Adler Symphonie C soprano
Guide price: Not much
Date of manufacture: Early 1900s? (Serial range 21xx)
Date reviewed: September 2018
A bit of a handful
Adler isn't a name you often hear associated with
saxes - they're far more noted for their double-reed instruments
- and yet it might surprise you to know that they dominated saxophone
production in Germany for at least twenty years at the start of
the 20th century. And they did so with a truly impressive range
of horns. They built everything from the sopranino in Eb to the
bass in Bb. And they did a bass in C. And a C Melody tenor. And
both straight and curved sopranos. And, as in this example, a C
Back in the day they must have been chucking out horns left, right
and centre - of all shapes and sizes - and yet I can easily count
on the fingers of one hand the number of times one's crossed my
workbench in 40 years (though if previous reviews of esoteric horns
are anything to go by, I'll be knee-deep in the things by this time
I could bang on at some length about the remarkable
history of the Adler company, but in truth all I'd be doing is copying
the info that can be found at Helen Kahlke's very excellent Bassic
Sax site - and as my forté is examining the technical
details of a horn rather than its historical aspects, I rather think
(thankfully) that Helen does a far better job of it than me. Go
have a read, it's a truly fascinating article - and has a very handy
chart that details the differences between the various models they
made. And boy did they make a lot of models.
I'm also not going to rattle on about the relative
merits (or otherwise) of a C soprano as I've already covered that
in my review of the Celeste
back in 2013. Suffice to say it's as tricky a horn to build as it
is to play, and the further back in time you go the trickier it
gets - so let's pop it up on the bench and see what we can find...
The construction is ribbed, with the remaining
standalone pillars fitted to adequately-sized bases. The main stack
pillars look a little odd because they have very narrow heads. Now,
I know that stack pillars usually have narrow heads (compared to
the rest of the pillars on a horn) but these are way, way narrower
- and put me in mind of the curious pillars found on the Pierret
you may have noticed, it's a single-piece body...well, almost. There's
a soldered joint a couple of inches down from the tip, marked by
a ring fitted to the body which, effectively, denotes the 'crook'
section of the body. There are also a couple of blank plates up
at the top of the horn. At first glance you'd think they were patches
- placed on the horn to cover and seal a hole in the bore that got
there by damage or wear. The upper patch fits the profile inasmuch
as it's quite common for the body seam to split (typically through
corrosion) in this area, but the lower patch is nowhere near any
of the common areas that are likely to see such deterioration...and
they both look like they were factory fitted.
So what gives? The easiest way to see what's going on is to look
inside the bore - and yes, there are indeed holes under those patches.
However, they're perfectly round - and as each patch is adjacent
to an octave key pip I'd say that they were fitted when a change
to the design of the keywork was made during the course of a production
run. And because they're immediately adjacent to the existing octave
key pips it's safe to rule out a change of position as a means of
altering the tuning.
I'd be prepared to bet that they can't be many examples of these
patched sopranos out there because I think it's hardly likely that
Adler had stacks of C soprano bodies lying around, just waiting
to be fitted with keys. Chances are they made them in small batches,
or even quite possibly to order - and I'm willing to have a further
bet that they first tweaked the design of the octave mech on the
Bb soprano, and then copied that design over to the C. And this
one got caught in the middle of that process. Makes sense to me.
And if you're thinking that the mouthpiece cork looks a little on
the thick side, you're right - it is. More of which later...
As you might expect for horn of this age, the
toneholes are all soldered on. As you might also expect, almost
all of them were showing signs of selective galvanic corrosion -
which means that the soldered joints had broken down and air was
free to escape from the base of the toneholes.
The fix for this is to remove the toneholes, clean up the mating
surfaces and then resolder them to the body. It's not a cheap fix,
but as my remit on this job was only 'to get the horn going' I had
to settle for using modern adhesives to get the job done - which
worked quite well.
It's always worth bearing this in mind when looking to buy a horn
with such toneholes, particularly as it's very often impossible
to spot a leaky tonehole by eye.
As far as body features go there are just two
- a static metal thumb hook and a small domed metal thumb rest.
OK, three if you include a lyre holder. And that's yer lot. About
all else I have to add is that the horn is finished in nickel plate.
Fortunately the keywork is a little more 'interesting',
and has some features that are worthy of comment - the most obvious
of which is the palm key arrangement.
are four keys on the palm key stack (as opposed to the normal three),
and the extra key is the E natural, which is usually operated by
a key placed above the side Bb and C keys.
If you're wondering how such an arrangement would work, I think
I can safely say 'not very well at all'. Some provision has been
made to make the keys 'semi-automatic' inasmuch as the touchpieces
are layered one atop the other. If you press the Eb key down, it
opens the D...and so on up the stack. However, the ergonomics (which
hadn't been invented at the time this horn was built) are somewhat
lacking, which means that hitting the right key in a hurry is more
down to luck than judgement.
