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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Looking to get a more comprehensive list on Holton Sax playing tendencies. There is much scattered info around concerning how these horns play, both positive and negative--some first hand, other info maybe not. . .
Also and unfortunately, the info seems to be much more contradictory than that of other makes, hence my post.

Looking for first hand info to either confirm or dispel what's been said over the years.

Specifically (and in comparison to other period horns as much as possible):

*Did the horn play in tune? If not, where was/is the problem (low register, upper register)?

*Did the tone tend to be bright or dark? Any other tone info of note?

*How was/is the keywork compared to other contemporary sax makes?

*How was/is construction quality overall?


With this info, also need to know which model you're describing, as well as your general judgement of the horn's state of repair, and your set up.

Mine was unplayable when bought and getting an overhaul currently, so I have no first hand playing knowledge yet.
 

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Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2007-
alto: 82Zii/Medusa/Supreme, tenor: Medusa, bari: b-901, sop, sc-990
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good idea, Brent. From what i can see online, the general impression most people have of Holton saxes is not good. But, it seems Holton's saxophones varied in quality depending on era, etc. Some people have said their Holtons played perfectly in tune and with a big sound. I'll review mine when it arrives.

By the way, Frankie Trumbauer played a Holton.
 

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1917 Holton Elkhorn Bari, Nickel Plated


The bari that I am playing could definitely use a repad (REALLY old pads...), but the sound is HUGE.

Big, vintage american sound.

With a modern C* it plays very well in tune, the piece just has to be pulled out quite a bit.

Build quality overall is great, except for the design of the octave key. I can't get any pictures of it, but it is a HORRIBLE design. The key sticks out over the tenon, covering the pip built onto the side of the neck. Because of the this, the neck can NOT be moved into a more comfortable position.

Keywork quality is pretty good, considering it's age. Also, it has a HUGE bell rim. Can make it hard to find a case for the thing.
 

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I had a '50s Holton "241" tenor back in college and had it repadded. I had a huge sound (and I used it for marching band also - no problems there). It actually sounded really good though. Keywork was on par with Conn of the same period - not great, but doable.
It was a sturdy horn too-
 

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There are so many kinds of Holton horns. It makes it hard to get a clear picture of what they are and how they play.

I have experience with two: a very early Rudy Weidoff alto and a much later (but still vintage) Collegiate tenor. Both played very well for me with good tone and great action. This was a real surprise as Holtons have no respect in the vintage sax world.

Be careful when buying a Weidoff as they have extra keys that are impossible to replace if one is lost. The horn should play as is. They are very hard to regulate so you need to more careful than usual. Otherwise a great playing vintage alto -- great bebop tone, fast response and good key action. Look for a gold one if you can.

The Collegiate looks a bit like a Buescher but the LH pinky table is actaully pretty unique and works well -- a good G# setup that is nice and playable. Not as big sounding as a 10M but still a good jazz sound.

Everyone always asks about pitch. But I think every horn plays a bit odd in its own way. You have experiment with mouthpieces and reeds and ultimately compensate for bad notes by lipping up or down. That's life.

I'm hoping other will have some info on Holtons.
 

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Overhauled

I just overhauled a Holton tenor 241. I was sceptical about the amount of time I was putting into the job but the results were good. Yes good intonation and big sound. I had to work at the mechanism alot to quiet it but the owner is happy

..old horns are the best
Frz
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Terrific input--just what I'm looking for--keep it coming!
 

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Mid-20s soprano, silver finish. It plays a bit flat on high C and C#, but one can easily compensate. The tone is medium- dark, as it has no resonators on the pads. Fairly mouthpiece-friendly, even to a high baffle piece, but a Link Tone Edge really hits the sweet spot. Keywork is pretty good, or maybe I'm just used to it. I don't get hung up on the "ergonomics" issue unless it's really bad. I've done a back-to-back with a Mk. VI and I think I like the Holton better. It played in tune better than the Selmer for sure. As to build quality, I've had this horn for over 35 years and it has never let me down- no repairs in all that time and it still plays great! Best $100 I ever spent!
 

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I own a Holton 243 silver-plated tenor from about 1955 (SN 277xxx) and have nothing but praise for them. (Pictures and other info here: http://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?t=48586&page=2). It seems Holton made its own horns, as this one is not a Martin stencil, as others have suggested some Holton horns to be.

Bear in mind that I cannot vouch for other Holton models such as the Collegiate or anything from the 20s-40s, as I have no experience with them (save for a Holton soprano from the 1920s, which I find decent, though not as good as the 1955 tenor described in this post. My experience with the soprano is similar to that of Blackfrancis described above).

