All profit supporting special needs music education and Help Musicians
SYOS

Saxophones Saxophone history-How did the demise of pre-WWII American saxophone happen?

AndyB

Member
Messages
203
I understand that the American saxophone manufacturers retooled to make war goods during WW-II. My question is how the end actually happened. Was is a clean break and they never recovered after the war or were players already changing to Selmers before the post-war period?

Also who were the first American players to change over to Selmers? Did Selmer overtake the Indiana-made saxophones overnight?

Thanks.
 

Andante cantabile

Senior Member
Messages
695
I think it had more to with changes in musical tastes and changes in entertainment patterns. For example, the big bands either became too expensive to run, or ppeople wanted to hear and make other types of music. In the mid-fifities rock'n'roll took off in a big way, and all of a sudden the aspiring American youngster was in the market for a guitar or for drums.

I don't think there was at that stage a problem with the economics of American saxophone manufacturing. The problem was rather that the market collapsed. It seems that factories closed down wholesale in Elkhart, Indiana. My understanding is that there is not one of them left in that town. My guess is that the reason for a change to Selmers can be found in the fact their good-quality instruments were still available when American interest in saxophones went through a revival. The high value of the US dollar at that time would have made a Selmer Paris instrument quite affordable.

Well, these are my views on part of your question.
 

milandro

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,483
Sure the music had changed but that , if nothing else, enhanced the role of the saxophone ( and trumpets often times together) as soloist and its visibility. the '50 saw smaller bands and the growth of the saxophone (if not as a popular instrument to play) from a side (often a section instrument) position in a big band in a central position becoming the star of the show.

Selmer came up , after WWII, with a saxophone with better and more modern ergonomics (and great sound to match) than most its American counterparts which were not quick to react introducing anything comparable for a couple of decades . The brand had already made great saxophones even before the war and many American Artists who had gone to France and taken to using Selmer saxophones and becoming familiar with them ( Jazz was already popular in France even in the '20 ). The economics of the post war European economies also favoured rapid growth and they quickly introduced after the BA the SBA and then the Mark VI..........the rest is history.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

jonf

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,680
Hmm, not so sure about this. In the 1930s Selmer was already making and selling large numbers of hihg quality saxes, and just after the war some great American saxes were still being made. I hardly think Selmer were at any sort of an advantage over US companies - France had been occupied for years and the European economy was still in a poor state. I think what really snuffed out the American sax industry was the lousy build quality which became increasingly apparent in American saxes from the 1960s on. Driven more by a near-sighted cost cutting approach than any impact of the war. By the time the Selmer MkVI had really become established, the French Selmer saxes were simply, comparatively far far better than their competitors from elsewhere in the world. It wasn't until Yamaha and Yanagisawa started making large numbers of high quality saxes that Selmer stoped having it all their own way.
 

milandro

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,483
of course many European companies were in shambles after WWI but there was a little trick called Marshall plan.......
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,804
Rain and thunder here in Sweden so I can’t sleep. Here comes my opinons about the American post WWII saxophone manufactoring. And don’t look too deep into my English. Its late or early… I don’t know what?

I think there were a lots of things that made American manufactoring less interesting for the investors. I think it was a lot about politics and money.

Selmer changed the saxophone manufactoring the day the intotrudced the Selmer SA in 1936. It was new when it came to the keyworks. It allowed the player to play faster. The sax was louder as well. There were also some other technical innovations that cut costs for manufactor and made the life of the saxtech easier. Soundwise I think the American saxes were equal or even better. King (H.N. White) made the King Zephyr Special (roughly the same sax as the Super 20), Martin made the Comm I and Comm II (searchlight), Beuscher introduced the 400 model and Conn did Artist models (Naked Lady) and 26M & 30M before USA went to war. I think all these saxes were high quality saxes?And they were also used by a large numbers of saxplayers that were heard on stages and recordings.

The music changed after WW II. Most of the big band era was over. New smaller groups made new music often with a one or two saxplayers in the bands. Louis Jordan, Jack McVea, Jimmy Liggins Orch, Tiny Grimes, Lion Hampton Orch … and the saxplayers also began to do recordings under thier own names: Jay McNeely, Red Prysock, Willis Jackson, Al Sears ….. . Most of these players were on American brands. I like these saxmen and I think they played pretty well on saxes with ”bad intonaton and ergonomics”?!?!? BTW, who established that??? It also became possible to record and play music louder. The radiostations and the DJ’s were important for the music. You listened to music outside your home. In the cars, on the cafés, arenas ….. . Loud and more uptempo was the thing!

I think there were nothing wrong with the saxes (top of the line models) and they were used by the stars of that time. The saxplayers had a big impact on the young Americans in the late 40’s and 50’s. The saxophone was the major instrumnet to early rock’n’ roll/R/B and also in the jazzfield.

