The BBb Bass Saxophone
three behemoths we recently had the pleasure of restoring & placing…
The majestic satin silver rolled tone hole Conn to the left (169k) required a full restoration to ready it for its loving new home. After disassembling, cleaning and hand polishing this beauty, it was fitted it with Conn Res-O-Pads (properly sized & installed, of course), after which we applied the CS ‘Total Saxophone’ set up/regulation process. The instrument simply roared once we were done with our work — a perfect voice for running authentic bass lines — and with our 24 carat gold bell wash replenish, the beast looked even better than when new.
On the right is another Conn giant (77k) from a slightly earlier time — built before Conn added the famous extruded & rolled tone holes to their bass sax design. It is worth remembering when shopping for Conn basses that the changeover from straight, soldered tone holes did not take place in 1919 as with the smaller Conn saxophone types. You cannot count on a Conn bass having the RTH feature until around 1925, so be sure to ask before you make a bad assumption. Fortunately, these earlier STH Conn basses have the character to roll around the bassment with enough richness and umph to satisfy all your bassic instincts. This particular colossus had its keywork gold plated sometime in the past, and while it lacks the engraving & body trim gold highlights of the authentic Conn gold-over-satin silver finish scheme, the old dude still cuts quite a stylish swath. Of course we replenished the bell wash before sending it on to its happy new home. The instrument also received a full hand polish, dent smoothing (using our pioneering dent techniques that avoid costly & tedious disassembly of a saxophone body), and of course our exclusive ‘Total Saxophone’ set up process. The instrument turned out simply gorgeous, and plays better than it looks.
The centerpiece of our display is an original brass lacquer 73k bass sax that was built in the Super Balanced Action Selmer design — just another example (among many) of Selmer models overlapping recognized serial number milestones. An interesting visual note from these comparative images is how the Selmer conception of how to ‘wrap’ a bass sax body into the classic ‘J’ shape differs from that of our American saxophone builders. By ‘wrap’ we refer to the spots at which the instrument’s designers choose to place the bends in body tubing in order to produce an instrument with keywork that is both mechanically efficient AND ergonomically ‘friendly’ to the player. Compared to the American bass saxophones this Selmer SBA design produces a little ‘tamer’ sound, probably more suited to classical (think a bowed string bass) or ‘legit’ applications than to roaring out lines we associate with the modern electric bass. This brass lacquer example received a good cleaning after disassembly, followed by our non-invasive dent smoothing, before receiving Bear’s ‘Total Saxophone’ set up/regulation routine. An interesting feature of this Selmer bass sax is that it had an overspray of clear lacquer with a sparkle element added. We believe this to be an original Selmer treatment since most of the instrument’s pads still retained their original ‘moon hubcap’ domed metal resonators. While distinctly different in appearance and style from the vaunted Conn basses, this Selmer product is of an extremely well thought out design, and is very well made.
| An interesting bass sax design feature about which you may not be aware is that the mechanisms employ almost no rod-in-ferrule mountings. Most of the keys are mounted to posts using pivot screws, and many of the few steel rods that are used have an end sharpened into a point so it can act as one end of a pivot mount for an adjacent key. As key runs grow longer — and a bass sax will have some runs of multiple feet — rod-in-ferrule keys become both expensive to make, and extremely prone to damage. The lightest impact can bend or dent the outer brass ferrule, resulting in a steel inner rod that is either sluggish, or binds up completely. Removing bent rods from damaged brass ferrules is one of a sax tech’s nightmares. As for straightening both rod and ferrule to function smoothly again — well, the mere prospect leaves the weaker amongst our sax tech brotherhood mumbling & bumping into walls.
So these pivot mounted bass sax keys are a real blessing. And it is here that the marvelous Conn locking pivot screw assembly sets itself apart from the pack. Standard saxophone pivot screw mounts have a shoulder that tightens against a countersink in its post. The screw, post countersink, and key end all start out precision machined to exact tolerances so that the the key is both held firmly in place, AND has the correct mechanical clearance to allow a fluid motion. That’s how a standard pivot screw starts out. But what happens over time as a steel pointed pivot screw end rubs against the soft brass key end? Without stating the obvious, that snug fit and fluid motion won’t hold out forever — and the remedies resemble more of Sophie’s Choice than sound mechanical repair strategy. Your first impulse is to simply tighten the steel pivot screw as much as you can into its post countersink. This technique has marginal mechanical returns, but is quite conducive to badly frozen pivot screws a bit further down the road. If you’ve disassembled very many older Selmers you are bound to be familiar with the sax tech’s favorite prayer: ‘O Lord please let me get the screw out of just one end of this Selmer key’.
Now you can deepen the countersink inside your Selmer post ends — and I’m picking on Selmer, but every non-adjustable pivot screw has this same basic design flaw. Aside from the general ill-advisedness of removing metal from any part of your saxophone, countersinking is a tedious, inexact, DANGEROUS process. Your posts are scattered all over the horn, and located in all sorts of wickedly tight places, most of which are guarded by dozens of sharp & pointy needle springs. And what if you remove a little too much brass? Well, there’s another technique available: You go out and buy all new pivot screws — the ones specially made (hang the cost, I play a SELMER) with thinner shoulders so the pivot points extend a little farther into your key ends. Kewal, right? Maybe. For one thing, your key ends are gonna’ keep wearing as they rub against this lengthened steel pivot point. The real issue, though, is what if the adjustment increments made into these special replacement pivot screws isn’t EXACTLY equal to the amount of wear to your key ends? Hmmm. If someone only made a pivot screw that you could (infinitely) run into your key ends to just the right spot — and then LOCK the danged thing in that position until the key needs another adjustment!
Well, in 1921 Conn introduced just such a mechanical marvel — and the Conn bass saxes make exemplary use of this simple, efficient, effective little design facet. Conn simply made the pivot screw headless so that it could slip into any position it needed to vis-a-vis the key end. Next they removed the threads from a section in the middle of the screw so that a lock screw could find a safe resting point. The final touch was to to bore a minuscule hole on the perpendicular to the pivot screw’s path so that a tiny 1-56 set screw would bottom out against the pivot screw’s shaft…at a landing point where there are no threads to bugger up, of course! The resulting mechanism is infinitely adjustable and enduring — at least in terms of human time perception. Shear genius — of which there are numerous examples in the Conn engineering annals. And why did Selmer never adopt such a mechanism? Do Selmer designs not have more pivot screws per capita than any other saxophone? Next time you meet a Frenchman you can ask him yourself about doing things the American way…
Ole Saint Nick had a busy Christmas Eve. He had to scatter these three beasts about as far from Tulsa as he could take ‘em on his North American route. Anyway, each of these marvelous bass saxophones is now in its happy new home — being both cherished and played.
|We do have two (2) other bass saxes currently available, though. You can see our beautiful 192k Buescher bass saxophone at this link, or we can tell you about the Conn bass available as a turnkey restoration project. So if you’re currently interested in purchasing a bass sax please contact Bear by either phone or email.
We Need Bass Saxophones