Blog » 432Hz Saxophone Redesign Lobby

Last Updated on

Approx. reading time: 6 minutes

432HZ SAXOPHONE REDESIGN LOBBY

I started this 432Hz Saxophone Redesign Lobby in December 2011, without much success. All companies I wrote e-mails and letters to did not seem to be interested. But In December 2014 – 3 years later – the 432Hz Sax was a fact, thanks to Enrico Marchioro and Borgani Saxophones.

► Read more about it in my blog article “Borgani 432 Sax“.

► Skip the introduction about this lobby and read more about “alternative solutions” for playing saxophone “in 432”.

WHY A “LOBBY” FOR REDESIGNING A SAXOPHONE FOR CONCERT PITCH A4=432HZ?

The Saxophone is an instrument with relatively limited tuning capabilities. The pitch of a saxophone can only be adjusted a little “mechanically” by pulling out or pushing in the mouthpiece. Yes, a saxophonist can use his/her embouchure and use alternate fingering to make intonation changes, but the instrument itself should be overall in tune to start with. 

A saxophone can not be pitched by adding extensions (unlike instruments with a cylindrical bore like Flute or Clarinet). The tone-holes have been placed in exact relationship with the length of the instrument and the change in diameter of the conical bore. If one would only extend the instrument, the position of the tone-holes would no longer be correct and there for result in some tones being out of tune.

In order to be able to play in tune with Concert Pitch A4=432Hz without limiting it’s playability the sax needs to be “redesigned”.

This “lobby” does not intend to replace the existing saxophones used. Instruments are often too much part of who we have become as artist and human being to set them aside. But we like to create the option for sax players to play in 432Hz when possible and desired. To add “new members” to the “saxophone-family”.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE SAXOPHONE AND THE CHANGE OF CONCERT PITCH

Most saxophones stay reasonably in tune when the pitch difference is small, +/- 2Hz higher or lower then the concert pitch instrument was designed for. So, a saxophone designed for the standard 440Hz concert pitch, would still sound reasonable when using by example concert pitch 442Hz or 438Hz.

Larger changes in concert pitch though, would cause an intonation difference between the registers that would be too large to correct with the embouchure alone, specially with uptempo music.

Mr. Fletcher James (Schiller Institute) mentioned about saxophones and pitch change (440Hz – 435/432Hz): 

  • There are 20-23 keys and keyholes to be adjusted, and there are all sorts of inter-linked mechanisms which would need to be re-sized. Existing jigs for manufacturing (which are essential for inexpensive mass production of metal parts) could not be used at all.
  • Because of the length of the scale, just pulling out the headjoint will affect the highest note 4 times as much as the lowest.
  • Because of the length of the scale, any attempt to just insert a little space at a couple of points in the instrument would probably end up causing a lot of tuning issues. 

PITCH STANDARDS BRASS & WOODWINDS

There are at present time two different concert pitch standards used for Brass and Wood-Wind instruments. These are the so called “Low Pitch” (LP = 440/442Hz) and “High Pitch” (HP = 456/457Hz). The High Pitch instruments are/were designed and build for American Brass bands and some Military Orchestras. Their sound is sharper / louder then the sound of the Low Pitch instruments in order to not be “overtaken” (sound/volume wise) by larges numbers of noisy people, street noise and battle noise. Most Brass and Wood-Winds (like Saxophones) are engraved with “LP” or “HP” to clarify the concert pitch the instrument was build for.

There use to be another pitch standard used in France only, the so called Diapason Normal with A4=435Hz. Till WWII such instruments were made in Europe (mainly in France, Belgium and Germany). There are also brass & woodwind instruments available at A4=394Hz and 410Hz, specially designed for particular classical music genres such as Baroque and there are some old historical wind instruments in museums that use A4=425Hz to A4=430.5Hz. These are rare instruments though and do not represent an international pitch “standard”.

ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS

Besides the option of having a 432-Sax build by Borgani, are there perhaps other solutions? The answer is yes, there are 3 alternative approaches of playing Saxophone in 432Hz.

1. USING HIGH PITCH (HP) INSTRUMENTS
Alan Gen, a member of the Sax On The Web forum, made a suggestion that could solve the issue of 432Hz and saxophones. He suggested using a HP (High Pitch) instrument (in various sources set as A4 = 456Hz / 457Hz) and transposing a semitone down. It might sound like a contradiction to “raise the pitch” in order to “drop it” but in practice it ain’t.

When lower A4=456Hz with a equal tempered semitone (-100 cents), you will end up with A4=430.4Hz. When lower A4=457Hz with a equal tempered semitone (-100 cents), you will end up with A4=431.4Hz. In both cases close to 432Hz. With other words, a HP instrument is pretty much “in tune” with A4=432Hz and can be perfectly in tune by pushing the mouthpiece in a tiny bit more the usually. The only thing one should do, is instead of providing sheet music for Bb (Soprano & Tenor) and Eb (Alto & Baritone) saxophones, is now to provide sheets written a semitone lower then normally for the saxophone is done.

2. USING INSTRUMENTS DESIGNED FOR THE “DIAPASON NORMAL”
Using a vintage sax made for the old French standard (Diapason Normal) of A4=435Hz would put you on a 3Hz difference. This would still require you to “pull out” your mouthpiece more then usual and might mean you have to make some additional intonation “corrections” with alternative fingering and/or embouchure, but is very well possible. More info in my blog article Vintage 435Hz Saxophones.

3. USING ALTERNATE FINGERING
With woodwind instruments like the saxophone it is possible to generate tones outside the normal 12-tone range of the instrument by using “alternate fingerings”. Examples of this are the 24-tone scale by Tony Hicks and the 128-tone scale by Philipp Gerschlauer. Some of the tones generated in 440Hz with the alternate fingerings in the 128-tone scale come pretty close to the tones of the 432Hz scale.

The exact fingerings used might differ with the instrument brand and model used and it will take you a lot of time to master those additional fingerings. It would be an interesting option to explore, because you would not need to purchase a different instrument. It is though very time-consuming if you wish to master your instrument this way.

WHAT’S NEXT?

At present time saxophone manufacturer Borgani is the only company who has produced a 432 Saxophone. This is a great step forward for those musicians, composers and music lovers that wish to play, compose for or listen to live saxophone using Concert Pitch A4=432Hz. Read more about it in my blog article “Borgani 432 Sax“.

The Borgani saxophones are handmade professional instruments. They are worth the investment if you are a pro, but for hobby saxophonists and beginners these great horns might be too costly.

The willingness for other manufacturers to (re)design saxophones for concert pitch A4=432Hz as well might increase if the number of saxophones requested to be build increase first. So, if you are a sax player, or know a sax player that would like to be able to perform tuned to 432 Hz, then feel free to join the 432Hz Saxophone Redesign Lobby group on Facebook so we can share thoughts  and ideas about it and stay “up-to-date” on the developments. 

KUDOS: the background image used for the banner of this article was made by Ian Monk.


Creative Commons License