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Flex-Lite at work in alto body ...

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closer look at the Buescher 400 ‘Top Hat & Cane’ models
Your current feature restoration caught my interest. My first, favorite
and still cherished sax is a similar alto, serial 309xxx. It’s simply the
best model of alto I have ever played, and I’ve tried all I could. I’m
curious about your reference to the “early small bore version”. Was there
a later larger bore and, if so, when was the date/serial number break.
I collect such trivia about these beasts but have never come across this
before. Keep up the good work. I really enjoy the site… the tech tips
are fascinating and your photos are referred to a “saxophone porn” around
my house. Regards, Mick.

A. Your ‘sax porn’
thought gave me a chuckle. I’m going to play off the concept a bit here
& see where it goes. I’m not sure when the change in 400 designs occurred.
Apparently it came very early. It involves the bell taper & tilt. The
lip is expanded & (I believe) tilted slightly more horizontal in the
later 400 Top Hats. See for yourself in the attached saxophorn (I’ll leave
the natural extension of that thought to your nimble wit & ample imagination).
It appears that this early 400 design is more of a modified pre war Aristocrat.
If you study the pre war Ari & 400 mechanisms you find that much of
the keywork is the same. The main changes to the 400 mechanics were the
underslung octave mechanism and the left, or back, bell linkage. Of course
there are the cosmetic differences and bell reinforcement ring that make
the two (Ari & Top Hat) look like completely different saxophones.

click on pix to view full

aside, these first ‘small bore’ 400s were not all that different than the
pre war Ari. The original Ari bell always appeared to be overly narrow,
but that was because it had a sort of ‘shrunken’ bell rim in relation to
its bell bore (the Martin Comm I saxophones suffer from this same optical
design quirk). It’s apparent from this early 400 that Buescher started
with the basic Ari design, added a few bells & whistles, then corrected
the optical appeal of the Ari bell by flaring it somewhat. I’ve always
believed that the metal ring was added as much as reinforcement for the
wider, flatter bell flare as for sonic influence. I suppose the bell ring
performs both functions, but I’ll stick to my guns on WHY this design feature
came about. A rounded, conical shape is a much stronger structure than
a flatter piece of metal. The Buescher designers had to see that some bodacious
bell bends were in the cards once their 400 bell was put into service.
The ring would obviously serve to mollify a potential source of complaints.

It’s probably more accurate
to call the small bore 400s a prototype (based on the pre war Ari) than
accord them a true model distinction. Changes other than the bell that
jump out in these comparative pictures are the different angle & shape
of the left pinky spatula table, different right thumb rest, ribbon keyguards,
and of course, the engraving. Let me know if you spot anything I’ve missed.
Thanks for the though provoking, insight providing question…

Additional Comments

Additional information
about the Buescher Ari & Top Hat models appear in the CS
collection area
and in this separate Q&A article discussing the
evolution of the saxophones Buescher
called ‘Aristocrat’
over time. The front page article to which Mick
referred appears below for reference. This was the current feature in December
’04, but may have been replaced by the time you visit this page.

While we’re revealing
Buescher 400 secrets, all of the saxophones Buescher called the ’400′ were
not created equal. The true ‘Top Hat’ 400 will always have the intricate
engraving and raised ‘Buescher 400′ script in sterling silver (that’s unless
the horn has suffered extreme buffing or other damage that pried the silver
script loose, as in the 320k example pictured above). As you know if you’ve
read our ‘Ari’ exposé referenced at the link above, though, Buescher
also called several of its later model issues ’400′. The true Top Hats
ceased as a Buescher model in the high 350xxx s/n range (the latest I’ve
personally seen is a 355k tenor that CS handled & sold in 2003), but
for a very short time following the last true Top Hats a 400 model was
made that is mechanically & structurally identical — only without
the extensive engraving & silver 400 script. I have only seen a couple
of these cosmetically down graded 400s, so I suspect they are very few
in number. What you are more likely to see is a 400 that appears much the
same as a Top Hat, but lacks the underslung octave and silver bell reinforcement
ring. There are also very few of these that maintain the ‘back’ bell tone
holes and linkage, the more common 400 of the late 50s-early 60s period
bearing little mechanical or cosmetic resemblance to the true Top Hat save
the flared (and un-reinforced) bell. In the Buescher tenors of this immediate
pre-Selmer period we see the Aristocrats and stencil Bueschers under the
‘Aristocrat’ moniker with the a bell flare & tilt resembling the famed
400 Top Hat tenors. It’s not exactly the same, though — the flare is not
so nearly as wide.

So by the time Selmer
bought Buescher the 400 remained in name only. All the distinctive 400
featured had been eliminated one-by-one, and the mechanics reduced to the
very simple design of the late 1920s (modified slightly to accommodate
two left bell holes for low B & Bb) that we mistakenly refer to as
‘True Tone’.  The actual Buescher model name for these instruments
was ‘The Buescher’ (‘True Tone’ was a Buescher trademark that appeared
for approximately 50 years — even on the true Top Hats). While this tried
& true Buescher mechanical system is rugged & dependable, it lacks
the sophistication of the best pre war Aristocrats and the legendary, true
400 ‘Top Hats’. By the early 1960s there was little difference in the Buescher
saxophones, regardless of the names that appeared on them. It’s a sad ending
for such legendary saxophone names as were the greatest of the Aristocrat
and 400 lines.


one of our more interesting current restoration projects

rare 297k
Buescher Top Hat alto saxophone in original silver plate

I’ll be brief cuz the holidays
are busy for us all. Santa has sent us many projects that need to be finished
by Christmas. This special one simply cannot be rushed, though. If you’ve
ever looked for Top Hats you know that fewer than one in one-hundred are
in silver plate. This early ‘small bore’ example is particularly intriguing.
It was one of the very first of its kind. Unfortunately, the poor beast
was buffed somewhere along the way. But no matter, at CS we specialize
in making these walking wounded warriors as good as new again. It takes
time, lots of hard work, and even more true love & devotion to restore
an abused jewel such as this to its former glory. Contributions from friends
such as Sherry Huntley of
are a huge boon to our efforts. This one had plating wear exacerbated by
the (improper) buffing operation. Above is our treatment of the body &
engraving. Below is our treatment of the keys. Thankfully, only a few keys
were negatively impacted by the buffing, but there is also some play wear
that compounds our key restoration efforts. Trust that we will not stop
until all is perfection — and you can see the results right here as we
progress. The horn is mechanically fine, save a few crudely bobbed off
posts for the Snap-On pads. We will be replacing the few missing posts
in order to refit the entire instrument with its birthright Snap-Ons. This
is all for now. Please enjoy your Holiday Season with family & friends


This beautiful Buescher
400 ‘Top Hat & Cane’ Alto Saxophone belongs to a valued CyberSax turnkey
restoration client. It is NOT available for purchase.

If you have a saxophone
in need of a similar restoration procedure we would be pleased to help
you plan and execute your own project. We do have a number of very desirable
core horns that can be purchased on a turnkey restoration basis (this was
one). You are welcome to call or email
to discuss what is involved in reserving a slot in his restoration
schedule for either a horn you already own, or one we have in stock for
our turnkey program. Our work is neither fast nor cheap, but your patience
& investment will be amply rewarded.

here to see more images from recent CyberSax restoration projects

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