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Who made the first Front F Key?


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I didn't know which heading to use for this question, so feel free to move it if there is a better heading or category.

I'm trying to do some research on the history of the saxophone front High F key to help a friend who is thinking about patenting an improved version of the key. Can anyone tell me when it first appeared and on what makes and models, and who, if anyone, invented it or patented the idea. Any help will be appreciated. Thanks.



Old King Log
Staff member
One of my favorite topics...

It's not something that I've ever worried about (front F keys, that is - I've used mine maybe once or twice a year tops), but there is a pretty easy way to find out. Hie yourself (or his self) down to the local USPTO depository library (located in any large city - visit their website for a list of them), run a category search on woodwind instrument key systems on Cassus (or whatever classification search system they use these days), and you will get a listing of each and every key system patent obtained through the United States patent system since they started assigning numbers to them back in the early 1800's.

(You may even be able to limit it to saxophones - it's been a few years since I've had to run a patent search.)

You will get access to the patent applications and claims, at least the main drawing for each patent, and the applicant's name and address (not that the latter will do you much good these days.) And, you can order complete copies of all of the patents in the system (at so much per page - little is free with the government these days).

The online system (available through www.uspto.gov/#) allows you to search for stuff by number (and it may allow classification search). But, it won't cost you anything to try.

While it may not pinpoint the actual invention date (since it may be a French invention, and the date of application in France may be different), it will get you within one or two years.

However, if your friend is going to be aiming at a patent, he's going to have to have a search done in any event. A search consists of examining all patents that have already been granted that use the technology shown in your invention, and then being able to describe how your idea is novel and is more than derivative of the prior art. (It has to be "non-obvious", although this is often a subjective call on the part of the examiner - sometimes you get off easy, sometimes you don't.)

You can "do it yourself", as long as you have access to a depository (or to the Patent and Trademark Office, located across the Potomac from Washington DC in Crystal City VA), and the patience to cypher it all out and write it all up.

(If you search at Crystal City, you actually get to thumb through the original applications. During my one visit there, I not only got to thumb through my application - I also encountered ones by J.E.B. Stuart, John Eads Dr. John Goreé (the inventor of mechanical refrigeration, the reason for my visit) and two or three filed by Edison's patent law firm. History in the raw, original documents, if you will.)

I did my application back in the early 1980's, and got my patent (4,796,507) with only one "office action" (follow up response on my part). I bought my first computer to do the write up on the application and the claims, and had I not been so enabled, it never would have happened.

The amount of writing and rewriting involved was prodigious. I rewrote my claims (the hard part) about fifteen or twenty times, all told, before submitting them the first time. Very painstaking work, and those who want to experience some of the frustration that I did can attempt to describe (without drawings or using your hands, just in words) exactly what a helix is. (Check my application and claims out on line, and you'll see the trick you need to know should the problem ever confront you.)

(My office action required me to account for prior art that neither I nor the best patent attorney in the books would have seen coming. I had to argue around an insulation wrapping system for the Alaskan Pipeline, something my examiner (a rather nice guy named Ben Buller - I've talked with him a number of times) must have passed on prior to my application, so far removed from woodwind instrument ligatures as it was.)

Most pay someone to do it for them. You take your idea to a patent attorney, line it out for him (under a non-disclosure agreement), and he does the search of the prior art, writes the application and the claims, and contracts for the drawings (essential for almost every patent, and done to very exacting mechanical drawing standards). Then, you come in and sign it and it gets sent off for the examiner's consideration.

Warning: it ain't cheap. Most people drop out at this point, since the costs may far exceed the potential returns (particularly on something in a conservative field like musical instrument keywork - if Rosario Mazzeo was still around, you could ask him about that).

With my ligature, I've recovered my costs and made perhaps $500 - $600 a year since 1982 all told. Had I gone the patent attorney route, I would have given it up at the start. (My patent is long expired, by the way...)

An excellent book on the whole process is available from Nolo Press: Patent It Yourself, by patent attorney David Pressman. It's in its thirteen edition, and can be found on Nolo Press's website at http://www.nolo.com/product.cfm/objectID/139AEDE9-69A0-4810-A7A87D2AD5422664/update/1/310/ . It is written in lay, non-technical terms, and runs through some excellent examples to show you how the whole process operates.

