A BRIEF HISTORY OF SAXGOURMET SAXOPHONES
DESIGNED BY STEVE GOODSON
Since the very beginning, the goal and design objective of Saxgourmet and Steve Goodson Model saxophones has always been to offer saxophone players instruments of super premium quality that have unique features available nowhere else that make them easier to play. These unique features, both in additional keywork such as our exclusive upper stack speaker key and dedicated high G key, as well as our advanced acoustic features such as threaded neck tenons, have been developed by us, and are available only on our instruments.
All of the saxophones and necks designed by me have a direct linage to my 104,000 silver plated H. Selmer (Paris) tenor, which I have owned since new. My parents bought this horn for me as a reward for making first chair in the All State band (at age 14!) and as a result, this instrument became the tool that enabled me to put myself through college (and live quite well while attending college!) and support myself all of my life. This horn and I have been to every continent except Antarctica together, and have shared many, many adventures.
I’ve always taken candy from strangers, and I could never leave well enough alone. As soon as the horn needed maintenance (it was played a lot!), I began making modifications. I was never the least bit hesitant to try something new, and since I had done almost all of my own repairs since high school, I was familiar with the basic techniques which enabled me to experiment with my saxophone.
Mk VI’s of that era came factory equipped with nylon (not plastic) seamless domed resonators. The sizing of the resonators on the pads was conservative to say the least, and I instinctively knew that all of that exposed pad leather was acting like a sponge and soaking up my sound. During the late 1960’s, resonators were not available in the many diverse shapes and sizes that we have today. I knew that the earlier versions of the Mk VI had been equipped with nickel plated seamless brass resonators which Selmer sold under the brand name “Tonex”. I didn’t want a standard set, which I suspected would be the same sizes I had only in a more reflective material. I called Selmer USA in Elkhart and got the parts department on the phone. Yes, they had Tonex resonators still, and yes, they would sell me the sizes I wanted. I took my horn apart and did some measuring, called Selmer back and ordered a set that pretty much came out to the edges of the toneholes. I had to send Selmer a check (I think I had sorta kinda led them to believe I was a bona fide repair shop) because, of course, there was no MasterCard in those days. When they arrived and were installed in my horn, I quickly understood that I would never have to fear a Fender Super Reverb fed by a Stratocaster ever again. I was clearly on to something…..maybe, just maybe, the guys at Selmer didn’t know everything there was to know about saxophone sound….I still have those big Selmer Tonex resonators……I kept them after I switched to Noyeks in the early 1990’s.
Musical whore that I was, I always made myself available for gigs whenever my main band wasn’t working, and as a result, tried a lot of different horns. Almost everybody was playing Selmers in those days, with a few Super 20‘s thrown in. In the spirit of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”, I began trying the necks off other Selmers on my own horn and came to the realization that there was a huge variation in what was supposed to be essentially the same thing. I didn’t have the type of measuring devices available now, but just eyeballing the various necks I was able to try told me that there seemed to be an observable variation in the diameter of the opening at the “mouthpiece end”. Being young and stupid, as well as totally oblivious to the long term consequences of a ruined neck, I applied the “too much is always better than not enough” rule and opened up my neck. This involved removing the ferrule on the end, and using a borrowed trumpet tubing expander (the petal type) I opened the neck up about 15/1000ths of an inch. I made a conical guide that I could insert into the neck which I had marked with a pen so I would know when I had expanded it to my goal. Voila! Big difference.
By this time in my musical career, I was traveling to New York from time to time and would always stop by and have Saul Fromkin adjust my horn, no matter how well it was playing. Saul was a real magician, and a totally irascible guy and all around colorful character. He always took the time to talk with me and show me things. He talked me into two things: replacing the front F round key touch with a teardrop key touch made from a clarinet key and adding an additional spring under the G# lever to keep the key from sticking. Lesson learned: there’s possibly keywork options that have not been fully explored.
When I wasn’t on the road, I would do a bit of repair for other players, and this gave me the chance to see a variety of other horns and actually take them apart so I could learn their secrets. This experience was to become totally invaluable. I also flirted with a few other brand of horns for my personal use. I got a Super 20 Silversonic and developed a real love/hate relationship with it: I loved the big sound and the quick response, but could not deal with the quirky intonation and bad ergonomics. When Yamaha brought out their 61 series, I was the recipient of a matched set of soprano, alto, tenor, and bari. They were exceptionally good playing horns and very reliable, but I just thought the fundamental tone was too bright for me. I went back to Selmers.
