The Series 2001 vs. the 2006
When VMI introduced the Series 2006, it was not meant as a replacement for the Series 2001. Rather, these two models of horns were initially produced simultaneously and were almost identical.
Scouring through the Net I was able to find the following (which reads like a copy and paste job from a press release) on Pro Music.com’s Brass and Woodwinds News index page. (The company is based in The Netherlands.)
In 2001 VMI (Vogtländische Musikinstrumentenfabrik) announced developing a new B&S alto saxophone which finally was showing at Musikmesse Frankfurt 2002. The new alto reflects the tradition of 100 years of saxophone making in the Markneukirchen area. For the first time ever laser measurng tools were used to completely design the body of the instrument. The new measuring technique made it possible to optimize the tubing and provide a very even intonation scale with a dark, colorful sound and fast response. The new body is used for the series 2001 and 2006.
In addition to the standard 2001 series VMI also launched the 2006 Artist Line of alto-, tenor- and baritone saxophones based on their pro line series 2001. The instruments sport a hand made artificial [sic? likely supposed to be artistic] full body engraving. A finish combining the advantages of silver plating and VMI’s unique sand blasting ( FS/L) is optional. The model 2006 Medusa (pictured) features a unique engraving with the medusa’s head on the bell while the 2006 arist [sic] models show the traditional engraving.
It would take a while longer for the Series 2006 to be introduced into the North American market. I suspect this is why by the time the Medusa and the Artist Line—I’m not sure that the latter was ever available in North America—made its North American debut, the Series 2001 was reaching the end of its production run. Since, in reality, these two models of horns were pretty much identical. (Something that many players/owners commented on in a variety of online sax forums.)
What exactly were the differences between the Series 2001 and 2006?
Quite simply put: not much. Back in February 2005, Dave Kessler1 explained the differences like this on the Kessler website:
For the tenor sax, the body tube is the identical design to the Medusa. There are only a few minor differences in key design…Other then that, they are identical horns. Even in side by side play tests, they play the same. The 2001 is even more extensively engraved then the Medusa with the engraving going down through the bow and the inside of the bow curve (Medusa is available with deluxe engraving as an option).
The differences between the Series 2001 and 2006 can be summed up in the following chart:
|Series 2006 – Medusa
|low C/D# cluster
|2 separate rods
|1 split rod mechanism
|LH C#-B rollers
|2 separate rollers
|1 roller, 1 tilting connector roller
|non-adjustable (not always true)
* Adjustable palm keys appear more on alto Medusa saxophones than tenors.
Note: Given that I have been researching B&S saxophones for years, but to date have not stumbled across any Series 2006 Artist models, I am going to write the rest of this page using the terms Series 2006 and Medusa. Based on all my research, since the Artist model was a designation based on engraving only, all the information on this page applies to them as well. If you have an Artist model Series 2006 horn that you would care to share photos of, please contact me. Thank you.
A dealer’s description of the Series 2006 – Medusa model saxophone by B&S
Kessler and Sons Music in Las Vegas, was an authorized dealer for B&S saxophones. Dave Kessler was kind enough to send me all the photos and materials he still had on the B&S horns (materials I have included in the corresponding pages on this site, and in the B&S galleries in Bassic Sax Pix). Beyond that, I also managed to dig through his family store’s website archives on the wayback machine.
February 15, 2004, is the first archived mention on the Kessler and Sons web site of the Medusa line. The previous December 20, 2003 archive of the shop’s website makes no mention of either the Series 2001 or the Medusa. (In December, only the Guardala Series is mentioned.)
When Dave first wrote about the Medusa saxophones, this is what he said:
The latest development in the B&S Saxophone Line is the new series MEDUSA, reflecting a hundred of years of saxophone manufacturing. Developed by using latest laser measuring technologies and manufactured in the handcraft tradition, this instruments will set new standards for professional instruments. Beside, the for B&S saxophones common G# – bridge that allows the G# – key to operate smoothly without sticking , series Medusa will be equipped with an newly designed left-hand -cluster with C# -B – table key for more flexibility and smooth motion.
Kessler & Sons Music proudly handles B&S saxophones including the new Medusa line. These saxophones represent the Finest German made instruments ever constructed. Their performance rivals all of the best saxophones throughout history!
Series 2006 – Medusa model & finish options
A couple of months later, on April 1, 2004, Dave first mentions the various models, as well as their various finishes, features, and options.
