Review of a Jinyin-Made Bass Sax From China

Bell-Engraving

Photo by H. Kahlke ©2016

Jinyin-made bass sax

Stencil name: Xu Qiu, but Jinyin stencilled bass saxophones for anyone who ordered them including, but certainly not limited to: International Woodwind, Orpheo, Hawk, and Gear4Music.

Price: Varied widely. Ranged from $2,000 to $8,000 US – depending on stencil label

Date of manufacturing: circa 2010

Date of review: 2016

About a month ago, I met a local player who owns a Jinyin-made bass sax stencilled with the name Xu Qiu. Since my website is one of the few (the only?) on the Net that has an extensive pictorial and brand-name inventory of both Jinyin and Jinbao-made bass saxophones, I thought I should at least make an effort to play the instrument—since I have not seen, let alone played one of these cheap Chinese bass saxes before.

I must admit, I was fully expecting that this instrument would be the saxophone equivalent of a tin can. However, this Jinyin-made bass sax was anything but. It was heavy as hell. It was likely as heavy as, if not slightly heavier than, my Buescher True Tone. Quite frankly, that surprised me, and the surprises didn’t stop there.

Note: I apologize in advance for the quality of the photos in this review. Since I was shooting these in the owner’s living room, there are a lot of reflections of objects—mostly me ;) —in the lacquer of the horn. I also didn’t have my tripod with me, and my neuro problem has been giving me quite a bit of grief of late. Some of the pics are not as clear as I would like them to be. Oh well… Shit happens…

Specs

  • Tuned in the key of Bb – one octave below a Bb tenor.
  • Keyed from low Bb to high F.
  • Lacquer finish with laser engraving.
  • Leather pads with a mix of metal and nylon resos.
  • Weight +/- 18lbs.
  • Adjustable right thumb rest.
  • Triple strap ring.
  • Carbon fibre peg to avoid having to wear this piglet around your neck.
  • Lightweight case with wheels for ease of transport.
  • No name bari mouthpiece that has NOT been modified for bass saxophone.
  • White gloves (because nothing from China comes without white gloves, apparently).

Tone

The tone of this Jinyin-made bass sax was what you would expect from an American-style bass sax: big, fat, meaty, sonorous, and in my case, reedy. I used my modified #5 Runyon blank, which was customized specifically for bass sax, with a 2½ Fibracell reed. (One of the good, older ones that’s about 10 years old—before the company started producing junk.)

To find out more about how bari mouthpieces are customized to be used specifically on bass saxophones, check out the article by Paul Coats on my website.

If a listener were blindfolded and a player were to play a vintage American bass, and this Jinyin-made bass sax back to back, I believe it would be hard to tell which instrument was which. Perhaps the only thing that would give it away would be its intonation. More about that below.

Necks

Photo by H. Kahlke ©2016

Like many Jinyin-made basses, this Xu Qiu came with two necks. I did not have with me a means to measure them, but the owner told me the difference was ½” in length. I’m not sure how accurate this measurement is, but I can tell you that while the different necks didn’t differ in tone, they did differ greatly in intonation.

Using my regular chromatic tuner, I found that the short neck provided accurate tuning from C#2 through the palm keys. However, from C2 and downwards, the instrument was horribly out of tune.

I then tried the longer neck, and found that from C2 downwards was decently in tune, with only a few issues. These might be correctable through key height adjustments, or perhaps tuning crescents in some tone holes. However, since I only played the sax for <15 minutes, more time on the horn would be necessary before a truly accurate diagnosis of the poor tuning can be made.

The longer neck did not adversely affect the tuning of C#2 and above, which would mean that for my mouthpiece and reed set-up, the longer neck would be the correct one for this horn.

All in all, I would sum up the intonation on this sax as fairly easy to control. As a matter of fact, I found it easier to control than the intonation on my Buescher bass. It was less fussy, and more like a conventional saxophone. Go figure…

Response

When Jinyin copied the vintage American bass saxophones, they managed to copy not only their great tone, but also their unevenness of scale. D2 is pretty much unplayable at first, and needs to be coaxed out. Vintage bass players generally use the palm key D to vent the D2 rather than the octave key. I didn’t have a lot of success with that trick on this Jinyin-made bass sax. For me, I found the best trick was to overblow D1 (sans octave key) and hit D2 that way.

C2 was also as problematic on this Xu Qiu bass, as it is on most vintage American bass saxophones. Side C seems the way to play it best.

