As much as I loved my B&S Medusa bari, I got it at a time when I played in very different kinds of bands. After I sold it in September 2018, I went on the hunt for a low A horn that was more suited to the kinds of bands and orchestras I play in now. As I checked around with all my favourite vintage sax dealers, I noticed that Paul Maslin had a rather unusual horn in his inventory: a lovely-looking, black nickel-plated Couf baritone saxophone with what appeared to be gold-plated keys. As it turned out, it had literally been a closet horn for most of its 50 years.
At the time there was not a great deal of research done on the brand Couf yet, and what there was, was mostly hearsay, and scattered all over the Net. I was really on my own. After listening to the sound file that Paul sent me, I decided to take a chance on this Superba II, and bought it.
I had an inkling that this was a rather rare horn, because Paul told me that in over 30 years in the business he had never seen a bari with this finish before. As I delved into Couf’s connection to Keilwerth, I came to to realize exactly what this horn was, and just how uncommon it really was.
This Black Gold Couf Superba II bari was a custom order
This horn was at Paul’s shop on consignment. It was part of an approximately 30 horn collection that belonged to a fellow who bought horns as investments; didn’t play them; but put them into his closet instead. Yes, this Couf had literally been sitting in a closet for most of its 50 years! When the owner passed away, his saxophone collection was left to his daughter. Since she was not a saxophone player, she took them to PM Woodwind and had Paul sell them on her behalf.
We do know from Couf brochures that only lacquer horns were routinely provided to dealers. Silver and gold plated horns were available upon special order, as was what was called Black Gold. For the silver and gold plated horns the prices were available upon request, but the price noted for the Black Gold was 20% higher than the horns with a lacquer finish.
To save you trying to decipher this fuzzy text, Couf described their Black Gold horns like this:
Black Gold plate is available for special order at an additional 20% to retail price.
NB: It should be noted that this is same pricing that JK notes in its brochure as well. They however, go into more detail about the finish:
The bodies of these instruments are electroplated with black nickel, the keys of saxophones and the slides of trumpets and trombones are plated with real gold. To provide protection from external agents these instruments also have a baked-on lacquer coating. The BLACK-GOLD finish costs an extra 20% of the price of the basic lacquer finish.
At this point it’s worth noting that I have only become aware of one other Black Gold bari. It is a Superba I and belongs to famed saxophonist James Carter. It’s finish however, no longer looks like this, since it has not lived a closet.
I’m going to speculate wildly for a minute here based on the facts
Based on the plating wear on the horn, we know that this was used somewhat during the era when 5-pocket jeans had a rivet in them. And yes, there is a little bit of wear on the octave key’s gold plate. However, other than that, this horn is pretty much flawless.
I can’t say with 100% certainty what this horn’s provenance is, but based on the fact that nearly all the pads are original, and all the springs are, this horn may well have been ordered by Herb Couf himself as a demo horn for his Royal Oak, Michigan store. I speculate this based on the fact that the seller told Paul that her dad often went to Couf’s store in Royal Oak and bought stuff there. It would only make sense that the Couf dealer would have a sampling of all the finishes on display. And let’s face it, showing off Black Gold on a baritone is very impressive.
Herb Couf Superba II bari specs
- Made by Julius Keilwerth
- Serial #: 61XXX (1968)
- Finish: Black Gold – black nickel plate with gold plated keys and bell
- Range: low A – high F
- Straight tone holes
- Mostly original pads
- Original piano wire springs
An overhaul light
Because this horn had been sitting for most of its 50 years, and since I would be using it as my primary bari for ensemble work—and with a jazz festival less than three weeks away—I phoned my tech David. (When I bought the horn from Paul I knew it needed a bit of work, but I wanted my tech to look after it for me. It would be cheaper because I would pay all this in Cdn. as opposed to US dollars.)
When I told David what I had noticed in the week that I had it, he did something I didn’t expect, he took the entire bari apart.
This is a partial listing of the work he did while I waited:
- All corks and felts replaced;
- Removed some rust on the springs;
- Removed all the fog on the mirror resos;
- Cleaned all the pads;
- Greased and oiled all the springs, screws, rods, etc;
- Removed any excess play in the keys;
- Reassembled it with no new scratches on either the gold or black nickel plating.
When my Couf Superba II bari left David’s shop that Friday, it was played just as well as—if not better—than when it left the JK factory back in 1968.
Some HDR photos of the Black Gold Couf Superba II baritone sax
Stuff I’ve discovered along the way
As I write this, I’ve had this bari for just under a year. Much like the Olds Super tenor that I bought almost 12 months to the day before I got this Couf, this bari has been a steady learning curve and a series of surprises.
- Couf baris require a great deal of air. Being a bass sax player helped me A LOT. However, nothing makes the Couf’s thirst for air more obvious than playing my Selmer Mark VI or my Martin Committee III again. When I pick up either one of those low Bb horns it feels like I’m blowing through a tenor. Yes, a tiny little bit of the difference is related to the extra 6″ of bell length needed for that low A. However, even adding the low A extension into either one of my low Bb horns doesn’t require either one of my other baris to need 3/4’s of the air that the Couf does. To play the Couf, you need LOTS of supported aired. Period.
- The Couf is very fussy when it comes to mouthpieces. My go-to bari piece (a killer HR Berg) plays horribly out of tune—as do most other bari pieces I own. I even borrowed a colleague’s vintage Peter Ponzol. Found no joy there either. Only my SS Berg and my Runyon Quantum played in tune on this Couf. Each however, had its own set of problems. With the SS Berg I could not get the left palm key notes to speak past D3 unless I was going up a scale. The Quantum played the palm keys beautifully, but seemed to deaden the horn’s natural overtones—which it has in abundance.
- To solve this MP issue, I spoke to good people at Theo Wanne. The hooked me up with a Durga 3 and all’s good now. Palm keys speak exactly like they are supposed to, and the full range of the horn is in tune.
- The Couf is rich in natural overtones. Therefore, finding exactly the right reed that allows them to ring out and doesn’t deaden them, yet doesn’t turn them too brittle has been a challenge for a synthetic reed player like myself. I can hear all you purists out there yelling: USE CANE! That’s not the answer for me, since I’m doubling all the time. Harry Hartmann’s new Carbon Onyx reeds seem to be just the thing this Couf likes best on the Durga 3. I have also just started trying out some Forestone reeds. I haven’t got enough time on them yet to know which of the 4 types is best, but they show a lot of promise as well.
From retirements to gigging horn
This Herb Couf Black Gold Superba II baritone sax is by all accounts one very rare sax, and as such now gets treated like a queen. It gets to travel to its shows in a Bam HighTech bari case, and never rides anywhere other than on the backseat of one our Volvos. This bari gets to go to weekly rehearsal with the big band I play in, and plays all that band’s shows. It never fails to turn heads. I get at least one comment per show from someone when the Couf is out in public. It never wants for service. As one of my regular gigging horns, this Couf goes to David for regular tweaking and adjustments, and is always in top playing condition.
Herb Couf info
As I mentioned earlier on this page, when I first started to try and research the Couf brand there was very little info available. This led me to wanting to do up some Herb Couf pages that were as all-encompassing as my Hohner and D&J pages are. At present I have the first Herb Couf page done already, and I’ve started on the second and third pages as well. Before I can publish them though, I need to gather a little bit more data on the various models. I am doing this by monitoring eBay auctions and dealer sales of H. Couf saxophones, and recording a large number of the horns’ features in a spreadsheet.