“ Brand: A. Carmichael / Instrument Type: Saxophone „
I must admit after a few years ago from graduating from music college and doing gigs sporadically amidst teaching instrumentally (which is one reason alone to why I decided to become a classroom teacher) which then took over my life as opposed to playing in jazz and wind bands, I was never quite the buyer of saxophones since I already owned (and still own) two very special makes dear to my heart. Therefore I was quite surprised and intrigued to find a trial offer from a pupil of mine to try out a new saxophone by a company called A Carmichael. Now to those who may well have never heard of this company, least myself included, the company are made up of workers who have built, scrutinised and observed saxophones under the Selmer Paris company, Bach and others who have been established producers of one of the world's best series of saxophones for professionals to amateurs and have always taken pride of precedence in my preferences for a good saxophone, built to last with good mechanics and oiled precision. Over Yamaha and Yanagisawa who I consider both to be two of the highest and best makers to come out of Japan who make exceptional wind instruments not just saxophones, I was intrigued by Carmichael's range of saxophones, not just on the basis of workmanship from other companies but also their highly detailed ranges being quite price competitive - whereas a Selmer Paris saxophone, alto, soprano, tenor or baritone can cost in the £1500 to £4000 range of money, Carmichael's latest "Evolution," ACEV11 Alto Saxophone comes in at a slightly lower asking price of £199-99 online to £425 from the company themselves. This is quite a jump from the Selmer and Japanese companies. So is it an actual Evolution?
From the point of purchasing and quality it may just be the case!
I've been playing saxophone now since I was 14 and that was well over 20 years ago. Since then whilst the market has been infiltrated with cheap designs and bucket loads of British producers who put their own name to "default" Chinese built instruments, saxophones these days tend to mirror the company who buy them in from Asia rather than whole sale producers who have the backing to produce an instrument entirely from their own company. Therefore the Evolution may well appear to be a bargain but its not from the lips of an professional here that such a cheap instrument may well be as exciting to hold let alone play in contrast to much more premium priced products - this is no "also-ran," the Evolution is so good, I'm considering buying one for my own use and therefore an early Christmas present to me! ** This is a long review ! **
For a start unlike Selmer Paris, you can find that with the purchase of an Evolution saxophone, a case will come as a freebie. Now when I went into the market myself at 21 to buy a soprano saxophone, I was not given the opportunity of buying a case for my preferred choice at the time - a Selmer Paris Super Series II model costing around £2500. You'd think way back in the 1990's such a company would have given a free case - but Selmer pride themselves on quality and a case is often an optional extra cost accessory. As a student starting out on the platform as a performer that was the final consideration of not purchasing a Selmer Paris saxophone- the cost of the case alone should have been free but wasn't.
Here however in Carmichael's case, the Evolution is offered with either a soft gig bag that has as much protection as the PVC Deluxe case offered by default, although the soft gig bag case has a few nifty features such as a zipped section on the front for papers and accessories, two points on the back that gives the owner the option to carry the case on their back, pop out wheels that allow the bag to be wheeled along or simply with the use of shoulder strap points, either swung on their back like a normal sports bag or carried via its thickly made handle carry straps. To lock the case down, a zip that travels all the way around the bag ensures that no water damage can leak into the case whereas the Deluxe case is an all black PVC affair with lockable metal locks complete with keys and discreet badging. Over the two, although the rectangular gig bag feels like it is the more practical, the zipped section only allows small articles to be slid in and zipped up - a great pity then since stuffing an A4 book or music will simply get destroyed as the zipped section cannot hold anything bigger than A5 sheets side ways. Over the two the more basic spec Evolution with the Deluxe case comes in around £200 to £350 whilst an Evolution from A Carmichael themselves comes in around £500; quite a difference!
Both cases have felt padding and a synthetic feel to hold the Alto saxophone in tight, so over the two designs as a buyer you have to consider what use and abuse the instrument you're buying has in store for itself let alone travelling with it and practicalities as a daily performer/saxophonist.
The Evolution is a befitting name however; full engraving on the bell and a luxury feel is very evident from the way the keys move to the more logically placed upper keys that are nearer to my hands than say, a Selmer Bundy beginner Alto saxophone that suffers from the same quality kind of PVC case as the Evolution but farther away set keys, especially down at the lower end of the saxophone on the Bb, B and C keys. Indeed the quality of workmanship is very high evident by the way everything has been constructed on the Evolution which gives immediate peace of mind - even though some springs on the mechanism are too big and look as if they have been bent the wrong way. Whilst the Selmer Bundy (American built and no comparison to the premium Selmer Paris models) is unashamedly marketed towards the beginner saxophonist or perhaps even, pupils who have passed exams and show a real talent for purchase considerations, the Evolution on price alone with the cheaper case appears to be a real bargain. Further mechanics and features allow the owner to reach up to high F sharp - a note which is not always standard on all saxophones in the saxophone family whilst the saxophone itself is made of high quality brass with a gold lacquer finish. The only slight downside is the addition of faux pearl keys which means long term and if the saxophone is used more than three times a week, damage could result in the pearl flaking off early due to the high acidic nature of sweaty fingers brushing past and indeed holding keys down through natural playing. Short of caking your fingers in talcum powder or doning a pair of white cotton gloves each time you play, there really isn't any way around acidic levels in fingers.
