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The Dolnet Bel Air

My Dolnet tenor is, I think, a Belair model, but in silver. It's a big bore sax with the typical hexagonal 'Art Deco' touches to the side keys, the crook ferrule and the C/Eb cluster. The LH thumb-rest is a round pearl, as are the centres on the geometric keyguards. The crook-cork collar is rolled, like Selmer's. Keywork is (apart from the superb Dolnet octave system) otherwise conventional.

Engraving is quite distinctive: elaborate concentric geometic scrolling, all emanating from what might be called a central 'cartouche' -- I think the artist was strongly influenced by the patterns in the magnetic field! The overall effect is stunning.

The action is very free and fast, with a colossal lower end and a really juicy B/Bb.This sax just outroars my '68 VI AND easily equals my '75 VII -- a great rock sax in its own right. With this baby I use a Dukoff D7.

Dating is VERY vague but info. to hand suggests a date for the ser. no. 395**G around 1948-50.

My Belair alto matches the tenor quite precisely, with all the same keywork features except for the octave thumbrest which is black Bakelite or rubber, a straight-drawn collar at the crook-cork and a more conventional round crook ferrule.

The action is very fast indeed, despite the quite oversized low B/Bb key-cups. The sound is again very big, but beautifully mellow around middle D; octave and arpeggio-work is very easy and fluid, though I have had a few pitch problems around upper A/B/C/C# emanating, I think, from tired crook corking.

Engraving is -- contrary to what I read about them being plain 'belt and braces' saxes -- quite exquisite. It has highly detailed and painstakingly executed floral motifs -- far more beautiful than my Selmers, Buffets or Conns. (Are critics talking about the same saxes here, or have I just been lucky in picking up three jewels?!)

Dating for the ser. no.729**J is estimated at about 1959-62.

[The "Bel Air" model name is based on] a conversation I had with an old guy back a few years ago: he had a Bel Air tenor identical to mine, though of a slightly earlier ser. no. (within a few hundred). He bought it new in Paris back in the late 40's (though he couldn't be certain exactly when). My alto, which came from the same source, matches my tenor closely but again is not marked "Bel Air".

My 395** tenor is probably younger by a year or two.

Now, his sax MIGHT have languished in a shop for a good while, so we have to be very cautious about date!1

These horns are virtually identical to the Imperial model (listed below). It's possible that Dolnet actually labelled these horns "Bel Air" for a few years, labelled them "Imperial" for a few years and then decided not to label them anything at all.

Eb Altos

s/n 729xxJ

Thanks to Laurie Pimblett

Bb Tenors

s/n 395xxG

Thanks to Laurie Pimblett

Eb Baritones (Low A)

s/n unknown


Footnotes & References

  1. Written by guest columnist Laurie Pimblett

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