Last September I wrote about a beautiful Max Keilwerth-made Globemaster Luxus that was sent to my tech by a fellow in New York. Long story short, the owner, Timothy, couldn’t get the sax to play in tune, and previous techs who he had taken it to had not been able to fix its tuning.
The fact is, that article was not this particular Globemaster Luxus’ first appearance on my website. As fate would have it, I originally wrote about it six years earlier, when it appeared on eBay in November 2012.
This horn had fascinated me from the get, and I was pleased when the horn’s current owner decided to give my tech David, a chance to fix the intonation problems.
So let’s just do a quick re-cap of how we got here.
This Globemaster Luxus’ murky trail
- Fall 2012 a seller in Germany put this horn up for auction on Germany.
- No where on that original auction listing is it noted that this horn is tuned different than A=440.
- Timothy is sold the horn by what appears to be a different seller (Zoltar in Slovakia) and Timothy’s odyssey begins.
- The horn is overhauled in the US, but the saxophone plays out of tune.
- Timothy took the horn to several techs but in an email to me he wrote:
The problem is that the instrument is wildly out of tune. Horribly out of tune. The entire left hand stack is very flat, and the open key position is the worst offender. I have had the key positions adjusted as well as pads.
- I speak with my tech and connect him to Timothy. The two talk amongst themselves and the horn is shipped to David’s US address.
- I happened to be at David’s shop the day after the Globemaster Luxus arrived, so I the pleasure of unpacking it while David worked on my horn.
- I play-tested the sax and wrote to Timothy that evening:
The horn arrived safe and sound, and plays beautifully down to the low Bb in a lovely subtone. I can see what you meant about the tuning however. FWIW, I was able to get it to play mostly in tune with my Runyon Custom MP and A LOT of facial contortions….
You mention you have it overhauled? I noticed a lot of play in quite a few of the keys, and also a number of the springs were not working right—like the G# trill key—so I’m not sure if that was mentioned to you by your techs or not, but David will no doubt mention this in his email to you.
BTW, did you know someone tried adding a tuning crescent on the low C key? As well as some kind of brass collar inside the neck tenon?
- Once David is finished working on the horn he play-tests it. He thinks it is somewhat better, but asks if I would be so kind to come and try the horn.
- NB: Timothy’s go-to MP is a new, metal Otto Link.
- I come to the shop with my Hohner President alto in tow, as well as about 7 alto MPs. When combined with the MPs that I tried of David’s, in the end I experimented with over 10 in total. For some the tuning was so bad out of the gate I didn’t even record any results. Here are the results I emailed Timothy:
|New Metal Otto Link||Meyer||Lakey||Runyon Custom||Hohner HR||Otto Link HR||Clear MP in case with horn||Herb Couf||Brilhart HR|
|Nada. MP in as far as it would go but tuning all over the place||F#1 & 2 in tune||Nada||F#1 & in tune||Nada||F#1 & 2 in tune||F#1 & 2 in tune||F#1 & 2 in tune||Nope!!!|
|F#1 & 2 both 20 cents flat||Up from A2 start to go # but controllable||F#1 & 2 in tune||Could work with enough playing around||F#1&2 in tune||Could play in tune until A2 but nothing after that||Nada||Nada|
|Used Legere Sig. 2 1/2||D3, Eb3, 50 cents #||Bottom end #||Too # on almost everything!!!||Too sharp past A#2||Same as others: A#2 & up super sharp|
|Same results with Fibracell med. Soft||E3 30 cents sharp||Top #|
|Same with Harry Hartmann reed||F3 controllable|
The take-away from about 5 hours of play-testing this Globemaster Luxus is that only two of all these MPs work well enough to make this horn usable: my vintage HR Meyer and my Runyon Custom. I must admit I am rather dumbfounded and saddened by the end of the day. I really wanted to be able to get this horn to play in tune for Timothy.
By now David and I have bounced a whole bunch of ideas off each other; he has fixed the 3 horns I brought in; and I am dead, nearly stupid tired. Before I pack up my Hohner alto though, I decide to take a couple of pictures of it together with its great, great, grandparent.
A Hohner alto and it Globemaster Luxus grandparent
Notice anything in this photo?
How about this one?
Yup, the Globemaster is indeed shorter than the Hohner President. When David measured the Globemaster Luxus compared to a conventional alto, he found the difference to be approximately 1″—or 2.5 cm.
Now perhaps you’re wondering why neither myself, David, nor any of the techs who worked on the sax previously noticed that this Globemaster Luxus was so much shorter. Well I have asked myself the same question.
In hindsight the answer is quite simple really: When viewed in isolation, the horn really doesn’t appear to be shorter. The key layout feels natural and the same as any other vintage alto I have played; and it really doesn’t feel shorter when you have it up against your body. Having played as many vintage saxophones as I have, nothing stood out to me as being particularly different—unlike when I play my HP Buffet bari from 1886, vs any of my LP baris.
