Quote Originally Posted by TD517 View Post
So, the music store I work at is looking into John Packer instruments for cheaper options for advancing students and possibly schools (namely low brass) and I got a chance to try it out. I just wanted to post my thoughts, and possibly see if others had the same or different experiences. Particularly the debate between the major horns ($7-9k) and the Chinese 'stencils' ($1-3k?).

The Instrument -
Everything looks amazing. They got the lacquer version, partially due to the lower cost, but it's flawless. I can tell it's a Besson copy from the bar behind the right hand, but doesn't have the "U" bracing on the tuning slides. It's laid out similarly to the Sovereign I played briefly in High School, at least best to my memory. The 4th valve latch is a different design, which I'm on the fence about. The Besson I played had the flap that rested against the bow of the instrument, but this one just floats past it. The latch isn't loose at all so I didn't worry about it swinging back and causing problems, but as the horn ages it may make me cautious. Weight-wise, it's pretty heavy. It's heavier than my Willson 2950, but I only noticed it after going back and forth between the two for about 10 minutes. The valves were quiet, but a bit sluggish. I assume this will go away with frequent oiling and being "broken in", but enough to notice and slow down the player. The overall quality surprised me, the metal wasn't super thin or blemished.

The Case -
The case is also very nice, I prefer the hard latch cases to the molded plastic zipper cases that I've seen offered by similar instruments. It's got two sets of feet and handles to carry/set it length-wise or width-wise. It had a spot for 1 mouthpiece, and a cut-out for accessories. I would have no qualms loading it into a trunk or 'band van', but probably not flight-ready.

The Extras -
It came with a no-name mouthpiece, which I wasn't a big fan of, and the usual accessories. Ultra is the brand of valve oil and slide grease? It has a valve gutter for the main 3 valves that was still in the bag (nothing to absorb the water though), and also comes with a thin fabric bag to keep the horn in to prevent from scratches in case. It had replacement valve guides for all 4 valves, though I've heard parts are available through at least 1 major repair part distributor.

Playing -
Here's were the real debate begins. I had 2 other Euphs to compare it to, my 12-year-old Willson 2950 and a used Weril which is a YEP321 clone but with a large shank. Another co-worker had a Yamaha 641 (non-comp) he tested it against. It's worth repeating that I wasn't a fan of the mouthpiece. It reminded me of the Mead 'Ultra' series I had, but ended up disliking and going back to my Schilke 51D and 52E2, so use normal skepticism for mouthpiece reviews.

The Weril didn't hold up well against the Packer. The sound was much fuller from the Packer, and was just all around better. I didn't compare intonation, but neither had anything that was way out or noticeable. It was not my Weril, so I had no player bias. If new it was a comparable 'stencil horn' 15+ years ago, it would be easy to see why people rave about the new stuff.

How did it compare to the Willson? Would I sell it and replace it with the Packer? No. If I was in the market for a horn today, is the Willson worth 5 times the price of the Packer? ...probably not. Does that mean no one should buy a Willson (or Besson, Yamaha, Adams, etc.) over a Packer (or Wessex, Mack Brass, etc.)? NO. The differences were more subtle than they were with the Weril, but there were definite improvements.

For my taste, the Packer didn't have the same resonance the Willson did. In the same room, the Packer seemed to have a quicker 'response' to attack and release, but at the expense of feeling more 'directional'. The sound didn't seem to blossom the way I've come to expect and desire. It was also easier to feel like I was reaching the edge of over-blowing, but that may be because it's a smaller bell than I'm use to playing on. I couldn't compare valves due to the sluggish Packer valves, but they felt like they may be comparable in the future.

Overall -
The John Packer 274 is a great Euphonium - For the money. Is it better than the big name, big buck brands? Not in my opinion, but it's got a lot of good going for it. I wouldn't be disappointed at all if a student came in for lessons with this horn. It's a great horn for high school students, education-track college students, and your 'everyday, average' player. If you're looking to go into performance, or serious playing, it would make a good horn to start with, but moving to a Besson/Willson/Adams/Yamaha will most likely be in your future.

The biggest question in my mind is how the instrument holds up to use and abuse. I saw a YEP321 I played in High School 15+ years ago in for repair of a broken lead pipe. It was pretty beat then too. Minus the lead pipe and normal flattened bows, it would still be a working horn. Would the Packer stand up to the same abuse?

I hope this helps someone, some day. I don't have much experience with the 'stencil' horns, but it was an enlightening experience. Does anyone else have similar or different experiences?
How is the horn working out for you? Are you still happy with the purchase? I've heard nothing but positive things about the 274.