The older King Saxophone has been a favorite of sax players since it was introduced in 1916. They are still preferred by a number of today’s professional saxophonists, however don’t seem to have that prestige or popularity of many of the front running brands. There is however a little history to the company.
King horns were manufactured by the H.N. White Company, founded by musical instrument repair technician Henderson N. White in 1893. After a brief relationship with a business partner, C.H. Berg, White became sole owner of the company in 1903. The early company imported and sold Buffet horns from 1908 to 1910 followed by Kohlert saxophones from 1910-1916.
The first King Saxophone, an alto model, was designed and built in 1915. The U.S. Army bought the entire production of alto saxes made from 1916-1918. Tenor and C melody horns were offered in 1919 while curved soprano, baritone and C soprano models were added to the line in 1922. In the early 1920s, H.N. White introduced the King “Saxello” that featured a half-turned bell and was a Bb soprano model. The Saxello was discontinued after the depression forced H.N. White to make cutbacks. Surviving examples of the King Saxello are both rare and valuable.
The King Saxophone can attribute its unique sound in part to an equally unique design that makes use of a double set of pads actuated by the G key which operates both the G and G sharp notes. This design allows the musician more flexibility to hit combinations of notes in addition to playing the A note. Models built after 1924 used braised instead of drawn tone holes. Nickel plating was also offered and the engraving on King Saxophones produced during this time is considered some of the best available.
A newly designed mouthpiece was introduced in 1930 along with more than twenty improvements to previous models. New tenor and alto saxophone were introduced after 1932.
The Super 20 Saxophone was added to the line after the second World War and included a new neck design that reduced air leakage. These horns also featured a lighter action and were said to be easier to play.
The list of musicians that used Super 20 Saxophones is as impressive as the instrument’s pedigree. Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Georgie Auld, Sam Donahue and Charlie Ventura in addition to contemporary greats Charlie Parker, Jr. and Harry James all played King Super 20 models. Renowned band leader Tommy Dorsey also preferred a King Saxophone.
Vintage King Saxes are sought by collectors and musicians all over the world. At one time, the H.N White Company produced saxophones under the King name in addition to horns carrying the American Standard and Cleveland brands.
By 1965, the H.N. White Company had been sold and the name of the company was changed to King Instruments. Today, the King name appears on instruments made by Conn-Selmer which are primarily produced for the student market.