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Instrument review: Geneva Oldroyd Cardinal Baritone

We put the new baritone from Geneva Instruments through its paces. Does it have the substance to go with the looks?

Cardinal
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The baritone is the instrument that gives the British brass band its unique tonality. It’s the red or brown sauce accompaniment to the full English breakfast. Without it, it just isn’t the same.

Given its heritage, it is essential that any modern baritone retains the inherent characteristics that provide its particular individuality - a rich, lean muscularity of sound, deft and flexible, a tonal bridge between the upper and lower brass.

Lose that and the brass band loses something of its soul.

High quality choices

The market place of the last 20 years or so has been dominated by Besson and Yamaha – the Sovereign and Prestige ranges from the French, the Neo from the Japanese; excellent instruments with worldwide appeal that are quite different in character.

Others from smaller manufacturers have also made their mark, such as Sterling or Wilson, but for the majority of players looking for a professional level instrument it has been a limited high quality choice. 

Now the Geneva Group enters the fray with the Oldroyd Cardinal - aimed squarely at making its mark on the top end of the market place.

Geneva has not been afraid to ruffle a few feathers - with its aggressive marketing strategy certainly paying dividends. It’s Cardinal range has been developed with an eye very much on the top end performer player who is not afraid to be different – the aesthetic look certainly having a touch of self-confident ‘bling’ about it.

It’s Cardinal range has been developed with an eye very much on the top end performer player who is not afraid to be different – the aesthetic look certainly having a touch of self-confident ‘bling’ about it.

That is of course the eye-catching style of the product, but does it also have the substance to back up its looks?

We’ve had our hands on one for a while to give a comprehensive test run.


Cardinal

Build quality and design

The build quality is very good; robust, solid and well put together.  This is the instrument that has gone out to be tested of course, but have a fiddle about with the valve tops and three bronze cast water keys and nothing feels flimsy, the snug slides have a smooth tension.

The design is neat and well proportioned, and is comfortable and balanced in its playing position.  The valve block fits the palm of the hand and the stainless steel valves are slick and well sprung. 

What is immediately noticeable however is the shorter valve travel.  That can take a little getting used to at first, but they are very good and facile. 

The instrument is fitted with the unique Geneva trigger system - one which is already found on the stable companion tenor horn, and which looks like at first sight to be a small fourth valve. 

The instrument is fitted with the unique Geneva trigger system - one which is already found on the stable companion tenor horn, and which looks like at first sight to be a small fourth valve. 

However, with fewer moving parts than counterparts it provides an elegant solution to an age old problem - although it does take a little getting used to.

Persevere and it soon becomes second nature to use and quickly becomes a valuable tool in the armoury.  

The instrument certainly has the looks – the wonderful engraving work a throwback to the Victorian era when craftsmanship came with a touch of flamboyance. The substance is there too however. Under the skin is an impressively put together instrument - one that retains a certain rugged elan.


Cardinal

Tone and intonation

A baritone should never ever sound like either a steroid enhanced tenor horn or an anaemic euphonium.  It has a character of tonality that sets it apart. Lose that and you lose the essence of the instrument.

The Cardinal is easy to blow with very little resistance throughout its tessitura.  The tonal quality is clear and clean with a warm, dark resonance that also retains its character throughout the dynamic range. It can take some blowing, but it is at its best when controlled and doesn’t sound ‘airy’ when quietness is a vital requirement.   

In the hands of an experienced player it comes alive – giving a distinctive sheen of tonal quality to the middle and lower brass, able to cut through cleanly if required without recourse to brashness.

The bell is 235mm - the same as a Prestige and Sovereign and just a bit smaller than a Yamaha (240mm), although the bore size is bigger at .559mm to their rivals at .543mm (both Prestige and Sovereign) and .531mm (Neo). 

In the hands of an experienced player it comes alive – giving a distinctive sheen of tonal quality to the middle and lower brass, able to cut through cleanly if required without recourse to brashness.  That flexibility ensures that the Cardinal feels comfortable for solo as well as ensemble use.  

The intonation of the Cardinal is first class – no problems at all in fact. Judicious use of the valve-trigger accommodates little imperfections, but overall everything seemed well-centred and true.


Cardinal

Overall:

The Geneva Oldroyd Cardinal is set then to become a serious option for players looking for an instrument that gives them something a little bit different.

Price wise it is competitive - coming in at £3,995.00. 

The 4-valve Besson Prestige retails around the £4,900 mark, with the 3 valve Sovereign in at about £3,800.00. The Yamaha Neo is a snip higher at around £3,850.00 with the Sterling at £3,900.00 or so.  

If its price only that is the deciding factor (with the exception of the Prestige), then there is nothing really in it – but if you are looking for a top level professional instrument then saving a few quid for a pint after band is the last thing you should be worried about. 

This is an instrument that has all the traditional baritone virtues in terms of tonality, but it is backed up by quality manufacturing.

If its price only that is the deciding factor (with the exception of the Prestige), then there is nothing really in it – but if you are looking for a top level professional instrument then saving a few quid for a pint after band is the last thing you should be worried about. 

The looks are great of course, and although the trigger mechanism may not be to everyone’s taste and takes a little time to get used to, it works and works well.

More importantly however it is an instrument that retains the distinctive baritone sound – rich and flexible, dark but not dull, free blowing but cultured in the right hands. It rewards thoughtful playing. 

Geneva appears to have made a significant move with this instrument - a niche segment of the marketplace that has been in need of a timely boost for some time.


Geneva Group

Geneva Oldroyd Cardinal Bb Baritone

Pitch: Bb
Bell: 235mm (9.25”) with High Cardinal Hand Engraving
Bell Material: Red Brass
Bore: 14.20mm (0.559”)
Lead Pipe: Rose Brass 
Slide Bows: Rose Brass
Trigger: Piston Style Main Tuning Slide  
Valves: 3x Stainless Steel
Inner Slides: Nickel Silver
Outer Slides: Nickel Silver
Tuning Slide: Red Brass
Water Keys: 3x Bronze Cast
Finish: Lacquer or Bright Silver plate

Price: £3,995.00

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