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Is there such a thing as a dark tone on an alto? Which below $1000 alto is the darkest?
 

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I think there is, but the whole concept of bright vs. dark is subjective and much depends on how the player plays it - and what mouthpiece/reed combo the player chooses. Under $1K? Good luck. There are tons of inexpensive altos below $1K and most inexpensive saxophones tend to the bright side.

A few years ago, a guy was subbing in our band and had with him a 1920's Martin alto. He'd played with us before and he had a nice vintage sound. We traded altos before the gig and played each other's horns (using our own mouthpieces). I had with me that day my fairly new Selmer Ref 54. This horn is one of the darkest I'd ever played. He blew a few notes on my horn and then said, "Nice and bright." Like I said, subjective. DAVE
 

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I find the Martins to be dark especially in the right hand with the Handcrafts having the darkest sound. Still in the ear of the player....
 

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If you can, get a Beaugnier Model 38A, the one with left side bell keys. Often rebranded as Vitos.

If I'm not wrong, is the only horn with modern mechanism (especially left pinky) and inline toneholes.

They play sweet... much like a Balanced Action but less stuffy... still best kept secret. Great design, really tight keywork.

And they're usually around usd 800... And, on top of that, you'll be getting a vintage horn, it'll hold it's price better. Good luck!
 

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A few years ago, a guy was subbing in our band and had with him a 1920's Martin alto. He'd played with us before and he had a nice vintage sound. We traded altos before the gig and played each other's horns (using our own mouthpieces). I had with me that day my fairly new Selmer Ref 54. This horn is one of the darkest I'd ever played. He blew a few notes on my horn and then said, "Nice and bright." Like I said, subjective. DAVE
That's a great anecdote, and I agree concerning the relative darkness of the Ref
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks for the feedback. Looking back through this forum, I heard Martins were bright while others said dark. I heard King Zephyrs were dark. I tried YouTube but there is just too many things that influence tone when recording.

I've been playing tenor but I thought alto may be a little easier to play (less air needed and smaller area to cover with my hands). I may just have to stick with tenor.
 

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If you can, get a Beaugnier Model 38A, the one with left side bell keys. Often rebranded as Vitos.

If I'm not wrong, is the only horn with modern mechanism (especially left pinky) and inline toneholes.

They play sweet... much like a Balanced Action but less stuffy... still best kept secret. Great design, really tight keywork.

And they're usually around usd 800... And, on top of that, you'll be getting a vintage horn, it'll hold it's price better. Good luck!
Model 38 Vitos (Beaugnier) have the bell keys on the RIGHT side, like a MODERN sax. And yes, they are very comfortable to play, very flexible, and usually can be had for under $1000. The keywork is light and fast, and quite reminiscent of the Selmer Balanced Action. They can be darkened up w/the right mouthpiece, but they can also be played quite brightly w/the right mouthpiece too. It is a Med-large bore sax (where post-SBA Selmers and Yanagiswas are small bore horns).

You want dark though, go for an early Conn 6M or Buescher True Tone (both of which can be brightened a bit w/the right mouthpiece).

Note: LH bell key Beaugnier (Vito) are NOT Model 38. They are Model 35 or Americana (there may be a couple other models too, but no Model 38 or 39 have LH bell keys! The Model 39 is the most modern and the newest of the Beaugnier Vitos, and I have yet to actually see one! Model 38's are much easier to come by).
 

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I think it's got a whole lot more to do with the mouthpiece, and really how the horn is played. Personally, I use a Yamaha horn, and they're known to be on the bright side of things, and a Selmer S80 C* mouthpiece, so it's a "bright" setup. And yet, I can coax a pretty dark tone out of it, usually for classical work. I think that for under 1,000 you can find a good sax with a decent mouthpiece, then set about the real work that makes a dark tone, practicing, listening, and more practicing... Maybe it's just me, but I'd much rather have a setup that I can play with a dark tone, or super bright and punchy, with the same mouthpiece, even reeds; for me, it's all about allowing myself the greatest range of expression. Good luck, I hope that you find the horn that's right for you!
 

