made in Taiwan, or in the R.O.C.?
    Some 23s and 275s are made in Indonesia. Yamaha has their own plant there, so it's not like they're farming out the production to a 3rd party.

    There is a twist in the China/Taiwan/Vietnam story for other horns, too. You might remember the Eppelsheim C soprano that came out a few months ago. They were designed by Eppelsheim, but built in China or Taiwan. And, if I recall correctly, Groovekiller said that they were pretty decent horns.

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    I thought ROC was synonymous with Taiwan ?
    versus just made in China

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    Quote Originally Posted by pete View Post
    There is a twist in the China/Taiwan/Vietnam story for other horns, too. You might remember the Eppelsheim C soprano that came out a few months ago. They were designed by Eppelsheim, but built in China or Taiwan. And, if I recall correctly, Groovekiller said that they were pretty decent horns.
    Benedikt touched them before any of us got ours. That's huge. Quality control goes through the ceiling when you have the designer tweaking them before you receive the instrument.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveSklar View Post
    I thought ROC was synonymous with Taiwan ?
    versus just made in China
    Yes, but Taiwan doesn't = Indonesia .

    ==========

    @ Jim: I understand what you say, but if you've got a 1973 Pinto, it can't be tweaked into a Bugatti Veryon. In other words, Mr. E got a contract with a good factory that follows his design instructions fairly well. "Setup" of a good horn shouldn't be much more than tweaking some key heights and/or playing with some spring tensions. Setup of a bad horn -- I'm thinking of that newer C melody from Asia -- means redrilling tone holes and changing things like octave pip positions. I'd think an even more professional setup would include things like custom bending keys into positions that are more comfortable for a particular player or adding extra cork, etc.

    Again, the CE Winds horn I'm playing with was supposed to have had a "professional setup." Also, I can tell the horn had been touched by someone, if not just to install the packing corks: it's got those scratches I mentioned.

    Also note that NONE of the new horns I've ever bought had any additional setup done. In the case of all the Yamaha student and intermediate horns I've bought (two 23 altos and a 23 tenor, IIRC -- and a Model 34 clarinet), I bought the horn I playtested. In the case of my 52 bari, I was shipped a horn from the factory. It wasn't the one I playtested.

    =============

    The other thing I'm trying to do is keep my expectations of the CE Winds horn to "intermediate Yamaha" level. I've gotta say that it fails here: the solder overruns, that bump in the bow-to-bell connector and (new!) the somewhat slapdash placement of the corks attest to this, as does the (new!) cement or whatever they use to affix the pads being a bit sloppy. I couldn't imagine a Yamaha intermediate horn with problems like that. While I might still find this horn to be very exact in intonation, which I will check when I have my digital tuner back, these little things are indicators of overall quality.

    Another car analogy: I've owned several Fords. I've currently got a Taurus and a Mustang. One of the things I've known about Fords is that they are generally trouble-free in running, but little bits of stuff will randomly fall off. In the Taurus, it's the leather panels affixed to the doors. In the Mustang, it's the light in the trunk. None of these hamper the cars' operation, but it is a bit annoying -- especially if you factor in the point that both my Taurus (SEL model + extra toys) and Mustang (convertible) were $30K new, each. Well, at least I didn't pay $30K for each of them ....

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    Hey Pete,

    Thanks for the thorough review. I didn't realize it was here until late last night reviewing our accounts online.

    I do want to clarify a few things, I suppose I should have been more clear on this before the sax was sent off, or even before you received it, or even posted a review, of my expectations of your review. My initial thoughts were that I was looking for a playability review, and the set up, and general value, vs. a review on it's construction. This is not an item that would be shipped to a customer without them knowing about the details of the sax. Thinking back now I could have done a better job communicating with you, or selecting a full retail (A Stock) priced item to send... but really due to the demand that we have seen recently it was tough getting a sax to you to review.

