The Company’s Beginnings In Nauheim, West Germany
On January 29, 1947, the Julius Keilwerth Company started its operations in Nauheim. Their startup was at first very humble—in the laundry room of the Bäckerei (bakery) Stelzer at Bahnhofstr. 9. There they employed 5 people, and did saxophone repairs only. Then in 1949, the company moved into a new building at Königstädter Str. 101. Later the company also opened and maintained a subsidiary division on Helwigstrasse in Groß-Gerau.
Julius was helped along in his efforts by his son Josef (1919 – 1982), who was trained as woodwind instrument maker, as well as his brother—who was also named Josef, and had been the plant manager in Graslitz. Julius’ brother was very good at attracting new performers, and getting famous saxophonists of the day to switch to Keilwerths. It also wasn’t uncommon to see entire saxophone sections of radio station orchestras, or popular big bands, playing on Tonekings.
The First German-Made Julius Keilwerth Horns
The early Nauheim-made J.K. saxophones were very poorly built, for want of materials and tools. (Remember Julius Keilwerth left everything behind when he and his family fled Graslitz.) The first German-made Keilwerth horns had left-sided bell keys again, with simple brass key guards on the bell, as well as on the low C key.
The early Nauheim horns had soldered tone holes, because Julius didn’t have access to a machine that would draw tone holes.
What’s In A Name? Something To Go To Court Over
In the early 1950s, a legal battle flared about who had the right to use the name Toneking. Amati claimed that they also had the right to use it, since they were the legal successor to the name. (After their takeover of the Keilwerth company in Graslitz.)
Not only did Amati use the name Toneking, they also used the Keilwerth logo, as well as Keilwerth serial numbers—as evidenced by this Amati-made Toneking baritone, serial #30390.
Source: tclaw99 on eBay.com
It took until 1955, for the European Court of Justice in The Haag to rule that Julius Keilwerth was the only one who could legally use the Toneking name.
The disputes between Keilwerth and Amati soon ended, and animosities were evidently forgotten, since in the 1960s, J.K. cooperated again with its Czech competitor. However, for a period of 10 years (1945-1955) there were saxophones produced by both J.K. and Amati, that carried the Toneking name. Therefore if you’re looking for a vintage Toneking, you have to be careful what it is you’re buying.
Keilwerth and Armstrong
At the time when Armstrong was the distributor for Keilwerth in the US, and Keilwerth for Armstrong in Germany, all the necks for J.K. horns were produced by Armstrong, because they were superior to what Keilwerth was making. The Armstrong necks were cut from brass, soldered, and then corrected through hydraulic inflation, to be within a 1/10 mm range. This ensured that all the necks were identical. Only when the partnership with Armstrong ended, did J.K. start producing its own saxophone necks again.
Nauheim-Made J.K. Models
In 2003, Gerhard Keilwerth (Julius’ grandson) spoke to Uwe Ladwig about the differences in Post WWII Julius Keilwerth horns. According to Gerhard, these were the distinguishing features of the different models.¹
- The intermediate model—The New King without a high F# key—had rolled tone holes until the 1960s. Production of The New King continued until the end of the 1960s.
- In the late 1960s, the professional model Toneking received the bigger bow of its top-model cousin, the Toneking Special. However, the high F# key was no longer standard, it was only available for an additional charge.
Toneking tenor with larger bow and no high F#. Serial # 65495, circa 1969. Source: Saxpics.com
- In the 1970s and 80s the Toneking became the intermediate model, and no longer had rolled tone holes.
- The Toneking Special was introduced in the late 1950s as J.K.’s top model. It replaced the Toneking as the professional model in the 70s and 80s.
Toneking Special Tenor Serial #: 7794x, circa 1977. Source: saxpics.com
- The 1980s saw a new top model introduced. It was called the Toneking Exclusive.
Toneking Exclusive Tenor Serial #: 90667, circa 1986. Source: saxpics.com
The Beauty Of The Angel Wing
The year was 1951, and the Julius Keilwerth Saxophone company filed an application with the German patent office for a radical new type of key guard. This key guard was made out of “Plexiglas oder anderen Kunststoffen” (Plexiglas or other plastics).
This plastic key guard, or angel wing as it would come to be known, was to provide a one-piece replacement for the multiple wire or sheet metal guards that protected the low Bb, B, and C keys. The angel wing further added protection to the low C# key—a key that had no protection before.
