Let me first say that I had intentionally not read any other reviews on the Theo Wanne Mantra tenor saxophone prior to testing it myself. The following paragraphs contain my initial impression of viewing and playing the Mantra for the first time over about one hour. Certainly I have heard some of the hype and read some advertisements but I truly was not aware of the specific modifications implemented in this new instrument.
So, around 4:00 p.m. UPS dropped of this enormous package on my porch. My wife exclaimed, “What did you order now!?” I said, “Does it look like it might be a saxophone?” The large box was clearly marked Theo Wanne and was not a surprise as I was expecting the Mantra to arrive for my review on SaxShed.com.
I opened the box full of packing peanuts with great anticipation and found the contoured case wrapped in plastic at the bottom of the box. I looked for the latches to open the bright, off white case but found a zipper instead. The long zipper, which wraps around the lightweight case was somewhat reminiscent of the Selmer Sax Pak I owned in the late 70s and through the 80s. Fortunately, this case does not exhibit the same flex at the zipper. The case was attractive, lightweight and sturdy.
I then opened the case to find the Mantra tenor inside and its stunning “vintified” finish. The dark, unlacquered look felt somewhat coarse to the touch and a few features caught my eye immediately. The horn was packaged with it’s own Mantra mouthpiece and the neck looked decidedly different from anything I had seen prior. A comfortable padded strap with locking, metal hook was also included. The octave mechanism sits to the left of the neck and rocks back and forth from a different pivot point and angle from other saxophones I’ve played.
Without hesitation I removed the corks added to clamp the keys shut before shipping. As I handled the instrument I then noticed the addition of not one, but three strap hooks on the body of the instrument. As I gave the Mantra the “once over” I witnessed the bright white pads and rippled metal resonators at each tone hole location. When I finally strapped on the horn and placed it in my hands I could then really feel the key action and significant weight of the horn. Before actually blowing into the Mantra, I hooked the strap onto each of the three available hooks. Before trying them I was a bit skeptical thinking, “What could a half inch higher or lower do?” Quite a bit it turns out. The top hook brought the horn closer to the mouth and seemed to facilitate a downward setting of the embouchure, not unlike pictures of John Coltrane playing. The center hook seemed most comfortable and familiar for me. The bottom hook made the horn fall away from the mouth and seemed to encourage a higher angle of the mouthpiece similar to playing the clarinet.
The keys for the main fingers of the left and right hand felt very familiar. The B,A,G,F,E, and D keys all felt like many saxophones I have played before. The pearls felt small and rounded under the fingers and required no adjustment in my playing technique to feel comfortable. The left hand palm keys and spatula keys did feel quite different. The high F key also seemed to protrude higher as if to anticipate the need to be built up as with my Selmer Mark VI. The right hand spatula Eb and C appeared a bit more present and elongated, in particular the low C. The couplings on the side Bb and C were reminiscent of the older Mark VI as well as the metal thumb hook and octave key. By contrast, the four point bell brace appeared much different from other brands. It was only after playing the horn for an hour that I thought to look at the engraving – modest yet attractive.
I opted to put one of my good reeds on the Mantra mouthpiece and saxophone and just try it as sent for review. My immediate reaction was “Wow. This thing has potential!” Whether from the metal resonators, key height or other factors, I found the horn and native mouthpiece to have great clarity and punch to the sound. It lacked no brightness, darkness or fullness to the sound. Although hard to describe in words, everything seemed to be there at once.
As I continued to play test the horn for the next hour I kept noticing additional adjustment screws located throughout the upper and lower stack. I helped myself to the G# and Bb adjustment screws. After years of having Emilio Lyons work on my tenor I know exactly how I like those adjusted.
In some ways I could look at key guards and see similarities to other horns, then again I’d discover a part of the horn that looked quite different. As time went on, I began to A and B it with my trusty Selmer Mark VI. Truly, this horn holds it’s own and then some.
Lastly, I tried scrutinized the intonation and line up and down the Mantra tenor saxophone. The horn felt very even up and down and required no major changes on my part to feel comfortable with the line and pitch.
I continued to play my regular mouthpiece on the Mantra and the Mantra mouthpiece on my horn. Then I would go back to the Mantra on Mantra. The reaction was always the same. The Mantra is a slammin’ horn! The Mantra mouthpiece is a slammin’ piece! In the end of this non-scientific trial I can say that Theo Wanne’s Mantra tenor saxophone, mouthpiece, case and attention to detail are second to none. He has done it again. This horn clearly demonstrates the fact that the development of the saxophone continues and the bar has yet again been raised by Theo Wanne and the Mantra.
Any saxophonist looking to buy a quality tenor saxophone, need not look any further. The Mantra has all the features, playability and sound quality of the finest of instruments.
Thanks to Theo Wanne and his wonderful crew for allowing me to play test this wonderful instrument – maybe I can borrow it for a couple decades…
You can visit Theo Wanne Custom Mouthpieces at TheoWanne.com and learn more about the Mantra and other innovative products.
Click HERE to view a short video demo of Skip Spratt playing the Mantra tenor saxophone.