    The item we shipped was a B Stock item, meaning that we would have sold it at a discount, because of the things you mentioned. (scratches, red spotting, etc). These things would have been disclosed to the potential buyer as items that do not affect the playability of the sax, or even the warranty, but that there are noticeable things that warrant a discount.

    OK. I'll read again and process the rest of the postings and work on a response. This is good stuff though, we can become biased to our instruments and having an outside review is always refreshing, and really helps us identify the areas where we need to get better at. Our ultimate goal is to be known as a company that offers a great product, at a great price, and backs it up with good communication and customer service. It's all about growth for us.

    Thanks Pete for your time, and looking forward to reading more. We will also post again.

    Peace,

    Brian
    CE Winds

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    Thanks for weighing in Brian. I have a couple of questions.

    - Can you tell us the name of the tech who is doing your set-ups before the sax is shipped to the customer?

    -Are all of your saxes completely gone through after they come from the factory before being shipped to the customer?

    -Are repair and replacement parts available in all finishes for the saxes you sell?

    -If so how does one go about getting the parts price and ordering information?

    Thanks again.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CE Winds View Post
    Hey Pete,

    Thanks for the thorough review. I didn't realize it was here until late last night reviewing our accounts online.
    I'm not quite finished.

    I do want to clarify a few things, I suppose I should have been more clear on this before the sax was sent off, or even before you received it, or even posted a review, of my expectations of your review. My initial thoughts were that I was looking for a playability review, and the set up, and general value, vs. a review on it's construction. This is not an item that would be shipped to a customer without them knowing about the details of the sax. Thinking back now I could have done a better job communicating with you, or selecting a full retail (A Stock) priced item to send... but really due to the demand that we have seen recently it was tough getting a sax to you to review.

    The item we shipped was a B Stock item, meaning that we would have sold it at a discount, because of the things you mentioned. (scratches, red spotting, etc). These things would have been disclosed to the potential buyer as items that do not affect the playability of the sax, or even the warranty, but that there are noticeable things that warrant a discount.
    I'm sorry. I'm a-gonna call you out on several points:

    First, if it's a discounted "B stock" item, why is there a pricetag on it -- and that price is higher than what's currently on your website? Hey, I commented on that several days ago.

    Second, even if the horn is the best playing saxophone in the world, if its construction is poor, it might be a good idea to look at a different instrument.

    OK, it's possible that you might have sent me a sax that had the upper and lower stack keywork ripped off, then you had a tech resolder the keywork back on. I doubt it though. When I say that there looks to be a bit of solder overrun, an implication could be that the quality control process isn't that great. When I say that there's a noticeable bump on the bow-to-bell connection, you could get the same implication.

    Shouldn't someone that reviews a horn look at the construction of the horn? In this instance, that's like buying a car that's got a great engine but the body's rusted out.

    Second, if I'm supposed to review the "set-up," I'm going to review more than just whether the key heights are even and all the pads seal. I'm going to note if there's extra goo on the horn and there's oil residue. I'm also going to look at key fit, corks and felts, springs, etc. Add to this that the "set up" is supposed to be a $150 value: I see some corks that are rather haphazardly placed on the horn and I see some adhesive over-run on some pads. Remember: you said you compare this horn to a Yamaha 475. My Yamahas were clean when I got them, even the 23s.

    ============

    At this moment, there are two positives I've seen, but they come with big "buts" (OK, "howevers," but you have to throw in a Sir Mix-A-Lot reference, every now and then):

    * The $699 price is competitive with other "house brand" horns, if you keep it at that price. If the metal mouthpiece really is nice (haven't tried it, yet), it's an even better deal. HOWEVER, Dave Kessler has a house-brand for $725 -- and it also includes a mouthpiece (which they value almost the same as yours) and professional setup. Dave's been active on SOTW and here for a long while and I know many, many folks that have dealt with him and have played his "house brand" horns. In other words, would I recommend an Alpha over one of Dave's horns? How 'bout a used horn of equivalent value from other folks that are well-known and well-respected?

