And now - new for 2011 - the ' Pelham Saturday Night Special'
One fine day last Autumn, Lewis Pelham contacted me, to see if I had any suitable C Melody' donor horns' for a project he had in mind. He was quite taken by a dismantled Buescher stencil - Lyon & Healy "American Professional" - (to quote him) .. "It is EXACTLY what I want. Body sound but plating less than perfect; you see, I intend for it to be black, like the Impala, and I just could not paint over excellent plating. Also, the keywork, which will remain plated, is lovely.... I was slightly worried that some of the swivel screws eg, palm keys would be absent but sensibly have been put where they belong. I did not count them but assume all the fastenings are present." (but naturally Lewis, I may be surrounded by clutter, but it's an organised chaos !)
The rest of the description below is mostly extracted from Lewis's emails to me - detailing modifications and charting the progress of the horn and case.
What a gorgeous end result, but I'd be undecided as to whether it should be played, or exhibited.
( The description belowis in Lewis's own words, extracted from emails between us, as the project progressed )
The expression 'Saturday Night Special' refers to a short barrelled revolver used by the American police It's coincidental that the revolver, like this sax which was "Made in Chicago" during the 20's, was probably used in the same era :-)
It really is a very good horn...my SR Tech Fusion tenor sax mouthpiece works wonderfully on this C-Melody sax ; it will whisper down to low Bb, and simply scream (or whisper) altissimo. The neck with the vent closer to the cork certainly made a difference. Also, the intonation of the troublesome "fingers off" C# is considerably better than my 'real' Buescher TrueTone C-Melody. .
The L&H is now virtually finished, it looks (to me) gorgeous. The colour of old Martin lacquer for the tube and bow, plus large, curved, square, very pretty and ergonomic key touches. The bell, bands, key-work and crook are, of course the original silver....a la King Silversonic. I could not resist making up a 'flying buttress' crook brace....I like them so much, even if, in this case it is totally unnecessary because there is already a plate to take care of that.
I just have to make up an adjustable right thumb rest and re-cork the crook. It plays, as anticipated, very well indeed. A more robust sound than the Buescher TrueTone which I can only attribute to the resonators being larger than those on the TrueTone's Snap-In pads.
I have made up and fitted the revised, & curved, touch pieces of the horn, and am currently arranging for the low C# and B to be interconnected with the G# - just like a more modern horn - a very fiddly process . Plus, of course the Impala style wings for low C and Eb. ;-)
I am fiddling and farting around with the interconnection linking low C, B & Bb with the G#...just like a modern horn. :-) In addition, I am linking the low C to the much more accessible enlarged G# key - a favourite mod of mine.
I now have so many soldered-on tags in this area that the whole spatula key platform is impossible to assemble. :'( - but I will persevere. I have to say that it will be an excellent horn if the prediction that it it will outplay my TrueTone is true. The TrueTone is simply gorgeous (in it's own right) with an 8* SR Tech Fusion tenor sax mouthpiece, twinned with a M-H baritone sax Fibracell reed. However, at first sampling, the L&H seems to have a better fingers off C# - better intonation for reasons that I have not yet had time to explore.
In that photograph of the lower stack you may notice that, like the Impala, I have given it 'unslipoffable' low C & Eb key touches. With the key-work I use soft solder and the occasional pin....I really hate having to apply lots of heat to saxophones. Only problem with soft solder is that the fusion point can be close to the melting point of shellac...so be ultra careful when re-padding. :-) .
I forgot to say earlier that I have "moved" the low C# & low B touches further around the horn by about 5mm. Just that small amount makes a huge, difference to the ergonomics of the horn. The G# has also been altered from a button to a plate. The low C#, just pushed forward 8mm makes this little vintage horn just as fast and agile as one with Selmer key-work. This is my No1 horn - a real keeper (as the Americans say).
The Lyon & Healey really is absolutely super. I have already gigged it twice, and no-one yet has complained. Just the case to finish now. Currently I am awaiting the postman with, hopefully, a box of No.6 raised head brass screws.