With that said, I'm pretty sure that some time spent familiarising
yourself with the layout would improve matters significantly....but
I found it was much easier to think of the horn as being keyed only
up to top D (top Eb at a pinch) and forgetting about the rest. The
tuning gets a bit blue around there anyway.
mounted inline, on a single rod screw, with interlocking barrels.
What this means is that where two keys are next to each other on
the same pivot, the barrel of one key will slide into the barrel
of the other. It's a method of extending the barrel of a key that
would otherwise be extremely short (or practically non-existent),
and serves as a means of extending the bearing surface so as to
prevent the key from becoming wobbly in short order. It's an expensive
method of construction, and not terribly efficient in mechanical
terms - and it can be fiddly to take up any wear and tear in the
mechanism over the years. You're most likely to see it on older
flutes and clarinets, but in general terms it's a largely obsolete
feature these days.
octave key mech is quite simple - or rather, I should say, crude.
When it's set up right it works just fine, but there's little or
no room for error because the design of the mech has no allowance
for even the merest hint of free play or misregulation. It's got
to be bang on. All the time.
Pernickety mechs like this aren't uncommon on very old horns, and
you can certainly do yourself a favour by eliminating as many variables
as possible. This means getting the action nice and tight, using
hardwearing buffers...and cork octave key pads. The latter is pretty
much essential if you want to avoid the possibility of pad compression
(and believe me, you do).
Once it's up and running though, it's surprisingly nimble...though
that's undoubtedly because it's quite a compact mech. Similar mechs
on old altos and tenors can feel bloody awful, what with all those
big ol' lever arms flying about...and don't even get me started
on the bari mechs.
And there's a really nasty gotcha on this mech.
See the lower octave cup key? Its pivot screw is inserted from the
right-hand side, which means its impossible to fit the key once
the top stack has been fitted to the horn (access is completely
blocked by the G key barrel). I have absolutely no idea why they
did this, because it would make perfect sense to have the screw
fit from the left hand side - thus requiring only the removal of
the octave key touchpiece key to fit or remove it
Repairers generally assemble horns in a sequence. It varies, obviously,
but I like to fit the octave mech after the top stack is fitted
- so you can see how I got caught out right royally.
There's another nasty aspect to this arrangement, because when you're
dealing with an unknown (and crude) octave mech, it's often the
case that the only way you can ascertain the correct regulation
is to assemble it sans corks and see what's required when the various
keys are operated. This requires a fair amount of assembly and disassembly.
To make matters worse, the top stack is all mounted on a single
rod screw...which pulls out from the top of the horn. You can't
just back the top stack screw out and ease the G key barrel to one
side because when you pull that screw out, the entire top stack
pings off the horn.
way around this particularly poxy piece of design is to insert a
thin rod at the lower end of the stack as you withdraw the pivot
rod, thus holding the stack keys more or less in place as the rod
screw is withdrawn.
Note the spring on the G key. That's not an original
fitting. The original spring is situated on the lower part of the
(divided) barrel, down by the key cup.
Someone's soldered on an additional spring cradle (not very neatly
either), and I'm not really sure why. Maybe the key was sluggish
in operation (perhaps due to a bend) - but then it'd be easier to
correct that issue rather than go to all the trouble of fitting
a secondary spring. Perhaps a more logical explanation is that the
pernickety octave key mech wasn't working properly, and someone
fitted this spring to help take up all the free play instead of
swedging the keywork to remove it. We'll never know...but once I'd
tightened everything up, the mech worked fine without this spring
bell key table is pretty simple. Well, it would be, given that the
horn is only keyed to low B and the G# is a single-piece key.
As with the palm key stack there are no concessions to ergonomics,
and getting from the G# to the low C#/B requires a bit of dexterity
on the part of your little (pinky) finger. It's not so bad once
you get used to it, and it helps if you approach the horn as you
would a clarinet...which, I appreciate, is not much use if you don't
play the clarinet. On the upside, you can be sure that the G# will
never fail to open just because the pad's got a bit sticky.
Note the point screw heads on the low B/C# keys.
These are two of just four such screws on the entire instrument
- the remaining pair being found at the other end of these two keys.
I'd like to be able to add "They're proper point screws, naturally",
but they're not...they're cylindrical points. I don't think I've
seen this type of screw on such an old horn (or if I have, I've
long since forgotten), and I'm wondering about the possibility that
Adler invented them. If so, this is where the rot set in.
The lower stack features an Eb trill, and rather
than opt for a separate cup key (and tonehole) round the back of
the horn they've gone for the old doughnut pad on top of the D.