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I think there is, but the whole concept of bright vs. dark is subjective and much depends on how the player plays it - and what mouthpiece/reed combo the player chooses. Under $1K? Good luck. There are tons of inexpensive altos below $1K and most inexpensive saxophones tend to the bright side.
...oomph....

Respectfully, I completely disagree with all of that comment.

There are those who believe that the sax is the sax; that the intrinsic tone of the horn is not the result of the design/spec/construction of the instrument...but rather more of the player and the mouthpiece/reed combo.

This is something pushed especially by guys who sell mouthpieces.... and guys who sell shiny, contemporary saxes.

There are SO many variables to the instrument that SO many things can effect the type of sound the horn makes. Ain't no way a Yas is gonna be Dark ...and no way a J.Keilwerth is gonna be reedy and bright....regardless of the player or their setup.

So, while certainly a setup change can tweak a horn's sound one way or the other...most of that tone is sorta set in stone already....

It is the intrinsic nature of the instrument. Things such as body tube design, bore, taper, radius of the bow, design of the neck...I could go on and on....How people can think this sorta stuff doesn't effect tone is really beyond me. Specs have been designed and discarded, redesigned and revised, for a hundred years in pursuit of such 'signature' sounds.

In answer to your Q, Orion, although others have made some good comments....if you are looking newish, you probably cannot get a nice, Dark-toned alto for under $1000.

But...used/vintage...hell, yes. You could get a smoker for around $500, actually.

1) The darkest horns, IMHO, are Keilwerths. Just a HUUUUGE bottom, big low overtones, very smoooth and sweet. But they are not for everyone. A nice JK or Max Keilwerth stencil from the 60's or '70's is only around $500-700 and they are superb.

2) The big ol' americans: Conn, Martin, Holton, Buescher, King. For $1g you can actually afford a middle-late model 6M or a Tranny. A Nice Martin Handcraft or Comm I or II can be brought in for that, as can a Buescher Aristocrat, Holton 265 or 465 Ideal, or King Zephyr. The Conns and Holtons are the darkest of those...the other three have more edge to their tone (note Grumps's comment: Both Kings and Martins have more punch and bite to 'em) but ALL still have a nice big spread on the low and midrange overtones....very unlike a contemporary horn.

Note also, these are the top-shelfs, or near. Even the old american second-shelf model...a Buescher/Elkhart 20A, a Conn 14M/50M or Pan American, Holton Collegiate, King Cleve, Martin Indiana...is gonna have more roundness and depth to its tone than a contemporary horn.

3) Other Europeans: Vito or Noblet by Beaugnier...even more so the older Italians: Rampone-made horns...Grassi or Orsi....then the other Germans: Kohlerts or Weltklangs.

If you wanna use online files as a comparative tool, you have to get them all from a source where the only variable is the horn itself. My vidfiles posted on my site (link below, take a look) do that...as any reputable dealer should. It's too hard to compare recordings on one site with another. You need the same room, the same recording apparatus, the same mouthpiece and reed setup, etc...Only in this way can you assess the relative differences in sound. And they can be quite dramatic, actually.

Not saying this to make a sale...there are plenty of good vintage players available all over the place, but if what you seek is Dark...then a pre-80's horn is where you wanna focus.
 

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Under $1K? Good luck. There are tons of inexpensive altos below $1K and most inexpensive saxophones tend to the bright side.
Dave must be talking about new horns. Certainly you can pick up a Buescher True Tone for less than $1K. With the right mpc it will play dark and full, but not stuffy at all.

I do agree the mpc makes a real difference. I can't imagine using a high baffle mpc on an alto.

And yes, it is subjective. Even the darkest alto tone sounds pretty bright to my ear.
 

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JayeSF: I generally agree with what you wrote and I apologize for trying to be brief rather than expansive in my earlier response.

Also, I incorrectly assumed Orion was asking about new altos. By considering vintage or used altos, he may be able to find a darker alto but probably higher than $1K. But as you posted, he may be a newer player and finding a good used or vintage alto may pose a problem. Hence, my assumption about new altos.