Throughout the 1980’s I played Selmers (except for a Yamaha soprano) and around 1990 I drank the Kool Aid and began to believe that “old horns sound better” so I bought a 30M…..what a sound! A real bitch from an ergonomic point of view, but with some massive resonators installed, it roared.
I began buying and selling “vintage horns” (they sell better if you call them “vintage” instead of just “old horns” or “used horns”) so lots of stuff was passing through my hands and I learned that there really was a world outside of Selmer. I developed a taste for SML’s, Buffet S-1’s, Buescher 400‘s, and Leblanc’s. I began using a The Martin bari and a Buffet soprano around this era, and picked up an extra nice Mk VI alto with keywork from low A to high F#. All of these horns were built a little differently, and I enjoyed examining the differences.
During the 1990’s a friend introduced me to a Taiwanese saxophone maker, Gregory Lai, who sold very, very nice horns under the Unison brand name. Mr. Lai’s English was better than my Mandarin, but an interpreter enabled us to have some extensive discussions on what was wrong with the current state of saxophones and what would be necessary to build the most advanced horn in the world. Such a deal: someone who owned a saxophone company wanted to pay me to make my dreams come true.
The horn that resulted from this collaboration was the Unison Steve Goodson Model. We made altos and tenors only in this series, and they were available in gold lacquer, bright silver plate, satin silver plate, black anodized nickel with gold plated keywork, bright gold plate, and a spectacular satin gold plate with bright gold highlights. There were also two horns (an alto and a tenor) made in bare brass, in addition to three “rough finished” prototypes. All were built in Houli, Taiwan. The horn offered the buyer two different pad options (I think this is the first time this was done): Black goatskin pads with brass foil inserts between the leather and felt with gold plated Noyek resonators or white kanagroo leather pads with nickel plated domed resonators. Prestini made the goatskin pads, and MusicMedic made the kangaroo leather ones. There was no difference in price to the buyer. The Steve Goodson Model also had double arms on the low C, low B, and low Bb keys, another first (King had used a double arm on the low C only for the Super 20), separate keyguards for the low B and low Bb, a triple ring strap hook, the “never stick G#” spring that Saul Fomkin had taught me, a roller on the front F key, a screw adjuster on the Bis/A key,an F# “helper bar” that kept the lower stack sealed tightly, more engraving than anything else on the market at the time, and three major acoustical improvements: the “Masterpiece” neck, the high note compensator mechanism, and the “Tri-Vent” octave key system.
I had been experimenting with necks for some time, and had been working on some inserts based on an idea Elmer Beechler had shown me years ago, which involved creating a venturi at the neck opening which not only increased the velocity of the airstream (and hence reducing its resistance to the wave that travelled through it) but also the mass of the neck at that point. Elmer had made and marketed an insert along these lines, but I thought it didn’t have enough mass or enough compression to increase the velocity. I also thought that since we were going to manufacture a neck (rather than retro-fit an existing one), we could vary the taper instead of using a pure cone and get a better match of the octaves. Since we were going to manufacture the necks, we could also produce the same neck in different metals (brass, copper, and sterling silver were used) and get different effects. We also chose to use an underslung octave key to give the neck a distinctive look. The neck worked so very well on this horn that Unison ultimately began selling them as an aftermarket item.
Since the overtone series gets progressively sharper as the pitch increases, intonation often gets out of hand on even the finest saxophones around C#3. The problem is most pronounced on sopranos, and they are typically equipped with a “doughnut” pad mechanism which lowers the pitch of the notes C#3 and above by partially closing a tone hole. This system works pretty well, but the mechanism (which varies from manufacturer to manufacturer) can be overly complex and adjustment fussy. I devised a simple mechanism with one moving part and no additional springs which worked perfectly and was absolutely reliable. The simple solution is always the most elegant solution.
The most difficult task in developing the Steve Goodson Model for Unison was overcoming the pitch and voicing problems which have plagued all saxophones since day one. The pitch problems occur most prominently in the second octave where all of the notes are overtones, not fundamentals. Building a horn that plays in tune on the lower notes is not rocket science if you pay attention to what you’re doing, but getting the first and second octaves to match is often a very elusive goal. It would be a lot easier if we had a dedicated octave vent for each of the twelve semitones of the chromatic scale, but this is mechanically impossible. Over the years, some far sighted designers such as Andrew Loomis and Santy Runyon had built saxophones with more than the customary two octave vents. I had been a student of Santy Runyon, and he and I had discussed the multi-vent system he employed on the Conn 28M in great detail. I took Santy’s concept of additional venting and devised a system in which the number of vents was increased from two to three, and the two body vents were proportionally larger and were independently screw adjustable. This offered a tremendous improvement in second octave pitch and voicing while maintaining mechanical simplicity and reliability.