Other than those two really problematic areas, this Jinyin-made bass sax responded quite well. It played up and down its entire scale quite well. Given that it hasn’t seen the inside of a shop in a couple of years at least, and doesn’t get played, but rather sits on the floor in the living room in its case—where it might be subject to the occasional bump to its case—this beastie shows a great deal of potential. It certainly has no worse a response than my Buescher when it hasn’t been to the shop for a while.

Feel

This is where the Jinyin-made bass sax wins hands down over its American-made predecessors. Ergonomically there is no comparison. It is the saxophone equivalent of comparing a Ford Model T, to a car of today.

The Xu Qiu bass saxophone’s keys are quite well laid out. Not only that, it has all those things that are missing in most vintage American horns: a bis Bb; a range to high F; an adjustable right thumb rest; as well as triple strap rings, which allow you to adjust how you position the horn when playing it (in your lap, hanging on your side).

My favourite riff for testing a horn is the intro to In The Mood, starting on Bb 2. Starting on that note ends the riff on low Bb. This Xu Qiu bass played this riff amazingly well.

The left palm keys are not the best that I’ve ever encountered, but they are adequate. What is not so adequate however, are the rollers on the left and right pinkie keys. They are so tiny, it’s like they’re from another instrument. As a matter of fact, in the photos below you can see the extra space around the rollers. Clearly Jinyin didn’t get larger bits of plastic to use for their bass saxophone rollers. And yes, they are made of plastic, because the company didn’t spring for extras on this baby (like real mother of pearl or abalone).

All in all, given that I was playing a bass saxophone that I was unfamiliar with, I found this a very easy sax to play. If I were to spend any time on it, it would be a snap to play… Much easier than my Buescher. (And yes, it hurts to write this.)

Build

Note: I am not a tech, nor do I play one on TV.  ;)   I am however, a sax player with nearly 3 decades of playing experience who has spent a great many hours with my techs, talking with them, learning from them, and applying that knowledge to the saxophones that I purchase either for myself, and my students.

When I first lifted this Jinyin-made bass sax out of its case, I was amazed at how heavy it was. The owner told me that it was heavy, but I didn’t really think that it would be as heavy as my Buescher. I was wrong.

Upon looking carefully at this instrument, I noticed something pretty peculiar things, which might in fact contribute towards this Xu Qiu bass saxophone’s weight. If you compare/contrast this Xu Qiu bass saxophone to a vintage Conn or Buescher, you’ll notice some major differences in the key work that go way beyond the improvements already noted. Specifically, I’m referring to the key work in the upper portion of the body tube, the upper bow, and the long tube portion of the pigtail that connects to the upper bow.

For those of us who don’t have a 14M keyed to high F, this key work looks rather odd. However, compared to the highly coveted 14M that Conn produced, it becomes obvious that the designers of this Jinyin-made bass sax borrowed from Conn’s design ideas with regards to key placement, but definitely not mechanics.

bass saxophone, Conn bass sax, 14M, silver saxophone, saxophone keys, sax neck, vintage saxophone

14M Conn bass keyed to high F. Source: vintagesax.com

What the designers of this Jinyin-made bass sax did very differently to both Conn and Buescher is make both the upper bow, as well as the bell, easily detachable. As with modern horns, techs no longer have to unsolder these parts of the horn in order to do major repairs.

As can be noted in the photo on the right, the vintage American-style Jinyin bass saxophone has two bell to body braces. These heavy braces are stable, and prevent the heavy bell from gradually pushing its weight into the body tube when the instrument is carried in its case, or stored on its side. (Which is why the original cases had a support belt for the bell.) This is far superior to Buescher’s single brace, and even better than Conn’s double brace system.

Another thing that Jinyin doubled are the key arms on the low C key. This is of course a great idea, but I would have liked to see them take it further and add double arms on more of the bell keys.

