The saxophone inspection process… THIS is where the magic happens… well at least some of it.
Over at the Conn-Selmer factory in Elkhart, Indiana, saxophone techs go through a very details saxophone inspection process before they can ship out each instrument.
Meet Scott Campbell, who is basically in charge of all woodwind instruments over at Conn-Selmer — the largest manufacturer of brass and woodwind instruments in the United States. He gave me a tour of the factory and showed me the inspection process.
A tour of the factory
Now, saxophones are not made in this factory. You may actually be surprised to learn that saxophones have not been made anywhere in America for decades.
Elkhart was the home of the original Conn musical instrument factory, which started producing the first American made saxophones back in 1888.
Conn went on to build some of the greatest now vintage saxophone models ever made. Plus, several other great American saxophone brands were started by former Conn employees, including Buescher and Martin, whose factories were also located in Elkhart IN.
These saxophones have been imported here from overseas factories in the same way that Selmer Paris and Yanagisawa saxophones are.
Conn-Selmer not only manufactures great instruments, but they also handle the North American distribution for these brands.
So quick clarification as it is confusing…
Selmer Paris makes saxophones in Paris and is a separate French company.
Conn-Selmer is an American company that makes instruments in Elkhart, and distributes other instruments made overseas.
The 2 companies do collaborate very closely though.
On my visit, I got to see the process of making clarinets, flutes, trumpets, trombones and more.
It was fascinating to meet all the amazing people working in this factory and watch them in the process of building all these musical instruments from scratch.
When instruments built in other factories arrive here, they have to get inspected to make sure they measure up to Conn-Selmer’s strict quality control standards.
Cataloguing each saxophone
Now we meet Jeff, who’s an important part of the saxophone inspection process.
He carefully opens each box, and enters the serial number of the instrument into the computer system.
Then he removes the saxophone from the packaging and gets it ready for inspection. Jeff loads up a dolly with unpacked saxophones, which then get sent to one of the expert saxophone technicians.
Inspecting each saxophone
Now enters Jake, who’s going to inspect, setup and play-test all of these.
He checks the mechanism on all the keys to make sure they are tight, he checks the pads to make sure they are all seating and sealing properly, and he checks the key action to make sure everything is moving smoothly with the correct spring tensions. If he finds an issue, Jake will make any adjustments necessary to make sure this horn is in top playing condition right out of the box.
Another extra touch Jake likes to add, is a quick polish on the neck tenon to ensure a perfect smooth fit.
Jake is one of several top notch Conn-Selmer technicians performing quality control on these instruments.
Any instrument that doesn’t meet the high standard of quality gets rejected and sent back.
He showed me his entire saxophone inspection process and even let me borrow his bench to check over some of the horns myself.
Packing each saxophone
Once this batch is done, Jake brings the instruments back over to Jeff to be cleaned and repacked.
I took this opportunity to play test a bunch of the horns myself which was delightful as every one was a killer player.
During my visit, the team came across BetterSax Alto serial number 1000, so I decided to leave a personal message in the case for the person who ends up with that one.
Once the horns have been inspected, setup and play tested, it’s time to clean them up and repack.
Jeff is carefully removing all fingerprints and smudges while also looking carefully for any blemishes in the lacquer finish.
He also makes sure that all of the accessories are in the case before packing it all back up.
That green sticker indicates that this one is good to go and the saxophone inspection process is complete.
Now were going to follow these saxophones on a short trip down the road.
From Conn-Selmer to Sweetwater
Moving down the road to Fort Wayne, Indiana, this batch of saxophones have just arrived. But before Sweetwater sells any instrument, it goes through their rigorous 40 point inspection process.
They need to make sure that manufacturers are matching Sweetwater’s demanding quality control standards.
Meet Matt, James, Tera, and Stephen – 4 of the technicians in Sweetwater’s woodwind department. Today, they are inspecting and play-testing these BetterSax altos. Sweetwater goes to incredible lengths to provide the best customer service and support in the industry and this is one of example of how they excel.
They’ve also got an extensive brass and woodwind repair facility as you can see here.
This is all part of their beautiful, state of the art brick and mortar music store which has got to be seen to be believed
On top of all that, ordering stuff from Sweetwater is the ultimate purchasing experience.
They have an army of great people who are musicians and music lovers ready to help you.
Got a question about an item you’re interested in? No problem, call the 1-800 number and talk to an expert. While I was visiting I met a number of great saxophone players who are part of Sweetwater’s army of Sales engineers.
These folks know the instruments, they play them and get extensive training on every product they sell.
Once orders come in, they get picked and packed in Sweetwater’s incredible distribution center which blew my mind.
Most orders get shipped out a matter of hours after coming in. Every box is meticulously packed and comes with a card signed by the person who packed it, and a bag of candy.
So as you can imagine I’m beyond thrilled that my BetterSax saxophones are first being manufactured by the great people at Conn-Selmer, but then are being sold by the ultimate music store, which is setting the bar very high as both a brick and mortar store and online retailer. You can now purchase the BetterSax BURNIN’ Mouthpiece and the BetterSax Alto Saxophone over at Sweetwater.com
If you love watching these behind the scenes videos, you’ve got to check out this one where I visit a plantation in the South of France to find out how saxophone reeds are made.