HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE VINTAGE HORN BUSINESS, STEVE?
Well, when I was starting out, I was too broke
to buy new horns! My first alto was a 1930 Martin Handcraft,
which I still own. My first tenor was a Buescher 400, which I
should never have sold. My first bari was a Buescher True Tone,
and my first soprano was a gold plated Conn "New Wonder", which I
deeply regret parting with! I got my first Mk VI in 1964, and
still use that horn regularly. In the early 70's I began to
understand that there was something about the horns that had been
played a lot and were well broken in that just couldn't be
duplicated with current production. I find that new instruments
just lack that certain undefinable "personality" that you only
get with a vintage example.
WHAT VINTAGE HORNS SHOULD A POTENTIAL BUYER CONSIDER, OR MORE
Well, that really depends on what you're going
to do with them. If you're gonna hang them on the wall, or make
lamps out of them, then the Kings from the 20's with that
elaborate engraving are hard to beat. The Holton's look pretty
cute as well, particularly the Rudy Weidoft models. Of course,
neither of these play like real saxophones, and are generally
pretty useless in any type of modern music. I would caution
anyone who is considering actually using a vintage horn to make
real music to be very wary of anything before 1930.
Up until that time, intonation was a little
sketchy, and the horns just don't feel right in the hands and are
hard to use. After 1930, there's some really great stuff
available: the Conn "Chu Berry" models have a fantastic sound.
The Martin Committee models are unusually lush down low. King got
it really together with the Zephyr. The Bueschers, both
Aristocrat and 400, are among my favorites, particularly the 400.
What a horn!
When Conn replaced the "Chu" series with the
6M alto and 10M tenor, they took a giant leap forward in
intonation and playing ease. I'm not a big fan of the Selmers
before the Super Balanced Action. I find that you really have to
humor them to get them in tune.
SO WHERE DO YOU FIND THESE HORNS?
I've been at this long enough to where most of
my stuff comes to me. You hear the stories about the great deals
in pawnshops and on E-Bay, but those great deals are getting
harder to come by. Today, there are a number of knowledgeable
dealers who can help guide a novice buyer through the process.
That dealer network didn't exist until a few years ago, and now a
customer can get lots of information and competent advice.
ANY TIPS ON WHAT TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DETERMINE THE TRUE
CONDITION OF AN OLD SAX?
If you like the way the horn plays, and think
the price is fair, buy it and ignore everything I say after this.
If the engraving on the bell does not have sharp edges to the
touch, and is not clearly defined, the horn has been relacquered
at least once, so be careful!
YES, I NOTICED THE FIRST THING YOU DID WHEN YOU SAW MY MK VI
WAS FEEL THE ENGRAVING. WHAT ELSE?
Look at the keywork on the stacks and first,
be sure it's tight with no horizontal play. Make sure that the
"tubes" are of an absolutely consistent diameter. If they look a
little pinched where two keys meet, then the horn has been
swedged, and that's a sign of high mileage. The pads should be
smooth and flexible, with no rough edges. Take close look at the
pearl holders and be sure that the metal part is not worn down.
If they are, you've got a horn that's too long in the tooth! The
metal should be smooth on the body, not lumpy from dent removal
by someone not competent to do it.
WHAT'S THE NUMBER ONE MISTAKE YOU SEE BUYERS MAKE?
They buy an old horn that is not complete and
assume that they can get parts. You can't. They don't exist.
Particularly necks. If you can find the parts, usually in the hot
little hands of someone like me, I can only tell you to get out
the big leather bound checkbook. If it's not all there, don't buy
IF YOU COULD OWN ONLY ONE VINTAGE HORN, WHAT WOULD IT
I'm lucky in that my wife lets me buy all the
horns I want for my own collection. They're all my favorites. I
wish I could have as many wives as I have saxophones, but I just
don't think Sharon would understand! I do have a favorite: the
LeBlanc Rationale. A little too complex to be owned by mere
mortals, but what a great design. After that, probably a Buescher
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE BEST BUYS FOR THE MONEY?
Martin Committee and The Martin models. King
Zephyrs and Conn 10Ms with the underslung octave mechanism and
nickel keywork. You can pick them up, the Conns at least, at
bargain basement prices.
ANY FINAL WORDS OF WISDOM FOR POTENTIAL BUYERS, STEVE?
Yeah. Learn all you can. Be realistic about
what these horns cost in the market place. Understand that old
does not necessarily mean good. Look at any horn literally with a
magnifying glass. I do! Believe me when I tell you that pictures
you see on the internet are not sharp enough to tell you what you
need to know to make a final decision. Modern mouthpieces,
particularly the high baffle ones currently in vogue, often do
not work on vintage horns. A $1000 Conn 10M that needs an
overhaul is probably not a bargain. There's a huge amount to
learn, and generally lots of folding money on the table, so take
the time to educate yourself!