To answer your questions:

1) Intonation: Excellent. Spot on. Period. Surprising perhaps to those who diss or are ignorant of Holtons, but it's a fact. No issues - at least for this horn. Altissimo A may play a tiny bit flat depending on fingering, but this is nothing unusual at all and is common to most horns.

2) Tone: Classic American-style tone: BIG and VERY flexible. Did I say BIG? For perspective, we're talking Conn 10M BIG, though with a bit of that sultry darkness of The Martin Tenors mixed in (Yup, that's right!). (My guess is that Holton copied the Conn 10M body tube, and that the thick, heavy brass gives the tone some of that Martin color). I've used this horn for everything from sultry ballads (dark and warm) to mainstream bebop (vintage sound, especially with an Otto Link) to funk and pop (good with a higher-baffle mouthpiece). You name it, it will do it ... and will surpass your expectations. Head to head with a Selmer SBA, they were indistinguishable in tone quality ... seriously. The friend whose SBA I compared it to was present when I test-played the Holton. He said flat out: "If you don't buy it, I will."

3) Keywork/Ergonomics: Modern and comfortable - without that bizarre, esoteric keywork of earlier models - and surprisingly quick, smooth and snappy. None of that clunky feel that sometimes plagues vintage horns (though this is largely a question of setup and regulation, I think). It plays straight out in front, and the L and R hand stacks are straight up and down (like Conns, Bueschers, Martins, SMLs) rather than angled to the side (like Selmers and their clones). Some prefer this (like me) while others do not. I will say that it is exceptionally ergonomic and comfortable, and in this way resembles Bueschers and differs from Conns, which some (such as myself) find initially awkward until they adapt to them. Ergonomically speaking, you sort of fall right into Holtons of this era. Easy peasy! Nice and comfy!

4) Construction: Top notch. Thick, soldered-on tone holes (which provides the benefit of rolled tone holes) like on Martins (though NOT beveled, as with Martins), solid body (the body tube seems very similar to the Conn 10M in shape, but the body tube is made of noticeably thicker brass), and overall well made. Thicker brass than Bueschers and Conns, and in this way more resembles The Martin tenors.

To sum up, it seems Holton made its last-ditch effort to compete with Selmer, Buescher and Conn in the sax market before they abandoned it as Selmer cornered the market toward the late 50s and into the 60s. Holton seems to have copied enough of the good elements of the contemporary models (Conn 10Ms, The Martin Tenors, and Bueschers) as Holtons of this model and era are a fine blend of the Conn 10M (tone, body tube), "The Martin Tenor" (tone, brass thickness, soldered-on tone holes), and Bueschers (ergonomics and key layout). I've never regretted playing it, and have compared it to the very best and NOT found it wanting. I couldn't tell you if this is characteristic of all Holtons from this era because I simply haven't played enough of them. I did try a Holton 241 model once and was not impressed, but then again, it could have been a lemon horn that I tried. What I can tell you is that with this tenor (or model No. 243), they got it REALLY right. I'll never let it go. Period.

I hope this helps.

Hafuch
 

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I have a 232 plated alto ,a rudy wiedoeft silver plated alto, and a pre-rudy goldplated tenor..
the 232 is just amazing, way ahead in design from the other american saxes of the same era (has right side bell keys!) ergos are also very good and intonation good with the right mpc (best with a morgan jazz M model)
the older ones have surely more issues, ergos aren't that nice and intonation is a bit trickier but still GREAT horns ..
 

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My 1940 Colegiate Tenor has all original pads without resonators. It has a a nice warm dark tone when played softly and when pushed it wails with bluesy Websteresque overtones. It plays very well in tune and has indented pearls that feel comfortable for the fingers. The palm and pinky keys take some getting used to. I like it's common sense economical design.
 

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I agree with HAFUCH's observations. I just repaded a Holton 241 tenor and so far it plays very nice (I used Selmer Mk VI pads with plastic resonators). It has a dark solid tone (with a Selmer C*). With an Otto Link 5 it is a bit harder sounding with more projection.

I've worked on Conn Pan Americans, Bundys and Vitos and find the Holton to be better than any of them. Adjusting the keywork is tricky but once everything seals properly it stays that way. The action is light and very quick.

It sounds great & my son says it beats the H%&$ out of his old Bundy II.
 

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I have a Gold plated 20s alto with new pads (metal res.) that feels as good as my Martins, has a tone similar to my NW Conns and the intonation is very good. A little flat on high F but as good or better than most 20s horns. I also have a Rudy alto that I haven't gotten to yet. More later.
 