In terms of other accessories equipped, a metal ligature (the ring that fits over the reed to keep it locked on the mouth piece), reed and mouthpiece come as standard although depending on the seller involved, I've seen Evolution models fitted with the more expensive yet free leather ligature holder that keeps the reed locked to the mouthpiece. Also a neck strap with a rubber collar or padded collar is also supplied. Sadly like many budget saxophones these days, the mouthpiece is usually a factory fit standard accessory that doesn't really allow the instrument to show off its musical sonority let alone fast key work and precision when it comes to playing. The good news is that in general the Evolution isn't heavy, certainly not the same weight as my own Alto saxophone whilst adjusting the instrument is easy due to its neck strap holder which is reasonably sized to accommodate most strap design locks on the market.
The standard mouthpiece for example, used with a 3 or 4 strength reed (beginners to amateurs tend to stay on size 3 for Classical playing, and 2.5 or 4 for Jazz playing, but it all depends on the width and length of the reed in question) produced an alarming amount of muffled tone, even though my own reeds have matured over the years, I tend to go through around 5 to 7 reeds a year on my own Alto saxophone. Used with a well-used and "broken in," reed, the standard mouthpiece on the Evolution is disappointing; there is not enough width on the bottom barrel of the mouthpiece which may well explain the muffled tone I got when I first tried it. Also there seems to be a little leakage of air whenever I've used reeds with the standard mouthpiece - this is a downside to anything you get free with a saxophone for example. With my own mouthpiece of choice (Selmer S80 mouthpiece, which costs around £60 to £75) a world of difference opened up; the sound of the Evolution is quite revolutionary in the sense that I've often found saxophones of invariable quality have a rather loud C sharp amidst other notes (a reason simply being the open note mechanics leaves the note itself rather vulnerable with all pads open) but on the Evolution, although the tone is brighter than most notes, it doesn't go as sharp which is very welcome, particularly to amateurs starting out trying to tune their instruments with other concert pitch instruments.
Whilst it is possible to attain the high F sharp, the higher register keys are easy to press down without involving any unnatural wrist movements too and this is very welcome, particularly for the purposes of performing in public where even the most natural playing of the saxophone should involve the players hands and fingers being as close to the keys as possible and adopting a curved nature of the fingers similar to the proper way of playing a piano.
Of the downsides, there aren't that many. Availability is one aspect I'm more concerned about; the price differences are quite large if you consider to buy from A Carmichael direct whereas online at www.karacha.com you can really bag yourself quite a bargain without being out of pocket much and the sales staff really know what they are talking about without the hard-fast-sale approach tactics; that in itself and in my experience dealing with the high amount of pupils I teach Saxophone too, is a very big welcome, particularly for parents.
When you buy the Evolution, it will come pre-packed in a protective bag and then a plastic polythene bag of which all that has to be discarded. However for the purposes of heightened and therefore extra security to the keys, pads and mechanisms, A Carmichael fit corked points that lock the pads down. At first when I opened everything up, I was unsure as to why the pads were not moving until I saw little brown corners of cork between keys and mechanisms - and Carmichael did not supply a user manual with this or any warning to let the buyer know. As such it took 9 to 11 cork points to be removed from all over the Evolution until it could be properly played; not the most ideal thing if its to be wrapped as a Christmas present and then played immediately, and finding and locating the pieces of cork was very difficult as well as removing some of them in between coils, springs and vulnerable parts such as the main spindle that connects to the rear of the saxophone down to the larger padded notes. If you are a beginner and you're not too sure of what to do, ask a professional player or a teacher who can remove the points safely because Saxophones and many other woodwind instruments have cork seats fitted for the pads to bang off of when playing (they rise and fall to produce different notes) so you could inadvertently remove the wrong type of cork if you didn't know where to look thus endangering your saxophone from damage to the brass pads. If you are going to consider the Evolution, use a cock tail stick to stab and lift the cork points safely out of the way; anything bigger could dislodge a spring or remove a spring entirely.
Over larger and more mass produced names such as Yamaha, Yanagisawa, Selmer and more budget makes such as Jupiter, I've been suitably impressed with A Carmichael's Evolution Alto Saxophone. Its quality to detail is outstanding at its lowest price; leather pads and ribbed construction put it into a higher market level and on a long term basis this saxophone is quite a winner in my eyes. It has a great universal sound both apt for Jazz, Classical, Folk and indeed any kind of music you want to play your saxophone to. It makes purchasing a saxophone even harder for those who are used to the more quality names that have had years of experience against this company who are relatively new to the musical instrument world, even though they appear to make instruments for Selmer, they have produced flutes and clarinets too making them appear as if they know what they are doing in such a relatively short time on the market. For some buyers that can be a downside, particularly for the purpose of maintaining and repairing - but for the moment, it seems repairers are beginning to recognise similar workmanship between the Evolution and Selmer saxophones particularly on the key work and mechanisms - this can only be a good advantage as it suggests repair in the long term will be easier to rely on whilst purchased from online, you'll receive a one year's guarantee that covers full labour and parts; all of it indeed suggests a revolution in instrument buying, particularly the world of the Saxophone - about time too! Thanks for reading. ©Nar2 2008