After 1866 Sax didn't have a monopoly on saxophones any more and in retrospect it turns out that his influence in saxophone design was waning rapidly. Others started to take over. A period which we might call the middle ages of saxophone design starts.

It is a period of experimenting by different makers, trying to improve the newly available instrument. This period lasts more or less to the second or third decade of the 20th century. For the sake of ease, I pinpoint the year 1928, in which year Adolphe Sax jr. sells his workshop to Selmer as the end of that period. The period is characterized by instruments with slightly wider or narrower bores, a subtle variation in conicities, different types of profiles in the neck and bottom bows and a variation of bell shapes, all in search of better intonation and response characteristics. I mention this, because it fairly hidden; the development of the mechanism is well known and is also used to date instruments – in bore profiles something comparable happens, but now invisible.


So obvious a parabola as in Sax's first generation soprano we do not find anywhere else. This instrument had had the most outspoken example of the parabolic cone, to be followed by the alto. Only a Solotone and a Mahillon soprano show a similar, though far less extreme shape. Then I came across an odd Pierre Goumas/Buffet-Crampon alto, which has a very slightly curved cone (but not enough to make it play like a first generation Adolphe Sax instrument) and a Gautrot-Marquet tenor, whose design is obviously based on the pre-1866 Adolphe Sax design of the tenor. These rare instruments show a marked difference with with all other and later ones. And later, in this case, is not really that much later: already in 1872 Buffet-Crampon built a tenor, in 1876 a soprano and a few years later an alto with the predominantly straight cones that we nowadays commonly find in saxophones. Many of Feuillet's instruments, though not all, show typically straight cones. Feuillet, as a former employee of Sax, was most probably well informed about Sax's ideas about the development of the bore profile. Both these makers, Feuillet, who joined the Association Générale in 1885, and Buffet-Crampon, must have had a great influence on the Parisian instrument makers. Certainly from the turn of the century onward the main form of almost all instruments is by and large a straight cone with a constriction of some kind in the upper end.

In itself this is quite an astonishing phenomenon: say, you are a competitor of Sax wanting to make saxophones yourself and anxiously waiting for the patent to expire, what would you do? I'd say, you'd study the extant instruments in order to make them youself. But the majority of extant examples up till 1866 had parabolical cones, being of course first generation instruments. Yet practically all of the competitor's instruments are typically second generation, having straighter and narrower cones. How come? In the case of Feuillet, we understand. Feuillet was an insider, he knew. But Buffet-Crampon and all the others? Where did they get their information from?


Around 1888 american saxophone making starts, although 1892 seems to be the year in which american made saxophones were in fact first available. It is not quite certain which instruments served as an example to F. A. Buescher. According to a study by Ed Bogaards two quartets of Buffet-Crampons saxophones and 'new model' saxophones were ordered from america on december 15, 1875. These might well have been among the very first saxophones in america, but prior to 1888 there were other french instruments imported into the US as well. Also, E. A. Lefebvre played Buffet-Crampons, but the example to Buescher might have been Albert or Mahillon too as there is a source stating that

Lefebvre, always on the lookout for the best, used a saxophone made in Belgium, believing that it was a beautiful instrument, and up to that time, it surely was the best that had been produced.

There is also a story about an example set to Buescher by an Adolphe Sax alto saxophone, given to Lefebvre by Sax's daughter. This instrument is presently owned by Carina Raschèr. But this is a rather curious story in so far as the Buescher SATB-range shows the same spacing of conicities as the post-1866 Sax quartet, illustrating that a contemporary french example for Buescher will most likely have included at least the four instruments and not just one, as it is highly unlikely that they would otherwise correspond that well. As far as bores go, the american way has no clear distinguishing features of its own, but in the bottom bows we often find an s-shaped profile, narrowing at first and then widening. We also saw this in the aforementioned 1872 Buffet-Crampon tenor sax, but in european instruments this is a more rare feature. Also the way in which the cylindrical neck sleeve is placed in the bore profile is often a bit different in america. At least in the altos and tenors Conn appears to follow Buescher rather closely and adds some niceties of his own, like a conical neck tenon in the M10 tenors and the microtuner, a device that provides a perturbation to the bore only and is of little practical use to the musician (and an annoyance to the repairman). Martin strays somewhat farther afield, building instruments with a multiple–stepped cone which sometimes is a tad wider still than mainstream.


Like the american branch german saxophone making also starts in the late 19th century. And like for the american branch, there is a french example, but this time it is well known: a Gautrot-Marquet tenor which was bought for the the Markneukirchen museum in 1894. Unlike the Gautrot-Marquet tenor mentioned earlier, the design of this instrument must be based on the post-1866 tenor saxophone, as the german tenor saxophone shows identical proportions. In 1901 this instrument was handed to Oscar Adler to be copied. But also like the american, it is again highly unlikely that the german branch is based on one single example only, as you cannot extrapolate the entire family of instruments from one specimen and expect to get the same relationships between the individual members. German instruments have turned out not to be that exemplary and I don't have an extensive documentation on their bore profiles. The ones I do have – Adler Racso, a couple of Amatis, a Dörfler & Jörka, Keilwerth (both Toneking and SX90), Solotone and Weltklang – give no reason to expect anything extraordinary as far as bore shapes are concerned.


The gradual straightening of the bore in many cases, though not in the case of the tenor saxophone, has come with a step by step subtle narrowing of the main cone. This narrowing is, other than the straightening of the cone, more of an ongoing process. Instruments from the turn of the century are easily a little wider still than later ones. It diminished the required volume inside the mouthpiece and thus opened the way to the narrower, brighter sounding modern mouthpiece. To illustrate the described developments I give four quartets of Instruments:

  • the original pre-1866 Adolphe Sax quartet
  • the post-1866 Adolphe Sax quartet
  • a quartet of pre-WW2 Buescher saxophones as an example of american saxophone making
  • finally a quartet of Selmer Mark6s as an example of the french.

For the sake of comparison and to draw a slightly bigger picture, the average main conicity of 20th century instruments was calculated and drawn into the bore profiles (in green). On the whole, it is surprising to see how little change saxophone design has undergone since Adolphe Sax updated his designs in the mid 60s.

comparative profiles of four quartets of saxophones. show profiles

on balance

On the whole, the period is characterized by subtle diversity and adventurousness out of which a consensus gradually emerges. This consensus doesn't include Sax's original cones anymore, but inevitably al kinds of related or residual forms.