My history with this quirky sax goes back more than a decade now, back to December 23, 2009, when I first saw it on eBay and wrote about it. A fellow from the Metro Vancouver Region bought the horn and contacted me. We got together and I got to see this mystery horn up close and personal. Although any thoughts I had about it being a Hammerschmidt were quickly dispelled, speculation has abounded for more than a decade now about the origins of this mystery sax.
Saxophone historians here in North America and all over Europe have been stumped. Yes, I have seen a couple more similar to this in tenor and alto versions. Both happen to be engraved with the A.K. Hüttl name. So no, it is not a one-off, but what exactly is it?
To this day the question remains: Who exactly built this Varsity model for J.R. Lafleur? J.R. Lafleur didn’t generally build their own saxophones, they had them stencilled. But then again, A.K. Hüttl wasn’t known for making saxophones either….
Although I can’t tell you give you the definitive answers to these two questions, I can provide you with the following:
- Bell stamping:
- J.R. Lafleur & Son
- London – Paris – New York
- No 21
- Made in United Kingdom
- Serial # : None present, but it is stamped 3A on the socket
- Finish: Originally lacquered, with approx. 50% still intact
- Pitch: Yes, it is a LP horn
- Stamped Made In England on the socket
- Rolled tone holes
- Large nail file pattern G# key
- Left-sided bell keys
- The bore and tone holes are much smaller than what I am used to in my other vintage altos. A LOT smaller.
- It does not have a front F key.
- Ridged neck brace (not quite a “man on the moon”)
- Ribbed construction (no doubt adds to the weight mentioned in the original eBay ad)
- Real MOP key touches (left palm key touches were added after the fact on top of cork risers)
Over the years people have guessed all kinds of weird and wondeful manufacturers for this horn. These include: Hammerschmidt, A.K. Hüttl, J.R. Lafleur, FX Hüller, and sundry others that I’m sure I’m forgetting. The one thing it definitely feels like, is that it is a bit over-engineered. There seems to be just a bit too much material on such a small instrument.
It definitely has the general look and feel of some of the weirdly odd German horns that pop up on eBay from time to time. Therefore it probably shouldn’t come as any great surprise that I ended up with this oddball horn.
Kevin did try to sell it, but it didn’t sell for the asking price. He tried a couple of more times over a couple more years, but it never did make it out the door. One day he asked me if I wanted it for the amount he spent on pads and a few odds and ends. I said, “Sure, why not.”
The horn needs work and is currently not playable. Kevin bought it to learn basic repairs on. Maybe one day I will take it to work and have David fix it for me. Until then, it just hangs out in the closet with the rest of my unused horns. That’s OK. It is nothing if not a saxophone mystery that many knowledgeable saxophone historians have tried to unravel, but remains an enigma.