All profit supporting special needs music education and Help Musicians
SYOS

Saxophones Sentimentality vs value: Refurbishing a Holton alto sax family heirloom

Messages
34
I have this Frank Holton silver plated alto saxophone (ser# 22243) that has been in the family since at least 1931 (which was the date of the picture my grandfather was playing it in the municipal band). He once told me he had purchased it new. It was passed down to my mother who learned on and played it in the late 40's and early 50's. In 1971 it was my turn to start learning an instrument. I was given the option of violin or saxophone (I guess you can figure out which one I decided on!) The thing is, by the time I had gotten to it, it was looking pretty rough. The pads were pretty shot and the whole saxophone looked like it was made of grimy lead. Our local music store had a tech that replaced the pads that were totally ruined but left the ones that were merely old. Grandpa got some silver polish out and got about 50% of the grime off. That was what I learned on. I changed to bari-sax in 8th grade and the alto went back into it's case.

Fastfoward 37 years later: I was rumaging through the storage area and found that old alto
of mine! As sometimes happens, I got a "wild hair" and decided to clean it up! The pads were all old and brittle and the cork was disintegrating but I tried a mouthpiece on it and it still played! I decided then and there that I was going to fix it up and get it into playing condition, not because it was a valuable horn (it isn't) or rare (it's not) but because it was our saxophone! My mother is now in her mid 70's and I just turned 50. My son missed out on getting to learn on the Holton partly due to my playing sax beyond high school and wanting him to play on a modern sax. Also, the expense of fixing up the Holton was going to be more than I wanted to spend at that time.

Now? I guess I'm having a bit of a nostalgic "thing." I kinda want to see that little alto shined up with new pads and set up properly! It'll never be worth the money I'm sinking into it but I think that it'll be worth it to me! To that end, I had my tech take it all apart and give me the sax (after dipping) to clean and polish. I was surprised! She cleaned up rather nicely! She's now in my tech's hands and I should have her back in a week or so. I'll take a pic or two when I get her back. They say you never forget your first love. Well, you never forget your first sax either! ;}
 

llamedos

Senior Member
Messages
431
Good on you, Steve! That's a real heart-warming story and I for one wish you every success with such a noble project. Some things are worth a lot more than money.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
There's a lot of life left in these old saxes. Fully agree, it's not a money issue... And many of them have a very special voice..... I've a couple of old saxes, ones in playing condition, but needs repadding, 3 are in the process of being done. And it's amazing how well old silver plate shines up with a bit of tlc...

Have fun on it!
 

jonf

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,680
You're quite right to restore it. Sentimentality is a value, and one that's a very core human attribute. Good for you. For much the same reason I'll never sell my first sax, a frankly rather poor 1970s Buescher Aristocrat. I had it repadded a few years ago, at a cost which probably outstripped the total value of the sax, just because it was my first sax. But, just because it is dear to me, it justified the cost of the repad.

Show us some pics of the restored sax when it's done.

Jon
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
8,000
My hobby/profession is restoring vintage saxophones. There is not a lot of money in it because of the enormous amount of time involved to do it to perfection, but I get a great deal of pleasure giving a new life to the great old instruments of the past. They should be bringing musical enjoyment to someone like they did when they were new rather than sitting tarnished and broken in a case in someone's attic or basement. Below is a Buescher True Tone that I recently sold on eBay. I have an affinity for silver instruments and have restored several. I would be happy to share some of my tips and techniques if anyone is interested.

 

jonf

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,680
Looks a lot nicer than my True Tone. Lovely. Great saxes as well. Don't know about in the US, but here I think they're the most undervalued vintage sax. Lovely tone.
 

Sunray

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,708
My hobby/profession is restoring vintage saxophones. There is not a lot of money in it because of the enormous amount of time involved to do it to perfection, but I get a great deal of pleasure giving a new life to the great old instruments of the past. They should be bringing musical enjoyment to someone like they did when they were new rather than sitting tarnished and broken in a case in someone's attic or basement. Below is a Buescher True Tone that I recently sold on eBay. I have an affinity for silver instruments and have restored several. I would be happy to share some of my tips and techniques if anyone is interested.

Hey Hey Jbt ...

Smashing Job ... :thumb:

It really looks great now ... :clapping:

-------

I have my brothers Dearman Alto which I would really like to restore [See here for photo's]

I have never worked on an instrument - Although I am very good with my head and hands ... [There are a few jokes here I am sure] ... ;}

The awkward part for me is replacing damaged Rod [Hinge] and Point [Pivot] screws ...