Today I dragged out my Rampone & Cassani tenor sax, renowned for it's huge sound....there was not much to choose between the R&C tenor, and the Lyon & Healy 'SNS' in sound. At one stage Sandy shouted downstairs asking which one I was playing - praise indeed - they both sounded similar to her.
Below is a picture of the lower stack. The original touch keys were removed and replaced by ergonomic shaped 2mm copper sheet.
Comparing my L&H stencil with my pukka Buescher C-Melody, I am spotting the odd differences - bearing in mind that the L&H is 3 years older than the Buescher, and allowing for any design changes in the intervening period.
The octave mechanism is totally different ! Surely, for a stencil, Buescher would provide the cheapest available ? Unless they had a box full of their previous (1922) design why on earth should Buescher fit anything other than their current mechanism ? This would be their least expensive option, to redesign it just for a "cheaper" model simply does not make commercial sense.
There were stencils made for bona fide manufacturers, such as Lyon & Healey, and stencils marked up to advertise Stores. Whereas the latter would, I imagine, accept second-line products, I am wondering if the bone fide manufacturers (like L&H) had a direct technical input to their suppliers (ie. Buescher) and that they, as customers, called the shots to some degree.
Made up an adjustable right thumb rest for comfort. With an adjustable right thumb rest why not have a comfortable, profiled left thumb rest?
The replacement neck (with the vent much closer to the neck cork) arrived this morning. The difference is absolutely astounding. Bright, clear and solid palm key notes, just like my Buescher TrueTone . I was almost frightened to try it, in case it did not have the result that I wanted. I cannot believe that we have stumbled across some endemic design fault.
Perhaps we have found the reason why some people dislike the C Mel in that all the necks with the "short" pip position are weak at the top end. :-) The new neck is a more than perfect fit; slightly tight, requiring lapping with carborundum paste....absolutely perfect.
The final reason for my delight is that it is not fitted with the "man in the moon" brace, which frees me to add a curved "Conn" Art Nouveau flying brace....I just love the aesthetics of those. (note the Rovner 'Platinum' ligature...)
The 'completely refurbished ' shaped 20's case...
Finally completed the case - it took about ten times the work on the horn! My over-riding ethic at work was the reduction of weight - it became almost an obsession, as weight is detrimental to every dynamic aspect of a motor car. Yet, when I make things for myself they invariably turn out at twice the weight of the original....Hey Ho.
I tried to avoid metal furniture on the case. Only one metal securing clip - hidden by a strap & no metal swivels for the shoulder strap - the straps just grow out of the case.
Overall view. Colour of old Martin lacquer and influenced by the King Supersonic. And the renovated case !
And it's humble origins ?
Note the different positions of the octave pip on the three Buescher C-Melody necks, pictured above (right). It seems to be that, the closer the pip is to the neck cork - the stronger the sound, especially in the 'palm key' area...
Until now, I have regarded the difference in necks as I regard the difference in finish....with some scepticism. However, as you know, I have two virtually identical C tenors...a Buescher TrueTone and this Lyon & Healey stencil. The L&H plays well (with a neck similar to the 'middle' neck), except in the palm key tones where it is thin and weedy in the extreme - the TrueTone is powerful and bright in this area with a neck that matches the left-hand neck, above right.
Putting the TrueTone neck on to the Lyon & Healy - the instrument is transformed. Putting the Lyon & Healy neck on the TrueTone - it is now thin and weedy. The neck is the cause - like chalk and cheese. The lengths, the OD, & the ID are identical....the only physical difference is that the octave pip of the TrueTone neck is 7/8" closer to the mouthpiece end than that of the original Lyon & Healy neck. Thankfully that difference is now resolved with a replacement neck for the Lyon & Healy !
Note : This is not Lewis first custom C-Melody / C Tenor project Click here for details of the Pelham Conn Impala
Copyright Lewis Pelham / Alan Tucker Feb. 2011