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Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2014
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Discussion Starter #1
Last week, I decided to give my old 1923 New Wonder Alto a little tlc. Ended up polishing the horn, re-oiling the action, and checking all of the bumper material to make sure that the timing was working as it should. Other than a sticky g# pad that was cleaned, and its spring that needed a little tension to be added, the horn was in great shape. I haven't played it much in 4 years, since I had my YAS-21 rebuilt and made that my primary alto. I did this mostly for ergonomic reasons as jumping between modern SA-80 based ergos to an old Conn New Wonder can be quite jarring on a gig. The Yamaha serves me very well, and I can't say enough good things. However, testing the Conn again led me to several conclusions about the New Wonder Alto.

Pros:

-This horn cuts! It's pretty congruent with the Yamaha, Selmer Serie III, and later Mark VI. They're bright horns. For me, that's very much a plus.

-The action is ridiculously fast. The first series of New Wonder gets a bad rap of its keywork being an afterthought. Some of that is justified. The keywork does look sloppier than its Series II (Chuberry) counterpart. The metal is softer than the latter horns as well. However, from a practicality standpoint, this has never been an issue for me. I've had the sax for 17 years, and it has held up very well. Meaning that the soft keywork doesn't seem to wear down or come out of alignment quickly. Back to the original point, this setup is fast. The stack keys really aren't too dissimilar from a Selmer Balanced Action. The left hand pinky cluster takes a moment to get used to, but I actually prefer this setup to the latter M series. It takes everything that I can throw at it.

-Each note has its own personality. Up and down the scale, there are cool little nuisances in tone. Lots of character everywhere.

-Altissimo is a breeze. Though not quite as easy as my Yamaha, the horn jumps to where I want it to on command.

Cons:

-Tuning. The highs will want to go sharper as the lows want to go flatter. Neither goes ridiculously out of bounds, but it's something that I certainly noticed. To be fair, given a little more time re-aquainting myself with this horn would probably iron that out. The micro-tuner was also set to accommodate a Link STM 6* vs the Phil Barone 7* that I was using. The micro-tuner does add another variable to this equation, and I could have probably dialed in the tuning a bit more for this particular mouthpiece. Maybe a new neck cork would be the answer as the piece slid on a bit more easily than I would prefer. The mouthpiece is supposed to touch the microtuner, but if the cork is too compressed to accommodate the mouthpiece, a leak can occur. Yes, this can have an impact on tuning.

- Ergos. While being fast, the keyboard and thumb hook leads the horn to be placed in a very erect and upright position. While totally playable, this leads the horn to feel very... foreign on the short term. Once you get used to it, switching to a modern horn will feel equally strange.

-Each note has its own personality. Yes, I listed this as a pro, but it is also a con. Certain notes "crackle" in a good way. Other notes, particularly G2 to E2 sound muted in comparison. It's like hearing everything clearly, then there's a change in air pressure, and you're listening to the horn with a set of ears that need to pop. It's a small gripe, but something that I've noticed from playing this horn for years. No amount of voicing seems to change this either, and is one thing that I love about the Yamaha. The Yami is even throughout its entire range.

-The look of the keywork. My alto looks cleaner than others I've seen, but there's still a sloppy look to the manufactured keywork. It doesn't hurt the playability of the horn, but in a world of Yanagisawa, and Yamaha, I've become picky on how my keywork looks.

-Low B. My horn is a recovering "moterboater". Though I solved my problem by installing a baffle into the bow, it's still worth noting that the issue is common with a good many New Wonder altos.

So, the end verdict? This is a very confident sounding horn that can play in even the loudest of settings. Despite its age, the horn doesn't sound "old". Quite the contrary. It sounds just as comfortable in modern rock, pop, or funk, as it does with 1920's Dixieland jazz. Play a ballad, or rock out some John Zorn, these horns can do it. In my opinion, they're still a great economical professional horn, if you find one in good condition, and I'll certainly be pulling mine out more often.

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-The look of the keywork. My alto looks cleaner than others I've seen, but there's still a sloppy look to the manufactured keywork. It doesn't hurt the playability of the horn, but in a world of Yanagisawa, and Yamaha, I've become picky on how my keywork looks.
Yeah, all my main horns are Conns, but I admit the keywork is a bit "string and sealing wax". Martins, for example, look much more like a piece of fine machinery. It doesn't hinder the way the Conns play, either sonically or technically, but it doesn't have that refined look. Conn was kind of the Chevy of saxes in their day: some innovative designs, always functional and reliable, but nothing fancy in the execution.
 

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Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2014
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4,901 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
Which is absolutely amazing when you see what Buescher was churning out in the 20's. Conn finally got it together during the NW II era, but I always found it interesting that they didn't really care about their keywork up until then. The Chevy comparison is certainly appropriate.
 
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