I have no idea how to source [or measure] the replacement parts - so I am not to keen to remove the existing ones - meaning I can't thoroughly strip the instrument to clean and renovate it. [New pads springs etc]

I have Stephens excellent Saxophone Manual and I would be happy to take on this project - but for the points I have highlighted ...

Do you have any Hints or Tips which may help me overcome those pesky threaded rods/screws? :shrug:

Main problems are stripped heads [where someone has tried to remove them without easing them first] and possible damage to the threads due to age/corrosion.
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
8,000
Whew that's a tall order. I'll help as much as I can. There is a lot of detail involved in what you are asking. It also requires quite a few tools than can add up to a significant expense. I am sure Stephen Howard can be of help to what parts and tools are available on your side of the pond.

To replace hinge rods will require:

-a jeweler's saw,
-a bench motor (or a drill held in a vice),
-a die the correct size to cut new threads
-possibly a tap the same size
-a digital caliper
-drill rod stock the same diameter
-a good quality fine tooth file
-a "thread checker tool" to determine the thread size of the screws and rod

To replace the pivot screws you will need to take very accurate measurements of the existing pivot screws with your caliper and thread checker, and then try to find an existing brand's pivot screw that matches---or comes close enough to adapt. The Allied Supply catalog available to professional repair techs has a section giving the specs for pivot screws for many common brands.

You may find that taking the sax to an experienced repair tech who already has the tools and supplies to do the mechanical work required (including leveling the toneholes which I strongly suggest) will be much less expensive and time consuming than trying to do this part yourself.

Once those steps are accomplished, you can do the cleaning and polishing, and even the repadding if you are so inclined to finish the job. I can give you some tips and tricks I have learned to clean and polish old silver saxes when you get to that point.
 

Sunray

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,708
Bugger - I just knew that this would turn out to be a job beyond me ...

Shame really as I would really like to have a crack at it ...

I don't really think it is viable for me to start a new career and to construct a mini workshop just for the fun of it ...

However - Is it perhaps realistic and achievable for me to carefully strip down the sax ...

Including all the parts which may need replacement ...

Then send the damaged parts [selected for renewal] to a technician who may be in a better position to manufacture or source replacement parts on my behalf? Or am I in dreamland ...

-------------

Thanks for your detailed reply and advice ... I really do appreciate it ... :thumb:
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
Cafe Moderator
Messages
12,125
My hobby/profession is restoring vintage saxophones. There is not a lot of money in it because of the enormous amount of time involved to do it to perfection, but I get a great deal of pleasure giving a new life to the great old instruments of the past. They should be bringing musical enjoyment to someone like they did when they were new rather than sitting tarnished and broken in a case in someone's attic or basement. Below is a Buescher True Tone that I recently sold on eBay. I have an affinity for silver instruments and have restored several. I would be happy to share some of my tips and techniques if anyone is interested.

Stunning
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
Sunray, there's a list of suppliers in Stephen's manual. At least one's an agent for Ferree's tools, one of the big US sax parts and tools suppliers (Windcraft I think).

Probably a good move would be to get someone to sort out the broken parts and then look at doing the rest yourself. They're pretty simple mechanically, but it's fiddly getting pads to seal and then regulating the mechanism. Stripping, cleaning and oiling needs no more than a couple of suitable screwdrivers and a little patience. But if you knock off some of those adjusting corks in the process, you'll need some cork, 400/600 grit wet and dry and a modelling knife. Good idea to go through Stephen's description of the keys and their interaction before doing any stripping. But if you think of the keys as falling into the following groups, and just examine each individually, it'll be pretty easy: RH little finger, RH Palm, Lower stack, LH Little finger, upper stack, LH palm, octave. Then look at the links between the sets.

To replace pads you'll need pad slicks, a spirit lamp or small gas burner, shellac (or glue gun), cork, modelling knife, screwdrivers and lot of patience. If the rods are loose, then get the technician to do that. But it's all in Stephen's manual.
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
8,000
However - Is it perhaps realistic and achievable for me to carefully strip down the sax ...

Including all the parts which may need replacement ...

Then send the damaged parts [selected for renewal] to a technician who may be in a better position to manufacture or source replacement parts on my behalf? Or am I in dreamland ...
My suggestion would be to send the entire sax intact to the experienced tech with clear instructions to inspect the sax and replace rods, screws, and springs only as needed and to straighten bent keys.
 

