Hanson music wasn’t a name I’d seen before I saw an advert for one of their baritone saxes on Ebay. I’d normally be wary of buying an unknown brand of sax over the internet, but there was one thing which piqued my interest. Most companies have a selection of favourable customer comments on their site, but Hanson simply have a note saying “Google us and see what others are saying”. This shows some confidence in your online reputation, and Hanson were right to make this claim. Pretty much every comment I found about them was positive, and many people were strongly recommending them as an excellent source for affordable saxophones.
There seems to have been a number of companies appearing over the last few years who are changing the perception of the cheaper end of the saxophone market. This used to be associated with flimsy instruments with poor build quality and intonation, but there are now several companies who are making very playable saxes at very competitive prices. I’ve written before about Antigua Winds who I have used before and who produce a wide range of instruments. Hanson music though seem to be following more in the line of companies such as Kessler Music, who have made a name for themselves in the States by producing their own line of saxes, and providing excellent advice and customer service. Having something similar in the UK sounded like a very attractive prospect.
Buying the Sax
The sax on offer was an ex-demonstrator model of their mid-range SB-5 baritone saxes. I was looking for a baritone to mostly play in big bands and wind orchestras. I wasn’t prepared to spend the £4000+ it would cost for a new Yamaha or Yanigasawa so had been looking for a reasonable second hand offer. As a mid-range sax the SB5 would have been about the level I wanted. At £2200 for a new one it’s slightly more than the Antigua Winds 5595LQ, but with the discount for this instrument being an ex-demonstrator I decided to take the plunge.
The sax I bought was available either through Ebay or from Hanson’s own web site. I actually bought the sax from the Hanson site directly. The site was reasonably informative about the features of the various models, but I was disappointed that there were so few images of the instruments available. Looking just now there are no images at all of any of the baritone saxes which is ridiculous. If I’m going to spend over a thousand pounds then at least take some decent pictures of what you’re selling. In my case there were some photos on the Ebay auction so I could see what I was getting, but even these were quite pale images on a white background and didn’t really show the sax off to best effect. Actually purchasing through their site was mostly OK apart from the site not recognising our postcode (Cambridge postcodes all changed about 3 years ago so someone needs to update their postcode database!).
After placing the order I immediately received an email receipt. I emailed them with a minor query and had a reply almost immediately, which seemed to match with the good experiences of everyone else I’d read about online. A couple of hours later I got a tracking code from the courier service who were delivering the sax. The next day I got a text to give me a 2 hour delivery slot when it would arrive and it was there right on the dot of the start of the slot. The sax was well packed into a cardboard box surrounded by inflatable packing.
As an ex-demonstrator my sax arrived without a mouthpiece or strap so I had a couple of days before I could actually play it, but I gave it a good check over. I wasn’t expecting the sax to be completely flawless, but I was pleasantly surprised at its condition. There were a couple of minor dings on the neck and the bottom of the bell, but nothing which caused me any concern. The sax itself seemed to be very solidly constructed and the action on the main keys was nicely weighted. The finish on the lacquer was much nicer in real life than it appeared in the photos on the web with a colour which was much richer and deeper than I was expecting, which was a very pleasant surprise. However, every sax I’ve ever bought had some issues and this one was no exception. My sax arrived with a slightly sticky octave mechanism which would have caused problems with fast passages in the upper register, but a bit of lubrication quickly fixed this. The low A pad also wasn’t closing completely, but a minor adjustment to the limiter soon fixed this.
Apart from the sax itself, the case it came in is worthy of comment. It goes without saying that a baritone is not the easiest thing to move around, so having a good case is a real bonus. The case supplied with the SB5 was excellent. It’s a hard case with a nicely textured plastic exterior. The handles on top and side are very comfortable, and it has built in wheels which is going to be a real lifesaver. The case is secured by 4 very solid catches, two of which are lockable. Having seen the cases which come with high end Yanigasawas I can confidently say that I’d much rather have the case which came with the SB5.
Since my sax didn’t come with a mouthpiece I had to buy one to go with it, but I’d have done this anyway. I got a good deal on an Otto Link 7, and paired this with some Vandoren 3 reeds (at £6 a piece!, and which turned out to be way too hard). Getting the Link mouthpiece onto the SB5 was a bit of a job. Getting the tuning right meant putting the mouthpiece on right to the end of the cork, which is a very tight fit, even with well greased cork. I’m still getting to grips with the setup, but having played my first gig on the instrument I feel confident enough to make some comments about the way the instrument plays.
Generally I’ve been very happy with the playing characteristics of the SB5. The intonation across the whole range is excellent and I was quickly able to produce a sound I was happy with. The notes at the top end of the lower register seem to be slightly weaker than the rest, but are still OK, and may improve as I play with the setup. The upper register is a delight to play with a strong tone being easy to produce right up to top F#. The only problems I’ve had have been right at the bottom end where the low notes activated by the left hand keys (C#,B and Bb) have proved to occasionally difficult to hit and maintain (low C and bottom A are consistently good). I suspect the reason is that I’m not pressing the keys in this group cleanly and am catching surrounding keys. The springing on some of these low keys is quite weak, which may exacerbate this problem, but it’s probably something which will improve with more familiarity, or if not could be fixed with stronger springs.
Overall I am very pleased with the SB5. It has proven to be a solid and competent instrument. Realistically, it’s not the equal of something like a Yanigasawa, but it’s been a pleasure to play on and will serve my needs very well. You’re getting an awful lot of instrument for your money and everything I’ve learned of the company would make me happy to recommend them to others, or use them again myself.