The improved octave vent system and compensator key allowed the use of a wider bore taper at the top of the horn, and this allowed the use of larger diameter tone holes for the palm keys, high E, and high F#. These larger tone holes (and the revised placement, of course) eliminated the thin sound so often associated with the very top tones.
These were wonderful horns, and I was very proud to have my name appear on them. Mr. Lai was wonderful to work with, and had a very high commitment to both quality and innovation. Quite a few of the features I pioneered on this model, such as the double arms on all of the bell keys, have become widely used within the industry. Alas, the USA distributor for Unison allowed his relationship with the company to deteriorate to the point to where it was severely impacting every aspect of the company, and with the writing clearly on the wall, I decided to move on.
I had good friends who had a very successful company, Orpheus Music. They made the LA Sax horns, Vespro, Chicago Jazz, and some other brands, and at one time or another had been the distributor for Guardala and B&S saxophones. They were also the North American distributors for the excellent Pearl flutes. They invited me to join their company and I cheerfully accepted.
We decided to start with a premium saxophone incorporating an ideasI had been tossing around for a while: since much of the modern saxophone literature calls for an altissimo range above F#3, why not build a saxophone which makes it easier to obtain and control these difficult notes? A couple of systems had been tried over the years, notably by Earl Gillespie for Martin and the “harmonic key” model Selmer alto. Neither system worked perfectly, and I knew I could improve on them. The secret lay in the placement of the octave vent dedicated to the altissimo notes, and after doing a lot of calculating and literally feeling the necks while the horn was being played in order to locate the pressure nodes, we finally found the “sweet spot”. These horns also incorporated a very unique “speaker key” on the upper stack which improved the intonation of C2 and C3 by reducing the amount of cross venting. This speaker key had the supplemental benefit of improving both the pitch and the voicing of the palm keys, eliminating the need for a compensator mechanism as used on the Unison Steve Goodson Model. They also used the double arms, F# helper, three ring strap hook, and other features I had previously employed, and very notably used threading of a portion of the neck tube interior to create a “boundary layer” of air to stabilize the nodes of low C and low B and eliminate the “motorboating” often found on those notes. The octave pips (all three of them!) were also threaded to reduce hiss and a very special ergonomic thumb rest for the right hand was used for the very first time. The pads were black kangaroo leather Saxgourmet pads made by MusicMedic, fitted with solid brass Noyek resonators. These horns also used a high (82%) copper content for the neck, body tube, bow, and bell, my first venture into the world of saxophone metallurgy. They were available in gold lacquer, bright silver plate, and satin gold plate with bright gold keywork. They used all metal key touches, with no pearls, and were extensively engraved. Initially, we had planned on this being a “flagship” model for the LA Sax line, but the horn was so good we decided to make it a free standing brand. They are all engraved “Steve Goodson Model” on the right side of the bell. The first production run was made by Dyong, but the later runs were moved to Tenon in Taiwan. The Tenon made horns can be distinguished by the addition of a clothing guard protecting the long rods of the upper stack. Tenon also made the horn available in black anodized nickel and in satin silver with bright silver highlights and keywork. This horn is still being counterfeited (at the time of this writing, 2014) in China. We considered making a straight alto and straight tenor in this series, but couldn’t justify the tooling costs with anticipated sales. A prototype straight alto was made, and later sold to a good customer of mine.
Once we had the alto and tenor Steve Goodson Model figured out, we turned our attention to a soprano and baritone. Surprisingly, a significant portion of the design specifications for these horns were the same: we wanted both the baritone and the curved soprano to “feel” as close as possible to an alto or a tenor in the hands of the player. In the case of the soprano, the fingers were forced to be too close together, and in the baritone, the fingers were forced far too apart. The remedy was the repositioning of the finger touches for the main stacks, and why this had not been done by other makers in the past is a complete mystery to me. On the soprano, the left hand table was moved out and to the right which allowed a natural and relaxed position for the little finger. The key touches themselves were enlarged. In fact, we used the same parts as were used on our alto key touches. Since the low B and low Bb tone holes were moved to the right hand side of the bell, the sound coming from these tone holes was no longer muffled by the player’s body. Another very significant contribution to the comfort of the soprano player was moving the right hand thumb rest, which was very large and had a “wing” on the left side to support the final digit of the thumb, off the center line of the body tube and over to the left. This allowed the player to relax and extend the fingers of the right hand, probably for the first time in soprano saxophone history! The Steve Goodson Model soprano also had metal key touches on the main stack keys and a three ring strap hook. Keywork was from low Bb to high G. A portion of the neck interior was threaded to stabilize low notes, the neck itself was detatchable, and the entire horn was heavily engraved on the bell, bell flare, bow, body tube, and key cups. The Steve Goodson Model soprano had black kangaroo leather Saxgourmet pads with large, solid brass Noyek resonators, and was available in gold lacquer, black anodized nickel, silver plate, and bright gold plate. All of the sopranos were manufactured by Tenon.
