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Peter Hales
Peter Hales

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Created: February 7, 2002
Update: May 1, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Saxophone Historian

by Peter Hales

I often am e-mailed variations of the question, "Where do you get all your information?" Here's what I do:
sax history

1. I hit my e-mail. I generally start with an e-mail from someone requesting information regarding a certain saxophone. This generally gives me a date or make and model name to start from.

2. I hit the eBay musical instrument auctions. Chances are extremely good that there will be at least one example of the horn I'm looking for here. Sometimes the eBay ad will have some information about the horn and, at the very least, I can try contacting the person that placed the ad.

3. I hit the manufacturer websites. This actually isn't the best place to go, as most vintage saxophones were produced by companies that have been purchased by other companies, have gone bankrupt, etc., but these are the best sources for "official" information.

Please note that manufacturers generally do not like answering questions about discontinued items, nor do they generally answer requests for serial number charts, etc., but it never hurts to ask.

4. I hit the dealer websites. Dealers can generally tell you more about an instrument than can the vendor, especially if you're looking for information on a vintage instrument whose manufacturer is no longer in business.

Please note that the primary function of a dealer or manufacturer is to sell horns, not to answer questions. It's more polite to send a dealer an e-mail to ask for information than to call and waste the dealer's time, especially if you have no intention of buying anything - and don't be offended if you don't get a response.

5. I hit the online forums and message boards. These generally have the best information and it is generally checked by the participants in the forum. These can be found with your favorite Internet search engine, but the biggest and best is probably our own SOTW message board.

Brief rant: make sure you check the forum's FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), check the posting rules, and do more than a cursory search before posting your question. Multiple posts about a topic that's been answered several times are annoying and may go ignored.

6. I hit the private forums ("e-groups"). These are members-only forums and generally have a good deal of verified information, but it can become stale very quickly, depending on how many members there are. These can be found through Internet search engines.

7. I hit the saxophone newsgroups. These have the greatest volume of information, but the information can be terribly suspect. Post a question or two and wait for an answer if there aren't any threads that suit your particular search.

8. I hit the search engines. I generally start with a "natural language" search engine -- that is, a search engine where you can type in a question rather than just a keyword, like Ask Jeeves -- and then go on to keyword search engines, like Hotbot or Yahoo!

9. I hit the collector and fan websites. Itís always nice to find that someone has done the legwork for you. Most fan and collector websites have a lot of information, but the information may be suspect and will probably be pro-whatever the website is about. It also doesn't hut to e-mail the webmaster and see if he has additional information, if what you're looking for isn't there. These websites can generally be found through a search engine or as a posting on a newsgroup or online forum.

10. I hit the books. There are some extremely good saxophone references:

* The New Langwill Index by William Waterhouse (originally by L. G. Langwill). This book lists most musical instrument manufacturers for the past 200 years or so. It sometimes lists model names, dates of manufacture, owner names, contact information, etc. This book is out of print and generally quite expensive (US$150 or so).

* The Saxophone Journal magazine, specifically the "Vintage Saxophones Revisited" articles by Paul Cohen. Unfortunately these articles are not (yet) indexed -- and there are almost 15 years worth of them. They do have extremely detailed information about a variety of saxophones and saxophone manufacturers, plus most information is accurate and checked with a variety of resources.

* The Saxophone Symposium magazine. This is another nice saxophone-related magazine that occasionally has vintage saxophone information.

* Check the card catalog. There are a few books on or about a few manufacturers (e.g. there are multiple books written about Conn and Evette-Schaeffer/Buffet) and, while it's doubtful your local library has these, you may be able to get them through interlibrary loan. If the local library's card catalog doesn't have an exhaustive listing, check out The Library of Congress card catalog -- and didn't you want to take a trip to Washington, D.C., anyway?

Your local library is generally not the best place to look for books. Your local major university's music library is. My local university, Arizona State University, for instance, has a music library that has the most recent version of the New Langwill Index, most of the Saxophone Journal back-issues, some Saxophone Symposium back-issues and has a fairly good interuniversity library loan system -- plus you can get a "community library" card and check out some materials.

At the very least, a local rare and used books store may be helpful and some even take requests for books and search for you.

11. I hit the ads. Vintage ads are can be found at a number of saxophone websites, eBay and through Internet searches. However, sometimes the best thing is to cozy up with back-issues of Downbeat, Jazziz, The Saxophone Journal, etc. and just browse.

12. I hit the museums. There are a few museums that specialize in musical instruments and the curator might have some information about the saxophone you want. Most of these museums have some online presence.


* Bookmark EVERYTHING on your Internet searches. Chances are very good you may need the information later, even if it doesn't exactly relate to the search you're currently conducting.

* Save copies of all e-mails sent to you and sent from you. As an example, at this point I have so many e-mails going back and forth; I occasionally forget what my original question was.

* Get an "offline browser" and use it. Offline browsers are programs that can download an entire Internet website to your hard drive. This is great if you think that the information on a particular page or website will change or go away soon.

* Back up your stuff, often. CD burners are now ridiculously inexpensive and blank CD's hover around 10 cents apiece -- plus your local computer tech's first question when you have a problem will be, "Do you have backups?"

* Take lots of notes. Plain old pen and paper will do, but a laptop computer is also nice -- especially if you have a hand-held scanner with OCR (optical character recognition), so you can scan in books when you're at the library.

* Always be as polite as possible. As a webmaster, if I get e-mails that are impolite or SHOUT AT ME, I tend to ignore them. If I get an e-mail that starts, "Dear sir, I enjoyed your website ..." I probably will answer that e-mail immediately. Remember that politeness must extend to online forums, newsgroups, etc.

* If you have a website, make sure your contact information is posted prominently. You might get bunches of unsolicited information, as well as questions. Most of the contributors to my website were unsolicited.

* Get a Hotmail or Mail.com account. If you have a website and post your e-mail address, you will get A LOT of spam. You don't want this in your private account. Hotmail and Mail.com are free services and Mail.com has a large storage capacity -- good for people who send in big pictures. Hotmail is faster, though.

* Join a local community orchestra or your church's/temple's choir or orchestra. You will start to meet some local musicians and a lot of them will have stories. Remember: it never hurts to ask.

* Get out a bit. Take a peek at your local music scene. Almost every day you can find free or inexpensive concerts or recitals to go to, especially if you live near a large college.

* Question authority. Most of my "expertise" comes from uncovering odd model saxophones that the "authorities" say donít exist. Manufacturers donít always keep accurate records and serial number charts are a guide, not a law.

Other References:

* saxpicís link library. These are my collected bookmarks from my 4 years of saxophone collecting and researching. Most are categorized. (Please note that you may need Internet Explorer to open some links.)

* SOTW Forum. This is the best saxophone forum out there. There are frequent visits and posts from nationally respected saxophone authors, manufacturers, dealers, etc. Drop on by and browse!

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