The Globemaster Luxus’ Elusive Tuning

silver sax, saxophone bell, hand engraving, Max Keilwerth saxophone, Globemaster Luxus, alto saxLast 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?

2 alto saxophones, max keilwerth-made, Hohner President, Globemaster Luxus, silver sax, German saxophone, vintage sax

Left: Hohner President # 114XXX Right: Globemaster Luxus # 56XX

How about this one?

2 alto saxophones, max keilwerth-made, Hohner President, Globemaster Luxus, silver sax, German saxophone, vintage sax

Left: Hohner President # 114XXX Right: Globemaster Luxus # 56XX

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.

two baritone saxophones, high pitch vs low pitch bari, high pitch Evette Shaeffer baritone, low pitch, Herb Couf Superba II bari, silver sax, black nickel plated bari sax

Left: high pitch Evette & Schaeffer bari # 75XX Right: Herb Couf bari # 61XXX

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.

Next steps

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. ;)

box of chocolates,

© 2019, 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.

10 Comments:

  1. Timothy here, owner of this horn. It occurs to me, that if the problem was simply that this horn is HP,it would still play “in tune” with “it’s self”, no? …which it seemingly does not …

    • Hi Timothy. I was just talking to David about your sax the other day. I took some photos of it with my Hohner President on black fabric with a yard stick to get an idea of size differences.

      To answer you question, in theory the answer would be yes, but you would have to have the correct mouthpiece.

      It strikes me that what we have are MPs for low pitch instruments. Given your horn is a bit smaller, this likely would have originally come from MK’s shop with a MP that was also smaller than those that got sent with LP altos. (Max Keilwerth also either made, or at a minimum supplied MPs with his brand name stamped on them.) This is likely why we also can’t reliably determine what the instrument is tuned to.

      For example, for an instrument to be defined as LP (low pitch) by today’s standards, it needs to be tuned to A=440. Yours? I haven’t been accurately able to determine that even with the Meyer or Runyon MPs that work so/so with your sax.

      Since I have not been able to get back ahold of the German sax historian after his email got hacked, it strikes me that at this time your best option is to just get the sax shipped back to you. Send David an email and arrange for that. This way you get your lovely horn back, and at a minimum you get to enjoy it in the privacy of your own home. If it were mine, that’s what I would do.

      • Thank You Helen, and that is exactly what I was thinking. In fact I emailed both You and David suggesting to send the horn back. I have not heard back from David, but the email that i sent to you did not go through
        Thank You

  2. I had a Tru Tone tenor Sax that was, perhaps, marginally smaller than a regular tenor (?) but this only seemed the case when comparing it to another tenor because, on its own, it felt just right.
    However the tuning was just plain impossible!

    Eventually sold it someone who was willing to pay more than I’ve ever been offered for it because he claimed it was in tuned to the key of A and was just what he’d been looking for for a long time…

    I never did work that one out!

    Although I find the history of tuning very interesting, myself, it does leave me with an uncomfortable feeling that maybe 440 was not the ideal pitch but there’s nothing we can do about it now!?

  3. Hi Helen, you can probably get hold of Günther through the museum in Markneukirchen

    info@museum-markneukirchen.de

  4. In the Netherlands high pitch saxophones where made until 1935.

  5. Hi Helen, Hi all readers of the excellent BassicSax Blog,

    Raymond, that is a very useful comment. My bass Sax (called “Emily”) is a 1963 Selmer, probably a Mk.VI. She was an export model (circled “R” stamp under the bell engraving) and was possibly shipped to north america as a kit of parts for local assembly.

    The reason for my interest in this post on re-tuning is that my “Em” has a flat copper or brass plate soldered inside her bore from the bell up to just below the top loop. She also has a significant “C” shaped plate soldered across the bottom C hole.

    I have wondered what this was about since buying her in the 1980’s. She plays fine in 440Hz “A” tuning, of course with a horn of this size there is always a bit of lipping into pitch. Maybe her original purchaser wanted her to play in an ensemble working in higher tuning ? Or maybe just wanted her tuned to concert pitch as a “C” melody bass Sax ?

    All the best,

    Neil xx.

  6. Helen; You are Magnificent. That is all.
    ~Timothy (of Globe-Master Luxus inFame)

  7. Australian brass bands persisted with high pitch until the mid 1960s. I once owned a high pitch Bb clarinet and a high pitch Bb soprano saxophone and I once borrowed a high pitch C melody saxophone with dual octave keys. That was all back in the 1950s. Canada must have standardized on A 440 much earlier because Canadian musicians seemed unaware of the old high pitch versus low pitch divide. The surviving high pitch saxophones are only fit for decorating the walls of restaurants now.

    • I can second Ray’s comments on Australian brass bands. The cost of conversion was a major consideration for community bands.
      I have two Buffet altos from the 20’s. Both are in top playing condition. One cannot be played to A440 but sings in a typical French way at A435. At A440 the top is sharp,the bottom all over the place! The other is a misfit but I have read that Buffet
      made a mid-pitch horn in the 20’s to play in tune at A440 to A 446(?). This horn also has a longer neck than any other alto I have seen; the body is shorter than than a regular alto but has slightly higher tone hole chimneys. With an original Buffet or Tru-Tone mouthpiece it is very comfortable at A440.
      It would seem very likely that the European manufacturers – using hand-made techniques could and did make horns for a specific European market. The internet and international marketplace now removes them from their natural environment.
      And gives us saxophiles things to ponder!

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