I have seven altos in my closet, ranging from early 1920's King and Buescher TT, to a Ref 54. Depending on which mouthpiece I use on all of them (and for the record, none of my altos require different mouthpieces - my favorite pieces work on all of them) I can darken or brighten each one of them. As I pointed out in my anecdote, the tonal quality of a saxophone depends a lot on how one hears it (or wants to hear it), but yes, design differences make a difference.

As far as all YAS models not being dark, well . . . every YAS 23 I've played has been pretty bright. On the other hand, all of the Custom Z's I played (lacquered, unlacquered, etc.) and the one I finally owned for a while, were a lot darker. Maybe not to you, but definitely to me . . . all YAS models.

Yes, Orion could find a "smoker" for $500.00, but I'm guessing the search could run into the thousands before finding it, especially if buying off of eBay or somewhere else, sight unseen. True, if he finds a store with a good inventory of altos, he may not spend as much time and money in the search, but then the stores I know of don't sell good-playing horns for $500.00 (and yes, there will be exceptions to that, too). Even many pawn shops are wise to the gems in the saxophone world.

I bought my TT from eBay for $305.00 several years ago. Another $400+ in an overhaul by Rheuben Allen made the horn one of my best playing altos. I sure wouldn't sell it now for any price unless the offer was outrageously high.

When I bought a new alto for my grandson, I played several inexpensive altos at Dave Kessler's store in Las Vegas. I ended up choosing Kessler's house-brand alto. It sounded and played the best of several new models I tried that day - and it was under $1K at the time. I don't know what they sell for now. My grandson still plays it in his high school band. The Kessler Custom was a better player than the Antiguas, the Unisons, and the Yamaha 62II I played that day. Dark? Bright? I suppose a combination of the two - the Kessler had a nice centered tone to it and played nicely top to bottom. It certainly was darker than any YAS23 I'd played!

So, while there are differences caused by designs, the player can affect that somewhat, in my opinion. The darkness/brightness issues will vary player-to-player, listener-to-listener, but if one player plays all of the models available, then he can make up his own mind about which model was darker or brighter to his ears. There will certainly be differences among the models when played by one player. DAVE
 

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Which is why I decided to look for a dark tenor instead. Any suggestions for less than $1000 on a tenor?
That's a horse of a different color. And while you can find a decent number of tenors for under 1K, that amount is not nearly as large or diverse as the list of alto's for 1K or less.

A vintage Martin would still be a solid choice. A Martin Indiana would fit within the budget and most think of them as being dark/spread (I think so too...I have one of my own).

An older King could be another good contender.

My advice would be to find a place with old horns for sale and go spend a day there playing whatever you can. I've said it enough to probably come off as a broken record...but there is absolutely no substitute for playing on the saxes you might be interested in buying.
 

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Which is why I decided to look for a dark tenor instead. Any suggestions for less than $1000 on a tenor?
LOL. Well I'm a tenor player.....

I bet JayeSF could steer you in the right direction for a decent tenor under $1K. I'd have difficulty finding anything in a tenor for that low a price, but I'm kind of picky about horns, especially playing condition. Aside from the brand of horn, playing condition is a crucial factor. And you either have to pay up front for that from a reputable dealer who has already set the horn up, or on the other side after buying something off ebay or wherever that will need to be worked on or overhauled.
 

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Model 38 Vitos (Beaugnier) have the bell keys on the RIGHT side, like a MODERN sax. And yes, they are very comfortable to play, very flexible, and usually can be had for under $1000. The keywork is light and fast, and quite reminiscent of the Selmer Balanced Action. They can be darkened up w/the right mouthpiece, but they can also be played quite brightly w/the right mouthpiece too. It is a Med-large bore sax (where post-SBA Selmers and Yanagiswas are small bore horns).

You want dark though, go for an early Conn 6M or Buescher True Tone (both of which can be brightened a bit w/the right mouthpiece).