(Incidentally, it talks about having all of the forms necessary in the book blurb, but this is a bit of a misnomer. Unless things have changed a lot in the last ten years, the USPTO does not really have any forms for external use; you do it all with your own typewriter on plain paper.)
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The earliest "Front F key mechanisms" I've seen were on European saxophones made just after the turn of the century. I think there are photos floating around the net of a Front F key mechanism on an Adolphe Sax (Fils) saxophone before the name was sold to Selmer.

The earliest front F mechanism I've seen opens both the high F kay and the high E key. I've often wondered if it was intended to make the whole step jump from high Eb to high F (above the staff) easier, not to facilitate altissimo.


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Thanks Terry for that useful information. I hope your patent application didn't take you as long to write as your post. :)

My question would be how broad the "prior art" coverage would need to be for a modification to that one very specific key on the saxophone which is what my friend has done.



Old King Log
Staff member
More patent stuff than you would ever want to see...

First off, I made a mistake in the URL for the actual Patent and Trademark Office. The correct URL is www.uspto.gov/# . I've corrected this in the original posting as well.

(The other one that I ginned up on my own without looking leads to a for-profit site that looks like the government one, but is really a portal to a whole series of private money makers. Getting a patent costs enough by itself without having one of these vultures suck you dry as well.)

The answer to that is that the prior art for almost anything is quite wide indeed. For example, if someone else had similarly modified his front F key, and if this modification was "widely known" (usually, this implies publication, but with modern developments publication has acquired a whole different meaning - think a photo on a web site of the performer playing), then it becomes a race to the patent office and the first one through the gates wins (usually).

(Hereafter, I'll use "your" instead of "your friend's" - it's a lot easier to keep things sorted out, grammar-wise.)

There are many, many examples of this process, the most famous of which was the Alexander Graham Bell "invention" of the telephone. Someone else came up with it first, but Bell beat him by a half hour or so in getting his application filed (physically, at the actual front desk of the PTO). Much litigation ensued, but Bell remained the winner and that was that. (He did not make any subsequent improvements to the device, from what I have read over the years - in itself a good indication that something fishy was going on with "his" invention.

So, how do you search the "prior art" for something like a high F key? The answer lies in that book I referred to above. There are two (or more) chapters on prior art, and searching for it. It can be fascinating (at least I found it so) or frustrating, depending on your tolerance for reading. But, it has to be done in the PTO files at the very least. Fortunately, much of it can be done on line these days - when I got my patent, there was no "internets" upon which to do this. (Gawd but I'm an old fart..._

The files of the Patent and Trademark Office are the primary source, of course. But, it could be that your idea has already been patented in Europe or Japan or elsewhere. That's prior art, and it's enough to scuttle your application.

There's also publication. If the novel idea has been published, I believe that it starts a one year clock, during which time an application can still be filed and be patented. In that case, it's still a race to the patent office, only you need to argue (through your records) that you thought of it first. This is not the best route to take, since someone may beat you to the punch.

There's also "discovery" (at least I think that it is the term - it's been a few years). This is a notice that you file with the PTO, often nothing more than a one page summary of your idea (with a sketch if needed), witnessed by one other party. This "freezes" your intent to patent the invention, and gives you a "priority" for the originality of the concept. You still have to do the search, write the application, and perfect the claims.

There's one other thing that I have yet to mention. In addition to "regular patents", there are also "design patents". It may be that the improved high F key would not pass the "novelty" test, but it may well pass the much less stringent test for a design patent, which allows the inventor to protect appearance. Design patents are taken on automobile body designs, toaster designs - anything where physical appearance is primary. It is relatively easy to get a design patent, and it may be the only route open if you cannot prove the novelty that a slightly different arrangement may offer.

One last thing - your "invention" cannot be "obvious", that is to say something that anyone familiar with the prior art would automatically be able to derive. This is a fine point, and the examiners are not quick to jump to it. But, it is a hurdle that has to be overcome.

Here's the text portion of my patent; the formatting is not as good as the original:


United States Patent 4,796,507
Stibal January 10, 1989
Reed holding device

A reed holding device for single-reed woodwind musical instruments constructed of a strip of knitted or woven material having a plurality of pile loops on one of its surfaces, and a plurality of hooks formed by cutting loops on the opposite surface. The strip is wound around the mouthpiece and reed of the musical instrument in a helical fashion with the surface having the uncut loops placed against the surface of the mouthpiece and reed. The free ends of the strip are secured in place by pressing the pile loops on the one surface into the formed hooks on the other surface on the wrapping placed immediately above or below.

