Stencil Saxophones – Or Not

F. Schmidt saxophone, B&S stencil saxophone, saxophone bell, German saxophone

F. Schmidt tenor, a stencil of the Series 1000. Source: hitechgi on eBay.com

B&S vs Stencil Saxes Serial # Conventions Pro Level Stencils Allora Accent Antoine Courtois Chicago Jazz Series Ernie Northway Signature Series
No Adjustable Palm Keys Non-pro Stencils Bell to Body Support Ring F. Schmidt Musica Soprano Richard Keilwerth Summary

Before the reunification of Germany, the old, state-owned B&S company was a well-known stencil maker. They made stencil saxes of not only their Weltklang, but also their B&S, aka blue label, horns. Post-1991, when B&S started rolling out their first world-class saxophones, this tradition of stencilling continued. However, by then B&S had a lot more to offer potential buyers, because for the first time in the company’s history, they could offer true professional calibre stencil saxophones.

The following is not necessarily a complete list of all the stencil saxophones that Ja Musik GmbH/VMI/B&S produced. Furthermore, some might argue that one or the other of these is not a stencil at all, but rather a name brand of one or the other alphabet soup entities listed above. While others might argue that some of the name brands that B&S sold—for example Guardala or Codera—are stencil horns.

If you’re a person who feels that way, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m basing the categories of what’s a stencil or not on what I have been able to glean from the scant literature available to me from former B&S dealers, and from Uwe Ladwig‘s research that he compiled together in his book: Saxophone: Ein Kompendium.

How different from the brand name B&S horns are these stencil saxophones?

That’s a very good question. That depends on who you listen to. Even dealers described most of the post-1991 B&S stencils as Series 2001 or Medusa stencils.

However, in a 2005 interview with the German saxophone website Saxwelt, Frank König, Geschäftsführer (CEO) of Ja Musik GmbH—the parent company of B&S—not only said that all these horns all differed from each other, but that they weren’t even stencils!

Es tauchen in USA Namen auf wie z.B. Allora, Chicago Jazz, Accent, Courtois … Sind dies B&S Stencils?

Allora, Chicago Jazz, Accent, Courtois … Diese Liste ist weiterzuführen mit Dave Guardala, B&S Medusa, B&S Series 2001, B&S Series 1000 oder einfach B&S. Unter all diesen Marken wurden oder werden noch immer in Markneukirchen Saxophone gefertigt.

Helen translate says…

In the USA names like Allora, Chicago Jazz, Accent, Courtois appear… Are these B&S stencils?

Allora, Chicago Jazz, Accent, Courtois… This list continues with Dave Guardala, B&S Medusa, B&S Series 2001, B&S Series 1000, or simply B&S. Saxophones were/still are made in Markneukirchen under all these brand names.

Es sind also Stencils, also identische Modelle mit anderer Gravur?

Nein, jede der oben aufgeführten Marken sind eigenständige Modellreihen, die sich auch bautechnisch teils drastisch von einander unterscheiden.

Helen translate says….

So these are stencils, so identical models with other engraving?

No, each of the above-listed brands is its independent model line, which also differs in part drastically from a build standpoint, from one to another.

OK, so the Allora, Courtois, Accent, Chicago Jazz, et al were not stencils, but really different models made by B&S in Markneukirchen. Interesting. If that’s the case, then I wonder how Woodwind & Brasswind (WWBW) can continue selling horns under the Accent and Chicago Jazz labels made in factories in China, or wherever they get the cheap stuff from these days? In short, because they own the name. See below for more details.

Franz König’s assertions about these brands not being stencil saxophones notwithstanding, I will continue to refer to all the following brands as stencils for ease of classification.

Serial Number conventions of modern B&S horns

Given that stencil saxophones are notoriously inconsistent in where they come from, one way you can be sure that you’re getting a real German-made B&S saxophone vs. an Asian-made horn of the same label, is by the serial number convention. All B&S saxophones will have the following serial number convention, and a Made In Germany stamp directly under it.