Note: LH bell key Beaugnier (Vito) are NOT Model 38. They are Model 35 or Americana (there may be a couple other models too, but no Model 38 or 39 have LH bell keys! The Model 39 is the most modern and the newest of the Beaugnier Vitos, and I have yet to actually see one! Model 38's are much easier to come by).
Hi Nissan, thanks for the clarification... I wanted to say RIGHT side, just like a MODERN horn, hehe... I haven't came across one horn with modern mechanism and inline toneholes, except the BA and SBA, of course... Btw, it's been a while I have a 6M VIII with me, and it definitively plays edgier to me than the Beaugnier... go figure... :)

To the OP: Well, if you wanna go vintage, there's plenty of options... and of course, mouthpiece is an important part too.

Play several horns before buying anything... take your Zoom or portable recorder with you, and for intonation issues I'll suggest have some MP3 Drones (pedals, long tones) on your iPod to play against using headphones... to me is more useful than the tuner, you can do both of course, that's more accurate... if I like the sound, the way it plays and feels, and I can shape the intonation the way I want... it's a keeper :)

Good luck again.
 

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Hi Nissan, thanks for the clarification... I wanted to say RIGHT side, just like a MODERN horn, hehe... I haven't came across one horn with modern mechanism and inline toneholes, except the BA and SBA, of course... Btw, it's been a while I have a 6M VIII with me, and it definitively plays edgier to me than the Beaugnier... go figure... :)

To the OP: Well, if you wanna go vintage, there's plenty of options... and of course, mouthpiece is an important part too.

Play several horns before buying anything... take your Zoom or portable recorder with you, and for intonation issues I'll suggest have some MP3 Drones (pedals, long tones) on your iPod to play against using headphones... to me is more useful than the tuner, you can do both of course, that's more accurate... if I like the sound, the way it plays and feels, and I can shape the intonation the way I want... it's a keeper :)

Good luck again.
For the record, in-line key saxes w/modern keywork:

Selmer Balanced Action
Selmer Super Balanced Action
Beaugnier (Vito, Noblet, VOX) Model 38 and 39
H. Couf Superba I and II (and other Keilwerth brands of the day)
King Super 20 (2nd and 3rd generation)
 

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LOL. Well I'm a tenor player.....

I bet JayeSF could steer you in the right direction for a decent tenor under $1K. I'd have difficulty finding anything in a tenor for that low a price, but I'm kind of picky about horns, especially playing condition. Aside from the brand of horn, playing condition is a crucial factor. And you either have to pay up front for that from a reputable dealer who has already set the horn up, or on the other side after buying something off ebay or wherever that will need to be worked on or overhauled.
Pro relatively modern Tenors, that lean dark, for under $1000:

Beaugnier (Vito, VOX, Noblet--be careful about Noblet, some are cheapened versions) Model 38 and 39

H. Couf Superba II (Superba I tends to pull higher prices, due to the rolled tone holes)

Armstrong (the less engraved models, but still made by Keilwerth. The fully engraved ones pull Superba I prices, as they are the same sax, w/a different name)
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These are a bit brighter:

Some Eastlake King Super 20s can be had for around $1000, in playable condition.

Dolnet. The keywork is a mix of vintage and modern.

Cousnon. Again, keywork is mix of vintage and modern.
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Completely vintage, and your option really widen:

Buescher Aristocrat and 400 (the less desireable years. The desireable models pull premium pricing)

Conn 10M/New Wonder transitional and it's stencils

Holton

King Zephyr (after the double neck socket/3 ring strap era)

Any Left Hand bell key Beaugnier-built sax (sans the Model 35, as these are rare in Tenors, and can usually only be found branded as LeBlanc Rationale), mostly "Americanas", which were marketed as "Band Instruments", and not as the pro line, but are very solidly built w/a strong core tone to them. Much sax for the money.

Plus many more. JayeSF has very extensive knowledge of huge players for little dough.

Personally, I've fallen in love with the modern keywork, so that narrowed my options down considerable, I buy most my saxes on e-bay, until I get what I want. Takes more time, but it works! I only bought one where I lost money on it, but more than made for it w/each transaction after that. With that one exception, the most I've had to put into an e-bay Tenor is $75! My current Tenor, is better than the last (all the pads match, and only needs two minor repairs, neither one of which in its current state is affecting the performance of the sax).
 

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thanks for sharing.
what a wealth of knowledge.
 
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