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Virtuoso Tenor Saxophone - VIRT2005G
By: Richard Casey
September, 2011
It’s been a week that I have this Virtuoso tenor saxophone in my possession and in that time I have played (2) four hour gigs with it. This performance experience has provided me with plenty of time to push the horn to its limits in terms of volume dynamics, key system action and sonic response. Since my performance situation involves playing through a 1000 watt sound system using a wireless microphone, I am also able to walk the floor and hear myself as others hear me. With that in mind, it is my greatest pleasure to report that the Virtuoso possesses every quality that I could ever dream of having rolled into one tenor sax. The sound of the horn is the best that I have ever produced on stage. It has the fullness of color with just the right amount of edge that I need for the pop music genre I work in. Equally important is the effortlessness with which the instrument articulates from a whisper to a roar, regardless if I’m playing a low Bb or a note much further up the horn. The altissimo range is also non-resistant and clear. The horn is a professional players dream and to top it off, the intonation throughout the entire range of the instrument is absent of the commonly founder upper ‘register stretch’ I’ve noticed on so many tenor saxes. For the record, I’ve owned many tenors over the past 40 years including four Selmer Mk 6’s, every Yamaha made, a Keilwerth, a Guardala NY model, King Super 20, Conn 10M, etc. None of these horns have all of the qualities found in the Virtuoso. Each one had stellar qualities which drew me in to it, but none had all the desired qualities together in one instrument the way the Virtuoso does. That’s what makes it so special to me.

Since I’m a full-time instrument repair technician, I have another very different set of criteria by which I judge saxes apart from their playing qualities, namely build quality. Build quality includes such things as fit and finish, tightness of keys on their pivot screws, absence of keywork end play, presence of necessary adjustment screws, quality of assembly as regards solder joints, tone hole flatness, spring quality, hardware quality (stainless steel pointed screws with polished heads and long pivot screws being polished and having consistent diameter)and most importantly, key strength. Equally important is correctness of setup as in pad sealing, key heights, cork and felt shimming and neck socket fit. All of these areas were excellently addressed with the Virtuoso. From a visual standpoint, I found the engraving to be just right; not too much and not too little for a horn in this price range.

For comfort, I swapped out both thumb rests, replacing the LH rest with a short one, which I also rounded for added comfort. The RH thumb rest had a sharp edge, so I put a generic plastic in place. Both changes are fully reversible and are not invasive.

That’s all I can really say about this horn. It plays better than any horn I had previously owned (and currently own), has the best intonation of any tenor I’ve played, possesses the most effortless response and has the sound I have been searching for over many years.

RS Berkeley Virtuoso Saxophone | Solid Vintage Design
By: Nic Meyer
Downbeat, May, 2011
The search continues for the saxophonist’s holy grail: that is, of course, a new horn with the sound and feel of the legendary Selmer Mark VI. I am one of those vintage lovers, playing an early 1960s tenor Mark VI. As such, I am frequently skeptical and even dismissive of most new horns because they simply lack something— let’s call it the “X” factor—that makes the Mark VI sing. Suffice it to say, the brand new, in-the-wrapper RS Berkeley Virtuoso tenor I’ve been playing for a week needed to be pretty spectacular to win my affection.

RS Berkeley obviously takes their pursuit very seriously, and they clearly believe they have the ability, willingness and passion to make a stellar horn. Tim Ries (of The Rolling Stones, Maria Schneider’s Jazz Orchestra, etc.) and the late Michael Brecker have collaborated with RS Berkeley to provide feedback on many design elements of the horn. I ran into Ries several weeks ago, and he’s loving his horn (he isn’t just holding it for the photo shoot and then pulling out the VI on gigs). The horn feels perfectly natural and comfortable in the hands of someone used to the Mark VI, but I was immediately struck by how substantial the horn feels. I haven’t weighed the Virtuoso to compare it to a Mark VI, but it sure does feel heavier. The bracing, guards, rods and keywork are all impeccably crafted, the matte finish on the model I’ve been playing (VIRT2001M) is flawless, and the engraving work (if you care about such things) is also nicely done. Perhaps the one unfortunate visual element of the horn is the brown “Virtuoso” logo on the bell, which I think makes it look more like a student horn than it should. These horns are being manufactured in China, but they certainly aren’t being made on the cheap—the Virtuoso is incredibly well built and in a word, solid.

