Schenkelaars tenor saxophone (Couf Superba II)
Guide price: £400
Date of manufacture: 1970s (guesstimate) (serial range: 78xxx)
Date reviewed: December 2015
Going Dutch, German...or simply mad?
It's been a good month for stencil horns - or
a bad one, depending on your perspective.
Following on from the Noblet
Vito alto is another example of a horn from a company who seemed
to have some difficulty in achieving any kind of consistency with
the horns they rebadged and sold. Strictly speaking that's not entirely
accurate, because rather than simply buy in a horn and re-stamp
it, Schenkelaars tended to buy in bodies and fitted them with their
own in-house keywork. This can make 'stencil surfing' rather difficult,
given that it's often the keywork that serves to point up the true
identity of a horn (assuming you aren't able to blow it).
What's known for sure is that Schenkelaars bought
in bodies from German, Romanian and Italian manufacturers - and
there's also a suggestion that they may, at one point, have even
made some bodies themselves (and apparently some pretty dire ones
From what I've been able to dig up it seems that the Romanian and
Italian based horns aren't much cop - but the German built bodies
are said to have been built by Keilwerth. If that's the case, and
the body can be identified as such, then this could be a rather
nice horn. It also means it should be able to be bought for a very
But how to tell?
Let's have a closer look...
The body is of single pillar construction, each of which has a nicely
sized base that's neatly soldered to the body. There's no detachable
bell - the bottom bow joint is soldered. The toneholes are drawn,
and were reasonably level. A few needed some attention, but this
horn's clearly been around the block a few times - and I rather
suspect the anomalies I found were due to knocks and bends rather
than manufacturing issues.
The body had a few unusual features, but the most naff is bell key
The guards themselves are fine, even rather good. They're nice and
sturdy with a distinctive offset curve shape to them (a nod to the
art deco period, perhaps) and they're fitted with adjustable bumpers.
But the way in which the guards are fitted to the body is a bit
crappy - there are only two stays per guard as opposed to the usual
three. A few manufacturers have dabbled with this sort of design,
and history has shown it to be a dreadful way of mounting something
to the body that's supposed to be designed to withstand the inevitable
knocks and bashes that are part and parcel of a horn's life.
big problem with a two-screw design is that when the guard gets
knocked, there's no way the screws can take the punishment...and
so the guard tilts.
You can try tightening up the screws that hold the guard in place,
but they're only small and you can never get enough grip out of
them. The best known, and perhaps worst, example of the genre can
be found on older Selmers - and it's rare to find one of these horns
where are least one of the guard screws hasn't been soldered in
place in a bid to stop the damned guard from tilting. But sometimes
even this isn't enough - and in one case it led to someone taking
rather more drastic
However, there's a slight twist to the Schenkelaars
design - the guard feet aren't simple flat pieces of metal, they're
a U-channel. This means they slide over the stub on the stay, the
screw secures them in place and the sides of the U-channel prevent
the guards from tilting. Now that's neat. It's still crap, mind,
but it's neat crap.
If this guard (the low C) cops a light whack there's a reasonable
chance the guard will stay put. If it cops a heavier whack it might
still stay put - but with only two feet to spread the impact there's
a very good chance the stays will be driven into the body...and
you can kiss goodbye to a level low C tonehole.
It's a bit like fitting a bumper made of glass to the front of your
car. It'd look great, and it'd probably be just fine...up until
the point where you nudged a bollard in the car park...and then
it's all tears and broken glass. Given the time it must have taken
to design and make these guards, they'd have been better off spending
it popping another foot on.
Another curious body feature is the thumb hook.
you ever seen one like this? It's an adjustable one (in plastic)
- but with a very unusual pivot and lock screw arrangement.
It's actually not much different to a standard adjustable hook -
they too have a pivot and a lock screw...it's just that the pivot
point is usually hidden from view and the lock screw sits below
the hook. Naturally, such refinement is expensive - and this design
is, well, cheap and cheerful. But it does the job, and it does it
well - just don't lose the hook, and don't even think about fitting
an aftermarket upgrade.
Note the detachable F# key guard just above the hook. That's a nice
feature, but not really necessary - they'd have been better off
with a cheaper soldered one and spent the saving on a bog-standard
Note too the rather...expansive...curve on that top E key. They've
done that so that players can shunt their whole hand forward to
make the note (rather than having to roll just the forefinger).
It's not uncommon to see a raised profile on this key...it's just
that the arc is usually filled in with metal. This key works just
fine, but if it cops a knock it'll bend in a jiffy.
Finally, there's the bell brace.
Now, I don't mind admitting I quite like this design - which might
be rather surprising given that I'm always banging on about the
drawbacks of spindly little bell braces - but a little bit of thought's
gone into this one. For a start the mount point on the body is offset...which
means that any frontal impact won't be so inclined to transfer the
shock straight down the brace and stove the body in, and there's
also a gentle kink in the brace, which will also help to take the
edge off any major impact.
