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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
In the past I have owned, and enjoyed, many Vintage Sports Cars. At a recent Old Boys' reunion I drove a chum's 1929 Silver Eagle Alvis....mainly in & around the town of Ludlow. With it's non synchromesh gearbox (with the change speed lever both on the "wrong" side & working back to front), inefficient cable brakes, throttle pedal positioned between the brake & clutch...ie centrally, & exceedingly heavy steering I realised (with due modesty) that a considerable degree of driving skills was necessary to cope with all these now unfamiliar features.
Although there is not such a dramatic difference between a 1920s saxophone & it's modern counterpart, the comparison is valid.
It would be lunacy for a tyro driver to even attempt to drive the Alvis....similarly I really believe that a newcomer to the saxophone...& there are a few on this C board...should start the easy way with a modern student horn..... only then progressing to the rather lovely vintage models.
Rather like driving the vintage car, the satisfaction of driving it smoothly, with no gear grating on the awkward controls is paralleled in the case of playing a really old saxophone competently. Highly satisfying....but not for starters.
Do yourselves a real favour chaps....start on a student Yamaha....your progress will be faster & the experience better with far less likelihood of giving up.
 

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Counterpoint:

Alternatively, potential frustration when switching back and forth between instruments (or cars) from different era's could be attributed to a lack of familiarity with the new (to the user) item.

So everyone, buy vintage right from the get-go...no need for that new rubbish :bluewink:. (I will wait for the day when everyone plays saxes without automatic octave keys or any kind of rollers...and the popular statement becomes: 'Man, you must be a pro to play that YAS-23!' I might have to wait for a while though :|)

While people from earlier eras certainly had preferences between certain (cars, instruments...insert human operated mechanical thing here) of the same era, they obviously were perfectly able to operate those things at the time they were new (and with grace no less). If they were truly such an awful thing to play...then why were there so many saxes made and sold during the 20's?

By far, one of the biggest complaints (sometimes purely rumors from those who haven't even touched one) I hear about vintage saxes relates to their keywork.

Now this could be nitpicked quite a bit (which I recognize, but my intention isn't to go down this path), but arguably...saxes haven't evolved that dramatically from the 20's in terms of their keywork. Yes, now every sax has an offset lower stack, and octave keys are a bit more substantial (and yes, hinged differently). The largest difference is really related to the spatula keys. With multiple spatula key layouts to be found on various vintage saxes (and thus, multiple choices to find a good personal fit)...is this really such a nuisance?

Yes, one very sound argument is that a student should have an instrument that enables them to progress and want to continue with it. Does this mean a modern sax? Possibly.

But having what is currently accepted in this decade as being a 'good instrument to learn on' might not be what inspires a beginner to continue with the instrument. Sometimes that motivation comes from something else. Just today, I sold a 20's sax to a guy who's just getting into playing. Part of what makes the whole experience so enjoyable for him is that he has a few vintage saxes to learn on. Perhaps he's going more down the path of a budding collector rather than that of someone who will be playing for decades to come...but who knows.

Would it be in his best interest to buy a modern sax to learn on? Would it be the key thing that ensures he wants to continue with the sax? In this case...I don't think so.

Now of course these beginners aren't the majority...but I've met enough of them to wonder how many players wouldn't exist today if they all were advised to stay away from the instruments that gave them the desire to play in the first place.
 

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Thank God someone has had the courage to come out and say this. I've lost count of the number of frustrated complete beginners I've met who've gone out and bought True Tones, Super 20's, SBA's and the like only to give up after a few weeks. If this present trend continues Yamaha will go out of business.
 

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Palm key heights on the early American saxes are much lower than on modern ones making holding and playing them easier for those beginners with smaller hands.
 

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Captain Beeflat and VintageSaxGuy have both made lucid, cogent, and compelling arguments here.

I find myself in agreement with VintageSaxGuy on this issue.
 

