Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Reviews from the repairer's workbench
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals

King C Melody saxophone

King C MelodyOrigin: USA
Guide price: £400
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: Mid 1920s
Date reviewed: April 2007

An unusual horn from a noted manufacturer - with some interesting keywork...

Mention the name King to any established sax player and you can bet that they'll rattle off names like the Super 20, the Zephyr and the Silversonic. It's a fair bet too that they'll mention the big, fat sound that's associated with the brand. With that in mind the prospect of a C Melody that has some 'oomph' is quite an exciting one.
King themselves have a long and illustrious history with regard to saxophones (and other winds in general) - and this C Melody would have been amongst the very first models that King made.

The body is sturdy, and as well built as you'd expect for a horn of this era.
There are few concessions to convenience; the bell is soldered on; the action is mounted on individual pillars; the thumb hook isn't adjustable and the bell brace is the usual thin affair that's guaranteed to drive itself into the body (thus distorting the Auxiliary F and G tone holes) in the event of the bell taking a hard knock head on.

King have opted for the tenor type crook - there are C Melodies that feature an alto style crook (without the swan neck curve). Opinion is divided as to which is best, but I tend to prefer this design. From an aesthetic point of view it sits better with the horn too.

The toneholes are hard or silver soldered on, unlike other horns (such as the Martins) that have soft soldered tone holes.
It could be said that this method of fitting tones holes minimises distortions in the bore (as opposed to drawing them out), but if it makes any difference at all on a saxophone I'm pretty sure it's negligible. Unlike soft soldered tone hole, these ones won't be prone to falling off due to the action of Selective Galvanic Corrosion. I didn't notice any warped tone holes.

The guards aren't removable, being the typical 'wire' type - though they're neat and functional...and quite solid.

The whole body is nicely finished in matt silver plate, with brightwork on the fittings, the keys and the bell.

The keywork follows the same pattern; functional and sturdy, though perhaps less simple. The main key stacks are mounted on single rods - so wear is an issue to look out for here, particularly on the right hand key stack. Proper point screws have been used throughout.

As per most saxes of this era, the King features a fantastically complicated octave key mechanism - with lever and arms laid out all over the place. It does the job though (somehow), though you wouldn't call it particularly slick in operation.

King C Melody octave key pipsA very curious feature of the octave key mechanism is the angle at which the octave key pips sit - or more precisely, the holes in them.
The idea behind this was to alleviate the hissing sound that these holes sometimes produce.
It's a completely batty idea (it's not that much of a problem anyway), and all it really does is make it incredibly difficult to fit a pad to the octave key cups.
This is how the pads were fitted when the horn came in, and you can see how extreme the pad angles are.
These vintage octave key mechs can be 'approximate' in action at the best of times, and these offset holes are probably a luxury this system can't afford.
As an idea it was a complete waste of time, and was mercifully short-lived. It was patented around 1925 - which gives a rough estimate for the date of this horn's manufacture.

Another notable feature is the use of twin key cups on the G key.
This would have been to improve the tone and the tuning of the A (remember, when you close a key, the sound comes out of the next hole down) - and again it's an idea that didn't quite work out...though the same double cup arrangement is still used on flutes. Furthermore, it's hellishly difficult to get the two large pads to seat together (I had fun, I can tell you).
The lower of the two tone holes is really the G# tone hole. In effect, this is akin to playing an A with the G# key open - it's supposed to improve the tone and tuning of the A.

King C Melody G#Because of the placement of the lower of the G's twin tone holes, the G# has been mounted around the back.
This mechanism features a very crude example of articulation by means of nothing more than a couple of bits of twisted metal (seen dead centre of the shot, inbetween the two spring posts).
Surprisingly enough this simple mechanism actually works quite well, and has a very solid and sure feel to it. I'd even go so far as to say it outperforms modern mechanisms.
It looks like it shouldn't, what with the enhanced leverage the modern systems give - but it does. So there you go.
However, it's not a perfect world, and the placement of a fixed guard over the G# tone hole makes it tricky to seat the pad.
The G# touchpiece itself and the bell key spatulas are the usual plain rectangular blocks - functional, if perhaps a tad clumsy - and the single piece C# key is inclined to be rather heavy.
Likewise, the palm key touchpieces are of the old rounded type - though comfortable and reasonably well-placed nevertheless.

King C Melody Eb trill keyAs usual for a horn of this period there's an Eb trill key fitted around the rear of the horn, opposite the low D tone hole (strictly speaking it's an Eb/C jump key). Again, it's a fairly crude mechanism - and as such is alone more responsible for causing leaks on vintage horns than any other mechanism (it wears, no-one wants to pay to have the mechanism properly rebuilt, the regulation buffers compress and the pad won't close fully). The standard trick here is to reverse spring this key (as this one has been) so that it remains constantly closed. It's a simple and effective fix, and can be easily reversed should the player wish to make use of it - and cough up to have the inevitable wear fixed in the actuating arm.

The action felt remarkably good under the fingers. Aside from the slightly clunky bell keys and the old-fashioned side trills, the action moved swiftly and positively. A great deal of this is due to the rather long springs used on the action - there's plenty of room for tweaking, and lots of leverage to play with. It's a great design feature that many a modern manufacturer seems to have forgotten about.
In terms of ergonomics everything's where it ought to be, and I don't imagine many players will have any significant problems getting around the keys.

Tonewise the King is quite bright overall. The lower notes are rich and full, and exhibit a satisfying crackle when played subtone.
This richness extends to the top notes, which are just as crisp and clear - making it a very punchy horn for a C Melody.
I can't say that the tone is even though - there was very distinct dulling of the tone going from A to G (it's probably those twin tone holes on the G key). I wondered if perhaps this was due to the modern mouthpiece I was using (though I hadn't noticed the same problem on the Martin C Melody with the same mouthpiece), but the problem remained when I tried the King with a bespoke C Melody mouthpiece from aquilasax (worth a visit to this site if you're a C Melody fan - there's news of a brand new C Melody being built in China).
I suspect the issue is so noticeable because of the King's brightness - were it a warmer horn in general then this dip in tone wouldn't stand out. So much for the double key cup idea then.

I also noted some problems with the tuning.
The A was slightly sharp, and the entire lower octave slightly flat. Top F on the palm keys was very flat indeed - though if played using the front (or auto) F it snapped nicely into tune.
I found the same problems using a variety of mouthpieces, including the aforementioned C Melody piece - so I'd rule out any chance of improving matters by opting for a more sympathetic mouthpiece. I rather suspect some work on those twin G tone holes and the top F might be the only solution.

I've always felt that the C Melody stands between the alto and the tenor in terms of tone, and takes the worst of each - but the King goes a long way to improving upon that notion. It's not as even-toned as the Martin, but then the Martin doesn't have anywhere near as much 'clout'. It would make a good screamer for an R&B player who wanted something a little unusual - but something would have to be done about the tuning.

Further information about all matters relating to C Melody saxes can be found on Alan Tucker's site.

If you've enjoyed this article or found it useful and would like to contribute
towards the cost of creating this independent content, please use the button below.

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2018