THE GRAFTON PLASTIC SAXOPHONE
Saxophone history has been remarkably free of developmental
detours, a testament to the genius of Adolphe Sax and his
One of the more interesting mis-steps was the Grafton saxophone,
constructed in England between 1950 and 1967 of acrylic, and utilizing
a unique mechanism. Today, these instruments are highly prized by
The Grafton was developed by Hector Sommaruga, an Italian living
in London. The instrument takes its name from the street (Grafton Way)
where his shop was initially located in the late 1940's. The
decision to manufacture a saxophone from plastic was based upon the
relative cheapness of the material rather than an improvement in tonal
characteristics. Provisional patent specifications (#'s 604,407
and 604,418) were applied for on September 14, 1945, and a non-working
prototype was first shown in 1946.
instrument was conceived to have a plastic body; bell; and key guards;
a brass neck (a plastic one would break in attachment); and a
mechanism which incorporated a unique springing system. Many of
the posts for attaching the mechanism were cast as part of the body.
The molding was subcontracted to the engineering firm of Dc La Rue,
utilizing a plastic compound developed by Imperial Chemical
Hector lacked the necessary financing to complete the project,
and he was able to obtain the backing of Geoffrey Hawkes (of the firm
Boosey and Hawkes) and John E. Dallas. The instrument was
finally offered for sale to the public in 1950, at a price of 55
pounds, about half the cost on a conventional saxophone at the time.
The instrument was used by prominent saxophonists Ornette
Coleman (who encountered considerable mechanical failure with the
instrument); Rudy Vallee; and, of course, Charlie
Parker, who used the Grafton only outside the United States due to a
conflicting endorsement agreement.
Hector left the Dallas Company in 1953, and moved to France
where he ran a motel until his death in 1985. The company continued
alto production until 1967. A tenor prototype was built, but its
larger size was beyond currently available manufacturing technology.
The Dallas company introduced a line of clarinets, but these had
severe intonation difficulties and were rejected by the market.
The Grafton was a failure for some very good reasons: (1) the
plastic construction just didn't sound like other saxophones and was
not compatible with section playing. (2) The design of the mechanism
gave a very unfamiliar "feel" to players. (3) the plastic
body was very prone to cracking and the key guards snapped off easily.
(4) Repair technicians were unfamiliar with the instrument and the
necessary parts (particularly the unique springs) were not readily
Production ended in September 1967, and the tooling was sold for
scrap. The Grafton was an interesting concept, but the final
execution of the product was never acceptable to professional players.