This guide was compiled mostly out of personal curiosity on these saxes and hopefully it will also serve to all those trying to identify the different models produced by this famous Italian manufacturer.
It is somewhat peculiar that although Grassi was one of the largest producers of wind instruments in Italy, very little is known about the company and its products.
There is much confusion around Grassi saxophones and it is easy to understand why:
• There are no known details about its production
• Grassi produced saxophones from the 60s to the 90s with similar model names, however with very different designs
• There seems to be no real chronology to the models
• Different models were produced around the same time which makes mapping models to serial numbers impossible
• Many years after the “Made in Italy” production ceased for good, Proel (an Italian importer of musical instruments and equipment) bought the rights to the I.M. Grassi logo and started producing saxes in the Far East with model names identical to the defunct Italian production.
An easy way to recognise these saxes is to check the logo printed on the bell: it is no hand engraved, but laser engraved and it now shows “Ida Maria Grassi – Italy” instead of the old “Ida Maria Grassi – Made in Italy” logo.
It was my intention to provide some details around the Grassi production (exact production years, rationale behind the models, etc.) and around its history, but so far found very little.
So what follows is simply a guide to recognising the different models produced in Italy. I should also add, that what follows is purely based on mechanical differences and will limit itself only to the Made in Italy production.
It would be very difficult (and maybe unfair) to give my opinion of the qualities of these instruments, as, like any other make, it depends so much on individual samples, their playing conditions, mouthpiece setup, the player, etc.
Like any other make, sound quality can vary whichever the model tested.
All the models contained in this guide have been either spotted on various internet sites, owned by SAXFORUM.IT and Café Saxophone users (a big Thank You!) and the very few owned by myself.
If I have missed any models (like the Concertino!), please get in touch and I’ll add to this document, prior photographic proof!
Please note: I have no financial gain in reporting the info and photos below, it would have been very difficult (if not impossible!) to quote every source. I have removed the last 2 sometimes 3 digits from all the serial numbers quoted to prevent this info being used by Internet scammers, however if you recognise a photo which belongs to your instrument and you feel strongly about it appearing here, please get in touch and I’ll remove it from this document.
Second hand value
I couldn’t give precise indication of the value of any instrument, it depends so much on the condition and playability of the instrument itself.
Prices vary greatly, this year (2011) I have seen them ranging from 150 euros for a “Standard” alto to 1500 euros for a “Prestige” Tenor. I suggest checking a well known online auction site and other online ads to get a rough idea of value.
Grassi did produce saxes under other names, mostly for the US market. So far I have found the following to have very striking resemblance to the Grassi instruments: Mogar (unconfirmed), Martin Busine (unconfirmed), Majestic and “La Marque” (the La Marque saxes are Jade Rollers with the “La Marque” logon engraved just above the “I.M. Grassi” logo on the side of the bell).
Following is the only known source of serial numbers: this list will allow you to find out when your sax was produced.
The Grassi saxophone production starts in the 1960s with serial number 1000.
From 1000 to 27395 serials produced between 1960 and 1974
From 27395 to 30266 1974 / 1975
From 30267 to 34880 1976
From 34881 to 37478 1977
From 37479 to 39871 1978
From 39872 to 41835 1979
From 41836 to 43836 1980
From 43837 to 45619 1981
From 45620 to 47344 1982
Production and serial numbers become more approximate
From 47345 to 53420 1983 / 84/ 85/ 86
From 53421 to 60885 1987 /88 /89 /90
From 60886 to 65645 1990 /91 /92 /93 /94
At first I tried to keep some chronological order on the models, however I soon realised that production was very erratic: for example the “no name” models (which I will call “Standard” from now on. NB.: this is just a personal definition for the purposes of this document and one which cannot be found engraved on any Grassi sax!) start from the beginning of the saxophone production in the 60s, but they were also produced in parallel with other models until the end of the 70s.
Standard Mk I
The first model I found is in the 1600 serial numbers: note the old Grassi logo, quite different from the one we know:
This model has a different left hand little finger cluster keys:
Also you will notice that the body to bell brace is a simple ‘L’ shaped rod:
The rest of the keywork will remain unchanged until the 70s.
As far as I know, all Standard models had an engraved bell.
Sequentially, the next model I came across was in the 9000 range: you will now notice that the bell to brace “ring” has replaced the “L” shaped one, the left hand keys remain the same as the model above:
Around the 22000 serial, the bell keys on baritones move from left to the right
hand side of the bell.
Standard MK III and “Jade Rollers”
Up to this serial all models are Standard (or no name, just a serial number engraved) models. There are some minor aesthetic changes, such as the Jade coloured low C/Eb and low B/C#/Bb little finger key rollers (see photo below). Apparently even the pads on these models were in green coloured leather!
The G#/B/Bb/C# little finger cluster has taken a more contemporary shape:
The first non Standard model I came across has been the “Wonderful Model” (28900).
This is a very interesting model and it would seem Grassi’s attempt at creating a more sophisticated instrument.
This model sports many mechanical improvements not found in previous Standard models:
• Plastic adjustable thumb hook
• High F# key on request
• F / G# / Bb with adjustable screws
• Bell keys now “balanced” with no linkage between keys and keycups.