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In my opinion the comfort of playing an instrument is all about the sound, so if I like the tone, that´s enough, any other aspect is irrelevant. I play original vintage horns without any modification.
 

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There was an article on Cybersax.com several years ago that brought up a few relevant points. Some of the references are a little outdated (my opinion), but much of it holds true. I've copied a couple paragraphs below, but the original material can be found here.

[...]
A carefully selected used saxophone will always be a better value than a new one, and if it happens to be a fine vintage saxophone you have made as much a sound investment as a fine musical choice. Vintage saxophones are built better than the vast majority of their modern counterparts, they have a richer sound, are easier to service, and often have a better feel and action. Vintage saxes come in all price ranges. You can buy a really good Conn or Buescher (or others) alto in the $400 to $800 price range, and if your young prodigy later needs a step up horn (or decides to switch interests) you can realistically expect to get your value back out of the instrument. That's a stark contrast to a shiny Oriental wonder that no one will even consider purchasing from you in the used market.

We know kids like to be cool -- and a shiny new horn will be cool for a while. It will cease being cool when the kids with the vintage horns that started in the same class begin to blow rings around your kid. This is time for some parental guidance. It's an opportunity to teach about value and about music in one lesson. Next time you're in Wally World take a quick look in the fishing section. All the lures will be nice and shiny -- and you know where that lands those tempted to bite ...
[...]
 

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Although there is not such a dramatic difference between a 1920s saxophone & it's modern counterpart, the comparison is valid.
/QUOTE]

No it isn't.

Further to my earlier, unnecessarily, sarcastic post.........are there really many people who start off with a vintage saxophone ? I know there are some queer goings down in Devon but do you personally know of many beginners who have struggled with some ancient horn and subsequently given up ? As has been said elsewhere on this forum "vintage saxophone" is not a brand. Which
vintage saxophone and in what playing condition were you thinking of when you wrote your post ? I can think of many makes and models from the late 20's onwards that, if they were in good playing order, would be perfectly suitable instruments for a complete novice who was motivated to learn. After all, back in the 20's and 30's the only instruments available would have been "vintage" ones and from recordings we can hear today it didn't stop many people from going on to be very accomplished players indeed.

I recently acquired a beautiful saxophone made in 1937 from someone learning to play. He told me he thought he would be better off with something more modern. This horn was riddled with easily fixed leaks and was unplayable by anyone. It took about an hour to sort out.........I'm quite sure this person would kick themselves if they realised it was the condition, not the age of the sax, that was making it impossible to play. As for giving up learning to play any musical instrument there are an almost limitless number of reasons anyone can find to explain why they don't wish to continue...........
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Counterpoint:

While people from earlier eras certainly had preferences between certain (cars, instruments...insert human operated mechanical thing here) of the same era, they obviously were perfectly able to operate those things at the time they were new (and with grace no less).
Not quite true.
Because of the difficulty in synchronising the engine speed with the gearbox layshaft when changing gear on a crash box, gear changing was dreaded by most.
This resulted in the continuation of slow long stroke, flexible, high torque engines requiring the minimum number of gear changes....resulting in the reluctance to produce high speed, smaller & more efficient engines.
I am the first to agree that the comparison between vintage vehicles and saxophones is not so dramatic. However, my number one horn is a Martin Typewriter with which I have no difficulty & on which I am reasonably competent...I enjoy this horn....especially the sound.
Recently, for various reasons, I dragged out a modern tenor & found myself smiling at the ease of playing....I had forgotten how much work actually goes into the keywork & intonation.
Modern horns are undeniably easier to play & we pay a price for that "vintage" sound....& of course it is worth it.
What is, in my view, equally undeniable is that it is easier to start on a modern horn....first learn to play the thing & then you will be in a better position to coax the nuances out of a vintage saxophone.
 

