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All you ever need to know (well, almost....) about C-Melody saxophones

 

Taken from my postings on various forums, plus answers to emails.  I make no apologies for any grammatical,  spelling,  context errors or duplication - the idea was to get all the useful information and responses in one place.  The same questions seem to come up time and time again, so hopefully this will save a lot of repetition.  I've tried to use only my responses, but apologise if I have inadvertently used anyone else's' comments - please let me know and I'll either remove them or give you due credit.  If you leave this page, following a link, you may need to use the '<' back-arrow on your browser to return.

A special prize to anyone who finds that I have contradicted myself (major error, not minor) in different answers..........   And no, the prize is not a C-Melody sax !  These answers are, of course, purely my own personal experience, based on experience gained playing reed instruments for 45 years, from amateur to professional - and back to amateur again !  At all times keep an open mind.  

Follow the links below to some appropriate answers.  If you don't see what you need in this list, I would suggest that the easiest way to search this page is to use the Edit > Find facility on your browser to search for a word.  There is also a 'trial' search facility for the US C-Melody sax forum contents - at the bottom of this page.

Q)  Why do you play C-Melody sax ?

                 >> Q) new topic - coming soon, C-Melody  and  C-Soprano - are they the same ?   (basically, "no....")

Q)  What do C-Melody saxes look like, and which make is the best ?

        - if you go to the C-Melody  Model Info  section  - plenty of pictures available !

Q)  I've heard the playing position can be a little uncomfortable ?

Q)  So what exactly is a "stencil" saxophone ?

Q)  Can I tell what year my C-Melody was manufactured in ?

                                =======================

Q)  What do the 'original' C-Melody mouthpieces play like, why go for a newer one ?

Q)  Are there any modern mouthpieces specifically designed for C-Melody ?

Q)  Does a C- Melody played with a tenor sax mouthpiece play in tune (C) ?  

Q)  Is intonation (tuning) a problem on C-Melody saxes in general, what mouthpiece is best ?

Q)  So what other ( e.g. alto sax ) mouthpieces work on C-Melodies ?

                                =======================

Q)  As a relatively inexperienced player, is there any difference in C-Melody and modern fingering ?

Q)  What can I reasonably expect to get when I buy a C-Melody sax ?    (BIG subject....)

Q)  How about the ones that need fixing  - how much would it cost ?

Q)  If I get it completely overhauled, will it greatly increase the value ?

Q)  The C-Melody I'm interested in doesn't have a case, is that a problem ?

                                =======================

Q)  So why did C-Melody saxes appear in the 20's and then disappear ? 

Q)  I'm still a bit confused about this B-flat, E-flat and C (concert) pitch business !

Q)  (new)   I also see reference to LOW PITCH or LP, and HIGH PITCH - what's that about ?

Q)  I do see some very negative things written about C-Melody saxes.....

Q)  Can you play ' harmonics ' ( altissimo ) on a C-Melody sax ?

                                =======================

Q)  How about buying a C-Melody on ebay, I see a lot for sale in the US, good idea ?

Q)  How do I confirm it is a C-Melody, when the seller doesn't know anything about saxes ?

 

 

 

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Q)    Why do you play C-Melody sax ?

A)     I've gone completely 'C' these days, 'C' (tenor) Melody, C-soprano sax, C-clarinet, and flute/piccolo.  Pity I didn't know about most of those options when I played for a living in the late 60's and 70's.  A wasted lifetime of sight-transposing 'C' (concert) parts for Bb and Eb saxes and clarinet !  Plus I have good perfect-pitch, so now when I hear a note I don't have to mentally adjust for alto/tenor, or improvise on three sets of chord changes. I do keep a normal tenor and alto (and a Bb sop & clari) around just in case I ever need to play in a section, with transposed parts or with other sax players - but they are rarely used now.

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Q)    What do C-Mels look like, and which make is the best C-Melody sax ?

Note: - if you go to my  classifiedsyou can see loads of C-Melody saxophones - plenty of pictures also available at  Model Info

A)    C-Mels come in two shapes, looking either like big alto's (Conn and the relatively modern Vito) or small tenor's (the rest, plus early Conn).  The following observations are purely personal, everything is subjective.

The straight-neck Conn's tend to have a 'purer, gentler' more focussed sound than the other tenor sax 'look-alikes'. I prefer the 'tenor' ones, simply because I like the sound more, and I find the playing position more natural. However the later  Conn's do have the best action, and are a bit more of an investment - really good ones fetch a better price.