Creating a baritone worthy of the Steve Goodson Model name was a little more problematic. The ergonomic corrections were straight forward (move the main stack key touches), but the acoustic issues took a good bit of experimentation. In order to bring all of the notes from the first octave and second octave into even and consistent timbre, it proved necessary to alter the taper of the “pigtail” significantly. By enlarging the diameter and reducing the amount of taper of the pigtail, the significant differential between C2 and D2 was virtually eliminated. This timbre equalization was also aided by enlarging and relocating both octave pips away from their normal locations. The bell of the baritone was significantly stabilized through the use of two small bell to body braces (actually the same parts we used on tenors) rather than one large one which allowed the bell to twist. The strap hook had three rings, and the large ergonomic Saxgourmet thumbrest was used. The pads were black kangaroo leather Saxgourmet pads from MusicMedic fitted with extra large solid brass Noyek resonators. The engraving was lavish and extensive, covering the bell, bell flare, bow, body tube, and key cups. Available finishes were gold lacquer, black anodized nickel, bright silver plate, and a few were made in bright gold plate. During the second production run, we added key guards to the high E and high F keys, and made a satin silver with bright silver keywork and highlights finish available. All of the baritones were sourced from Tenon in Taiwan. We considered a low Bb version, but came to believe that the low Bb market was essentially all talk with very few actual sales.
During my tenure at Orpheus Music two limited production models were made: a sopranino and a “classical specific” alto. The sopraninos were made for us by Narita (the parent company of the Unison brand) and were all satin silver plated with gold lacquered keywork. They had three ring strap hooks and our extra large Saxgourmet ergonomic thumbrest which was centered, not offset. The pads were black kangaroo leather Saxgourmet pads from MusicMedic with solid brass Noyek resonators. Keywork was to high E, and the key touch pearls on both main stacks were convex rather than the usual concave in order to accommodate players with larger finger tips. A total of fifty were manufactured.
I was very frustrated when my classical specific alto, the Marcel, didn’t find a lot of consumer acceptance. The Marcel was a small bore horn with a copper neck, body, bow and bell. It was the first horn we made with an upper stack speaker key to resolve the cross venting issues, and was heavily engraved on the bell, bell flare, bow, body, and neck. The strap hook had three rings and the Saxgourmet thumbrest was used. The pads were Lucien Deluxe by Pisoni with stainless steel domed resonators installed with a through rivet. We used these pads rather than our usual kangaroo leather pads simply because they had them on hand at the factory and wanted to use them up.The horn have a very sweet tone with a broad spectrum of harmonics due to the small bore (which had a pretty high taper) and the copper construction. Try as I did, I couldn’t develop any significant interest in this model. A total of twenty were made. I still have one which I use regularly with my classical saxophone students. It’s one of my very favorite horns!
I began to branch into accessory design while I was at Orpheus. We designed several different mouthpieces which were marketed under the “Steve Goodson” and “Saxgourmet” brands. The Saxgourmet ones with the high baffle and attatched ligature are particularly fine. There was a line of cases, and we finally perfected both the neck enhancer and the right hand thumbrest. We still sell the neck enhancers and thumbrests today, and they are our best selling accessory items.
I continued to experiment with necks, and found a factory in Taiwan which was manufacturing an excellent product with the same sort of taper (parabolic to a degree) I had been using, and who understood about not work hardening the metal during the manufacturing process. They also did beautiful finish work and engraving, and we had them manufacture a line of necks for us which we sold under the Saxgourmet brand name.
