I received my first soprano saxophone on my 14th birthday, but I didn’t try a vintage soprano until I was already an undergraduate student at SUNY Fredonia. That instrument was a 1930’s straight silver-plated soprano built by C.G. Conn. For two years it was my voice, and it wasn’t until December 2002 that I found this current saxophone.
Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone
Currently I play on a historical silver-plated Buescher curved soprano saxophone (c.1927) built to the acoustical specifications of the instrument’s inventor, Adolphe Sax. It is important to note that the saxophone truly was an invention; while most instruments have slowly evolved over the course of human history, the saxophone has no predecessor.
Instrument maker and musician Adolphe Sax was intentionally trying to create a new orchestral instrument. Sax hoped to fill a void that he thought was present in the modern-day orchestra, he hoped to bridge the gap between the strings and the winds. The result was an entirely new instrument that was praised by Berlioz, Rossini, Meyerbeer, and Wagner.
By all accounts the saxophone had a gentle noble tone that could blend easily with strings and winds. During the 1880’s American instrument maker Ferdinand August Buescher (while an employee of the C.G. Conn CO.) acquired an original Adolphe Sax alto saxophone. This instrument later served as the model for the saxophones he produced under his own name. The original Adolphe Sax was then given to classical saxophone Pioneer Sigurd Raschèr by the Buescher Company during Raschèr’s affiliation with the instrument manufacturer.
During the mid 20th century with the popularization of Jazz, the saxophone underwent acoustical changes to keep up with the demands of jazz musicians and dance orchestras of the time. This soprano is rare in that it is a very late “TruTone” model, one of the very last ones to retain the original body type yet with a transitional engraving (228xxx). Shortly after this soprano was built the Buescher company switched to a new soprano body that would later serve as the ‘Aristocrat’ model. There were a few “transitional” models that share similar engraving to mine but with the new body type. I have never seen or played another soprano quite like this one. After years of concertizing on the instrument (which still retained a few original pads and springs) it was becoming evident that my soprano was in need of some TLC.
Sketch from the original saxophone patent letter (1846)
Curt Altarac from MusicMedic explains the work done on the soprano
During the final season of the instrument’s first incarnation, my soprano was literally being held together by a variety of tape, chewing gum, dental floss, and rubber bands! Can you imagine?! Performing concerti, radio broadcasts, and even recording an album with such an instrument!? The trouble was that most instrument techs I visited would not even touch this vintage soprano. They were afraid to work on it because of its delicate condition thinking they would do more harm than good. Luckily, Curt Altarac and his super hero team at the MusicMedic ProShop stepped up to the plate and gave new life to my soprano by giving it a MusicMedic Uberhaul.
Find out more about the restoration here: http://saxproshop.com/a-visit-from-michael-hernandez-and-one-outrageous-saxophone/
I also play on a very special mouthpiece from the 1920’s. After trying countless vintage and modern mouthpieces this one finally allowed me to do everything I could imagine. I was surprised to learn that this mouthpiece has almost the exact same facing measurements as an original Adolphe Sax soprano mouthpiece (pictured below). It’s my hope to one day reproduce this soprano mouthpiece and make it available to my students and others interested.