Of the 'tenor shape' ones, so much of the sound is down to the player that I'm a little cautious making judgement.  Buescher, King and Martin all have the potential of deep dark tones, yet can roar and cut when you need them to (obviously this also depends on choice of mouthpiece, reed, pads -reflector or plain etc. ).  Other makes are a little 'lighter' in tone - Buffet (Evette), Holton, York and the 'real' Selmer C-Mel.  However I must stress that this is just my own opinion, the C-Mel forum is chock-full of comments on most models of C-Melody sax.

A  Conn (straight-neck) C-Mel is a lovely player, great action, but for me the sound was too small and focussed for my style. Buescher & Martin can  (imho) be 'raunchier, earthier and bigger sounding', but they are all very much 'blank canvasses' and the sounds can be drastically altered by choice of mouthpiece. Strangely enough, fitting a curved neck onto a 'straight-neck  Conn body provided a great compromise.

C-Mels are still so reasonably priced that it's feasible to by 'one of each' to try - especially if you are able to fix them up yourself.

 There are also ' stencil ' models - Selmer New York (a.k.a.  Conn),  Lyon & Healy (who also made some of their own),  GretschPan-American ( Conn ),  Wurlitzer, and very many 'dealer' or 'store' engravings - e.g  DitsonJenkins etc. etc.  More about stencils in another Q & A.

(to be mentioned - Conn microtuners,  also -coming shortly - a full page on different makes, and their features. )

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Q)      I've heard the playing position can be a little uncomfortable ?

A)      If at all possible I would strongly urge you to try and find a C-Melody player, reasonably near to you (I appreciate this may not be possible), so you can maybe try one, it's difficult to explain. I'm just a little over five foot tall, and find alto very comfortable, but tenor (great to play) has always been just a little 'bulky and stretching' for my height.   But I prefer to play the tenor. So the C-Mel seemed an obvious compromise, as a C-Mel on me looks proportional to (e.g.) a tenor on a six foot sax player....

With a straight-neck Conn, although it sounds (to me) more like an alto, the straight-neck Conn physically feels like playing a tenor because the length and angle of the neck pushes it away and down. So for someone short like me, and therefore relatively short arms, it is a bit of a stretch, verging on 'uncomfortable'. Whereas the curved neck Martin & Buescher C-Mels, that I mostly play these days, sit high and close - so feel more like an alto, despite looking and sounding more like a tenor.... Difficult to describe unless you've tried it, some people find the playing 'angles' tricky, e.g. the curved neck gets in the way of reading music, and the centre of gravity does put your front teeth at risk  (easily fixed by either moving the strap ring, or attaching a second one).

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Q)    So what exactly is a "stencil" saxophone ?

A)    Basically it's a sax made by the 'big' manufacturers, but engraved specifically for stores and music shops/dealers with their own choice of name etc.   I'm in the process of putting together a page which lists commonly found stencils, and will be adding photo's of typical identifying features for each major manufacturer.  

Click here to see the Stencil page - which is still a 'building site'.

Rather than explain it further. all of these links do a fine job. "Proper Job" as we'd say in Cornish....  Most also contain information which may help you to identify the manufacturer of your own stencil (if that's what you have) -  

            http://www.saxpics.com/infonmisc/stencils.htm

            http://www.drrick.com/stencil.html

        (and)

            http://www.cybersax.com/QA/Q&A_Topic_Directory.html 

Note : on the Cybersax site, scroll down to the 'Stencil Saxophones' link - it's past Keilwerth Stencils. It's well worth having a good look around this section, there are plenty more excellent and very useful Q & A pages

Please Note : There are some exceptions. Lyon & Healy saxophones may be stencils or 'own make'  - they either had saxes made by the 'big three' (Buescher Conn & Martin) or commissioned parts and built them themselves. This has led to the existence of Lyon and Healy saxes with (e.g.) a Conn 'mercedes' Low C guard, and Martin 'bevelled' tone-holes. 

A lot of Buescher stencils have different octave mechanisms than 'named'  Buescher's, and usually don't have the 'snap-in' pads.  Martin stencils don't always have 'bevelled' tone-holes.  Conn stencils frequently don't have 'rolled' tone-holes, or the extra aux-front-F that was standard quite early on Conn's.  The bow protectors and neck braces may also differ.   But the one good fact is that most stencils literally play as well as their 'named' equivalents (being mostly made from the same bodies and components, or earlier versions...) - but usually sell at much reduced prices !  

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Q)    Can I tell what year my C-Melody was manufactured in ?

A)    Within certain limits, yes. Information has been lost over time, but I've put together a page with the best I can find.  The dates only apply to 'manufacturer engraved' C-Mels  (e.g.  Conn,  Buescher, Martin etc.) stencils don't follow the same sequences.  Please do not be confused by any 'Patent dates' near the serial number - this is when a Patent was registered for the sax, not the manufacturing date.

