I had never heard of the Lupifaro line of saxophones until I attended the 2013 NAMM show and ran into a gentleman by the name of Tatsuro Miyatake. Tatsuro gave me a sample pack of Lupifaro Classic strength 3 tenor reeds to test out. Once I returned home from the NAMM show, I tested the Lupifaro line of reeds and really liked them because these reeds were Rigotti cane which is some of the best cane out there today, and the overall sound of the Lupifaro reeds had a nice core.
Since I enjoyed testing the classic cut, I wanted to find out more about the Lupifaro brand. When I went online to check out Lupifaro’s website, I found out that Lupifaro also produced a line of saxophones. Being a saxophone gear-head, I knew I had to find a way to test play Lupifaro’s line of horns, especially since the professional line was reminiscent of the old vintage Mark VI.
To make a long story short, through emails and Skype conversations, I was able to meet Luca Cardinali, the creator of the Lupifaro line at my home in Florida. I had the chance to test play his Lupifaro Platinum tenor and alto saxophone as well as revisit his Classic cut and test play the Jazz cut reeds for soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone.
To better understand the Lupifaro brand, I will give you a brief overview of Luca Cardinali so you can understand his background, and then I will cover the Platinum tenor and alto saxophones as well as Lupifaro’s Classic and Jazz cut reeds.
Luca began repairing wind instruments at an early age with master repairman Galavotti. In 1990, Luca obtained his music degree in clarinet and then continued to study the saxophone as well as work as a repairman. Luca had been a designer and product manager at the Borgani saxophone factory for over 5 years, during this experience he performed custom work on saxophones belonging to such famous players as Phil Woods, George Garzone, Lee Konitz, Jerry Bergonzi, M. Urbani, M. Giammarco, and F. Santucci . In 1995, Luca decided to open Atelier Cardinali to provide repair work as well as build custom instruments for professional musicians.
Luca came up with the name Lupifaro because Lupifaro was a mythological figure who embodied strength. Luca has worked in the world of saxophones for thirty years as a technician as well as consultant. He met with Phaselus SA, a distributor in Switzerland, who believed in the quality and craftsmanship of Luca’s line of saxophones. Together, they decide to create a new line of exceptional instruments. Since Lupifaro’s output is certainly larger than what a single artisan could handle by himself, Luca works with a team whose number one focus is to continue to build saxophones by hand.
Each saxophone moves through all of the important phases of shaping and carefully annealing (ie: making more flexible) the bare metal – steps which characterize the soul and future life of each instrument. Luca’s design and construction of Lupifaro’s saxophones are the result of years of research paired with craftsmanship of the highest level.
Currently, Phaselus SA offers three series of saxophones: Silver, Gold, and the top-of-the-line Platinum, where the sound and vintage look go hand in hand with great intonation and precise mechanics.
Platinum Model Overview
One of the features of the alto and tenor saxophones belonging to the Platinum Series, aside from not including a high F# key, is the fact that the instrument’s joints are soldered. By soldering, the movement of the air column inside the instrument improves noticeably. This is due to the fact that there is no interruption between the bell and body, something that is different from most modern saxophones.
Further defining the saxophones in our Platinum Series, Lupifaro allows the musician to specify his or her personal set-up preferences and choose among many custom options that range from a selection of materials for the key buttons up to different pads.
To those professionals who value both the look and the sound of their instrument, Lupifaro offers custom engravings by Luca as well as the other members of his team upon request.
Lupifaro Platinum Tenor
The Lupifaro Platinum tenor saxophone looks like it was based off the body of a Mark VI and has a neck styled after a Balanced Action or Super Balanced Action neck. The finish on this tenor is different from an un-lacquered or matte finish. The best way to describe this finish is an aged gold finish that has a very polished look. The white mother of pearl really makes the finish stand out and have a true vintage look. The engraving is done by hand by Luca and his team and is different from other manufacturers engravings.
Instead of the logo being placed above the Bb and B key, the logo is stamped on the front of the bell with a floral engraving around it. Putting the logo on the front of the bell reminded me of the older Yanagisawa models which had the Yanagisawa logo in the same spot. There is some engraving on the body but for the most part the engraving is floral and has Platinum in silver letters below the Lupifaro name.
The metals, cork, springs, pads, and resonators are all very high quality material. The metal and parts were all assembled by hand by Luca Cardenali, who spent on average 18+ hours to build, assemble, and play test each Platinum tenor model. Luca told me like any saxophone, each Platinum model will play a little bit different and each horn is built as if it was a custom horn with much attention to detail.
Tone & Response
The Platinum Tenor truly reminded me of my Mark VI tenor every time I went back and forth between both horns. I found the tone to be edgy and focused. I also found the overall response to be free-blowing but there was some resistance which allowed me to really push each note without the sound dying out.
