Restoring the Adolphe Sax 39238 baritone made me look into my measurements in a new way, combining bore profiles with tone hole lengths. This yielded a new point of view related to the zero of my bore profile scales.


When you measure an object, any object, you simply do have to put a zero somewhere. Nederveen choose to put his zero (both for the bore profile and for tone hole lengths) at the tip of the mouthpiece. Though acoustically he might have a point here, I considered this to be a somewhat awkward place, as the mouthpiece is not really fixed to the instrument and mouthpieces differ even among one another in length. For that reason I put my zero at the entrance of the neck. Seemingly a more stable point, yet...

Yet it might be that neck length of saxophones has shifted through time. This becomes evident when you combine the two sets of measurements, bore profiles (which provide an acoustical top) and tone hole lengths, and next compare older and newer instruments. It turns out that necks relatively have got longer through time at the expense of the truncated length. That makes, to put it differently, that my zero has shifted in place.

What is the consequence of this shift? Simple: the entire saxophone shifts toward the right in the profile graphs to the same extend as its neck lengthens. In the process the newer instrument shows to be as if narrower than its predecessor. That is exactly what in the previous pages I report to have happened. Now, was that all wrong? No, it isn't. But you might read the entire story in a different and maybe better way: it is not so much the instrument that has got narrower but its neck that has got longer.

In the mean time I do have to be cautious, as my measurements up to this point, and the 'new' way of looking at them, have only been tried for a limited number of alto and baritone saxophones. (Yes, for the sopranos too I mentioned this tendency before, but here I ascribed the lengthening of the instrument to the shift in tessitura from high-Eb to high-F, which is a factor in its own right.) At the same time it should immediately be admitted that so far the outcome of the comparison of Sax's instruments with late 19th century, earlier 20th century and modern instruments unanimously points in one and the same direction.


What is the consequence? Here I would like to refer to Otto Steinkopf. I cite his work in the PhysicsforMusicians-section on the page on conicity. Also, I would like to refer to my own experiments in truncation with various saxophones as reported in the instruments-section under «a study in truncation». You will notice that this shift is not without meaning, on the contrary. The general tendency is one of a more stable intonation at the expense of a warmer and even bigger sound (although the big–chamber, narrow–facing type of mouthpiece that is traditionally used with these antique instruments might make this last aspect to pass unnoticed). The general tendency still is one which enabled the mouthpiece volume to diminish through time. And still with a bigger step at first, due to the difference between the first and second generation of Adolphe Sax instruments and more delicately afterwards, due to successive shifts in truncated length.

I certainly intend to widen this new way of looking at my measurements to include both soprano and tenor saxophones. Also, I would definitely want to study a greater number of instruments than has been done so far. Next, I maybe will have to redraw my graphs and rewrite my texts, but what will remain is that the instruments of Sax, both first and second generation, differ in this respect from what came after these, say, roughly, from the later 19th century up to and including the 'vintage' american period and in turn these instruments differ from the modern french and japanese. So the point of view and the words may change, the drift of the story still remains.

M. Postma | july 2019