Hohner saxophones were made by Max Keilwerth, who was a brother of Julius and Richard. Years ago I was doing research on this relatively obscure Keilwerth brother and his saxophone creation in both English and German languages, and had come up with very little. The information that was available at the time was almost the same from website to website—regardless of the language it was in. What did vary sometimes was the supposed years of certain events. However, the chronology appeared to be consistent.
While in the middle of my Max Keilwerth/Hohner research however, I received an unexpected surprise. Uwe Ladwig, a German saxophonist, repair tech, producer, and writer for the German music magazine Sonic Sax & Brass, sent me some research he had conducted on a variety of German saxophone manufacturers, including Max Keilwerth and Hohner.
For the most part, the few bits of information that were available online were consistent with Uwe’s research. However, Uwe also filled in some blanks.
What follows is what I’ve been able to piece together using Uwe’s research as a base, and then building upon it since 2010.
I have catalogued hundreds of Hohner President saxophone images, and seen thousands more. I have also carefully poured over all of these images in order to come up with the following comprehensive President information.¹
Max Keilwerth learned his craft with Franz Than in Graslitz, Sudetenland. According to sources in both German and English, Max Keilwerth started making saxophones with his brother Julius in the early 1920s. They worked from a home-based workshop, and mainly manufactured saxophones for Oscar Adler and FX Hüller. Max became instrumental in the development of FX Hüller’s saxophone department.
In 1925, Max left the family business and began working for himself. He continued providing saxophones for FX Hüller and Adler until the early 1930s. After the creation of the collective company named Amati, Max briefly worked for them until circa 1949. He then moved to Trossingen, Germany to begin working for Hohner.
Max was the only one of the Keilwerth brothers who had his Meisterbrief—a Master Craftsman certificate issued in Germany after a person has met all the qualifications necessary for that designation.
For more information on Max Keilwerth’s saxophones before he began working for Hohner, check out the page dedicated to the man and his horns.
Hohner President Saxophones
At Hohner—a company more commonly thought of for harmonicas and accordions than saxophones—Max Keilwerth headed up the saxophone department, which employed between 15 to 30 permanent people during its 20 years of saxophone production. Hohner made alto and tenor saxophones from 1949 until approximately 1972. Although some sources state that production stopped in 1967, the high serial numbers of known horns indicate that indeed production continued after Max Keilwerth’s death in 1968.
Hohner President Features
The saxophones that Hohner made had a number of features which made them quite unique. While some features were only used for a short time, others were utilized consistently over almost the entire production run.
One area that varied significantly over the 20 year production run was the style of the tone holes. The earliest Hohners had soldered tone holes. A very early model tenor—serial number 21XX—shows that they were also bevelled.
In approximately 1953 drawn tone holes made their first appearance. However, after years of researching the brand I have discovered that unlike what we first believed, rolled tone holes were not necessarily the first that Hohner produced. Alto 2425 has drawn, straight tone holes.
To date I have not come across any early tenors with drawn, straight tone holes.
The earliest alto I have come across that has drawn and rolled tone holes is # 2502.
Tenor 2280 is to date the oldest tenor I have come across with rolled tone holes.
In approximately 1963—approximately #12XXX—Hohner switched to straight tone holes. This then continued until the end of the model’s production run. This is tenor 12346.
Although a much earlier, English brochure only lists 3 finish options for the Hohner Presidents, according to a 1958 German brochure that I picked up on eBay, Hohner offered 6 finish options for the President:
Gold lacquered (corrosion resistant)
Gold lacquered body, with nickel-plated keys
Quadruple, semi-matt silver plate, with gold-plated inner bell
Semi-matt silver plate, with gold lacquered keys
Quadruple, sand-matt silver plate, with gold-plated inner bell
I have spent years pouring over eBay and other online listings looking at Hohner President saxophones. In the hundreds of ads I have come across, not counting the custom finishes that were clearly done after purchase (like purple and black lacquer), I have also noted the following apparent factory finishes that were not listed in any of the brochures:
Silver plate (sans gold wash bell)
Given the hundreds of Hohner President saxophones that I have catalogued, or otherwise looked at images of, if there were a multitude of engraving options you would think I would have come across them over the past 8+ years. To date I have only seen the following variations in engraving:
By far the most common engraving
Seen extremely rarely
What’s missing in the engraving?… In a word: “President”
To my knowledge Hohner never made anything other than President saxophones. The only saxophones sold under the Hohner-only name are cheap, Asian-made junk horns that you can frequently find on eBay. Clearly this horn is not one of them. Hey, perhaps the engraver had one too many beer on his lunch hour before engraving this alto in 1961? 😉
What’s this, a stencil of a Hohner President?