I was attending a trade show in Chicago when I was approached by a Taiwanese saxophone factory owner I knew who had a horn he wanted me to play and evaluate. We took the horn up to my hotel room, I played it and was absolutely knocked out. It was a fairly ugly bare brass tenor with lots of excess solder that hadn’t been removed and different engraving patterns on either side of the bell, but it played with an even voice and very big dynamic range. I made a few suggestions about some tone hole placement and the taper of the neck, and the next day we were talking about manufacturing this horn in both an alto and a tenor (the prototype was a tenor), adding a bunch of my usual features, and marketing it under our Saxgourmet brand name. I felt like this horn was what a Mk VI “should have been” and that the many acoustical flaws found on the Mk VI had been corrected while preserving the wonderful ergonomic feel of the horn in the hands. I had been given a horn as a gift for my birthday which was finished in a stunning copper plate and we agreed to use that finish along with abalone key touch pearls and more engraving than anyone else was offering at the time. This horn became the Saxgourmet Model Six, and is still one of my all time favorites. It was an immediate sales success, and still has quite a following. The first batch was made by Albest Manufacturing in Taiwan (they own the P. Mauriat brand) and they sold out very quickly. The next batch was made for us by Tenon in Taiwan since Albest didn’t have the production capacity available to fill our re-order quickly. There is absolutely no difference in the two differently sourced horns. They were made to our specifications. The bright copper “new penny” finish caused quite a sensation! All of these horns have black kangaroo leather Saxgourmet pads and gold plated solid brass Noyek resonators, three ring strap hooks, ergonomic Saxgourmet thumbrests, double arms on the low C, low B, and low Bb keys, abalone key touches, threaded octave pips, and very extensive hand cut engraving on the bell, bell flare, body tube, and neck. The alloy used is 82% copper, and they are exceptionally strong players.
Encouraged by the success of the Model Six alto and tenor, we decided to build a state of the art soprano to be sold in addition to the already successful Steve Goodson Model curved soprano. I wanted to build a “saxello” style soprano (called an “arc” soprano by the Taiwanese) which would accommodate a new, larger bell design I had come up with which was about twenty five percent wider than a conventional soprano bell and had a much more aggressive taper. I wanted the bell made from sterling silver, the body and bow from high copper content “rose” brass, and both the straight and the curved neck also made from sterling silver. Albest was already building a very high quality arc soprano, and they agreed to take on the project. They did a simply wonderful job. The horns were finished in the same “new penny look” copper and had the same extensive engraving style as the Model Six alto and tenor. Again, we went to MusicMedic for black kangaroo leather pads with solid brass gold plated Noyek resonators. The keywork was to high G, the strap ring had three rings, and we used our large Saxgourmet thumbrest. The wider bell made a huge difference in the projection of the horn, and the solid silver necks (dimensionally the same, one straight and one curved) made the response virtually instant. The pre-production prototype, which I still own, was completely copper plated. The actual production versions left the solid silver bell and necks unplated, which contrasted very nicely with the copper bodies. The alloy used was 82 percent copper, and there were two production runs of twenty five horns each.
Of course, Orpheus Music didn’t wish to be only in the “high end” of the saxophone market. They were doing very well with the LA Sax line of horns made (at that time) in Taiwan by Foo Pin. If you get a chance to pick up one of these horns (Model 650 soprano, Model 750 alto, or Model 850 tenor) you’ll be amazed at how nicely they play. Foo Pin made some plenty interesting finishes for us, and also produced straight alto and tenor saxophones that we sold under the LA Sax brand. We took a few of the LA Sax horns and had some really spectacular custom finishes applied by Rex Bullock who owned the Ed Myers Company. The finishes cost us more than the horns, but there probably hasn’t been anything like them since! We also sold bass, contra bass, and sopranino saxophones made by Orsi, and I must say that these Orsi made saxophones were all of dubious quality.
In order to address the student market, we commissioned Tenon to build a new line of Vespro saxophones (alto, tenor, and soprano) at their recently completed factory in Viet Nam. These were strictly off the shelf horns with our Vespro brand name on the bell. They are really and truly excellent instruments for the money, extremely well constructed and quite responsive and in tune.
For the “intermediate” portion of the saxophone market, we came up with a new model, the Orpheo. These were made by Tenon in Viet Nam, and were a Vespro bell, bow, body tube, and keywork, with an upper stack speaker key and a high G key. The low C, B, and Bb all had double arms, and there were two necks made from two different brass alloys which yielded two different tones. Because you had to make the body tube longer to accommodate the high G, the necks are actually slightly shorter than other saxophone necks and have smaller diameter tenons (overall length is really all that is important, not individual component length) so they are not interchangeable with other horns. The pads are black kangaroo leather Saxgourmet pads from MusicMedic and have nickel plated seamless domed resonators from Pisoni installed. They were available in alto and tenor models finished in gold lacquer, black anodized nickel with silver plated keys, bright silver plate, and a brass finish with swirls machined in the surface that we called “burnished”. They had a moderate amount of engraving on the bell, bow and body tube. Under the Orpheo logo on the side of the bell, they are engraved “Designed by Steve Goodson”. These are great playing horns and are a real value for the money.