Inventors: Stibal; Terry L. (Belleville, IL)
Appl. No.: 06/823,347
Filed: January 28, 1986
Current U.S. Class: 84/383A ; 984/142
Current International Class: G10D 9/00 (20060101); G10D 9/02 (20060101); G10D 009/02 ()
Field of Search: 84/318,383B 248/205.2 24/442-450
References Cited [Referenced By]
U.S. Patent Documents
555561 March 1896 Cadwallader
1496535 June 1924 Hammann
2292584 August 1942 Tafarella
3941159 March 1976 Toll
4056997 November 1977 Rovner
4185535 January 1980 Lorenzini

Primary Examiner: Buller; Benjamin R.


I claim:

1. A holding device for a reed placed against a surface of a mouthpiece of a single-reed musical instrument, said device comprising a single unitary continuous strip material, having a base comprised of first and second surfaces, having attached to said first surface a plurality of loops made of flexible resilient material, and having attached to said second surface a plurality of hooks made of flexible resilient material, said strip material being wound around said mouthpiece and said reed in a helical fashion with said first surface placed against said mouthpiece and said reed, ends of said strip material secured in place by engaging said loops on said first surface into the surface of said hooks by winding of said strip material around said mouthpiece and said reed, said strip material exerting holding pressure against said reed.

2. A holding device for a reed placed against a surface of a mouthpiece of a single-reed woodwind musical instrument according to claim 1 wherein said holding pressure applied to said reed is regulated by the tension applied to said strip material when wound around said mouthpiece and said reed.

3. A holding device for a reed placed against a surface of a mouthpiece of a single-reed woodwind musical instrument according to claim 1 wherein said holding pressure applied to said reed can be varied by sliding said device up and down said mouthpiece and said reed.



This invention relates to single-reed woodwind musical instruments and specifically to an improved means of attachment of a single beating reed to the mouthpiece table of such instruments.

Heretofore, single-reed woodwind musical instruments, such as those of the clarinet and saxophone families, utilized one of two varieties of reed holding devices (commonly called ligatures) to secure the single beating reed that acts as the sound generator to the reed attachment area, or table, of the instrument mouthpiece. From the inception of the single-reed mouthpiece, a wrapping of waxed string, twine or cord around both the mouthpiece and the reed has been used, at first from the want of better means. Even today, this method is preferred in Germany and some other European nations. It is generally agreed upon by those familiar with these families of instruments that the use of string, twine or cord affords a greater degree of flexibility to the reed which in turn allows the instrument to produce a superior tone that is more responsive to the manipulation of the player. However, the musical qualities of a string, twine-, or cord-wrapped reed and mouthpiece combination are more than outweighed by the cumbersome and time-consuming process of winding and unwinding the string, twine or cord when it becomes necessary to rapidly change and/or adjust the reed during the course of a performance. In order to overcome this disadvantage, the second variety of reed holding device was developed, starting with the invention of the twin-screw metal band reed holding device by the great clarinet virtuoso Ivan Mueller at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Since that time, such reed holding devices have generally replaced the use of string, twine or cord throughout most of the world. This type of reed holding device, whether of metal, plastic or of other materials, affords the player of a single-reed windwind musical instrument a means of securing the reed to the mouthpiece that allows rapid removal and replacement. However, such convenience of adjustment carries with it the loss of the flexible response allowed by the use of string, twine or cord. This is due to the rigid formed materials used in these devices which tend to restrict the free vibration of the reed. In addition, such rigid formed devices present the additional disadvantage of a lack of adaptability to all of the sizes and varieties of single-reed mouthpieces in use for a given type of instrument. Mouthpieces for all single-reed woodwind musical instruments come in a variety of lengths, diameters and tapers. For example, the degree of taper can vary from virtually no taper at all, as is seen in some metal saxophone mouthpieces, to a high degree of taper, such as seen in certain hard rubber mouthpieces made for the same instruments. Finally, the reed holding devices of this type are relatively complex and correspondingly harder to fabricate compared with one composed of string, twine or cord.

