Saxophone Forum


by connsaxman_jim
(2336 posts)
10 years ago

The appeal of vintage horns

In an email, Jim Keith writes: Could you help me understand some concept of the vintage sax... I only know my modern saxes and have no knowledge of older saxes...the only thing i have is my 75 supertone otto link mouthpiece... could you give me a history lesson of some sort...what is good whats bad whats excellent? Hi Jim, Here's a quick history lesson. I'm going to post this on saxquest if you don't mind. The saxophone was invented in the 1840's in Germany by Adolph Sax, as I am sure you have probably heard before. Sax was a clarinet player, who worked in his father's shop repairing instruments. Some of the earliest saxophones seen in America were made by Adolph Sax and by Buffet (Evette Schafer, Paris France). The first saxophones MADE IN AMERICA were the Conn Worchester models, which were first made in 1888. Conn had began producing other instruments in the mid-late 1870's. It wasn't until Conn purchased the Worchester plant in Massachusets that they began working on a saxophone. The first model, an alto, proved to be a less than favorable design. Compared to the other instruments made at the time, like the Buffet, it was more costly to build, and not nearly as good. Conn recruited Ferdinand "Gus" Buescher to design the first sucessful saxophone a couple years later, which became known as the Conn "Wonder" (1895-1917) Shortly after the Conn Wonder series was introduced, other companies began to follow. In the late teens and early 20's, there was a growing demand for saxophones, and everyone wanted to be a part of it. Buescher left Conn and started his own company also in Elkhart, IN. Martin started a couple years later. King got their start in Cleveland, OH (The H. White Company), and many smaller companies tried their luck at saxophones also, like the York company of Grand Rapids, MI (I'm from Michigan) The saxophones made by Conn, Buescher, Martin and King were undisputedly the best of the American horns. So, I think the question you're asking is, Why the appeal? What do the vintage horns have to offer. I guess the answer really depends on what you're looking for in a sound, and other features. Vintage horns, like anything old; including some people, can be somewhat fussy and tempermental. Sure, they have their own little imperfections, but sometimes these little imperfections are what give the horn it's unique sound and character. For me, playing a vintage saxophone from "The Golden Era" is a way of connecting my self to a period in time when things were; I don't want to say better, but different. Maybe better for some people, but certainly not for others. It is a way of connecting myself with the great music of the past. The quality of craftsmenship of these horns is legendary. They were built mostly by hand, by craftsmen who were the best in their field. Vintage American horns have character, and typically a warmer sound with more definition than you'll find in a newer horn. I've played probably a thousand saxophones in my lifetime, new and vintage. I have played some really nice modern horns. but it seems like their always something missing for me. Ahh, I know what it is! SMELLY CASES! That's what's missing! It's the smell! That's what makes them so special! Really though, if you get a chance to try a couple vintage instruments, you'll see what I mean. As far as what's good and what's great, they're all great (Conn, Buescher, King and Martin) but they're all different. My advice is to try a few of each one. My love for vintage instruments doesn't only include saxophones. I have a few vintage guitars; 50's and 60's model Fender Stratocasters, Telecasters, and Gibson Les Pauls, and I've restored a few vintage Hammond organs also. Jim

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  1. by Jim Keith
    (20 posts)

    10 years ago

    Re: The appeal of vintage horns

    Thanks alot man...i have heard vintage horns and they sound amazing could suggest some to try maybe even buy?

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    1. by connsaxman_jim
      (2336 posts)

      10 years ago

      Re: The appeal of vintage horns

      I would definately try a Conn 6M alto & 10M tenor, King Zephyr & Super 20, Buescher 400 (pre 1963), and the Martin Handcraft and Committee models. Buescher True Tones, Conn New Wonder Series II's (Chu Berry) and King Voll Trues are nice horns with a great sound, but may be a little too antique for someone who has little or no experience with vintage horns. They can be very tempermental, and require a little extra care. I have a few oldies, including a 1908 alto, but I don't play them very often. I played a Dickens Christmas festival last year, and we dressed up in costumes from the late 1800's and played Christmas music. I played the 1908 Wonder alto a couple times, and a 1922 New Wonder alto. We were only a 4 piece band. The other instruments were flute, Baritone horn, and trumpet. All the other instruments were also very old. Other than jobs like these, I don't play the really old horns out much.

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      1. by blackfrancis
        (396 posts)

        10 years ago

        Re: The appeal of vintage horns

        For me, the main reasons are: individuality- playing a vintage piece gives you a sound that will stand out/ craftmanship- these horns were built with a tradition of care and attention that is fast fading from our world today. Pick up a modern tenor, then pick up an old Super 20- they don't use brass that heavy anymore (bringing us back to the sound issue). Aside from the smell of the case, the other smell I like is bare brass on the fingers...

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        1. by eman19
          (131 posts)

          10 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          "Aside from the smell of the case, the other smell I like is bare brass on the fingers..." Yeah I love the black that gets left on my thumb by my thumbrest on my old True Tone. It looks bruised after using it for about 4 hours. I just have never found a new horn that felt right in my hands as old vintage ones do.

