Q. So, Peter Jessen, tell me about
yourself: how you got into instrument repair/building, how long you've been
playing, if you have a "Fans of Peter Jessen" website, etc.
A. I started playing
saxophone at the age of 12 and it soon became “my thing." As I was never
cut out for a career in academics, I was lucky to find an apprenticeship as a
woodwind repairer when I finished basic school at 16. (Which, to my own astonishment,
makes 2007 my 30th anniversary as a repairer, barring the 10 years where I
combined it with semi-pro playing.)
I am so busy learning
how to use a hammer that I’ve neglected developing computer skills, but I keep
saying “must get a website, must get a….” However, some pictures are available
on the website of the company for whom I work.
[You can also visit this site to view and buy Mr. Jessen's tenor. Both websites are in Danish.]
Q. What was the inspiration behind that beautiful tenor?
A. My main inspirations
behind the alto and tenor were, "I wonder if I can do it!" and
"I've got to practice building horns."
I was never trained
professionally in making mouthpieces, necks -- or whole instruments, for that
matter -- so it has been a long track to get here and I’m still very much in
the process of learning.
Like a lot of other
players, I have a preference for older instruments. I played a Conn 10M [tenor]
for 20 years and I guess the quest for me is to search for that quality
of “feel” and sound and I'm trying to impart that "feel" in my horns.
On the tenors and the
alto I’ve borrowed from existing designs, but I am a strong believer in "hands on."
According to Benedikt Eppelsheim, all standard saxophones are copied
from old Adolphe’s concept and everything else is in the realm of subtlety.
Q. Why copper?
A. I chose copper
because it is easily available here in Copenhagen and
therefore “scrap-able” when not successful! I have to order the proper sheet
metal from Germany and can't afford to make to many mistakes on
this. I had experimented with making necks in copper in 0.7 and 1.0 mm and
found it to have a more mellow sound than brass; it also appeared to give the instruments
more evenness in tone.
Q. It looks like you also make custom
necks and mouthpieces. Please tell me about those.
A. I’ve been making
mouthpieces for about a dozen years now and started out to make the magic “in
between” mouthpiece, combining the fullness of the old with the speed of the
modern. It was fairly successful and I had good response to this, it is however
an extremely subjective thing and a lot of players need the resistance they get
on say, Links and Meyers, so I’ve recently designed a new tenor piece leaning
towards the Link concept and so far the response have been very good
[the mouthpieces are only available in bronze and sterling silver].
The necks are made
mainly for Selmer, Yamaha and Conn saxophones, as they are the preferred makes in
use here in Denmark. I do not have patterns or measurements for all
makes and it would be hard, for instance, to make a copy of a double socket
solid silver King neck at present.
Q. I'm told that your keywork is made by a
different company, similar to what Inderbinen does.
A. I found keywork
elsewhere to be able to make the instrument in reasonable time and so be able
to test my ideas. The quality on [the horns the keywork is from] is at a level these days where it is not great, but definitely acceptable. I am still
looking for better keywork, as it will also be a cost cutter in a commercial
The tube work however,
with bore dimensions and tonehole size and placement is made by hand, as I
firmly believe this is the core of the instrument’s soul.
Q. You mentioned Benedikt Eppelsheim. How
did he inspire you and affect your designs?
A. I was very fortunate
to meet and later visit Benedikt Eppelsheim, creator of the “TUBAX” and other
exceptional saxophones and he has been very generous in
sharing his knowledge and experience and allowing me to see his techniques and
tooling and I must say that he is an outstanding craftsman, highly innovative
and has been a massive inspiration for me.
Prior to meeting him I
really had never thought I’d be able to make the instruments I’ve made over
these last few years; he assisted with the G mezzo soprano design.
Q. Good segue. Why a G mezzo soprano?
A. I have never been completely
comfortable on soprano and wondered if it would be possible to make a sound
similar to Cor Anglais with more volume and single reed and thought this might
be obtainable by changing pitch from Bb down to G.
The first prototype was
way out on the tuning, but the second is much better. It’s still very much a
saxophone and a soprano, but has a mellow subtlety that is very pleasing.
I am currently working
on third prototype, which takes forever, as on these horns I have to custom
make all keywork as well.
The sound of the prototype
is very promising and lives up to the somewhat diffuse and odd idea of
combining the color and depth of a Cor Anglais with the intensity and dynamics
of the soprano playing of Roland Kirk.
I'll have to adjust a
few bore dimensional things before I know for certain if a custom mouthpiece
will be necessary; I hope not! So far, I have used a standard Bb soprano
mouthpiece in designing the G soprano.
The final G mezzo soprano will have drawn toneholes
-- homemade tooling! -- and a keyed range of low Bb to altissimo F# (concert pitch F to C#).
Q. What audience did you intend for the G mezzo soprano?
A. I have had one of the prototypes tested by our
foremost crossover player here in Copenhagen, Torben Snekkestad, and his immediate reaction was a desire
to record baroque music with it.
I think the G mezzo
soprano has the potential to be used in all genres. I see a clear advantage in
the altered pitch when it comes to playing, for example, ballads.
Unfortunately, I do not have any sound clips online, yet.
Q. How about an anticipated date to start selling these horns?
A. Unfortunately, not yet.
There are some pictures of the prototypes at pages 1,
3 and 4.
Q. What's your general pricing range for
A. I generally price my
horns in the range of the Selmer Reference instruments. Of course, I can't
begin to price the G mezzo soprano yet.