Note: The numbers started with “0”.

The location of the serial number is also important. B&S always stamped their horns in the same place. They did not stamp their horns above the bow to body tube connecting ring. Rather, the serial number and Made In Germany stamp is always located below the right thumb rest.

Allora tenor sax, saxophone serial number, B&S saxophone, stencil saxophone

Allora tenor # 014199 Source: eBay.com

Pro level stencil saxophones

Allora

Allora was/is a brand name sold by the US retailer Woodwind Brasswind. Furthermore, a search of the trademarked name in the Justia Trademarks website, shows the although the ownership of the trademark has changed hands a number of times over the years, B&S’s name never appears. B&S made Allora saxophones for a time, and may well have created a custom model of saxophone for WWBW. However, they never had rights to the name.

WWBW sources its instruments from around the globe, and for a short while they sourced their alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones from B&S. Today’s Allora saxophones however, are from Asia, and do not compare at all to the pro horns from the first few years of the 21st century.

According to the research conducted by SOTW member soybean, supposedly early Allora saxes were stencils based on the Series 2001, while the later ones were based on the Series 2006. If one compares this tenor to a similarly numbered B&S horns, one does see a number of differences:

Allora tenor # 014199

It would be would fairly easy to make the argument that this Allora tenor is a stencil saxophone, but not of a particular Series. Rather this horn is a mix and match of a number of features found on both the Series 2001 and the 2006. Or to paraphrase Frank König, it is its own independent model line that differs, perhaps drastically, from others.

Allora bari #015205

This bari gives us further indications of how these WWBW stencils differed from the Series 2001 and 2006 in production at the time. This Allora bari doesn’t have all the features of the 3259, but more than the 3256. For example, it doesn’t have the B/Bb/C#/G# – cluster mechanism of the 59, but it has the high F# key that the 56 does not. According to the seller, it also has: “double arms on the low key-cups C-B-Bb-A, [as well as] dedicated adjustment screws on low B-Bb-A”.

Accent alto #016259

This is a name that I have not come across often. The times you do see it here in North America, it usually refers to cheap Asian horns. This lovely silver-plated beauty is anything but a cheap Asian knock off. It has the following features:

Antoine Courtois

According to then-authorized B&S dealer Kessler & Sons:

Part of the JA Musik Group, the Antoine Courtois name is mainly associated with professional brass instruments. Courtois is the Oldest of all current operating musical instrument manufacturers.

The Courtois saxophones are actually made by B&S, another company in the JA Musik Group. The Courtois saxophones are identical to the top model B&S Medusas.

JA Musik has decided to discontinue the Courtois name on saxophones and has offered a small quantity of these saxophones at an unbelievably low price. These handmade German horns at this price are by far the best value that you will find on today’s market… but hurry, the quantity is limited and they will be moving Fast!

Source: Dave Kessler

Dave stated that these were identical to the Series 2006 – Medusa saxophones. Since he actually played them, set them up, and sold them at his family’s business, we need to take him at his word. Comparing/contrasting the Courtois alto and tenor that he had for sale, to the Series 2006, you immediately see all the similarities:

  • The right pinkie keys are shaped like those on the Medusa.
  • Although a bit hard to make out in these photos, if you look carefully, you can see that the low C/D# cluster on both the alto and tenor is indeed a 1 split rod mechanism, like those we see on the Series 2006. As opposed to 2 separate rods like on the Series 2001.
  • These shots of the left pinkie cluster are the best I have ever seen. They shows perfectly what B&S describes as the Series 2006’s “B/Bb/C#/G# – cluster mechanism with C# -table key”.
  • The G# bridge, which prevents the key from sticking. This was introduced in the Series 2001 even before they redesigned their bore, or engraved a IV on the bells. It is also found on Series 2006 horns (with the exception being the 3256 baritone).

