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Contrabassoon v. Contrabass Sarrusophone

Discussion in 'Contrabassoon' started by pete, Aug 6, 2008.

  1. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Got an e-mail today:

    My response:

    Yes, a contrabass Sarrusophone would be better than a contrabassoon for a saxophone player, as the Sarrusophone has approximately the same fingering as the saxophone and single-reed mouthpieces were available for it.

    Saxtek did sell his horn in 2007. Sorry.

    An Eb contrabass Sarrusophone in good shape is an investment of $6000 US or more. In perfect shape, you're talking around $7500 to $8000. They're also somewhat uncommon, which tends to justify the price.

    A brand new, lower-quality Amati contrabassoon sells for close to $8000 and a Fox retails for close to $25,000. A high-end USED Heckel contra sells for $30,000+.

    I don't have any specific information on the Buffet that you're looking at, nor can I tell you anything about its quality. I did some brief Googling and found that Evette-Schaeffer Buffet-Crampon made "French Fingering" contrabassoons. I do not know how different these are from normal bassoon fingerings.

    Please also note that an instrument that is as old as what you mention (and note that if it's stamped "1900", that may just be the date that it won an award, not necessarily when it was manufactured), it may be HIGH PITCH (A=457hz) or FRENCH PITCH (A=435hz) -- both of which may not be what you want. Most modern instruments are low pitch (A=440hz) and most European orchestras use A=442hz. If it's a high pitch horn, it'll be very out of tune with modern instruments. I can also say, based on my brief research of Heckel instruments, that sometimes double-reeds were made in odd pitches. You don't want to spend several thousands of $ to find out the horn won't play in tune with your ensemble.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 6, 2008
  2. bpimentel

    bpimentel Broadway Doubler List Owner Distinguished Member

    Interesting. I read the first few lines of your post and thought, well, of COURSE Pete will recommend the contrabassoon over the sarrusophone.

    Points taken: yes, a sarrusophone may be cheaper, and the fingerings are similar to saxophone.

    But where on earth will you play the thing?
  3. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Me? If someone gave me $8,000, I wouldn't be playing a Sarrusophone. I'd be paying for college classes.

    A contrabass sarrusophone is the same pitch as a Eb contrabass saxophone and allegedly has the same range, so you could use it for those parts.

    A contrabasson's range is this, according to Wikipedia. I think that means a contrabasson's lowest note is about a third lower than the contrabass Sarrusophone. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong; my mind is mush today.)

    As far as practicality, there are vanishingly few parts written for the contrabass saxophone, much less the Sarrusophone (in any pitch). There seems to be an awful lot of stuff for the contrabassoon, though.

    Remember, Orsi still makes the Sarrusophone in a variety of pitches. It's a special order, so I doubt it's cheap. I think their Eb contrabass sax was $30K.
  4. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    BTB, I've confirmed that 1900 was the date that Buffet exhibited some "improved" Sarrusophones in an attempt to revive the instrument.

    This also means that I'm pretty much correct that the Buffet horn my e-mailer is talking about is just stamped "1900" -- just like my "1900" Couesnon bari was.

    However, it is a fact that there are metal contrabassoons -- and made by Evette & Schaeffer.
  5. bpimentel

    bpimentel Broadway Doubler List Owner Distinguished Member

    That is basically my point. Contra has many more ready-made opportunities. To get any use out of a sarrusophone, you'd have to make your own opportunities (doable if you don't need paying gigs to justify the purchase...). I can't think of a normal musical situation large-scale enough to call for a contrabassoon, but casual enough to allow for substituting a sarrusophone.

    The image you linked to shows a low A-flat for contrabassoon, which is erroneous. Contras go to low B-flat or A natural. You're still right that the contra has about an extra third of low range.

    If someone is a genuine sarrusophone enthusiast, then I certainly don't begrudge them spending their $8k as they see fit. The email you shared, though, raises questions in my mind. The guy apparently is a saxophonist but not a bassoonist, thus the appeal of the sarrusophone's similar fingerings. So why was he contemplating spending a huge amount of money on a contrabassoon? And what use did he have in mind for it, that a sarrusophone might work just as well? Weird.