All things unfortunately must come to an end, and after several years, the chairman of the board of Orpheus Music made a trip to New Orleans to “inform me” that they wanted to change the way I was being paid. I pointed out that the employment contract that they had signed (drawn up by my attorney) intentionally had no expiration date, and that I was quite content with the current arrangements. They didn’t like that……
My contract stipulated that I owned the Saxgourmet and Steve Goodson Model trademarks and designs, so I contacted the factories that were manufacturing for us and verified that they were willing to continue working with me. We set up a new corporation, and I met with the owner of Tenon at the NAMM show in Nashville and over a couple of days we outlined the specifications for the horn that would become the Super 400 alto and tenor.
As great a horn as the Model Six was, I new that I could do better. There was a new construction technique I wanted to employ (no, I’m not going to tell you what it is!) that significantly improved the resonance of the horn and quickened the response. We had figured out how to make a high G key that worked to the degree that G3 was just like any other note on the horn, and we now had the palm keys speaking without thinness……we hired a PhD metallurgist (from MIT, no less) who was a good musician as well and followed her advice about the alloys we used……we were surprised at a couple of her suggestions, but her advice proved absolutely correct…..we revised the way we threaded the neck tenon interior to further stabilize the low C and low B…..we moved and enlarged the upper stack speaker key and all of the palm key tone holes……we altered the “never stick” G# mechanism again for smoother operation……the bow diameter was increased and the taper reduced……all of the Super 400 horns have two necks. The necks are dimensionally identical, but are made of significantly different alloys, resulting in two very distinctively different tones…. before too long, we realized we were really onto something……all of these horns have black kangaroo leather Saxgourmet pads from MusicMedic, but now they are equipped with the air-tight Maestro resonators made from solid copper……the strap hook has three rings, the same Saxgourmet thumbrest is used, and all of the key touch pearls are not just abalone, but deep water abalone which has richer color and more striations……the amount of hand cut engraving was increased substantially (I seem to recall that my instructions to the factory engraver were simply “leave no spot on this horn un-engraved” and the color of the body plating was changed slightly to make it a little brighter. An order was placed, money changed hands, and we were now in business for ourselves.
The Super 400 has been our best selling series ever since it was introduced. It has gone through three significant revisions during its production history, all mechanism improvements. The second revision brought a new, absolutely fail safe anti-stick mechanism for the G# key. The third revision can be visually distinguished by a simplification of the upper part of the high G key mechanism.
The current Super 400 alto and tenor (we refer to them as version 3.0) will continue in production and will be joined by the new Super 400 Series II alto and tenor in late 2014. The Series II will have a solid copper alloy body with gold lacquered keywork and some minor revisions in resonator size. All of the Super 400 altos and tenors have been manufactured for us by Tenon.
We made another critical decision at this time: we got rid of all of our dealers, electing to sell our products only through our own website. This was hard to do, since many of the dealers were our personal friends, but the reality was that most (not all, but most) of them ultimately got around to owing us substantial amounts of money, and we simply chose to not be in the financing business. By selling direct, we are also able to offer our customers substantially better prices since we buy direct from the factory and sell directly to the end user with no middle man.
When the new horns arrived, they were a huge hit with players and we began to pursue some other models. The first additional model was a new Model Six curved soprano, which was a very logical evolution of the Steve Goodson Model that preceded it. It had a new bore, a different neck, and now used the solid copper air-tight Maestro resonators. Gone were the metal key touches, which were replaced by beautiful deep water abalone. The alloy used was changed to an 84 percent copper rose brass, and the engraving was increased to include not only the bell, bow, and body, but the key cups as well. Now we had what was simply the best curved soprano ever made!