Courtois alto #016111

Courtois tenor #016098

Chicago Jazz Series

Chicago Jazz Series (CJS) is another trade name that at one time was sold by America’s big time music retailer WWBW. Again, according to the Justia Website, B&S’s name does not appear to be associated with the trademark. The name of the lawyer involved however, is the same as who was involved with Allora.

Chicago Jazz Series horns from B&S were exquisitely engraved over the entire horn—including the keys. They are, in my opinion anyway, the most aesthetically beautiful of the modern B&S horns; bar none.

A compare/contrast against the Series 2001 & 2006 reveals that although the tenor is not much older than the alto, it has more features of the Series 2001 than the Series 2006. It therefore appears that the CJS was updated in design at some point between #’s 014298 and 015447. For example, here is tenor #015308, and it has all the Series 2006 features listed for the alto below.

Chicago Jazz alto #015447

Chicago Jazz tenor # 014298

Ernie Northway Signature Series

According to SOTW and WF member jbtsax—who happens to be a very knowledgeable and reputable repair tech from Utah—Ernie Northway was the name engraved on approximately 150 alto and 150 tenor B&S stencil saxophones between 2002 – 2006. On a SOTW post dated 05-08-2011, jbtsax wrote the following about these horns:

They were sold exclusively by Summerhays Music in Orem and Salt Lake City, Utah. Ernie was an employee at the Orem Summerhays at the time and worked with Briant Summerhays to offer B&S saxophones under his name as well as a line of sax and clarinet mouthpieces designed and hand finished by Ernie.

Ernie quit working at Summerhays around 2008 or 2009 and most if not all the remaining stock of saxes has been sold. If you need more exact dates, I can get that information from either Ernie or Mr. Summerhays for you. They were great playing saxes. Ernie would never have put his name on them if they weren’t great horns.

Source: SOTW thread titled E Northway

Because the sample size is so small, I have not been able to find more than a few examples for my gallery. Both tenors I found however, have the following Series 2001 characteristics:

  • The right pinkie keys of this tenor are the same shape as we see on the Series 2001.
  • The low C/D# cluster is on 2 separate rods like we see on the Series 2001.
  • This horn does not have the G# bridge, which prevents the key from sticking. This was introduced in the Series 2001 even before they redesigned their bore, or engraved a IV on the bells. However, early Series 2001 horns did not have the non-stick G# key. Therefore either these B&S stencil saxophones were either ordered before this feature was offered, or they were ordered without it.
  • The left palm keys on this Ernie Northway tenor are not adjustable like they were on many Series 2001 horns.

Ernie Northway tenor # 013930

Ernie Northway alto # 015XXX

This higher serial number horn indicates that the Ernie Northway Signature Series of saxophones did evolve over time. With its ornately engraved neck, it resembles the CJS horns. It also picked up a number of the Series 2006 features.

  • The right pinkie keys on this alto took on the shape of Series 2006. (Unlike the tenor above, which had Series 2001-shaped keys.)
  • The low C/D# cluster is a 1 split rod mechanism, like those we see on the Series 2006.
  • This Ernie Northway-stencilled alto does have the G# bridge, which prevents the key from sticking. This was introduced in the Series 2001 even before they redesigned their bore, or engraved a IV on the bells. It is also found on Series 2006 horns (with the exception being the 3256 baritone).

One final note

Before we leave the professional B&S stencil saxophones section, it should be noted that to date I have not come across any stencils that have adjustable left palm keys. This leads me to believe that either:

  1. B&S didn’t offer this feature to ordering companies, and opted to keep this feature for its own brand name models. Or,
  2. No ordering company wanted to incur the extra cost that this feature would entail.

However, given that some of these B&S stencils saxophones, most notably the CJS, were so incredibly decked out, I find it difficult to believe that WWBW wouldn’t have sprung for the few extra dollars adjustable palm keys would have cost.

Whatever the case, the question as to why apparently so few (none?) of the B&S stencil saxophones have adjustable left palm keys remains. It is just another mystery in the series of unanswered B&S saxophone questions.

