Carl Fischer Contrabass Saxophone, ca. 1909-1930

from the Carl Busch Papers and Music Instruments – Nickel plated brass

This Carl Fischer BB-flat contrabass saxophone is a “stencil horn” that was made by the Buescher Band Instrument Company sometime between 1909 and 1930.  The Buescher company was manufacturing saxophones not only under the Fischer name but also under other names such as American Artist, Crusader, Lyon & Healy, Silvertone, Vega, and Wurlitzer.  Like the Buescher Company, the Conn, Martin, Selmer, Holton, and York music companies also produced stencil saxophones under a variety of names.   However, only Buescher produced Carl Fischer horns.

Listen to a 1920s Buffet contrabass saxophone playing Benny Goodman’s “Stompin at the Savoy” (performer unknown, 2015).

Carl Fischer, best known for its music publications, was also an instrument dealer that first began importing flutes from Germany’s Emil Rittershausen between the 1890s and 1914.  Later the Fischer company started importing stencil brass instruments from the European instrument manufacturers Courtois, Alexander, and Bohland & Fuchs.  

The first documented appearance of the contrabass saxophone appeared during the 1849 Paris Industrial Exhibition, five years after Adolphe Sax invented his family of instruments.  A. Elwart wrote an 1864 review of a saxophone concert entitled “Concert of the Instruments Recently Invented by Adolphe Sax.”  He noted:

I particularly admired the beautiful sonority of bass and contrabass saxophones whose low range surpasses all instruments made until now, and whose sounds are produced with the same facility at either piano or forte levels.

Compared to the diminutive soprano, the rare contra bass saxophone was the largest instrument of the saxophone family produced by instrument companies.  However, its inventor never put the sub-contrabass saxophone, designed to play two octaves below the baritone sax, into production.  Patrick Gilmore first introduced the contrabass saxophone to American audiences in 1892.  At the time, the instrument was a novelty among novelties and very few manufacturers built and sold contrabass saxophones. In the 1910s, the Brown Brothers Sextet used a bass saxophone (keyed in Bb) as the bottom-most voice of their ensemble, and never used this monster horn in their performances.  By rejecting the contrabass saxophone, the most popular saxophone act of the vaudeville circuit may have relegated the instrument into obscurity because after 1929 no manufacturer continued to make them.