After WWII life in America changed. USA and some other contries did pretty well during the war. They didn’t suffer so muched when it came to bombed out towns, lack of food …. Of course the lost of a huge number of people was bad, but they could start over again without so much work because the countries were more or less intact. America stood strong. They built cars and airplanes and they also established the American way of life; music, TV, fast food, travel around …. . The Americans became brandholders more than producers. They put in more efforts in selling thier products instead of manufactoring them. They had new manufactoring methods as well but not when it came to saxes. I’m sure the Americans were able to do a sax that could compete to Selmers but why should they? They could import Selmers (to the right price) and assemble them in Elkhart by Selmer USA. I think they earned more money this way comparing to construct and manufactory saxes. Saxophone manyfactoring is labour intensive and was (still is?) dirty work. The investors didn’t care if they were manufactoring or just selling saxes. They wanted to earn money. Beside, saxophone manufactoring was perhaps also exposed for damages caused by bad work enviroment? I think the situation is not unlike the todays outsourching to Tawain and China. In the late 40’s there were also a strike at Conn factory in Elkahart. I guess they were underpaid comparded to the car workers up in Flint, MI or airplanine buliders in Seattle or Los Angles?

The Americans did good saxes after WWII but Selmer sat the standard for how a sax should sound. And it should be easy to own as well. Selmer MKVI was better and more equal when it came to intonation and quality compared to the American saxes. The professioal saxplayers liked the Selmer MKVI beacause they fitted in most situations. The music industry had moved in to the studios and to be effecient in the studios was important to cut costs. It was expensive to be in the studios. No struggling with saxes!! The Selmer MkVI owner had a sax that cut hours at the techs as well. The were easy to work on comparing to Kings, Beuschers and Martins. It was also possible for the sessionmen to have Selmer saxes from soprano to baritone and they played in the same style. Selmer was also a company with lots innovations. Low a baritone, high F# keys …. was available. The Marchall Plan also made it possible to get good quailty saxes from Europe to the right price. Most of the Marschall plan was aid but it was also loans.

But we should keep in mind that the American saxes were good saxes even if they were in shadow of the Selmer Mk VI.

King Super 20 was/is a strong sax. The early Super 20’s was spectactular saxes. Big sound and interseting details. Even the King Super 20’s from the early 60’s to mid 70’s were very good. I think King had a collabration with SML during this era. In the 70’s the rumour says Yanagisawa did the body of the Super 20? And the late Super 20’s were ????

”The Martin” saxes, Elkhart kept on the the same construction and models to the bitter end c 67-68. Good saxes.

Beuschers also did good saxes in the 60’s.

Conn moved out from Elkhart in the early 60’s and became a big producer of student saxes.

Both Conn and Beusher kept a small production ”line” in Elkhart for special orders and they made high quality saxes there.

Now the rain and thunder is over. Back to bed.

Thomas
 

Andante cantabile

Senior Member
Messages
695
Thomas, that was a great post. I wish I had written that.

I still wonder, though, what made the American saxophone producers give in so easily. It is not at all like the competitive behaviour of US companies. After all, quite a bit of employment was destroyed in a single town. I can't help but feeling that the main producers saw a very limited future for the industry by the late 1950s, and that they decided that further investments would not be worth the effort. Maybe the industry had not been profitable for some time.

The big bands were on their way out. Dance bands folded by the hundreds. Ensembles like the Weintraubs were a thing of the past (I am sure that you will have seen a picture of them standing there in their white suits starting with the bass saxophone on the left and ending with the soprano on the right). Saxophones of course remained part of American music, but they weren't anywhere near as prominent as they had been.

I agree with the view that on the face of it US producers at that time had little to fear from foreign makers. Of course, Selmer had a following with various models before the Mark VI turned up, and before American players made the Mark VI their own. Some US saxophones obviously weren't worth having, but when you read the for-sale notices now you can see that many owners think very highly of their instruments.

I take it that the references to the Marshall Plan are jocular. France of course received some of it, but it is worth pointing out that although France had been exploited during the war and that it was exhausted in 1945, it had not suffered anything like the destruction that other European countries experienced. Additionally, there was a plentiful supply of brass after the war. All these ammunition casings were ready to be recycled.
 

milandro

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,483
Really? France received from the Marshall plan (between 1948 to 1951) a total of 2296 million $ while, to put things in perspective, Germany, a country not much smaller than France (it had been divided otherwise would have been bigger) but on the wrong side of the war received 1448 million and yes, Germany was in much worse shape than France.........incidentally, the UK, which was in bad shape too, received 3297 million $.
Italy (also until 1943 on the wrong side) received nearly as much as the Netherlands ...... with the exception that the population and size of the Netherlands was much much smaller (The Netherlands was the country which pro capite has benefited the most of the Marshall plan)
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Andante cantabile

Senior Member
Messages
695
Really? France received from the Marshall plan (between 1948 to 1951) a total of 2296 million $ while, to put things in perspective, Germany, a country not much smaller than France (it had been divided otherwise would have been bigger) but on the wrong side of the war received 1448 million and yes, Germany was in much worse shape than France.........incidentally, the UK, which was in bad shape too, received 3297 million $.
Italy (also until 1943 on the wrong side) received nearly as much as the Netherlands ...... with the exception that the population and size of the Netherlands was much much smaller (The Netherlands was the country which pro capite has benefited the most of the Marshall plan)
Would you be able, for the benefit of those who joined in late, explain more carefully the relationship between the demise of the American saxophone industry, the success of Selmer in the United States and the Marshall Plan?
 