Sunray

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,708
My suggestion would be to send the entire sax intact to the experienced tech with clear instructions to inspect the sax and replace rods, screws, and springs only as needed and to straighten bent keys.
Wow - Great advice - I hadn't considered that as an option - Thank you very much mate ... :thumb:
 
Messages
34
Hmmm...... I just checked with the seial number registry on Saxpics.com and my Holton's serial number (#22243) would make it of 1914 manufacture! I had assumed it to be of 1927 (umm... I mixed up the serial numbers with my King C-Melody. Oops!) It's coming up on it's 100th birthday in only a couple of years! My tech should be done with it in a couple of days. I'm looking forward to trying it out (of course, it's not going to look as nice as jbt's but then, few would!) The neat thing about pre-WW1 Holton saxes are the various "innovations" that they tried! My alto has a couple of trill keys that I've never seen anywhere else (my tech either!)
 
Last edited by a moderator:

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,793
Hmmm...... I just checked with the seial number registry on Saxpics.com and my Holton's serial number (#22243) would make it of 1914 manufacture! I had assumed it to be of 1927 (umm... I mixed up the serial numbers with my King C-Melody. Oops!) It's coming up on it's 100th birthday in only a couple of years! My tech should be done with it in a couple of days. I'm looking forward to trying it out (of course, it's not going to look as nice as jbt's but then, few would!) The neat thing about pre-WW1 Holton saxes are the various "innovations" that they tried! My alto has a couple of trill keys that I've never seen anywhere else (my tech either!)
If your Holton is that early then it's a sax made in Chicago, IL. According to my sourches their first sax was available in 1915. By 1917 they were manufactoring alto, c-melody and Bb tenor and by then they were also in Elkhorn, WI. The x-tra keys were separete high D acces, C to D trill key and G to G# trill key. These innovations were not new and Holton's own. Holton company copied Evette-Scahffer "Apogee" key system from 1908. The Holton from the 10´s and 20's has hard soldered toneholes. Rudy Wiedoeft (the king of the saxophones in the 20's - 30's, popular music) played a Holton and worked for Frank Holton Company as well. A fancy goldplated Holton "Rudy Wiedoeft model" sax is a milestone. Not for it's playablity but for the look and odd technical solutions.

I like that you put your Holton back in playing condition.

Thomas
 
Messages
34
My sax is definitely a Frank Holton with Elkhorn WI. engraved underneath. If it's not 1914, when would it be?? Grandpa said that he bought it new...
 
Last edited by a moderator:

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
Much of the early sax history is obscure, with different sources giving conflicting information. It's often a guess.... However you should be able to go by what's engraved on the sax, and the serial number. A lot of the other info on the web is sourced from saxpics, and the guy who set up saxpics did his best to collate and rationalise many different sources into one reasonably accurate one. But unless a factory list was used to compile the saxpics one, the dates are only accurate to a few years. Saxpics is good, but not infallible.

There's another list here:

http://www.horn-u-copia.net/serial/holtonlist.html

which gives separate serial numbers for each year after the second factory opened.... Without saying why. But it agrees with 1914 for your horn.

And another here:

Deadlink Removed

which gives very different information to the saxpics one and fits the markings on your sax much better. It dates the horn to 1925, btw...

Someone's had a go at resolving this:

http://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?70892-Holton-Saxophone-Serial-number-registry

but without much success.

Some other possibilities (for research, not based on knowledge): Sax was made for Holton by another maker in Elkhorn (i.e. a stencil), Holton maybe had a sales outlet/office in Elkhorn, Holton opened up earlier in Elkhorn than is generally accepted, Horn was made in Chicago, but in stock for a long time before being engraved/sold, serial number lists are wrong, some older, unused serial numbers from Chicago were used in Elkhorn when the new factory opened. Some of these ideas are long shots I know.

Pete Hales, who set up saxpics.com, now runs woodwindforum.com and has a discussion forum (woodwindforum.com/forums). If you register there and ask about the confilicting lists, you'll probably get more information.

You may need to accept that it's a mystery.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,793
I base my information from letters from Leblanc Company (holder of the Holton brand), Kenosha, WI and Paul Cohen (saxophone historian, performer, teacher, musicologist, and author) in the late 70's and early 80's. I also doubt that the Holton Company made that many saxes in Chicago. It's not confirmed by Leblanc so I'm not sure about this. Frank Holton business expand and he had to move out from Chicago. Maybe few saxes were made in Chicago but most of the early saxes were made in Elkhorn, WI? And maybe new facts has come as well. So my info can be wrong.

Even if a person buy a "new" sax it can be an from an older unsold inventory. I sold a "new" Yani T 880 the other year. It was an unsold inventory from a former music store. The guy who bought the sax was the first owner and user.

Thomas
 
Saxholder Pro

Members online

No members online now.
Help!Mailing List
Top Bottom