De Villiers Tenor

De Villiers Tenor Saxophone, gold lacquer, black background

De Villiers Tenor Saxophone Photo by H. Kahlke Copyright 2009

At the beginning of February 2009 I saw this interesting, vintage, German saxophone at a local music store. They wanted $400 Cdn for the De Villiers tenor, but I didn’t have a mouthpiece with me at the time, so I couldn’t play test the horn. However, just from playing the instrument with my fingers alone, I knew right away that the sax needed some work, and would be leaking. I looked over the sax very carefully, and even took some photos with my cell phone, because I found the horn rather intriguing. With its rolled tone holes, it looked to me like a Keilwerth stencil.

When I got home I did some research, and came up with only a couple references to the De Villiers name, which all led back to Just Saxes’ Stencils & Manufacturers page. As it turned out, it wasn’t a Keilwerth stencil as much as it was a Keilwerth clone. The De Villiers brand of saxophones was made by Dörfler & Jörka (D&J) in Nauheim, Germany. For more information about D&J, and the various saxophones that they produced, please see the Dörfler & Jörka section of my website.

I started a thread on the Woodwind Forum in the hopes that someone there might know something more about this obscure sax. Sure enough, Pete Hales did recognize the horn. He was able to lead me to Doctor Sax’s website that had some photos of similar horns. Through Kim’s site I was positively able to identify the De Villiers as a Dörfler & Jörka stencil saxophone.

I went back a few weeks later and bought the tenor. I then spoke to the repair centre in Vancouver where the horn had to go for the warranty work to be done. (A vintage sax bought with a warranty… That’s a first for me, but then I’ve never bought a vintage horn from a music store before either. I should also mention that this store is part of a national chain, and a 90 day warranty is standard on all used instruments they sell.)

While my horn has a monotone lacquer finish, most D&J horns all have lacquer bodies and nickle plated keys. There is one other exception to this. Another SOTW member, hastings68, has a tenor which is engraved with the name Symphonic, which is silver plated. To date, it is the only silver plated Dörfler & Jörka saxophone that I have seen.

The other thing that my D&J sax has, which is not shared by its nickle plated-keyed cousins, is real mother of pearl buttons on the key guards. It’s a bit hard to tell on the photos, but it appears that the Symphonic shares that feature as well. The horns with the nickle plated keys had plastic buttons on the key guards.

Here are some photos of my De Villiers tenor…

Horn Specs:

  • Manufacturer: Dörfler & Jörka
  • Stencil Name: De Villiers
  • Serial #: 11XXX
  • Finish: Lacquer
  • Features: Real mother of pearl accents & rolled tone holes (courtesy of the body tube made by Keilwerth)

If you’d like to see more photos of this sax, you can find them in my web log article of March 27, 2009.

Even before the horn went in for it’s repair work, this Keilwerth clone horn’s—it may have a Keilwerth body tube and does have very similar keywork—Keilwerthesque nature & sound were very evident.

The repair centre for the Long & McQuade stores is located at their flagship Terminal Avenue location. Steve, the tech who did the work on the horn, did a fabulous job making this vintage German sax play beautifully again. When I dropped the horn off, the store manager told me that he had done some investigating to find out where the sax had come from. Apparently this De Villiers had been sent to the Abbotsford store directly from Winnipeg, and had not come through their Vancouver repair centre. This is why the sax was not playable and needed extensive work. I know that the Abbotsford store doesn’t have any staff that are woodwind players, so the sax was not play-tested before being put out on the shelf.

As for how the horn got damaged, the original case is most likely the culprit. The sax was sent from Winnipeg to the West Coast in its original, circa 1950s, battered, plywood case, that has absolutely no padding on the inside. It only has velvet covering the plywood interior. Steve told me that the damage was consistent with the horn being dropped in its case.

Aside from all the body work done to the sax (including dent removal, which I didn’t expect at all), Steve also had to replace 11 pads, replace some of the bumpers, refit the neck, work on a couple of the tone holes, and adjust the key heights. All in all, it was a great deal of work that was done under warranty on a 50 year old saxophone! Long & McQuade really stood behind the horn that they sold me. I am quite impressed. (The fact that I’ve bought close to $10,000 worth of stuff from them—including a new horn—over the past 10 years probably didn’t hurt either.)

What I now have is a wonderfully dark, complex sounding sax, that is a stark contrast to my other tenors. Together with my vintage Wolf Tayne mouthpiece, it is the quintessential jazz horn. It produces the kind of sound that you would expect to hear from a tenor in a smoky bar, playing with a jazz combo. Very nice.

To keep it safe, the De Villiers now resides in a contoured, Pro Tec case. Although it is not my favourite type of case, it is the only one I have at the moment. Down the road I will get it something different, but for now at least I can take it out of the house, and know that the horn has some protection in its case, should it accidentally get bumped.

I’ve taken my De Villiers with me to rehearsals with Deception, on a number of occasions to see what it could do up against the electric guitar sounds of Art Panchishin. Well, for a vintage, dark, 1950s German saxophone, this Keilwerth clone really was able to hold its own.The D&J has a richness in its bottom end that I haven’t found in any of my other tenors—Mark VI, Martin Handcraft, or 10M—although the Martin comes the closest. The sax has an overall fullness in tone that is able to project through the electronic “noise” of the electric guitar and bass. And although not particularly useful with this band, the D&J subtones down to low Bb easier than any of my other tenors. It’s literally effortless.

Because I use a lot of effects when playing with Deception, such as growl tone, flutter tongue, false fingerings, bends, slides, scoops, multi-phonics, and other distortion effects that come from my throat and embouchure, I prefer saxes that allow me to play these effects as effortlessly as possible. It seems to me that the ease of some of these effects is directly proportional to the amount of resistance in the horn. The less the resistance, the easier certain effects speak.

Of all my tenors, the Conn is the easiest to tease effects from, the Martin is next, and the Selmer is the hardest. This D&J is comparable to the Selmer, in that the amount of resistance from the horn is about the same as the Selmer.

The D&J really surprised me the first time I took it to rehearsal. I did not think that this dark sounding horn (compared to my other saxes) would be able cut through well enough, to be useful in an electric blues environment. I did put my brightest Dukoff, an S7, on the horn, and that helped a lot. Anything less, and I don’t think the results would have been the same.