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MACSAX Empyreal Alto: Powerful Tones & Unadorned Beauty

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The first person to apply lacquer to a brass instrument must have considered it an act of great aesthetic consequence. No longer would the horn be a mere assemblage of keys, pads and springs. It was now a shiny, golden decorative object, suited for life as a novelty lamp once its playing days were over. Of course, this person didn’t foresee (or didn’t care) that long before the best of those instruments were ready to be converted to light fixtures, the golden shininess would be gone-the lacquer worn and chipped away in blotches, exposing the raw brass beneath.

Austin-based (by way of Houli, Taiwan) MACSAX is one of several modern sax manufacturers to make a horn that expedites the fade-to-brass process by eliminating the lacquer entirely. The MACSAX Empyreal alto we were sent to review embraces the rustic beauty of unadorned brass. Combined with some spare but nicely executed bell engraving, the slightly oxidized metal gives the horn the look of a magnificently maintained vintage horn, right out of the box. Other aspects of the Empyreal’s unostentatious beauty are the mother-of-pearl-inlaid key buttons and left thumb rest; a brace in the form of a gothic “E” connecting the bell to the body; a capital “E” cutout on the octave key; and the understated logo engravings on the bell and neck. There’s nothing flashy about the Empyreal. It makes a virtue of understatement.

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