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Discussion Starter #1
Hi everyone,

I know that this is a matter of preference, but I was wondering what do you think in terms of sound specifically.

I think that most of the modern horns have much better ergos that the vintage ones, but it has been in my experience (preference) that many of the vintage horns have a very specific and special sound that modern horns don't have.

To mention some, some Mk VIs, Selmer Balanced Actions (from the 30s), Cigar cutter, Conn 10M Naked Lady, etc.

What is your opinion?

Best,
 

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I think some of this is post construction vs ribbed construction.Vintage altos are sweeter and richer sounding than modern horns. I like the little fatter sound of vintage tenors.
 

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"Ergos" is SUCH an overrated thing in my opinion. I play Selmer Supers (both alto and tenor). Every once in a while, someone who plays a modern ergos horn checks out my horn(s) and asks me how in the hell I manage to play on something that feels so weird to them. My simple reply is "well, your Mark VI/Yamaha Custom, etc. feels weird to me and how in the hell do you play on that thing"? Seriously, play on ANY horn with whatever kind of key layout for a certain amount of time and if you're a competent player, you'll easily be able to get around on that horn just as good as anything with "modern keywork". I'm serious. I've been playing on my Supers since 1993 and whenever I hold a "modern" horn, I can't wait to get back to my horn and feel comfortable again.
As for the sound, that's even more subjective than ergos. Ask 10 people and you'll get 10 different answers. Obviously, I'm a big fan of horns from the 30's and I do believe there's a difference in sound, but I also firmly believe it depends a LOT on the ability of the player and the style of music being played as well. No matter what my or anyone else's opinion(s) are, my advice would be for you to go with what YOU feel is right. Afterall, you're the player!
 

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A couple good responses thus far. My primary alto is a 50s Zephyr, but it needed some attention so I was playing on a Yamaha for a couple months. I have the Zephyr back but also just stumbled into a Conn New Wonder. I like all three, but the King and Conn will get the nod.

In my opinion, the Yamaha is very locked in and slots notes very well. It’s accurate and precise. The King and Conn are more flexible and the tone feels more full. That doesn’t mean they have worse intonation, they are both VERY good! I play all three with a Brilhart Tonalin that I adore and all three horns took to it very well.

I have larger hands so I like the older, less cluttered key work over modern ergos (on alto and soprano anyway). I also think there is something to the comment about post vs. ribbed construction. I think ribbed horns may dampen the vibration we feel in our hands more than posts giving the impression of a ‘bigger’ tone based on touch.
 

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"Ergos" is SUCH an overrated thing in my opinion. I play Selmer Supers (both alto and tenor). Every once in a while, someone who plays a modern ergos horn checks out my horn(s) and asks me how in the hell I manage to play on something that feels so weird to them. My simple reply is "well, your Mark VI/Yamaha Custom, etc. feels weird to me and how in the hell do you play on that thing"? Seriously, play on ANY horn with whatever kind of key layout for a certain amount of time and if you're a competent player, you'll easily be able to get around on that horn just as good as anything with "modern keywork". I'm serious. I've been playing on my Supers since 1993 and whenever I hold a "modern" horn, I can't wait to get back to my horn and feel comfortable again.
As for the sound, that's even more subjective than ergos. Ask 10 people and you'll get 10 different answers. Obviously, I'm a big fan of horns from the 30's and I do believe there's a difference in sound, but I also firmly believe it depends a LOT on the ability of the player and the style of music being played as well. No matter what my or anyone else's opinion(s) are, my advice would be for you to go with what YOU feel is right. Afterall, you're the player!
I hear you. My favorite horn is my Selmer BA Tenor from 1938 and I love its sweet and free blowing sound, however specially the master key table is horrible to play. I took it to several techs to see if they can fixe it for me and after getting ridiculous quotes I decided to leave it as is.

After many months of playing it, I got used to it and now every time that I play my Mk VI it feels awkward. Isn't it crazy?
 

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No matter what my or anyone else's opinion(s) are, my advice would be for you to go with what YOU feel is right. Afterall, you're the player!
This I agree with 100%.

But, I'm coming from the opposite direction. I owned quite a few vintage horns throughout the years and replacing them with all modern horns was the best move I ever made. Believe it or not ergonomics is very important, especially when you get older and arthritis set in, but also just having the key-work laid out properly to more natural playing position just makes it easier to play. As far as sound goes it's pretty much the same thing. All, and I mean all of the vintage horns I owned had intonation problems. One would have to manipulate something whether it be the embouchure or throat or whatever to get some notes to play in tune. That's not to say that all modern horns are pitch perfect but they are better and more consistent than the older horns. And, then there is the maintenance. Old horns need more of it. All instruments wear out, it's just a fact. If you own a horn that's been played for 80 years it's going to pretty much worn out from the time you get it. You will spend a lot of time and money on repairs. As far as modern horns not producing the wonderful lush tone that vintage horns have, I say hogwash! There are so many good brands of saxophone made today that you can match the sound of just about any vintage horn you want. My advice is, make a list of pros and cons between vintage and modern and choose what makes the most sense. Then you should try as many different brands as you can to find just what suits you.
 