High pitch vs low pitch and all kinds of variations in-between
Now my gears are turning, and I am thinking of the G.H. Hüller saxophones that are either stamped 870 or 880 to indicate if they were tuned to 435 or 440 respectively. I decide to see what German saxophone historian, Günter Dullat, has written in his book: Faszination Saxophon: Der Saxophonebau Auf Deutschprachigem Gebiet Saxophone Making In German-Speaking Regions:
The pitch of the early saxophones is of special interest as there were originally a number of variations, whereas the instruments made today are pitched a A=440 Hz. However, around the turn of the century, other pitches were common, particularly in Europe, ranging from 435, 440, 456, and up to 460 Hz. These pitches are indicated if instruments are slightly shorter in length (high pitch), or have suspiciously long necks (435/432 Hz.)….
In France, 435 Hz was the conventional pitch, whereas instruments at high pitch (456 Hz) were more commonly played in England. It is important to note that the short, high-pitched tenor saxophones in Bb were sometimes offered as C melody instruments. However, they are then about a semitone lower and, in fact, instruments in B.
For a long time, G. H. Hüller made all his models in parallel at both 440 and 435 Hz. Adler also sold instruments at 435. The pitch was engraved on the instruments (stamp): either 870 (1/2 = 435 Hz), or 880 (1/2 = 440 Hz).
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the standard concert pitch has been A=440. Its introduction is therefore relatively recent and was by no means common practice within the rich tradition of classical music played in Vienna and Paris, which was still based on a lower pitch. The Austrian and French governments wanted to set the standard pitch at 435 Hertz. Guiseppe Verdi was an advocate of the 432 Hz pitch and even persuaded the Italian government to pass a law on this. In the humanities, 432 Hz is considered to be a harmonising pitch which relates to the Earth and the cosmos and is therefore used in musical therapy…
[A] higher fundamental pitch has a generally positive effect on pop music and lends more authenticity to jazz, whereas classical music and reggae, for example, seem more “genuine” when played at 432 Hz. It is also interesting to note that the lower pitch was upheld for longer in the southern climate of France, whereas most the the orchestras in England’s cold climate played at the high pitch (A=456 Hz). Perhaps one can say that a higher pitch lifts people up, makes us more active, wakens and stimulates us, whereas music played at a lower pitch supports, [grounds] and harmonises.
This theory is also of importance when we consider the saxophone as an instrument, as historical saxophones were often made at different pitches.
p.284-286 in Faszination Saxophon: Der Saxophonebau Auf Deutschprachigem Gebiet Saxophone Making In German-Speaking Regions, by Günter Dullat.
Huh… Well doesn’t that make you sit up and think. All these horns that you see on eBay and other online sites that keep popping up as “attic finds”… What are they tuned at?
Where did this Globemaster Luxus hail from?
We know that Max Keilwerth produced his Pure Tone Trade Mark saxophones in Graslitz. Another thing of note here is that this Max-Keilwerth-made horn was a stencil for Karel Fulik in Jenišovice, in the Czech Republic. (Check the bell engraving.)
According to Horn-u-Copia, Karel was the son of Bohuslav Fulik, and succeeded his father in operating the company. That site states that Fulik Instruments operated between 1912 & 1939. The company was known as a brass musical instrument maker, and like many brass makers, rather than taking on the job of making saxophones, Fulik appears to have ordered stencils from well-established makers.
Given there is only a scant amount of information available about the Fulik Instrument company, we are left to speculate why they would order a high pitch saxophone from Max Keilwerth. Where was it being sold to?
Remember, at approximately the time this Globemaster Luxus alto was produced, G.H. Hüller was making its horns in low and lower pitch, not low and high. Quite frankly this isn’t making a whole lot of sense to me.
I tried to do some research on what the tuning standard would have been in that part of Europe in the 1930s. Although I found a lot of fascinating articles about the histories of concert pitch and tuning, nothing specifically to Eastern European music.
Furthermore, since we don’t know where Fulik sold their instruments to, we can only speculate about the reasoning for the company ordering a HP sax. Obviously they had a reason, but nearly 90 years on with no company history to rely on, that exercise in speculation is almost pointless. It is what it is.
I have reached out to Günter Dullat via email to discuss the matter of vintage German saxophone tuning with him in greater detail. We did exchange emails once, but then his account got hacked. (If you’re still using Hotmail, probably time for an upgrade. ) I’m just in the process of figuring out next steps to reach him again.
In the meantime, this Globemaster Luxus continues to confound me. I’ll likely take one more run at it with what I have now researched. Perhaps I can determine its tuning with the tuner that I have (a Yamaha TD1 for transposing instruments that can be calibrated for anywhere between 438-445 Hz), or the one that David has: A great vintage Conn ST-6 Strobotuner.
If anyone has any thoughts or ideas about anything in this article, please chime in the comments below, or send me an email.
This horn is a real mystery, but should serve as a reminder to anyone buying a vintage horn. To paraphrase one of my favourite Forrest Gump quotes: Buying a vintage sax is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.
© 2019, Helen. All rights reserved.