German-made stencil saxophones of B&S non-pro models

Not all of the modern B&S stencil saxophones were based on the company’s professional model saxophones. Some were modelled after the Series 1000, which was built in Germany as an intermediate (or semi-professional to use B&S’s term) model saxophone. The following are the stencil names that I have so far come across based on B&S’s Series 1000.

Note: It is worth mentioning that I have not seen any stencil saxophones made, which carry the B&S name, that were modelled after the Series 500 & 600 student model horns. At this point it is safe to say that B&S stencil saxophones originated from their Markneukirchen factory in Germany only.

It’s all in the bell to body support ring

The easiest way to differentiate between a pro model B&S saxophone and an intermediate model is by the bell to body support ring.

On the pro model horns the bell to body support ring is like those found on Selmer Paris horns: Rounded, and thick. More 3D in appearance.

bell to body support brace, B&S stencil saxophone, Chicago Jazz Series, black nickle plated saxophone

Chicago Jazz tenor # 014298 Source: eBay.com

On the intermediate Series 1000 model saxes however, the bell to body support ring is flat and thin.

strap ring, lacquer saxophone, bell to body support ring

Series 1000 baritone Source: soundfuga.jp

This bell to body support ring convention is just as true on B&S stencil saxophones as it is on brand name B&S horns.

F. Schmidt

According to the Justia Trademarks website, the F. Schmidt Musical Instruments trademark is owned by Universal Melody Services. From what I can see, lots of different band instruments bear the F. Schmidt name. For the purposes of this page however, we are only concerned about the saxophones that bear the F. Schmidt name.

Despite the limited of stencil saxophones that I have seen, which carry the F. Schmidt name, the majority of altos and tenors have a silver plated neck, or 2 necks. It appears that the company ordering these horns really liked the sound of silver necks on Series 1000 saxophones.

F. Schmidt alto # 0081XX

F. Schmidt tenor # ?

F. Schmidt baritone # 0106XX

Musica soprano

Like so many stencil brands, today you will find lots of Musica-branded instruments from Asian countries that get very poor reviews. I have not seen any B&S stencils that carry the Musica name other than straight soprano saxophones. Since B&S made no professional model soprano saxophones, all the B&S Musica sopranos for sale must be variations on the Series 1000.

Musica soprano # 005373

Richard Keilwerth

Richard and Julius Keilwerth had a long-standing professional relationship. Richard had his brother Julius make Richard Keilwerth-branded saxophones, while Julius had Richard make Julius Keilwerth-branded clarinets. Although there were a few exceptions, for the most part the Richard Keilwerth company didn’t sell pro model saxes under its name. Instead, the company generally ordered intermediate level JK horns to sell under the Richard Keilwerth label.

When SOTW member JayePDX first contacted me about this horn, I got quite excited because this was the first (and so far only) RK labelled B&S stencil saxophone that I had ever seen. Although not a stencil of an intermediate level JK, it is a variation on the early Series 1000. Apparently the Richard Keilwerth company was not interested in selling pro level saxophones—regardless of who the supplier was.

Richard Keilwerth tenor # ?

In summary then….

  • B&S made a lot of stencil saxophones after Germany’s reunification, but no more so than they did when under State control pre-1989.
  • The majority of B&S stencil saxophones seem to be of their professional models: the Series 2001 and 2006.
  • However, unlike traditional vintage European stencils, which are simply copies of the brand name horns, these modern stencils do have variations on the brand name B&S saxophones (such as the Medusa).
  • I have not seen any B&S stencil saxophones that were made outside of Germany. No stencils of their Asian-made, student model Series 500 or 600 have popped up on my, or any other B&S watchers’ radar screens. (At least none that I’m aware of to date.)
  • If you want a quick and dirty way to check if the B&S sax you are looking at is a pro or intermediate model stencil, check the bell to body support ring. Flat = Series 1000 (intermediate). Rounded = Series 2001 or 2006 (pro).

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