RS Berkeley “Virtuoso” tenor sax review

About 6 months ago I had a new member to my site named Les Silver. Les signed up for online lessons and we exchanged quite a few emails and phone calls talking about my lessons and in our conversations he told me about his saxophone line that he has been developing over the last few years. He really peaked my interest when he said that the tenor was a copy of a 85,000 Mark VI and that Michael Brecker had tried it.  I knew Les had been a partner in AMT mics and knew Brecker and many other heavy players so I believed what he was telling me. I told him I would be very interested in trying the sax if he could send me one to try.

Les sent me a gold plated one last month to check it out and I was quite surprised by how well it played. I knew they were made in China so I already had the thought that this might me a piece of junk and was trying to keep my hopes in check.  I was very surprised when I played it and actually liked the sound that came out. Below, I have outlined some of the things that I like about the sax and some of the things that I think could be improved:

Appearance– 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 deicated to making a sax that really is great. If you like the sound of this sax check them out at USAHorn . Great job Les!

This clip is with my JVW link which is a pretty bright mouthpiece in my opinion. It doesn’t sound so bright on this horn. I might do another one with a darker mouthpiece also just to hear what it sounds like.

Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site


  1. Avatar Doug Quadrano says

    Just an update on the RS Berkely Saxaphones… I got to play a gold lacquer Alto Virtuoso and a black lacquer Alto Virtuoso……will get into more detail later, but what an enjoyable experience after playing and growing up in the Mark VI world as a young student and playing many other horns thru my lifetime…..I will spend the rest of the weekend experiencing these two horns and my first impression was delightful…so far feel, sound, intonation,looks, everything as been great…more to come.
    Special thanks to Sal Cardello for making this happen.

  2. Hey Steve, the recording file doesn’t play; which youtube video has you playing this horn?

  3. Avatar Doug Quadrano says

    After a fun weekend with the RS Berkeley gold Virtuoso alto it has a new home with me……it is so Selmer like that it brought back a lot of memmories of my Selmer experiences in my lifetime…..don’t hesitate to try these wonderful playing instuments, you will be surprised!!

  4. Hi Steve. I understood you got the Virtuoso Gold Plate.
    I like the vintage looking,{matte} also is much cheaper. My question is if they sound the same? Because in price is big difference.

    • I don’t know as i have only tried this gold plated model. I hoping to go down to NJ sometime to try the other models to see what the differences are and confirm which one I like the best. If I do indeed do that I will be sure to post the results.

  5. Thanks Steve.
    Did you ever try Phil Barone Tenor Sax? or P Mauriat Sax ?

  6. Hi there,

    I play both Alto and Tenor silver plated Virtuosos. I also play a silver plated RS Berkeley Soprano, which is a joy to play . . . beautiful sound and intonation!

    I have tried every single plating on the Virtuosos, and each one has its own distinct sound, as they should. They are amazing horns, and I am simply addicted to them.

    One of the many great qualities of the Virtuosos is the tonal quality that remains the same throughout the whole range of the instrument. I always had to blow harder on the lower end to get a sound that was rich and full of harmonics on my Selmer. I don’t anymore, and that is a big thing for me. I get the sound I want, whenever I want, no matter the range.

    I have never endorsed a product I don’t really use, so this is my little piece of advice: Call RS Berkeley and schedule a visit. You will get not only to know the great people in there such as Les, as you will have one hell of a great time trying the horns. You will then be able to know which plating is right for you. Don’t forget: every month, teeth, air column, skull is different, so the sound will always be a personal experience and a personal match.

    Also, try a few combinations of necks . . . I play a matte neck with my silver tenor and I absolutely love it.



  7. P.S. Nice sound, Steve! Cheers!

  8. Hi Steve… Confused with the onslaught of that many asian horns… Do you still feel that the Rs Berkeley Virtuoso Tenor still holds up to your original rating in comparaison to the Eastman or Macsax models which seem to be aiming at the same market?

    • I do still think the RS Berkeley horns are very good. The Eastman horns and Macsax models are great also. There are differences between all of them but everyone I have played has had great intonation and a nice tone. The differences are there but it really has to be your decision. You need to try them out. Even since these reviews there have been other Asian horns hitting the market. I still play my Selmer SBA all the time but if I was looking for a new horn I would drive or fly to a place where I could try them all. For me, it would be worth the investment. Good Luck.

  9. I have to say I’m surprised by the sound of the RS Berkeley. This is a brand I wouldn’t have considered due to thinking it’s marketed mostly towards students. Still trying to grapple with the bias that Chinese horns are not good and cheaply made. They can be, but apparently, not always. There are some great horns made in Taiwan; Eastman, Viking, Cannonball, I think P. Mauriat and Phil Barone are also Taiwanese horns. I own and Eastman alto 52nd Street and I love it. I recently picked up a Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series tenor at an amazing price (brand new) and I’m happy with that. Not sure if you have tried many Cannonball horns and what your thoughts might be on them, but in this case I’m happy with it. Seems pretty responsive, even in the low end. Anyhow, this review makes me wonder if I should have tried some of those RS Berkeley’s I saw hanging on the walls of the local music stores. I guess it never hurts to try.

  10. Hey Steve ,

    Love your sound and time feel in your playing on the RS Berkeley file. I love the horns as well and have been an endorser for the last 7 years. All the best,

    Bob Magnuson

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