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Saxophones Martin tenors


Well-Known Member
I was at a sax group the other day and one of the tenors had the most glorious tone. Because of the look of the instrument, I assumed it was a Mauriat with an antique finish, but I spoke briefly with its owner and found out it was a Martin, and the antique effect was genuine! Not having paid much attention to this brand before, I am suddenly intrigued. I have no idea what model it was or how old, but it did appear to be quite a small bore/bell and it produced a lovely mellow, smooth noise with a not very experienced player.

I would like to know a bit more about these instruments - I know we have a few Martin devotees on the forum, and a potted history would be very welcome reading.


Stephen Howard

Well-Known Member
The best-sounding tenor I've ever played was a Martin. Belonged to a guy who played in a band called Aswad.
Great, huge sound...but the action was rather clunky, as is often the case with vintage horns.

I owned a Martin Handcraft baritone for some years. Many people touted the Conn Crossbar as the vintage bari of choice, or the Selmer MKVI...but the Handcraft was louder, richer and more expressive than either of these popular brands...and it kicked my old Buescher into a corner.



Well-Known Member
I have some Martin saxes that I try to keep in good playing condition. Great saxes but it has it’s advantages and disadvanteges like all saxes. I will give you my own reflections about the Martin saxes I own and play:

• Tone: Good over the whole range but the low tones are outstanding. Also richer overtones. The body is a medium (King and Conn has bigger bore) bore. Some ”clever guys” I use to speak saxes with says that the sound/tone of a saxophone is determinant by the taper/bore and the toneholes placement on the body. Of course, the neck and mouthpiece is also important to the sound. Between the toneholes geometries are established and that decide the sound of the sax. Also how the toneholes are made or fasten to the body make a difference. So the Martin has a special sound compared to other saxes. Good or bad, you have to dedide that yourself.
• Easy to find moutpieces: From old mpc’s to new, the Martin saxes are tolerant. But a moutpiece with big chamber (area) are hard for me to use on a Martin sax. The low tones are just fine but the uper tones are not that good. A medium chamber mpc with a baffle, that controlle the airflow, is the best for me.
• Neck: The necks on Committee I, Committe II and Committee III are among the best that ever been produced. I think Martin company put in a lot of efforts to make a good crook. All Martin saxes has matching serialnumber on the neck and body.
• Thick wall: Martin is a thick wall sax. The neck and body are thicker than most other saxes. Makes the sax sturdy and not fragile like other saxes. The thick wall has less to do with the sound.
• Softsoldered toneholes: Martin company garantee 50 years warranty on the toneholes!! The method was expensive but every Martin (Elkhart) sax were built like that. The softsoldered toneholes also gave us a differnt angles because of the shape. This also makes a differnt tone. The softsoldered toneholes also gave us broader rims, compared to drawn toneholes, which spare the pads.
• Keys: The keys on some Committee I and II are solid nickelsilver. They don’t get so easy bent and also less corrosion. Good funtion and spare the pads as well.
• Thin pads: A Martin sax should have thin pads and the keycups/pads should also be sat low. This makes fast action.
• Adjustable RH thumbrest: Most Martin saxes (from late 30’s to the end of the production) has adjustable thumbrest (high or low).
• Rocksax: The best sax for blues, Rock & Roll, oldtime R&B …. . Perfect for the two horn section. Tenor - trumpet or alto - flugelhorn! The voice of a Martin blends well with the electric guitar.

• Ergonomics: Like most other old saxes the ergonomis are worse compared to a contempory (Selmer std) sax. The prewar (Big Band era) saxes were designed for players that use to sit and play. So to stand up and play on a Comm I and II is not good for my back/body even if I’m using a shoulder strap or harness. I’m playing in a bent position. The Martins are better when it comes to this.
• Lacquer: Not good on Martins. If you care about this you should have your Martin re-lacquered or choice another brand. The plating on Martins are good.
• Octave key on The Martin: The tight and neckjoint construction on The Martin can make damage on the octave key. Easy to use to much power when you put on and take of the crook.
• The LH cluster: Hard to get a smooth action when you are playing on the low tones. And since they are so nice on a Martin, you want to use these tones often!!
• Softsoldered toneholes: Selective Galvanic Corrosion. So far I’ve been lucky. No leaks on my Martins. But selective galvanic corrosion is more or less on all Martins!
• Replacement cases: Just a few that fit a Martin proberly and gives good protection. Hiscox is the best case for Martin alto and tenor saxes. I just bought my first Hiscox thanks to Griff.!!
• Social: To play in a saxsection with Selmers, Yaha’s, Yani’s is not easy with a Martin sax with a less mainstream setup. You often get comments like: ”You’re out of tune”, ”What tone are you playing in that bar?”, ”Sounds odd, is this really right?”. But I think it was even harder when I played a King Super 20 with Berg Larsen 110/0 or 1 metal mpc. So if you want to be a guy in saxsection and you hold on to your Martin sax, leave your reeds at home. Don’t play!! I played in tune (not worse than the other guys) but the colour of my tone was differnt. Another question the clever boys had to straighten out for me. The difference between the tone heights and the tone colour? If you understand what I mean?!?!?!

My favourite Martin is a 128XXX -38 Committee I tenor. No laquer , less than 10% remains, with solid nickelsilver keys. I bought that horn from Bob Ackermann, NJ, and it was overhauled and ready to play when I got it 1996. I don’t know which repairshop that did the overhaul but they did a very good job. Very good pads, ResoTech sterling silver resonators and correct keyheights. Just one probleme so far. The B3 became sharp the other year. I small piece of cork had fall off so the ”C/Bis keys” was open to much. Easy to glue on a new piece.



Well-Known Member
Thomas - thanks. I hope to come across this guy again and find out more about his horn. For sure, it did have the most glorious low tones and a noticeably different "tone colour", as you describe. And the laquer was in a poor state, but hey, people pay extra to buy a brand new sax that looks like that.....


Honored SOTW Ambassador
It is my opinion that the Martin's have wonderful ergos as vintage 1930's through 1950's horns go. The Martin Committee models in particular can hold their own against any horn out there. Granted, if you are weaned on the post Selmer SBA and MKVI style keywork found on todays horns, you will need some adjustment time. The long springs on these make the key action smooth and fast.

Another advantage I would add to the list with Martins is their effortless altisimo, the best of any horn I have ever played.

I own examples of just about every major vintage horn made, and choose The Martin Committees for my go to tenor and baritone. I love them that much.
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