Although several attempts have been made in the prior art to combine the features of the above types of reed holding devices, no adequate solution to the problem of even distribution of a flexible holding force (such as that provided by string, twine or cord) over the length of the reed of a single-reed woodwind mouthpiece without the corresponding disadvantages of application of the multiple wrappings of string, twine or cord has yet been proposed. In addition, all of the attempts in the prior art have been incapable of being applied to all of the various geometries of mouthpieces available for a given type of instrument. For example, Lorenzini U.S. Pat. No. 4,185,535 shows the use of spaced string restraints combined with either tapered or straight rigid brackets. This embodiment applies tension to the restraints at only two locations, and must be procured in a configuration matching that of the mouthpiece in order to allow proper use. The provision of a fixed holding means for the string restraints does not allow the restraints to freely conform to any irregularities presented by the contours of the reed and tends to leave one or more of the various sections of the string not in proper contact with the bark of the reed. The Rovner U.S. Pat. No. 4,056,997 utilizes a strip of rubber-impregnated fabric adjusted by a single thumbscrew. It can be seen that the use of an elastic medium such as rubber-impregnated fabric does not duplicate the even holding characteristics of a ligature made of a continuous wrapping of string, twine or cord. Furthermore, the embodiment shown does not apply tension evenly throughout the entire strip when used on all geometries of mouthpiece and reed combinations due to the fixed configuration of the fabric strip combined with the limited adjustment range of the single thumbscrew provided. The Tafarella U.S. Pat. No. 2,292,584 approaches the problem by another means, utilizing a rigid collar of plastic material provided with strips of felt which isolate the device from contact with the mouthpiece. However, this embodiment does not restrain the reed with string-like means since it employs a slide of plastic material bearing against the rigid collar to locate and secure the reed in place. Also, the variations of taper between individual geometries of mouthpieces available for a given type of instrument combined with the limited adjustment range provided by this embodiment require a specific version for each style of mouthpiece available for a given type of instrument. The Cadwallader U.S. Pat. No. 555,561 employs a continuously-wrapped quantity of cord wound between two metal loops adjusted by a single thumbscrew. Although the cord provides a flexible holding medium, the friction between the wrappings prevents the cord from evenly distributing the pressure applied by the single thumbscrew over the bark of the reed. In addition, the limited adjustment range provided by this embodiment would require a specific version for each style of mouthpiece available for a given type of instrument.

None of the items in the prior art describe a reed holding device which provides the even application of pressure to the back of the single-beating reed that affords the freedom of response as that applied by a continuous wrapping of string, twine or cord while at the same time allowing the ease of application, removal and adjustment afforded by the various types of Mueller-derived metal or plastic screw adjustable ligatures.

These and various other problems were not satisfactorily resolved until the emergence of the instant invention.


In accordance with the present invention, there is provided a reed holding device for single-reed woodwind instruments. The present invention further provides a readily adaptable reed holding device that allows the freedom of response afforded by string, twine or cord without the extreme inconvenience of application, removal and adjustment provided by such reed holding devices.

Further objects and advantages of my invention will become apparent from a consideration of the drawings and ensuing description thereof.


FIG. 1 is a perspective view showing a portion of the reed holding device.

FIG. 2 is a perspective view showing the reed holding device in place on the mouthpiece of a clarinet.

FIG. 3 is a side view showing the reed holding device in place on the mouthpiece of a clarinet.

FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional view along lines 4--4 of FIG. 3.


As shown in FIG. #1 of the drawings, the holding device 1 includes a base 2 of a relatively non-elastic flexible substance such as woven cloth, metal mesh or other suitable material having first and second surfaces 3 and 5. Attached to said first and second surfaces 3 and 5 are a plurality of closely spaced interengageable hooking elements, where said first surface 3 is provided with hooking elements comprising loops of flexible resilient material 4 secured thereto in positions generally extending vertically from said first surface and where said second surface 5 is provided with hooking elements comprising hooks made of flexible resilient material 6 secured thereto in positions generally extending vertically from said second surface. The physical dimensions of said base 2 may be varied dependent on the specific type of instrument to which said holding device 1 is to be applied. It has been found that one specific length and width of said holding device 1 will fit all variations of diameter, taper and length of the various styles of mouthpiece available for each given type of instrument. For example, all versions of soprano clarinet mouthpieces commonly encountered on the commercial market can utilize a length of base 2 of 223/8 inches with a width of 3/16 inch.

FIG. #2 shows said holding device 1 applied to a single-reed musical instrument mouthpiece 7 and reed 9 of the conventional type used with clarinets, saxophones or the like. Said holding device 1, of a length and width suitable for the mouthpiece at hand, is wound around said mouthpiece 7 and said reed 9 in a helical fashion with said first surface 3 placed against the outer surface 8 of said mouthpiece 7 and against the reed 9. The ends 10 and 11 of said holding device 1 are secured in place by pressing said ends 10 and 11 against the surface 12 formed by the helical windings of said holding device 1, thus engaging said loop elements 4 attached to said first surface 3 into said hook elements 6 attached to said second surface 5. Once so configured, the combination of said mouthpiece 7 and said reed 9 surrounded by the windings of said holding device 1 places said loop elements 4 in compression, thereby exerting holding pressure against said reed 9.

It can be seen that once said holding device 1 is so configured, an adjustment of the degree of holding pressure applied to the reed by said holding device 1 may be obtained in two ways. The most direct of these two methods is performed by lifting either of said ends (10 or 11) from said surface 12, slightly increasing or decreasing the tension on the detached end, and then again pressing said lifted end (10 or 11) onto said surface 12. The resultant change of tension in said base 2 causes either an increase or decrease in the degree of compression of said loops of flexible resilient material 4, thereby increasing or decreasing the amount of holding pressure exerted against said reed 9. An alternate method of varying the degree of amount of holding pressure exerted by said holding device 1 is provided by sliding said holding device 1 up or down the tapered mouthpiece main body section 13.

It is noted by an inspection of FIGS. #3 and #4, that said reed 9 is secured in place by the holding pressure of said loop elements 4 attached to said first surface 3 of said holding device 1. This holding pressure, plus the unconnected circumferential wrappings of said holding device 1 that lay across the back of said reed 9, allow free vibration throughout its entire length in a similar fashion to the traditional string ligature, while still allowing rapid removal, replacement and adjustment of the reed. This is permitted since the configuration of said holding device 1 is retained when said holding device 1 is slid off of the mouthpiece due to the overlap of said ends 10 and 11 over said surface 12 presented by the successive wrappings of said holding device 1.

The invention may be embodied in other specific forms without departing from the spirit of essential characteristics thereof. The present embodiments are, therefore, to be considered in all aspects as illustrative and not restrictive. The scope of the invention being indicated by the appended claims rather than the foregoing description and all changes which come within the meaning and range of equivalency of the claims are, therefore, intended to be embraced therein.


I have put in bold type the critical claims section - this is the actual patent "meat", if you will. You'll note that it's wordy and convoluted, but it is critical that the wording be precise enough to make the invention distinct from any other device from the written description alone. I had only three claims; many patents have twenty or thirty.

The more precise the claims, the stronger the patent. Conversely, you want to get as broad a description approved as possible. That's where "weasel words" such as those in italics above are critical.

Where a patent attorney comes in handy is that you can bounce ideas off of your attorney, and he can refine them and make suggestions as to how to change your wording and so forth. I didn't use one, instead doing my patent pro se, without the benefit of attorney. It's more tedious and time consuming than hard, as long as you are able to argue with yourself, and refine your thinking. Most will need an illustrator for the drawings (I paid for one, doing my initial drawings on the computer and only having the finished version executed when I obtained word that my claims were approved.)

I've only gone to the PTO well one time, with the above patent. It's certainly not rocket science, but it was my original idea, and it will remain that into perpetuity. My toddler daughter actually put me up to it, and I have to say that I had fun doing it.

I have another idea (in a totally unrelated field from music, pertaining to sex, I am ashamed to say) that I mean to get around to some day. Maybe next year...
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Distinguished Member
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I have another idea (in a totally unrelated field from music, pertaining to sex, I am ashamed to say) that I mean to get around to some day. Maybe next year...
Would be interesting to research prior art in that field, eh? :-D

(oh, and thanks for the explanation. Excellent and entertaining read, as always)
I have another idea (in a totally unrelated field from music, pertaining to sex, I am ashamed to say) that I mean to get around to some day. Maybe next year...
Don't wait too many years.


Distinguished Member
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Thanks again Terry. You have been most helpful. With your permission, I would like to copy both of your posts to give to my friend to use as a reference and as a guide.



Old King Log
Staff member
I'm still interested in the answer to jbt's question, though. DAVE
That's what this was all about:

"The answer to that is that the prior art for almost anything is quite wide indeed. For example, if someone else had similarly modified his front F key, and if this modification was "widely known" (usually, this implies publication, but with modern developments publication has acquired a whole different meaning - think a photo on a web site of the performer playing), then it becomes a race to the patent office and the first one through the gates wins (usually)."

Really, the only way to know for sure is to file and see what the examiner says. Something like a reshaped touchpiece is going to be hard to get a "utility" patent (the kind that I got). You would have much less trouble getting a design patent for same. In any event, even with careful research and preparation, it's a crapshoot when it gets to the examiner.

My office action is a good example here. After I researched uses of hook and loop fasteners (Velcro® is one; they are now in the public domain) and ligatures (literally a dozen or more patents for ligatures), I thought that I had covered the field pretty well. However, Mr. Buller ("my" examiner) came back with that insulation wrapping for the Alaskan Pipeline using hook and loop fasteners, and I had to revise my application and claims to account for it.

That use did not turn up in my pretty comprehensive search (several hundred patents). But, he knew about it, and in the end my application was the stronger for it.

And, the USPTO has gotten things wrong now and then. Mostly this occurred in the good old days, like with Abraham Lincoln's patent for "camels", empty barges that are lashed to boats when full of water and later pumped out to raise the boat out of the water. He got a patent for this (it's in the "shoes" in which all of them are kept; I saw it as well when I was doing my search in the PTO) back before he was elected president.

The only problem was that someone had thought of doing this a long, long time before he did. These "camels" have been in use at least since the 1600's, as far as my reading has found, and by Lincoln's day they had been in use for several centuries. However, whoever the examiner was apparently had never read William James' comprehensive history of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars at sea, where he would not only have read many examples of their use, but also a diagram or two. Basically, this was a case of an ignorant examiner, so Lincoln got the patent (which would not have stood up in the British system had it ever been tested).

Small modifications in appearance or layout would not cut it, as they are "obvious" to anyone looking at the keywork as being something that you could do. A different actuation means (going with a "clapper" style key like on German clarinets instead of the axle arrangement currently in use) has a shot at getting through. But, the examiner may not find sufficient "novelty" with such a key, as it has been in use elsewhere for a century or two.

In any event, the best way to tell is to spend sixty or eighty bucks and have a patent attorney take a look at the idea. Posting pictures and a description here might help, but only at the cost of letting the cat out of the bag.

Another approach is to file a "discovery" (I think that is what it is called) with the USPTO. It cost about $10 back in the 1980's, and is probably three times that now. This discovery process "freezes" your idea with the PTO, and gives you a protected year to research your idea, discuss your idea with a patent attorney, and file your actual application. Once the application is filed, you then have the entire office action process (which can stretch on a year or more) to get things nailed down.

One good thing about all of this is that you no longer have to submit a working model of the invention with your application. That was abandoned back in the early 1900's, with the single exception that all perpetual motion machine patent applications have to be accompanied by a working model. Needless to say, there aren't any...

Dave Dolson

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Terry: Your very complete descriptions and comments of the patent-process and research were well-written and I'm sure of interest to jbt and other readers.

But I was interested in reading from someone like Pete saying that the earliest he'd seen was . . . whatever. For instance, I have a few 1920's saxophones in my closet. Only a King alto from the early 1920's has a front-F. None of my 1920's era Buescher TrueTones (alto, C-Mel, two sopranos) have that feature. Maybe some horns earlier than mine had it - I don't know. DAVE


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Here is some interesting information my research has turned up so far.

Saxophone Patents
June 22, 1846 -- Adolphe Sax is granted a patent for the Saxophone family. See patent description.

August 1, 1860 -- Sax is granted a patent extension set to expire on May 11, 1866. The bill was signed by Napolean III.

August 10, 1866 -- Millereau and Company receives a patent for several improvements. They cite better finger positions which make the saxophone easier to play, and a system of rods which make the instrument less noisy. The instruments described has two separate octave keys and an alternate low C# key.

March 1, 1868 -- Gautrot received a patent for improvements which concerned interior bore dimensions, placement of tone holes, a newly designed screw-in pad, and a modified key placement system.

December 9, 1875 -- Pierre Goumas and Company adopted the Boehm system clarinet fingerings to the left-hand saxophone mechanism adopting an extra LH thumb key which made it possible to play C2 - C#2 in the same manner that the clarinetist plays f-f#.