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        2. by TANGO SIX ONE
          (255 posts)

          10 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          Resonse to jim keith.The Knigfhts Templar state, this is all very good advice, and no matter how every one wishes, for the ultimate modern horn, vintage horns have a little something, it sets them apart.This is true of all the manufacturers including the French.Some new horns are great just different.But the knights have come across students who play well on new horns and sound fine, but for whatever reason havent had the opportunity to listen back into history.Once they have hooked into this more often than not they go in search of vintage. We all watch film actors on screen, nearly all of the most successful stars have taken the best bits from the stars of the past to mould their technique .Music is no different and sound is no different.The secret is understanding when a period of music was at its peak and why.If you dig deep into history even the lay person can work it out. So yes obviously modern horns are a product of the times we live in, but to take the ultimate quality of the past and expand it into the present is for us a must.(Bird Lives)

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        3. by SaxMan88
          (318 posts)

          10 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          Now I don't mean to rock the boat or anything, but Jim what about the Selmer line of horns? You only mentioned Conn as being in there early. Selmer was too. After all how can we forget about the vintage horns of Selmer such as the Signet, Balanced and Super Balanced Action, Mark VI, VII, and the Super Action 80? Even though the Super Action 80 came about in the late 1900's, it's now considered a 'vintage' horn. Since Selmer doesn't say about it's sax history, that's all I can offer. But Jim might know more...

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        4. by connsaxman_jim
          (2336 posts)

          10 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          Read my post in the General Discussion section, "Reasons to Hate Selmer" and maybe that will explain why I haven't said much about Selmer Joel. But, the reason I started with Conn is because Conn was the first company in the United States. The Conns lead the way and many of the earlier saxophones were designed after the Conn, which was actually designed by Gus Buescher, who was once an employee of Conn. See.....Selmer is the master when it comes to marketing. they have Geo Bundy and joe Grolimund to thank for that. When Selmer first opened shop in New York, they sold mostly Clarinets that were of Buffet design and reeds and mouthpieces made by Henri Selmer. Some of the earliest saxophones sold by Selmer were of Couesnon design. Couesnon is one of the oldest saxophone companies, estabished in France in 1882. Only a few of these saxophones were sold. Saxophones didn't really start to become popular in the US until a few years later. Most of the saxophones and many other instruments sold by the Selmer brothers were made by CG Conn. The Selmer Manhattan horns were made by Martin, and a few early models were made by Buescher also. Selmer didn't start making their own horns until much later. Many of Selmer's designs were stolen from other companies! I won't get into details, but a lot of research was being performed in the early 1930's, and Selmer didn't come by much of their information honestly! They ripped off American companies like CG Conn, and Buescher as well as French companies like Cousenon and Dolnet. The earlier Mark VI's were pretty good horns....IF you like that French sound, but the profit-minded Selmer cheapened them up year after year until the basically ruined the design. Then, every new horn they introduce is "the new Mark VI". Selmer is one company that is so full of themselves! They have lived off their over-rated reputation for so long, and I sure can't understand why! Mark VI's sell for a premium price, and really, they're not all they're cracked up to be! The best ones are those made from 1954-1958. Mine happens to be a 1954, and one of the first 50 made. As I said in another post, I really consider 3 catagories of vintage. There are those horns made before 1930. Some of them are good horns with good intonation like the Buescher True Tone, and Conn New Wonder Series II, or Chu Berry, or the early Martin Handcraft models. For the most part though, these horns are better left to the experienced players who know a little more about repair and keeping them adjusted and playing well. They're a little too antique for many players. The next catagory would be those horns built from 1930-1960. This catagory would include the Conn 10M and 6M, the Buescher Aristocrats (Big B's) 400's (Top Hat & Cane), King Zephyrs and Super 20's, the Martin Committee horns, Selmer BA, SBA, and the earlier Mark VI's and even a few early Coufs. These are the great vintage players horns that everyone loves. The last catagory of vintage are those horns made from 1960-1980. These include some pretty good horns also, like the early Yanigasawas, some Selmer models like the Mark VII and Super Action 80, Keilwerth. and others. 1980 was 25 years ago. I hesitate to call anything newer than that vintage, but I suppose that could be subject to opinion.

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        5. by jamterry
          (573 posts)

          10 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          I bought my horns new, and now they are considered vintage horns. I never think of them as vintage because I took them out of the plastic. I can't even realize that my horns will fetch ten times what i paid for them!!!! People are selling my necks for more than I paid for the horns. Being that I am the original owner, my horns have been thoroughly maintained. When I was a young and doing a lot of jamming, a lot of the hip jazz players were carrying their horns in gig bags. I am so glad that i stuck with the hard shell cases, because my horns are still beautiful. You guys that are after an old horn should make sure you know what you are getting into. If the horn isn't playable, i doesn't matter what the brand and vintage is. Best wishes to all :)

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        6. by eman19
          (131 posts)

          10 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          Yeah You know I've heard a dirty rumor that repairmen invented gig bags to make sure they never ran out of work=oP

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        7. by connsaxman_jim
          (2336 posts)

          9 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          vzkgszhz , I started this post a while ago, and it may answer some of your questions about vintage horns and their appeal. I've been collecting vintage horns, mostly Conn, for the past 5 years, and there is just an element of character that I haven't found in a new horn. Vintage horns from the 1930's thru the 1950's are my favorites.

