4BR Roadtest: Eclipse flugel horn19-Oct-2006
4BR has had its hands on the new top of the range Eclipse flugel horn. It's a serious instrument for serious players at a serious price. But was it all that it was cracked up to be?
The flugel horn has always seemed to be something of an uneasy bedfellow in the conservative environs of the British brass band.
Attitudes towards its importance have varied over the years, but today it has become such an indispensable voice and its remarkable dexterity and range fully recognized and appreciated – especially in the hands of top class performers.
Eclipse flugel horn
Those performers now demand instruments to showcase their talents to the full too and currently there is a substantial range available to choose, from student to professional level.
There are any number of makes out there producing high quality instruments, but it is a very fluid market place – there are trends and fads, but the overriding marker is that nowadays you get what you pay for: Shell out peanuts and you invariably get something that has been out together by the nimble fingers of under age Chinese workers with spit and good intentions. If you are prepare to fork out serious money however then you do tend to move into the bespoke class – and the quality end of the market place.
It is that part of the market place that Eclipse certainly are aiming for with their brand new Eclipse flugel horn – a very serious bit of kit for very serious types of players.
We have had our hands on one for the past couple of weeks and have put it through our usual tests to see what we thought of it.
Fred Rhodes Musical Instruments [www.fredrhodes.com] who are the sole distributors lent the instrument to us.
They claim the Eclipse eclipses all other flugels available at present, so we thought we had better test out those claims for ourselves and see what all the fuss was about.
The instrument we played was the Eclipse gold brass bell flugel horn with 24-carat gold scratched brass finish.
Build Quality & Design:
The instrument is individually hand made in Dunstable, (company headquarters) to what they claim is the highest specifications with the best parts currently available.
The first thing to say is that the instrument is very asthetically pleasing on the eye. It is as slim and sensuous as Heidi Klumm in an evening dress in fact with a compact look which is just as well proportioned. There is a pleasing neatness about it with an unobtrusive strut lending solidity to its make up.
All the bits and bobs have the stamp of being well thought out and made too: Waterkeys are sturdy and secure, as too are the finger ring, trigger mechanisms shank key, valve tops and bottoms etc. The shank is snug and can be adjusted with ease with a fair bit of travel as well.
The instrument uses a German built Bauer Fein valve block, which not surprisingly is top quality given its reputation within the industry and all the plumbing that comes out of it has been put together with care and attention. The centre sprung valves are very smooth and slick in action.
The one piece bell is available in gold brass, yellow brass or copper and is produced by Taylor uisng a mandrel designed by Eclipse themselves.
We must point out that the Eclipse is a bespoke instrument and is designed to enable the positioning or addition of triggers, finger ring and water keys (both amado and conventional) to be tailored to the customer for maximum comfort and ease of playing. This service is all at no extra cost we are informed, so those with hands like shovels or those with mitts like Singapore airline stewardesses can have something that fits them like a glove.
Overall: The instrument feels solid, good quality and well put together with care and attention to detail and we like the customer preference choices at no extra cost. It is eye catching and looks simply stunning in the 24 carat gold finish.
Intonation can be the bane of flugel players – sometimes their own fault sometimes not.
The claims for the Eclipse were high, and we must admit that it just about surpassed our expectations.
Intonation was generally very good throughout the range and at the extremes of the dynamic spectrum. The mid range was very secure indeed, and with judicious use of the first and third triggers the lower reaches of the instrument around the bottom end of the stave and below could be negociated without any undue problems.
We did find that middle A's consistently required a little touch of first trigger action to stop it sounding sharp, but as we progressed upwards the intonation was well centered. The top end is where the problems do begin with many flugels, and in the wrong hands they can sound flat and very cold.
The Eclipse was pretty good though even when belting it out or clenching the cheeks to play pianissimo, although subtle use of triggers does help enormoulsy.
Overall: The instrument gives no guarentee to making the performer perfect pitch but it is no handicap either.
Ease of Blowing/Tonal Quality:
The makers claim that there is a huge contrast in sound offered from all the different bell options.
The Copper bell they state gives a fluffier, airier sound which is probably more suited to the jazz world whilst the yellow brass gives a smaller more direct tone. Most suited to the British brass band sound is the gold brass bell (the one we used) with it's clear, well centred but mellow sound.
We did have to agree, as the instrument we used did produce a lovely velvety sound, full but not obese and still clearly defined. In the hands of a quality player the sound can be changed with subtlety, even to the point of stridency if required.
The tonal integrity is also maintained at the extremes and we were impressed by the sound at the lowest levels in particular – no hint of tinniness.
It is also comfortable to blow. The .413 bore is no monster, but allows plenty of air through its lungs. Good technique though is essential to make the most of the instrument - the intsrument itself won't improve a player but it will reward one who has all the correct basics of technique and especially delivery. It is a flexible bit of kit in the right hands.
Overall: Impressive. An instrument that does reward quality going in at one end with quality at the other.
Overall Performance/Value for Money:
The Eclipse is supplied in a deluxe gig bag. Don't be put off......if you're paying this much for an instrument of this class a hard case is not an issue as you'll be treating it like a new born baby.
The Eclipse can accomodate any type of mouthpiece on the market and comes with a mid boggling array of extras such as optional heavy valve bottoms which are intended to alter the overall sound of the instrument when used, depending on the style required.
It is available in a choice of finishes including the usual laquer or silver with highlighted valve tops and slide ends etc but also laquer of any colour (yes ANY colour). For £300 extra you could go for the 24 carat gold scratched brass finish and extra customisation. The extras obviously change the look of the instrument rather than being functional, but if you are paying this type of money out then you really want to look the part don't you.
It is expensive however, coming in around a third more dosh than the current market leaders and most popular brands. For comparison a Conn Vintage is around £1,470.00, a Bach Strad £1,725.00, Yamaha YFH 631 , £1,195.00, a Holton Arturo Sandoval £1,417.50 and the LMI Royal Flugel is £1,699.99.
So does this make the Eclipse value for money?
It does if what you are aiming your instrument at is the very top end of the market place at the very serious player, semi pro or professional. This is bespoke stuff and the makers do make a point that they have an after sales service that customers will find is second to none. It is one heck of a boast, but given that they have produced a fine instrument individually tailored to to meet a perfomers demands then you should give them the benefit of the doubt.
Overall Comment & Score:
Eclipse flugel horn
There is no doubt that the Eclipse is an outstanding instrument.
The build quality and design is first class, the intonation secure and precise, the tonal quality is excellent and it is easy to blow.
It is expensive, but it does offer a kind of exclusivity that few other makers at present can match.
If you are a serious player, or wish to become a serious player then it is an instrument to very much consider – it is built to last and built to reward top class performers. You get what you pay for today, and this gives you a great deal for your money and your playing efforts.
TOTAL MARKS: 91/100
The Eclipse flugel horn
Sole distributors: Fred Rhodes Limited
One piece bell
Centre sprung valves
Bespoke pre sale and after sale service
Deluxe gig bag case
Variety of customer choice for bell, triggers, waterkeys, valave tops and bottoms, finger ring etc.
Comes in a variety of different finishes according to customer choice.
RRP £2,000 - £2,300
For more information contact Fred Rhodes: www.fredrhodes.com
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