    * The horn is really easy to blow. HOWEVER, I think the intonation is a bit suspect. That's waiting on two things: me to have a chance to test it with a digital tuner and my wife having a chance to test it, with or without a tuner, so I have a second opinion. Tomorrow or Monday, I'd say, is when I'll test that. Sorry: I work on Saturdays!

    I'll also toss in a "neutral": all the pads seal and I didn't notice much key play. The only thing I didn't like isn't your fault: the low Bb and my formerly mangled left pinky. There's also a "HOWEVER" here, too: I expect this from a new horn. That, or I expect to be able to send back the horn and have it re-adjusted so it is perfect. Using another car analogy, it's like when the "check engine" light came on in my Mustang, 6 months after I bought it: I took it to the dealer and he made it right. For free. Same day, too. That's why I say that this is a "neutral" comment. It's different if I say to you, "Hey. My left pinky isn't as strong as most people's. Please adjust the key height and spring tension. Do that for free." That'd be unreasonable -- but if you did it, you'd win a lot of points.

    As a final comment, any review has a lot of subjectiveness. A good review will say why something was good or bad. I've not said anything about the tone (I will, eventually) because that's purely subjective. Intonation isn't. Quality of construction isn't.

    You've also got some "intangibles" with the CE Winds horns, with your various programs. I also want to address those in the final review. Those can sway your buying decision, too.

    I'll try to wrap up my review tomorrow. My e-mail is about 80% fixed, now, so if any of y'all want to get hold of me, please just use the forum's Private Message feature.

    Thanks!

    Yes, I'm the Artist Formerly Known as Saxpics.

    Check out my photoblog! Updated on Aug 23: Yanagisawa (a work in progress).

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    So, it's now day 1,356 of testing and I realized something: I'm testing a CE Winds Alpha and a Selmer Omega. I have truly covered the entire range of saxophones.

    I practiced on the Alpha for about an hour, in front of a digital tuner. At the start of my playing, the low end was very flat. Middle to altissimo was a tad sharp. At the end of my playing, it was much more consistent, throughout: a middle D and up were slightly (2 to 5 cents) sharp and C and lower were either right on or a little flat (again, 2 to 5 cents). However, the real problem was still the chromatic fingerings: one-and-one or side Bb, side C, F#. They were rather sharp. My opinion is that the key heights are a bit too high. I think if I played the horn for a longer while, I could probably get everything in tune -- or have a tech look at the horn and do some tweaking with key heights.

    I switched to my wife's 1981 Selmer Omega. The feel of the horn is definitely less ergonomic than the CE Winds horn, but that may also be a matter of taste. I can say that I was more consistent in my intonation and I find the horn even easier blowing; noticeably so, even just picking up the horn out of the case and not doing anything to it.

    As mentioned, I play-tested with my mouthpiece of choice, a Sigurd Rascher hard-rubber 'piece, which has a very large chamber. Using the mouthpiece on both the Alpha and Omega, I got a kind of medium-dark tone that was pleasing to my ear (at least). One of the knocks on the Yamahas, other than the Custom models, is that they're fairly bright -- and they're still somewhat bright with my Rascher. I'd not use the word "bright" to describe the Alpha and I think I can say that the tone is fairly "Selmer-esque." On this, of course, YMMV depending on the kind of mouthpiece you use. I didn't bother with the CE Winds mouthpieces as I'm kinda wary about the "hard rubber" one and I don't care for metal mouthpieces. My wife will give it a toot with her 1981-vintage Selmer C*.