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        8. by selmer 4evr
          (309 posts)

          9 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          Connsax come now--- not all Adolphes are in Germany Adolphe Sax was in Belgium (in Bruxsells exactly ) and he graduated as a flute player,,,,, his connection with the clarinet was only one of inventor when he invented the bass clarinet ( he later mastered that instrument as well ) and actually had his shop in Paris when he invented the sax to the point that the present Henri Selmer company bought his workshop on Rue Myrha in 1929

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        9. by connsaxman_jim
          (2336 posts)

          9 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          I looked up my information on the internet, selmer 4evr. Perhaps the information was not entirely accurate. There does seem to be a lot of speculation. I know that the saxophone was invented in the 1840's, and that it was inspired by an instrument called an ophicleide. He was indeed a clarinet player. He put a clarinet mouthpiece on an ophicleide! He also invented the bass clarinet around the same time. He took the bass clarinet to Paris, because Paris was known for their fine clarinets. Sax later introduced the saxophone. Perhaps he perfected the instrument while in Paris, but my research shows that it was actually invented earlier. I didn't read that he was born in Belgium. I read that he faced many hardships throughout his life, and that such hardships led him to Paris to sell his bass clarinet. Interesting history. Do you have a website or anything to support your information? Not that I am doubting you, I just want to read more about him. Even if my information regarding Sax is inaccurate, it really has little to do with the appeal of vintage horns.

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        10. by selmer 4evr
          (309 posts)

          9 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          This one for saxophone erika.inventeur.info.search.php3 Yes the internet at times is a bummer for info No I have the advantage of reading French that's all the link above will help you , Here is a translation C'est dans les ateliers paternel qu’il est chargé de diriger à Bruxelles, qu’il « invente » un instrument à vent qui « par le caractère de sa voix pût se rapprocher des instruments à cordes, mais qui possédât plus de force et d’intensité que ces derniers » (brevet d’invention française n 3226 du 21 mars 1846). Ainsi est né le « saxophon », instrument à vent en cuivre de la famille des bois (en raison de son anche). It is in his paternal workshop which he is charged to direct in Bruxelles that he invents a wind instrument which by virtue of its voice can approach string intruments but possesing more power and intensity than these latter. ( french invention patented no 3226 on march 21 1846) . Now baptized ''le saxophon''a wind instrument in copper of the woodwind family due to its reed. C'est dans une oeuvre d’Hector Berlioz, le 3 février 1844, que le saxophone apparut pour la première fois en concert. Georges Bizet employa le premier le saxophone dans « l’Arlésienne » en 1873. C'est dans les Musiques Militaires qu’il fut introduit vers 1845 et le plus utilisé. it is a work of Berlioz the 3rd of feb 1844 that the saxophone appered for the first time in concert . Geroges Bizet was the first to use the saxophone in '' l 'Arlesienne'' in 1873. It is mainly in Military music that it was most used starting in 1845

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        11. by selmer 4evr
          (309 posts)

          9 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          Say connman here is a link you might like I had in my old archives perso.wanadoo.fr/saxophone/index.htm In the middle of the page right above the octave key of the pictured horn You will see a link of ''adolph sax '' it will yield interesting pics of the first saxes of adolph as well as his son who (little known ) contributed greatly in perfevting his father's invention .

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        12. by Kenton
          (2 posts)

          9 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          This looks like a good place to ask a question the answer to which has long eluded me. I have a Conn Wonder Baritone Sax Ser#3431 (c. 1898), that is basically intact, except that it is in serious need of repadding and alignment. Is this an instrument of interest only as a collectable, or would it also be worthwhile to restore for playing purposes? Thanks Kenton

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        13. by Dave Dix
          (421 posts)

          9 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          If you can get used to the keywork and its a low pitched horn i cant see why not. Also i think they were only keyed to high Eb instead of F Dave

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        14. by Kenton
          (2 posts)

          9 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          It also has the manual (double) octave key(s). kms

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        15. by connsaxman_jim
          (2336 posts)

          9 years ago

          Re: The appeal of vintage horns

          I restored my 1908 Conn alto, but I don't play it very often. It's still cool to be able to play it though. I have played it at a couple shows. Last Christmas I played for a Dickens Christmas celebration, and I played in a quartet with all very old vintage instruments.

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      2. by AJBalettie
        (11 posts)

        9 years ago

        Re: The appeal of vintage horns

        My favorite of the vintage instruments are the King "solo instrument" (pre-"zephyer"&"super 20"), and the Martin Handcrafts. I have yet to find any other saxophones with the sound of these two series of horns!!

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