Compare/contrast 5 Orsi bass saxophones

It has been a long while since I’ve written anything about bass saxophones, so when I saw this Orsi bass sax on eBay a couple of days ago, it got me thinking. I sent an email to the seller to get a clarification on the horn’s range, but he informed me that the bass was no longer available. He was however, kind enough to answer my questions about the number of palm keys that his Orsi bass sax had.

Orsi bass saxophones are not very common. Therefore I believe comparing/contrasting this one to the others that I have seen over the years might be a very useful exercise.

Orsi bass saxophone, model 119F, serial # 4269

Orsi bass saxophone, bass sax in case, big saxophone, Italian saxophone, modern bass saxophone, vintage American-style bass saxophone

Source: ojb_musical_instruments on eBay.com

The most recent seller described his Orsi bass like this:

Hi and welcome to this listing for my Orsi bass saxophone – an extremely expensive instrument when first purchased, bass saxophones typically cost roughly £20,000 new!

Whilst you may not have heard of Orsi if you’re from an alto/tenor sax background, they are a very well respected maker of these instruments and one of only a couple in the world that make contra-bass saxophones.

The sax was bought several years ago from John Packer Music in the UK. ….This sax is in fantastic cosmetic and playing condition and comes complete with its crook, mouthpiece + ligature (very expensive on their own!), a set of new reeds and its original wheeled case. The sax plays very nicely, although it’s certainly more challenging to play than any other type. It’s hard to describe the feeling of playing the low B? on this – it’s earth shaking!

All pads, keys, springs and mechanisms seal and work perfectly. There are three very insignificant dings on the crook, and a couple of scratches to the lacquer on the body of the sax – otherwise it’s essentially like new, complete with original Orsi polishing cloth!…..

The seller did tell me that the horn has 3 left and 3 right palm keys, and is indeed keyed to high F.

BTW, it might be worth noting that this Orsi bass sax was listed for £4,750.00 (approx. $6,258.60 US according to eBay).

Orsi bass saxophone, model 119F, serial # 3547

In September 2015 another modern Orsi bass sax appeared on eBay. This one looked a bit different in its keywork, and was described by the seller like this:

orsi sax basso in sib mod. sa119f

Sax Basso, modello professionale, discendende al Sib, ascendente al Fa#….

Not being up on my Italian, I had to rely on Google Translate (along with my own common sense) for the following:

orsi bass sax in Bb mod. sa119f

Sax Bass, professional model, descendants to the Bb, ascendant to the Fa # ….

I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time seeing a high F# key on this horn. So me thinks that Fa# is not the same as F#. I have not had any joy in any translation sites getting an answer. Anyone up on their Italian? Please comment and clarify this us. Thanks!

Also, Orsi used a very different left palm key layout in this bass sax. This is very different than what we see in bass 4269 that was just on eBay.

I guessing that the high Eb key perhaps has two stages of opening, which could explain its shape? In stage 1 it acts like a normal D#/Eb key does. If the horizontal portion is pressed though, it might act like a high F lever. I’m just guessing here. If someone can come up with a better theory, or if someone has an Orsi bass like this, please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Orsi Normal Bass Saxophone, serial # 2935

To add even further confusion into the mix, in March 2015, a music store in Italy listed a Concertino model bass on eBay. The vintage Orsi catalogue that I was sent years ago does have a page dedicated to the student model instruments, but shows the Concertino models as having the full range from Bb-F.

However, it is the Normal model tenor with the limited range of B-F. Although not shown in the catalogue, I suspect that Orsi also at some point made at Normal Bass Sax, with a limited range from B-Eb. This would make sense, since the Orsi catalogue does show the Improved Bass Sax with a regular pinkie cluster, as well as a low Bb key.

Anyone else find it odd that Orsi would go to the expense of silver (nickel?) plating a student model horn with a limited key range?

Orsi-stencilled Martelle bass saxophone, serial # 2037

Way back in January 2012 I originally wrote about this Orsi stencil. It appears to be a stencil of their Improved Bass Sax.

Note the unusually large bell that this bass has. This is a feature we see in Orsi saxophones of that era all the time. Quite frankly, this horn looks like the big brother of my Orsi-stencilled La Monte.

Orsi-stencilled Metro bass saxophone, serial # A4149

Even further back in 2010 & 2009, this poor beater first made its rounds. This Metro bass sax was for sale multiple times, and even thru multiple dealers. It is to date the oldest Orsi bass saxophone that I have seen. (All 60+ images I have of this horn are available on Bassic Sax Pix.)

Summing this all this up in a chart

I’ve put together a chart that highlights some of the features of the 5 Orsi bass saxophones listed above. This is a place to start a more in-depth compare/contrast in the future.

I have organized these horns based on their serial numbers. I am theorizing that based on their features, the newest is the one with the highest serial number, and it goes back from there.