    I also did do a couple side-by-side mechanical comparisons between the Alpha and Omega. I mentioned earlier that I thought that the RH thumbrest is up a bit higher than I was accustomed to. It does look like the thumbrest on the Omega is a tad lower. This is not necessarily a bad thing for studentia that have considerably smaller hands than me, but it certainly adds to the "different" feel I mentioned. The Omega also has plate ("ribbed") construction and I wanted to see if there's as much solder over-run. There is some, but not as much. You've got to remember, though, that the Omega was Selmer USA's pro model and cost $1500 new. The Alpha costs less than half that, especially if you factor in inflation.

    So, there's only one test remaining: my wife doing some play-testing. After that, I'll wrap up this review and rewrite it.

    Yes, I'm the Artist Formerly Known as Saxpics.

    Check out my photoblog! Updated on Aug 23: Yanagisawa (a work in progress).

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    ... And now, the final bit ....

    My wife has an extremely rare day off today, so she was around and finally gave the horn a toot.

    1. She also complained abut iffy intonation in the lower stack. However, she also mentioned if she played it longer, she might be able to get used to it.
    2. My wife's about 5'3" and has small hands. She said that she didn't particularly care for the ergonimics of the horn, particularly the lower stack. She also said that the feel reminded her of vintage instruments, so if you like that feel, there ya go.
    3. She also thought the horn was realtively easy blowing, except for the bell keys. I mentioned, earlier, that I had some issues making the low Bb close completely because of my pinky. I guess I can now say it wasn't all my fault. My opinion is that the little ergonomic twist in the lower stack makes it just a bit difficult to close the lower keycups completely.
    4. She liked the tone and also said it compared favorably to her Omega. She still likes her horn better, though.

    So, what kind of conclusions can I come to?

    * The CE Winds Alpha is a Chinese-made "house brand." That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it also means that your only point of contact is CE Winds, themselves -- or a franchise if they open more stores. That's one of the points JBT is trying to make with the question of, "What's the parts availability?" However, I've never had a problem with a horn that I owned requiring having a part replaced, just your usual spring fixing or pad replacing. My wife has, though. I've had friends that have. It's just something that you should keep in mind.

    * The price is "OK" in a comparison of other Chinese-made house brands with plate-on-body ("ribbed") construction. I also do think that ribbed construction is more robust for student-level horns and is something you should get, if it's available. However, and many others have made this point, many professional models have or have had post-on-body construction. One that I can pull off the top of my head would be the Martin Committee models.

    * I don't think the build quality is up to Yamaha squality-control standards at all, especially with the solder flaws, scratches, etc. I've mentioned.

    * The Alpha does play quite easily with, in my opinion, a nicer tone color than a Yamaha 23, but not as good as a 475. Inotnation on the Alpha takes some getting used to and/or needs some creative hey-height adjustments to get the intonation spot-on.

    * I do rather like the case, though. It seems fairly well padded, even if it's not a hard case. You could make the argument that a student would rather carry something that's as light as this, thus will "remember" to bring home his horn and practice. However, as it's NOT a hard case, it won't stand up to as much beating.

    So, here's a conclusion:

    * Would I recommend the horn for students that have to have a new horn? Probably not. I don't think it'd be a bad starter horn, but I'm concerned about the build quality and parts replacement.
    * Would I recommend this horn over a used Yamaha 23 that's been overhauled? If they were the same price, yes. A used Yamaha will probably be less than this horn, though, or you should keep looking until you find one that's less.
    * Is this horn the same quality, build-, intonation- or tone-wise, of a YAS-475? Absolutely not.

    Now, here's the thing: I'm impressed enough with how the horn plays to want to try a CE Winds model that's "better" than this horn, e.g. an "advanced intermediate" or even "pro." Those have a better comparison on price -- $1937 for a Yamaha 475 and $1750 for the CE Winds Pro Series. The Pro Series might also be a higher quality horn than this Alpha. However, the Kessler Custom "Handmade" horn is $1595 and is really pretty .... Hey, Dave! You wanna send me one to try?

    Yes, I'm the Artist Formerly Known as Saxpics.

    Check out my photoblog! Updated on Aug 23: Yanagisawa (a work in progress).

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