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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm doing one for a client right now -- the second one for him -- and there are at least a couple of people on the forum for whom this is of interest, so I'll document some of it here, fo y'all reading pleasure.

To summarize the history of these (without claiming to be complete in accreditation, but not leaving any one out intentionally), "conn-verting" Conns to modern feel and mechanical logic has been done (to completion) by a handful of saxophone boutiques & techs/specialists, among them Bob Ackerman/Freddie Gregory, Stephan Boesken, Blashaus (I have never known what tech there, in particular), Randy Jones, and myself.

I always understood Ackerman and Gregory to have been responsible for most of, maybe all of, any earlier ones, and Blashaus to be responsible for the one James Carter used to play, maybe 10 years ago, as well as others. I used to hear James Carter at St. Nick's Pub, at their Monday night jam sessions back in the late '90s, and I think every time I heard/saw him there he was playing that Conn; one night, he played all of "Groovin' High" in the altissimo on that horn, head and solos -- ridiculous. I never saw that horn up close, just from in the audience, and usually back kind of far, too far to understand what was going on with his horn, what the donor keywork was. People have said (on the internet, so dubious truth value here) that it was Yamaha, maybe even Yamaha 23, which actually would not surprise me. If you've ever played a 23 alto in really good repair/adjustment, you know that that keywork is unusually slick -- maybe the fastest out there, including in comparison to any VI alto -- for its time. It has the "true shoulderless pivots" that Stephen Howard has brought to the fore, re Bauhaus Walstein pivots, and that pivot screw design is in fact a little mechanically faster than a pivot (e.g. everything else, including Mark VI, SA 80II, etc., with a couple of exceptions...I think Conn USA might have a true tapered, shoulderless pivot). Anyhow....

I did my first "Conn-version" (hereafter, just plain connversion) around 2002 or 2003, because I wanted one for myself, and not having seen the Blashaus in detail (pics hit the internet much later), my own point of reference was only some pictures of an unfinished Freddie Gregory conversion that stalled out and was sent to Stephen Boesken for completion (no cut body tube, on that one). I think that one never got finished, at least I think I have heard since that it didn't.

Now, I've seen a bunch of pictures of the way others have done it (if this kind of work interests you, so have you, no doubt). Blashaus's connversions are, to me, the cleanest & most artistic I've seen, and though I have discussed the goldplated one Randy Jones did with one of its previous owners, I don't think I ever saw pictures of it, so I don't know if that was a rocker-low-Bb connversion, such as the others are/were. I've seen Randy's work, though, over the years, and I'm sure it would be really interesting to see how he approached the various "problems" -- the biggest of which is probably, after decisions about the stacks, how to deal with the low C# tonehole's position. To me, the C# is a bigger problem than the opposing bell keys. I came up with a good mechanical solution to that the first time -- not as firm and sure as a one-piece key, but very functional & cooperative -- and have improved on it on succeeding jobs.

Personally, and for more than one reason, from the 1st one on I didn't want to cut the bodytube, as others have done, so I found another solution, which is to substitute the mainstacks of post-1930s makes which have quicker, lighter, modern-feeling design made for in-line (i.e. not offset) toneholes. My solution to the stacks question is not a big secret (I think I have posted it publicly on this forum at some point, over the years, and it used to be on my website -- not sure about now); Keilwerth (e.g. Toneking) and Dofler & Jorka tenors have nice feeling stacks, so the stacks come from either Keilwerth or Dorfler & Jorka. Depending on the model of the stack donor -- both K and D&J have some different layouts, over time, some with stacks more "stacked" on top of themselves, and some not -- choices that come after the main stacks may vary in design/layout as the stacks dictate different choices when their layout is different.

Depending on what stack design is used (any same-side bell key layout will in the end feel about the same, as far as the stacks alone, once I'm done with them), some original keywork may remain in play. Personally, I actually like it, conceptually, if some of the original keywork remains, as long as its presence and role are invisible/transparent, as far as feel. It's also something that can be determined by choice (i.e. if I'm doing the job for hire, client choice can decide what layout is used where more than one option is workable).