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    There is one contra-bass sarrusophone part that is seldom played on the instrument, but which gains much when it is done so. That's the prominent part in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, by Dukas.

    Almost always heard on contra-bassoon, it's far better when played on the rattling sarrusophone. French orchestras sometimes do so, and on the recording that I have, it's a far better contrast to the bass clarinet counter point that follows it. Much more evocative of the whole "witch and sorcerer" effect sought by the composer.

    Can't say that I would buy one just for this, though...
  7. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Admin and all around good guy. Staff Member Administrator

    I've played a Sarrusophone; QuinnTheEskimo (eBay, he's Matt to most of us) has had a number of them in the past. Didn't like the intonation and found it hard to get a consistent voice from top to bottom. So I walked away from the deal.

    But a great musician or someone with a lot of time could probably do fine. I really need to spend more time on my exisiting rack of instruments. If I had more time I'd be doing more time on clarinet and flute.
  8. Groovekiller

    Groovekiller Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    I had the sarrusophone previously mentioned. It wasn't pretty, but it played right away. I sold it for $4,000 and it was resold for $6,000 within a month. Both sales included the rare single reed mouthpiece from Conn, and a few minor extras.

    For a saxophone player, the Conn contrabass sarrusophone is easy to play with the single reed mouthpiece. I would imagine it is easy for a bassoon player using the original double reed, if the player is skilled at making reeds.

    There are a few pieces by Saint-Saens with contra sarrusophone parts.

    The sound of the instrument was once described as a roof shingle flapping in the wind. I wouldn't be that severe, but I sold mine because the Tubax was better in every possible way.
  9. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    I had seen a couple things on teh intarweb that suggested that some contrabassoons had extensions to low A, but as I'm not a player, I decided to post the Wikipedia article and let people make up their own minds :) . The correction is appreciated.

    The e-mailer didn't mention how much teh contrabassoon he was looking at was. It's possible it was extremely inexpensive and he just wanted to turn it around for a profit.

    I can understand some of the angles why someone would want such a beast. SOTSDO once mentioned that one of the reasons to play something like a bass sax is the audience appeal: it's rare, it's odd looking, and it has a proportionate sound to match those other attributes. I remember when I went to see Rob Verdi in concert and he brought out his Evette-Schaeffer contrabass sax, there were rumblings in the crowd. Hey, you get a couple thousand folks paying $20 a pop, spending even $30K on a horn isn't that bad of a deal.

    I also have stopped asking why. It's primarily because I see so much illogical stuff working as a computer tech, I'm jaded. A beginner wanting a contrabassoon? That's not as odd as a person wanting to get a different laptop -- that's considerably slower, mind you -- because it's more shiny than the one he currently has.


    Anyhow, this little dip into the double-reed world has again highlighted how nice it is for a sax player to say, "Mmmm. High-end professional Yamaha YAS-875 alto. $4000? That's ridiculous!" rather than, "High-end professional Heckel contrabassoon. $40,000? That's cheap!"

    Sorry. Re-re-editing. Told you my brain was mush today. As to your point, it's *possible* to play a lot of contrabassoon repertoire on the Eb contra Sarrusophone and vice-versa, but as a sax player, I'd be going for that Sarrusophone before the contrabassoon: not only is the price 1/3 the contrabassoon, I'd have some facility with the keywork, even if it can't play quite as low as the contrabassoon. The contrabassoon, to me, has very awkward fingering and it looks difficult to play (I had a friend that was a bassoonist) -- and there's that *wow* factor I mentioned before (which would arguably be there with a metal contrabassoon, but I digress).

    (I also mentioned how some metal contrabassoons happened to have the "French" bassoon fingering and I'm not enough of a double-reed geek to determine how different those fingerings are or how modern. That, combined with the possibility of it being a non-low-pitch horn made me very wary of this particular contrabassoon.)

