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Bass Sax History (Bass Sax Coop)


Admin and all around good guy.
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From Bert Brandsma the Bass Sax Coop:

The first bass saxophones were all build by Adolphe Sax and his company. Simply because they had the patent. As long as that was working, (Till 1865) no other company was allowed to make saxophones.

The first other companies that started making saxes were : Fr. Millereau (1866) Buffet-Crampon (1868). I doubt however that they made bass saxes then.

To invent something, the inventor has to see a problem first, then try to find a solution. This is what Adolphe Sax himself said:

(Translated (by me) from a translation in German of the original patent request dating 1846 )

"We know, that the wind instruments generally are too raw or too blunt in their sound, especially in the low register we can feel this problem very much. For instance, the Ophicleide, that helps the trombones, produces such an annoying sound, that we are forced to bann it from the concert hall, since it is impossible to change/control the sound.

The Fagot however has such a week tone, that it is only possible to use as accompany instrument or to add a certain fullness, however for special forte-effects in the orchestra it is totally useless. However we should realise that the fagot is the only instrument that blends well with the strings.

Only brasswinds have a freedom effect in open air concerts; .... everybody knows that strings are useless in outside situations, because of their week sound. Their use under these conditions is impossible.

Surprised by these insufficiencies I tried to find a solution, to create a musical instrument, that in it's character of it's voice is close to the strings, but has more power and intensity". (End quote and translation)

We should always keep in mind that Adolphe's father was making musical instruments, especialy for the military music in Belgium. Adolphe studied all the woodwinds besides working in his father's factory. He developped into a very good clarinet player. One of his first steps in the same direction to solve the problem young Adolphe saw was to improve the bass clarinet. (1838).

There is a myth that the first saxophone was simply an Ophicleide with bass clarinet mouthpiece, but if this actually true can be doubted. Some people have drawn that conclusion by a writing from Hector Berlioz dating March 1842 who describes the instrument that way. It is very unlikely however that Berlioz had seen or heard the instrument at that time in person. He had heard other people's raving comments and felt the same problems as Sax did. He didn't know the name of the instrument yet.

That was written before actually in June 1842 Adolphe Sax introduced the Bass Saxophone in Paris in a private concert for a select audience. (He had developped it in the years before in Brussels, Belgium)

What helped these rumours is the fact that the first public perfomance was given behind closed curtains. The patent was not fully in order then.

The first saxophones were bass saxophones, in shape closer to the American longwrap idea than to the later French styled model. (By French I mean the form used by Selmer).

The first public concert was in 1844, Adolphe Sax playing bass sax in : Hymne Sacre, a sextet composed by Berlioz.

Also in 1844, the first use of saxophone in orchestra : bass saxophone in the Opera : Le Dernier Roi De Juda, by Georg Kastner.

Very soon then, the entire saxophone family was developed, 1844-1846 and allready in these early stages the alto saxophone proved to be the most succesfull model, although Sax first problem encounter was directed to the lower register. In 1844 Sax himself mentioned a quartet of soprano, tenor, bass and contrabass saxophones.

In 1846 the full patent request for the saxophone family was done.

What was very important that allready in 1845 Sax succeeded in convincing the French Military music that with saxophones instead of Ophicleides the military bands sounded much better, so in very short time the saxophones were introduced in the professional military orchestras and in 1846 the first saxophone classes allready started to teach the military musicians. This was only in France, by the way, although allready in 1846 he spoke with people in Germany to do the same in the bands there. However there were people in that country strongly against him then.

In 1857 Sax started teaching saxophone at the Paris conservatory.

So the first practical use in a regular basis was made in military music. It is doubtfull however, if they actually used bass saxes then.

In 1858 Sax also started a publicing company, mainly to issue music for his instruments.

Most of the issued music was written for Alto saxophone, like Caprice et Variation by J. Arban, Solo by L.Chic and Fantaisie Brilliante by L.A. Mayeur.

However there are some Quartets, Quintets and a Sextett from that time , that might have included bass saxophone.

A major setback for Sax and the saxophones came in 1870, when Napoleon the third lost the battle of Sedan.

The French army was defeated and as a consequence the military music also declined. Sax lost his job at the Paris Conservatory.

