Antigue ProOne 6200 Tenor Saxophone (11/6/2022)

I don't waste any time, do I? I just shipped the B&S to it's new owner and I've got an Antigua ProOne 6200 on order.  I think this will be the last one I try for a while, I'm losing too much money on shipping and selling fees!  Famous last words... It could be a keeper.  From the reviews and the tech features, it seems like a winner.

I had a temporary in there too.  I found a Selmer TS44, a Selmer USA / Selmer France made in Taiwan collaboration, with a Selmer France neck and mouthpiece.  The guy described it as well taken care of and used only one  year for high school concerts.  It's a nice looking horn in the black nickle and silver.  What a disaster that was.  I shipped it back the same day.  It had dents in it, heavy abrasion, corrosion, scratches, and a felt fell off as I was testing it.  The seller didn't mention any of that, and there  weren't enough photos and detail to see it all.  Didn't even put any padding around the case in the box.  Anyway... couldn't find another one in the price range but then a few of these Antigua's showed up on Ebay. 

One of the things I discovered doing this comparison is that Eastern Music seems to make really good instruments.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, here's what it looks like:

So, what got me interested in it was recommendations and that it's designed by Peter Ponzol, who's been in the design of saxophones for decades for various manufacturers.  And he's done some things on this horn that really make sense to me. Noteworthy are:

1. Uses a custom brass which contains a higher amount of copper to match what use to be done with the French saxophones in the 50's. Which should give a warmer sound with more projection.  I like that because my Eastern Music is a Rose Brass, high copper, and I do like the response of that instrument.
2. It's cryogenically treated.  Apparently that's a way to destress the metal and improve the tone.
3. Reviewers say that it's substantial, heavy, and that gives it a darker tone.  Feeling solid is a good thing.
4. It's a new neck design to give good tuning, and it actually raises the mouthpiece higher.  That's good for me because I'm tall, but Peter also says that gets you to tilt your head up and open up your wind pipe.  Combined with having two attachment rings, maybe my support harness won't need to be up so high.
5. There is a G# lifter mechanism.  Every saxophone I've had the G# can stick because it's spring lift.  This is a mechanical lift.  Keilworth sax's, which Peter worked on also, have the same feature.

6. The five tone holes on the bell are all ringed, similar to rolling the tone holes.  But this is the only instrument that has a mixture of drawn holes on top, and the ringed holes on bottom.  Peter says that provides a more uniform sound across the full range and makes the lower notes easier to play.  It also provides a consistent resistance from top to bottom.
7. Some of the bell tone keys also use trident arms, patented, with adjusters on them to stabilize the large keys and allow adjusting to close any leaks. This is one step beyond the double arms that you sometimes see on other saxophones.

It comes in a couple colors, above is the Classic Antique.

I listened to all the reviews plays I could find and they were all positive.  Here's the links to Peter's explanation of the design and some of the reviews.
Don Braden Review:
Paul Baker Review:
Ian FullWood Playing:
Kevin Gibbs Antiqua ProOne Comparison to Selmer Mark VI:

Here's a written one pager:  DownBeat Magazine Review

Also got a deal on it because it's a closeout sale on Ebay through one of Antigua's dealers.  $1800+tax.  Brand new with a 30 day return policy.  So, I've got some high expectations of this horn.  Considering I paid $1650 for a 28 year old B&S, and $1500 for a beat up Selmer 44, it's a steal.  Not sure it would hold it's resale value because it's not one of the big names.

At about 7:39 on this video, this guy plays it.  Wow, beautiful.

First Impressions

Well, definitely can't beat the delivery time from WA to AL, from via Ebay, one day early.  Nice surprise.

Packed very well in double wall carton.
Nice sturdy well padded case.

Inside are slots for the neck and the mouthpiece.  Other cases I've had store the mouthpiece vertical, with recesses on both top and bottom of the case.  This one has just a recess on the bottom half.  A Yamaha 5C just fits lengthwise but it's a tight fit.  No way to leave the reed on the mouthpiece in there, too risky it would get damaged, and if I put the protector on it, then it doesn't fit.

Does come with an Antigua mouthpiece, I thought it didn't come with one. Looks identical to my Yamaha 5C.  The reed table and rails seem to be cut in a little deeper; the rails are a bit wider all the way around. But the chamber, size, tip gap and curve seem to be identical. Also comes with a Rico 2.5 reed, strap, and grease, and a cloth and pull  through swab. The ligature is a standard two screw metal, color matched to the instrument.

They do throw in a little plastic gizmo; a reed holder sander.  Will have to see how that works.

The instrument looks just like the photos, so no surprise there. 

The neck, if lined up with my Eastern Music Ref 54, is over an inch higher at the mouthpiece end, as Peter discussed in his video, and seems a bit bigger in diameter.  The fit into the saxophone is perfect.