    If I was a real bassoonist, I'd want the contrabassoon -- provided I could check it out to make sure it played OK. Hey, if I didn't like it, but it was cheap, I could probably turn around and sell it for a little less than a new Amati, at least.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 6, 2008
  10. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    More from the e-mailer!

    My response:

    I have a couple additional questions, if you don't mind:

    * How much are you going to pay for this horn?
    * Why do you want a contrabassoon? It's kind of a specialized instrument.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 20, 2008
  11. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Which isn't bad, I must say. If the horn really has any historic significance, which Googling suggests it may, and it plays decently, it's probably not that bad a purchase: he can turn around and sell it if he doesn't like it. Probably get a profit, too.

    I know, this thread is useless without pics. Sorry. He didn't send any.
  12. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    French contra-bassoon reeds have apparently always been significantly larger than German ones, at least from the instrumental histories that I've bought and read.

    French contra-bassoons, like sarrusophones, tend to sound "sloppy" or "spitty" (depending on your outlook on life). Not a bad tone, but not nearly refined as German Heckel system instruments, which in turn are less refined than German Heckel system regular bassoons.

    Washington University ("of St. Louis", as it is always referred to in the nationwide sports scores) has (or had, back in the 1970's when I played in the musical stuff there) an old Heckel system "straight" contra-bassoon. Other than feeling like a log in your hands (and having musty reeds that had probably been in the case for forty years or more), it played pretty well.

    I only played it for one concert, this being Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Other than the exposed fast stuff in the last movement, I managed just fine, and I got enough of those page spanning arpeggios to do the part justice. The reeds, aged as they were, were a bear to adjust, and I never really got the thing to respond like I would have liked.

    (I almost forgot: the old style, "clapper" keywork that made up most of the stuff on the long joint was as noisy as a vaudeville slap-stick when it was placed into operation. But other than that it was okay.)

    Philistine that I am. I have never played a note on a modern contra. Contra players are somewhat over protective of their horns, and I don't blame them. I have fingered around on one, and having done so I would prefer the keywork on the straight horn to that of the modern, "paper clip" design. Things felt like they were located where they should be (from a bassoon player's perspective)
  13. bpimentel

    bpimentel Broadway Doubler List Owner Distinguished Member

    I take it back--apparently there are actually rare contras with low A-flat. This according to William Waterhouse, one of the leading bassoonists and bassoon scholars of the 20th century (passed away last year), in the New Grove Dictionary of Music. It would be hard to find a more definitive source. The link is here but requires a subscription (which I get through my university). Bernd Moosman has made at least one low A-flat contra; I don't know who else (if anyone) has.

    There you have it.
  14. Carl H.

    Carl H. Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    While technically your correction is correct, that would be similar to saying alto saxophones go to low A because Selmer made a few that do so. I don't think we woodwind players want these rare instruments to be considered the norm when scoring. I would hate to have to go out and buy a low A alto just to keep gigging.
  15. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    So, everyone can be right? Yay!

    FWIW, I've seen more than one baritone sax part that went down to low F. Some transcriptionists aren't all that careful ....

    I actually posted about WW passing away. His updated version of the New Langwill Index is required browsing for any sax researcher.
  16. Sarrusophone