This is one of the diagrams from Keilwerth’s original patent application:
Although the patent was granted in August 1952, we know that the Plexiglas key guards were not without their problems. While these guards certainly looked striking…
…they were prone to cracking and breaking. This is, of course, why the Julius Keilwerth company used the metal replacement wings to repair the horns under warranty. These same metal guards are still used today, to restore vintage Toneking and The New King model horns.
Any metal guards that one finds on horns of this vintage today, are either replacement guards, or could indicate that the horn was originally a US export horn.
If you’d like to take a look at the original Julius Keilwerth patent for these angel wing key guards, you can find it on the European Patent Office website. Be warned however, the original document is only available in German, and some of the pages are quite blurry.
Stencils, Stencils, And Even More Stencils
Keilwerth stencilled saxophones for many manufacturers, including: Conn, Couf, Elaton, Hammerschmidt’s Klingsor soprano and baritones, King Tempo, Major by Selmer Düsseldorf, Olds, Reynolds, Selmer Bundy, Luxor Van Hall, Richard Keilwerth. (Also see the section on Dörfler & Jörka for more stencil info.)
The stencil saxophones that Keilwerth produced had serial numbers that consecutively followed those of regular production horns. All those stencils produced in Nauheim have serial numbers greater than 20,000.
Although dealers could order their stencils with any engraving they wanted, the J.K. logo located just under the right thumb rest gives away the manufacturer. To see a small sampling of Julius Keilwerth stencil horns, check out their gallery on Bassic Sax Pix.
Trumpets, and Trombones, and Flutes, Oh My…
In the early 1950s, in addition to saxophones, Keilwerth also produced their own trombones, trumpets, and at some point also flugelhorns. (Although in later years they procured these instruments from Blessing.)
In the woodwind family, J.K. supplemented its instrument portfolio with clarinets in Oehler, Albert, German, and Boehm systems, as well as with Armstrong Flutes. Initially these J.K. clarinets were obtained through Julius’ brother Richard Keilwerth. Later however, only very simple Schreiber-made, Albert and Boehm clarinets, with nickel plated keys, were offered in the J.K. catalogue.
What The Heck Is A Toneking 3000 Anyway?
Very simply put, the Toneking 3000 was a saxophone-shaped trumpet. This was in no way a new idea, since a number of companies had already developed single and double-belled, sax-shaped trumpets in the early part of the 20th century. That said, the Toneking 3000 was a real oddity, and was very difficult to play due to its shape. They had a limited market, and production soon stopped.
There are some discrepancies in the dates provided for the manufacturing of these trumpets. According the website, The Jazzophone and other sax shaped or double-belled trumpets, the Toneking 3000 was built between 1982 -1986, with no more than 100 instruments produced. However, according to Uwe Ladwig, the Toneking 3000 was built in the 1970s.
Given that Keilwerth focused solely on saxophones in the 1980s, I tend to believe Uwe. It’s possible that the author of The Jazzophone website has a simple typo on his site. In any event, The Toneking 3000 is really more of a collector’s item, than a performer’s horn.
1979 Catalogue Of J.K. Instruments
A regular visitor to my site sent me a catalogue and price list that he received in 1979. I am in the process of digitizing all the pages.
If you like perusing through old instrument pamphlets and catalogues, I suspect you’ll like this. (Yes, it’s in German. Yes, translations are coming.)
The Last Decade Of A Family Owned And Operated Saxophone Dynasty
The 1980s saw the Julius Keilwerth company return to its roots, and offer nothing but saxophones again. It would be the last decade of the Toneking and its variants, and 1989 would see the company’s production and name rights sold to Boosey & Hawkes.
Serial Number & Pictures Of Keilwerth Horns
The absolute best serial number chart that I have found for Julius Keilwerth saxophones, is on Saxwelt.de. They recently redid their site, and haven’t redirected their old pages. If you have the old page bookmarked, you’ll want to update it to this one.
¹ Source: Uwe’s discussion with Gerhard Keilwerth on May 26, 2003.
The source of the majority of information for this page is from Uwe Ladwig, in der deutschen Fachzeitschrift—German music journal—SONIC sax & brass.
I would like to thank Uwe for so generously allowing me to use his research, and very much appreciate the trust he has shown by allowing me to do my own translation.