Early Keilwerth Saxophones


Early Keilwerths

I have recently become a big fan of early Keilwerths, around the serial 10xxx to 21xxx.

There is a picture of the New King and the Modell 3 I speak about in this article in the gallery.

To get up to speed on Keilwerth New King/Tone King and their stencils, go to http://www.saxpics.com/keilwerth/newking.htm and give it a good read.

Ok, so now that you’ve read that, I have seen some horns that don’t totally add up with the serial chart Pete has up, although it is a very good general guide. I think the best way you can figure out which horn you have is going to be first by general serial number range, and then (and almost as importantly) what is on the horn itself. I think that the serial ranges may even overlap sometimes, as I have a Tone King with sheet metal keyguards that looks very much like a New King Series I, although it is firmly in the serial range that should be the plastic keyguard model.

One of the things that Saxpics does not have updated yet is more info about the “King Modell 3”, which I myself own, a 13xxx example in silver plate.

I did a bit of measuring and playing on a New King 15xxx alto lacquer and a King Modell 3 13xxx silver plate these past few days. I believe they are identical in body tube and neck, with the only differences being in keywork. The Modell 3’s keywork is not as nice, and seems to be a “budget” model, if not just an earlier model. The differences are:

1. One less roller on the LH pinky table of the Modell 3. One roller between Bb and B (located on the Bb), instead of two (on both Bb and B) like on the New King, making the roll a bit less slick.
2. Regular side keys on the Modell 3, vs. the way cool ones on the New King.
3. No rollers on the low B and Bb activating levers (where the actual keycups are activated by the arms attached to the keys on the pinky table) on the Modell 3, while they are present on the New King. A little teflon makes this unnoticeable, however.
4. No front F on the Modell 3, while the New King has one.
5. No cool textured plastic G# key on the Modell 3.

I think thats it, although I am working from memory right now. The necks were interchangeable. The keywork is a mixture of Selmer, Conn, and what-have-you, and is surprisingly comfortable and modern-feeling, with the exception of the pinky table which is Conn 6M all the way (although I personally believe the M series pinky tables to be far superior to the modern Selmer style). The sound is… well, unbelievable. Full, powerful, sweet, ballsy, pure… the sax just seems to float in midair and never gets in the way.

The main issue when working on these has been that the rolled tone holes are WAY unlevel, and my horn at least was never refinished (not so sure on the New King, the lacquer is obviously very old, but is over the engraving, although the engraving looks very deep and even), so it must have come that way from the factory. These tonehole issues seem to be the case with modern Keilwerths as well, and I’ve also seen it on 50s, 60s, and 70s Keilwerths. Steven Howard reviews a modern SX90R and finds the same thing here: http://www.shwoodwind.co.uk/Reviews/Saxes/Tenor/Keilwerth_sx90r_tenor.htm

My Modell 3 is my main alto now (dethroned a 28M by a frickin’ mile and a half) and the New King I mentioned has replaced the long time main axe (a customized yamaha yas-62 purple label) of this guy: www.loganrichardson.com.

I have since gotten the Dolnet, New Aristo, and 26M mentioned above in and played the Dolnet and the 26M vs. the Modell 3- the New Aristo needs an overhaul first. Although the Dolnet and 26M weren’t in what I would consider perfect playing condition, the Modell 3 still won in terms of sound in my book- although the other horns look quite a bit nicer than my Modell 3, and the 26M certainly feels nicer too.

One of my quirks/hobbies is always playing every horn I overhaul vs. my main horn of that size and keeping the winner. For a while this meant changing horns every few months as my tastes changed, or if one looked nicer but played the same. So far nothing has come close to this Modell 3 though, and I have a feeling if I ever start using another alto as my main alto anytime soon, it will probably be a New King from the same vintage. Of course a LOT of this is my personal preference in sound, but in any case I encourage anyone who has a the opportunity to give one of these 10xxx to 20xxx (or therabouts- I recently got a 21xxx Tone King that looks to be pretty much the same, I’ll know more once it comes in) Keilwerths a try.

For what its worth, if you do find one of these, I and others that have played on these find that stubby large chamber pieces seems to work best for intonation. Think Master Link, Slant Sig, and my Morgan 3C does fine too. Longer, small chambered pieces (like a s80 C*) tended to have the palm keys way flat and the bell keys way sharp- a sure sign of having too long a mouthpiece and too small a chamber, respectively.

I recently scored a Modell 3 tenor on ebay, and it is exactly like the alto in every respect (including playing incredibly) except it has a front F! I got my “King Modell 3” tenor in the mail a few days ago, and it is very like my alto in every detail, with the exception that it has a front F! Score!

The front F is interesting because the tenor is an earlier serial than my alto Modell 3- which means that it must have either been an option on these horns (which means there may be King Modell 3 altos with front Fs somewhere), or perhaps the tenor King Modell 3s all had front Fs while the altos did not.


I have since gotten two other horns with different engravings that are also New King Series I stencils. One says “Uebel” and is exactly like the Modell 3 alto except with a front F and different engraving, and one says “ToneKing Solo” and it has a front F, forked Eb, G# trill, and high E trill, and all the keytouches are pearls, much like the Conn Virtuoso Deluxe model, except this one is in silver plate with engraving only on the bell. Measurements match up to the Modell 3/New King, and they play much the same.

I would have to conclude that pretty much every Keilwerth made between APPROXIMATELY 10xxx and 20xxx is going to be this same body tube design, with many many variants as far as keywork and engraving.

The bottom line remains the same: go try one out! They are amazing horns- I won’t go so far as to say the best, at least not in public, but playing is believing.


I have now had two of the Amati/Keilwerth horns in my possession, and after doing some research and taking a lot of measurements, I think I have some new info to offer on the pedigree of the horns with both the JKG stamp and the “Made in Czechoslovakia” stamp by the serial number.

I have an Amati toneking alto in lacquer, exactly like the one on saxpics.com under the “Amati ToneKing” heading. He lists Amati Tonekings as either having a Keilwerth serial or maybe not having one. My toneking alto does NOT have a Keilwerth serial number, although it has the JKG stamp and everything else. Measurements between that horn and any of my New King I stencils prove them to be different in several places, including the easiest to identify: the necks are not interchangeable. I also have a tenor with both the JKG and Made In Czechoslovakia stamp. This tenor, however, has a Keilwerth serial and all of the measurements are identical to my Modell 3 tenor, and the necks ARE interchangeable.

I believe that there are two distinct types of “Amati” ToneKings. One is with a Keilwerth serial, and these were MADE in the Keilwerth factory and thus stamped with a Keilwerth serial, but they were assembled by Amati due to complications from the war- most likely the parts that had already been made were just shipped out. Much like “American” Mark VI’s are still VIs, these are for all intents and purposes Keilwerths. These are also the more rare type. Another type does NOT have a Keilwerth serial number. These were MADE in the Amati factory with Keilwerth tooling, and although very similar, they are slightly different horns, much like the difference between a transitional 6M and a 6M. These are Amati horns, and from what I have seen so far, these are more common.

I have NOT overhauled my Amati-made ToneKing alto to see what differences there will be between it and my Keilwerth-made Series I horns- hopefully the difference will be minor, but with different dimensions it could be as different as a whole new model.

*Update 5*

I finally got around the the Amati ToneKing alto, and I repadded it in similar fashion to my NK I alto- tan Precision pads, flat metal resonators.

After having my hands on it for a lot of hours and playtesting it for a while, intonation guided my key heights to just about the same exact heights as my NK I. Intonation was decent, not awesome, but easily adjustable. The worst note for me was low D, which is about 15 cents sharp. Easily lip-able, and any adjustment to low D would do the same thing to middle D, so I left it as-is because its easier to lip low D down than it is to lip middle D up, and middle D is playing in tune. I used the same mouthpiece I usually use on my NK I- a Morgan 3C.

Build quality seems to be about the same, perhaps slightly cheapened vs. the New King. The rolled toneholes are still unlevel. The lacquer is high quality (still looks pretty good on mine anyways) and the original case is really nice. The Amati does have a front F, and also has a high E trill key. It has normal side keys, unlike the New King beveled and tilted side keys. The pearls, instead of being concave, are flat. It took a few minutes to get used to the feel of the flat pearls, but after that it wasn’t really something I noticed.

Playing-wise, I would call this horn a close cousin to the New King. It has the same power, but with more projection and a more laser-like sound. It would make a GREAT bop horn, but I think it might be too penetrating for ballads. Crazy analogy time: if the tone of the NK I is chocolate, this horn is cinnamon.

All in all, a very nice horn that can be had at bargain basement prices if you see them around. Definitely take it to a tech that has experience with unusual horns, because this is NOT a Mark VI or even close, and it will require special attention to have it play its best. If you are low on cash and looking for a horn with a unique voice and plenty of balls for your bop gig and you come across an Amati ToneKing, definitely give it a try.

*Update 6*

So its been a few years, and my main alto is still the Keilwerth King Modell 3.  I’ve worked on quite a few of these horns in the meantime, and my initial assessment remains valid.  Also turned quite a few other folks on to these horns, and by and large people are extremely impressed by the tone coming out of these horns.

I think if I can, I will someday add a Buffet Super Dynaction to my alto stable, but my main axe remains the 1930s Keilwerth alto.


*Update 7*

Finally, at long last, I switched altos.  I now play on a Selmer Balanced Action.  I miss some of the character of the tone in the New King Series I, but I enjoy being able to use pretty much whatever mouthpiece I want and have it still play in tune.