I can best describe the sound as very Mark VI –ish but, it seemed that the overall sound and projection was enhanced and a bit easier to attain than my Mark VI. This can be contributed to the metal resonators. I did find the upper register to play a bit brighter then my Mark VI and the bottom register to play a bit fatter and have and overall warmer buzz.
The action was comfortable under my fingers and was very easy to get adjusted to. The action felt just like my Mark VI, but the spring tension was tighter (which I might have adjusted because of my personal preference is for looser action). I found the key heights to lay fine throughout the horn and if you wanted the key heights to be raised or lowered that could be easily done. I found the palm keys to lay well when playing throughout the horn chromatically .
The intonation on this saxophone was great. It was easy to achieve with very little effort to line up with the green light on my tuner. The altissimo range responded well and was fairly easy to control (but this is something I still need to continue working on).
I have to say overall the Lupifaro tenor saxophone is one of the best horns that I have come across in terms of the basics. The basics that Luca was going for were to simply offer the player a “vintage” horn in every way, shape, and form, but with modern standards in improved build quality and intonation. I felt very comfortable taking this horn out on rehearsals. I still very much enjoy playing my Selmer Mark VI tenor, but for a modern horn, I have not played many professional modern saxophones that have come as close as to how a modern “vintage” horn should play.
Lupifaro Platinum Alto
The Lupifaro alto saxophone is like the Platinum tenor with its Mark VI-looking bell and body and a Balanced Action or Super Balanced Action-style neck. The Lupifaro Platinum alto with the unlacquered/matte finish reminded me of my Selmer Super Balanced Action alto, but the Lupifaro Platinum alto has a bigger bore, like the 1960’s Mark VI’s.
The Lupifaro alto like the tenor is handmade and uses high quality brass, pisoni pads, metal resonators, blue-steel springs, and Luca’s extensive experience hand building saxophones.
Tone & Response
The sound of the Lupifaro alto has a neutral bottom and mid range as well as a clear and brighter upper range. The Platinum alto-like the tenor has a focused and edgy tone. The overall response was free blowing with a bit of resistance. I found that I had to push my mouthpiece all the way down the cork and get adjusted to the tuning of the horn at first because I was not used to the bigger bore of the Lupifaro Platinum alto compared to my SBA.
The action was tight and very comfortable under my fingers. The lower stack felt very stable especially when I went down to the low Bb. The spatula keys also laid well when going up to the high F#, and of course, any adjustments in the palm keys can be made with either cork, rubber extensions, or custom work done by your trusted repairman.
The intonation on my Lupifaro was better than my Selmer Balanced Action while also being as consistent and easy to control as my Yamaha custom alto. I found the Lupifaro alto to embody the consistency of a new Yamaha or Yanagisawa, but when it came to the overall sound, it embodied many characteristics with the old Mark VI and Super Balanced Action line of saxophones.
The Lupifaro alto like the Lupifaro tenor did a great job at capturing the vintage characteristics of the great vintage horns, sticking with the basic saxophone layout, and incorporating the expertise of years of craftsmanship experience to truly build one of the best modern “vintage” saxophones I have played thus far.
Lupifaro Classic Reeds (White Box)
I found the Lupifaro 3 to be on the harder side so I tried the 2 1/2 and these felt much more comfortable for me to play on. Although these reeds are designed for the classical musician, I found the overall color of these reeds to be very neutral and not leaning towards the brighter or darker side. After talking with Luca, these reeds are similar to a Vandoren V12, but they also reminded me of the Rico Reserve cut. I believe that certain reed cuts tailor to certain styles of music BUT overall, you should try as many brands as you can to see which reeds you feel comfortable with.
Lupifaro Jazz Reeds (Black Box)
I found the Lupifaro Jazz cut for alto and tenor to play similar to a Rigotti gold box as well as a Jazz Rico Select unfiled. In addition, I found these reeds to be a bit on the harder side from what I am used to playing, so I would recommend trying a half size down or if you know a bit about reed shaving, I would buy your standard reed size and do a bit of shaving (which I do with a majority of reeds).
I enjoyed playing the Lupifaro Classic and Jazz cut because I like Rigotti cane and the Jazz cut leaned more towards the Vandoren ZZ and Jazz Rico Select reeds which I enjoy playing on. I would definitely check these reeds out if you get a chance and leave a comment below letting me know what you think.
After speaking with Luca Cardinali and play testing his saxophones as well as reeds, I can say that this is another brand of saxophones that will be a great addition to anyone’s horn collection or a great horn to consider when looking for a great vintage Mark VI or professional modern “vintage” tenor or alto.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Lupifaro line of products, please feel free to contact me, and if you can get a pass to NAMM 2014, visit his booth to test play the horns and reeds.