So far I have only come across 3 stencil horns that were made from the Hohner President. All were labelled Ault Artist, and were only a few digits apart in serial #. The one below is the first I saw, while the second is in much more pristine shape and appears like it was hardly played. The third was a tenor and had dents in the body tube, but the lacquer was in remarkable shape.
It is worth noting I have seen a couple of other Ault Artists, but they were not Hohner stencils. I have yet to ID their manufacturer.
Features Found on Only Some of the Hohner Presidents
G# Trill Keys
- G# trill keys were included on saxes built until approximately the mid 50s. The key is located between the F and E keys.
- The highest serial # alto I have seen with a G# trill key is 4104. While 4549 is the highest serial-numbed tenor that I have come across in my travels. Both horns are circa 1954. (More on dating Hohner Presidents below.)
The Uniquely-placed High F# Key
- A high F# key was an option that could be requested. In the later models—approx. 12000 and onward—the high F# was a standard feature on all the horns. However, when Max Keilwerth designed his saxophones for Hohner, he didn’t place this key where other saxophone manufacturers did.
- The Hohner President’s high F# is located along with the other left palm keys. For a player like me who is not accustomed to using a high F# key, it was very intuitive. I obviously can’t speak to what it would be like for players who are used to operating the high F# lever with their right ring finger or pinkie.
Features Used During Almost The Entire Production Run
Eyebrow, or Unibrow Key Guards
- Eyebrow key guards, such as those seen on King Voll-True II and the early King Zephyrs, and the Hohner’s German cousins like Hammerschmidt, Werner Roth, and even the JK Imperial , made the Hohner President more recognizable in a sea of more common saxophones.
Gesetzlich Geschützten Neck Design
- Hohner’s legally protected—”gesetzlich geschützten”—(abbreviated Ges.- Gesch. on the socket of the horn), double socket, with a front-mounted thumb screw for tightening the neck, was introduced in the early 1950s.
- Prior to this, the neck fastening screw of the Hohner Presidents looked liked it did on any other saxophones, as evidenced in this alto, serial number 24XX.
- The President’s front-mounted, neck-fastening screw shown above, resembled that of both Dörfler & Jörka (D&J)—a German company that produced basically exact copies of JK’s Toneking and The New Kings models—and Hammerschmidt, another German company. Both D&J and Hammerschmidt were producing saxophones during the same time period that Hohner was.
Matching Lyre Screw
- The screw that held the lyre in place was, like all elements of the Hohner President saxophone, carefully designed by Max Keilwerth. The lyre screw is just a slightly smaller version, but its style matches the front-mounted, neck-fastening screw with its cross hatch (nail file) pattern.
C/D Trill Key
- According to both the brochures (1 & 2) I have, and the horns I have catalogued, the C/D trill key was standard on all Hohner President saxophones. This key appears to date back to the earliest incarnations of the horn, but did get dropped later in the horn’s production.
- To date the last alto I have seen with a C/D trill key is #124XX (1963). The last tenor I have seen with this extra trill key is #12508 (1963).
Features Changed Towards the End of the Production Run
You win some. You lose some.
Around serial #13XXX, Hohner changed the design of the President saxophones. The above-noted C/D trill key was dropped as a feature on the horns, and the high F# key was moved from optional feature to standard feature.
But Max, why did you do this?
I am not at all clear why these changes were made, but in about 1964, the Hohner President underwent the only real cosmetic design change in its 23 year production history. At around serial # 13XXX, the following quite obvious changes distinguish them from their predecessors:
Bell to Body Support Brace
- Originally the Hohner President had a straight brace that had the shape of the horn’s posts.
- Whereas these late-model Presidents had a brace made of an arched piece of brass.
The G# Key
- Pre-13XXX, the President has a G# key that was wider on the horn side and plain. These happen to be the same shape as the ones Max Keilwerth put on his Pure Tone Trade Mark horns he built prior to working for Hohner.
- Post-13XXX, the key was redesigned and was thinner on the horn side, and was stamped with the Hohner logo.
