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    Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) Inventor of the Saxophone

    Adolphe Sax was born on the 6th of November 1814 in a small Belgian city called Dinant in Wallon. Adolphe’s father, Charles Joseph Sax was an accomplished instrument maker and taught young Adolphe how to make instruments. While an apprentice at his father’s shop, Adolphe quickly learnt his father’s trade and by the age of 15 was making his own clarinets and flutes. An incredible craftsman, young Adolphe handmade two flutes from ivory and sent them to the Brussels Industrial Exhibition. They were considered fine specimens but Adolphe could not receive any recognized award because of his young age.

    Sax was also a talented musician and studied flute and clarinet at a conservatory in Brussels. On graduating, Sax returned to his father’s shop and continued to design and modify instruments while his father continued making conventional instruments to support the family. Sax’s early noted work (prior to the invention of the saxophone) included important modifications to the bass clarinet for which he received a patent at the age of 24.

    As an experienced musician, Adolphe was aware of an imbalance between the woodwind, brass and string section within an orchestra. He wanted to design an instrument that would have the projection of a brass instrument with the agility and qualities of a woodwind instrument. This is where the concept of the saxophone was first born. Already a master craftsman in making clarinets and flutes, Adolphe also had experience in making the ophicleide, a large brass instrument that was popular in the 18th century. This knowledge of working with both early brass and woodwind instruments allowed Adolphe to experiment and make an instrument that would combine both brass and woodwind elements.

    In 1844 Sax moved to Paris. Already known and respected, he exhibited the very early saxophone (know then as the sax horn) to musicians, composers and instruments makers.

    With the saxophone becoming ever more popular, composers began incorporating the saxophone into their arrangements and military bands started replacing oboes and bassoons with the new instrument.

    Adolphe initially designed the saxophone in several different sizes. In 1846 a fifteen year patent was granted for fourteen versions of the basic design ranging from sopranino to contra bass. In 1866 the patent expired and numerous other instrument makers began producing saxophones with various improvements and changes. One of the first major changes was implemented by a French instrument maker who extended the bell and added and extra key allowing the sax to play an extra semitone lower to Bb.

    Adolphe eventually became Professor of Saxophone at Paris Conservatory and continued to modify the saxophone design, extending his original patent in 1881. It wasn’t long before the saxophone arrived in the United States with composers and musicians expressing much interest in the new instrument.
    Gus Beshuer produced the first line of American saxophones in 1885 with other manufactures such as Holton and Martin following suit.


    Adolphe Sax died on 7th Feb, 1894 in Paris France. During his career Sax faced fierce opposition from other French instrument makers and jealous artists who initially dismissed the saxophone.

    Now nearly 170 years later the saxophone is one of the world’s most loved instruments.

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