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Saxophones the obscure, the overlooked

peterpick

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vintage saxophone prices, i can tell you, (and as you most certainly know,) are a matter of fashion. there is little reason involved and less sense. it cannot be (for example) that a selmer mkVI is 10 times better than a couesnon monopole, because after all what could be, and how could it be measured? certainly the mk VIs i have and have had are wonderful horns, but they are not 3 or 4 times better than an SML super 45 either, because they are the best saxes i have ever played. and then there is the plain fact that altos and tenors from the same family or model group do not play, sound or behave the same as each other. i don't think the selmer mk VI tenor is as good as the alto, although naturally i have only played a few tenors, and i'm sure the soprano isn't. the SML gold medal tenor, either mk 1 or mk II is quite different from the alto, the alto mk 1 is sweet and warm, but the tenor is a magnificent roaring beast. the SML soprano is wonderful, as is the couesnon - these are among the best i have ever played.

however, all this is a mere preamble to my theme: there are saxes out there that play really well and cost comparatively little. there were dozens of manufacturers in france before the sax boom subsided, the asian manufacturers got going and selmer ate them all. Courtois are remarkably well built saxes with a bright, clear tone, excellent intonation and good ergonomics. they often have rolled toneholes. there are several models over the course of the 20th century. J Gras are warm-toned saxes with high build quality. Dolnets are much better than you'd think from the fact that you can't give them away, as long as you avoid 'studiums', and 'M70s'. the dolnet bel-aire and the royal jazz are exceptionally good, the royal jazz has all sorts of twiddly bits, like pierret 'super artistes' as opposed to 'artiste competitions'. pierret made any number of models from early in the century to about the 1970's, when they collapsed into selmer. the models designed with or for the wonderfully-named hippolyte poimboeuf and produced from the 40's to the 60's have strikingly spindly keyguards with all sorts of engraving. these include the modele 6 , the excellent modele 8 (i never saw a modele 7, but there surely must be one) super artiste and artiste competition models. they play with a dry, focused, bluesy tone and are just fine. later super artistes have a closer relationship with selmer, at one point pierret worked inside the selmer factory. Beaugnier, another sax-only company, produced saxes for themselves and others under the rubric 'fabrication artistique' they have notable supporters on this site and made tight, solid, good sounding saxophones. their best-known model is the 'special perfect' but this differs only in detail from their other saxes, and they also made various other models, few of which are distinguished by name. i have a beautiful alto with rolled toneholes, for example. Couesnon, who i mentioned earlier made distinguished tenors and sopranos - they sound marvelous - and i have a collection of 5 different models of alto, currently. the best are marked 'monoploe conservatoire', but over time even these vary considerably, some models (also at some point badged as besson) have rolled toneholes and a switchable g# linkage on the little finger table (like many SML's), later models do not, but have a high f#. Malerne are solidly built saxes with good intonation. i have recently been seeking out robert drouet saxes, they are delightful hand-made instruments with an exceptionally sweet tone but may need a vintage or large-chamber mouthpiece to keep in tune. the same applies to maurice boiste, i had a truly extraordinary boiste with one of those trouser guards that looks like a pastry-cutter. most of these ones are called 'virtuoso' but this one was even more exclusive and wasn't called anything at all except boiste. it weighed half a ton (approximately) and played with the darkest tone of any alto i ever tried, but it would not play in tune without a specially selected mouthpiece. it was beautifully made, with not a fraction of lateral movement of the keys on the rods, a wonderful, lockable g# coupling and a deep golden lacquer finish. there are less extraordinary-looking boistes, the 'serie artiste' for example and they play better, with good intonation and a tone not unlike a courtois. the best unknown sax i bought recently, however, is a lyrist. i have heard 2 different stories about this brand, one that it was adolphe sax's son's company (adolphe edward sax, i believe) and another that it was owned by courtois. i do not know which is true (though until selmer bought it in 1928 there was an adolphe sax company) but the lyrist alto i have, the briard model, has rolled toneholes and sounds just beautiful, rich and fat and warm down low, almost like a tenor, and has good intonation. i cannot vouch for other lyrist models, some of them seem rather flimsy.

i've probably missed some out. you may know more than i, and you may disagree with my assessments, buit i can say i have put in both the time and the money to know this much. i was going to write about the german makes i know too, but i can't be bothered now. maybe later....
 

