a CyberSax featured instrument …

Selmer “Padless”
Alto Saxophone
Built in the USA by Buescher
27,xxx s/n (est. built 1939)

This unique padless design was produced by Buescher for Selmer in the USA from 1938-41.
It is considered one of the rarest of the vintage Selmers. Like the great semi experimental Conn Conqueror, the joint Selmer-Buescher padless experiment was a casualty of World War II.

This example of the amazing padless saxophone is 95%+ original dark honeyed lacquer. Its ornate floral engraving carries around the front and right side of the bell, then down to the bottom of the bow. The cosmetics of these rare instruments are truly an outstanding feature. Lacquer wear patterns at the key touches is evidence that these instruments were playable at one time. There is also an indication that this instrument might even have been played professionally. There is a noticeable wear mark on the front of the bow where it might have rested on a stand. Of course there are other explanations for that wear mark. Many players keep a favorite horn out on a stand for easy access. Other than the slight play wear this sax is in near perfect cosmetic condition. Even the neck is lovely, obviously having been appropriately wrapped when in the case. Sadly, the rubber seals on the padless mechanisms are dry and brittle. They no longer  seal well enough to allow meaningful play. We would welcome comments from those who have thoughts or experience on how to obtain or make replacement rubber seals for these instruments. 

(Left) full left view, showing the large and heavy metal discs used on the low B/Bb keys. These discs fall closed of their own weight when the instrument is laid to rest on its right side. Because of the thick brass discs used in place of pad cups these saxes are considerably heavier than the typical alto. Heavier keys require heavier springs, which of course affect action if the forces are not properly balanced; (Center) details of upper stack show 1920s Buescher True Tone mechanics, with spatula cluster from Aristocrat and palm keys from True Tone; (Right) full right view, note Aristocrat bell flare. 

Notable design characteristics of the padless sax include left bell keys, not  seen in the Selmer line for several years prior to the introduction of the padless. With the Balanced Action, introduced in 1936, Selmer began the tradition of right bell keys in their French built saxophones. Another design feature of the padless is the teeter-totter style chromatic F# (often referred to as the F# trill key). This is purely a Buescher touch, since Selmer always used the rotary design on their altos. The spatula clusters for both left and right pinkies are all Buescher, as well. The large bell keyguard, however, is straight from the Radio Improved, the last French Selmer built with left bell keys. Also notable is the ‘S’ shaped bell-to-body brace, which seems to shout out ‘Selmer’ — especially in conjunction with the distinctive back key guard. This is merely a cosmetic effort to suggest Selmer, however, because upon detailed examination, this back keyguard is the only clearly traditional Selmer design characteristic on the instrument. The body tube is early Aristocrat and the keywork is virtually identical to Buescher stencil saxophones of the period. 

These Buescher stencils had the Aristocrat body tube, but as much True Tone (1920′s) keywork as could be used, given the left bell keys. Though the name is Selmer, the extent of functional Selmer mechanical content in these instruments is strictly related to the padless cup/tone hole interface. The rest is typical late 1930′s Buescher stencil sax. The very nice Buescher ‘ElkHart’ student sax is virtually identical to the padless design mechanically, the padless interface mechanisms notwithstanding. That comparison isn’t intended to degrade the padless saxophone, but rather to point out that it was a dressed up experiment expediently conducted on the very strong base of a proven Buescher sax design. The padless was not truly a Selmer design except in the concept of the padless interface. In all other material respects the padless was a Buescher stencil.

(Left) lower left view features the ‘Radio Improved’ keyguard used to visually suggest Selmer characteristics; (Center) detail of the padless mechanism at Low B/Bb & in the lower stack; (Right) lower right view reveals ‘True Tone’ C and Eb keyguards, as well as exact copy of TT spatula mechanism operating these keys. Side keys are TT, as well, as is teeter-totter chromatic F# — with pearl touch added to suggest Selmer.

This basic Buescher stencil design later became the very last of the Aristocrats (late 1950s, after the 400 became Buescher’s best offering) and ultimately was adopted as the early Selmer Bundy. These Bundy models have been recognized as the workhorses of student band programs for decades. It is a very solid design. There is little doubt that in jointly developing the padless with Buescher that Selmer must have gained a familiarity with their work and designs that played a part in the subsequent Selmer decision to buy the Buescher company. Digressing a bit more, Conn did the same sort of thing, design wise, with it’s stencil and student line saxes beginning in the 1930s. The widely acclaimed Pan American stencils that Conn produced during the ’30s-’40s-’50s were a combination of the 6-10-12M body tube and keywork adapted from the great 1920s Conns we know and love as the ‘Chu Berry’ models. The Pan Am tenors were especially blessed, and many a player has gasped at their 10M like sounds and easy response upon first putting one of these jewels to the lips. The Pan American design later became the ‘Shooting Stars’ Conn, and with a few cosmetic changes, such as sheet metal keyguards, carried over into the 1960′s as 16/20M. The ‘MexiConns’ are that same design, and even if they are a bit thin on the sheet brass they can still have the big Conn sound — at least as long as the mechanics stand up …. 

