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Pete Hales
SOTW columnist
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Stencils and "Second Line" Models

by Pete Hales


What's a "Stencil"?
"Stencil" is a word that is specifically supposed to refer to a saxophone built by a major sax manufacturer for another company or storefront. On receipt of the saxophone, the store would literally take a stencil and engrave its own name or design on the horn.

The definition of "stencil" is usually expanded to include "second line" horns (see below), most notably the Conn Pan American. This isn't exactly correct usage.

American stencil manufacturers were generally:
* Conn
* Buescher
* Martin
* Occasionally Holton
* Occasionally HN White (King)

Non-American stencil manufactures were generally:
* Couesnon (French)
* Kohlert (German/Czech)
* Evette & Schaeffer, Buffet-Crampon (French)
* Keilwerth (German/Czech)
* SML (French)
* Beaugnier (French)
* Pierret (French)
* Amati (Czech; notably the King Lemaire)
* Karl Meyer (German; notably one of the Selmer Pennsylvania models)
* Yamaha (Japanese; notably the 1980's Vito)
* Yanagisawa (Japanese; notably the Martin Galaxy)

American stencils generally...
* Have a different serial number chart than the pro horns from the manufacturer. For example, a Martin-built Vega will not have a serial number that corresponds to the known Martin serial number charts.
* Were built after 1920.
* Have a reduced feature set than the pro horns they were stenciled from. For example, Conn stencils don't have rolled tone holes.
* Are lower quality than the pro horns they were stenciled from
* Have designs that were based on earlier tooling. For example, if Selmer produced a stencil of their Mark VII, it would have the "look and feel" of the Mark VI.
* Were made with cheaper materials
* Have limited engraving
* Are low pitch, A=440hz (modern intonation) horns. I still recommend checking with a tuner, in case some are high pitch and aren't marked.
* Had new designs introduced on them first, especially if the manufacturer didn't think that the new design would work well or be acceptable to the public. If the design was good, it occasionally found its way onto the pro models.
* Were made by the lowest bidder for the contract. For instance, if the Vega company requested a bunch of saxophones, they would buy them from whoever was the cheapest supplier: This means that one stencil was not always made by one specific company. In the case of the Vega, I've seen examples from Conn, Buescher, Martin, King, and Evette & Schaeffer

European and Asian stencils generally don't suffer from the same problems of American stencils: they had mostly the same feature set (i.e., look and feel) of the pro or intermediate horn they were stenciled from, they just have different engraving. For example, the King Marigaux is a stencil of the SML Gold Medal "Mk. II". The differences between the two horns are different engraving and that the Marigaux doesn't appear to have as many finish choices available for it.

These are general rules for stencils, of course. There are many interesting exceptions: Keilwerth made sax bodies for many different companies in Germany and not all these horns are exceptionally good. Lyon and Healy (an American company) occasionally designed their own horns, but had other companies fabricate them. The list goes on.

How can I tell who made my stencil?

For European/Asian horns, as mentioned above, it's easy: they look EXACTLY like their pro/intermediate counterparts except for the engraving. The biggest exceptions are Keilwerth and Beaugnier. These two manufacturers tended to make custom horns for other companies and/or provided parts to different manufacturers, as well as producing stencils of their own pro and "intermediate" lines.

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For American-made horns,
* If the horn has a Mercedes-Benz-logo low C keyguard, the horn was made by Conn. (Note that these keyguards are not found on some curved sopranos and that straight sopranos and sopraninos don't have keyguards).
* If the horn has bevelled toneholes, the instrument was produced by Martin.
* If the horn has smooth"keycups, the horn was made by King (there are very few King stencils).
* All Martin and King basses (even those labeled "Martin" or "King") were produced by Conn or Buescher.
* A rare few Conn-labeled basses and all contrabasses were made by Buffet (Evette & Schaeffer). These horns were labeled as such to get around import duties.
* Holton stencils generally have additional odd keywork, as well as very thin construction (there are extremely few Holton stencils).
* Buescher stencils are a bit hard to spot. The easiest of determining that you have a Buescher-made stencil is to say it doesn't have any of the above features. The best way, however, is to look at the octave vent mechanism (see below).