Adrian63

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@peterpick ; thankyou man that is a very enjoyable and certainly knowledgabe read.
I look forward to the next instalment re German and certainly American makes..
Moreso it sounds like you have some fabulous horns and any shots you would care to share would be great.. ( if and when you have time )
Yeah : great ; thankyou..
Have a good day man..
 

stitch

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Great stuff.
But there seems to be an intermittent problem with the caps key on your keyboard ...
;)
 

peterpick

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sorry stitch, it's an old habit. i used to have a typewriter with a dodgy carriage shift.
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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vintage saxophone prices, i can tell you, (and as you most certainly know,) are a matter of fashion. there is little reason involved and less sense.
Having been a dealer in vintage for 18+ years now, I attest to this. Completely accurate. At times, for zero reason other than a 'flavor of the month' sorta dynamic, some models catch fire and their prices shoot up, while others lose popularity and their prices plummet.

The sax models themselves, of course, remain the same...it is simply consumer whims which are variable.

There have been so many wonderful and interesting models produced over time, and I often remind folks how, within the exact same family (and even voice) of instrument, there can be such great variety in aspects of tone, response, feel, etc....
 
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peterpick

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thanks jaye. the latest thing is the selmer SBA tenor overtaking the mkVI as the most expensive vintage sax ever seen. while i've been dabbling in these things the price of conns has about doubled. but there are still bargains to be had.
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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thanks jaye. the latest thing is the selmer SBA tenor overtaking the mkVI as the most expensive vintage sax ever seen. while i've been dabbling in these things the price of conns has about doubled. but there are still bargains to be had.
Yes indeed, the 10M's is one of the models I was cloakingly referring to as flavor of the month, although the month has extended to a couple of years now.

No particular logic as to why an RTH 10M has shot up to absurd market values (the 6M's have not reflected that same ascension, exactly - and Chu altos have had the reverse happen) other than ...well, market subjectivity.

Not dissing the 10M, but even back in the 'fake-economic-bubble-which-is-gonna-burst-&-screw-99%-of-the-world-but-who-cares ?" days of 2006-2008ish...people didn't shell out $2500-3g for an RTH 10M. But now they are approaching and at times exceeding sweeter-spot-S20 prices. Comm III's used to be significantly more expensive than 10M's...now, it's the reverse.
And it's the same model it was 10, 20, 30, 60 years ago, lol. No new features have been added since '08. And Conn produced a LOT of RTH 10M's...it's not like they only made 5000....so it's not like they are rare from an availability standpoint.

Yani 8XX series horns, market values have significantly depressed....those are really good horns and again 10-20 years ago, they fetched good $, used (deservedly so). Now, not even on many Yani-hunters radars if the first digit of the model isn't a "9".

This is the way the market operates sometimes....
 
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DavidUK

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Can I tempt anyone?...


...oh, it may be sold already?
 

peterpick

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hi david, yes, i like them best because i can get the most tonal variation out of them, they will do the whole dynamic range. on the other hand the little finger table is heavy, especially c# (sounding e). but i never was a speed merchant, it's tone i care for. nice to see a modele 7, i knew there must be one!
 

just saxes

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Unpleasant but necessary addition, for posterity's sake: consensus and perception on the internet is largely colored and created by people who can't play very well. That is who is the most enthusiastic and active about posting on the web. Because of the way some other forums have evolved, the best, most skilled players -- even ones gung-ho to share their lives and perceptions and thoughts -- don't hang out on internet forums for long (because their views are offensive, often, to people who can't play, who think they are "wrong," and the consensus of "wrong" validations by people who do not have strong tone production or good ears, alienates strong players into silence and non-participation.

This is unwelcome input, I think, but just a reality, that bears being stated.

