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Other Sax Makers :: Cannonball Saxophones :: Jason Dumars Review


by Jason DuMars (use by permission)

Over the years I have owned a lot of horns, and I do mean a lot! Virtually every kind of professional horn has passed through my hands in what sometimes seems like the quest for the Holy Grail. This experience makes testing and evaluating horns somewhat difficult because I inevitably compare what's in front of me with countless others. Most new horns I try fall into a predictable rut -- yes they have mostly even intonation, yes they have ergonomic key placement, yes they sound nice. But, almost without exception they are completely unremarkable. There's not a sense of adventure or uniqueness, and I always gravitate back to more vintage horns that have that missing something.

When I saw my first Cannonball several years ago, I was struck by how unique they looked and felt. While other makers were rolling out flashy colors and zebra stripes, Cannonball was experimenting with no lacquer. There's always been something delightfully out of step about these horns, making them stand out from the absolute flood of horns coming from Taiwan. Back then, I felt the Cannonball was good, but it wasn't quite at the level I knew someday they could be. Well, I can say with confidence that day is here.

When I tried a friend's Big Bell Global Tenor a few months ago, I was absolutely knocked out. It was a wonderful playing experience and I relentlessly hounded everyone I could so I could get my hands on one for myself. I finally got my own Big Bell Tenor and Alto and was blown away once again by an even more mature and beautiful horn than I had played even a few months before.

First, aesthetically speaking, the Cannonball is a stunning horn. The newest models offer real stone key touches made of jasper, tiger eye and other semi-precious stones. They are meticulously matched to the finish, and are something I have been dreaming about virtually my whole playing career. The lacquered models use a very nice deep colored pigment that looks a lot more like gold plating than normal lacquer. Again, it is an incredibly well thought out feature, just like everything else on the horn. The only think I would change about the appearance of the saxophone is the engraving. Being and engraver myself, I feel the horn aches for that final hand-crafted touch. That said, there are many players who appreciate the engraving, and it is certainly a much better pattern than other mechanically engraved instruments.

Where the Cannonball really explodes is in tone. At first I didn't really get it. I used the same mouthpieces as I have on other horns and was not really happy with the projection on the upper register. The bottom was rich and boomy, but there seemed to be a lot of resistance up high. I did some measurements and realized that the problem was not the horn, but the mouthpieces! The Cannonball has a larger bore than virtually any other new horn. This means there's a lot of focus on the fundamental and you need a mouthpiece that works together with that to draw out the higher partials. If you have a mouthpiece that speeds the air up too much, or has too small of a chamber, you fight the natural tendencies of the horn and the tone becomes muffled.

I decided to go to a local music store that has a huge variety of new and used pieces to choose from. After an hour of test playing, I plopped a new Otto Link 6* on the Cannonball and it absolutely floored me and everyone else who was listening. The experience bordered on epiphany as the tenor sound that has been locked in my head for years rushed out of the bell. I had never had good luck with Link mouthpieces in the past, but for this horn it was a perfect match. I found a Selmer Jazz E and a B&S metal 7 that gave me nearly equally good results. As I suspected, it was all a matter of finding the best fit.

That night, I took the horn with me to big band rehearsal and played literally better than I ever have before. Altissimo popped out effortlessly, the low subtones boomed out on a ballad feature, and the intonation was spot-on. This was the sound I have only heard in the absolute best of vintage horns, and here it was in a new instrument.

A couple of nights later, I sat in with a large amplified jazz/rock band at a local club, and the Cannonball projected clearly to the back wall. It was focused but not thin - loud but not pushed. It was absolutely fantastic, and I didn't want to quit playing.

After this experience with the tenor, I set my sights on the Cannonball Alto. Mine is all black nickel plate with black stone keys, and it is gorgeous. The alto has the same unique sonic qualities as the tenor, but they are a little less pronounced. I was able to use my existing Beechler metal 6 mouthpiece with good results. I rifled through my pile of mouthpieces and had good success with a Beechler hard rubber S5S, a Selmer metal D and E (the E projected a little better), as well as a Meyer 6. The intonation, tone and feel were again, much more like you'd find in a vintage horn.

The bottom line on the Cannonball is that there are no details skipped. The owners of the company have set the bar for every other manufacturer on a number of levels and I can only imagine what future improvements this company will offer. I could go on about the double support arms on the bell keys, the strong metal in the rods, the amazing accessories, two necks, and million other things, but it's the sound that makes this the absolute best horn in its class. Period.

Reprint by Permission - Jason Dumars Author :: NEW 5/05

Jason Dumars is a Professional Saxophonist, eloquent writer and outstanding Engraver in the world tradition of craftsmen and artisans from times past. Jason creates amazing beauty every time he has a sharp edge in his hands. I have visited his engraving site many times and have told countless friends and associates about his amazing work, music and web presence to the Saxophone community. Check out Dumars Engraving and see for yourself what the buzz is all about! Thanks Jason for making the world a more beautiful place, one sax at a time, and for a great article on your Cannonball Saxophones!! :: SAXBOY

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