September 20, 1878 -- Goumas added to his original patent, revising the C#2 connecting mechanism.

September 13, 1879 -- Goumas again changes the mechanism for C#2. This patent describes two LH thumb keys which closed two holes simultaneously. I believe this describes the mechanism seen on many soprano saxophones for the same notes.

January 12, 1880 -- Goumas receives his last patent for the C#2 mechanism. This patent describes a RH side key which is used to play the C#. The key was in the position of today's side C key.

January 16, 1881 -- Adolphe Sax receives a patent for improvements to the saxophones adding the following features:

1. Additional lower tubing allowing the written low Bb and A to be played. These are the concert pitches Db and C and give the saxophone family the same lower range as the string family.
2. Additional high keys to extend the range to G3 for the same basic reasons. The F# was played by a RH key and the G by the LH.
3. An additional "4th" octave key to facilitate the high tones from E3 - G3. The third octave key was apparently an open hole at the LH thumb position. The design was apparently similar to that of the current ringed clarinet thumb mechanism on this saxophone. This hole was an octave key for the first register notes.
4. Both LH and RH G# keys.
5. The notes played with the LH keys could all be lowered 1/2 step with the addition of the RH keys for F or F#.
6. Rounded little finger keys to facilitate technique.
7. A tone hole in the crook of the neck which was fitted with a vibrating membrane. This hole was covered by a pad and could be opened with a key. This allowed the vibrating air column to vibrate the membrane causing a "grating, bowed string-like quality to the sound of the saxophone." This was to be used as a special effect when the saxophone was replacing a viola in the orchestra.
(This patent fell into public domain @ 1903.)

August 9, 1886 -- L'Association g n rale de ouvriers en instruments musique recieved a patent which allowed Bb to be played with 1+1, 1+2, or 1+3. Also a front Bb akin to the front Eb on the clarinet, a front F similar in function the the clarinet's front Bb (Chalumeau register) and a side C key were added.The first finger on the LH had a half-hole mechanism which served as the small B - G1 octave key, and the middle finger on the RH had a half-hole mechanism for D3 and D#3. The RH little finger had keys for Eb, C, and C# while the LH little finger had a key for C# which did not require the addition of the RH C key to play low C#.

January 2, 1887 -- L'Association augmented their original patent adding a RH G# key which permitted F#-G# and G#-A trills. (At this point the other saxophones apparently did not have the modern mechanism which permits the F#-G# trill by closing the G# key when any of the RH keys are depressed.) Also, the high F palm key opened all of the palm keys simultaneously so that it was only necessary to depress one key to get F3. A moveable metal tuning sleeve was added to the mouthpiece.

July 25, 1887 -- The Evette & Schaeffer Society patented a saxophone which added the following modern mechanisms:

1. The current G# mechanism allowing the G# pad to be closed by any of the RH fingers. This allows the trills to G# from RH notes such as E,F, and F#.
2. The current RH F# trill key.
3. bis key for Bb.
4. An extension of the bell allowing the Bb key to be placed on the outside of the bell. (B-natural was still placed on the inside of the bell.) The range of this saxophone was now Bb to F3, but the octave key mechanism still had two independently controlled thumb keys.

March 11, 1888 -- Guichard, Gautrot, and Triebert had united their companies into one called Coueson in 1887. Coueson recieved a patent which had a mechanism which allowed the F and F# keys to close the G# key. The low Bb key alone was necessary to produce the low Bb. (Apparently the RH C key was depressed automatically.) An Eb key was added to the LH little finger keys. A RH G# key allowed G-G# trills. There are still two separate octave keys, and the range of this saxophone was B to F3.

January 9, 1888 -- The Millereau-Mayeur System was patented. This saxophone had a LH little finger and RH thumb key for low Bb.

November 4, 1888 -- Lecomte received a patent which used the Boehm principle fingerings and finally united the octave keys into one automatic mechanism.

December 4, 1928 -- Chiron & Company received a patent for improvements to the palm key mechanism which permitted the saxophonist to depress only one palm key to produce the high D3-F3. Each palm key opened all of the keys lower than the hole for its note. (ie. D# opened the D key as well, etc.)

This information was gleaned from Frederick Hemke's dissertation on The Early History of the Saxophone.