In the past, I've done the remainder of the keywork with whatever modern donor was up to par available and/or suitable to the situation at hand. Doing a connversion for a client or for myself the considerations as to what parts are used are the same (build quality and cost/availability); the current customer's primary modern donor is a Crescent "Custom" (Taiwan manufacturing), and his 1st connversion's donor was a Crescent (PRC manufacturing). I suspect we would have done the 1st one with the Taiwan-made keywork if I had had the line for it sooner. It's about twice the price of the PRC, but it is just a little more elegant in its finishing work, things like how the spines of keys are finished cosmetically.

I might as well state, while that last part (re costs) brings it to mind, that the expense of the labor for this work when done for hire is about as high as a labor bill for saxophone work can get. There is the custom work as well as a full overhaul; there is some overlap between them, for example in mounting the keywork the "swaging" stage is minimized (ideally there is none), but otherwise all the factors are the same for the overhaul as if it were totally separate from the custom work. For the person who really wants it, and who is seeking a connversion because of a love of the "Chu" tenor voice and response, it's worth it. For me, at one time, personally, it was worth it. For the client that hired this connversion, after hearing him play the 1st one he had done, it was worth it. I get inquiries about the cost of work like this, in a variety of contexts, semi-regularly, and for any one who hedges at the cost my thought is mainly, If you doubt it's worth it for you, it's not worth it for you. Pretty straightforward on the bottom line.

Anyway, the owner was kind enough to allow me to share a gig-recording he sent me, publicly, and I was really happy to hear in it that the horn is doing for him what he wanted it to be able to do. To me, it's a very good illustration of what this kind of work is for, and what it can do for a player who loves the "Chu" voice and response, but wants to be more nimble than clunky Chu keywork is apt to really allow:

(hopefully my attempt to insert the sound file worked...though it isn't appearing here, inline, in the dialogue box where I'd hoped....)
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
In the quicker passages, you can (or at least I can) really hear how he's able to do what he wants to do on the horn comfortably, which would really not be comfortable on a Chu mostly due to the weighting of the keys and the original design's inherent clunkiness. A devoted player can get used to anything, but how keys are weighted is a real thing, a real difference, not some mental blockage. Part of what makes a horn feel really comfy and naturally fast is in the design, as well as of course in how adjustments are made to fit (a) a human hand generally and (b) a particular player's hand. So, for me, to hear that sound recording really gave me a lot of satisfaction, and reassured me that when I adjust for my hands as I did on his 1st connversion, it will translate for him on the one we're doing now.

This will be a bit of an unusual job in that the owner of the horn doesn't want a clean cosmetic result. He actually likes to see the solder runs & reddening of the brass from the torch, so I will not be cleaning that up, or rather will only be addressing it in the interest of making sure I remove all the solder flux I can.

His 1st connversion was done with Crescent (my Just Saxes brand) keywork and hardware for everything but the main stacks, and save spots where I used a bit of brass from other keys on hand. For the non-stack keywork on this one, he's getting Taiwan-made keywork from my "Crescent Custom" prototype (very similar to Macsax & Eastman). This choice is in part that using these horns for his donors keeps the cost down for the client, as I make them available at a wholesale price since I don't have to service them, only to sear the limbs from them, and can also minimize the parts costs in other choices in the process. I genuinely have total confidence in these donor horns, and if I didn't I would go ahead and use something else (I have also used Cannonball parts in the past, as on my first connversion, the one I did 14 or 15 years ago and that I still have).

You do get better at work like this, the more of it you do. The 1st one for this client is better than the one I did for myself in a good number of ways -- mechanically and subjectively, in feel. The one we're doing now will be its equal at least, in terms of the work I'm doing, and of course my goal is for it to be better.

On with the documentation, then. I didn't take a photo of the horn in its original, fully "Chu," state. We will have to begin with what it looked like after the first round of hardware removal...the plowing of the brass, approximately:

Food Fluid Yellow Banana Natural foods


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An overhaul is an incidental (and unavoidable, obviously) part of the labor on a job like this. There are things like dent removal to do.

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The first installation of the stacks is just a starting point. They are not in their final form, as they are seen here. But it's the base around which everything else is built. Some of it will not change, some will. I have already remade the low F#, for example, which was always the plan. As you can see, the dent repair is started (bow) here, but not yet finished. The neck dent clean-up is done, as well, but I haven't taken photos of it.