Further explanation available on this link -  C-Melody Serial Number Lists

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Q)    What do the 'original' C-Melody mouthpieces play like, why go for a newer one ?

A)    Because C-Melodies were mostly all built in the 20's the original mouthpieces were very close-lay and have a tone that is (to put it mildly) 'dated', usually don't taste great after all this time, plus they used a reed of a size that now is not readily available.   Bass clarinet reeds can be used instead, the width is right, usually in medium to hard strengths because of the narrow lay - again down to personal preference.

I've recently tested a modern ebonite version of the standard C-Mel mouthpiece, but with a more open lay.  It's supplied by Aquilasax , at the very reasonable price of  $35 (incl. lig) plus shipping, well recommended - I've got one myself to add to my collection.......   Latest :   Aquilasax now also supply a metal C-Mel mouthpiece in quite sensible tip openings up to #7.

Q)    Are there any modern mouthpieces specifically designed for C-Melody ?

A)    It is possible to buy modern C-Melody mouthpieces which use tenor reeds, but some of these aren't much better sounding than the originals unless you want to spend a lot of money.  There are a couple of 'economy C-Melody mouthpieces available in the UK, from Dawkes and John Myattt (and maybe others) - I think it's supplied from Windcraft.

Here are links to other modern C-Melody mouthpiece makers, which include   Zinner,   Leblanc,   Runyon,   Beechler,   Bill Street and   Ralph Morgan.  Apart from  Zinner, who are in Germany, and Aquilasax in New Zealand, all of the others are usually only available direct from the USA - or else ebay-land.......

And here are more pictures of C-Melody mouthpieces (old and new) that  I've had over the years - Runyon  and  Aquilasax

Most sax players own a tenor mouthpiece (or three !) and find that these usually give a modern sound on C-Mels, and good intonation, with the added bonus that they can also use their tenor reeds. Only a few tenor mpcs (usually with small chambers) give problems. I've also had good success with some alto mpcs, but the tone is 'smaller'. 

As a good cheap 'starter C-Mel mouthpiece, the tenor sax  Rico Royal 'Graftonite'  is a good start at less than 20 (allow a little more for adding lig and cap), or any tenor 'student' mouthpiece. A Google UK search on   Rico Royal Graftonite   will produce a lot of suppliers

More info on that subject below, if possible - 'try before you buy'.

( specific manufacturers details to be added

Q)    Does a C-Melody played with a tenor mouthpiece play in tune (C) ?  

A)    the simple answer is 'yes'.  I've checked this extensively (as I've literally  replaced my tenor with a C-Mel) against electronic tuners, keyboards, and with other 'normal' instrument players.

 
The mouthpiece  just goes on the cork further.  I mostly play now with a Zinner 'Adjustotone' tenor mouthpiece, but I also use Otto Link,   Berg Larsen,  Lawton,   Couf  etc.  I must say though' that there are maybe e the odd one or two tenor mouthpieces that won't get the tuning right across the range, but thankfully these are the exceptions.  Also some of the 'chunkier' alto mouthpieces work well, they need to be quite well out on the cork.   I prefer tenor mouthpieces though'., simply because I have a drawer full of them, and plenty of reeds ! 

Q)    Is intonation (tuning) a problem on C-Melodies in general, what mouthpiece is best ?

A)    Intonation can be a problem with some modern mouthpieces ( as with vintage saxes in general ), it's just a case of finding the right mouthpiece(s). More info further down the page...

See also the 'tune it first' info in the next Q&A if you intend to try out any modern mouthpiece.

(More info on suitable mouthpieces to follow)

Q)     So what other ( e.g. alto ) mouthpieces work on C-Mels ?

A)    As regulars will know, I favoured conventional a tenor mouthpiece on C-Melody, but because I've now tightened up my embouchure a little - with the acquisition of a C-Soprano - I've been trying a few of my alto mouthpieces on my Martin C-Mel. I already have had success with alto mpcs on Conn straight-neck C-Mels.

However, the point of this posting is to stress something I sometimes forget when checking C-Mel intonation. Always first ensure that the sax is in tune with a piano or tuner first ! I always now check using A below the 'octave break' and E just above it, usually reasonable notes on a C-Mel.   Make absolutely sure those notes are in tune first, I prefer with a keyboard so that I can hear any out-of-tune 'beating'. Then, it's amazing how much easier it is to evaluate the rest of the tuning.