The following charts are variations of the one that Dave put on the Kessler website, which outlined all the info about the various Series 2006 horns. I have added the other options that appeared over the Medusa’s production run. (At least those that I could cobble together using Kessler’s website as well as the materials he sent me.)
|B&S Eb-Baritone-Saxophone No. 3256
|high F# *
|black nickel plated (SN)
|silver plated (S)
|bow to body ring
|additional engraving on bow, tube, neck and keys
|single soldered posts **
|rich and unique” Medusa” hand engraving
* There was an error in the Baritone 3256’s description that stemmed directly from B&S. In all the material from the company it stated that the horn is keyed to high F#. This was in fact incorrect. The horn is keyed only to high F. (It is Baritone 3259 that is keyed to high F#.)
I know that the materials from B&S were incorrect because I own one (a 3256), and when I bought it new in 2005, the dealer I bought it from had a brochure that showed it keyed to high F#. At the time the B&S website also showed it keyed to that range as well. To my knowledge B&S never corrected this error in either their printed or online materials. That they could have made such a significant error is rather surprising.
** This is the only model of Medusa saxophone that did not have ribbed construction.
|B&S Eb-Baritone-Saxophone No. 3259
|high F#, low A
|black nickel plated (SN)
|B/Bb/C#/G# – cluster mechanism
|silver plated (S)
|bow to body ring
|additional engraving on bow, tube, neck and keys
|rich and unique”Medusa” hand engraving
Examples of finish options
When it came to choices in finishes, B&S arguably gave potential owners of the Series 2006 – Medusa the widest variety we’ve seen since the days of LA Sax. Although there were no exotic animal print saxophones to be had from B&S, the Medusa series was available in a dizzying array of options.
Regarding the wide variety of options, the German saxophone website Saxwelt, has a really good description of the Medusa model on its B&S page. It reads as follows:
Um den Klang der Saxophone weiterhin zu unterstützen und auf möglichst viele Klangwünsche eingehen zu können, wurde die Medusareihe mit weiteren technischen Features, sowie in den verschiedensten Materialien und Materialkombinationen angeboten. Die Kombination aus Goldmessingkorpus, versilbertem Becher, Bügel, Klappen und S-Bogen bietet ein neues Klangspektrum innerhalb der B&S Medusa Line. Zudem werden die Instrumente mit 3 S-Bögen in unterschiedlichen Materialien (Goldmessing, Messing, Neusilber) ausgestattet. Somit kann jedes Instrument auf die gewünschte Stilistik und Klangkonzeption hin abgestimmt werden. Die Saxophone werden in einer Vielzahl unterschiedlicher Oberflächen und Materialien bis hin zu Sterlingsilber angeboten.
Helen Translate says…
In order to further support the tone of the saxophone, and to take into account as many tonal desires as possible, the Medusa Models are offered with a variety of technical features, such as a variety of materials and combination of materials. The combination of Goldbrass body, silver plated bell, bow, keys, and neck offer a new tonal spectrum within the Medusa line. These horns are equipped with necks made of different materials (Goldbrass, brass, and nickle silver). Thus every instrument can be matched to the player’s desired stylistic and tonal concept. The saxophones are offered in a variety of different finishes and materials, up to and including sterling silver.
Although I’ve already cobbled together all the finishes choices and listed them in the charts above, it’s always nicer to see what they really looked like. These are the ones I’ve found to date…
BTW, the conventional gold lacquer did not appear to have a naming convention. A horn in this finish would just be known by its model number.
This is the only example of the extra engraving on the bow, tube, neck, and keys that I have come across.
Goldbrass is an alloy that B&S used in the manufacturing of certain sub-models of alto and tenor Medusa saxophones. Dave Kessler describes Goldbrass like this:
The Goldbrass material is very similar to Bronze. It contains more copper in the metal alloy content. The slightly heavier metal produces a richer tone.
As you can see from the alto and tenor charts above, Goldbrass horns were designated as such with a “G” in their finish. As noted above, Goldbrass horns came with three (3) necks, each with a different finish/metal composition. Dave Kessler described the different necks as follows:
Brass – Standard model neck. Yellow brass gives overall a brighter tone.
Nickel Silver – This neck produces a rich, edgy tone.
Goldbrass – Gives darker tone.
This is Goldbrass Medusa tenor 015591, with its 3 necks. This is their “SL” finish. It has a silver plated bell, bow and keys. The Goldbrass neck is also silver plated on this model. This model horn was described by Dave as having an: “[e]xtremely powerful sound with a great amount of tonal clarity and projection.”
Another variation on the Goldbrass finish that Kessler carried was this alto, which is B&S’s “G/L” finish. This horn has a lacquer body and silver plated keys. It is alto #016050.