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
only 5 pics per post....

One more, for now:

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(To me, in the pic, it looks like there's a huge dent behind the C tonehole -- there isn't, it's just a dark patch in the finish/patina.)

If anybody has questions, nothing is off-limits, though I may choose not to answer some questions.

This is probably the least financially rewarding work I do, but it's my favorite, because it kind of uses all the skills, and if I do it at my own pace I enjoy it more, though the pay is terrible.

I also would kind of like to do more of it, so I'll probably keep some things to myself to keep that more rather than less likely to happen.
 

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Very interesting ..... How long does it take you to do one of these conversions? And, does the horn end up sounding exactly the same after the new hardware is on?


Turtle
 

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Very interesting ..... How long does it take you to do one of these conversions? And, does the horn end up sounding exactly the same after the new hardware is on?
I'd be surprised if it does - many/most horns don't sound exactly the same after an overhaul.

I guess it depends on what, exactly, you mean by "exactly". :twisted: :bluewink:

Do all iterations of the same model sound exactly the same?
 

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I'd be surprised if it does - many/most horns don't sound exactly the same after an overhaul.

I guess it depends on what, exactly, you mean by "exactly". :twisted: :bluewink:

Do all iterations of the same model sound exactly the same?
Well, this is a little more than an overhaul, it's a change in some of the hardware. Exactly is exactly what I meant, but I can ask it a different way; How similar is the sound of the horn after the work? That's a fair question, and an important one, I think. The OP is the guy who ought to know. :)

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Somehttps://youtu.be/u0DN0ReeESwgreat players play these horns in a very 'modern' way with the original keyword. Joe Lovano has a 89k tenor he let me try that he used for many years to record with Scofield and others and toured with. Check this out. I really question taking one of these apart and putting 'modern' keys on it when the old keys can be moderately modified or left the same and the results can be phenomenal.

 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Very interesting ..... How long does it take you to do one of these conversions? And, does the horn end up sounding exactly the same after the new hardware is on?

Turtle
Dr. G is correct on the main point, as far as changes to the horn's playing qualities, but it's also not an uninteresting question (though inherently an annoying one for web forum discussion, because it ends on a treadmill with people just getting tired and not getting a lot out of it).

When an overhaul is done well, the best the horn is ever going to play is at the time of the overhaul's best and final completion state. From there, it's all downhill. Horns can still play extremely well at points short of that -- for those without access to really good techs, their normal is way short of the point of "as perfect as a skilled tech can get it, with a fresh overhaul."

For that reason, there isn't any really dependable way to judge what improvements (or just changes) come from what particular physical changes to the horn, short of applying either laws of physics or the advantages and pitfalls of the act of applying them.

There isn't any negative outcome, though. Part of that is also that I do some things -- things nobody that I know of knows to do -- for example I change some original parts intentionally, which include very slight changes to the bore interior, which make improvements to intonation. I'm not going to disclose those little things because I've found that it's a lose-lose proposition when it comes to special knowledge, for me personally. There are a couple of things I've put out on this board a long time ago that were not common knowledge at the time that are common knowledge now, and I get no credit for it and less business -- if anything it seems to engender resentment, as this long-*ssed, overly complicated sentence I'm writing now probably does -- so those things I will keep to myself.

The short answer is that, to me, and to anybody that's had the work done, there are no negatives, at least none that have ever been voiced to me.

This kind of goes to both your question & Dr. G's comment: the stacks of the donor horn open more straight up and down than the original stacks, i.e. "less flap, more clap," which has the consequence of the action being able to be a little lower than the original stacks, overall, and I will likely recommend that we do this one with flat metal rather than domed Pisoni, which is what the client & I decided on for his 1st connversion. That may get his action a little lower, as well. It's obvious to me, after hearing him play that the lower I can make the action for him, with proper venting, the better. I like the results I have gotten with domed a little better overall than flat, but if you just picked up same horn with flat and domed, without experiencing each relative to the other, you would never feel you were missing anything. We might get a slightly better matched-to-the-player result with flat, so I will recommend that.

