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Russian Saxophones (long article)


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
I was again looking for something completely different and came across this. It was originally a post in Russian, which I can't read. I ran it through Google translate and then transliterated it into English.

Source linky. Pics are farther down on that thread.

Here is a compilation of some of the research I've been able to find on Soviet/Russian saxophones. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find out much.

Interviews with the most knowledgeable professionals found that most domestic saxophones production was centered in Leningrad and Moscow. Most horns produced there were good quality, primarily because the tooling was copied from or "made under license by" Conn. Moscow-produced horns were made at the "Fifth Anniversary of the October Revolution" (or "First Five") factory. The Leningrad-produced horns were made at a former Zimmerman factory.

The best-made Leningrad-produced horns were stamped "Zimmerman." Unfortunately, I have been unable to find anyone that owns any of these horns and there is no mention of even the "Zimmerman" engraving on the Internet. However, three experienced Russian master makers, AV Dedov, OA Rumyantsev and ME Shneerov have confirmed the existence of the Zimmerman horns and have attested to their playability.

The first saxophones made after the musical-production plants were nationalized by the Soviet Union weren't all that bad. Again, most of these were Conn copies, but with a hammer and sickle and other engraving in place of Conn's. There were probably a maximum of a thousand of these horns produced. But, as they were direct copies of Conns, they played quite well.

The Moscow-produced horns were produced at a factory originally owned by the capitalist, Zimmerman. However, after the Soviet revolution, this factory produced primarily Gramaphone records. (It appears that Gramaphone records and musical instruments were assigned to the same department in Soviet Russia.) In 1930, this plant burnt down and I've been unable to find any reliable records. However, the two thousand or so saxophones that were produced were also of high quality. (Again, this information may not be accurate, as all the people I talked with that had horns produced at this factory had three-digit serial numbers.)

During my search, I repeatedly found information that said that there was a federal ban in the 1920s and 1930s on the performance and recording of syncopated music, in general, and saxophone music, in particular. While these restrictions might seem foolish to us, today, these restrictions were why there were so few saxophones produced in Russia before WWII. Laugh if you want, but this is where the saying, "Playing the saxophone is one step from the knife," came from.

One of the things I found in doing research was that, while the conductors and staff of various orchestras may have had or supported some saxophone groups, at the same time they destroyed the instruments, themselves. Saxophones were considered a "symbol of decadent capitalism" in the eyes of authorities. It was an idealogical crime -- crime against the working class and Socalist ideology. As late as the 1970s and 1980s, if someone had a sax they needed to sell it as "an inheritance."

Apparently quite a lot of saxophones were crushed in presses. Horrors ....

The master saxophone makers of Leningrad and Moscow said that the horns they produced after the Soviet revolution were still based on the Conn "prototypes" and had uncomfortable ergonomics and intonation problems that were more pronounced than the Conns they were copying. Saxophone production couldn't compare with foreign production. All interviewed experts agree that the "Zimmerman" stamped horns were the best saxophones produced throughout the Soviet era.

Again, I could not find any reliable informationed that the design was licensed from Conn or was just a copy. Obviously, the horns look like Conns, but appearance doesn't necessarily prove that they were made with Conn tooling. In the early 20th century, the world was guided by the then-leader in saxophone production, the US and Conn led US production, very much like modern instruments are now heavily influenced by French instruments, particularly Selmer.

One person I interviewed said that the tooling quality did not change, but there's an obvious decline in quality when production shifted from nickel-plated instruments to silver-plated ones. As it's very unlikely that the decline in quality was solely due to a change in plating material, it's more probable that the decline in quality was caused by changes in technology that the Russian manufacturers did not have access to and that technology had a critical impact on the quality of the instruments' tone.

Two of the veteran saxophonists I questioned were A.S. Kozlovu and G.L. Golshteynu. They both had flattering opinions of saxophones throughout the Soviet era, but they have retired from playing and haven't played any modern saxophones. Holstein said that he had a framed picture of the "hammer-and-sickle in a pentagon" engraving presented to him a few years ago as a symbol of old Soviet jazz and the saxophones he used to play and it's hanging in his house.

I've talked with officials at the former Leningrad plant. One of the senior members, Mrs. I. Agadzhanova, graciously agreed to take pictures of the saxophones that are in the company museum. The pictures, including the original advertisements, are attached below. (A funny thing is that the alto and tenor descriptions are reversed in the ads.)

Talking with people that worked at the former Leningrad plant, they confirmed that the horns mostly sold in Europe. The main advantage was the exceptionally low price. Chinese instruments were a direct competitor, but the quality of the Russian instruments was higher.

On the other hand, for example, the Chinese baritone saxophones aren't really cheap. This is despite the fact that the production cost is about the same as it is for alto and tenor. Apparently, the metal prices in Russia are much lower. Because of this, it's fairly clear why body tubes for baritone saxophones and lower are more popular.*

I forgot to mention that all experts have confirmed that the saxophones produced in the last few years of Soviet rule should be used as ashtrays.
* Note: Google Translate essentially puked on translating this paragraph. I'm relatively sure that I've got the transliteration right, but the problem with the poster's statement is that there aren't a bunch of Russian baritones out there. I suppose it's possible that Chinese baris and basses are using Russian-made body tubes, tho.


I encourage you to:
* Take a look at some other Russian sax pics over at Helen's website.
* Go to my website for some pics of Julius Heinrich Zimmerman horns.
* http://sovietsaxophones.zxq.net. They have a lot of text in English and do have pics of the "Conn" saxes.
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There was a huge former Soviet Union Aliah here and some instruments were brought, but I've only see na couple of Russian saxophones. I have seen a bunch of clarinets though (I guess much easier to bring on a plane). I have one and it is so lousy that the only nice thing that was possible to do with it is this...

It's essentially an interesting historical footnote: "How many Russian saxophone manufacturers were there? Two."
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