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Peter Jessen
Peter Jessen

Peter Hales is the former Moderator of the Sax on the Web Forum, a current columnist for Sax on the Web and is the webmaster and creator of the TheSax.info website.

Pete's SOTW articles:
.. SML: The Ongoing Story
.. A Day in the Life of a Saxophone Historian
.. Fun with Vintage Saxophones
.. What is the Best Vintage Saxophone for Me?
.. Stencils and "Second Line" Models
.. Saxophone Body and Finish
.. CD reviews:

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Created: December 16, 2007

Jessen Soprano

Peter Jessen Interview

by Peter Hales

As a lot of you may already know, I put together a saxophone calendar every year. See all the details or be included in the next one. This year was a little special because I didn't focus on vintage instruments.

Imagine my surprise when the builder of one of the saxophones included in the 2008 calendar decided to drop me a line.  I was even more surprised when I asked if I could "interview" him about his current and upcoming projects and he said "yes."

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 sense.

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,   2,   3 and 4.

Q.  What's your general pricing range for your saxophones?

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.

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