Many years ago when I was a student in London looking to buy my first professional sax, I came across a silver plated Selmer Model 26 alto. I asked if I could have a play simply because I was interested to see how different it would be from a modern sax. I didn’t really expect to like it, but I did. The sound was so velvety and subtle compared to anything else I had played and the shop didn’t want too much for it either, but I knew that sound wasn’t going to work for the kind of playing I was going to be doing. There was no front F, no high F sharp, the ergonomics were primitive compared to a modern sax and regretfully, I passed up the opportunity to buy it. I had the bug though, I wanted to own one but I couldn’t afford the luxury of owning two altos.
So imagine my delight when Celia spotted a set of them on eBay in Melbourne a couple of years ago. So I’m now the proud owner of three of these gorgeous saxes- soprano, alto and tenor. The alto and tenor are playable but I don’t like the way they’ve been set up very much. The soprano was bent and a bit battered and I’ve just finished restoring it with some help on the body work from Brett Gustafson at Gustafson Custom Horns here in Adelaide. Brett’s a great guy and brilliant technician – check out his website and facebook page.
I’m delighted with how the soprano plays. I expected it to be hard work but it isn’t. The low notes are easy and stable and the sound is just olde worldly beautiful – closer to Adolphe Sax’s concept than it is to modern instruments. The ergonomics are surprisingle good. The action feels nice and comfortable, though the palm keys take some getting used to because they’re in quite different positions from say my Mark VI or any modern soprano. The overall pitch is spot on A440 although the second C is a bit flat and E a tiny bit sharp. I might have a go at correcting this if I get some time.
I was trying to find out how many of these instruments were made and I was referred by the Selmer company to Selmer historian Douglas Pipher, who is currently piecing together the history of these instruments including the various alterations and improvements made throughout the production run. As Douglas points out, it’s a confusing business shrouded in mystery. Most serial number lists have the Model 26 running from serial no. 4451 (1926) to 11950 (1929), with the Super sax series starting at 11951 in 1930. Some list a Model 28, (which starts in 1927!!), and indeed some Selmer saxes are stamped Model 28. Most of the saxes made from 1928-31 didn’t have a model number stamp at all, just the serial number. Selmer enlarged the bore of the alto only around serial no. 8000 (1928) and this is commonly known as the “Large-Bore Series”, but they are not stamped as such.
So what to call my soprano, which was made in 1928 but has no model stamp? I’ve called it a model 26 in my play test video. As far as I know, the basic design of the soprano bore didn’t change from 1926-1930, so I’m guessing that my instrument plays and sounds like a Model 26. It does have a couple of unusual keywork variations that I have not seen on any other Selmer sopranos from any period. There is G sharp trill on the right hand and an alternate E flat which necessitates a pad on top of a pad on the right hand third finger plate (see photo). I think these were made to order and do not indicate one model or another. The rest of the keywork is the same as a regulation model 26 soprano. Indeed the soprano keywork seems to have not changed significantly until the Mark VI in 1954.
What I’d really like to know is when and how the bore changed, did they alter the size and position of tone holes or the composition of the metal? I haven’t yet found answers to these questions but in the meantime I’m just loving playing this instrument. It’s for sale on my website. Obviously I’d love to keep it but business dictates that I can’t be sentimental about instruments. The alto and tenor will follow in coming months – can’t wait to see how they play!