Low-C-Key-Mechanism-&-Double-Tone-Arms

Photo by H. Kahlke ©2016

One thing I noticed, that could not be captured in photos, was the extra play there was on some on the keys. Despite the fact that this Jinyin-made bass sax had very few playing hours on it, it appeared that some of the keys needed swedging. However, this was not the case at all. The answer to what was wrong with this Xu Qiu bass can be found in repair tech’s Stephen Howard’s review of a similar Jinyin-made bass sax. This is what he says about the cause of this play:

…it’s that the rod screws are all 2.73mm in diameter…which is well within the normal range of rod screw sizes you’d find on saxes – but the key barrels are all drilled out to take a 2.9mm diameter rod screw. That almost a .2mm discrepancy, and while it doesn’t sound like a lot on paper I can assure you that in practice it makes a world of difference. The resultant gap between the rod and the barrel wall is that which you’d find on a very worn action – and that brings with it a whole host of problems…

There’s no way around these problems other than to ensure the action is as snug as possible on its pivots, and that they in turn fit snugly into the pillars – which means that every rod screw on this bass had to be upgraded.
While the existing rod screws were undersized, a 2.9mm rod fitted perfectly – so no additional drilling/reaming was required – but here’s the rub; I said there was no way around these problems, but the manufacturers had come up with an ‘ingenious’ solution, which was to put a slight bend in every key…and to knock the pillars slightly out of line with each other. It’s a clever trick, because the misalignment gives the appearance of well-fitting pivots – it’s only when you give the keys a bit of a jiggle, or actually try to play the instrument, that it all goes wrong.

I suspect that just like with the rollers, Jinyin used what they had in stock, and didn’t get special materials for their bass saxophones. WTF?

Some more pics of the Jinyin-made bass sax stencilled for Xu Qiu

Bottom line

Jinyin cut a lot of corners when they made their stencil bass saxophones. Remember, these are ultra cheap horns. A Conn or Buescher was built as a pro model instrument in its day. Julius Keilwerth still builds horns in this style, and one will set you back north of $12,000 US. The Jinyin-made bass sax, when sold new, ranged in price from $2,000 to $8,000 (If you look through my previous posts in this series you will find various listings for them). There is no way that a cheaply made instrument is on the same playing field as one of its vintage predecessors in build quality.

That said, this Xu Qiu bass did have a number of things going for it that made it easier to play than my vintage Buescher. Given how infrequently I play bass these days, I must admit, I am tempted by the horn.

Playing my bass is a major workout. Now that’s not a bad thing when I was doing it daily, and gigging with it regularly. However, now that I don’t play it in a band anymore, whenever I do go to use it, getting used to it again is always a matter of getting into a certain head space. I basically have to toss away most things I know about saxophone playing, and play the bass like it was its own instrument.

That’s what I appreciated about this cheap Chinese horn. I didn’t have to leave saxophone-land and enter bass-land. I could just play this Jinyin-made bass like I would any other saxophone. Sure, it needed a lot more air, but I could use my bis Bb fingering, and play up to high F without using altissimo fingerings.

For a casual bass sax player who plays 3 to 4 gigs a year, and is not putting the horn through heavy use, this Jinyin-made bass sax may well be a viable option. However, don’t expect to play it out of the box.

Obviously the rods need to be replaced with the correct size. I would also have my tech go over it extremely carefully and fix all the problem areas. Maybe some levelling of the tone holes would be necessary. I would also have the rollers replaced with proper sized ones, and likely have the pearls replaced with real MOP. Key heights would also be set properly, since I suspect some on the intonation issues stem from there.

As for the pads with mix of nylon and metal resos, I would have my tech replace the necessary pads to ensure the horn had the same style metal resos on all pads. But that’s just me, some players might not be that picky.

That said, given the cost of these horns, even if you were to drop $1,000 or $1,500 on it to have its shortcomings fixed, you’d still be at least a couple thousand ahead of where you’d be if you were to buy a vintage Conn or Buescher that has been fully restored. And if you want a vintage 14M keyed to high F, you’ll have to drop about 10K to 15K (depending on condition).

The cheap, Jinyin-made bass sax does have its niche. If you’re a casual bass player, and are looking for a horn to honk around on sometimes, then this might be the thing for you. Just don’t expect to play it out of the box. Expect to drop some serious coin on it at the shop when you get home.

If you are seriously considering buying one of these horns, I strongly encourage you to read Stephen Howard’s review. As a tech, and not a bass player, he writes from a different perspective than I do.

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is www.bassic-sax.info. If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

© 2016, Helen. All rights reserved.

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Helen

Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.

3 Comments:

  1. Pingback: Favorite blog posts, March 2016 | Bret Pimentel, woodwinds

  2. Excellent review with an even handed approach to the pluses and minuses. Makes me want to wander to Stephen’s site to see if he reviewed the Eppelsheim bass sax. Let me know if you want to review mine.

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