This particular tenor came with plastic resonators and no high F-sharp key, although that is an option. The action was predictably stiff for a new horn, and the key height was a bit low, especially in the upper stack. I played the horn with my regular setup (Vandoren V16 T7 mouthpiece, Vandoren Optimum ligature and Rico Jazz Select 4S unfiled reeds). My first impressions upon playing the horn were, “Wow, it actually plays,” and, “Huh, I wonder where the weird, temperamental notes are?” The scale is even through the entire range of the instrument, and intonation is effortless (something of an adjustment if you’re used to playing older horns). The Virtuoso is incredibly responsive, and the sound is focused—even a bit compact (the plastic resonators may be contributing to this). Wide intervallic movements speak immediately and without effort, and the altissimo range pops with equal ease. Playing whisper-soft on this horn is a downright trip because it is so easy, stable and reliable. When pushed to the other end of the dynamic spectrum, the horn loses its manners a bit, and I was surprised by the spreading of the sound past a certain point. With my Mark VI, I definitely work harder to play as softly as I was able to play with ease on the Virtuoso, but when pushed, I feel like the Virtuoso runs out of room before I do. All in all, I really like this horn and I can see why many significant modern players are picking it up.

It’s important to acknowledge the fact that the creative process of finding one’s sound should not be constrained to convention, and although I do love my Mark VI, I believe the arrival of seriously formidable new horns like the Virtuoso are an important addition to the player’s list of options. Ultimately we don’t move our art form forward if we all sound the same, and I predict we will see more players choosing to play the RS Berkley Virtuoso. If you’re in the market for a new horn, or if the staggering price tag of the vintage horns is putting you off, you need to give the Virtuoso a try.
The Virtuoso tenor and alto models are available in matte, lacquer, silver-plated, black nickel, gold-plated, dark lacquer and unlacquered finishes. The horn comes in a lightweight, fabric-covered rectangular case with two exterior zip pockets, separate interior compartments for neck and mouthpiece, and a large compartment for additional storage.

Capturing Colossus:
RS Berkeley's Virtuoso Saxophones Aim For That Vintage-Selmer Vibe

By: Chris Kelsey
Jazz Times, December, 2010
No one has ever gone broke exploiting saxophonists’ infatuation with the Selmer Mark VI—from the folks on eBay auctioning vintage ’60s horns for reserve prices of eight grand and up, to the many contemporary sax manufacturers (Selmer included) who do their darndest to produce a reasonable facsimile of the iconic instrument. RS Berkeley falls under the latter category. The company now has its own Mark VI-inspired line, the Virtuoso Series, which was designed with input from such luminaries as Tim Ries—the Rolling Stones’ favored sax player—and the late Michael Brecker, and is manufactured in China. Yet its major inspiration seems to come from the workshop of the Selmer Company circa 1954.

 The Virtuoso website touts such features as a “custom neck” (available in multiple finishes, and the company says it can customize the neck to fit the artist), “ergonomic keywork” and an “engraved bell”; “Vintage Personified,” or so they call the horns—which in sax-speak usually means “just like a Mark VI.” In this case, it’s not all hype. The company sent me two horns for review: the VIRT1001M alto (the “M” signifying its matte finish) and the VIRT2006DL tenor (“DL” for dark lacquer). In both cases I used the neck that matched the body of the horn.

 I knew nothing about the horns beforehand. The first thing I saw upon opening the tenor case—a nice if typical lightweight hard case covered in blue fabric with shoulder straps, a handle and two outside pockets—was the black plastic end plug. “Hmmm, looks just like the end plug of a Selmer,” I said to myself, and that was only the first of many similarities. From the design of the key guards to the shape of the octave key and the circular brace that connects the bell to the body, both the alto and tenor bear an undeniable resemblance to the Mark VI.

 That said, the horns are physically attractive in their own right. To my knowledge, there is no Mark VI parallel to the Virtuoso alto’s matte finish, but the tenor’s dark lacquer has a copper-tinged hue somewhat reminiscent of certain aged Selmers. (The tenor and alto models are also available in gold-plated, silver-plated, regular lacquer and black nickel finishes.) The engraving—while certainly well done—is nowhere near as elaborate or intricate as that of the older horns, yet all in all both are easy on the eye. Of course, beauty is only skin deep. How do they play?

 Pretty well, it turns out. The Virtuoso in both its alto and tenor versions is well built from top-to-bottom: a heavy, substantial instrument made with heavy gauge brass. It seems the promo literature’s reference to “ergonomic keywork” is but another way of saying it feels like a Mark VI. The way the left hand wraps around the front of the body to reach the keys, forcing the player’s hand very close to the palm keys, is characteristic of the Selmer, as is the way the right hand lies naturally, without stretch or strain.

 Berkeley makes a bit of a big deal about how the horns were designed without a high-F-sharp key, a “feature” not generally found on the Mark VI. Some technically inclined sax players think the key skews the intonation; as for myself, I couldn’t possibly say. On its site, Berkeley says the extra key can be included upon request, and the alto I received had one, although the tenor did not. I’ve always been able to do without a high F-sharp on my horns. In the long run, a sax is probably better without. At the very least, it makes for one less pad to spring a leak down the road.