Old King Log
Staff member
Many think that Sax brought the saxophone from his mind fully formed one spring afternoon whilst on a canalside picnic to the south of Dinant. As can be seen here, the progress to the modern horn was very incremental - there's a lot more there than rolled tone holes.

I still encounter sax players who can't get their heads around the fact that saxophones used to have two octave keys. Philistines...


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Sorry. I had been slacking in my posting. Doing my college courses. I knew that bit about the front F (L'association general etc.) off the top of my head.

In general, if you want to FIND a saxophone with the most advanced features, after 1866 and up until approximately 1929, look for an Evette-Schaeffer (Buffet). Couesnon was a close second, I'd say, based on the dozen or so models they had available at any one time. I'd venture to say that there weren't any other European horns as advanced. Yes, you could argue that the Kohlerts or even Rampone models were fairly advanced, keywork-wise, but they're copies: Conn, in the former case, Evette-Schaeffer (and others) in the latter.

Now, I have seen some interesting designs from Pierret and Beaugnier, but those didn't have much staying power. They're also comparatively later: late 1920's.

The other thing is that "modern" saxophones don't have a lot of these keywork improvements. Some, definitely, but not all. Hey, I LIKE the Evette-Schaeffer system keywork, where I can play a low Bb with my right hand. That "vibrating membrane" in Sax's patent might be kinda kewl on bari -- make it sound more like a cello.

I can't wrap my head around the fact that some sax players want to go BACK to the two octave keys. Lunatics ... :)


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
The earliest alto I was able to find -- altos generally had the new and exciting stuff first -- was ...


... from 1902. Evette-Schaeffer. And I see it on later E&S horns, so it's not an "aftermarket upgrade". Now, this design is based on E&S's July 25, 1887 patent, so if I had pics of older horns with the patented system, I'd probably see more front F keys. Check out the page from my old website at http://www.saxpics.com/buffet/evette-schaeffer.htm. I have a reproduction of their 1899 ad there (this key system was patented in 1899 in the US), too, that clearly shows the front F.

The Couesnon Monopole (highest model Couesnon) and the Sax models around this time and slightly before didn't have a front F, based on the pictures I have.

The earliest AMERICAN horn I have pictures of with a front F is this 11xx Buescher True-Tone. Considering the serial number charts for Buescher saxophones start at 5,000 (1905) and Buescher made around 1,000 horns a year, this could be a 1901 or so horn -- it depends on when Buescher started making saxophones after Buescher Manufacturing Co. (est. 1894) was restructured into Buescher Band Instrument Co. (est. 1904).


Old King Log
Staff member
I can't wrap my head around the fact that some sax players want to go BACK to the two octave keys. Lunatics ... :)
Well, I play (occasionally) my double register bass clarinet (and have spent a lot of time on such instruments in the past). While such a horn is not "automatic", it is relatively foolproof, i.e., you just don't have issues with a mis/maladjusted double register mechanism. You do, of course, have to remember to push the right button at the right time.

If they work on oboes, there's no reason why you can't make them work on bass clarinets (and saxophones)...


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
Thanks Pete. I was hoping you would weigh in on this question. That information is invaluable to my research.



Old King Log
Staff member
Altos probably have more innovations pioneered on them due to cost and availability factors. While sopranos are ostensibly less expensive (involving less material), they were nowhere near as common prior to the modern era.

I have always wondered about Sax's decision to prototype the horn with a bass saxophone (pitched in C, no less). My theory on this is that he was using a bass clarinet mouthpiece, and a bass sax matched the volume of the mouthpiece better than any other size horn. But, it's just a theory.


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Well, I have heard of several other companies making a C bass -- took a LONG time to find this info -- but if the most common ophicleide was a C bass (Wikipedia says it was, thus that must be true) and Sax was both experimenting with the bass clarinet and loved all things bass, I really don't see any problem with your theory, SOTSDO.

I've found that the saxophone innovations -- of any kind -- go in the order of:

* Eb alto
* Bb tenor
* Bb soprano
* Eb baritone
* C tenor
* C soprano/higher pitch or any bass/lower pitch horns are tied for the last to have any innovation added. You could argue that the Eb contrabass is the absolute last, but you have a very small sample size to argue from.

As an interesting comment, I've found that Conn and Buescher stencils have a lot of interesting features either just added to them or tested on them first, before they're added to the main-line horns.