If trilling is your thing it's a handy feature, but otherwise it
simply adds a bit of clutter to the lower stack, a lot more height
to the D key and a bit of clunkiness to the feel of the horn.
quick mention about the pads. They need to be incredibly thin -
thinner even than than the pads on the Couesnon
GMN soprano I reviewed a few months ago. I would think this
horn originally came with 'stuffed' pads - typically a white leather/kid
'bag' stuffed with loose wadding. These kind of pads are bloody
awful, and if they work at all it's because all the wadding gets
pushed towards the centre of the pad...which then protrudes into
the tonehole. You obtain a seal in the same way that you'd seal
a bottle up by stuffing a wadge of cloth into its neck. It does
mean, however, that the effective thickness of the pads at the tonehole
rim is little more than that of a piece of leather folded up on
You'll be extremely lucky to find such thin pads off the shelf,
and even rooting through my box of 'quirky pads' found nothing approaching
the sort of thickness needed...so each pad had to be custom made.
And you can forget about bending the cup arms to alter the cup angle...there's
just no room to manoeuvre.
In the hands the horn feels understandably light
- after all, it weighs practically nothing at all. The instrument's
diminutive size (it measures just 53cm or 20 7/8 inches in length
) and simple design overcomes the crudity of the action for the
most part, and with some careful tweaking of the springs the action
borders on the sprightly. In other words it's all very manageable
- at least until you get to the palm keys. Inline palm key touchpieces
can be tricky at the best of times, and on a horn this small it
can be something of a challenge to navigate your way around them
with appropriate precision. The D and Eb aren't too difficult, but
E is a bit of a struggle...and top F is, well, let's just say you
might be better off pretending it's not there. I daresay a few weeks
(months?) of practice will help you to find your way around this
awkward key cluster.
for the Eb trill, it works very well - if trilling between E and
Eb is your bag. Other than that it's not much use at all, and as
well as feeling that the raised D touchpiece rather spoils the linear
feel of the rest of the stack keys, I found that the Eb tab would
sometimes catch on the edge of my middle finger - which resulted
in an unexpectedly dull and flat E.
As you'll no doubt have noticed, there are no key pearls - just
slightly concave metal plates. These were very common on early horns
as a means of keeping production costs down, and while they present
no problems on a horn this small, they could often get a bit slippy
on the larger ones. That said, they were unlikely to ever wear out.
About that thick mouthpiece cork. This is to allow
for the use of a modern soprano mouthpiece - however, to get the
horn to play in tune I found my ebonite Link needed to be pushed
on so far as to foul the operation of the top octave key cup. A
simple fix for this would be to turn off a little from the end of
the mouthpiece shank, or simply file a chamfer on the shank where
it contacts to the octave key. Better still would be to find a proper
C soprano mouthpiece, as it's clear that the horn is designed for
a smaller piece with a significantly narrower shank.
As I mentioned earlier, there was something about
the tone that raised it above 'old banger' status - and now that
it was in better shape it was possible to put the horn through its
paces to see what it could really do. Tonewise it shares the appeal
that most old and simple horns have inasmuch as it has a more of
an ethereal quality than modern horns. It's purer, if you like.
It's also noticeably warmer in its approach, which goes a long way
towards limiting the tendency of such a small horn to become shrill
and piercing. As such it's a surprisingly engaging instrument, but
it doesn't deliver the goods on a plate - oh no, you have to put
some effort into it. Perhaps the best description of it is that
it's a bit of a tease. With such small keys, thin pads and a lightly-sprung
action you can fairly whizz about on this horn - and the horn itself
tempts you into treating it as something of a novelty or a curiosity.
If approached in that manner it responds with an (albeit briefly)
amusingly quacky tone and arbitrary tuning, but there's always a
sense that there's something deeper behind the quirky facade - you
just have to rein it in, slow it down and point it in the right
keep in mind that you'll likely never quite tame it, because the
tuning is always going to be (shall we say) temperamental on a horn
this small, and you have the added burden of it being a vintage
Straight off the bat, mid C# is very, very flat - but you can get
a good one by using the low C# fingering with the octave key on.
The tone is surprisingly good for a 'fake' fingering.
As for the rest of the horn it's plusses and minuses (on the tuning
meter), but well within what I'd expect for such a horn. It's perhaps
not as good as you'd like, but it's not as bad as it could be -
and spending some time getting used to its foibles will certainly
pay dividends. I strongly suspect that significant improvements
can be made with the right choice of mouthpiece. The thickness of
the mouthpiece cork required to allow a modern soprano piece to
be used is a pretty good indication that there's a volumetric mismatch
going on - which is bound to make things a bit unpredictable.
Would I recommend this horn? I think if you've
already got one, or you can pick one up for beer money, and you
have a pressing need/desire for a vintage C soprano, then it might
just about be worth the time and effort. It's a tricky call though,
because its one advantage (its tone) is heavily overshadowed by
its drawbacks - in particular the soldered-on toneholes, the rather
crude action and the need for super-thin pads. And, of course, the
tuning issues...though these will be more or less evident on any
similar horn of the period. If you manage to find one it's likely
to need a fair bit of work doing to it to bring it back into shape
(some of which I've detailed in this Notes
article)...and that won't be cheap, so bear that in mind when haggling
over the asking price.