King Zephyr Saxophone - History and personal experience with King saxophones

King Zephyr Saxophones: The History and Top Years

Written by Greger Hillman, Saxophone teacher and music educator

I'm the proud owner of a King Zephyr, the 1936 model. It's a “loud” saxophone and plays really well.

King Zephyr Saxophones have long been admired for their remarkable tone and innovative design. Originating in the 1930s, these instruments played a significant role in shaping the sound of saxophones for generations to come. The introduction of the Zephyr model in 1935 revolutionized the saxophone market, improving both intonation and response in a way that would lay the foundation for the company's even more successful Super 20 series.

Throughout the Zephyr's production years, from 1935 to 1975, there were numerous variations and improvements. The 1946-1975 era is particularly renowned for the quality and craftsmanship of the instruments. With each iteration, King continued to refine their designs to create exceptional saxophones that would satisfy the needs of professional musicians and aspiring players alike.

So as you begin to explore the world of King Zephyr Saxophones, remember that you are delving into a rich history of innovation and dedication to quality. Keep in mind that the best years are often tied to personal preferences and playing styles. Ultimately, the key to finding the perfect saxophone for your needs is to play and listen to as many different models within the Zephyr series, allowing you to experience firsthand the variations these instruments offer.

King Zephyr Saxophones Origins

When you research the history of King Zephyr saxophones, you'll discover that they were produced by H.N. White, a company founded by Henderson N. White in Cleveland, Ohio. H.N. White started as an instrument repairman and eventually began producing the King brand of musical instruments, gaining a strong reputation for their quality and craftsmanship.

The King Zephyr saxophones were introduced in the 1930s as a successor to earlier saxophone models produced by the company, such as the King Voll-True. These instruments were designed with various improvements and innovations aimed at enhancing the performance, tone, and playability of the saxophone. One of the key changes was the relocation of tone holes on the lower stack, resizing other toneholes, and moving the octave pip to accommodate the new King-designed mouthpiece, which featured a larger tone chamber. These advancements greatly contributed to the unique sound and ease of playing that King Zephyr saxophones are known for.

In terms of serial numbers and identifying the best years for King Zephyr saxophones, you can find this information from various sources such as Saxophone.org. For example, the King Zephyr Series I saxophones can be identified by serial numbers 179421 (silver plate) and 247062. With this information, you can better understand the different variations and qualities of King Zephyr saxophones and their production timeline.

As you continue learning about King Zephyr saxophones, you'll gain a deeper appreciation for their unique history, craftsmanship, and innovative design features that have made them a sought-after instrument among saxophone enthusiasts and collectors.

The Zephyr Models and Series

In this section, we will discuss the different models and series of King Zephyr saxophones, including their history and notable features.

Zephyr Series I

The Zephyr Series I was introduced in 1935, essentially a renamed version of the Voll-True II model with only minor differences between the two horns. These saxophones were available in various finishes, such as lacquer and silver plate. They were produced until 1942, known for their rich tone and quality craftsmanship.

Zephyr Series II

After World War II, the King Zephyr Series II was launched in 1945. The Series II carried on the tradition of its predecessor, offering a mix of innovative features and a refined design that attracted professional players. Some changes were made to the keywork and additional features, enhancing the instrument's playability and sound quality.

Zephyr Special

During the same period as the Series II, King introduced the Zephyr Special, which was an upgraded version of the original Zephyr series. The Special models offered options for both alto and tenor saxophones. They were particularly popular due to their custom finishes and improvements in the keywork, creating a smoother playing experience.

Super 20

The Super 20 series emerged as another evolution in the King Zephyr line, with multiple series produced over time. These saxophones were known for their solid construction and unique design elements, such as adjustable key touches and additional keywork features which provided players with more control and flexibility.

As you explore the King Zephyr saxophones, you'll find instruments with a rich history and impressive sound quality. Each series offers its own unique features and character, providing options to suit different players' needs and preferences. Always remember to consider the condition, age, and other factors when choosing a Zephyr saxophone.

Notable King Zephyr Saxophone Players

Throughout its history, the King Zephyr saxophone has been played by several notable musicians who have contributed significantly to the jazz saxophone tradition. These players utilized the unique qualities of the King Zephyr to shape their sound and style, making a lasting impact on the musical landscape.

Charlie Parker is perhaps the most famous of these musicians. As a pioneer of bebop, he played a King Zephyr alto saxophone in the early stages of his career, shaping the bebop sound with his virtuosic technique and improvisational skills. Parker's playing on the King Zephyr helped solidify its reputation as a top-tier saxophone.

Charlie Ventura also played the King Zephyr, using a tenor model to create his iconic sound. Ventura became a prominent figure in the jazz world with his fast-paced, energetic playing style. His innovative approach, combined with the characteristics of the King Zephyr tenor saxophone, contributed to the rich history of the instrument.

