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Adolphe Sax Instrument Models

ModelStart #End #
Antoine-Joseph Sax Models unknown (1843) unknown (1894)
Adolphe-Edward Sax Models unknown (1894) unknown (1928)

Adolphe Sax History

If you'd like in-depth reading on the creation of the saxophone, I heartily recommend Adolphe Sax 1814-1894 His Life and Legacy, by Wally Horwood.(Bramley Books, 1980).

Inline Image

Adolphe Sax, born Antoine-Joseph, produced the first saxophone in about 1843: a C bass in the shape of an ophicleide1. These "prototype" saxophones made in this curved style are vanishingly rare (there may be only four left, worldwide). The soprano, alto and tenor were traditionally shaped and were produced slightly later.

The bari and bass didn't change to their "normal" shape until around 1846 -- the original patent date for Sax's horns and when saxophones started to be mass produced.

In 1866, Sax's patent expired (renewed in 1881) and there was a kind of "free-for-all" in the saxophone world.

The first real "challenge" to the saxophone, the Sarrusophone2, appeared around this time ... the inventor of which, Gautrot, was sued many times by Antoine-Joseph because of the similarities (especially in fingering) between the two instruments. Sax lost some of these legal battles and won others.

Antoine-Joseph died in 1894 and his son, Adolphe-Edward, took over the company (although some evidence suggests he took over in 1885). He produced a few horns and then sold the company to Selmer around 1928.

Selmer produced horns with the Adolphe Sax label and style until (probably) 1935 and are known as very good playing horns, having similar playing characteristics to the Super models

    There are a few interesting things about the Sax horn that I've found:
  • There were altos produced in F
  • There may have been straight altos and low A altos
  • Gold plated horns were generally produced for "trade shows" (Paris Expositions)
  • Feb. 1, 1859 marks the date that pitch was standardized at A=435hz in France. Horns produced before this were essentially "custom made" to match the pitch that your ensemble used!


Antoine-Joseph's horns are beautiful works of art that cry out to be played, but they are extremely limited: the keyed range is only up to high Eb, there is no Bb bis key, there is no fork F#, there may not be a side C, the G# is not articulated and there aren't rollers on the RH C and Eb or the LH G#, C#, B cluster keys. The baritone and bass also had interestingly placed vents for the low B key -- placed so you could easily knock your right hand into it when playing. Finally, just to make things more interesting, Antoine-Joseph's horns featured up to four octave keys (though most had two) and no Bb -- and even some of Adolphe-Edwards horns only go down to low B.

I can say that even though these horns have limitations in keywork, they sound wonderful: clean, tight and airy ... reflecting the horn's roots in Antoine-Joseph's bass clarinet experiments. It's a sound that went away completely after about 1940 and the original Buescher Aristocrats.

About The Pics

I was looking around for pictures of the original Sax patent drawing and came across a Dutch/Flemish-language site3 that led me to two French-language sites, one an auction house4 and one of an enthusiast5. What I found were hundreds of photos of Antoine-Joseph and Adolphe-Edward's horns. Most of these are fairly low quality and look like they were scanned in from an encyclopedia (and, according to the webmaster of one of these sites, they were), but there's an almost uninterrupted line of pictures from 1849 to 1890 ... and a photocopy of one of the 1844 horns (remember that Sax made about 50 horns or so a year).

I've since seen these pictures in different places, including, on eBay (for sale!) and some attributions to an instrument restorer from France named Michael Smiga.

    The below pictures are broken down into groups:
  • Horns by Antoine-Joseph (horns produced by Antoine-Joseph Sax from 1843-1894)
  • Horns by Adolphe Sax (horns produced by Adolphe-Edward Sax from 1894-1928)
  • Horns by Selmer (horns produced by Selmer with the Sax label from 1928-1935)

It's also a good idea to take a look at the early Buffet horns to see how the Sax design was carried on.

I have used the dates provided by the Clarinettes & Saxophones website6 for most of the horns pictured below. These dates are sometimes a bit off. I've had SAXTEK correct a couple.

I have not found a complete serial number chart for the A.E. Sax or Selmer Adolphe-Sax horns, so those dates are a little iffy.

Adolphe Sax Feature Pages

No Adolphe Sax feature pages were found in the database.

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