The first saxophones distributed by the King company were Buffet horns
which were imported from 1908 – 1910. From 1910 until 1916, the company distributed Kohlert saxophones. In 1915, work began on the design of a
King saxophone, and this model (an alto) was introduced in 1916. King secured a government contract, and the entire saxophone production from
1916 –1918 was sold to the U. S. Army. In June, 1919, a tenor and a C melody were added to the line. All three of these horns had, in addition
to the forked E flat mechanism and G sharp trill key in vogue at the time, the unique “open” G sharp pad. I have always considered this system
to be a great idea, and have often wondered why it was not adopted by other makers. This system involves using a double set of pads actuated
by the G key, one corresponding to the note G, the other to the note G sharp. This has two benefits: the player can leave the right hand keys
depressed while using the left hand mechanism (think of a D arpeggio), and the intonation of the problematic note A is vastly improved. These
horns were available in bare brass, silver plate, silver plate with gold keywork, and gold plate. In 1922, a curved soprano, a baritone, and a
C soprano were added to the line.
In 1924, King revamped their saxophone lines with the introduction of
the New Series horns. These instruments continued many of the features
of the previous King instruments, such as braised rather than drawn tone
holes, and featured a front F key, a wider G sharp key, and an improved
octave key. This mechanism, designed for King by Henry Dreves (US
Patent 1549911, granted August 18, 1925) was an attempt to eliminate the
hissing that often occurs between high G and high A. In this system, the
tube of the neck octave pip was slanted, and the point of pad contact
was rounded to better seal against a pad with a concave surface.
Additional engraving, hand burnished gold finishes, and nickel plating also
became available. Some of the engraving found on King horns of this era
The famous King Saxello was introduced in September, 1924, in an
attempt to address problems associated with the straight and curved soprano
horns of the time. In his patent application (U.S. Patent 1549101,
granted November 2, 1926), Henry Dreves describes the curved soprano as
being problematic in the bow area and uncomfortable to play. He further
states that the straight soprano is acoustically superior, but is also
uncomfortable in its playing position. His solution was a curved neck
and a bell tipped at a right angle on a straight soprano. No tone holes
were present on the bell, and only the upper octave pip was present on
the neck. The instrument could be played on a neckstrap, rested on the
players leg, or with an optional (and very rare!) V shaped stand.
King revamped the line again in 1930, and claimed twenty-two improvements over its previous models. These changes were mostly different tonehole locations on the lower stack, and the resizing of other toneholes and movement of the octave pip to accommodate the new King designed mouthpiece, which featured a larger tone chamber. This model was called the Voll-True, and can be quite difficult to play with accurate intonation if a small chamber mouthpiece is used.
In 1932, new alto and tenor models were introduced, known as Voll-True
II horns. These are very nice instruments, with right hand mounted
bell keys, larger palm keys, adjusting screws for some key heights, the
elimination of felt bumpers, a clothing guard, a floating octave key cup,
and an ill-conceived mechanism which eliminated the high E key. The
alto made its debut in October, 1932, and was followed by the tenor in
December. A baritone was shown in July, 1933.
In 1935, the Voll-True II was essentially renamed the Zephyr. These
horns appear to be the same, and even had the same catalog number.
Fortunately, King had the wisdom to abandon the high E mechanism of the
Voll-True II and use a conventional three key layout for the chromatic B
flat, chromatic C, and high E. Sometime around 1940, the Zephyr horns
acquired the “socket neck”, which was intended to reduce leakage at the
joint between the neck and body. These are really great horns, among the
very finest of the era, with an unusually full voice. King took the
Zephyr theme a step further in 1939 with the Zephyr Special. These horns
had solid silver necks, engraving on some of the keywork, and a
different bore. Mother of pearl touches were also added to the palm keys and
side keys. It is my understanding that they were also available with a
sterling silver bell, although I have never seen one.
After World War II, King introduced the legendary Super 20. The early
examples were essentially Zephyr Specials with more elaborate engraving,
but with a different neck. This neck, designed by Fred Meyer (U.S.
Patent 2533389 granted December 12, 1950) was intended to provide more
positive sealing and a lighter action, and became the trademark of the
Super 20. The initial run of Super 20’s had the three ring strap hook of
the Zephyr Special, and mother of pearl key touches. The left hand
pinky cluster was changed around serial number 300,000 and the sterling
silver neck became an option around serial number 340,000. The mother of
pearl touches were discontinued, but a Super 20 baritone was made
available. A silver neck was standard on the baritone, and I have seen one with
a sterling silver bell. The socket neck was deleted around 390,000 and
at 426,000 the production was moved from Cleveland to a new facility at
Eastlake, Ohio. The underslung octave mechanism was discontinued, and
these horns are generally considered to be of lesser quality and not as
desirable. King was losing money on every Super 20 produced, and the
line was discontinued in 1975. However, there are reliable reports of
Super 20 horns with high serial numbers indicating later production dates.
I can only assume that these instruments were produced from left over
From 1960 until the mid 1980’s, King imported the Marigaux line of saxophones from SML in France. These horns were SML Gold Medal models (no rolled tone holes) and were marketed to the classical community. They were engraved with the King logo, and later examples were fitted with a high F sharp key. They are SML’s in all but name, and there’s nothing wrong with that!
In 1995, King excited the saxophone world with the Super 21, which was
exhibited at various trade shows. About a dozen of these horns were
made (under the direction of Canadian repairman John Wier), and it was
decided not proceed with further development or production. These horns
represented a natural evolution of the Super 20, but the economics just
were not there.
Today, King produces only student line saxophones.