The initial concept came over a coffee in Bristol, between international sax artist Andy Sheppard and saxophonist/product specialist Andy Brush. The conversation turned to Andy’s desire for a sax that was as close to “the perfect horn” as possible. With so many great horns on the market, this “perfect” sax would therefore have to be something very special indeed.
Andy Brush approached award winning saxophone manufacturers Worldwind Music with the concept in 2010. Worldwind were understandably excited about the project and arranged for a three way meeting between Andy Sheppard, Andy Brush and Worldwind Music’s technical manager Dave Farley, the designer and builder of the professional Trevor James Signature Custom RAW saxophones. With everybody wanting to drive the project quickly forward, it was a matter of only 8 weeks later that the first prototype instrument was ready.
Andy play tested and recorded on the prototype for a few weeks, making notes about the positive performance areas as well as the areas for improvement. Six weeks later a second promising prototype was built, however analysing a soundcheck at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, Andy felt that the sax wasn’t “quite speaking enough”. Reviewing the recordings, it was agreed that the neck and bell would be the next areas for modification and a process of experimentation with different neck angles and gauge material began. Two months later, prototype three was now in Andy’s hands and being put through a rigorous recording studio test. The “perfect” sax was nearing perfection. A closer inspection of the ergonomics of the sax led to various keys being repositioned to give even more comfort and playability along with further modifications to the interior of the neck and placement of the octave lever to facilitate more resonance and response. In Andy’s own words, the third version of this horn was “98% there”.
It was six weeks later when the fourth prototype was driven down to Andy’s recording studio for approval. Upon arrival in Bristol, Andy took the sax out of its case, played it for 10 minutes and simply looked up and smiled. “We’ve got it” were the only words needed!
Anyone familiar with Andy Sheppard will know of his reputation for playing uniquely refined and beautiful music with an instantly recognisable sound. In creating a saxophone bearing his name, the bottom line from the outset was to dispense with the modern different finishes options and gimmicky mechanism additions in favour of keeping the instrument totally focused on its sound, the highest quality tubing, pins, rods, screws and build quality. This instrument has returned the saxophone back to its roots and gives Andy complete freedom of expression and performance.
Andy puts his signature on the bell of this incredible saxophone as a seal of approval that the Andy Sheppard Autograph Series tenor is of the highest quality craftsmanship. All are hand built and finished in Lenham, Kent by Dave Farley of Worldwind Music. Only 100 of these tenor saxophones will be built and each will be individually numbered and engraved with a different favourite World city where Andy has performed.
Every finished saxophone will be play tested by Andy Sheppard to ensure each instrument meets his exacting performance standards. This final quality control process is accompanied by an audio recording of Andy testing the saxophone over at his Bristol studio along with a signed CD.
Introducing the Andy Sheppard Autograph Series Saxophone
Review from sax.co.uk
“this is quite simply the most playable, sweet sounding sax that has ever landed on the Jazzwise test bench” – Jazzwise Magazine 2013
No holds (or should that be ‘holes’?) barred, this is quite simply the most playable, sweet sounding sax that has ever landed on the Jazzwise test bench. Each instrument is named after a location where Sheppard has performed and each one is tested by the man himself, before going onto the market.
The first thing that you notice about this tenor is the raw brass, or as I would term it, brushed brass finish, although a lacquer coating has been applied to the inside of the bell, presumably to give the instrument a brighter sound. Interestingly, the neck has been ‘relaxed’ – it’s more turned up, which makes the whole instrument feel very comfortable in the playing position. The overall keywork is very positive and we particularly liked the ‘stopper’ behind the octave key, The palm keys are perfectly positioned and the top table is nicely laid out, while the double barring on the bottom C and C-sharp keys gives better support and contact, and helps the player to ‘get there’. Reflectors are of the metal-domed variety with calf pads.
Locating our metal Brancher mouthpiece with a 3 Rico Jazz Select reed, the Autograph is a very easy blower and to our ear, sounds as though it’s perfectly in tune. The intonation is spot on, the harmonics are smooth and easy to achieve and there is a good centered tone. The top end is very positive, while the bottom end is really rich and warm – and there’s plenty in there if you really want to give it some. The Autograph also has an extraordinary dynamic range – this sax feels like it wants to be played. A quality instrument deserves a quality case and the Autograph series comes in a shaped fiberglass, fitted and plush-lined Eastman case with four latch locks, a shoulder strap and back harness. Classy.
OK, coming in at just under £5,000 isn’t going to be a ‘spur of the moment’ purchase. But lets face it, you’ll probably never want another tenor.