Let’s first talk the name game.
The three models pictured here are called by what Leblanc called them: Le Rationnel (because that’s what’s engraved on the horn), Semi-Rationnel and Leblanc System (which is also called “Revolutionary System” in some Leblanc literature, as seen in this catalog from 1974). However, I’ve seen people call each horn one of the other model names and I’ve seen a lot of “Anglicizing” of the “Le Rationnel” name into “Rationale.” “Rationale” I can understand, because it preserves the French pronounciation, but it really should be translated as “Rational,” as in, “a reasonable or sensible approach to making the sax have Boehm-like fingering,” rather than “Rationale,” as in, “these are the reasons why I’m doing this.” Further, there is at least one version of the Leblanc System horns that looks quite different than other models and it’s fairly logical to say that horn is a “full Rationale System” horn or whatever.
There’s one more angle on this.
I mentioned above that the idea behind these horns is to have a “rational” fingering system. Well, considering that all three are “rational” and all were designed by the same folks, the names are a bit interchangable — except for a logical reason I’ll talk about in a couple paragraphs.
Let’s talk about Theobald Boehm, for a moment.
Making a very long story short, the idea behind Boehm’s fingering system is that you have a logical progression. On a sax, for instance, the logic is virtually perfect: 123|123 is a D, 123|12 is an E, etc. Additionally, Boehm had some ideas about venting: if a D is 123|123, there shouldn’t be any tone holes lower that are closed (in this example, that’d mean the C#, B and Bb toneholes aren’t covered). Let’s take it from a Leblanc article:
“The Leblanc saxophone — created by Messrs. Georges and Leon Leblanc and acoustician Charles Houvenaghel — is constructed according to the Boehm system, which is: ‘Any note being emitted, all the notes below it should have their holes of emission open when the instrument is at rest.'”
These horns take everything a couple steps further, though. Again, let me quote from that Leblanc article:
“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.”
In other words, you can lower A (12x|xxx) to Ab by playing, say, 123|xx3. That’s kinda kewl.
To wrap up the name game, the reason why the names aren’t interchangable is because the Le Rationnel is the horn that is closest to the Boehm ideal. Besides, if you call the horns different names, you’ll quickly get confused as to which horn is being discussed.
There are lots of good reasons why these horns wern’t successful — at least, in terms of numbers sold. However, there is one point that needs to be debunked: They cost too much to make, thus they’re expensive to sell.
According to that pricelist on Steve Sklar’s website, a 1974 Leblanc System alto was $354. That’s $1522 in 2009 dollars. In comparison, a Mark VI alto, in 1972 dollars, was a shade under $600 and that’s about $3000 in 2009 dollars. Significant difference.
Now, it is probable that the horn did cost too much to produce — and that’s the reason that the Le Rationnel devolved into the Leblanc System (according to an article I remember) — but the horn really wasn’t all that expensive to buy. Hey, you could almost get two for the price of one Mark VI.
The main reason why people didn’t buy these horns is probably because the mechanism was just too complex. All those extra keys. And if the horn broke, you’d have to go to a technician that had the appropriate Leblanc repair manuals.
For what it’s worth, I have heard that these horns have extremely good intonation and a very sweet tone, provided that the horn is adjusted correctly. I’ve not played any of these models pictured here, but I have played the “step down” (or maybe “step over”) Vito “Duke” model. Definitely nice enough, but some of the odd Leblanc mechanisms felt unresponsive and bulky.
Websites and Misc.
- SOTW Leblanc Forum
- Leblanc System Fingering Chart and Repair Manual (a much larger fingering chart for the Vito Model 35 is HERE)
- Recent Advances in Woodwind Fingering Systems by James MacGillivray (article on the Leblanc System fingering — registration required to view)
- Vito Model 35 Catalog (full catalog is HERE)
- Vito Model 35 Ad
- Vito Model 35 Adjustment Video (JazzManTed)
- Vito Model 35 Features Video (JazzManTed)
- Le Rationnel Picture Gallery
- Semi-Rationnel Picture Gallery
- Leblanc System Picture Gallery
- 1939 Semi-Rationnel Prototype (sn #34)
- 1939 Leblanc System Prototype
- Leblanc System Tenor w/Additional Keywork (sn #422)
- #46 (1931) Silver Plate Le Rationnel (HUGE pics)
- #15 (1935) Silver Plate Semi-Rationnel (SRB) (HUGE pics)
- #357 Lacquer Leblanc System Alto
- #542 Lacquer Leblanc System Tenor
- #2551A Vito Model 135 “Johnny Hodges” (model produced appx. 1967 to 1970)
- SOTW Leblanc Serial Number Registry (links to lots of pics)
- DoctorSax.biz’s Serial Number Compilation (links to lots of pics)