Timewise, the SBA rescue I just did, which is a much, much smaller job because there is a lot less fabrication took me at least 6.5 full workdays not including the springs, pads & adjustment. I don't know how long this one will take, but I'm trying to loosely keep track of it this time. I'm guessing it will be around 100 hours, total. If I'm lucky, it will be around 100 hours. Unlike the SBA rescue, I'm making a thread about the connversion while it's actually ongoing, so this thread will help me keep track of how many labor hours it actually ends up being.

The turnaround time is 6 months, because I can't just work straight through on the connversion alone, with everything else that has to be done with other retail, repair, blahblahblah, and because I have to do any soldering outdoors the weather has to cooperate, which adds turnaround time.

Tranespotter - it's not for everybody. But plenty of people have the experience I did -- both better players than me and worse -- of wanting to play a Conn Chu for its voice and character (people who think it's not different are ignorant, unskilled, or have no sensitivity or ears), but can't settle down with one because of the keywork. Also, I have seen much of, if not most of, the mods that people are doing to existing keywork -- I do some of it myself for those that want it; it's not like I object to it, because it's easier, faster and more convenient than this kind of work. And it pays better. I don't want to **** on anybody, so all I'm going to say is that what a lot of people think of as fancy mods are just not; they're not fancy, and they really don't do a lot. BUT, a little -- a subtle change or improvement -- can be a profound life-quality improvement to a devoted player's life. Even then, regardless of skill level, some players will be more affected by keywork modifications (of any degree) and some less so. That player in the vid you linked is great. He really makes that keywork, improved as it is or isn't, sound comfortable. But very few top level players -- not in terms of fame, but in terms of skill and artistry -- play Chus these days, and the reason is not that they are inferior in sound or intonation, or inherently in response (though response is vastly different from a Mark VI or a horn with fundamentally Mark VI heritage). Anyhow, another answer to your basic objection is that players as great as Lovano both technically and artistically (I'm thinking of Kidd Jordan right now, one of my favorite people to think about) have played, for example, my own early conversion and don't question the value of the change.

But everybody should question everything. It would be great if more people questioned more things. Are you local to Santa Cruz at all? If so, I'd get a kick out of changing your mind forever by letting you play something like one of these (I can feel you resisting, already, just reading that, haha).
 

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I think you should do whatever you desire to the horn , since you have the skill. I played the Gregory/ Ackerman horn several times over at Bob's house, and once at Jerry Bergonzi's place. I liked it, but it did not play as well as an original Chu for me. I believe messing with horns can yield some knowledge that didn't exist before the experiment. And there are some very good Conn mods that have been done. But I have been able to get used to the mechanism of the Conns that I have and have played in the past and once one has done that, it is hard to see a lot of benefit in the total re-do.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I think you should do whatever you desire to the horn , since you have the skill. I played the Gregory/ Ackerman horn several times over at Bob's house, and once at Jerry Bergonzi's place. I liked it, but it did not play as well as an original Chu for me. I believe messing with horns can yield some knowledge that didn't exist before the experiment. And there are some very good Conn mods that have been done. But I have been able to get used to the mechanism of the Conns that I have and have played in the past and once one has done that, it is hard to see a lot of benefit in the total re-do.
Absolutely if you "conquer" the overall challenge, & the specific ones of the low C# & Bis, anything else is going to be a big adjustment (or just unnatural feeling). As above, you can do it (obviously, as you well know), but many people have a harder time with it, or have reasons for not wanting to (or being able to) acclimate to something that different. Extensions and/or tweaks to the existing design can help with that, but part of the problem is leverages which don't change that much with any of the custom things I have seen. I have a goldplated True-Tone soprano with very touted mods on it laying around that I haven't had time to service for sale; this was very high-priced work that really doesn't do a lot. I can do that same work, and would if asked -- and on some counts have -- but part of my advisement to a client as far as hardware changes of those types are that it's a waste of money; the labor is almost as extensive, and there's not much change.

I'm completely envious of your having played a Gregory "conversion." I would get a lot of pleasure from playing and having a good look at what Gregory did, and how the Selmer stacks were altered and not altered to adapt them to the Conn tonehole layout.