1. The pearls on the keys are more dished compared to my 54. My fingers like it.
2. The springs are stiffer and feel very uniform across all keys.  When first playing it I caught myself not pressing enough a few times.
3. The pinky keys on both hands are well placed.  Rollers work nice.  On the right hand the keys are actually raised higher off the saxophone, than my 54, about an inch.  I like where they fall.  I don't need to reach as much.  I do have big hands, so this will be nice for people with smaller hands.  The left hand table keys are a bit closer, so less reach for those also. 
4. Immediately feels comfortable.
5. The key travel distance is pretty short across the board.  Everything feels tight and solid; well put together.
6. The palm keys work as well as any.  D is on the palm, D# and F are at the base of my fingers, which is the case with all the Tenors I've tried; big hands.  They seem a bit closer to the body and closer together than with the 54. But not a huge difference.  In the long run, no matter what sax I keep, I'll probably need to put some extenders on the key so they fit my hand better. 

Played it for a couple hours.  No complaints.  On middle D with all keys pressed sometimes I get an octave higher.  With the shorter key travels and stiffer springs I just need to work on the timing of getting all the keys pressed.  I had this problem before on my 54 when making fast transitions from middle B to middle D.  It was a finger timing issue.  If the timing is off you end up blipping the octave key open.

It sounds very much like my 54.  Maybe it's that both are made from higher copper content brass.  Resonates really well.  Low notes seem better, easier to initiate.  Doesn't take much beyond breathing.  Subtones well.  Might be slightly darker than the 54.  Plays well quiet or blasting.

So, I have to give credit to the Eastern Music that it matches the ProOne pretty well in terms of sound production.  But the ProOne is definitely more refined.  Is that refinement worth 2.5x the price?  I have 30 days to return it, so I'm going to play it for a bit.

Second Day  11/10/2022
Wow.  It sounds really good.  I really like the tone. 

Seems easier to play in tune for the most part; better intonation; neither the high end nor low end is out of range, don't need to make any huge effort on either end.  All the other sax's I've had either had center notes that were out of line or if one end was good the other was off, and I found I had to significantly compensate.

Still find myself not pressing a key down hard enough and I lose the note.  This is actually a good thing, because I've always struggled with being too tense and using too much pressure.  This shows I've learned to easing up.  Just need to find the balance for this sax.

The middle D, with all keys, still octaves up occasionally, but happens less.  Both timing and my voicing help.  If I focus it's fine.

I do notice the slight difference in the angle of the saxophone neck to my mouth.  This is also good in the sense that the distance between the mouthpiece and my hands is about an inch more.  Being tall, I like the extra space.

Day 4
The tables keys really are in a good location.  My pinky just falls naturally onto the G#/Ab, in fact I find myself reaching down past it sometimes, which shows that it is noticeably higher than my 54.  The C# is just a slight move down and to the left.  One of the reviews linked above talks about wanting the table keys just a little closer to the other keys, further up the neck.  He's got short chubby fingers.  I think for me, I'd be cramped if they were any higher.

My lower D#/Eb pad was sticking really bad.  Some kind of gunk got on it during manufacturing or something.  I used some zipo lighter fluid and a swab to clean it off. Some kind of brown stuff came off.  All better now.

I had to figure out a different way to attach my support strap from the Bb Guard to my harness.  It was somehow interfering with the sound.  Not sure if it was pressing on something or what, but moving it got rid of the problem.

The low notes really do come out easily, even with low air.  You literally can breath them at low air volumes.

Looking at the instrument, it's got all sorts of adjusting screws on it.  I'm guessing the techs will be happy with it.

Day 8
Wow, time flies. 

That D#/Eb pad was still sticking.  Cleaned it up again. Took off the guard so I could open it up wide, wiped it off with more Zipo fluid, then put some leather treatment on it, then Zipo again, buttoned her back up. Seems to be better now.

I'm definitely getting more use to the sax.  No complaints.  It's going to be interesting to pick up the Ref 54 after a couple week.

Day 12
The sticking is not going away.  Once I un-stick it at the start of a play session it still sticks a bit, more with time, not enough to be annoying, and not like when it's sitting overnight.  That's kind of ironic that it has the no stick linkage for the G# and the D# sticks more than my G# ever did on the Ref 54.

I switched back to the Eastern Music Ref 54 today.  Things that are obvious.
- One of the fingers for Bb is more of a dud on the ProOne.  The all fingers down middle D is also more of a dud on the ProOne.
- The lighter spring force on the 54 definitely allows me to move faster.
- The difference in placement of the table keys is noticeable, but I actually like the placement of the left hand table keys being a bit further away on the 54.  On the ProOne sometimes it did feel cramped.
- The sound is very comparable, with the ProOne being maybe a bit darker, but not by much.
- The low Bb may be a smidge easier to initiate on the ProOne. 
- The ProOne is slightly heavier. But without an accurate scale that's just a feel. Sometimes that's because of balance.
- Intonation is good on both.  I don't feel that I need to make any adjustments playing back and forth between one and the other.
- The 54 is more free blowing.

