I love my Mark VI…I mean I really love it. I’ve been through more than 32 years with the same main horn and I pretty much know it like the back of my hand. There are only two things that could be better. For one thing, this horn (like it’s owner) has seen a lot of wear and tear over the years so it seems to be ever so slightly more susceptible to having things go wrong than it used to be. Recently I’ve had several things go wrong like screws coming loose or falling out – I even had one fall out on a gig and I couldn’t find it to put it back in…had to try to transpose all of my tenor parts to alto for the rest of the night…not fun but definitely interesting. This is not a huge deal but I feel like I need to get it to my repairman more often these days. Of course, the other issue with all that wear and tear is the horn just isn’t as shiny as it used to be. There is a lot of lacquer missing and there are places that like to turn green if I don’t stay up on them. This is sometimes a cool thing as players know that this is a player’s horn and it’s been played hard but non-players look at it and they don’t understand that the lack of lacquer and the green spots are a badge of honor and not a sign of a bad horn. 🙂
None of that is the real issue here though. The real issue is that since my VI is probably going to the shop more I need to potentially be using my backup horn more. I really don’t like my current backup horn that much. As I mentioned in my gear post, it’s a 10M but it’s not one of the sought after ones. In addition, the horn is so different from my VI in sound, intonation, and especially ergonomics that I just don’t have that much fun playing it. People tell me they like the sound just fine when I’m on it but the adjustment factor is very high on this one. It’s also shinier than my VI but not by much and this particular 10M is not that pretty a horn in my opinion. It’s also good to have a possibly less valuable horn than my VI to take out to outdoor gigs or to places where a horn might be open to mishaps. So because of all this, I’ve been saving money from each gig I play in order to get myself a nice shiny new backup horn.
I’m not looking at anything vintage even though I know there are good values to be had out there. I want something that is ergonomically similar or even superior to my VI and I know I probably won’t find that in many of the vintage horns out there. Also, vintage horns that have all of their lacquer and look nice are very pricey for what they are. I’ve been doing a lot of research, talking to techs, reading reviews and articles, and talking to some reps from various companies and I think I’m at least going to start by looking for a Taiwanese horn. I already have a Taiwanese-made soprano (Barone) and a Chinese-made alto (Buffet) so I think I know what I am getting myself into. Both horns feel great, have great intonation, and seem to be very well made. The price also falls comfortably into the range I am willing to spend for a backup horn…somewhere between 1500 and 3000 dollars. Oh, and many of these horns have some rather adventurous, unique, and pleasing finish options as well.
Some of the brands are off the table because I feel their price is much too high for what they really are. P. Mauriat and Theo Wanne horns fall into this category. Some are too risky to the point where I don’t know what kind of support I would get if something went wrong and others are just too hard to get real information about. Because of all this I am currently looking at several brands that look promising: Viking/TK Melody, Cannonball, and Barone. I’m hoping to get a chance to try these horns and others in the next couple months and I will post my findings and other updates as I go through the process.
Wish me luck. I know I’ll have fun trying some horns out but it’s always tough to pull the trigger on spending that kind of money and I’ll also likely have to travel a bit to really get to see as many horns and finishes as possible.