Orsi bass  4269 Orsi bass 3547 Orsi bass 2935 Martelle bass 2037 Metro bass A4149
Model 119F 119F Normal Improved ?
Age Modern Modern Vintage Vintage Vintage
Range Bb-F Bb-F (F#?) B-Eb Bb-Eb Bb-Eb
Bis Bb Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Bell Keys Right sided Right sided Left side low B Left sided Left sided
Left Pinkie Cluster Compact, more modern with 4 rollers Compact, more modern with 4 rollers Old-style 3 keys with no rollers Old-style with 3 rollers Old-style with nail file G#, 3 rollers
Strap Ring(s) 2 2 3 2 2
Key Guards Sheet metal with mini decorative “pearls” Sheet metal with mini decorative “pearls” Sheet metal with mini decorative “pearls” Sheet metal with mini decorative “pearls” Wire
F# Key Guard Yes Yes No F# key No No
Pant Guards 2 3 No Most likely not No
Bell to Body Brace Rounded Diamond Rounded Diamond Rounded Diamond Single Wire Single Wire

Say what you will about Orsi as a saxophone maker, but at least they put a bis Bb key on all but their least expensive bass saxes. I would love to have that key on my Buescher!

These five Orsi bass saxophones show a clear evolution in their design. This is arguably more evolution than either of the two big American bass saxophone manufacturers showed in their designs. Furthermore, Orsi continued building American-style bass saxophones for decades after the Buescher and Conn had become only shadows of their former selves, and ceased all bass sax production.

Some concluding thoughts about Orsi

Orsi saxophones have never enjoyed a splendid reputation in the English-speaking world. I cannot speak to their overall quality, since my experience with them is limited to a stencil of their Concertino model tenor.

That said, this student model tenor still plays and sounds better today—despite hanging on the wall for 20+ years as well as enduring 2 X-country moves—than many new, just out of the box, student model horns. I also suspect that it will be playable long after today’s student horns have been re-purposed or recycled.

As for the quality and playability of their bass saxophones, I would love to be able to try one some day and determine that for myself.

A few years ago a rumor was circulating within the saxophone community that Orsi stopped saxophone production. It didn’t help matters that their website was only in Italian, and not accessible to the English-speaking world, and more often than not, emails in English to the company never received a reply.

In doing research for this article I took a look at their site again, and realized that they have updated it, and included English in at least some parts.

One of the sections in English is their Products page, which lists only 4 models of saxophones:

  • Soprano Sax         Mod. 115  ASF
  • Alto Sax         Mod. 116  ABS
  • Baritone Sax          Mod. 118  ABSLS
  • Tenor Sax         Mod. 117  ABS

The page links to the following PDF document that I have uploaded here for future reference: Orsi saxes 2018

Oops… Either someone screwed up their saxophone PDF, or they are making altos with a goose neck. ;)

After taking a careful look at the saxophones Orsi offers, I have to ask: Are these Asian-imports? Were the rumors true a few years ago, did Orsi stop making their own saxes? Why are there no bass saxes offered?

Orsi used to be a company from which you could order a new sarrusophone. What happened to that company? If they can make a sarrus, can they still make a bass or contrabass upon request?

If anyone knows the answers to my questions, chime in with the answer. Or maybe someone from Orsi will reply directly with a comment. That would be great!

© 2018, Helen. All rights reserved.

Helen

Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.

12 Comments:

  1. I believe you could have a bis Bb pretty easily on your Buescher, just by attaching a key arm and pearl to the “overflight” arm that passes right by the place where it should be attached. Although I did not buy a Buescher bass sax, I thought real hard about the one I tested a couple years ago, and looked carefully at it and concluded the bis Bb addition was a straightforward thing to do.

    I would suggest getting with a good repair person with a sizeable boneyard of sacrificial saxophones and having that bis key added!

    • Yes, I’ve seen photos of bass saxes with an added bis Bb. Actually, Paul Lindemeyer has done just that with his bass. (Or the horn came that way when he got it. I can’t remember now anymore.) That said, I believe he has a Conn, not a Buescher bass.

      My tech and I have discussed it at one point. I just need to find the pics that Paul sent to me years ago of his bass’ bis Bb key again.

      My tech and I also discussed adding a peg to the horn. I thought that would be a very useful addition as well.

  2. Hi Helen, discussing at the café, please check your conversations there.

  3. The longer the comment, the easier the chance of losing it. Oh, well.

    Check https://web.archive.org/web/20090618125743/http://www.orsi-wind-instruments.it:80/saxophones.htm. There are pages going back to 2001. The SA-119 is also in my price list from 2009 at http://www.woodwindforum.com/forum/index.php?threads/new-professional-sax-pricing-info.22177. They were almost $14K new. I don’t know if that was the L model, but that one had keywork only up to altissimo “D#.” Also, check out the Eb contra, which was sold in the US under the LA Sax name. They also had a C contra available.

    Orsi could build you anything you want, if you had the cash. They did list Sarrusophones as one of their custom instruments, but this was also the company that built the Linton contrabass clarinets, so they definitely experimented a little.

    • On the note names, that is.

      • Interesting that the Italian from the Yale library link you sent, doesn’t correspond with either the eBay ad, nor the Orsi info sheet on the new horns.

        However, the eBay ad does correspond with the Orsi info sheet in both language, as well as range. Me still thinks though, that there is no high F# key on the horn. ;)

        • Speaking of the Orsi fact sheet, is it just me, or does the the new Orsi bari, bear a striking resemblance to the Bauhaus and TaiShan baris? Given that TaiShan is a manufacturer, I’m speculating that Bauhaus perhaps got their baris from TaiShan.

        • Can’t see one. French, Italian etc. Use the same note names. Same as in the sound of music, except for Si being renamed to Me.

          We’ve an Italian player over at the café, let’s see if he can help.

    • Thank you for this link!

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