It's worth pointing out that his would not feel like mine (would not feel like Blashaus, would not feel like Boesken), other than for the obvious reasons, because it is Gregory doing the work, and like me much of his work & decisions would have been based on feel. As probably all accomplished players know, moving a keytouch 1/3 of a mm can exercise a huge ergonomic effect, just as retensioning one spring just slightly can.

Again, as above, though, it will be a bigger difference to some than others, and even to the same player at different times in her/his life.

I sort of think Conn Chus are more for less skilled and extremely skilled players than for the players in between. I'm somewhere (far to the left as in all things, in that continuum) in that middle space, and expect I will be back to Chus when I play two belt levels better, else I would probably try and find a way to put my converted Chu into the hands of one of the players who have wanted it over the years. There are a few who could and would do a lot more with it than me. I'm playing the SBA I rescued. The Conn just sits, waiting for me to reach a level where mastering its response characteristics feels more natural.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I just remembered this, as a consequence of this last topic -- I had pretty much completely forgotten til just now: the first time I did a connversion, which was on my tenor that I still have, I initially installed a Keilwerth or D&J (I think it was D&J) LH table. That's a "Balanced Action style table," which is a misnomer. Only the Balanced Action itself, among those with tables whose mechanical logic is similar to a BA or SBA, feels like a BA/SBA, when adjustment is as smooth as it can be. To me, the Super 20 table is also clunky compared to a BA or SBA, at each's best. Both Toneking style & D&J tables are behind (inherently worse than) both of those. But I tried this kind of thing the first time with a D&J table because it was less complicated, and ended up taking it off and doing the harder thing with a Cannonball table (and the related changes to the stacks, etc.). This is something I want to put out there because there was also a transitional tenor that I changed only with epoxy riser tweaks and by installing a Toneking (not "Toneking style," but actual Toneking) table, and that was a failure. I didn't think it was a failure at the time -- you have to remember that 12 years ago this kind of work had been done, and discussed, very little, though it has been done more and discussed much more since -- and the buyer didn't think so either initially, but in retrospect I have to agree with his later change of heart. That horn was sold, years ago, maybe 12 years ago, and the owner eventually invested in undoing the work (he asked me for the old keys, which I sent to him, of course, as I still had them). That work was work that would better have been left not done, IMO, and that client was correct to undo it (anybody who wants what they want is correct, but I'm just saying that to me as well, personally, that was a dead end, which is why I haven't ever run down that street again, since).

I think there might be some pics of that on my site somewhere, still. It's useful as a technical example of what kind of work is possible, but that particular change would be, to me, a waste of money and I have related as much to at least a couple of people asking about whether I'd do something like that for them, over the years.
 

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As I remember, the Freddie Gregory job included cutting the horn in half and making the in-line tone holes match to the Mark VI key alignment by re soldering the horn with the Selmer style tone hole arrangement. The neck was also bent up like a Selmer and the strap ring was re-positioned. It was black; maybe black nickel, maybe lacquer, I don't remember. The keys were silver plated , I think... Jerry made a great recording on it with Joey Caldorazzo on piano in a quartet setting. It was live. One of the best solos and recordings of In Your Own Sweet Way I have ever heard. I don't know who has that horn now. I think Bob Ackerman sold it a long time ago. Bob Ackerman was a leading proponent of the Conn horns back then and had literally hundreds of them. I have a 271k 10m now that was redone by Kessler that is really one of the best horns I have ever played. There is something about the Conn horns that no one else has really captured or even come close to. I think the King Super 20, the early ones, are another horn that has never been duplicated.
 

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thanks for that.......
appreciate the writing of it ALL down.....
i do know a friend who is working on a chu tenor right now in australia.....

keep up the good work....!
cheers,philip
a little -- a subtle change or improvement -- can be a profound life-quality improvement to a devoted player's life. Even then, regardless of skill level, some players will be more affected by keywork modifications (of any degree)
 

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Again an interesting project ptung (after your SBA restoration) :).

As you know I play a late SBA tenor, but I also once had a 1932 Conn Tranny available for trying out and an option to buy it for a good price (I was looking for a new backup tenor in that time). I really liked the sound of the old Conn (gritty, big, booming), but the less friendly ergonomics and the blending with the Big Band sax section (both not as good as with the SBA) made me decide to not buy it, together with the fact that a backup horn should not play too much different from your main horn.

