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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have a young man here who is going to start playing the sax in the fall. I found a sweet-sounding 1950s Elkhart Alto with awesome intonation that seemed perfect for him...then I started thinking.

If my son starts on a vintage horn with vintage ergos, is he going to be challenged later on if he swtiches to something like a YAS-23 or Jupiter? Is it better to start him with a modern ergo? I have a Chinese copy of a Yani A991 that he's tried...seems OK on both...ideas?

Thanks!
 

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I don't know. I started on a Conn New Wonder alto, then went on to a Martin Committee tenor, then an original Balance Action tenor before playing Mk VI tenors and altos.

I didn't have any terrible problems switching. The offset right hand is sometimes great and at other times not. But overall the great horns played great and the not-so-greats played not so great.

Having an in-tune horn sounds like a good idea. I struggled with my Mk VI alto through two years of college not realizing that the horn might be as much as issue as my chops. That horn was pretty squirrely, but I didn't know at them time.

I think the biggest change from say a Conn to a Selmer is getting used to the added resistance. Not always the case, but it seemed that way to me.

Your kid is going have a better tone on that Buescher than on a YAS 23!
 

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Is it a 20A, Elkhart by Buescher? If so, I think they have really good key layouts with light fast action. Its true that more modern horns have lighter pinky keys, but its only noticable when you first start and have no strength in those fingers. Its probably better for him to stick with one or the other till he builds the muscles and strength, and the posture and position. Now my old Conn has a pretty stiff pinky table. I hated it when I first started, especially after I picked up my peers' newer horns. But after a couple years, I didn't really even notice it in comparison.
 

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I believe the left hand little finger key layout on Bueschers, Martins, and Conns (as well as Selmers prior to the Balanced Action) is actually more consistent with the way fingers actually work. Obviously, generations of players have disagreed with me, but I find the Selmer style keys (which is every current production sax) to "fall away" from my fingers as I try to depress them, and the tilting low Bb is just an abomination. Again, I obviously am in the minority among saxophonists.

Don't forget that from the 1850s until 1936, every saxophone player on earth played a sax with the "old style" keywork. Virtuosi such as:

Sigurd Rascher
Jimmy Dorsey
Rudy Weidoeft
Bud Freeman
Dexter Gordon
Charlie Parker
Zoot Sims
Al Cohn
H. Benne Henton
Johnny Hodges
Harry Carney
Gerry Mulligan
Art Pepper
Chu Berry
Lester Young

and many many others had no problem at all coping with the ergonomics of these instruments.
 

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One important thought about the pinky table: The low C# is often very stiff and heavy on older horns because of the articulated G# mechanism. Low B and low Bb are no fun either, but low C# is often the killer on old Buescher and Bundy horns.

That articulated G# is useful from time to time, but not a good tradeoff for the heavy C#, B and Bb.

I throw caution to the wind and cut off the articulation arm with a jeweler's saw or torch.

Yes, I do miss it now and then, but not often.
 
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Ideas?

I started on flute at 11 then at 17 I was hand a Buescher 1936 cause my brothers band members could not hear the flute when I jammed with them.

Guitarist pulled the Alto Aristocrat out of his car boot and said, "hear play this"

So glad that event happened.

At that time I didn't know anything about vintage or modern horns.

It was a sax, how cool!

It shaped my life and still does.

Just play ya boy lots of Bird & Dexter, all the rest will take care of itself! ;->
 

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I have a young man here who is going to start playing the sax in the fall. I found a sweet-sounding 1950s Elkhart Alto with awesome intonation that seemed perfect for him...then I started thinking.

If my son starts on a vintage horn with vintage ergos, is he going to be challenged later on if he swtiches to something like a YAS-23 or Jupiter?
No.

Is it better to start him with a modern ergo?
No.

FWIW, a young man (teens) sat in with my big band for a rehearsal a couple months ago. He plays a Conn alto with opposing keys on the bell. He has an unparalleled passion for the horn, and is going to be exciting to watch as he matures as a musician. He loves the tone from his horn, and is an active listener. It was a joy to have him in the section for an evening. For him, it is evident that playing a vintage horn is part of his experience.
 

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One important thought about the pinky table: The low C# is often very stiff and heavy on older horns because of the articulated G# mechanism......That articulated G# is useful from time to time, but not a good tradeoff for the heavy C#, B and Bb.
It can be tricky to get the springs balanced and remove free motion. SML had the perfect solution with articulation tabs on the G# that can be moved to engage/disengage the C# or B.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Wow thanks for all the info...it is an Elkhart 20A. He is of course in love with it because it's old and I bought it specifically for him. I played Stardust on it and I had a hard time putting it down.

With the left hand pinky - I've kind of gone back and forth on that myself. New horns seem to have it set up like they're on a similar plane as the other left hand keys. Another Buescher I had...it was perpendicular to the keys - so it was more like pushing down on a typewriter key -- maybe you need that due to the resistance?

