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Virtuoso Saxophones by R.S. Berkeley Print E-mail
Written by Skip Spratt   
Sunday, 15 March 2009

R.S. Berkeley has recently released their new, professional “Virtuoso” line of saxophones. Virtuoso alto and tenor saxophone models are currently manufactured in China and distributed in the U.S. They are offered in gold lacquer, gold plating, silver plating, black lacquer and matte finishes.

The saxophone in its present form has not changed significantly since the modifications implemented by Selmer in the 1950s. As a result, the Selmer Mark VI is the standard by which all other saxophones are measured. With the continued popularity of the Selmer Mark VI, which was made from 1955 to 1975, the resale market has shot up sharply over the past couple of decades. Now more than 30 years since the last Mark VI was made, the marketplace has become flooded with many lesser-expensive yet high-quality saxophones. Virtuoso Saxophones by R.S. Berkeley are among the relative newcomers to this same, new market.

Several weeks ago I had my first opportunity to see and play these remarkable new Virtuoso saxophones. The annual NJMEA convention in East Brunswick, NJ is host to many manufacturers and instrument dealers as well as clinician and presenters in music education. It was at NJMEA where I met up again with Les Silver of R.S. Berkeley. Les was kind enough to have me as a guest at his booth and I got to try all 10 of the altos and tenors on display. In addition to Les being at the booth, Bob Ackerman was on hand, demonstrating his gold plated Virtuoso alto sax. Later in the day, Tim Ries was on hand to demonstrate the Virtuoso tenor he endorses.

Following the convention, I had the opportunity to try the Virtuoso tenor in gold lacquer in my home teaching and recording studio. It was there that I had the chance to really put the instrument to the test side by side my own and another Mark VI.

First, I must say that each Virtuoso saxophone has a slight variation to the tone quality depending on the finish. My personal favorites at the convention were the gold plating, gold lacquer and matte finishes. All instruments in the Virtuoso line have a beautifully engraved custom neck and engraved bell. The silver and black horns were gorgeous but I still preferred the sound of the other three models.

When I received the gold lacquered tenor at home I played it quite a bit and found it to be very responsive, warm and friendly in the fingers. It compared very favorably with my own and another Selmer Mark VI. The Eb spatula key on the right hand feels slightly lower and the left hand palm keys a bit smaller than my own instrument. Once I learned to adjust to the placement of a few keys, I began to wail on the thing. The sound is crisp, clear and clean through the full range and into the altissimo. Notes did not choke off even into the highest altissimo more than an octave off the horn. All-in-all, I would have no problems playing this horn on a gig, in a lesson or elsewhere.

For those players who are looking for a rich, warm, sound with the feel of a much more expensive instrument – the Virtuoso Saxophones may be for you.

You can find out more about Virtuoso Saxophones at http://www.virtuososaxophones.com


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