Merely slapping a mouthpiece 'roughly on' doesn't do it - all 3 B's, D's and E's can be amazingly out of tune across the octaves if the 'middle' of the sax isn't in tune with the outside world. You can then faff around for hours finding the optimum position, if at all.   It's as if the C-Melody was designed to only in-tune with an in-tune parlour piano - well, it was, wasn't it ? We're so used to adjusting our other saxes to cope with more extreme tunings that I, for one, forgot the basics.

Anyway that 'tune-it-first' approach has paid dividends with the even trickier C-Soprano.
Anyway, the alto mpcs that I found worked well with - tested with Martin and Buescher C-Mels - (even with harmonics and NO 'low-gurgling) were all ebonite,  Link,  Berg,  Zinner/Strathon,  Couf - metal ones seemed to thin/harsh and just 'too small'. Obviously alto mpcs were further out on the cork - roughly half-way.

I did check internal dimensions of all those that gave the best results against the slim 'Runyon C-Mel' mouthpiece I have, and guess what ? Very similar internal dimensions, the Runyon is just a little longer, what does that matter when it's on the cork ? So remember, tune it to a piano first !   Hope this helps somebody else.

Later Additions - 

Meyer (alto) OK on a Conn straight-neck                

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Q)     As a relatively inexperienced player, is there any difference in C-Melody and modern fingering ?

A)     A C-Melody sax is probably for the more experienced player, but can be used to learn on, and is very satisfying once you have the basics.  Keys are almost exactly the same as modern saxes, except some C-Mels don't have the extra aux-front-F (top pearl) key which is only really used by advanced players, but do have a neat extra G# trill and 'forked' low Eb.  Features do vary according to manufacturer

Naturally, like any 20's saxes, C-Mels play a bit like vintage cars drive, the action may seem a little un-refined (clunky, even) by comparison to modern saxes.  But any quirkiness with the action is overcome by the great tone and character, especially when coupled with a modern mouthpiece

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Q)    What can I reasonably expect to get when I buy a C-Melody sax ?

A)    Well, the first thing is that you will obviously get an 80 year old 'vintage' saxophone.  This can be a little bit different if you currently use other saxes or instruments that are much more modern. No more traumatic than if you go from a modern to a 'classic' car, or buy a piece of antique furniture.  Initially you see all the minor flaws that you didn't spot in the showroom or the pictures, and you could be excused for feeling just a little daunted, even disappointed, by your purchase.  But, like all things with character, a vintage sax will soon 'grow on you'.  

Once you get past the slightly different 'feel', and get to know the C-Melody by playing it, you will notice (if your technique is adequate) both the subtlety of tone, and the reserve of power (a.k.a. the ability to 'roar'), that only the vintage handmade - or the very expensive modern handmade - saxes seem to have.  With the right choice of reed and mouthpiece ( this is a process that almost always applies to any vintage sax, not just the C-Melody ) the sound can be quite superb.  This is of course without mentioning the other advantages, like 'pride of ownership' and 'investment potential'.

So lets put things into perspective, price-wise.   To buy a C-melody that has been totally refurbished by a  specialist dealer, with new pads/cork/felt, with any  slack or wear taken out of the action, and chemically cleaned plus hand polished, could set you back up to 1000 - or even more for 'special' models.  It would almost certainly have to come from America ( land of the C-Melody saxophone ) so would also attract shipping charges, plus 5% duty and 17.5% VAT at the UK end.  Can be a costly exercise, so what other options ?

Well,  you can find dealers in the UK  (e.g. saxophones.co.uk)  who occasionally sell C-Melody saxes.  They seem to range in price from 350 to 750 after a quick Google search.  They seem to be listed as either' good playing order' or 'just serviced'. which usually means they have been through the dealers favourite repairers hands to get them into playing order.  Therefore (e.g..) the pads won't usually all have been changed (unless specifically mentioned), just basically checked and bad ones changed - along with any cork or felt needed -  up to a reasonable playing standard.  I wouldn't expect that any 'swedging' (tightening up of the action) to have been done either.  If anyone has experienced anything other than that, I'd really like to know (email link at the end of the page).  Like the more expensive 'US Dealers' C-Melody saxes, you'd expect it to come with a suitable mouthpiece, and some with a case which is not always in pristine condition.  Read the description and ask questions, what you see is what you get.

The other option is private seller and/or ebay.   I've another Q&A further down the page about buying a C-Melody direct from the US on ebay - it's not for the faint-hearted.  So I'll restrict comments here to buying from within the UK or Europe.

Most of the C-melody saxes in this country originate from the USA, so, although prices here may seem higher than the US, by the time you add the original buyers' shipping costs, tax & VAT, it's not that a UK seller is making a huge profit.  I've been selling some of mine recently, having a 'lifestyle audit' (how I HATE that phrase) and most of mine were bought a while back, when the pound would only buy 1.5 dollars - it's much better now..

