The first time I laid eyes on this curious alto saxophone was in 1995. Then again in 1999, 2002 and 2008. And as of yesterday, I repaired this horn for the 5th time. It never ceases to amaze me and never ceases to torture me in the process. Nonetheless, it’s an amazing horn. It’s owned by Ian Work, a professional saxophone player in an alternative rock/jazz band in Captain Cook, Hawaii. Not a bad gig!
There isn’t a lot of info on this unusual and uncommon instrument, and not even a full Wikipedia entry, so I thank TheSax.Info Blog for this bit of background, with reference to an article published by LeBlanc.
The Leblanc Rationnel (say that with French flair), was designed according to the Boehm system, which is “rational” in the sense that “Any note being emitted, all the notes below it should have their holes of emission open when the instrument is at rest.” This makes the fingering simple and intuitive such that if you start with all your fingers depressed and lift one at a time from the bottom up, the tone will rise accordingly along the scale. Sorta.
But the real advantage to a seasoned player is that it is purportedly the most tunable sax ever built. “The heart of the Leblanc (Paris) System saxophone is a special coupling mechanism which enables the player to lower the pitch in the left hand key bank one semitone by depressing the first, second or third finger of the right hand.” YIKES! I won’t try to explain that one, but it’s true. Sorta.
The irrational and aggravating thing about this horn for someone who has to repair it, is the extreme number of articulated keys. On most horns, 3 keys at most will close at one time to produce a tone. On this horn, as many as 8 keys will close at one time for just one friggin’ note. That means every key and pad has to be leveled and adjusted perfectly to close all those holes at one time. To accomplish that, I ended up having to replace the two upper stack rods with oversized hinge rods to fit them snugly inside the posts. TMI?
Even with all of the high-maintenance headaches, the pros say this Leblanc Rationnel is a great horn. The crazy key system, despite its complexity, feels comfortable in your hands, almost ergonomic. Best of all, it produces a huge, beautiful sound with a full spectrum of tone. Play on, Leblanc, see you in a couple of years!