So in fact hereafter a bad period for Sax himself started,but also for the saxophone.

For him personally it was a loss as well that other companies were allowed to make saxophones, alhough this might have had positive effects in the larger picture.

Slowly other countries started introducing saxophones to their military orchestras, since it was generally believed that his ideas had been right.

The best period for saxophones in general, but certainly for the bass sax was in the 1920's.

At that time it was very hard to record double bass or tuba. The tuba made the needle to jump on the record and bass was too soft. Electronic help was not develloped then. The bass sax proved to be a perfect solution, because of its rich overtone spectrum. The bass tone itself was not too loud, but you certainly had a bass effect. Although, even on a tenor trombone without extras you allready can play lower actually, bass sax simply did the task better, when played well.

Saxophones were considered modern and interesting anyway then.

So you see, what a visionary Sax was!

The big decline came of course in 1929, when the depression came. Then there was almost no demand for bass saxophones. Record sales dropped immensely and recording equipment improved. It was now possible to record double bass, no problem, and with the upcoming of swing music with a steady four to the beat, a bass instrument that didn't need to interrupt the flow of the line to breath, was more usefull.

Even Adrian Rollini switched to vibraphone then.

In the USA even the soprano sax was not produced anymore.

I hope this a bit of help.

Kind regards,

Bert Brandsma


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
As an offhand comment, I think the above confuses the bass and contrabass sax a couple of times.

As an additional comment, the Great Depression may have slowed saxophone production, but it really didn't affect how many US companies produced basses: there were two companies in the US that produced basses before the Depression and two companies afterward: Conn and Buescher. While it's possible that HN White developed at least a prototype bass, all other US examples (Holton, Martin, HN White) are stencils from Conn or Buescher.

However, it is true that the "new" US basses were produced until approximately the start of WWII. After WWII, all US-basses sold were based on older tooling -- in other words, if you wanted a new Buescher bass in 1960, it'd look almost exactly like a 1928 True Tone.

(FWIW, post-1929 basses were pretty decent: the Conn Artist 14M, for instance, springs to mind.)

Now, as far as European makes are concerned, I think that not more than about a dozen companies produced basses: Selmer, Beaugnier, WA Stowachesser, Kohlert, Orsi, Evette-Schaeffer (Buffet), Pelisson, Gras, Keilwerth -- and possibly Couesnon and Rampone -- in addition to A. Sax. However, I think Selmer started producing basses AFTER the Great Depression (i.e. Selmer Super Series and newer) and I'm fairly sure that Keilwerth only produced a few special-order instruments after WWII. I'm pretty positive Buffet's last bass came before WWII.

In other words, I'd attribute the loss of bass manufacturers/manufacturing to be more of a product of WWII or that they're just too darn expensive to make with too little demand.

Additionally, playing a vintage bass is difficult: they have VERY fussy intonation and they're a pain to lug around. And a bari is almost as good. New basses are much better in the intonation department, particularly the Epplelsheim instruments.


The article, above, doesn't mention that there were both C and Bb basses and that both were produced by a few companies. The C basses are hard to find.

Dave Dolson

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
Just a side comment about the decline of the bass saxophone . . . I was watching a football game on TV this season and one shot showed the Stanford marching band in the stands. One guy had a gleaming silver bass saxophone on a harness! I loved it. It looked like one of the originals (Buescher/Conn) in design. The bass sax lives! DAVE


Artist in residence
Distinguished Member
There are plenty of bass saxophones in the string bands that march in the Mummers parade in Philly on new years day. String bands use woodwind instruments (saxophones) and string instruments (banjos). No brass instruments allowed. So the bottom is supplied by bass and baritone saxophones, and upright basses played in some kind of harness. My friend Ron Bass has plenty of mummers basses in his shop at Sam Ash Cherry Hill starting in the fall, getting them ready for new years.
The bass saxophone is alive and well in the mummers culture.



Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
... and, to add on, I watched, off-and-on, Ken Burns Jazz on PBS when I was recently in Buffalo. A LOT of big bands had bass saxophones.


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I played the college's bass saxophone in the marching band at Dartmouth College from 1966-1969. I went back on alumni band day about 20 years ago and played the same horn.
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