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Saxophones aren't cars. There really hasn't been that much improvement in their design as compared to automobiles. Many of the greats weren't held back by learning their craft on horns of old and I doubt they'd be any better if they played Yamahas as children. A vintage horn isn't likely to frustrate a beginner so long as it's in good working order.
 

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I tried to like vintage instruments, the price was right and they are beautious to behold. I even saved some from the trash heap like my Conn C soprano that Sarge of Worldwide Sax was able to revive. Truth be known, I played a 50s 'crat alto sax all the way through school.

But for me, every vintage instrument I played was eventually replaced by a modern instrument. The most common reason was the inherent intonation on the new horns was vastly superior to that of the vintage instrument. The second most common reason was the ergos on the vintage instrument bothered me in some way like the right-hand pinkie keys on that gorgeous Buffet SDA.

Maybe if I wasn't a doubler, spent more time practicing, and really learned the instrument I could have gotten past these issues. But I found that every time I replaced the vintage instrument, the new instrument was so much better that I ended up selling the vintage. Here is my odyssey:
  • Alto/Tenor: Couf Superba to Selmer Ref 54 (before the Ref series I really disliked the Selmer stuff)
  • Clarinet: Leblanc Paris to Buffet R-13 Festival
  • Bass sax: Buescher to Eppelsheim
  • Soprano: Antigua to Yani 992
  • Soprillo: Mason to Yani 981
  • Bass clarinet: Leblanc to Selmer Privilege
  • C sop: Conn to ER (Eppelsheim)
I got smarter as I went along too buying new and best in class vintage from the get go:
  • Bari: Yani 991
  • Soprillo: Eppelsheim
  • F Mezzo: Conn
  • Contra (bass & alto): Leblanc Paris paperclip
  • Flute: Gemeinhardt 3SHB with Chris McKenna head
I am not a pro. If I were I could make any sax sound great; gawd knows my instructors can. But I luv playing in the community band, my big band, and my quartet. And I get paid gigs all the time. I think I have made the right decisions for me. If vintage works for you, great. But I *always* recommend getting the best instrument you can afford, for a student or hobbyist. At least then you have a chance.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Saxophones aren't cars. There really hasn't been that much improvement in their design as compared to automobiles. .
Yes Grumps, I have previously established this point...it is not an absolute comparison.
I was comparing like dates. The Vintage Sports Car Club defines a vintage car as that built between 1919 & 1931.
The issues of the Motor Car were generally resolved by the 1960s with synchromesh gearboxes, hydraulic brakes & power steering all available.
Equivalent issues pertaining to the saxophone were resolved with the introduction of the Selmer BA in 1933. Those issues, viz. inaccessible low C#, unarticulated low C, B, & Bb & wildly different key weights were put to rest with the introduction of the BA....the modern saxophone started there.
Of course there will be proponents of the antiquated & restrictive earlier models, but you will find few members of the VSCC who will deny that the modern car is easier to drive.
The modern saxophone was born in 1933 with balanced key action, an ergonomic & articulated spatula table, and an offset lower stack.
For anyone to prefer the earlier system they must never use the "pinky table", have a deformed (or top joint amputated from) their left little finger, never play in sharp keys (well, certainly avoiding the low notes) & not be required to play really quickly if they venture north of D.
 

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I started on a Conn C-soprano, and no, it wasn't when they first came out. I then switched to a Bb Conn soprano upon the urging of one of the guy's in Welk's sax section at the time (I was his newspaper boy!). I was not discouraged. I don't think the vintage vs. modern-design is an issue when it comes to new players, as long as both horns are tight.

But I must also agree with Gandalfe about eventually coming to modern saxophones and the reasons for that. I love my '20's Bueschers and '30's Selmer, but when I play them side-by-side with my Yanagisawa sopranos and modern altos, it is true for me that the intonation on the modern saxophones is better. And the S992 is stronger than the old TT I dearly love.