I made a thread about my experiences with the old Conn and also recorded some sound clips to compare them.

- Soundclip: 'It Don't Mean A Thing' (Ponzol Super 120 - 1932 Conn - 1952 SBA):
http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=12670972
(Conn right in the mix taking the first solo, SBA left taking the second solo, only recorded after 10 minutes on the Conn.)

- Thread: https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showt...a-vintage-Conn-of-1932-Opinions-please!/page2

Good luck with the project :).
 

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Dr. G is correct on the main point, as far as changes to the horn's playing qualities, but it's also not an uninteresting question (though inherently an annoying one for web forum discussion, because it ends on a treadmill with people just getting tired and not getting a lot out of it).

When an overhaul is done well, the best the horn is ever going to play is at the time of the overhaul's best and final completion state. From there, it's all downhill. Horns can still play extremely well at points short of that -- for those without access to really good techs, their normal is way short of the point of "as perfect as a skilled tech can get it, with a fresh overhaul."

For that reason, there isn't any really dependable way to judge what improvements (or just changes) come from what particular physical changes to the horn, short of applying either laws of physics or the advantages and pitfalls of the act of applying them.

There isn't any negative outcome, though. Part of that is also that I do some things -- things nobody that I know of knows to do -- for example I change some original parts intentionally, which include very slight changes to the bore interior, which make improvements to intonation. I'm not going to disclose those little things because I've found that it's a lose-lose proposition when it comes to special knowledge, for me personally. There are a couple of things I've put out on this board a long time ago that were not common knowledge at the time that are common knowledge now, and I get no credit for it and less business -- if anything it seems to engender resentment, as this long-*ssed, overly complicated sentence I'm writing now probably does -- so those things I will keep to myself.

The short answer is that, to me, and to anybody that's had the work done, there are no negatives, at least none that have ever been voiced to me.).
Gee, I'm glad that you think my "inherently annoying" question is also "not an uninteresting one." Really? It seems to me that it's one of the essential questions that anybody would want answered who loves the sound of these horns but not the way they play. Am I still going to love the sound I get after the work? "No negative outcome" is not much of an answer to that question, imo.

Turtle
 

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Gee, I'm glad that you think my "inherently annoying" question is also "not an uninteresting one." Really? It seems to me that it's one of the essential questions that anybody would want answered who loves the sound of these horns but not the way they play. Am I still going to love the sound I get after the work? "No negative outcome" is not much of an answer to that question, imo.
Turtle,

Please don't take the matter personally - it's just one of those intangibles that is not easily quantified, much like swapping out resos of different material or size. Yes, there may be a difference, but how much, and could you even tell that what differences you detect are due solely to the reso?

For instance, I recently had FOUR Borgani Jubilee tenors at once - each was a lil' different from the other, but all had a common core and response, all are good tenors. If you played them side by side, you might tease out a difference, but if you played each for a day, without a reference to the others, you'd more likely focus on their similarities than their differences, and just enjoy the experience. They each have the inherent Borgani vibe.

I posit that you'd have much the same response from the Conn-version - the horn would sound much the same as before the mods, but the ergos would perhaps more easily melt from distraction-level if you are not a vintage horn player.
 

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Turtle,

Please don't take the matter personally - it's just one of those intangibles that is not easily quantified, much like swapping out resos of different material or size. Yes, there may be a difference, but how much, and could you even tell that what differences you detect are due solely to the reso?

I posit that you'd have much the same response from the Conn-version - the horn would sound much the same as before the mods, but the ergos would perhaps more easily melt from distraction-level if you are not a vintage horn player.
No, I'm not taking it personally, I'm genuinely interested. Maybe a better way to ask it would have been: "Would it sound any more significantly different after the mods than it would after a normal overhaul?" You posit, no. It would sound much the same as before the mods. That's the answer I was hoping to get from the OP. Maybe no negative outcomes is essentially the same answer, but it doesn't quite sound like it.

It's an interesting subject, I think, because for me these are spectacular sounding horns. The one I sold to Datsaxman (a NW I) is still the best sounding tenor I've played. And, significantly, they don't cost much, especially one that's in need of an overhaul, making the whole idea of a conversion more affordable.

Turtle
 
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