So, for up to 200, you would only expect to buy what is basically a 'project' sax, pretty much unplayable in it's current state, but ideally suited for an experienced sax player who can replace a pad or some cork.  It should be basically sound, and you'd expect any dents, damage or major repairs to be mentioned by the seller.  Don't be afraid to ask about that. It may have a case, usually not up to much, but it will have protected the sax.  Some screws may need a little WD40, but their are plenty of internet resources on "How to...."  Go back to my home page to find links to Repair Resources etc., or carry on down this page for some info about repairers and potential costs.  'Fixer-uppers' however, are more suitable for home repair/overhaul on those long dark winter evenings.

From 200 to (say) 350,  I'd expect a playable sax, although not everyone's definition of 'playable' is the same.....  When I list a sax on ebay I try and put up a very basic sound sample, just to show what the sax is 'capable of'.  I say 'capable of' because I've been playing for a long time, and am used to vintage saxes. It may be a little optimistic to expect a less experienced player to put down his Yamaha alto, pick up an 80 year old C-Melody, and sound the same as me.  There could also be a little 'slack' on some keys, and others may require a little regulation (height adjustment, or opening distance) to your own requirements or comfort level, nothing that a little cork or felt wouldn't easily fix.  The pads could well be a mix of old and new, hopefully seating OK, I'd expect the low 'bell' notes to maybe need a little attention.  Above all, nothing that a little T.L.C. and minor tweaking wouldn't cure.

I must admit that (as I say elsewhere here) -  "That's why I prefer just to get my saxes playing, appreciate them just as one would a vintage car (allowing for the little 'age' and 'wear' quirks) - life is too short for perfection, enjoy the moment."

From 350 and up, if I bought a C-Melody sax from a private buyer, I'd expect the same standard as from a general dealer - that is, a sax that would play well 'out of the case'.  It still wouldn't be up to the 1000 'top standard' discussed originally, but also I wouldn't expect it to be rattly, or require major immediate attention, or early replacement of pads.  Again, as  above , you may still want to have minor adjustments/regulation (height adjustment, or opening distance) to your own requirements or comfort level. I'd hope for a case, mouthpiece (old or modern), maybe even a couple of reeds and other 'inclusive' bits that you tend to get more from private buyers than dealers.  Whether the sax has been meticulously cleaned is another matter, some owners prefer a little 'vintage patina' on period saxes. This could go on forever, but this may just have given you a bit of guidance.  Should you ever buy one of my C-Mels I would hope that you wouldn't be disappointed.

(this topic is still under construction)

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Q) How about the ones that need fixing  - how much would it cost me to have a good repair job done on them?

A) How much does it cost to have a 'repair shop' overhaul a C-Mel ?  Well, you need a 'sympathetic' repairer, who understands old saxes, but that doesn't always equate to 'expensive'.....  Some repairers are inclined to be a little dismissive, and steer you towards buying a new tenor or alto instead (usually from their shop, coincidentally...).  I notice saxophones.co.uk list a few refurbed C-Mels, maybe trying to contact the people who do theirs (they give names in the listings) would get you an answer.  Plus look at Marshall-McGurk site - they repair saxes, and the lady actually plays a C-Melody. 

A very useful page on the  Stephen Howard Woodwind site gives a comprehensive listing of potential costs at the various levels of 'servicing'.  If anyone has good experiences of specific repairers, especially to vintage saxes, let me know and I'll add details here.

I've recently had reports that (certainly in the South) to completely overhaul a Conn C-Melody would be  at least 300, and feasibly up to 450.  Not an inconsiderable amount.  There is a list of instrument repairers on this page -  http://www.saxophones.co.uk/sax_repairers.htm

In the Birmingham area you could try M.I.R. in Halesowen. Their initials stand for Musical Instrument Repairs.  -  apparently they do good discounts for Conservatoire students in Brum.  (info by courtesy of Lewis Pelham, C-Melody & Tenor saxes, and blues 'harpist' supremo) 

Best of all - just 'ask around'.  There are a whole load of very good repair technicians who get enough work by 'word of mouth' and local reputation - they don't need to advertise,  are just known to local musicians and small music shops.  And they frequently will just 'get it going' instead of insisting on a full overhaul.  The internet is fine, but there are loads of good traditional craftsmen out there who (thankfully) haven't changed much with the times - and often their prices reflect that as well !!

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Q)  If I get it completely overhauled, will it greatly increase the value ?

