Posted on March 11, 2016
Selmer “New Largebore” Soprano Saxophone with Unusual Engraving
This unique horn was made in 1929 during the time period that the “New Largebore” Selmer was being made, but sat unfinished and unsold at the factory until the late 1930s, when it was finished, given a contemporary engraving pattern of the Balanced Action, and sold. Thus the engraving is out-of-time, but completely original.
I was instructed to do a job similar to the Balanced Action tenor I did recently- spare no expense and leave no stone unturned mechanically, but try to leave the horn looking and feeling old and “played-in”. Doing so ended up being one of the bigger jobs I’ve done!
To start, there wasn’t a straight line to be found on it. Straightening the body and rounding out the bore was a slow process, followed by lots of weird key geometry stuff from past bendings from working around the body bends rather than fixing them and/or inappropriate pad thicknesses. It had been played a LOT, and due to excessive wear on the originally very thin rods (which were bumpy and worn themselves), every rod needed oversized from .092 to .0937 and then the keys STILL needed swedging. I made several pivot bushings, made a new pivot screw, installed all new blued needle springs, hand cleaned it and removed corrosion spot by spot because the owner wanted to keep the patina but not the corrosion, then finally of course overhaul it. The antiquated octave mechanism was particularly interesting to get so it functioned properly and operated smoothly with no lost motion- I actually ended up shaping some octave mechanism adjustment corks like cams so that as they rolled through their angles of operation they would stay in contact but also end up exactly where I wanted them. And I’ve left a bunch out!
That sounds like an awful lot (and it was), but keep in mind this horn is nearing on 90 years old. I’m seeing more of these complete revivals as the years go by. I think maybe folks are realizing that saxophones have a several hundred year lifespan if taken care of, and we happen to be living in the time when the first major restorations are commonly taking place as the oldest saxophones people play and gig with are turning 100 in the next few years. I’m sure violin luthiers will have a giggle hearing a statement like that, but us saxophonists are new to this world. In another couple decades, making parts and replacing hinge tubes and possibly hand-crafting entire keys is going to be as expected for saxophone specialist repairers as neck grafting is for a high-end luthier.
The horn itself plays very nice. Big Conn-like soprano tone, but shoots straight out the bell and through the far wall like a laser the diameter of a Coke can. Intonation is decent, and VERY flexible. I could play it very out of tune or in tune just by thinking about it. I spent some time living with it to make adjustments, but after a few minutes of playing it would always be in tune no matter where I started, so it was hard to figure out where I should adjust anything! I especially loved the feeling of the horn under the fingers- light, snappy, and extremely comfortable upper and lower stacks.
I was very happy with this job and although you wouldn’t know it by looking at it, the mechanisms are as perfect as I can make them and given good care it shouldn’t need another job like this until well after I’ve retired.