One more thing. He's got a mild physical disability -- has a hard time with balance and carrying stuff over distance. He has been playing trombone, and we actually had two for him -- one at home and the other at school so he doesn't need to carry it back and forth. So I'm assuming both should be vintage or both modern - but not one of each?
 

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Wow thanks for all the info...it is an Elkhart 20A.

One more thing. He's got a mild physical disability -- has a hard time with balance and carrying stuff over distance. He has been playing trombone, and we actually had two for him -- one at home and the other at school so he doesn't need to carry it back and forth. So I'm assuming both should be vintage or both modern - but not one of each?
Sounds like,the perfect opportunity to pick up another vintage horn. Maybe even another 20a. Mines not for sale btw ;)
 

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I started on a Conn NW I stencil, and having gone back and forth, find I prefer the vintage tables in general. The difficult transition from C# to Bb and back is often easier on the very old horns: Martin Handcrafts, Conn NW II, Buescher TruTone. I don't like the more modern Buescher horn G# table - as on the 400 - that high pitch does feel like a typewriter and works against a compact, relaxed hand for me. I say go vintage, especially if he already loves the horn. If weight is an issue, older Zephyrs are lighter than Martins and some Bueschers by a bit, and great players.
 

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It can be tricky to get the springs balanced and remove free motion. SML had the perfect solution with articulation tabs on the G# that can be moved to engage/disengage the C# or B.
That's a great feature I've seen on several horns made in France. (We're getting off topic here.)

And yes, I find I need to rebalance the springs. But it works OK if you have the patience.

Overall, I see that people think starting on a vintage horn is ok. I can tell a story that relates to this: My long time buddy used to buy and repad horns to supplement his income. (Lifelong professional musician with no day job.) He once sold an H and A Selmer Bundy to a 12 year old girl, who upon trying the horn loved it. She said it has a good tone unlike the school's Yamaha she's been playing. So she started on a modern horn and chose a vintage horn to replace it. (My friend noted that she was quite gifted.)

Perhaps whatever horn inspires the most should be the choice.
 

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I find my old Martins to be more ergonomic than the Yamaha 23 I started on.

Ergonomics is, by definition, as dependent on the user as it is on the piece of equipment. If it works for him there's no need to change. If you're going to buy a second one for transportation reasons, go with another old one. No sense in introducing an un-needed variable. As mentioned before, there was a time when every sax player started on "vintage" horns.

He is of course in love with it because it's old and I bought it specifically for him.
And that's what matters most of all. If he likes the instrument that much, it doesn't have any shortcomings significant enough to worry about.
 

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On alto I find ergonomics to be a non-issue because it's a relatively small and light instrument. On tenor there's definitely a much greater spread of feel from vintage American saxes to modern, and on bari ergonomics can be make or break (I physically could not play a grassi because my right wrist could not bend sufficiently - Martin and Yamaha baris are no problem).

Since we're talking alto I feel that ergonomics are not the issue - how the horn plays is the issue. I'd much rather have a 1950s (or 1920s) alto that is well built and well setup with no leaks than a new selmer clone that has slop in the rods and point screws, uneven tone holes and leaks and goes out of adjustment if you look at it wrong.
 

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I'm one of those that does prefer the modern ergonomics. That being said, I have no problem playing vintage horns from the 40s onward. and switching back-and-forth is really not a big problem.
 

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Again, I obviously am in the minority among saxophonists.
I tend to agree with you. :bluewink:
Don't forget that from the 1850s until 1936, every saxophone player on earth played a sax with the "old style" keywork. Virtuosi such as:

Sigurd Rascher
Jimmy Dorsey
Rudy Weidoeft
Bud Freeman
Dexter Gordon
Charlie Parker
Zoot Sims
Al Cohn
H. Benne Henton
Johnny Hodges
Harry Carney
Gerry Mulligan
Art Pepper
Chu Berry
Lester Young

and many many others had no problem at all coping with the ergonomics of these instruments.
Certainly they played on them....they had no choice before 1935.
But, as many on your list later played on the modern system, the modern system clearly was preferable to them.

Also, ask yourself the question "Why is the Selmer system now universally used"?
 

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Not sure if this young man will have to attend school bands, but I've seen stories here on SOTW that some US music directors don't appreciate vintage horns for that.

Otherwise I would let him play the horn with the best sound and tuning, since differences in ergonomics are normally not a big issue for alto's.
 

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I started on the vintage layout myself. Wasn't really seeking modern until I began playing passages that required extensive use the pinky keys! While many classic players proved vintage to be effective, for me, when I went modern, everything just improved and got better! The right tool for me was modern ergos. Love the tone of my 1926 soprano, but seriously considering drastic mods to make it more comfortable to play too!
 

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if you find a vintage horn he likes, nothing wrong with getting another, resale value will be good on the bueschers since they're sought after and out of production anyway.
 
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