A)  You've hit the main snag with C-Mels (or any other vintage sax) early on - the cost of an overhaul !  That's what a lot of the forum questions are about.  That's why so many vintage players fix their saxes themselves, because the cost of a full 'shop' overhaul can end up being unrealistic..

 

The repairers will want to fix them 'perfectly' (and why not, that's their business, and their reputation is at stake)  The problem is, you can get some vintage saxes that are better than others, even the 'name' ones.  If you spend 300+ getting a full overhaul and find it's just so-so, or go off the idea afterwards, what do you do then ?  You'd even be hard-pushed to get all your money back by even selling on ebay.  That's why I prefer just to get my saxes playing, appreciate them just as one would a vintage car (allowing for the little 'age' and 'wear' quirks),  Life is too short for perfection, enjoy the moment.

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Q) The C-Melody I'm interested in doesn't have a case, is that a problem ?

A) No, it's not a problem.  Because a lot of C-Melodies got stored away in the 30's and 40's, and have only re-surface recently, a lot of the wooden cases literally 'crumbled away' over time if stored in garages or basements.  Happily though' they did their job of protecting the saxes !

A C-melody will easily fit into a tenor sax hard case (or) gig bag, and some larger alto gig bags are OK too . I can give you the URL of an American company (DEG) that makes a new C-Mel case - not cheap but a really good investment.

As a very reasonable alternative, there is a specific gig-bag for C-Melody saxes readily available.  It's supplied by Aquilasax , at the very reasonable price of  $35  with (at the moment) free shipping, highly recommended if you don't need the protection of a solid case, or for keeping little 'sticky fingers' off the sax in the house.  

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Q) So why did C-Melody saxes appear in the 20's and then disappear ? 

A) This is the quick answer, lots more detailed info is available.  

Apart from home use in the 20's, the reason for C-saxes is that originally saxes were designed in C and F for orchestral use, a bit like horns.  Then the 'home market' got into the C's, the F's fell by the wayside, the world went into severe depression in the 30's, and Bb and Eb models were the only saxes that 'rose from the ashes' to become the 'norm' after the demise of C-Saxophones - quite sad really.  I can see how Bb saxes came about, as (most) clarinets and trumpets are also in Bb.  Eb came about because different (intermediate) size saxes were needed to make a complete range, so the 'fingering' stayed the same, just the pitch changed........

Imagine three children learning music, all keen to play together, on alto sax (Eb), clarinet (Bb) & flute (C).     Specific Eb, Bb and C music parts, three different sets of notes, chaos !

More about that in the "I'm still a bit confused" info, next.

 

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Q) I'm still a bit confused about this B-flat, E-flat and C (concert) pitch business, what does it mean ?

A)  About  saxophone fingerings, to make life complicated all the sax family have 'standard' fingerings, but the notes that come out of the sax change. For example, 'all the left hand fingers down' produces a standard 'sax G' which varies in 'real' pitch according to the instrument.  This would come out as a concert 'Bb' on Eb instruments and a concert 'F' on Bb instruments.   Confused ?  Read on......

Sopranino, alto, baritone and contrabass saxes are all pitched in Eb, so you get one set of notes out. Soprano, tenor and bass are pitched in Bb so its a different set - and C-Melody is in the middle, pitched the same as a piano or guitar !

It's pure chaos if you have 'perfect pitch', or play multiple instruments (e.g. tenor & alto saxes and flute) 'by ear', that's why I've standardised on C-clarinet, C-Soprano, flute and C-Melody sax - which all read the same music. With the other Eb and Bb instruments piano music needs to be transposed. That's why you read that C-Mels are used a lot in church, they read off the organ parts.  No extra Bb or Eb transposed/transcribed music is needed.

I spent decades sight-transposing - and frequently looking/sounding an idiot because all the other guys just had to sight-read... As I have 'perfect pitch', switching between flute (pitched in C) when 'playing by ear ' or busking was a real disaster. These C-Mels are a godsend, I don't know why sax manufacturers haven't picked up on this again, after all, they sell C-clarinets, and C-trumpets !

So - in conclusion - A C-Melody is a normal sax, but pitched in 'C' - so you can read directly off vocal, piano, guitar, chords etc. without having to transpose ( which is always the problem with alto & tenor).
I now use one instead of tenor, it's even better when guitar players use keys like A and E, no need to end up playing in keys with 6 or 7 sharps...

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Q)    I also see reference to LOW PITCH or LP, and HIGH PITCH - what's that about ?

A)    In the early years there wasn't really a universal 'pitch' standard, so saxes were produced in high and low pitch.   That doesn't mean the 'High Pitch' instruments played a range of high notes, or that the 'Low Pitch' ones played a different range of low notes, rather that the the instruments catered for two different sets of 'tuning' - annoyingly less than a semitone apart from each other.  This website explains it better, and in far greater detail than I do here.  http://www.saxontheweb.net/Resources/Pitch.html   

Some manufacturers didn't offer choices, they're usually  OK, others stamped 'Low Pitch' or 'LP' or  'L'  (which means modern standard, A=440) near the serial number, which is fine, and usually will be in tune with modern instruments.  The ones which won't be in tune with modern instruments are those marked 'High Pitch' or 'HP' or 'H'.   They pitch between a quarter and a half tone up from standard/modern saxes, and cannot really be adjusted to modern pitch - it's not just a case of pulling the mouthpiece further out on the cork !  

In the absence of any marking, don't automatically assume that the instrument is LP/A=440.   Another clue is that HP instruments are usually a little shorter in the body  than LP ones  ( an inch or so for alto & C-Mel ).  If in doubt, try to get a seller/player to check the sax against a piano/keyboard, or a tuner ( if the sax is playable....) - or indeed against a modern in-tune (A=440) wind instrument.  If they say "Hmmmm, seems to play a little sharper than expected, almost like it's a semitone up.....", then beware !

It's not all bad news, I've often played with guitarists who tune so sharp I've wished that I had a high-pitch sax, but they just can't easily be used with their modern counterparts due to the tuning differences     (e.g.)  Someone taking this to school music lessons with other (modern) instruments would have a  real problem.  There aren't really that many around, in comparison to the LP ones, but it's worth being aware of.  It applies to other Bb/Eb saxes as well, in fact any early band 'wind' instruments.   HP instruments should be considered as just 'collectables', or something to just doodle on, maybe with a guitarist - or electronic keyboard player who can tune a little sharper.  They usually (naturally) fetch a lower price, unless it's a rare collectable.  

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Q)    I do see some very negative things written about C-Melody saxes.....

A)    Let me dispel some myths, there is a lot of undeserved 'negative' info about C-Mels on the internet, but also a couple of good forums and lots of enthusiasts !. C-Mels are easier to play than alto because you can use a slightly more relaxed embouchure, but they are not as heavy as tenors !  However there is the caveat that, as the C-Mel is a vintage sax from the 20's, and cannot compete with the ultra-fast actions of some modern saxes. Also you may need to play from the same music as (or in bands/sections with) tenor and/or alto saxes - in which case the C-Melody may not be the logical choice.  But playing with piano/keyboards, guitar, flute etc.. it's easy-peasy !


i) The C-Mel sax is very easily playable, and any tutor for tenor or alto sax will be fine for C-Mel - it's all the same fingering. After all, alto is in Eb and tenor is in Bb -they don't have different tutors... Lots of college and community bands in the US still put 'first-timers' on C-Mel, as orchestral parts are mostly written for 'C' instruments and so whole 'wind-bands' can play orchestral pieces off the original music.

ii) Exercises etc. - unless you wish to have piano accompaniment whilst you're practising (I think not...), then if the practise routines have been written for any sax, they are all very valid for C-Mel. 

iii) Music availability ? Well, with a C-Mel you don't need to buy music with parts specifically transposed for Eb or Bb instruments - just play the notes as they are from any music, vocal lines, whatever. For classical, you can play string, flute and oboe parts 'as written'.

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Q)      Can you play ' harmonics ' ( altissimo ) on a C-Melody sax ?

A)     Yes !  I'll qualify that by saying that you need the same sort of mouthpiece/reed setup that will let you play harmonics on an alto or tenor sax.  Most C-Melody mouthpieces, old and new, are not suitable.  Myself I use tenor mouthpieces like Lawton, Link, Berg Larsen - with #3 Rico Royal or MH LaVoz reeds.

Some C-Melody saxes don't have that very useful front-F 'pearl' key - so if you normally use that key for the 'low' harmonics (i.e. F# and G), you could substitute these sequential fingerings. High A and above, use normal altissimo fingerings, which don't normally need the front-F .

Alternate altissimo sequence, NOT using front-F 

F#   - first + third fingers of the left hand, first finger of the right hand 

G    - first + third fingers of the left hand, first finger of the right hand, plus side (alt) F# 

G#   - first + third fingers of the left hand, first finger of the right hand, plus side C-nat. 

Note - for the last two notes, if flat then add side Bb. 
For 'G' the side of the r.h. 1st finger can open Bb whilst 2nd or 3rd is holding down the alt-F# key . 
For 'G#' the side of the r.h. 1st finger can open Bb and/or C-nat key(s), whilst tip is still holding down the pearl.

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Q)    How about buying a C-Melody on ebay, I see a lot for sale in the US, good idea ?

A)     First I'll say that you also see some for sale from private UK sources (like me) or even dealers in the UK - but UK ebay 'final' prices tend to go from 200 for a 'fixer-upper' to maybe over 500 for a good refurbished player.  So, buying for as little as $100 from the US can seem a better option.  However, buying from the US is definitely not for the 'faint-hearted'.   Sellers in the US seem to fall into three main categories.  Bargains are certainly there to be had, but so are disappointments by the skip-load.  The main 'seller' categories are -

(i) Re-sellers of C-Mel saxes bought at 'estate' sales (i.e. the owner has died) - This seller mostly doesn't know a lot about saxes in general. The sax will usually have original pads etc. and almost certainly won't play 'out of the box,  Great if you need a fixer-upper, but don't expect great answers to questions.  Packing can be a bit hit-and-miss, with good external packing, but often the poor old sax is left to rattle around inside its box....

(ii) "It belonged to Dad/Mum/Uncle etc.."  Marginally better, try and see from the pics if any of the pads are brown/tan, they'll be replacements from the original white ones, better chance of getting a 'player'.  Still a good chance of shipping damage. Prime candidate for damage is the little octave-lever that sticks out if a neck-socket plug isn't used.

(iii) US Players/dealers who've had the sax repadded, or at least checked out and 'tweaked'.  Better chance of a good 'un, but usually higher start bid, and liable to cost a lot more.  This sort of seller knows that 'pictures sell', so there'll be lots - they always seem to show less patina/discolouration than there really is !

 

Q)  How do I confirm it is a C-Melody, when the seller doesn't know anything about saxes ?

A)   Some manufacturers, like Conn, make life exceedingly easy by putting a 'C' on the back, near the serial number ( likewise  'A' = alto, 'T' = tenor etc...) but sadly, a lot of other C-Mels don't have this very useful identifier- so here goes.... Because Conn literally made the only straight-neck C-Mel, with that convenient 'C', I've concentrated on the tenor-sax 'lookalikes', including Conn stencils, that don't always have the 'C'......  And, beware,  some saxes, like King/White 'Cleveland' also have a 'C' in front of (e.g.) their alto serial numbers, so you need to identify at least a couple of the following 'pointers' to be sure. 

If you look at pictures of vintage tenors they tend to look 'long and lean' in the top half (like a giraffe), whereas C-Mels look all 'scrunched up'. Plus the curved neck looks proportionally almost 'too big' for the sax. But here are some main things to look out for, tho' not always on all saxes.  Take a look at this picure from saxontheweb, the curved neck C-melody sax (looking like a tenor that shrunk in the wash) is second from right, in between the smaller alto, and the larger tenor - no wonder there is confusion....

For a start, overall measurements.

Without the neck in place, between 24-25" long, or around 62 cm.  With neck, about 27-28"

If it's packed, or in the case and the seller won't take it out, the case will be around 26" long, very much shorter than a tenor case.

plus -

a) on A C-Mel the back lip of the bell is literally in line with the G# pinkie Key - hiding most of that group of keys - a 'frontal' pic should show this, tenor lip is usually a little lower letting you see more of the 'pinkie keys ' (with a few exceptions - on my Martin tenor the bell is longer !), 

b) a C-Mel bell the 'low B' guard is at least an inch (2-3 cm.) up from the last body seam/joint, on tenor one of the 'Low B' guard legs is usually literally 'on the seam' - this is good if there are side pics of the bell. 

c) C-Mel bell diameter is under 5", tenor is well over, so the C-Mel bell has a 'flare' that is like an oversize alto, whereas the tenor bell really opens out wide by comparison.... 

d) If you can get a good sideways pic, on a C-Mel the 'strap-ring' is usually quite high, on the back behind - but in line with - the LH pinkie keys. On a tenor it is much lower down - which also explains why the C-Mel is so good at removing my teeth. 

e) and finally (to give all my secrets away), look just above the 'thumb-hook', and most C-Mels have the 'aux-F#' hole/pad on the back, most (but not all) tenors have it on the side - I guess there wasn't the space on the crowded C-Mel body. 

Looking for b) and d) is probably easiest. Good Luck ! 

P.S. I haven't mentioned 'HP' or 'high-pitch' C-Mels, thankfully they're not that common, and Conn ones usually have 'HP' or 'High Pitch' near the serial number (instead of the standard 'LP' or Low Pitch, A=440 modern pitch models) Dimensions will be slightly shorter that a LP C-Mel, and of course the sax will be out of tune with a piano or tuner.

Q)  So- what else ?  Well................................... 

( to be continued......)
 

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