It is pretty uncommon to have more information available on a company’s less expensive instruments, than on their better ones, but such is the case with the B&S, AKA “blue label” saxophones. If you search for information on these vintage horns by VEB Blechblas- und Signal-Instrumenten-Fabrik, you are far more likely to come across articles and forum comments about the Weltklang, or even the Akustik saxes, than you are about the vintage B&S blue label saxophones.
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As already noted on the Akustik and Weltklang pages, post WWII, independent companies were no longer the norm in East Germany. Government policy was to “nationalize” these private companies, and combine them together into organizational units called Kombinate. These publicly owned, national corporations were known as Volkseigener Betriebe (VEB), and were the legal form of an industrial enterprise in East Germany.
This process of nationalizing private companies had been going on steadily since WWII, and on January 1, 1953, three existing VEBs were combined together to form „Blechblas- und Signal-Instrumenten-Fabrik” (B&S). A further four companies were added at different times, until in 1984, a total of seven VEBs were under the B&S umbrella. If you are interested in which those were, and when they were added, check out the VEB intro page of my site.
B&S only made the 4 standard types of saxophones: Bb soprano, Eb alto, Bb tenor, and Eb baritone saxophones. The company offered basically only 2 model ranges of saxophones: The simpler Weltklang engraved horns, and the somewhat better saxes designated B&S. In addition to the names that B&S used for its horns, they also stencilled for other companies, which resulted in a great many B&S-made horns, with a wide variety of names. Some of these names include: Akustik, Roth, Berg Larsen, Paul Beuscher, University, Sonora, and many, many others. Pete’s and my Bassic Sax Pix gallery shows many of these horn here, here, and here.
VEB Blechblas- und Signal-Instrumenten-Fabrik made their simpler Weltklang saxophones starting in the early 1960s. Then in the middle of that decade, they added their B&S blue label horns, supplying a somewhat better series for players to choose from. The B&S blue label production was continued until 1998, when they were replaced by the 1000 series of horns.1
That’s correct, the replacement for the B&S blue label horns was the 1000 series—horns that are considered an intermediate level horn. It wouldn’t be until shortly after Germany’s reunification, that the company produced its first pro horns. The production of 2001 models began in 1991. Then shortly after, B&S attempted to get into the top tier of the pro horn market with their Guardala Model, which was a variation on the 2001.
What’s up with the B&S “blue label” name?
“Blue label” was not a real model name, or even a designation that these horns were given by VEB Blechblas- und Signal-Instrumenten-Fabrik. Blue label is a nickname for the model of saxophones that B&S built, which were simply called “B&S” by the VEB. The reason for the nickname is pretty obvious if one looks at the bell to body support brace on the alto, tenor, and baritone B&S saxophones. There is a blue enamel background for the B&S logo.
However, not all B&S saxophones had a blue enamel bell to body support brace. Some were made with the entire badge in a gold finish. For example, here is the bell to body brace on B&S tenor #3661…
At this stage I am not clear on what differences—if any—exist between the blue and gold label B&S horns. I have a couple of theories, and others have been put forth by owners/players of both blue and gold label horns. However, theories are not facts, and nothing in any of the printed literature that I have found to date, explains these horns with a gold bell to body support brace. As a matter of fact, these horns do not seemingly officially exist at all. Huh, go figure… More about this at the end of this page.
Tone Hole Placement
In Saxophone: Ein Kompendium, Uwe Ladwig refers to a discussion he had with Gerhard Lederer. 2 Lederer worked for B&S for 30 years, including a 13-year stint as the Divisional Director of Saxophone Production. According to Gerhard Lederer, the main difference between the Weltklang and B&S saxophones was their tone hole placement.
Like the vintage saxophones of Martin, Conn, Buescher, et al, Weltklang saxophones had inline tone holes. This meant that they had the main tone holes in their body tube arranged in a line, one under another. FYI, even pre-Mark VI Selmers had inline tone holes.
B&S saxophones, on the other hand, had their main tone holes offset. This means that their right hand tone holes were closer to the player’s hand, thus making the horn more ergonomic. This is something that Selmer introduced in their Mark VIs, and what we continue to see in most modern saxophones to this day.
Unfortunately I don’t have a B&S body tube sans keys that I can show you, but Matt Stohrer was kind enough to provide me with the following photo of Mark VI low A alto. The photo does show how the tone holes for the right hand are closer to the player’s hand, and not inline with those above.
Another area in which the B&S blue label saxophones differed from their less expensive Weltklang cousins, was in the refinement of the left pinkie clusters. On the B&S saxophones, the G#/C#/B/Bb keys were coupled together…
Whereas on the Weltklang saxophones, the keys operated by the left pinkie were not coupled together.
The alto and tenor B&S blue label saxophones were usually keyed to high F#, while the Weltklangs were only keyed to high F.
The final area in which B&S blue label horns differed from their cheaper Weltklang brethren, was in their construction. B&S saxophones had their posts attached to the body via ribs…
The Weltklangs on the other hand, utilized post to body construction, meaning that the posts are soldered directly to the body tube, and not to brass plates, AKA “ribs”, like can be seen above.
Which type of construction is better? Well that depends on who you talk to. Keilwerth obviously thinks for their saxophones non-ribbed is, since their new horns do not use ribs. On the other hand, until the Series III baritones came out, modern Selmers traditionally have come decked out with ribbed construction.
