I so loved my JK-stencilled Jubilee tenor, that when the opportunity presented itself to buy its twin in alto form, I couldn’t pass it up. Like the tenor, this Jubilee alto sax is a stencil of Julius Keilwerth’s Toneking model saxophone that has the high F# key. Also like the tenor, it is a Series III horn from the late 1950s, which means that it originally came from the factory with a Lucite angel wing and clothes guard (both of which had suffered some damage and needed to be replaced if the horn was to look like new again). And just as importantly for me, this particular horn too was in extremely fine condition. This horn also happened to have all its original accessories included.
I found the sax through a colleague of mine who is a pro player, teacher, and dealer of used horns from Vancouver. He had been advertising the horn for a few weeks through Vancouver craigslist, but I held off phoning him because I kept telling myself that I didn’t need another alto. In the end however, he came out to visit me and brought the sax with him. Talk about temptation. Of course you know I had to buy it then. Just look at it.
Here’s the thing though, when I play-tested it at my house that day the intonation was horrible. I felt like a hack. Although I used my Runyon Custom 8 mouthpiece on it—the one I use on every alto I ever play because it makes me sound like a real alto player, not just a tenor/bari player playing alto—I simply sucked. I assumed the problem was a simple key height issue.
There were some minor problems with the horn, and besides a horn this pretty deserved to get the full Matterhorn Music restoration—including an original Julius Keilwerth replacement angel wing and clothes guard—so I figured David would figure out what was wrong with the key heights for me. When David had finished the restoration, and I tried the horn, the intonation was still off, despite David having opened the horn as far as he could. This left me trying to find a mouthpiece for this Toneking in Jubilee clothing.
I did a lot of searching online; consulted with JK Toneking and The New King Players; as well as spoke to Keilwerth guru Matt Stohrer. Through all these consultations I learned something very important: Although vintage JK tenors are not fussy when it comes to mouthpieces, the altos most definitely are. These vintage alto Toneking and The New King horns require a very large chamber piece.
I tried all kinds of different pieces, but none were successful at bringing the horn 100% in tune. It wasn’t until a fellow from the UK wrote to me and told me that he found mouthpiece happiness for his vintage JK alto by using the stock mouthpiece. He suggested I try to hunt down one of those. Luckily I just so happened to have one, since this Jubilee alto sax came with all its original accessories, including the original Keilwerth-supplied mouthpiece, ligature, and cap.
Although I am not 100% happy with the tone, at least I can now play this beautiful vintage Jubilee alto sax in tune. I will continue to try to find another large chamber piece whose tone I might prefer a bit more, but in the meantime, at least I have a mouthpiece that allows me to play this beautiful horn.
Jubilee Alto Sax Specs
- Made by J. Keilwerth
- Stencil of the Toneking Series III
- Serial #: 286XX (made in 1957)
- Finish: Lacquer
- The angel wing key guard on the horn was the original Lucite one, but unfortunately the section over the low C key had broken off and been lost.
- The Lucite clothes guard was held in place with glue, and then screwed down.
- I ordered original Keilwerth replacement pieces for both, and David installed them during the restoration.