Another musician who famously played a King Zephyr saxophone is Yusef Lateef. Lateef was well-known for his diverse range of musical styles, from jazz to blues and even world music. The unique character of the King Zephyr tenor saxophone allowed him to achieve this versatility in his playing, showcasing his creativity and musical exploration.

James Moody is another prominent figure in jazz history who played the King Zephyr saxophone. Known for his soulful, emotive playing, Moody expanded the boundaries of jazz saxophone on multiple fronts. His use of the King Zephyr alto saxophone helped define his distinctive sound and inspire countless musicians.

In summary, these renowned musicians significantly contributed to the legacy of the King Zephyr saxophone, demonstrating its prowess as a versatile and reliable instrument. With their innovative playing styles and the unique qualities of the King Zephyr, these musicians have left an indelible mark on jazz history.

Instrument Comparison and Unique Features

Alto vs Tenor vs Baritone

The King Zephyr Saxophones come in three primary types: the alto, the tenor, and the baritone, each with its unique features. The alto is known for its higher pitch range, with a distinct and bright sound, while the tenor saxophone has a lower pitch range and a mellower sound. The baritone saxophone (also called bari) is the lowest pitched among the three, offering a rich and resonant tone.

When considering the King Zephyr saxophones from different years, the Voll True II model from the early 1930s later became the basis for the original King Zephyr. As years progressed, the Zephyr saw many iterations, each with improvements in intonation and response, culminating in the highly regarded Super 20 model produced between 1946 and 1975.

Mouthpiece and Intonation

The King Zephyr saxophones are renowned for their intonation in all three instrument types (alto, tenor, and baritone). With the 1930s redesign, the Zephyr series introduced changes to the tone hole locations, resizing of other toneholes, and the movement of the octave pip to accommodate a new King-designed mouthpiece with a larger tone chamber. These modifications enhanced the overall intonation and response of the instruments.

When selecting a mouthpiece for your King Zephyr saxophone, pay close attention to the compatibility and desired tone. By using a mouthpiece specifically designed for your alto, tenor, or baritone saxophone, you can ensure optimal intonation and improved playability.

In summary, the King Zephyr saxophones offer a range of instruments across alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. Each type has unique benefits and tonal characteristics, with advancing models and improvements in intonation and mouthpiece design over the years. Be sure to choose the appropriate mouthpiece for your specific saxophone type to ensure the best performance and sound quality.

Technical Aspects

Socket Neck and Palm Keys

King Zephyr Saxophones stand out among their competitors due to their unique features, one of which is the socket neck design. This innovative design adds stability to the instrument by providing a secure connection between the neck and the body. As a saxophonist, you will appreciate how this contributes to improved intonation and response.

Another notable feature of the King Zephyr is the layout of the palm keys. These keys were designed with the player's ergonomics in mind, allowing for smooth and comfortable playing. You will find that this ergonomic design enhances your playing experience, enabling you to perform with greater precision and control.

Bell Keys and Tone Holes

The King Zephyr also boasts an impressive bell key arrangement. Notable for their precise placement, these keys facilitate accurate intonation. The design helped to establish King Zephyr as a leader in innovation during the 1930s and 1940s, eventually serving as a template for the Super 20 model.

The tone holes in the King Zephyr Saxophones were meticulously placed, resized, and improved going from previous models, such as the Chu Berry. As a result of these refinements, the tone holes, coupled with the innovative socket neck and bell key placement, work together to produce a remarkable instrument. The King Zephyr excelled in both the technical aspects and the overall sound quality.

Throughout its history, King Zephyr Saxophones have been characterized by consistent innovations and refinements, earning them a deserved reputation for excellence. As a saxophonist, you will come to appreciate the exceptional technical aspects that make this instrument stand out.

Significance of Serial Numbers

When examining a King Zephyr saxophone, one of the first things you should look at is the serial number. Serial numbers can provide valuable information about the instrument's history, manufacturing date, and even its potential value. In this section, we'll discuss the significance of serial numbers and what they can reveal about your King Zephyr saxophone.

Serial numbers on King Zephyr saxophones can help you determine the approximate age of your instrument. Knowing the age of your saxophone is important for understanding its value and potential as a collector's item. To find the serial number on your King Zephyr saxophone, simply look for the engraved number on the back of the instrument, near the top.

Once you have located your saxophone's serial number, you can use resources like the King Serial Number Chart to get an idea of when your instrument was made. For example, a Zephyr with a serial number between 126,001 and 161,000 was likely produced between 1930 and 1935. Knowing this time frame can help you identify the specific model and series of your King Zephyr saxophone, such as Zephyr series I or Zephyr series II.

Serial number ranges can also indicate the quality and desirability of your saxophone within the King Zephyr line. Certain serial number ranges are considered more desirable by collectors and musicians due to differences in manufacturing practices, materials used, and overall craftsmanship. Paying attention to the serial number can help you differentiate between a good investment and a less desirable instrument.