 The horns are as tight as the lid on a jar of Smucker’s. The pads have large metal resonators, the better to project in a jazz or commercial setting. The action was stiff —like a good pair of leather shoes, a sax needs some breaking in—and set very high for my taste (the tenor less so), making it a bit awkward for someone who plays fast; of course, any dealer would have his or her technician set up the horn to the buyer’s liking. The buttons are imitation mother of pearl, a bit raised with slightly beveled edges that provide a rather small indentation for the finger tip. I initially found this a bit annoying, although I got used to it in fairly short order.

 The sound is focused; the scale is very consistent. Remarkably little embouchure adjustment is required in order to play in tune, which I frankly found a bit disconcerting at first, since I play a very old tenor and alto (neither made by Selmer) and a great deal of soprano. I’m used to a bit of mouth-flexing, but none is needed here: The Virtuoso nails pitch with minimum fuss. Both horns are very free-blowing. Interestingly, the alto’s sound isn’t all that reminiscent of a Mark VI; using my Meyer 5 mouthpiece, it’s less bright, a bit darker (perhaps because of the matte finish). On the other hand, the tenor, with my Otto Link 7* hard-rubber mouthpiece, gets a bright but-not-too-bright sound—ballsy, but not harsh.

 The horns’ prices—in the low-to-mid $2,000 range at online retailers—are reasonable, making the Virtuoso a lot of sax for the buck. These are excellent horns, yet a customer shouldn’t expect to be getting a Mark VI on the cheap. There’s no substitute for a genuine vintage sax, be it a Selmer, a Martin or any other legendary model of yesteryear. Still, as new horns go, the Virtuoso is a superb instrument.

Virtuoso Tenor Saxophone Review
By: Steve Neff
April, 2009

- the sax looks incredible. The gold plating is perfect and I couldn’t detect any imperfections. The plating is a honey gold color similar to my Selmer Reference 54 alto. The engraving is  great looking and is all around the edges of the bell and down the side.

Build Quality - The horn looks to be very solid. I was worried the key work would be made of cheap metal that would bend easy but the sax looks like it is solid and of quality metal. Just as solid as my SBA.  I took it to my tech who lightened the springs and reset some of the pads that were’s sealing and he thought the horn was a well built horn(and he has seen thousands). The horn did have quite a few leaks in it when I received it but I usually expect that when I try a new horn.The other thing that I would of liked to see on the horn is metal domed resonators. This horn has the falt metal resonators with a screw or something in the middle holding it down. The whole time I was playing it I kept wondering if metal resonators like my SBA has would improve it. I  have a feeling it would.

Tone -  You can judge the tone of the sax from the recordings and the youtube video. I found it to have  more resistance than the SBA I play on. It also seemed quite a bit darker and fatter sounding to me. I do feel like it has a nice core to the sound like the early Vi’s are known for. I haven’t played any great VI’s from that era but from what I understand they do have more resistance than SBA’s and more of a core to the sound. Because this sax plays different than the SBA I felt like it required a different mouthpiece.  It’s funny because the JVW link I played on it is my favorite piece on my SBA for funk and pop stuff but I find it a tad bright for jazz playing. On the Virtuoso the JVW link is perfect for my tastes for jazz. I could play it all night long. Some of my darker links were too dark on the Virtuosos for me.

Intonation - The intonation on the horn is one of the best I’ve seen. It’s pretty darn close to perfect up and down the horn. It was actually a struggle to not bend notes down that are quite a bit sharper on my SBA. For instance the middle DE and F notes are about 10-15 cents sharp on my SBA and I have learned to adjust to that to get them in  tune. The notes on the Virtuoso are much closer to  0 so I found myself going a bit flat. I know this would be fine if I played the horn for awhile.The only note I had trouble with was the 3rd octave F# using the front F key and side Bb. This note was really flat for me. I could play it fine using an alternate fingering though.

Ergonomics - The hand position felt great on the horn with two exceptions. The octave key position is farther to the left(as you look at it) than on Selmers so it puts your left hand pretty far above the side D key.  Also, the Low C and Eb spatula keys are further to the left(as you look at it) than on Selmers. This puts my right hand pinky on the edge of the Eb and C keys which I didn’t mind too much but where it was a pain was when you have to slide your pinky across that table and it would get caught on the sharp edge. These are two issues that Les and the manufacturer of the sax are redesigning from what I’ve been told. Everything else about the ergos is great. The left hand pinky keys are  great and the  position of all the other keys was perfect for me.

Final Thoughts - Over the years I have played hundreds of different tenors that my students have had. Selmers,Yamahas, Yanagisawas, Cannonballs, Buffetts,……….and more. This is one of the best I have played as far as intonation and tone. I would have no problem recommending it to my students who need a great pro horn. Many of the horns I just listed had issues with intonation that would drive me crazy to be quite honest. This is one of the few horns I have played that I feel like I could take out immediately and gig on. No problem!

Also ………The other cool thing about this horn is the dedication that Les and the manufacturer have to improving it and making it great. Every comment or suggestion I had for Les was taken and  many of them he said were already being worked on. They seem to really be dedicated to making a sax that really is great. Great job
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