If it’s not stamped Goldbrass by the serial number, it’s not Goldbrass. Since the finish that these sub-models of the Series 2006 came in can appear just like their conventional cousins, if you are in doubt about the horn’s material composition, look for the Goldbrass stamping.
The Strathmann non-stick G# key2
Even if you can’t read German, take a look at the date in the italicized line above: April 14, 1968. It was on that date that the man who invented a non-stick G# key, Arnfred Strathmann, wrote a letter to Julius Keilwerth. Herr Strathmann let them know that through a conversation with Mr. Dörfler—who came to work for Keilwerth in January 1968—he was made aware that JK was interested in his invention. However, for unknown reasons this device was not implemented on Keilwerth saxophones at the time. It would take three decades before JK used a similar design—such as the one on this CX 90 tenor. (Note that the original was intended to go all the way to the F key, but Keilwerth stopped theirs at the F#.)
Getting back to the B&S Series 2006 – Medusa…
B&S used a variation of this type of anti-stick G# key on their Codera, later-model Series 2001, and all but baritone saxophone No. 3256 of their Medusa line.
This is a Medusa alto with the sandblast finish (Alto 3239 FSL). It sports the rocking mechanism that was used to prevent the G# from sticking. Notice that like JK, B&S also had their lever end at the F# key, rather than extend to the F. However, their design differed somewhat from JK’s. Not only is the B&S spring obvious from the front, I’m guessing the two companies used totally different types of springs.
Did the Series 2006 have an optional high F# key?
That’s an interesting question. I guess it depends on where you obtain your information from. Nothing in Dave Kessler’s information—and remember Kessler and Sons Music was an authorized B&S dealer—indicates that horns could be ordered from the factory sans a high F# key. However, on their B&S History page, the German saxophone website Saxwelt writes (quotes?) a description of the Medusa.
There they write:
In addition, all instruments are available with or without a high F# key.
Saxwelt had permission for the content on their page from Frank König, Geschäftsführer (CEO) of Ja Musik GmbH—the parent company of B&S. Presumably he would have corrected this rather glaring inaccuracy. That said, I have yet to see a Medusa saxophone, other than Baritone 3256, that did not come with a high F# key.
Fine: the B&S saxophone swan song
The end of the line for the Series 2006 and B&S saxophones altogether
For B&S fans, 2005 was a bad year: it brought about the demise of yet another fine European saxophone manufacturer.
In a 2005 interview with the German saxophone website Saxwelt, Frank König, Geschäftsführer (CEO) of Ja Musik GmbH—the parent company of B&S—explained that the production of the professional models Allora, Chicago Jazz, Accent, and B&S Medusa would continue until the end of 2005. After that, only what dealers had on hand would be available for purchase. However, the company would be able to produce semi-professional and professional horns again, once the demand for these horns increased.
When asked about rumours that the saxophone production equipment had been sold, König replied that was absolute rubbish.
In 2005 that rumour might have been rubbish, but just 5 or 6 years later this did indeed happen, when B&S sold its tooling to the Verne Q. Powell Flutes saxophone division, for the production of its Silver Eagle.3 With the demise of the Silver Eagle in 2014, we are left to ponder: Whatever happened to the tooling?
Why did B&S stop saxophone production?
In the same 2005 interview with Saxwelt, Frank König lists a few of the factors that led up together the drastic reduction of saxophone production—which ultimately saw the company cease all production of semi-pro and pro horns, and never start manufacturing again.
- Normal development of new models, which therefore led to previous Series (such as the 2006) being discontinued.
- The flooding of the market by cheap saxophones. In Markneukirchen it is not possible to manufacturer a saxophone for €300. In Germany it is not even possible to obtain the materials for that amount. Added to that are the labour costs, which are multiple times higher than they are in some Asian countries.
Sound familiar? It should. It’s the same swan song that ultimately killed much of Europe’s saxophone production, and is the reason even Selmer Paris is now producing a saxophone made of outsourced parts.
People want to buy the cheapest stuff they can find, and in so doing, are literally killing off the companies that have been around for generations. Specially trained craftsmen are finding themselves out of work; their jobs shipped off-shore and automated.
Sound familiar? Isn’t this the exactly same song the Americans are singing about their manufacturing industry? Food for thought. Just think about that the next time you want to buy the “cheapest” anything.
1 Any of the materials cited on this page citing Dave Kessler, come either directly from him, or indirectly through the Internet Archives of his old website. Thank you Dave, for being so generous in allowing me to use your intellectual property.
2 Saxophone: Ein Kompendium, by Uwe Ladwig. Second edition 2012, p. 160.
3 From the Company Overview section of the Silver Eagle Sax Facebook page.