The padless interface consists of a heavy brass rim soldered onto a shorter (than usual on padded saxes), extruded straight tone hole. The total tone hole height is the same as on conventional saxophones, as is the inside diameter. Otherwise, there would be tone and intonation issues. Inserted into a groove in the added rim (which extends approximately 1/8th inch outward from the normal tone hole wall) is a rubber grommet that looks very much like the material used to make the seals on canning jars. The key’s interface (substituting for a pad cup) is simply a thick metal disk just slightly larger in diameter than the modified tone hole rim. The total diameter of these disks (and the tone hole interface underneath) is wider than the normal pad cup in the smaller diameter keys and about the same in the larger ones. The noticeable difference between a normal saxophone pad/tone hole interface and those on the padless is that there is little overlap of the pad disk/cup over the padless grommet rim. The padless interface must therefore be a much more precise mechanism if it is to work. There is little tolerance in the padless design for error in the alignment between disk and seal. This contrasts the conventional pad & cup, where a considerable overlap of the tone hole rim results in a working tolerance in a cup’s position over the tone hole. Likewise, the hard surfaces of both disk and rubber grommet have no flex or spring equating to that of a leather pad surface through which small out-of-plane errors are absorbed. This lack of tolerances means that the padless key disc (they aren’t really ‘cups’, and the term ‘pad’ doesn’t apply) must be in exact alignment with the tone hole rim, plus be in plane with the tone hole grommet, in order to seal correctly.  The padless design may be amazing, but it is also quite unforgiving from a technical point of view.

(Left) right view of elaborate engraving patterns clearly depicting ‘Selmer U.S.’; (Center) neck is from True Tone Bueschers with Aristocrat octave arm, case is a premium French design, but clearly marked ‘U.S’; (Right) lower front view, showing the extensive engraving and distinctive Selmer “S” brace added to dress up what is actually a borrowed late 1930s Buescher student model design.

The closest parallel to the padless design in a padded saxophone tone hole interface is the Conn Reso-Pad, which has a metal ring inside the pad rim. This rigid rim tauntly stretches the leather surface, as in a drum head,  keeping the Reso-Pad’s surface ‘in plane’ with itself. The result is a more precise closure and seal, and an accompanying improvement in response — IF the pad surface and tone hole remain in parallel planes. Keeping the two surfaces in plane is not as problematic as it may seem with the Conn setup because the pad ‘floats’ on a bed of shellac or other heat sensitive adhesive. By softening the adhesive with a little heat the pad surface can be gently pressed or pulled as required to bring it into plane with its tone hole rim. With the padless mechanism such easy adjustment isn’t possible. Intuitively, the key disc/cup would need to be bent back into plane with the tone hole rim should it become misaligned. The padless mechanism seems especially vulnerable to small bumps or nudges that would not affect the play of a conventional padded saxophone since small misalignments are often absorbed by the pads. On the padless, even a small nudge to the  disk might cause a gaping leak that would halt play. 

It would be interesting to see if the original service materials on this design comment on a recommended process for restoring the disc and tone hole rim into plane with one another, since the techniques we use on padded saxophones would likely damage the rubber seals. If there is an ‘old hand’ in the audience who can relate for certain how this was intended to be done we would appreciate hearing from you. Bending sax keys to make play adjustments starts one down a rather slippery slope. Such practice is only permissible on conventional instruments when it is apparent that the cause of a play adjustment issue is damage that bent the mechanism to start with.  In that case the argument for bending keys is that the tech is simply returning the mechanism to factory design tolerances. 

Certainly you have to assume that these padless instruments left the Buescher plant with all the interfaces aligned and ‘in plane’, so if you found a leaking interface on your padless sax what alternative is there but to bend the key to again seal properly? That is a very distasteful prospect. Such issues must surely have played a part in the decision to discontinue the padless line. Regardless of maintenance and repair issues, these are lovely instruments, and they remain a fascinating detour along the path of saxophone development. 


Parting Shots: a few leftover views of this rare beauty ….

Thank you for your interest in this rare Selmer “Padless” alto saxophone. Your serious offer to purchase the completely original instrument & case (no mouthpiece) will receive our utmost consideration.


 Technician’s Prayer 

God, give us the grace to not be tempted to bend things that are not already bent, the courage to straighten things that must be straightened, and the wisdom to distinguish which is which …

you will of course recognize this as a paraphrase of Niebuhr’s noted ‘Serenity Prayer’ 

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