In summary, understanding the significance of serial numbers on your King Zephyr saxophone is crucial for recognizing both its age and value. By taking the time to locate and research your instrument's serial number, you can gain a better appreciation for its history, unique attributes, and potential worth.

Vintage King Zephyr Saxophones

Maintenance and Repair

When caring for your vintage King Zephyr saxophone, it's important to invest in proper maintenance and repair. Over the years, your saxophone's lacquer may lose its luster or become damaged, so it's essential to handle your instrument with care. Pay special attention to the silver and silver plate finishes, as well as any gold plate accents. Regular cleaning, polishing, and lubrication will help preserve the appearance and functionality of your King Zephyr.

In case your saxophone needs repair, always consult with a professional technician who specializes in vintage horns. They can assess the necessary work, whether it's adjusting key action or replacing worn pads. Maintaining your King Zephyr in top condition will ensure its playability and longevity.

Collectibility and Pricing

Vintage King Zephyr saxophones are sought after by collectors and musicians alike for their craftsmanship, sound quality, and rich history. Produced between 1935 and 1945, the Zephyr is a timeless piece of saxophone history. Silver and silver bells provide that distinctive vintage look, while gold plate and silver plate accents add elegance and value to these instruments.

Pricing for vintage King Zephyr saxophones varies significantly depending on factors such as condition, rarity, and finish. A well-maintained saxophone can fetch prices ranging from $750 for a used tenor to over $2,000 for a special silver alto. It's essential to be discerning and do your research when purchasing a vintage King Zephyr, as market prices can fluctuate.

To summarize, taking care of your vintage King Zephyr saxophone through proper maintenance and repair will not only enhance its playability but also contribute to its collectibility and value. Keep a lookout for desirable finishes such as silver, silver bells, gold plate, and silver plate to add to your collection.

Comparing with Other Saxophone Brands

Buffet and Keilwerth

The Buffet brand offers a range of saxophones that cater to various players. Their expressive tone and impressive craftsmanship make them a popular choice among musicians. Keilwerth, on the other hand, is known for its robust build and powerful sound. Both brands have expanded their lineup over the years to include innovative features and modern styling.

Buescher and Conn

When compared to the King Zephyr saxophone, Buescher is a brand that has its roots in the early 1900s, with the True Tone and Aristocrat series. Their saxophones are known for their warm sound and excellent intonation, while some of their vintage models hold a special place among collectors. Conn saxophones have been around since the late 19th century, with popular models like the New Wonder, Conn Wonder, and the famous “Naked Lady” engraving found on some vintage instruments. Their saxophones are celebrated for the unique tone they produce, thanks to various innovations like the split C key and octave key cup mechanism.

Vintage Saxophone Brands

Several other vintage saxophone brands can be compared to the King Zephyr:

  • Adolphe Sax: The original inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax produced a range of instruments in different sizes, including C melody and bass saxophones. Though these original instruments are quite rare, they are known for their exquisite craftsmanship and historical significance.
  • Kohlert Saxophones: While not as well-known today, Kohlert was once a renowned manufacturer of quality saxophones. Their saxophones have a unique tonal character, and the King Saxello model is a particular highlight among collectors.
  • C.G. Conn: Conn saxophones, like the New Aristocrat and 400 series, are still highly regarded today for their responsive keywork and full-bodied tone. While some models targeted at students, like the Collegiate series, they all share the brand's commitment to quality and innovation.

When considering the King Zephyr saxophone, it's helpful to compare it with other reputable brands in the market. This can help you better understand where it stands in terms of tone, build quality, and innovation.

Cult Following and Market Perception

King Zephyr saxophones have garnered a cult following among saxophonists and collectors alike. This can largely be attributed to their robust construction, unique design elements, and the tone that they produce. Many players appreciate the distinct sound and playability of these instruments, which have contributed to their lasting appeal.

At times, King Zephyr saxophones have been considered somewhat undervalued in the market, particularly when compared to their more widely recognized counterparts, such as the Selmer Mark VI. However, this perception has begun to shift in recent years, as more players and collectors become aware of the qualities that set these instruments apart.

When considering a King Zephyr saxophone, it's essential to become familiar with the various production periods and serial number ranges associated with each series. For example, the Super 20 series V (1967-1976) and the Zephyr series I have been noted for their distinct features and tonal characteristics.

As you explore the world of King Zephyr saxophones, it's important to remember that the market perception of these instruments may vary. This provides opportunities for savvy collectors and players to acquire high-quality, underappreciated saxophones that possess a unique place in the instrument's history. By remaining confident and knowledgeable about the evolution of King Zephyr saxophones, you'll be well-equipped to navigate this intriguing market.

Saxophone teacher online Greger Hillman

Written by Greger Hillman

Greger Hillman is a saxophone teacher with +36 years of experience playing saxophone. 

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Greger Hillman is a saxophone teacher and musician from Sweden.

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