Adolphe Sax baritone 39238

An instrument with a remarkable 'social life', once a saxophone, then part of a so-called dance organ, and back to be a saxophone again; a restoration project of some kind....

  • This instrument was recovered from a so-called dance organ, a beautiful piece of machinery that was once installed in pubs, most of them in Belgium, to provide dance music. Beside being constructed as a barrel organ, dance organs featured all kind of real musical instruments, like drum sets, that were being played mechanically and instruments like the present one, that were there for the looks only. But they must shake, rattle and roll! And therefore the body of our dear saxophone had been perforated to allow the organs mechanism to rock its keys with rods.

    But before it was installed in the organ, as a saxophone it must have been played quite a lot, as it was worn out considerably. And in that state, worn out, torn and perforated, Leo v Oostrom found it and took it under his wings. Leo very much wanted it restored into a playable state. It is, after all, a real Adolphe Sax père instrument. For this purpose it had been in the workshops of both Nico Bodewes and Marion v Gils for some time (who both had to drop the project for various reasons) before it finally came to me.

    Having nothing much better to do  I embarked upon this enterprise...

  • An example of a dance organ, the Elza–José by Decap of Antwerp featuring (fake) saxophones

  • The poor duck.. you can see most of the perforations in its body, but you cannot see the many crevices in the brass itself. Beside, there are parts entirely missing such as the thumb rests and both the octave keys.

  • A detail of the upper bow, crook and neck showing the miserable state these parts are in. You can look right through the upper bow, from one hole to the other.
  • restoration ethics

    Now, how do treat such an instrument? Leo's main goal is to have it brought back into a playable condition. That's one. And as an Ad. Sax père instrument, of course. That's two. And I wanted to keep its history visible, including the dance organ epoch. That's three. Finally, I think it is fine if the restoration job itself, which is also documented in great detail, is recognizable as a 21 century's.
    Can it be undone? I'm afraid not, and beside, to what state? The aim, after all, is not to preserve the thing as it came to be, but the musical instrument it once was.

    1. Simple? It should be sturdy enough to function as such, which asks for a solution for all the crevices. Missing parts should be replaced, as much as possible in an Ad. Sax style and if not, it should be recognizable as such. Yet, I would like to amend the place of the sling ring, which is quite peculiar in such instruments.

    2. Its bore profile was measured in advance and checked afterwards. Otherwise, what sense would it all make? It turned out to be a high pitch instrument and, after ample deliberations, it was decided to keep it that way. Not always convenient in a modern setting, but a mark of its period..

    3. Perforations can be repaired visibly if need be, but there is quite a serious problem to solve in the upper bows, which might ask for creative solutions or maybe an entirely new set. The original parts will be kept separately, in that case (as all damaged original parts will be).

  • Perforations of the dance organ epoch were closed by little disks. The thumb rest region was full of tiny crevices which were bridged by a sturdy piece of nickelsilver. The missing thumb rest itself will not be replaced.

  • Soldering a new tone hole ring in the place of a damaged one. In all, seven such rings were replaced by new ones made out of nickelsilver because the original ones couldn't be flattened any more.
    Of course, the new rings have the same diameter as the original ones.

  • The straight tube in its new state, with the creases smoothed out and all tone holes flattened. Great care was taken not to hammer the tube and thereby change its bore profile.

  • The bottom bow, which had a large hole at its very bottom from the dance organ period, now closed and the ring between it and the straight part, which had been perforated as well, brought back to its proper shape. Here too, three new tone hole rings were fitted.

  • The straight part fitted with keys again. All keys but one had to worked on in one way or the other in order to be fully functional...

  • The bottom bow and the bell in their new state.
  • Once we'd got this far, it's now up to the crook. You will remember that the crook is a bit beyond repair. Measuring its profile and comparing this profile to that of other Ad. Sax instruments (both older and newer) of which I have data, had made clear already that at least the neck was no longer in good shape.

    But we can [and should] make it sound and study its behaviour. In order to do so, the crook was all covered in heat shrink tube. In the first place, it was now confirmed that the instrument was indeed built for high pitch, tuning fairly well to A=457Hz. But further intonation characteristics also showed the damage which had been done to the neck: intonation rose sharply from A2 upwards.

    In the mean time, the top bow and crook of another 19th century baritone had become available and the plan now is to make that set into shape according to need. More experiments were conducted, swapping the original Ad. Sax parts with those of the other instrument – sometimes provisionally reshaped – in all possible combinations.

    Measuring intonation and comparing the profiles obtained to the original on the one hand and to profiles of two newer second-generation Ad. Sax baritones on the other, led me to a plan for a new set of crooks in which Sax's last insights into the problems of baritone intonation and profiles are embedded. So you might say that the instrument was updated a seven or eight years!

  • The original top bow and crook all covered in heat shrink tube: it sounds! and it surely sounds like a baritone saxophone!

  • The new top bow and crook in their final state, the difference in colour denoting the new from the original. The top bow is fitted to the body with a locknut, discharging me from the need to solder the replacement bow to the original instrument. Also, it can be turned to the position that suits the player – standing or sitting.
    The top bow is now turned to the left hand side for the ease of reading of sheet music.
  • a word of thanks

    Having got this far, a word of thanks is due to Leo van Oostrom, without whose intervention this instrument surely had been lost forever.

    Further to Nico Bodews and Marion van Gils, who both payed heed to the instument before it came to me. Next, I would like to thank Marc Scholten, the co-owner of the anonimous 19th century baritone which was used to complete this instrument with new crooks and replace its missing octave keys and finally to all those whose 19th century baritones I had the privilege to measure and compare. Data collected in this way greatly helped to reconstruct this instrument in a hopefully well–considered way.

    Did I succeed in «preserving the musical instrument it once was»? As it is now, it is definitely not identical to what it was when new. In reconstructing the upper bows I used other examples too, but examples set by Sax himself, at the very end of his career as an instrument maker.

    Leo commented on the finshed instrument: “Ah, this is pure poetry!” The instrument is now on loan for educational purposes in the conservatory of Tilburg, the Netherlands, where Andreas van Zoelen uses it with his students.

  • Professors dr. Andreas v Zoelen and Ties Mellema, myself and students of the Tilburg conservatory on the occasion of the ceremonial conveyance of the instrument, May 17th, 2022.