There are several alternative ways to determine who made your stencil. The best suggestions are found in this EXCELLENT article from Dr. Rick's Music (there is another article on the Cybersax website that's also of some use). Of course, you can also look at pictures of a variety of pro horns and go from there. Just note that the most common American stencils were made by Conn and Buescher (in approximately that order).

Please also note that Lyon & Healy and York, amongst many others, made their own instruments until about 1920, when Conn and Buescher essentially took control of the American saxophone market. Also note that FA Buescher left the company that bears his name in the late 1920's and then founded another company that used Martin stencils for their saxophone line!

What's a "Second-Line" Instrument?

The best way of thinking of a second-line instrument is that they are student/intermediate horns sold by a major saxophone manufacturer. It is too complex to get into the subject of European and Asian second-line horns, so let's deal with the most common American second-line:

* The Conn Pan-American
* The Martin Indiana
* The King Cleveland
* The Buescher Elkhart

In all the above cases EXCEPT for Conn, the name of the second-line instrument comes from the name of a company that was bought out (for example, the Indiana Band Instrument company was purchased by Martin). In all cases, these horns generally follow the rules for stencils, except that they were actually sold by the companies that produced them -- they just had different names on the bell.

Interesting notes:
* The Conn Pan-Americans did not always use the same tone-hole layout of the Conn New Wonder. The keywork also gradually got more and more dissimilar than that found on the Conn pro line and was then used on the Conn Director instruments of the late 1950's and 1960's.
* The King Cleveland was actually produced by the Cleveland Band Instruments company, as a kind of "wholly owned subsidiary" of the HN White Company after HN White purchased them in 1925. Also, the Cleveland has its own serial number chart and, while they have the distinctive keywork of other King saxophones, the body is rather dissimilar.
* The Buescher Elkhart is sort-of a stencil: an Elkhart-labeled horn is an older True Tone model, made with the same old tooling, but made in the 1930's (or so). The Elkhart, however, is engraved as such and was available in lacquer.
* The quality of second-line horns was generally higher than their stencil brethren.

How much is my stencil or second-line horn worth?

For European/Asian horns, the answer is: "As much as the horn it was stenciled from". For American horns, the answer is: generally not that much. The exceptions are horns with gold plated bodies and/or keywork (there are some beautiful, high quality Selmer New York horns out there, a stencil made generally by Conn), horns with extremely elaborate engraving, horns with "prototype" keywork, horns that were owned by someone famous (provided you can prove it) and sopraninos, baritones, basses and contrabasses (although stencil curved sopranos are starting to gain value, too).

Broadly speaking, subtract about 25% off the value of the pro horn it was stenciled from and that's the value of your horn.

The major exception to this value rule is brass, lacquer or silver C melody tenors (excepting odd designs). Don't expect to get more than $300 US for these, ever.

This is not to say that stencils/second-line horns are all bad. Some can be extremely good. It's just that the ratio of bad to good is higher. ALWAYS play test a horn thoroughly before you buy.

Final Comments: "Copycat" Horns

You probably have seen an eBay ad or three touting a horn as being "A copy of the Selmer Mark VI!", "Has the same keywork as the Selmer Super 80!" or something similar. These horns fall into a couple categories:

* Asian (generally Chinese or Korean) copies of French-made horns (or horns "Manufactured under the supervision of French craftsmen!")
* Czech copies of Keilwerth horns
* German copies of Keilwerth horns
* Italian horns based on French designs

These are generally horns you don't want to buy. There are some notable exceptions, the easiest example being the Yamaha 62 and better: these horns are essentially copies of the Selmer Mark VI and Super 80, but they are exceptionally good copies.

Just remember: a copy is only as good as the craftsmen copying it and the materials that they use.

You also should beware of advertisements in ALL CAPS or that have too many exclamation marks!!!!

Again, repeat this mantra: Always playtest a horn before buying it.

Sax on the Web
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Created: December 12, 2003
Update: August 16, 2011

© 2003-11 Harri Rautiainen and respective authors


 www.saxontheweb.net 
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SOTW Articles by Pete Hales
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SML: The Ongoing Story
A Day in the Life of a Saxophone Historian
Fun with Vintage Saxophones
What is the Best Vintage Saxophone for Me?

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Guide to the Purchase of Vintage Saxophones
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