So, I end up playing modern, then switching back to vintage (for the "look" in my trad band), then back to modern for the intonation, etc. I struggle with these issues to this day - and I've been doing it for over 55 years now. DAVE
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Are you saying that most instruments built after 1933 have modern characteristics and therefore suitable for beginners to learn on ? If that is the case, I'm inclined to agree with you.
That's exactly what I am saying...shew me any modern saxophone which copies the features of a 1920s horn; everyone followed the Selmer system.....eventually.
Old is not Vintage, although the words are often confused.
I started playing on a "modern" 1933 Selmer BA which equipped me well for playing so called vintage horns...the sound of which I like.
 

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I started on, in 1988 a student model Selmer USA made Bundy (Buescher Aristocrat w/ LH bell keys: a cheapened version of the series I Aristocrats of the "pre-war" era) built some time in the 70s or so. In 1992 the Tenor I got was a sister horn to that Alto, branded as a Buescher Aristocrat. It actually took me some time to get used to modern ergonomics! It wasn't until I played a year on a Selmer SA80II Bari, and 2 years on a Mark VI Bari, that I began actually liking modern ergos.

Look at my current sax line up. I have only owned 3 saxes in my life that were modern w/the off-set stack: 1977 Mark VII (since sold); 1994 EM Winston ProI(SP) straight Soprano (sold); and 2001 Amati ATS32BL (sold).

All my current saxes have in-line keys, and 3 are very vintage 1920s saxes (I did have some minor mods done to the Bari to keep my hands from cramping though!).
 

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That's exactly what I am saying...shew me any modern saxophone which copies the features of a 1920s horn; everyone followed the Selmer system.....eventually.
Old is not Vintage, although the words are often confused.
I started playing on a "modern" 1933 Selmer BA which equipped me well for playing so called vintage horns...the sound of which I like.
Sorry. If I could delete my earlier posts then I would. I learnt to play, well, after 20 years I'm still learning, on a 1929 Lewin Bros. Martin tenor but now mostly play horns from the late 1930's. I've nothing against very recently manufactured saxophones but whenever I've tried them I've been disappointed. I'm an ex member of the VSCC. Maybe we should call saxophones with BA characteristics "post vintage thoroughbreds". (Well, the nice ones !)
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Sorry. If I could delete my earlier posts then I would. I learnt to play, well, after 20 years I'm still learning, on a 1929 Lewin Bros. Martin tenor but now mostly play horns from the late 1930's. I've nothing against very recently manufactured saxophones but whenever I've tried them I've been disappointed. I'm an ex member of the VSCC. Maybe we should call saxophones with BA characteristics "post vintage thoroughbreds". (Well, the nice ones !)
So pleased that someone knows the term PVT...that is precisely what I mean, but was reluctant to use the somewhat esoteric term in case no-one understood. Post Vintage Thoroughbreds are, in reality, cars made later than the cut off point of 1931 but retain all the excellent qualities of the previous decade. Therefore it was far more selective....my 1933 Frazer Nash TT Rep. & 1934 Bertelli Aston Martin qualified as PVTs.
Prior to the description PVT, my cars would have been excluded from the VSCC on date....although they were as good, or better than the cars from the same manufacture, made in the "Vintage" period.
Only the date of manufacture qualified cars as Vintage, yet some absolute dogs were allowed in because they were made in the 1920s.
The PVTs were, by definition, all good.
 

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It's really kind of what you get used to isn't it? If you start out playing on an old horn then switch to something modern, the new horn will feel weird even if you are an inexperienced player I would think.

I switched from a 1967 MKVI to a 1938 BA to a 1972 MKVI then to a 1941 Conn 10m. Each time there was a transition period, the Conn being the hardest of course. Now I seem to be able to play any of them (I still own 3) right out of the box.

It also helps a lot if the vintage horns are setup and working right for you too and they are not always that way.
 

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And the vintage saxes are more difficult to set up, often lacking the many find adjustment points that the BA (and BA style) and newer saxes have.
 
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