Keilwerth ST90 Alto

By JayeNM |

Keilwerth ST90 AltoSo I have been curious about these for a while, never really took the chance on buying a fixer and seeing what they were all about. Fairly ubiquitous on the eFlay US market, and they tend to go fairly cheap on auction.

Ultimately, I didn’t have to buy one…a repeat customer of mine won one on auction and sent it to me for refurb/servicing.

ST-90, ROC-made (the first ones were actually assembled in CZ…at some point, apparently JK subcontracted to china).

First impressions

This is a pretty good sax, really. I was pleasantly surprised. In general it is modeled after a Yamaha 23 as far as most keywork mechanics and such, although the feel of the JK’s keys under the fingers is slicker, more responsive. Body gauge is quite robust, heavier than a student Yama. Offset lower stack holes, ‘modern’ ergonomics. Pinky table has tilted Bb with the tab connection to the C#; a regulating arm on the end of the B key keeps C# closed when Bb is activated. It’s a nice-feeling table.

Keilwerth ST90 bellPoint screws are nicely threaded, unlike many budget chinese makes. Posts are structurally solid, there was little key play on this horn – something quite common again in a lot of student model chinese horns. The lacq wear on this one was significant, lacq discoloration as well but I cannot say for sure whether that is because the factory lacq finish is so-so or because the horn was kept in a bad location as far as climatic conditions. (Previous owner actually stripped the lacq from neck and gave it a fake patina treatment (glad they stopped at the neck) ).

How does it play?

Blowing-wise, nice and free blowing. Sound wise, and this was a surprise…it sounds quite good. Definitely darker and lusher than your typical asian student horn tone. Sonic quality remained consistent up and down the registers, intonation was actually very, very good. People who are familiar with me know that when it comes to many china-manufactured horns, particularly student models, I take no prisoners – my general feeling on ’em is very critical and with good reason.
This one held up pretty well to my bench scrutiny, though.

On used US market, in good playing shape these tend to be priced similarly to a Yama 23 or such….but they do not get scooped up as quickly as the Japanese models do. I have seen many ST90’s sit for sale for a while.
For those seeking a solid budget/student horn with perhaps a bit more sonic colour and a slicker feel, I’d say these are worth checking out of you get the chance. I may start hunting for some of these to service and sell.
Just passing along my impressions….


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