About the only grumble is that the mount point on the bell is a
bit iffy, what with the brace going straight into it. A little offset
or a curved foot here would have been the icing on the cake.
yeah, I'd agree that the brace is still a bit spindly, but it's
paired with a soldered bottom bow joint...so I think it'll get away
But most of all I simply like how it looks...it's a sort of "impressionist's
And that's about it for the body, other than to say it all seems
to be quite well made and well finished (at least in the places
where it's not worn). But before we move on to the keywork, what
d'you think of those pillars in the shot on the left?
That's quite a distinctive design, and you may have seen them somewhere
before. On a Keilwerth perhaps?
The keywork follows pretty much follows the body
insomuch as it's the standard fare with a few notable oddities.
It's a modern design, so there's nothing too out of the ordinary.
The top stack is divided, with the Bis Bb and G on their own pivots.
You get proper mother-of-pearl key touches, simple but effective
fork and pin connectors for the side keys, proper point screws,
blued steel springs and a pair of adjusters over the Bis Bb arm
and the G# key cup...but no adjusters on the main stacks.
There's also no adjuster between the low C# and low B...but that's
because there's no link between them. No big deal, they hardly ever
work properly anyway - and more often than not they either prevent
the low B from closing properly or they fail to stop the low C#
from opening slightly when you're a bit clumsy with your bell note
You also don't get a top F#, though this note is always available
with a false fingering anyway.
bell key table is of the non-tilting type. It's very much no frills,
but at least it's got a full set of rollers, and the G# touchpiece
is generously proportioned. And because it's a simple design it's
also quite slick. The bell keys are mounted on a single compound
pillar - which isn't perhaps the sturdiest design, but the pillar's
base is nice and chunky.
However, the way in which the table is assembled on the horn is
a proper nightmare. Assuming a fully assembled horn save for the
bell keys, the normal method of assembly is to fit the low C# lever
first followed by the low B, low Bb and finally the G# key.
On some horns this pattern is reversed. But some horns are rather
more fiddly, requiring you to fit or remove the keys in an odd sequence.
It's no big deal, just more of a reassembly gotcha that means you
might be left holding a G# key and wondering how the hell you can
fit it without having to take the entire key cluster off again.
This was one of those horns where you fit, say, the low C# first
followed by the G#...and then you go back to fit the B and the Bb...but
you can't do that without releasing one or other of the keys you
just fitted. You sort of have to get everything lined up at once,
and tighten up four screws all at the same time...and if you so
much as breathe, the whole lot falls off the horn onto the bench.
They've also cut a (small) corner with the low C# key's spring -
it simply rests on the touchpiece arm. Nothing terribly wrong with
that, it's just a bit cheap and cheerful. How much would it have
cost them to cut a slot in the key arm to accommodate the spring?
Even thirty seconds with a hacksaw would have done reasonable job.
There's another oddity at the other end of the
low C# key.
It utilises a captive spring. Nothing very odd in that - lots of
horns use this type of mech...except that the spring is usually
a flat one. This one's a needle spring. Not only that but the reassuringly
beefy key arm off the low C# lever key is only used to close the
key cup...it's the spring that provides the opening force.
wouldn't be so bad if there was another spring on the C# key cup
that was set to power the key open...in which case when the C# lever
is pressed, the arm rises, the C# key cup spring forces the cup
open...and that diddly spring on the lever key just helps things
along a little, and helps to reduce any key cup bounce.
But there is no other spring. This is all you get to open the key
Well, it works...but low C# pads are notorious for sticking...and
when this one sticks it's going to put a hell of a lot of stress
on the spring when you press the C# key.
An effective fix would be to mod the lever so that a flat spring
could be fitted...but as that wasn't in my brief I settled for fitting
a slightly thicker than standard needle spring from my much-prized
stock of (apparently) unbreakable NOS vintage springs. That should
sort it...for now.
The octave key is a relatively simple affair,
and bears a resemblance to that found on the old Yamaha 23 horns.
This sort of design has a lot going for it because it's unfussy,
sturdy and yet quite slick in use. It's also better able to tolerate
the odd knock, which might otherwise bring a swivelling mech to
a complete standstill.
The notable feature is the figure-of-eight pattern where the touchpiece
sits against the thumb rest. It looks like it ought to be quite
clunky, what with the flat profile on both the touchpiece and the
thumb rest - but it's actually quite nimble. There's even a small
cutaway in the thumb rest to allow more of the 'meat' of the touchpiece
nearer the thumb.
while we're here - this horn has the largest octave key pips I've
ever seen. Somehow or other I neglected to take a photo - but take
it from me, they're bloody huge.
