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Keilwerth Shadow SX90R Alto Saxophone

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In reviewing this horn, I sincerely regret that we didn’t build a graphic with six stars when the Storm Gods page was designed. Immensely cool to look at and inspiring to play, the Shadow is a bit like buying talent.

pictureKeilwerth’s saxophones are always a treat – even their EX series semiprofessional horns are remarkable for their textured, resonant sound. The Shadow is all that and more – it projects a dark, complex performance, and it’s amazingly quick and responsive. Made of nickel silver rather than brass, it weighs considerably less than a conventional alto, and it lacks the harsh edge of silver-plated instruments.

The rolled tone holes of the SX90R make its mechanism almost silent.

There are a lot of well-made professional saxophones about, but increasingly, most of them project an unadventurous, commercial sound that seems to cry out for a wedding reception to play at. The Shadow has a unique, textured presence that distinguishes it from other horns. Even before you begin to explore its subtleties, it sets itself apart from lesser instruments.

One of the remarkable aspects of all Keilwerth’s horns, and the Shadow in particular, are their range of sound. Equipped with a metal mouthpiece and jazz reeds, the Shadow can project a knife-like edge and really howl. When I played it with a Selmer hard rubber mouthpiece and Vandoren blue box reeds, it became dark and brooding, a horn with infinite character.

I prefer dark, brooding saxes.

The workmanship of the Shadow is impressive, with gorgeous engraving and a craftsman-like fit for every rod and key. It comes with a solid vinyl-covered case inside a fabric cover – this is somewhat more important than it seems, as the slightly unconventional proportions of Keilwerth’s horns means they won’t fit in all aftermarket cases.

It also comes with a really bad plastic mouthpiece. As a rule, most professional horns come with cheap mouthpieces, or in a few cases, no mouthpiece at all, probably under the assumption that anyone who buys a sax like this one will have a favorite mouthpiece, and won’t care what else was in the case when it arrived. It’s worth keeping this in mind, because the mouthpiece that comes with the Shadow hardly begins to do it justice.

…oh yes, and it includes a finger chart, just in case you buy this horn and haven’t gotten around to learning to play saxophone yet. I assume this is one of those product liability issues, or something to keep the lawyers happy.

The SX90R Shadow is easily the nicest alto saxophone I’ve ever played, and I won’t be surprised if it remains so. It’s also the coolest-looking horn I own. The price is a little beastly, but given the choice between this sax and extra groceries for the next year, I’d forego a few meals in a heartbeat.

Honorable mention for this one goes to Musician’s Friend, my favorite on-line music shop, which price-matched the Shadow just like they said they would, and shipped it within a day of my ordering it. As a rule, I wouldn’t buy serious instruments on line, but one of the other remarkable aspects of Keilwerth’s professional horns is that they’re all pretty much identical. You won’t have to drive around looking for one with a good sound.