While at last year’s NAMM show (NAMM 2016 Gear Roundup), I had the chance to test play a few new saxophone brands which I had not seen at the 2015 NAMM show. One saxophone manufacturer that stood out to me in particular was Ochres. Today, with many Taiwanese saxophones flooding the market, it has become a bit harder to tell the difference between each brand. Since many of these saxophones are built with similar to the exact same parts, it comes down to attention to detail and setup on the bench to differentiate that saxophone amongst the many competing in this space. I stopped by the Ochres booth due to many players recommending I test play the Ochres No. 5 X Series vintage “Zen” model which from first glance appeared to be Ochres’s “vintage” offering. I will be reviewing this saxophone on the following criteria: Sound, Ergonomics, Finish, and Build Quality. In addition, I will offer my overall thoughts and potential areas for improvement.
While playing this Ochres tenor saxophone, I found that the sound was incredibly clean. The bottom end smooth down to low Bb but had a little bit of resistance which reminded me of some early 60’s Mark VI tenors I have played in the past. The mid-range was easy to play at various dynamic levels and in the upper range, I found the sound was even when playing into the altissimo range and leaned a bit towards the brighter side of the sound spectrum. The articulation was good on the Ochres No. 5 X Series as well as the intonation was great from top to bottom and even the altissimo range was incredibly in tune which I find is not always the case from first play testing. I did find the overall response and sound to have some complexity and character but would say if you are looking for a very edgy and dark sounding saxophone, you might prefer another one of Ochres models.
The ergonomics felt good under my fingers. The key action was consistent throughout the horn but I would say the action was a bit tight which I would take to my repairman to make lighter as well as have the key heights a bit lower but that is a personal preference. In regards to the lower stack, I would have the low Eb spring tension lighter so moving from low Eb to C is more fluid as well adjust the pinky table to make it a smoother when playing chromatically from C#, C, B, to low Bb. In the upper stack, the palm keys spacing and cork heights felt good under the left hand but like many saxophones, I recommend having your repairman build any of the palm keys up with cork or putty if needed.
The Ochres No. 5 X Series vintage “Zen” model has an aged brass patina which reminded me of the Cannonball “Brute” finish but with a lighter color. This finish was achieved by washing the saxophone in a white radish bath to achieve this color and Ochres believes this is a better and safer method than using chemical dyes to achieve this finish. The abalone key touches were nice touch but personally, I believe black or white mother of pearl key touches would make the saxophone stand out a bit more. The hand engraving with the floral design reminded me of various early 5 and 6 digit Mark VI saxophones and the overall work is some of the best I have seen thus far. The gold Ochres stamp placed on the front of the bell is a unique touch and the only other saxophone brand I have seen do something similar is Yanagisawa on their 880 series. Above the octave key there is a stamped or laser engraved statement “1st Grand Prix” as well as on the octave key it states “free your soul”. The “1st Grand Prix” reminds me when Selmer used to engrave Mark VI above the octave key but my overall recommendation would be to remove these 2 statements. One unique feature I have not seen on modern saxophones is the alternate F key is a quite large with a wooden key touch instead of mother of pearl or traditional brass.
I found the overall build quality to be one of the better one’s I have seen coming out of Taiwan. I took the saxophone to a few players and repair techs in the area and all agreed that the setup was much better than they have seen in terms of the following: the tone-holes were even and level across the entire saxophone, the pads were seating well, springs are in place, and finally there was no cover up or blemishes across the saxophone. This saxophone like many professional brands today is setup with: Pisoni pads, metal resonators, blue steel springs, utilizes a one-piece body, and the pads are installed with shellac instead of glue just to name a few. My final observation is the hard shell case that comes with this model should be sturdier. I think the case does not compliment the quality of this saxophone and my recommendation would be to swap out the case with another after-market case if you purchase this saxophone or I recommend Ochres design a flight case as an alternative option or replacement.
After getting a chance to further test play the Ochres No. 5 X Series vintage “Zen” tenor saxophone, I am overall very pleased with how this saxophone performs in comparison with the many Taiwanese saxophones currently on the market. I believe there are areas to improve on this model which will help Ochres stand out from the competition and I am looking forward to visiting their booth at the 2017 NAMM Show.