The last obvious cosmetic change that the Hohner President underwent around 1964 was the shape of its octave lever.
- Prior to the 13XXX horns, the octave lever on these MK-designed horns was shaped like the butt-end of a rifle.
- Post-13XXX the octave lever had an oval shape with a bit taken out for the left thumb rest.
But wait, there’s always more…
Is your brain numb yet? Have you overdosed on Hohner President information yet? No? Well strap in, because we’re about to explore how the Hohner President transitioned from one version to another, AKA, Yes Virginia, there were Transitional Horns too…
A few years ago I started seriously tracking the various permutations of the Hohner President alto and tenor saxophones and came up with the following chart for the magazine portion of my website. Given all the horns I’ve catalogued since then, I recently revisited this chart and updated where necessary.
|Serial #||Tone Holes||G# Key||Bell to Body Brace||C/D Trill Key||G# Trill Key||High F# Key||Octave Lever|
|Pre 25XX||Bevelled or straight||Wider on horn side & plain||Straight with 2 posts joined together||Present||Present||N/A||Shaped like the butt end of a rifle|
|25XX – 12XXX||Rolled||Wider on horn side & plain||Straight with 2 posts joined together||Present||Present from 2200 – 4500||Optional 45XX onwards||Shaped like the butt end of a rifle|
|Rolled, straight, or combo||Wider on horn side & plain, or Hohner logo & thinner on horn side||Straight with 2 posts joined together, or arched metal||Present or not||N/A||Optional:||Shaped like the butt end of a rifle, or like an oval with a bit taken out for left thumb rest|
|13XXX onwards||Straight||Hohner logo & thinner on horn side||Arched metal||N/A||N/A||Present||Oval shape with a bit taken out for left thumb rest|
The Phases of the Hohner President
Based on what I have described above, Hohner President saxophones can be divided into three (3) phases—based on their features—with a transitional phase between Phase 2 and 3.
- Phase 1: Pre 25XX
- Phase 2: 25XX-12XXX
- Transitional: 107XX-12XXX
- Phase 3: 13XXX +
However, it needs to be stated that not all horns between 107XX and 12XXX are transitional horns. Some are straight-up Phase 2 horns, while others are from the Phase 3 category. In some instances we can’t say with 100% certainty which phase they fit in, since not all sides of the horn have been photographed.
Furthermore, in other instances it is quite likely that Hohner was using up bits and pieces from Phase 2 horns, while already using other parts from Phase 3 ones on the same sax. It is also possible that some of these saxes may represent an experiment of sorts, where different things were tried out.
For example, my tech has a wreck of tenor in the 111XX category that has a mix of straight and rolled tone holes. (I need to remember to take photos of it one day.) A seller on eBay stated that a tenor he was selling with a similar serial number, too had a mix of tone holes. Sadly however, the pictures were not clear enough to capture that detail.
Were these tenors an accidental production? Or were they produced on purpose to see which tone hole was better? Sadly we will never know.
With regards to the transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2 horns, we don’t see nearly the same kind of wild variations in horns—in part because the most notable, visible difference was in the the horns’ tone holes.
As noted below, around the early 2XXX mark things were a little inconsistent with regards to tone hole types. Some horns with earlier serial #’s had rolled tone holes, while later ones had soldered ones. However, there were not nearly enough saxes, nor enough differences in the saxes themselves, for me to say we have another transitional series of horns.
The Demise Of The President
In the early 1970s Hohner ended its saxophone production. Although it is not known why, German saxophone historian, Uwe Ladwig, speculated that its reasons were the same as Hammerschmidt’s: The overwhelming cheap competition from Japan was too great, and the demand for the more expensive German saxophones declined.
Once they ceased production of saxophones, Hohner destroyed all its documents related to the Hohner President saxophones. This unfortunately means that the Hohner company can provide no information about its own history in the saxophone business.
While SaxPics was still owned by Pete Hales, a man by the name of Jim Warner provided him with some information about Hohner saxophones. Jim had been conducting research into the President horns, and during his research had been in contact with a person at Hohner. The information Jim provided to Pete was the sum total of all he had been able to amass about the Hohner President.
According to Bridgitte Conrad of Hohner Musikinstrumente, the company had very little information about their saxophone production left. Ms. Conrad provided Jim Warner with a document in German, but he was not able to translate it adequately to be able to understand it, or to even be able to ID the source. Although I have not seen the document that Jim was sent, based on the information and photos I have seen on SaxPics, the document was Uwe’s research paper.