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The ergonomics on older horns can vary quite a bit. I tried a bunch of vintage tenors, and in part because I have smallish hands (and came from playing clarinet) I found some of them to have too-spread keywork, particularly on the right hand. I found that the older Keilwerths (New King, Bundy Special) and Dolnet BelAir are quite comfortable for my hands. Other horns, like Kings (even though I liked their sound), were less comfortable to play.

I like the sound of vintage horns, and I think it is different than modern horns (not that I have tried a lot of modern horns). Some vintage horns have very dialed-in intonation (my Dolnet is good, as was my Buescher), while others are less so.
 

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this is an item that comes back periodically (one I have seen revived at least every few months in the many years that I have spent here!).

The saxophone was created right about at the dawn of the industrial revolution.
The postulation is very often that it was almost created perfect and that between 1930 to 1970 it reached its peak (!) , from then on ( always a postulation) it was only decline.

Mind you, even the idea of the patiently handcrafted instrument like a violin (there are doubts about those too) is a flawed one.

Saxophones at the top of their game were made in huge numbers in industrial plants. Even the famed Mark VI was totaled 200,000 pieces a number that no other later horn has yet to reach!

there are several threads with almost exactly the same title (and of course containing the same inconclusive answers). You will find many previous answers or posts anyway and since neither vintage nor “ modern” horns have changed in the meantime, they are all very relevant to this discussion. Check them out!


PLEASE read these (I look up things for the benefit of posters and sometimes I notice that hardly anyone reads the quoted threads which have been selected among many other fro their relevance). Following old threads instead of forever opening new ones is not a shame,. we have tons of data and opinions already in the archives. When you follow up an ld thread most participants will get an alert and respond. A new thread will quickly disappear from view under the weight of new ones .

LOOK

https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?246019-New-vs-Vintage-Horns
https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?40739-Modern-vs-Vintage
https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?99742-Vintage-saxes-vs-modern-saxes-and-technology
https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?6574-Vintage-vs-Modern-Soprano-Sound
https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?260937-Some-new-info-on-vintage-vs-modern
https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?238220-Modern-vs-Vintage-Ergos
https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showt...dern-Saxophones-Why-So-Different-from-Vintage
https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?323937-Vintage-tenor-vs-Modern-tenor
 

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I hear you. My favorite horn is my Selmer BA Tenor from 1938 and I love its sweet and free blowing sound, however specially the master key table is horrible to play. I took it to several techs to see if they can fixe it for me and after getting ridiculous quotes I decided to leave it as is.

After many months of playing it, I got used to it and now every time that I play my Mk VI it feels awkward. Isn't it crazy?
By master key table, do you mean the LH pinky cluster? And yes, it's definitely crazy (or is it?) after playing a certain horn, getting used to the feel of it in you hands, the resistance, etc. you get very used to it. No different than getting used to the feel/key layout and resistance of a "modern" horn.

This I agree with 100%.