Internally they're no bigger than any other pips, but just before
they hit the pad they open out into a small cup. When you set an
octave key pad it's generally just a case of getting the geometry
right. If the pad falls squarely onto the pip, it'll seat...it can't
do anything but. With these ones you actually have to set the pad
as though it were, say, one of the palm key pads. No problem...just
When this horn came in the action was, to say
the least, somewhat floppy. Once it had been tweaked and tightened,
however, it proved to be really rather slick.
Getting it to that state wasn't easy - this horn has seriously tough
keywork. After a particularly heavy session of action work I ended
up with "swedger's hand" - a particularly painful condition
that (older) repairers will recognise as that point where you release
your grip on the swedging pliers and find that it takes a good quarter
of an hour before you can straighten your fingers out.
Most of the free play in the action (and there was a lot) looked
to have been built in during manufacture - and I also noticed that
a few pillars had been reamed off centre.
When playing the horn I found I stumbled a bit
over the Bis Bb, which really would benefit from having a dome pearl
fitted (it's a bit low, and it's just on the border of pinching
the finger as you roll onto it). The round touchpiece on the front
top F was a bit clumsy too - but other than that it chugged along
nicely. No problems with the lack of a tilting table on the bells
keys, though I have to say this simpler layout is a preference for
The spring are a good length and can be tweaked for a good deal
of snap, and the no-nonsense fork and pin connectors on the side
keys coupled with the simple octave key mech just adds to the sense
of a very businesslike feel. The stiffness of the keys makes a difference
too...they don't flex as much as usual, and although it's only a
very small thing it nevertheless adds a degree of solidity. That
said, you're unlikely to feel such a benefit unless you've had all
the slop on the keywork taken up.
It's also quite light around the neck. Not quite a light as a Selmer
MkVI but certainly not much heavier. Makes a difference on a long
As mentioned earlier, my suspicion that this horn
has a Keilwerth body is based on the design of the pillars - but
also on how it plays.
Even before it made it onto the bench for a proper tweaking, it
was quite clear that it had a lot to offer on the playability front.
With the leaks sorted and the keywork tightened up, it's even more
apparent that this is a player's horn. It's got bags of zip and
zing and that real 'terrier out for a walk' keenness.
Tonewise it's got that lovely crackle around the edges of the notes
that I always look for, and yet it doesn't overdo it and fall into
brittleness. I'm going to drag up the old YTS23 again and say that
it has much of the same presentation and feel, and yet goes the
extra few hundred yards by adding more depth and roundness to the
tone - particularly at the lower end.
it's an interesting tone. I often find myself slipping into a particular
style of playing depending on the response of a horn; some will
make me want to play ballads, other might steer me towards the blues...but
this horn had me playing those esoteric slow and sustained intervals
that you always hear on jazz radio whenever they're running a 'late
nite introspective' session.
Not that it's too laid back though - with a bit of a push (and only
a bit - it's very free blowing, responsive horn) it kicks straight
into a much more funkier, bluesier tone.
Better still, the tone is very even across the range...and the tuning's
At the time of writing I'm none too sure about
the date of manufacture - but on the strength of the manufacturer's
logo alone I'd place it somewhere in the mid '70s. The capital S
looks like the sort of graphics I used to see at the cinema, just
before the adverts came on...and you'd most likely see it heading
up a word like 'SuperStereoSonicSound'. You'd then get the Pearl
& Dean music (bupahh bupahh bupahh bupahh badabaahh) shortly
followed by a terrible advert for a local takeaway, which would
prompt a chorus of woofs and meows from all the kids in the tuppenny
seats. Ah, the good ol' days...
So is it a Keilwerth? I dunno, as yet - but as
I have a policy of playing the horn and not the badge, I don't really
care. I be surprised if it wasn't, but if it turns out to be a right
el-cheapo then it just goes to show that there are still some very
underrated horns out there.
I liked it, I liked it a lot - and what with the uncertainty surrounding
this brand, and the bad press some of the examples get, there's
a very good chance the canny buyer might be able to pick up one
of these for a song.
Had an email from Richard Johnson who provided
some valuable information regarding this horn.
Aside from the optional top F# and the twin-screw thumb hook, this
horn is identical to the Couf Superba II of the same period (the
thumb hook appearing on later examples) - and the serial number
dates it to 1977/78.
This places a question mark over precisely what Schenkelaars' input
was on this horn. The idea of buying in bodies and fitting bespoke
keywork makes sense - but if you're buying in the body and the keywork,
well, you're just buying in the whole horn and stamping your name
on the bell. An out-and-out stencil, in other words.
If you rushed out and bought one of these horns just after my review
was published - and paid a suitably low price for it - you've done
very well indeed. For everyone else, the party's over...and I'd
expect the asking price to rise in light of this horn's credentials.
It'd still be worth it though.