Serial Number Chart
Through his efforts, Jim was able to establish a table of serial numbers which combined a number of sources. Sadly however, since Saxpics was bought by USA Horn, many images have vanished and links have broken. Therefore I chose to recreate the serial number chart; replace the missing images; and of course update it with all the new information I have gathered over the years of research.
A few notes about this chart:
- As we saw in the chart of the Transitional Horns above, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to tone holes around the transition periods. Just because a horn is above/below a certain serial #, that doesn’t mean that it will have a certain type of tone hole. Notes are added below to clarify.
- The same applies for the logo located below the right thumb rest.
|Year||Serial #||Tone Holes||Logo||Logo Image|
|Phase 1||1949||1||Soldered||Hohner Trade Mark|
|1950||500||Soldered||Hohner Trade Mark|
|1951||1000||Soldered||Hohner Trade Mark|
|1952||1800||Soldered 2,3||Hohner Trade Mark|
|Phase 2||1953||2600||Drawn & rolled||Hohner Trade Mark|
|1954||3400||Drawn & rolled||Hohner Trade Mark|
|1955||4200||Drawn & rolled||Hohner Trade Mark|
|1956||5000||Drawn & rolled||Hohner Trade Mark|
|1957||6000||Drawn & rolled||Hohner Trade Mark|
|1958||7000||Drawn & rolled||Hohner Trade Mark|
|1959||8000||Drawn & rolled||Hohner Trade Mark|
|1960||9000||Drawn & rolled||Hohner Trade Mark|
|Transitional||1961||10000 5||Drawn & rolled||4 Man playing accordion in shape of Hohner name|
|Transitional||1962||11000 6||Drawn & rolled||Man playing accordion in shape of Hohner name|
|Transitional||1963||12000||Drawn & straight||Man playing accordion in shape of Hohner name|
|Phase 3||1964||13000||Drawn & straight||Man playing accordion in shape of Hohner name|
|1965||13500||Drawn & straight||Man playing accordion in shape of Hohner name|
|1966||14000||Drawn & straight||Man playing accordion in shape of Hohner name|
|1967||14500||Drawn & straight||Man playing accordion in shape of Hohner name|
|1968||14800||Drawn & straight||Man playing accordion in shape of Hohner name|
|1969||15200||Drawn & straight||Man playing accordion in shape of Hohner name|
|1970||15600||Drawn & straight||Man playing accordion in shape of Hohner name|
|1971||15800||Drawn & straight||Man playing accordion in shape of Hohner name|
|1972||16000||Drawn & straight||Man playing accordion in shape of Hohner name|
2 Alto 2425 has straight tone holes, while 24XX had bevelled ones. Tenor 21XX had bevelled tone holes as well. Tone hole types seemed to vary around this time.
3 Alto 2502 & 2543 have rolled tone holes, as do tenor 2215 & 2280.
4 Alto 10697 is the Hohner I have seen with the new logo.
5 Alto 10742 is a transitional horn with a new bell to body brace and rolled tone holes, and C/D trill key.
6 Tenor 111XX is a transitional horn with a new bell to body brace and rolled tone holes.
The Hohner President Saxophone Gallery
Over the years I have been working on putting together what is likely the largest online gallery of Hohner President saxophone images. I have hundreds more images that I haven’t yet uploaded because the Bassic Sax Pix is in the middle of a gigantic move. Once it is updated, I will update the links here.
In the meantime, if you have a President you would like to contribute to the online gallery let me know.
¹ I have written only that which I have direct knowledge of, or that has been cited either through Uwe’s research, or on trusted, informational websites. I have chosen not to include information from saxophone forums. Much of the information on both German and English sax forums such as Saxwelt and Sax On The Web, is really nothing more than quotes and requotes from informational websites.
I want to thank Uwe Ladwig for generously sharing his research with me. It was originally published in der deutschen Fachzeitschrift—German music journal—SONIC sax & brass. I hope that I have managed to capture the meaning and the intent of it well.
Vielen dank Uwe! Vielleicht findest Du meine Fotos interessant.
The two on-line sources that I found that contain the most information about Max Keilwerth and Hohner saxophones are:
This page on German saxophone manufacturers on Klaus Schneider’s Website.
And this page on Julius Keilwerth saxophones on the old SaxPics site.
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