    I just found this interesting discussion about the sarrusophone and thought I might have a few things to say on the subject. I should probably give a geed description of my experience. I am by profession a professional bassoonist. However nowadays I mostly play contra, which I absolutely love and wish I had my own. When I was an undergrad the school did not possess a contra, but low and behold we had a sarrusophone. So for my 4 years of undergrad I studies and taught myself the sarrusophone. We had an old silver plated Conn ([HASHTAG]#V146[/HASHTAG]). It was in decent condition seeing as how no one had played it except for more than a toot in well over 40 years. As for the sound, yes it can be made to sound like a contrabassoon, it takes some work though. Of course the object though is to make it sound like a sarrusophone which by definition has a harsh edge to it. I had a single reed mouthpiece that I used for a semester or two before finding a place to get reeds from. I now have 3 reeds for it, all from different sources and all completely different. I wish I could comment on the sound of these, but I've never tried 2 of them on the instrument. Technically it is very cumbersome and could do with some modern updates. I have a picture and an article somewhere about Epplesheim's sarrusophone which looks fantastic. I didn't get to use the instrument often, only when there was a dire need for a contrabassoon part (try doing Beethoven 5 on a Sarrus - not fun!). I had a few friend write works for it, as I did myself being a composition major, but I unfortunately have only seen the instrument once since I left the school 4 years ago. That is not to say I couldn't get my hands on it again and I wish I did when I played the Sorcerer's Apprentice last year, that would have been something. Anyway, I seem to have rembled on a bit, if any one has any questions on the instrument let me know.
    Bret Newton
  17. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Admin and all around good guy. Staff Member Administrator

    QuinnTheEskimo, aka Matt, was showing us a beautiful Sarrusophone. It looked to be in perfect condition and was fun to listen to. Helen put some pictures on her blog of that and a Rothophone that we tried. We actually went there to try the Buescher bass sax to low G which has somehow found it's way into my living room again.
  18. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Jim, you have a very understanding wife. Even if you didn't buy ANOTHER bass.
  19. Heckelphone

    Heckelphone Double Reed CE Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Sarrusophones & CBsns

    I would put the current market price for Eb contra sarrusophones at more like US$2-4.5K, on the average. With a little fixing up, the horn can be a very useful instrument.

    My hunch is that it would be hard to sneak into a professional orchestra as a contrabassoon, but certainly it can be used in community bands and orchestras. Actually, the late musician that owned my bass and contra sarrusophones had an Eb contra painted black, which he snuck into orchestras in the LA area. (He played, variously, bassoon, contrabassoon, tuba, trombone, and a number of saxes and clarinets). Personally, I've used it in the SJWS as a contrabassoon substitute, and with a jazz ensemble for bari sax solos. Would also work in saxophone choirs. Having played both contrabassoon (after playing bassoon for several years) and sarrusophones, I have to say that the sarrusophone is easier to learn and master. Also easier to project.

    Hunch #2 is that there are probably more sarrusophones lurking around Paris than anywhere else, and if you check frequently with the antique dealers to specialize in old wind instruments, you'll find one at a reasonable price before too long.

    Final point (OK, for this post at least): contra sarrusophones come in at least two different bore profiles. The Buffet style (which Conn copied) has a comparatively narrower bore, and "brighter" timbre, whereas the Gautrot style is somewhat more open, with a "rounder" or fuller timbre. I find that the Gautrot rattles well in the bottom register, and sings like a cello in the upper register. I used to practice the horn while waiting for daughters to finish their sax lessons, and have had people knock on the door to compliment my "cello" playing, only to be flabbergasted at the horn I was playing :emoji_relaxed:.


  20. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    It might not be on this thread -- I haven't looked hard enough -- but I've seen an Evette-Schaeffer engraved Sarrusophone that looked exactly like a Conn 16V ... and had a Conn serial number. I have pictures someplace, I think. So, if you've only seen a couple Buffets, you might have actually seen a couple of Conns in Buffet clothing, rather than vice-versa.

    This actually happened both ways, in the sax world: I've seen an E&S that was a Conn stencil and I've seen a Conn that was an E&S stencil.

    Someone mentioned someplace that this was a "common" practice to get around import/export duties.

    In any event, I believe Evette & Schaeffer did sell Sarrusophones of their own design, but I've not gone out of my way to investigate. As E&S was one of the manufacturers to offer an entire line of instruments, I don't doubt that they had their own Sarrusophones to go along with this.

    (I still want to confirm or deny the report that Buescher sold Rothophones.)

    My pricing was based on the very few sales I've seen of contra Sarrusophones. You may be more accurate if you have a larger sample size. I think mine was three or four :).
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