An Old Red Saxophone. Why is it red?

This is an old Buescher tenor sax that is from one of the local schools. Normally when you see a sax it is a shiny, gold color which is actually brass. The sax is shiny because the brass has been buffed to a high luster and then the brass is covered with a type of lacquer which is either sprayed on or baked on. This lacquer finish keeps the brass looking shiny for many years. The sax in the photo was made in 1928 or 1929, making this an 88 year old instrument. After decades and decades of being handled by a multitude of students, who never wipe off the horn after playing it, the lacquer deteriorates. It wears off or it simply flakes off leaving the raw brass subject to the elements or to the students, which ever get to it first. The reddish color is a chemical reaction called oxidation which primarily affects the surface of the metal. Now, brass is an alloy consisting of copper and zinc. Depending on the proportion of copper to zinc in the brass the oxidation can appear quite different from horn to horn. This one has a lovely reddish patina, however it can also appear as a greenish-yellow or any shade in between. This horn, and many like it which I continue to cobble together, are still being used in all of our local schools. Our students deserve new and better horns. Why are they still playing on instruments that their grandparents most likely played? The budgets allocated to a majority of the local band programs is shameful. Many band programs, especially the high school bands, are relegated to having bake sales or selling fruit or light bulbs or whatever to raise enough money to purchase much needed equipment, music, etc. This has not changed since I was a young, 10 year old beginning player. Music, and the arts in general, have always been treated like the “red-headed stepchild”. After 48 years of playing saxophone and 44 years of repairing band instruments I just haven’t seen that much improvement in what students and band directors have to deal with in the world of music education. More to come.



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