I had always had a passion for big bore, dark sounding horns, and wanted to offer a model that had an extraordinarily dark and full voice. We knew that only a solid copper bell, bow, body, and neck would yield the complex sound we were seeking. We found a manufacturer who was producing a solid copper horn and had some expertise in working with the metal. As a bonus, they also had the capability of making rolled tone holes, a feature that some of our customers had requested. They could build the big bore body we needed in copper, as well as the larger bow and bell. We designed a very special neck for this horn, incorporating our neck enhancer as a permanent part of the neck, along with our unique nodal weights and an underslung octave mechanism. Once again, MusicMedic provided the black kangaroo leather Saxgourmet pads with solid copper Maestro air-tight resonators. This model, named the Voodoo Rex, comes as either an alto or a tenor. Both have double arms on the low C, B, and Bb, a three ring strap hook, a large very ergonomic right hand thumb rest, a unique asymmetrical palm key lay out, The horns are extensively engraved on the bell, bell flare, bow, body tube, and neck. The tenor has screw adjustable chromatic Bb and C side keys, and the alto has a high note compensator key for the upper stack. The key touch pearls are deep water abalone, and the body, bell, bow, and neck are clear coated to prevent patina of the copper. This has been an extremely popular model due to the unusually robust voice.
At the same time the Voodoo Rex series was being developed, we called upon the same factory to produce an outstanding low A baritone sax for us to be sold under our Saxgourmet brand. This horn followed in the steps of the Steve Goodson Model baritone that preceded it in that it had the unique taper on the upper end of the horn which evened out the timbre and improved the intonation and the excellent ergonomics that resulted from the relocation of the main stack key touches. The mechanism of the Saxgourmet bari was unique in that the low A could be fingered with either the conventional system using the left thumb or optionally with a special unique mechanism operated by the left little finger. This additional finger option gave much needed technicals flexibility for some difficult passages. These horns all have Saxgourmet kangaroo leather pads from MusicMedic and Maestro air-tight solid copper resonators. They are all finished in gold tinted lacquer and are extensively engraved on the bell, bell flare, bow, body tube, neck and all keywork. The key touches are deep water abalone, there are two individual bell to body braces, and the case has wheels! We made and sold a total of thirty five of these horns. It will ultimately be replaced by a new design baritone which will become a part of the Super 400 series, and have many of the same features as the alto and tenor of that series.
With considerable reservations, we entered the student saxophone market with our Bon Fils (that’s “Good Son” in French) alto. We had a goal of building a saxophone that was designed primarily for use by young students, and as a result, much sturdier in its construction. We also addressed the issue of school musicians who have to play a fall football season and a winter concert season that each have very different sound requirements by providing two very different necks with radically different tones. We considered that students are often called upon to play parades and other performances outdoors in inclement weather, and waterproofed the pads and used stainless steel springs which do not rust. Double arms on the lower keys, a three ring strap hook, and an ergonomic thumb rest were employed, and the key cradles were all machined vertically rather than at the usual 45 degree angle to give more impact resistance. A key guard was added to the low C# key to protect it from damage. The horn was designed to be very easy blowing, and overall durability and resistance to common damage was made a high priority. All of this was accomplished at a retail price of less than $1000, and this series has been extremely successful, although not very profitable.
When we examined the saxophones offered by other manufacturers, we understood that the majority of our product offerings were at the upper end of the price spectrum, and that many of our friends and customers simply didn’t have the financial resources needed for a Super 400 or Voodoo Rex. We also understood that the vast majority of saxophones offered at “medium” price points ($2000 – $3000) were usually simply “plain vanilla” which offered no real playing advantage to the player in spite of the outrageous claims of playability and improvement made by the manufacturers. We also understood that many, many of the horns offered at these price points were absolutely identical and made in the same factory, with the only difference being the brand name engraved on the bell. There is a huge amount of this sort of thing going on within the saxophone industry, and quite frankly, we resolved ourselves to do something about it. We knew that our unique resources and expertise would enable us to manufacture and offer for sale an extremely high quality basic saxophone with very superior playing characteristics relative to anything else at its price point. No bells and whistles, no gizmos. Just a very good playing, incredibly well made, and extremely beautiful saxophone at an affordable price point. This is our Voodoo Master alto and tenor saxophone. No exotic keywork, no special pads, just the best saxophone available at its price point.
We knew when we established our company that we needed a platform to show the world our capabilities and to establish Saxgourmet as being the unquestioned cutting edge of saxophone design and construction. Happily for me, this objective also allowed me to pursue my very wildest fantasies, and to build the horn I’d always wanted without concern for expense or marketability. The project was, in my view, as much of a marketing exercise as it was a design exercise. I knew that this project would be hideously expensive not only in monetary terms, but also in terms of available resources. I knew that if we succeeded, we would generate a great deal of discussion within the saxophone community, and that if we failed, we would generate even more discussion!