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I just finished restoring an early-mid 1920s (as best I can tell) Holton Rudy Wiedoeft alto, silver-plated. I was not expecting it to be a very good player, so I was surprised that it was! Probably has the nicest sound of all my altos (seven in total, all fully restored, two of which are fabulous silver-plated Kings from the 1920s). The sound is noticeably warmer and richer than my other horns, but not overly bright, and fairly big too. The keywork is also more comfortable than I was expecting --- granted, this is all relative -- I'm used to playing vintage horns so by vintage standards the Holton is comfortable -- to anyone used to modern instruments it would probably feel awkward, at least for a while. And, the instrument is beautifully made (like the old Kings) with very heavy metal, thick silver plating, and soldered-on toneholes.

The only downside of the Holton "Rudy" which keeps it from being my #1 alto is the intonation between registers -- generally the lower octave is flat and the upper is sharp, especially on the "A' which admittedly is the worst note on just about any brand, vintage or modern. Compared to my Kings, the Holton has a bigger spread between octaves (regardless of mouthpiece selection, and I've tried quite a variety on the horn). That said, I believe with time I could adjust to it and compensate -- it's not THAT awful. I've made various adjustments to key opening heights and such to get the intonation squared away in other respects.

I have two other silver-plated 1920s Wiedoeft altos and one regular Holton from the same era all 'on the shelf' awaiting restoration, so someday (probably not any time soon, though!) I may have additional data points for this discussion.
 

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Very interesting Dave. My Holton C-mel is from about 1926 and it's intonation is superior to the same era Buescher and King. Great altissimo too.
 

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My 30's soprano has similar intonation issues as mentioned above. Low register is quite well in tune, and the upper register is pretty sharp, requiring careful attention to bring it down. Sharpness is inconsistent, and varies note by note, so it took a while to get familiar with the horn. That being said, it's not too hard to play in tune now that I know the horn.

The horn has poor ergonomics, which is the main reason I don't consider it to be a "real" playable horn by modern standards. The pearls are very small, close together, and spring tension varies drastically all over the place, making it difficult to play smoothly. But I don't do any serious soprano playing, so nobody suffers but me. And the good far outweighs the bad.

The horn has a gorgeous dark sound that I love, which is the main reason I continue to play it. I use a short barrel D Soloist, round chamber that clicks really well with it. Add in how beautiful the horn looks (dark gold lacquer, not plated I think, lots intact), and an emotional attachment to it through the gentleman who owned it previously, it really is a keeper.

Still on the lookout for the right 62r though!
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 · (Edited)
Well, I just got my Holton "Elkhorn" Tenor back from a full overhaul. Some observations--bear with me though, I'm still getting my chops back as a returning player after many years away from sax.

I took the tenor to Les Arbuckle at Saxoasis and am very pleased with the results--thanks Les!!!:)

--The keywork feels light and precise, and the new pads have resonators. It was pretty clunky when I took it in, being an unplayable ebay special when I got it, but Les fixed all that. The springs all feel uniform, and the action is quick, quiet, and smooth.

--The sound, as mentioned in a couple of the previous posts above concerning Holtons, is BIG, warm, and rich. I normally play with a fairly bright tone, but the Holton is not overly bright. Bottom line--I like this horn's sound a lot.

--Construction: This horn seems to me to be built like a tank. Thick and heavily made. In an earlier post, I said I thought it may have had an oversize bell (relying on memory while it was in the shop), but no--the bell is the same size as my King 615.

--As far as comfort, the Holton feels great to me. For reference, my hands are small though. Even with the pearl button G sharp, the pinky cluster works better for me than the King 615 I've been playing. I may put and extender on the palm High F though--it's a bit lower than I'm used to.

Some other thoughts: I kind of wish I'd have kept an eye out for a horn with a high front F. Many of the Holtons of the same age range, and even 10K earlier on the serial number range have the spatula high front F. The ones with the spatula front F also usually seem to have a larger G sharp key on the LH pinky cluster (much like the difference between earlier and later Buescher True Tones). Oh well.

I'm using a new Otto Link HR 6* with the lig that came with it, and I also have a Rico Graftonite A-5 and a Rovner Dark to try. My main thought was to use something with a large chamber.

This tenor is serial number 39XXX, which more realistically works out to about 1928 (remember that published Holton lists are incorrect).
 

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I'm very impressed with the one Holton (non-Rudy) i own. Estimated age is 1926-27. My feeling is, Holton was like Avis rent-a-car; they had to try harder. They were seriously trying to improve the saxophone in practical ways. Their new keywork and better intonation (mid 1920s on) really worked. They are the only company I have seen that moved the strap ring on their C-melody saxophones to a better position. Their saxes came standard with metal mouthpieces before anyone. Even their cases (1920s) were better than most of their competitors. So in many ways, they were trying to make a better horn. It would be fun to have a time machine and go back to 1929 to interview professional players about the Holton sax. Those guys may have had a lot of respect for what Frank Holton was doing.
 
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