Countries of origin: Parts manufactured in Taiwan; assembled by hand in Canada.
Price: TBD, but likely around $5,499 Cdn.
Date of manufacturing: 2014
Date of review: 2015
A few months ago SeaWind saxophones started advertising on the Woodwind Forum. As one of the WF’s admins, as well as a saxophone content expert, I was asked if I would be interested in play-testing one or two of these horns to see what they were all about.
I asked the fine folks at SeaWind if they would allow me an extended play-test, and provide me with an instrument to use for my (then) upcoming show at the Vancouver Art Gallery. They said yes, and provided me with a production model tenor—which I will review separately—as well as this SeaWind prototype baritone sax.
Throwing caution to the wind, I wholeheartedly embraced my six weeks of new horn possession, and forged ahead to get acquainted with these wonderful saxophones that come from Vancouver Island.
This SeaWind prototype baritone sax has an incredible tone. Depending on what mouthpiece I used on it, I could alter its sound quite a lot. When played with my hard rubber Berg or my Graftonite, this horn sounded very much like my Selmer Mark VI.
Put my Metalite on it however, this SeaWind would sound almost like a cross between my Mark VI and my Martin Committee III. Yes, I know that sounds like a strange combo, but the SeaWind baritone has the ability to project the characteristics of both—depending on how the player manipulates the volume and/or column of air.
If I had to pick a single word to describe this horn, I’d call it ballsy. As a bari player, I know how hard it can be to be heard above the other noise at times. This horn has both the projection, and the stability to get its sound through that noise without intonation fluctuations, or tonal cracking. (The latter sometimes aided by mouthpieces. Bergs are especially prone to this.)
The low end whispers beautifully just like a baritone should, but when you punch it this horn has the ability to go into overdrive, which causes it, you, and the various bits of metal in the room with you, to vibrate. It’s a lot of fun.
As much fun as the low end of a baritone is, experienced bari players will tell you that there is no prettier sound on their horn than the upper octaves. This SeaWind prototype baritone sax doesn’t disappoint there. The hauntingly beautiful sounds of the palm keys sound clean and clear, and have the ability to sound simply beautiful.
The SeaWind prototype baritone sax is very even across the entire range. It is extremely consistent, and pretty much exactly what one would expect from a pro model horn.
Being a low A baritone, the SeaWind does require more air than a low Bb horn. Being used to my Medusa bari however, I didn’t find this unusual.
The SeaWind prototype baritone sax is extremely well set up, and its key action superb. In large part this is because of the way the saxophones are manufactured.
Although the parts were manufactured in Taiwan (see below), the instruments come here in pieces. They are then assembled in Qualicum Beach, on Vancouver Island, by Claudio Fantinato. Claudio and Phil Dwyer are business partners in SeaWind Musical Instruments Inc. Claudio makes sure that each saxophone is perfectly set up before it is packed in its case and sent off to wherever it’s going.
Since this is a prototype, this bari has been handled by a number of different people, and play-tested by lots of players. Apparently Phil had done some recording with it as well. I didn’t know until Claudio came to pick up the horn last week that he has done nothing to the sax since assembling it. That’s really remarkable. I would have expected a bari to go out of adjustment given all of this handling. This speaks to both the quality of his work, but also to the quality of the instrument.
Being a low A baritone, this SeaWind prototype baritone sax is heavier than what I like to hang around my neck. That said, regardless if I used my Vandoren universal saxophone harness, or my regular Neotech neck strap, the bari’s balance was great. It hung perfectly, and was easy to swing back and forth.
The key layout on the SeaWind bari is great. The keys are relatively close together, so you don’t need to have large hands to play this sax. This makes switching between a tenor and this bari quite simple, since there isn’t much difference in the way the keys are spaced.
I really like the way the left pinkie keys are easy to reach, and the left pinkie cluster is easy to navigate.
SeaWind prototype baritone sax specs
The following are the specs for the SeaWind bari. Since this is not a production model, the specs cannot be found on the SeaWind website. These were provided to me by Claudio Fantinato.
- Triple annealed body, bow and bell
- Hand-hammered bell
- Reinforced double armed low C, B, Bb, and A keys
- Additional bell to body brace for stability
- Vintage honey gold finish
- Customized hand engraving on bell and bow
- High quality black or pads with stainless steel domed pesos
- Genuine white pearl key touches
- Adjusting screws on upper and lower stacks
- High quality blue steel springs
- Imported high quality brass from Japan
SeaWind Saxophones: the backstory
Over a decade ago, when Phil Dwyer and Claudio Fantinato first decided to get into the saxophone business, they spent a considerable amount of time doing research. Using Phil’s beloved Balanced Action as a starting point, they came up with designs of what their ideal saxophones would look/act/function like.
When they went factory shopping, it took them a long time to check out all the various possible factories that could manufacture their horn for them. What they saw in many of the factories was quite surprising, and not very encouraging. Then they toured a factory that would give them exactly what they wanted, including: strict quality control standards and a willingness to work collaboratively on the new horns’ designs.
The parts for SeaWind saxophones may be manufactured in Taiwan, but these parts are shipped to Canada. It is in his shop on Vancouver Island where Claudio carefully and painstakingly assembles each horn. Then he play-tests each horn before it is shipped out to its final destination. (A job previously done by Phil before he began attending law school in New Brunswick.) Phil’s and Claudio’s goal is to make each horn as consistent as the one that came before it. This would allow players, regardless of where they are, to play-test a horn that comes properly setup, and playing like a saxophone ought to.
Each part of the saxophone—like the springs, pads, and resos—has been carefully selected by Claudio and Phil. The same is true for all the parts on the cases, like the latches (which happen to be the same ones as on my BAM Hightech bari case). In short, no corners have been cut, and no expense spared when it comes to manufacturing SeaWind saxophones. Not many modern saxophone companies can make that claim. There are also very few saxophones that you can play straight out of the box.
SeaWind baritone saxophone production possible
Claudio and I have spoken at length of the possibility of SeaWind beginning baritone production. It is something the company is seriously considering, but they need a certain number of pre-orders.
At present they are taking pre-orders from both the music stores that sell their horns, as well as individuals. And before someone asks me, no, I will not be pre-ordering a SeaWind bari.
As much as I loved the SeaWind prototype baritone sax that I had on loan, I can’t see myself with another shiny new horn. I have one those: my Medusa. It also happens to be a low A horn, so on those rare occasions when my low A extension doesn’t cut it, I already have a horn to cover me.
I have let Claudio know however, that should the company ever decide to part with its prototype—which it more than likely won’t—I would certainly like to have a chance at it.
If you are interested in finding out more about SeaWind saxophones check out their website. There you’ll find a contact page if you have any questions you’d like answered.
If you’d like to find out more about the SeaWind baritone saxophone, send them an email. They’ll be more than happy to discuss it with you.
In conclusion then…
If I had had the opportunity in 2004 to play-test the SeaWind prototype baritone sax and compare it to the Medusa, I know which horn I would have picked. There would be one less German sax in my horn stable ATM. (Or course I am ignoring the fact that Asian horn production 11 years ago wasn’t where it’s at today, but you get my point.)
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