Morgan Fry

Senior Member
Messages
447
About the same time as the war a couple of things happened -- the musicians' strike and the Balanced Action. No union musicians recorded from 42 to 44, but singers still could. Pop hits before this period were largely instrumental, after this period, almost entirely vocal. When the instrumentation of country music supplanted that of jazz in pop music the market got much smaller. Not just that there were fewer gigs, there were fewer amateurs buying saxophones. The surplus capacity had to shrink somehow and it's no surprise that the companies making ergonomically dated designs on pre-war tooling couldn't compete with Selmer. Keep in mind also that we're talking about brass instrument makers (Conn, King, Martin), saxes were a small part of their business at this point. Developing and retooling for a professional sax for a small and shrinking market just looked like bad business.
 

milandro

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,483
I have no proof of a direct link between the Marshall plan and the relative flourishing of the French musical instruments industry at the moment of the relative beginning of the loss of importance of the American musical instruments industry (and particularly of the saxophone) after WWII .

What seems to me probable is that the injection of funds by the Marshall plan could have been among the decisive factors ( another was the cheaper labour cost) responsible to have been fuelling the developments of new and innovative products while in America innovation wasn't been carried out at the same speed as in Europe or at all.

Of course America was at the time , and still is, a giant in industrial terms but the gap between the continents was certainly wider before the war than after the war and taking into account that in different degrees all the European participants to the conflict were facing a reconstruction of their cities but also of their industrial structure (which in the USA was perhaps negatively influenced but not annihilated as it was in other European countries) , the only factor that could have reasonably been the engine of this industrial forward march of the European industry in general and the music industry in particular, in my hypothesis, must have been the Marshall plan.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

jonf

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,680
I still wonder, though, what made the American saxophone producers give in so easily.
I don't think they gave in at all. I think they tried hard, very hard. Very hard to make a big profit, rather than make decent horns, that is. As a result, they cheapened manufacturing and ruined their market presence and reputation. I don't think the poorer American horns which came out in the 1960s was a symptom of the collapse of the industry - I think they represent what caused it. In the room where I'm sitting I have three 1920s saxes from Buescher and Conn, and a 1970 Buescher Aristocrat and a Selmer Bundy. The difference in quality is simply staggering. The latter are of a lower quality than the unbranded super cheapo Chinese soprano I also have, which cost me sixty quid new.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
I don't think they gave in at all. I think they tried hard, very hard. Very hard to make a big profit, rather than make decent horns, that is. As a result, they cheapened manufacturing and ruined their market presence and reputation. I don't think the poorer American horns which came out in the 1960s was a symptom of the collapse of the industry - I think they represent what caused it. In the room where I'm sitting I have three 1920s saxes from Buescher and Conn, and a 1970 Buescher Aristocrat and a Selmer Bundy. The difference in quality is simply staggering. The latter are of a lower quality than the unbranded super cheapo Chinese soprano I also have, which cost me sixty quid new.
Tend to agree with you. I've a Buescher 20A, 30xxx serial number, much maligned on SOTW (why, I don't know) cos it's a 'student' horn. But it's much better quality than the 2 cheap chinese altos I've seen/had. Plays better as well, despite years of abuse.
 

AndyB

Member
Messages
203
I wouldn't let the abundant criticism on Sociopaths On The Web bring you down, Kev. I have a friend who has a background as an archeologist who gave me an interesting hypothesis of why we find some old horns so great. When I explained saxophone history a bit to him, he was of the opinion that there would have been far more variability in the greater numbers of older horns produced. And of those, a few were far above average quality. He proposes that people preserved these "star" horns over the years while the substandard horns ended up being melted down. So mostly only the stars from the batches of old horns remain in use today. Sounded as good as any explanation I've heard.
 

milandro

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,483
I didn't know I was classable a " sociopath......" but perhaps that was meant in a nice cuddly way! ..........sort of!
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,804
In the 50’s the American saxophone manufacturors lost export to foreign countries because the $ was high. Increasing production costs in USA and high rate on the U.S dollar resulted in high prices for the foreign consumers. Beside that, the two biggest manufacturors, Conn and Beuscher, made simpler and lower quality (?) saxes compared to the pre WWII saxes.

The European dealers that had been selling American saxes before, chose Selmer, Buffet, SML, Dolnet and other French saxes/stencils. Also stencils from Italy and West-Germany were popular in the 50’s. Good/decent saxes for less money.

And when the Japanese began to sell good saxes in the 70’s some of the European manufacturors closed down. And when Taiwan saxes were ready to concor the market some manufacturors finally closed down or outsourched thier production to Taiwan. And then China …. .
 

jeremyjuicewah

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,890
Obviously there are many exceptions but having worked with American pricipals in the past I think that historically the US domestic market was so huge that selling to the rest of the world was little more than a diverting pastime. Is it possible that American saxes did well in America but not so many found their way out?
 
Saxholder Pro
Help!Mailing List
Top Bottom