I started with a written list of all of the shortcomings of the modern saxophone. Some of these problems, such as the acoustically perfect number of octave pips (twelve) would be impossible to achieve. Others, such as the need to extend the reasonably playable range of the saxophone to four octaves rather than the usual and customary two and a half octaves, I considered to be well within the reasonable realm of possibility, even though other competent designers had tried and failed to find a resolution. Since it was agreed from the very beginning that there would be no financial constraints, we sought out the very finest materials and applied them in a fashion that we thought would give the best sort of musical and aesthetic results.
The Category Five, as the horn was named, has several very unique features which give it performance which exceed any other saxophone ever made. It has four octave pips operated by two separate octave key touches. The tone holes are all rolled, there are double arms for the low C, B, and Bb keys, a three ring strap hook, an ergonomic Saxgourmet thumbrest, a most unique bell to body brace which is mounted a four very small points very low on the bell which allows the end of the bell to vibrate much more freely, increasing projection. The pads are black kangaroo leather Saxgourmet pads made by MusicMedic and have gold plated solid copper Maestro air-tight resonators installed with through rivets. There is a key guard for the low C# key, and the neck is threaded to provide more stable lower tones. The four octave pips are all threaded to reduce hiss, and the two body pips are screw adjustable. The alloy used in the construction of the bell, bow, body tube, and neck is 84 percent copper, and all of the components are carefully hand assembled. The finish is a pure copper plate, and is exquisitely and elaborately engraved on the bell, bell flare, bow, body tube, neck, and all key cups. The key touch pearls are the finest deep water abalone available.
All of this comes at a not inconsiderable financial expense, and the Category Five is the most expensively priced saxophone ever offered. We thought that the very high price would eliminate the possibility of any sales. We were very pleasantly surprised to discover that even at the stratospheric price point the Category Five commands, there is some demand from players who demand the very best and for whom cost is no object.
The Category Five also generated, as we suspected, endless discussion on the internet, along with quite a few reviews written by people we had never met who had never seen or played the horn. We were amazed by the amount of erroneous information and outright lies that were circulated about this project, but I suppose that is the nature of the internet. The Category Five continues to be available by special order.
In addition to our full line of Saxgourmet saxophones, we also offer the most complete selection of alto and tenor saxophone necks available anywhere. Unlike other companies, we understand that each make and model of saxophone requires a specific neck, and that “one size does not fit all”. We currently manufacture two distinct series of necks, the Saxgourmet neck and the Evolution neck, and most likely make a model specifically for any saxophone. All of our necks come in a very high quality hard shell case.
The Saxgourmet neck has an underslung octave mechanism, a built in neck enhancer, extensive hand cut engraving, and our exclusive nodal weights which add mass at the location of specific pressure nodes. The taper is parabolic, and not a pure cone. Specific models are available to fit most alto and tenor saxophones. Gold lacquer and silver plated models are available.
The Evolution series of necks are our latest and most advanced alto and tenor saxophone necks. The tube is solid copper and has a parabolic taper. There is a built in neck enhancer, and nodal weights are located at the point of specific pressure nodes. There is a large weight attached at the nodal point of D2 and G2 which connects them, and greatly improves response in the second octave. The tenon is rifled to stabilize low note response. This is an extremely responsive and free blowing neck, and specific models are available for most alto and tenor saxophones.
The area of highest growth for our company in recent years has been in the sale of our hand faced mouthpieces. I learned the mouthpiece business primarily from Santy Runyon and Paul Coats, and our company now offers more different saxophone mouthpiece models than any company in the business. We manufacture unique models of our own design for sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. We offer models made from bell quality brass, stainless steel, Grenadilla wood, hard rubber, and synthetic resin. All of our mouthpieces are hand faced and individually play tested. This is an area of very high growth for us, and a market that we very much enjoy serving. Our designs are strictly our own, and many are quite innovative.
In addition to necks and mouthpieces, we manufacture and market a very wide variety of saxophone accessories, including ligatures, key clamps, neck enhancers, thumb rests, saxophone mutes, and other products. We also manufacture in New Orleans our own unique brands of key oil, pad treatment, and a “never stick” pad powder. For almost twenty years we have produced and marketed instructional DVD’s on the subjects of saxophone repair and mouthpiece refacing. These DVD’s are the largest selling products of their type in the industry.
Our goals for the future are simple: we wish to offer the most innovative and highest quality saxophones and saxophone accessories to players worldwide through direct sales on our website. We have no ambitions to embrace growth only for the sake of growth, and do not wish to significantly increase the scope of our activities. Our commitment is strictly to innovation and high quality, and to offering products that other companies cannot or will not manufacture.