(Bauhaus Walstein "phosphor-bronze" tenor)
While vintage saxophones have been the focus here for the better part of a decade, Just Saxes has been known to carry an occasional new, retail saxophone -- a Reference 54 here, a Keilwerth SX-90R there -- and for a couple of years represented one of the first good US brands importing saxophones made in Taiwan. I stopped carrying that brand several years ago but have always wanted to carry a good line of inexpensive, new instruments again. There are many more musical geniuses stuck playing terrible instruments than most people would ever guess. Even in the history of jazz greats there are stories (true) about players like Wayne Shorter achieving greatness on instruments most internet-savvy novices today wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole (Shorter was playing a Bundy when he first joined Miles Davis's band). I have been keeping an eye out for a solid, inexpensive brand to carry for those who could best use them, and can't afford a more expensive option, for a while now.
For a time, it looked like something good might develop with the B&S line, but that possibility eventually went the way of...well...the B&S line.
I think, though -- thanks in part to coming across some reviews and sound clips by Pete Thomas, whom I once interviewed about Lee Allen and knew to be both a straight shooter and a diehard 10M fan -- I believe I have found the single best value out there at the moment, dollar for dollar: The Woodwind and Brasswind (UK) Bauhaus Walstein line. This is the only new saxophone Just Saxes has carried since 2004, and the reason I carry it is straightforward: it is, to my knowledge, the best value in a saxophone, dollar for dollar, available in the marketplace at present. It is not the best saxophone made, but it is a saxophone of very high quality performance, ruggedly made -- a legitimate saxophone, the first "real saxophone" I have played from mainland China -- that costs 1/4 or less of the price of saxophones I would term better. The finishing cosmetic work on some Taiwan made saxophones (how the keys, for example, are filed and polished) is a bit more detailed, but you cannot play that polish, and you pay an extra $600 or even $2500 (in the case of one good Taiwan brand) for it. Additionally, the tone of the Bauhaus is darker and warmer than many Taiwan brands, and it has less of the exaggerated "blatty," flat-sounding, blaring quality at full voice that is characteristic of some Asian branded saxophones (true of the tenors especially).
The emergence of the Bauhaus Walstein saxophone line does appear to mark a turning point in Taiwan/PROC manufacturing. Let's face it: PROC-made horns used to be deserving of the derision they received -- soft keymetal, abominable intonation, you name it, the stories were true. For the first part of the history of saxophones being made in Taiwan and the PROC, one could generally predict not just where a saxophone was made but its likely playability solely with a glance at its price tag. When the first really decent saxophones began to come out of Taiwan, the market also saw various lines begin to appear in Sam's Clubs and Price-Costcos, retailing at under $1000. Many of these latter brand names, their pricing indicating mainland China-based manufacturing, were beyond unserviceable, and a poor shadow of their richer relations' products from across the Taiwan Strait. While Taiwan-made saxophones were giving "The Big Four" a run for their money, and winning not just a few converts, initially they didn't have much to fear from saxophones that could be profitably brought to market at less than $1000 thanks to more heavily PROC manufacturing. Now, though, with the Bauhaus Walstein line, the mainland factories are putting the same pressure on Taiwan-based manufacturers that Taiwan manufacturers once brought to the market at large. These are rugged, solid, legitimate instruments that play well and that play in tune. Truly, the market seems to be at a turning point, and the Bauhaus Walstein seems to be the marker of that change.
All of the major things that should be right are right on these saxophones. Their tonehole and neck design are good -- they play in tune and sound good. The tenor, for example, even subtones unusually easily. When I first received a Bauhaus tenor from Martin, at The Woodwind & Brasswind, it had taken some abuse in shipping, and was leaking in several places, but it still came out of the box subtoning easily for me all the way down to low Bb (illustrations of this follow below). Both tenor and alto voice altissimo notes unusually readily. The keywork and mechanism on these saxophones is solid, and rugged (the metal outperformed Yanagisawa's in one well-reputed tech's tests), and the alto's keyboard is especially slick, ergonomically.
There is room for fine tuning -- in some relatively minor areas of design, of finishing work, and of set-up -- but for the money, dollar for dollar, it's hard to imagine that it's possible to offer a greater value. These are excellent and dependable instruments for students, in particular, with a much better sound than most established student instruments and solid manufacturing. I know of very accomplished recording artists from New Orleans whose best recordings were made on much lesser instruments, in much worse repair. Four years ago I would never have imagined I'd write this paragraph, but saxophone manufacturing in Asia does appear to be at a new turning point. Indeed, the quality of the Bauhaus line is what inspired me to undertake my own private research to produce my own line of Crescent saxophones -- a huge undertaking, but the evidence of the Bauhaus line is what convinced me it was worth the effort.