For an interesting read on ribbed versus non-ribbed construction, check out Dave Kessler’s article titled: “Ribbed” Body Construction for Saxophones – What is it?
According to a 1980s brochure titled Metallblasinstrumente, Instrument aus der DDR, B&S blue label saxophones came in the following finishes 3 :
- Two tone with clear lacquer and nickel plated keys;
- Two tone with gold lacquer and nickel plated keys;
- Shiny silver plate;
- As well as nickel plate.
In addition to these finishes, I’ve come across the following. Unfortunately I can’t say with absolute certainty if this additional finish predates the above-mentioned brochure, or if it came later. My hunch is that it came later, since this is what the later B&S saxophones looked like in the 1990s and beyond.
- Clear lacquer with clear lacquer keys.
This same B&S brochure noted above—Metallblasinstrumente, Instrument aus der DDR—describes both the alto and soprano saxophones of the day. I’ll provide both the original German text, as well as the translated version for you here.
Es- Alt Saxophon
Eine vollendete Konstruktion, die alle Vorteile aufweist, die sich der Interpret wünscht. Ausgezeichnet mit einer Goldmedaille. Großes Tonvolumen. Hervorragende Griffanordnung. Acht Perlmuttereinlagen. Fünf Rollen. Gekoppelte B-H-Cis-Gis- Verbindung.
Stimmung: a = 440
Schall Ø: 120 mm
Gewicht: 2,5 kg
This is, at present, the only alto that I have photos of, that matches the alto displayed in the brochure in key shape exactly. It is serial # 1711, and is clear lacquer coated, with nickel plated keys.
The English translation of the German text contained in the B&S translation is as follows:
Eb- Alto Saxophone
Perfectly constructed, with all the advantages a performer would wish for. Award winning, with a gold medal. [Sadly, the printing on the brochure is so blurred, that one can’t make out what award it is supposed to be.] Good volume. Excellent key layout. Eight mother of pearl key touches. Five rollers. Coupled B, Bb, C#, G# keys.
25 tone holes.
Range: Low Bb to high F#
Tuning: A = 440
Bell Ø [diameter]: 120 mm [4.72441 in]
Weight: 2.5 kg
The soprano B&S blue label is described as follows:
Eine ansprechende Konstruktion mit hervorragenden Eigenschaften. Bequeme Griffkombination. Automatische Octavklappe und gekoppelte B-H Cis-Gis- Verbindung.
Stimmung: a = 440
Schall Ø: 95 mm
Gewicht: 1,2 kg
As with the blue label altos, I don’t have many B&S soprano saxophones to choose from when it comes to horns that illustrate the example from the brochure. However, clear lacquer coated, # 46XX, with nickel plated keys, does fit the bill. Unfortunately the photos happen to be a bit on the small side.
The English translation for the German description of the blue label soprano is as follows:
An attractive design, with excellent features. Comfortable combination of finger positions. Automatic octave key and coupled B, Bb, C#, G# keys.
24 tone holes
Range: Low Bb to high F
Tuning: A = 440
Bell Ø [diameter]: 95 mm [3.74016 in]
Weight: 1.2 kg
Serial number and model information
B&S kept meticulous records when it came to serial numbers. That is why, for example, when players inquire about their horns on the Forum des Musikinstrumentenmuseums Markneukirchen, they are still able to get exact dates of production. (Dr. Enrico Weller, one of the forum’s Moderator’s, has a colleague who has access to the original records.)
The available serial numbers records are for horns produced between 1953 and 19904.
B&S maintained its saxophone serial numbers in hard copy books, which look to have been recorded in pencil. It is important to note that each type of saxophone (soprano, alto, tenor, and bari) was numbered separately.
Acccording to Uwe Ladwig5, here are all the model numbers for the various B&S horns, and when they entered and ceased production.
|Years of Production||Dec. 1978 – 1998*||1965 – 1998||1965 – 1998||Aug. 1981 – 1998**|
* The sopranos started production with serial # 1004.
** The baritones started production with serial # 1001.
It is interesting to note that the Weltklang had many more models than the B&S blue label did.
Further avenues for research
As I mentioned at the top, when it comes to the saxophones that B&S made, far more information exists on the Weltklang horns, than does on the B&S blue label ones.
As I have done with other German manufacturers that I have written about, for example D&J, I plan to conduct some research and see what I can turn up. At present there are a lot of unanswered questions about these horns, especially when it comes to their evolution, and to their features. When I wrote the page on Weltklang saxophones, Peter Wilmanns had already done a lot of this research, and collated the data together in an Excel spread sheet. I’m going to start to develop something similar for the B&S blue label horns, and see what turns up.
From what I can see by simply browsing through my VEB Blechblas- und Signal-Instrumenten-Fabrik galleries on Bassic Sax Pix, there were some variations in the way the horns were built. Over the next while I will gather more samples of these vintage, East German saxophones, and put my findings together. I’ll advise readers through my blog, of how things are progressing.
1 Saxophone: Ein Kompendium, by Uwe Ladwig. Second edition 2012, p. 147.
2 Ibid. p. 142.
3 Ibid. p. 145.
4 Ibid. p. 149.
5 Ibid. p. 150.
Note: The the exception of the footnotes above, the source 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.
Special thanks also to Matt Stohrer of Sohrer Music, for his excellent photos of inline and offset tone holes.