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C melody saxophones

by Malcolm Dickinson, January 2002

A C-melody saxophone is an intermediate size between alto and tenor. Altos are in the key of Eb; tenors are in the key of Bb; and C-melodys are in between, in the key of C. They sound one octave lower than a flute or violin.

It can be hard to tell the difference between a tenor and a-C melody when looking at a picture. The only sure way is to measure the length of the instrument.

Most C-melody saxophones have a neck that has a swan-curve in it like the neck of a tenor. A few models (as far as I know, only ones made by C. G. Conn Ltd.) had a simple curve like the neck of an alto.  As far as I know, all the Conn alto-neck C-melody instruments had a "tuning neck" (a knurled device on the neck that can be turned one way or the other to adjust the length of the neck for tuning purposes.)

C-melody saxophones were made between 1915 and 1929. Many thousands of them (perhaps 100,000!) were sold during that time and none have been made since then.  Apparently, at the time they were so popular that stores had difficulty keeping them in stock.  The seven U.S. saxophone factories were working overtime producing as many of them as possible!  After the crash of 1929, interest waned and no C melody saxophones were made again.

Most C-melody saxophones were silver plated with mother of pearl keys. Some instruments were sold a little more cheaply and these were not plated, but bare brass. These ones typically did not have pearls on the keys.

Instruments in the 1910s and 1920s were made in three styles: bare brass, silver plated, or gold plated. (Some silver plated instruments had gold in the bell and/or keys.) Occasionally I see a C-melody in lacquered brass. This is unusual because that finish was not available in the 20s. My guess is that these are instruments that were sold as bare brass, and were sprayed with lacquer by someone later on.

Today, C-melody saxophones are not used in any musical group. Concert bands, military bands, jazz bands, orchestras, and modern music groups all use Bb and Eb saxophones. However the C-melody could still be used perfectly well by someone who wants to play alone, or who wants to play pieces written for flute and piano, violin and piano, etc.

Because so many were made and there is virtually no demand for them now, C-melody saxophones are the least expensive saxophones you can buy, despite their age. They are not "rare" at all - in fact they are very common, since there are ten or twenty of them in the attics and basements of every small town in America.

The most active sales market for C melody saxophones is www.ebay.com  
If you click here: http://search.ebay.com/search/search.dll?MfcISAPICommand=GetResult&ht=1&SortProperty=MetaEndSort&query=c+melody+saxophone  
you will see that they generally sell for $75 to $200 depending on the condition.

The ones that sell for more than $200 are generally

silver plated
in good conditions (no dents or plating wear)
"name brand" models (ones that say Buescher, Conn, or Martin on them)
in their original case
in need of a repad before they will play.

One thing about looking for C-melody instruments: many, perhaps MOST c-melody saxophones that are for sale are NOT labeled as being C-melody. They are mislabeled as alto, mislabeled as tenor, or just labeled "saxophone." You can verify which they are by writing to the seller and asking him to measure the instrument. A C-melody is __ inches long. [sorry, I don'thave this figure handy. anyone? please email me.]

If you are trying to find a C-melody to buy locally, I suggest putting an ad in the paper saying "wanted, old saxophones" and then when people call you, even if they seem sure it is an alto or a tenor, ask them to measure the length of the instrument.

If you have a C-melody saxophone and are wondering what to do with it, here are some ideas:

Sell it on Ebay (you'll need to submit digital pictures - if you don't have a digital camera, enlist the help of a friend who has one)
Keep it in the corner (or hang it on the wall) as a decoration
Take it to a repairman and have new pads put in it (costs about $300) - then you can play it at home, with a friend who's a pianist, or at church.
Note:  If your C melody is worth $75, and you spend $300 having it repadded, you will now own an instrument worth about $175!  So keep in mind that it makes sense only if you are trying to have a working saxophone for the least amount of money.

Good luck.  You can write to me with questions if they are reasonably brief.

Malcolm Dickinson
Saxophone Teacher

What about recordings of C-melody saxophones?

There are two available that I am aware of. Both are wonderful albums.

Audio CD. artist: Rudy Wiedoeft. Title: Kreisler of the Saxophone.
available at Amazon    label: "Clarinet Classics (UK) - #18 (November 25, 1997)
Audio CD. Artist: Ted Hegvik Title: The Legacy of Rudy Wiedoeft.
Available at Dorn Publications