But, I'm coming from the opposite direction. I owned quite a few vintage horns throughout the years and replacing them with all modern horns was the best move I ever made. Believe it or not ergonomics is very important, especially when you get older and arthritis set in, but also just having the key-work laid out properly to more natural playing position just makes it easier to play. As far as sound goes it's pretty much the same thing. All, and I mean all of the vintage horns I owned had intonation problems. One would have to manipulate something whether it be the embouchure or throat or whatever to get some notes to play in tune. That's not to say that all modern horns are pitch perfect but they are better and more consistent than the older horns. And, then there is the maintenance. Old horns need more of it. All instruments wear out, it's just a fact. If you own a horn that's been played for 80 years it's going to pretty much worn out from the time you get it. You will spend a lot of time and money on repairs. As far as modern horns not producing the wonderful lush tone that vintage horns have, I say hogwash! There are so many good brands of saxophone made today that you can match the sound of just about any vintage horn you want. My advice is, make a list of pros and cons between vintage and modern and choose what makes the most sense. Then you should try as many different brands as you can to find just what suits you.
I'm 55 and have been playing saxophone since I was about 14 or 15 (started on clarinet) and I'll just knock on wood regarding the arthritis thing. Absolutely no problems yet! I will say that not all older/vintage horns feel at all the same and sometimes have very different key layouts and how they feel. I'll use three horns I have as a prime example..... Of the three I'll mention (Selmer Super, Buescher Big B and Dick Stabile), they all feel quite different. I think the Selmers (I also have a Radio Improved alto which is basically the exact same layout) feel the best in my hands. The only real issue I have with the Big B is the placement of the RH side keys, especially the Bb. It's considerably lower placed on the horn and I really have to play it for a couple of hours before I start getting used to having to almost literally lower my right hand to play a side Bb. The LH pinky clusters are all different between the Selmers, Buescher and Dick Stable (which is a Martin stencil), but again, after playing each horn for an hour or so, it's really not an issue to me at all. The palm keys are all different as well both in placement and feel. So I guess I agree and disagree with you regarding the importance of ergonomics, simply because the older, vintage (let's say pre 1950) can feel vastly different from one another based on the manufacturer. Since the majority of modern horns are based on a Mk VI key layout, I think most of them feel very much the same with only minor differences. Regarding repair/maintenance of my horns from the 30's-mid 40's, I have to disagree with the "just wearing out" thing. It mostly depends on how well maintained the horns have been through their lives. I've seen some VI's that have had the crap beat out of them (not by normal playing) and they're 30-40 yrs younger than my horns.
Yes, I'll agree that many of the bigger name, well made horns today can certainly sound great and match the sound of a vintage horn, but to me personally, there's simply a (for lack of a better term) vibe that for me makes a difference. I can't say if it's the construction as others have mentioned here in this thread or simply my head telling me that a horn that was definitely more hand made from the 30's or 40's just has some kind of personality or character that is lacking in every newer horn I've ever played. Yeah, that's probably more of my head telling me that, but it works for me! Yes of course, try as many vintage and newer horns as you can and then make a decision.....knowing the decision might change again in a couple of years! Ahh.....the games with play with ourselves!
 

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What the vintage horns have for them is their diversity. A high proportion of the modern ones (90% ? more ?) are descendants of the Selmer Mark VI.
This diversity means that there is no such thing as a "vintage tone" (or vintage ergonomics, vintage intonation,...). "Vintage" is an artificial category: its only relevance is chronological.
I think this diversity is also why vintage horns are so fascinating: the differences between modern horns are real but subtle; on the other hand when you play a vintage horn it is a new landscape. I (respectfully) disagree with Reet McVouty (post #7) when he says "There are so many good brands of saxophone made today that you can match the sound of just about any vintage horn you want". I don't claim it is radically impossible to emulate the sound of a given vintage model with the right mouthpiece, the right reed and a lot of work but precisely... it takes a lot of work!
 

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I will add that (with the possible exception of Selmer Paris) vintage horns that the new professional horns are attempting to emulate are typically cheaper to purchase!

A lot of great music was made on these horns so ergonomics can be overcome as previously stated. Some people like new things and some people like old things. I fit into the latter category, to each their own.
 

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Personally I find it easier to manage the keywork of an old Conn, Buescher, or Martin than that of a Selmer Mark 6 or its derivatives. The main thing is the left hand little finger key layout.

I'm not convinced about sound differences, if you give a horn a few weeks' familiarization shakedown. An example of that might be my new Martin Committee Handcraft alto. When I first went to play lead alto with it, it felt like I had to work harder to get projection (same MP, of course) than with my Conn 6M. But after a few sessions I am finding that my body has adjusted to the Martin and now have no trouble getting plenty of projection and lead alto tone from it.

I think the sound is so much more in the player than the horn that I am not sure "vintage" vs. "modern" really means all that much. My thinking on this is evolving and it hasn't reached a point of stasis yet so if anyone cares you can check in with me again in 5 or 10 or 20 years and ask what I think then.
 

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This I agree with 100%.