This improvement (first seen on the Selmer “Balanced Action” in the 1940s) makes the action of the low notes much lighter and precise.
Another new detail is that of the bell to brace “two point” ring: the ring is no longer directly soldered to the bell.
The photo below on the left shows the “Wonderful” “two point” ring brace, the photo to the right shows the brace on a Standard model:
A nice addition to all the above improvements were the rectangular mother of pearl key touches (as opposed to the more traditional round pearls) offered as an option: this option cost an extra £30,000 Italian Lira in the early 70s!
Above you can see a beautiful example with rectangular key touches, so far I have only come across two such “custom” models (one in England and one in Italy).
[Correction: after finding yet another of these custom keywork saxes on the web, I can only conclude that the rectangular key touches were offered also on the Standard model.]
So an altogether more refined instrument exuding a more “professional” feel, not only in the slickness of the keywork but also in the rich gold lacquer finish.
I believe the “Wonderful” was only produced in alto and tenor.
Stangely, after producing the “Wonderful”, I.M. Grassi will continue to make the Standard model (as well as the Concertino, Professional and Prestige) with none of the technical improvements of the “Wonderful” until the mid 80s.
We will never know why Grassi decided to end the “Wonderful Model” production, maybe it was due to manufacturing costs or maybe the model wasn’t well received.
Concertino, Professional and Prestige
Approximately to serial number 50000, we can find the following models being produced: Standard , “Concertino”, “Professional” and “Prestige” (these last three model names are actually engraved on the sax, below the serial number).
The “Concertino” model was the student model, with bell keys on the left hand side and probably no front F key (unfortunately I have yet to find photos of this model). The “Professional” and “Prestige” look to me to have the same keywork as the Standard models.
The majority of the models above are finished in clear gold lacquer and nickel plated keywork.
Grassi also made an “Export” model (the name Export does not appear engraved on the body) which was entirely silver plated.
“Export” model alto (34000) in silver plate:
After the models mentioned above, Grassi will produce the “Model 2000” (NOT to be confused with the “Professional 2000”!). This is somewhat a transitional model, with most of the characteriscs of the older models but with some updated aesthetic touches, such as the wider more comfortable little finger key touches (the low C/Eb keys are now elongated Selmer SA80 style and no longer round).
Leader , Professional 2000 and Prestige
Around the mid 80s, Ida Maria Grassi revamps the whole production and at last focuses production on three models: “Leader”, “Professional 2000” and “Prestige” (also known as “Prestige 80”)
This last production seems to be the most consistent and finally provides a definitive range of instruments: from student “Leader” to Intermediate “Professional 2000” to professional “Prestige”.
[My personal take on this is that the “Professional 2000” was aimed more at the Jazz/Pop market, whereas the “Prestige” was aimed at the Classical market, so rather than two instruments differing in quality, I would say they provided a choice of sound. Of course, the “Prestige” was the most expensive model.]
Details of features are as follows:
Leader (alto and tenor):
• Range to top F (F# optional),
• Clear lacquer and nickel plated keys.
• Fixed thumb hook
Professional 2000 (Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone):
• Range to top F (F# optional),
• Baritone range to low Bb or low A,
• Clear gold lacquer and nickel plated keys (gold lacquered keys instruments seem more popular for export models, ie outside Italy)
• Plastic, adjustable thumb hook
Prestige (Soprano, Alto and Tenor):
• Range to top F# as standard
• Gold lacquered body and keys
• Gold lacquered body and silver plated keys
• Silver plated body and neck with gold lacquered keys.
• A German website mentions a gold PLATED 24K model, but I have no proof this finish was available.
• Plastic, adjustable thumb hook
• Low C#/B/Bb touch key linkage (see photo below) for faster fingering of low notes
All three models have “balanced” style bell keys and “Wonderful Model” body to bell “two point” ring brace (see “Wonderful Model” above for details).
These will be the last of the “Made in Italy” production. Production stopped not because of financial failure on I.M. Grassi’s part, but it is thought because of mounting pressure from the Far East on cheaper and comparable products. It is not by accident that of the other three remaining saxophone manufacturers, one stopped saxophone production to concentrate on clarinets and oboes (Orsi) and two stepped up a gear and decided to move away from mass produced products and instead focus on high end professional ranges (Borgani and Rampone & Cazzani).
In conclusion it is a shame that the first Italian (and at the time the best) maker of professional saxophones should no longer be around: their name will always remind me of my first forays into the saxophone world!
Some more serial numbers!
What follows is a list of Grassi I have come across while trawling the net. I initially thought of producing a list which would conclusively show when each model started and ended production, but what I ended up with was only a rough indication of model production around certain serial numbers… still I hope it will be useful for someone!
Baritone Standard (left hand bell keys, to low Bb)
Baritone Standard (right hand bell keys, to low Bb)
Jade Roller Tenor (Standard)
Wonderful Model alto
49700 (with F#)
Alto Standard (Silver plated, Export)
Jade Roller Alto (Standard)
Model 2000 baritone (to low A)
Model 2000 soprano
Professional 2000 Tenor
Professional 2000 Alto
Professional 2000 Bari
Prestige 80 alto
Prestige 80 Tenor