So, I think I've made my decision.  I'm going to return the ProOne.  It's definitely a better instrument than the B&S 2001 I had, particularly in intonation, but aside from some neat, and I think good, design features like the G# lifter, the trident arms on the lower key, and the ringed tone holes on the lower keys, it has no significant advantage that shows up in the playability compared to the 54.  The 54 is 9 months old, never had any maintenance done to it (had one table screw that backed out) and it definitely held it's own.  The 54 was $800, the ProOne $2000.  For that much more money it should have some huge advantages, which it doesn't seem to.  The sticking pad, the stiffer springs, and the dud middle D and Bb actually put the ProOne at a disadvantage.

I think my search is done... for now.  The only thing that remains would be to get one of the high end Yami's, Yani's, or Selmer's and see how they stack up.  But that's a lot of cash to tie up, just for curiosity, which I don't have right now, and I'd never keep an instrument that expensive.  Ok, back to playing!

Well, turns out that the seller has a full service shop.  So, in addition to sending me a replacement without the sticky pad problem, they offered to set up the springs for a lighter action.  Now that's a way better option than me taking it to a shop, paying to have a new instrument fixed, and possibly messing up the warranty.  After some discussion I agreed to have them give it a shot. 

One of the questions I asked was, just because they can lower the spring forces, does it mean it's a good idea? Lot of people seem to have a very high opinion of the ProOne.  So, maybe there's a very good reason that it was designed with high spring forces.  Maybe the action doesn't work right if it's not high? You would hope that's not the case.  If Eastern Music can figure out how to make a sax work with low spring forces, shouldn't Antigua be able to do it? Guess I'll find out.  They said if I don't like it I can return it again for a refund, so I have nothing to lose.

The obvious question is why bother?  If the Eastern Music plays as well, slightly better (because there will still be the more dud Bb and all-fingers low D, on the ProOne; actually it will be interesting to see if a different instrument is the same), why still consider the ProOne? Because overall, the ProOne does seem to be better constructed and thought out.  There is a quality difference that you can feel, and the design features make sense.  Quality is less tangible, but as an Engineer I can appreciate what I see.  Probably in the long run it will translate to an instrument that is easier to maintain and lasts. I don't know that for a fact, but the evidence seems to support that, even though they did screw up on the sticky pad.

Speaking of value, I looked at what Eastern Music is selling now.  My instrument, which cost me $800, can now be had for even less.  I think that's because the COVID economy is killing everyone, shipments from China are way down in general (though shipping cost were way up), and they need to sell some instruments. Great Deal! But obviously resale value on the Eastern is definitely not there.  So, I'll probably just keep it as art!  But, it's not over until the ProOne sings.

It's pretty funny.  I posted parts of this review on SaxOnTheWeb and some people were like, no way some cheap Chinese horn is better than the ProOne, and that my review basically sucked, blah blah blah.  Like for some reason China can make IPhones but they can't make Saxophones. 

One guy said that they played well, but were kind of clunky.  Not sure if he meant loose.  But yeah, the ProOne seemed tighter.

Then I found this from the guy who said I was comparing Apples and Oranges.

"The company I purchase from directly on ebay is Eastern Music and so far I am very impressed with the quality." ...

"I highly recommend this eBay seller to those who are looking for an above average horn for a decent price (think high end Antigua/TK Melody/P. Mauriat). That said, I can not speak for buying directly off ebay but emailing and asking to have one of their Professional level with features that are as good or better than Taiwan saxophones made custom is how I did it." ...

"...expecting a $700 horn which is what I paid and I'm not joking its a $2800+ horn at Taiwanese quality or dare I say Yanigasawa..."

And this is from a guy I personally chatted with, has a dealers license, and has tried hundreds of saxophones during his career.

So, no, you don't have to pay a ton of money to get a decent instrument. The Eastern Music may not be as refined, but it's a player.  They got the basics right and the rest is pretty good too.

And here's a few videos I found with people playing them:
Same guy but doing a head to head with the Eastern Music tenor, different necks:
I like the darker tones, which this one is:

Word is that my replacement instrument will ship tomorrow.  So then we'll see.  They say they adjusted the spring tensions.  Hopefully it was done well.

It arrived the 27th.  It's definitely a different instrument, I can tell because the finish patterns on it are different. The D# doesn't have the sticking problem.  Still has a little stick, but no noticeable increase in actuation force.  Looks like they did some work on the spring tension, still a little higher on some key's than I'd like, but better.  I've got until the 12th to decide if I'm keeping it.  If I keep it, I'm probably going to see if I can make even finer adjustments.