But, I'm coming from the opposite direction. I owned quite a few vintage horns throughout the years and replacing them with all modern horns was the best move I ever made. Believe it or not ergonomics is very important, especially when you get older and arthritis set in, but also just having the key-work laid out properly to more natural playing position just makes it easier to play. As far as sound goes it's pretty much the same thing. All, and I mean all of the vintage horns I owned had intonation problems. One would have to manipulate something whether it be the embouchure or throat or whatever to get some notes to play in tune. That's not to say that all modern horns are pitch perfect but they are better and more consistent than the older horns. And, then there is the maintenance. Old horns need more of it. All instruments wear out, it's just a fact. If you own a horn that's been played for 80 years it's going to pretty much worn out from the time you get it. You will spend a lot of time and money on repairs. As far as modern horns not producing the wonderful lush tone that vintage horns have, I say hogwash! There are so many good brands of saxophone made today that you can match the sound of just about any vintage horn you want. My advice is, make a list of pros and cons between vintage and modern and choose what makes the most sense. Then you should try as many different brands as you can to find just what suits you.
I agree with all of this. Just my 2 cents . I am just a weekend warrior bar player and am not a jazz musician by any means , so take it for what it is worth. I do play gigs and have been doing so for a long time. I own both vintage and modern horns and as of late have been using mainly my modern horns on gigs. I relate vintage horns to vintage cars - when they are in prime set up condition, they are great. But many of these horns are worn and do require a lot more maintenance. You can adjust to ergos etc. by playing, but some just feel better to different people. It is hogwash that modern horns can't produce THE TONE. Tone , in my opinion, comes from Player>Mouthpiece>Reed and then the horn provided it is well set up. I am not going to get into brands of horns but there are many videos of pros playing modern horns getting great tones, because it is mainly the player.Play what YOU like and works best for YOU and forget about everyone elses opinions
 

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I'm convinced about sound differences, turf. Nothing modern I've found sounds like a 10m although I understand Borg has done that. I had a Kwth SX90r to compare to my Buescher TH&C which was bigger, broader and bolder. I'm a Martin fan, nothing sounds like my 1920 Handcraft.

But, I also like modern saxes. Had brief affairs with Yani T990, Viking and Jupiter. I'm enjoying a Buffet 400 tenor now which is a good mate to my Committee 3.

They all have some great playing qualities. Get one of each.
 

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I came from the teachings that you can learn to deal with mechanics, but not sound. That being said... my personal OPINION (as I have no facts to back this up except for assumption) is that modern design has not changed saxophone for the better.

When it comes to sound, the definition of "what is good" often is defined by modern players as "how in tune does it play with the least amount of work". My OPINION is you PLAY they saxophone in tune, not just blow air and wiggle fingers.

Scientific advancements that have come about to determine where to place tone holes, better bore, etc, I think take out some of the human effort that was previously needed to play, thus you needed more cognitive effort to play.

Again, this is all an opinion. To each their own.
 

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I think there are just obvious differences between horns. My favorite sounding sax (that I have played) is my tricked out, perfectly refurbished lacquer free Conn 16M tenor....by far. I find it much more flexible from a dynamic perspective..and I love the tone quality - very complex and rich and mellow. In time, I have figured out how to get it to consistently play in tune (finding the right mouthpiece and continuing to develop my embouchure).

On the other hand, I have smaller hands and the ergo on the Conn are a problem. I primarily play my Mark VII (which most consider to be a modern horn) because I can get it to play as fast as the conductor needs. The tone is not as rich, and dynamics are more challenging. Some things are just practical.

Please just let me have the pipe dream that one day I will find something that sounds like the Conn and has the fast finger work of the Mark VII........It is probably more fun to have the dream than it is to go figure out how to achieve it. Maybe it is possible.....but I am sure that as soon as I find the perfect horn, I will figure out its deficiencies and desire something else.

The P. Mauriat I tried out at Saxquest was the closest I have come to the Conn sound on a modern horn. Sorry, I don’t remember the model number.
 

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This is such a loaded question with so many answers that are all right! The only way to know what works best for yourself is through experience playing different horns. I've done the "buy and try" dance a lot over the last few years because I think you have to live with a horn for a little while before you can make an informed decision. The key is to find what works for you....just because it worked for Michael Brecker doesn't mean it will work for you and vice versa.
 

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On the other hand, I have smaller hands and the ergo on the Conn are a problem. I primarily play my Mark VII (which most consider to be a modern horn) because I can get it to play as fast as the conductor needs. The tone is not as rich, and dynamics are more challenging. Some things are just practical.

Please just let me have the pipe dream that one day I will find something that sounds like the Conn and has the fast finger work of the Mark VII.
I had a similar issue - I had a 10M (and a King Cleveland) where the fingering was too spread for me to play fast. The closest I have come to a Conn sound with better small-hand ergos are the vintage Keilwerths (New King and Bundy Special) and the Dolnet BelAir. They're not the same as the Conn, but the closest I have found to that combo.
 

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Hi Pablitus!
As the others said, this comes up regularly but since people have different opinions, the replies are always interesting to read. Here is my opinion:
I like listening to the older saxophones but that may be influenced by my preference for music. However, I got my paws on a modern saxophone (for the first time and it is a Selmer Series II low a bari) and, a bit disappointingly, I just sounded like myself. There were some differences but much smaller than I expected. So now I am willing to admit that I probably would have been equally happy with another brand than what I have. Having said this, all my saxophones are Martins, all lovely instruments, so I will keep them and not look for anything else.
 
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