Hawkes and Son C Soprano (1934)

The Story

I acquired this unusual saxophone from Johnny Roadhouse in Manchester. Having looked at all of their vintage instruments on the wall, I eventually turned to look at this one which was standing on the top of the counter. I already had a couple of C Melody saxes, but had never seen a C Soprano. I also liked the idea of having a good English make in my collection.

As usual the staff at the shop gave me great service, throwing in some reeds, a pad saver to go along with the two mouthpieces in the case. When I forgot to take the reeds home they were quick to post them on to me – all good reasons to count this as one of the best places to shop for vintage saxophones. Oh – and this time the sax was in good playing order, an excellent tribute to the repairers there.

The Instrument

Once I got this home I was quick to measure it up against my straight soprano and – yes – it was one inch shorter and – yes – it wasn’t a ‘High C’. Please always be careful not to be fooled into getting one of those – look for a ‘L’ or ‘b’ pitch marking rather than ‘H’ or ‘#’ one. I once got into endless haggling with an eBay seller who claimed not to know the difference. Well the actual difference is you can’t play a High C instrument with anyone else and you certainly shouldn’t pay normal saxophone prices for one. eBay made me return the instrument, so for a time had neither horn nor money, while the seller did nothing. Beware – eBay doesn’t know what a High C horn is! Eventually I got a refund because the case and mouthpiece were missing. High and Low C versions of instruments were made at a time before the world decided to standardise on 440Hz for middle C.

Actually I discovered that this is a Martin stencil. The case has characteristic Martin lettering, even though they spell out ‘Hawkes and Son, Denmark St. (Piccadilly, London), +W’. On the back it’s marked ‘LOW PITCH’ in a characteristic Martin font.

The serial number is 130698, which is a bit of an enigma. It can’t be 1938 (a date from the Martin numbers according to Dr Rick), since Boosey and Hawkes merged around 1934 – unless, that is, Hawkes & Son’s brand went on for a few years. All I can say is that it must have been built right at the time of the merger, so I’m going to say 1934!

The key holes are really interesting, as some have the typical Martin bevelled edges, some slope inward, some are normal straight ones and some are normal to half way up and then taper inward (the tapering being much longer than the bevelled ones). My sax technician thought that some might have been filed off, but I seriously doubt that, given the wide variety of differences.

It’s a silver-plated model with a very slight gold shading on the inside of the bell. I’m sure the pearl tops to the keys have been added later, as they don’t all fit exactly over the silver keys underneath which are all flat. It doesn’t affect the playing, which is smooth and surprisingly well balanced for a horn of this age. There’s no F# key on this – hardly necessary for a player like me who struggles to keep a small saxophone in tune towards the middle – let alone the top – of the upper register in any case.

The Player

Well, as you can image, playing in concert pitch is odd for most saxophonists, since we have Bb or Eb keys etched into the left hand sides of our brains. It’s even weirder trying to pitch this instrument for an occasional soprano player like me. In any case this is fun – it doesn’t suffer from the strangulation pea-shooter qualities of most of the C Melody saxes I’ve tried. The tone is clear and the fingering easy – especially on the ‘pinky’ keys, which are smooth and responsive. I’ve included a link to a video so you can hear the potential, although I know it will sound a good deal better in the hands of a good soprano player. I haven’t yet practiced with the horn enough to use it in a band. I’ll report back if and when that happens.

Saxifications

  • Make – Hawkes & Son (Martin stencil)
  • Model – Unknown (Handcraft Committee I)
  • Serial Number – 130,698
  • Date of Manufacture – 1934
  • Place of Manufacture – Elkhart, Indiana, USA
  • Finish – Silver plated
  • Weight – 2lbs 1oz
  • Sound – Soft and round, volume similar in both registers
  • Ease of Blowing – Less strangled than most C Melodies
  • Ease of Fingering – Well balanced

More about  Martin saxophones can be found currently on the Web from Saxpics and there’s a really excellent review of a Hawkes and Son XX Century tenor at Shwoodwind.

Do you own a C soprano or Hawkes & Son sax? Do you ever play them live? If so, where? Please let me know by commenting on this post.

Advertisements

3 Responses

  1. Hi Martin, I believe I have the same saxophone as you describe above although mine was made in London. I have had it for 20+ years and my wife purchased it for me from Greenwich Market fro 50 quid. I have taken it to a repair guy and he thinks the cost of the repair is worth more than the instrument. I have cleaned it up myself and I can see one missing spring needle at the middle C key. Can you look at your saxophone and let me know which post the spring sits? I would really like to make it a player. Let me know if you can help.

    Warren

  2. Ihavea hawks&son xx soprano saxophone serial numberis 55252

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: