Lafleur (Weltklang) GDR baritone saxophone
Description : A budget baritone from the Eastern Bloc.
Origin: East Germany
Guide price : £300 for an old banger..to considerably more for a
Date of manufacture: 1970s
Date reviewed : Feb. 2011
when I were a lad there were three options available if you wanted to
play a baritone sax; a top-of-the-range Selmer MKVI, priced at squillions
of pennies; a secondhand vintage American model, without a low A and with
often very squishy keywork - or one of these, the East German 'cheapo'
There were a LOT of these about, mostly because of the price of the Selmer
and the limitations of vintage models - and because they got the job done
at a price that didn't break the bank.
They appeared under a variety of names - the Lafleur (as this one is),
the Weltklang (the most common) and the B&M Champion. Under the Weltklang
name this horn was called 'The Soloist' - there's a slightly cheaper model
that's simply badged 'Weltklang'.
As if that isn't confusing enough, there's more than one kind of Lafleur.
It's just a brand name, and got stamped on whatever the retailer bought
in...so you could see the same name stamped on a Czechoslovakian-built
It may surprise you to know that these horns were built by B&S -
who subsequently went on to build such horns as the Medusa, the 2001
and the Guardala;
quite expensive horns. This explains why some people seem to hold these
baritones in quite high regard.
The factory produced most of the entire range of saxes under the Weltklang
banner - their sopranos were bloody awful, their altos were iffy, their
tenors were so-so...but their baritone was about the most successful of
the bunch in terms of tone, tuning and build quality. This is largely
due to larger instruments being rather more forgiving of small manufacturing
issues as opposed to any effort on the manufacturer's part to excel at
Nonetheless they were of basic but functional quality (catering quality,
as I call it) - and for a very long time, at least until the advent of
Japanese horns, there wasn't much else out there on the market. The death
knell finally sounded for them in the 1980s when the Taiwanese entered
the market and the Jupiter usurped the East German model as the budget
bari of choice.
It's perhaps a credit to the manufacturers that many Weltklang baritones
are still in use today, even with the advent of brand new Chinese baritones
at sub-£1000 prices a used Weltklang is still an attractive option
for a bari player on a tight budget provided one can be found at the right
It's worth keeping in mind that earlier models (some even had rolled tone
holes) were reputed to be of better quality...though even then there's
general agreement that the quality was variable.
The photo gives an indication of how this model was developed - note
the ring above the low A key cup. It's a fair bet that the body tube down
to the ring above the low C# tone hole was exactly the same as the earlier
model that only went down to low Bb. By making a new section that housed
the low B, Bb and A tone holes, then attaching a section of the bell from
the Bb model, a low A variant could be produced quite cheaply. The method
of manufacturing wasn't uncommon at the time, when the low A was beginning
to become a popular feature. The only other addition would be the necessary
keywork - which is simple enough.
The construction is pretty basic, with no frills; there's no detachable
bell or upper bow joint (so if you drop the horn and bend it, it will
require the body to be unsoldered in order to gain access to the bore);
there's very little bracing, particularly around the upper bow - and the
bell brace will drive itself into the body in the event of a bell-on fall;
and the static thumb rest is more of an afterthought than a precisely
angled ergonomic support.
The lack of sufficient bracing on the upper bow often means that crook
socket downpipe is subjected to a lot of stress - especially when the
mouthpiece is being pushed onto the crook cork. This leads to bending
of the tube, which in turn throws the octave key mechanism out of line.
This is a major problem, as the octave mech. has no leeway designed into
it at all - one part slightly out of line and the pads simply won't seal.
When clients bring these horns in complaining of recently developed response
problems, this mechanism is the first thing I look at.
The pillars and fittings are soldered on with varying quality; the guard
feet in particular are very prone to dropping off and disappearing - so
much so that I have a template for making new ones out of sheet brass,
and the owner of this baritone has found that it's wise to keep a tube
of superglue in the case as there's no telling when a pillar might suddenly
fall off for no apparent reason at all.
A very common problem with these East German horns is warped tone holes.
This, fortunately, is easy to correct - if a tad expensive - due to the
plain tone holes. It's a very different matter on those models with rolled
It's this issue that's given these horns such a poor reputation down the
years, so if you're thinking of buying one it's wise to factor in the
potential cost of having them sorted out - though because they've been
around for a good few years now there's every chance that this work may
have already been done. Check for original pads (see below) - if fitted
it may indicate that the horn has not been overhauled.
The finish isn't too bad on the whole. This example looks a bit grimy,
but underneath all the muck the plating's in quite good condition. Lacquered
models tend to wear rather more, but it's by no means a big problem.
keywork complements the basic design of the body - you very clearly get
what you pay for.
It's crude in places, quite 'blocky' in design - but reasonably tough
nonetheless. There's quite a lot of 'spring' in the keywork, which can
be something of a problem once the keys get to a certain size. This leads
to a rather squishy feel under the fingers...the keys continue to flex
for some way after the pressed key has done its work (either opening or
closing a pad, for example). On the plus side, if you knock the keywork
it's quite likely that it will simply bounce back into place.
As per the body there are few refinements. There are no adjusters on
the stack keys, and this in itself isn't that much of a big deal - but
on some East German models they used strips of red rubber instead of cork
for the key buffers. If you've never experienced the feel this gives to
the action then I suppose the best description I can give is that it's
like trying to play a mattress. This again is something to watch out for
when purchasing - a complete recork is the only viable fix.
The aforementioned rather clunky octave key mechanism that tends to leak
unless it's set 'just so' is perhaps the Achilles heel of these baritones.
There's no place for the soft, comfortable and quiet feel of felt here
(like that fitted to the the octave key touchpiece shown on the left)...if
there's even a fraction of give in the corks it will be multiplied by
the flex in the keywork and the whole thing will simply leak. Good, hard
cork is what's needed. It makes the mechanism feel a bit lumpen, but it's
the only way to ensure it works properly.
theme carries over to the low A mechanism. The flex in the keywork is
amplified by the length of the keys.
This - coupled with a very likely warped tone hole and an extraordinarily
squishy pad (which we'll get on to shortly) - means that it's nothing
short of a miracle that anyone can hit a low A on one of these horns.
But, the Lafluer has a little trick up its sleeve!
Not only do you get a low A thumb key, you also get an extra spatula key
on the left hand table.
OK, granted, this key is just as flexible as all the others - but between
it and the thumb key it gets the job done...and then some. I reckon if
you placed a Brazil nut between the low A key cup and the tone hole, the
combined closing force of these two key would pop the shell off in an
It all rather sounds like a workaround for a poorly built thumb key, but
in use I found this additional table key to be a real boon. It opens up
a number of additional fingering possibilities...but more than that it
just feels so natural to slide your finger down off the Bb spatula to
get a low A. After half an hour of playing this horn and then reverting
to my own bari (which only has a thumb key), I found myself reaching for
a non-existent table key.
Note though how blocky the spatula keys are - they're practically a homage
Note too that very crude bell brace - if you look closely at the lower
mount you can see where a knock to the bell has pushed it into the body.
This will explain why sharp-eyed readers might have noticed that in the
main shot the baritone seems to be leaning slightly forward around the
top stack. That's because it is.
Due to the cost of dismantling a baritone without detachable sections,
players often settle for having them set up so that they work 'around
be fair, they have tried to make some concessions to the flex in the keywork
- it's just that they didn't try very hard.
This is the additional regulation link between the low Bb key and the
low B, which acts in tandem with the tab that usually hangs off the bottom
of the low B spatula - the idea being to give the low Bb key a little
bit of a boost when it comes to closing the low B pad.
The trouble is it's so very small indeed - and the keys so large - that
the leverage required to make it work would probably end up in the keys
In fact all it really seems to do is hold off the low B pad - and as such
it's about the most pointless design I think I've ever seen.
Finally, the key pearls are cheap, dished plastic - which does nothing
to help the feel of the action.
On the plus side though, proper point screws are used - so that although
the action flexes with gay abandon, you can at least ensure it won't wobble.
Always nice to have a bonus.
Just a quick note regarding the springs. As originally fitted they're
not quite blued steel but neither are they those awful cheap stainless
ones. They're actually not that bad, to be honest, and they seem to be
as tough as the proverbial old boots. If they're in good condition, leave
them well alone - they'll do just fine.
I mentioned the pads earlier, and this is something of a curiosity on
East German horns.
They're incredibly springy, due to their having no backing card. When
fitted, the glue that holds them in the key cups only grips the pad by
the outer edge - leaving the felt core free to move up and down. This
is curious enough in itself but there's also a metal ring fitted inside
the pad, over which the leather sits. The upshot of all this is that the
pads tend to 'hang' from the sides of the key cups, with very little support
beneath them. If you press down on the centre of the pad it sinks into
the key cup and then pops up again...quite literally sometimes, as the
flat reflector acts like one of those little metal clicky toys.
Added to all this is the quality of the leather itself - we're back to
the proverbial old boots again, which is probably where they got the leather
So - this all sounds appalling...but perhaps not...because they practically
I've repaired Weltklangs that are over forty years old...and still on
the same set of pads. If the tone holes are made level, the key cups correctly
angled and proper corks and felts used in place of the original rubber
buffers, these funny old pads will just about do the business. Sure, you
won't get an absolutely perfect seal, nor will the keys close with satisfying
certainty - but hey, we've all played worse!
Speaking of which - how does it play?
Nowhere near as badly as you might think (from all my previous comments).
Yes, the action feels a bit clumsy and imprecise - but then it's a cheap
baritone, and to some extent you can get away with it. It's not too uncomfortable
under the fingers - the keys are reasonably well placed, though the bell
key table isn't all that nimble in practice.
This particular horn has had the awful rubber buffers changed and a number
of pads swapped out - so in places it felt reasonably firm, and with a
bit of modding you can make substantial improvements to the feel.
Tonewise it's a bit of a honker. It's not that it's incapable of finesse,
it's just that it has a tendency to add a little bit of buzziness to each
and every note. In its defence I'll say that you get used to it quite
quickly, but it soon becomes clear that this baritone is far more comfortable
when it's being blown hard.
This is, essentially, what it was designed for - for so many years it
was the staple fare of horn section players who couldn't run to a Selmer
and who needed a low A...and in that respect it does the job admirably.
I can't in all honesty say that the tone is even across the range, it
tends to get a bit dry the further up the scale you go. With some care
and practice, and the right mouthpiece, you could smooth things out quite
considerably, but this horn's forte lies in pumping out the low notes
with gritty determination.
The tuning's not too bad...perhaps a touch wild at the top, but nothing
that couldn't be brought into line with time spent getting used to the
One thing to note is that the mouthpiece supplied with these horns was
utterly dreadful, which again probably didn't help the horn's reputation.
In spite of my harsh words I do have a soft spot for these old troopers
- in fact I've done many a gig on this horn in particular, having depped
for the owner a number of times without having a baritone of my own.
Providing you're aware of its limitations, and are prepared to take the
bull by the horns, you can do quite a lot with an East German bari.
However, there's the issue of the competition these days - and it's quite
strong. A modern Ultra-Cheap Chinese baritone will be based on either
a Selmer, Yamaha or Yanagisawa design, and in that sense it's already
streets ahead ergonomically. It's also a great deal tougher, having better
braces and rather stiffer keywork. The pads might not be of top quality,
but they're far firmer - and the whole thing adds up to a much more presentable
package...and at a price that won't make you cough (much).
The price of a GDR bari can be quite variable though- I've seen these
horns selling for quite a lot of money, which is surprising given the
build quality and the so-so tone...but you can sometimes find them going
for a great deal less. The owner of this bari paid but a few hundred pounds
for it. I think if you bought one of these because you'd read some glowing
reports about them but had never previously played one yourself, you might
end up being quite disappointed - it all depends what you paid for it,
Having done battle on the workbench with hundreds of Weltklangs I suppose
I should be quite glad to see the back of them, but from a personal perspective
I have a little fondness for this rough and ready horn that just keeps
going no matter what.
It's the Monty
Python Black Knight of saxophones...