There are a lot of saxophones that suck, that get a lot of "play" on the web because many players don't play well enough to know that they suck (that their intonation is unredeemable, that their tone is either clumsy or unworkable for most good players, the keyboards are inherently difficult for most, etc. etc. etc.).

That's not to say that there aren't "succumbed to the Kool Ade" views held by very advanced players, or that very advanced players can't be conned, or dishonest in reviews (maybe for kind or well-intended reasons), you name it.

But skilled players with great tone and fully devoted musical intention will have a lot of the same impressions of horns, separated by personal preference that is legible (poor players' views are mostly separated by momentary consensus, because they may not play well enough to form them otherwise, or because they tend to have the same kinds of results with different equipment because as less developed players they tend to experience the same kinds of things).

Example: beginners often love Conn Chus and 10Ms. So do some very advanced players. But the old Conns bring a lot to the table on their own, irregardless of the player, and can make a weak player feel stronger in terms of tone. That matters less to a very advanced player, because to the very advanced player the advantages and disadvantages are much more particular and related to musical concept, not just raw tone, volume, distribution of tonal partials.

I may as well leave off here for now. This is a topic that bears some visits and revisits, as IMO it has been underdiscussed specifically due to the phenomenon I wanted to underline.

I'm not at all saying you have to be a great, skilled player (I'm not one) to comment valuably. I'm mainly trying to inject some context that I think is often missing in these convos, and that should not be missing. Everybody can and does learn from each other, but it's valuable to remember that on forums the really strong players -- players on the True Badass level, that the fake badasses know they do not compare to -- are mostly absent from these discussions, and consensus is formed without them, and that can lead to some dubious shared conclusions.
 

just saxes

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Oh: this was the simple point that led me to type all that out: there are modern horns that I really like, and that I think are really great. I could be happy personally with a number of them (despite not playing very well, I am very picky, due to wide exposure over many years, and some OK tone production and decent sensitivity and authentic goals -- i.e. there is a place I want to get to, and I'm not so far off that I can't tell when a horn, like a car, is helping me get there more immediately).

But there is nothing modern that is like what was made in the past.

That's not inherently bad or good. It just is.

I have yet, personally, to find that a claim by a modern manufacturer that "these horns have that vintage THING" to really ring true.

There are so many reasons for that to be true, if you allow for a moment that it might be.

I'm just saying I have not encountered any contemporary make/model (in its time of manufacture) that had the all the same magic as the best VIs, Chus, 10Ms, Aristocrats, TH&C tenors, you name it.

Altos are closer. Probably I only think that because I'm not personally as sensitive to altos as tenors...but also probably (again, based on personal experience) altos have just come a bit closer to being "as good as vintage" tonally over time than tenors. I can't tell you why that is, and probably that is its own vast -- much vaster than any "interwebz" discussions anywhere, to date -- topic. But you can get closer with a modern alto to whatever vehicle it is that will get you where you want to go, if normally you only find your particular desired flavor amidst vintage offering, in altos than tenors that are in production today. The Mark VII is a great example. Most tenor players who love VIs do not find the VII tenor workable. Many are shocked to find out that that prejudice against VIIs, inherited by experiences with tenors, does not hold with altos. A lot of very skilled alto players find the best VII alto they've ever played to be on a par with or even preferable to their life experience's best VI alto. Not so much for tenor.
 

peterpick

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thanks just saxes. i have heard that about mk VII altos. they were described to me as 'not so weird' (as the tenor) by an experienced technician of my acquaintance. i am by no means a great player myself, i often wonder if i am a player at all, but i'm talking chiefly from concern about tone. i wonder if the actual process of manufacture rather than design is the big difference. brass was treated differently in the early and mid 20th century. bodies were formed differently. i would love to have a proper history of manufacturing processes. earlier saxophones must have had a great deal more handwork, even in the shaping and fixing together of the body itself, as well as the production of the toneholes and the mere fixing of pillars and plates.
 

nigeld

Too many mouthpieces
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I would like to turn @just saxes comments around and look at things from an amateur viewpoint.

He makes the valid point that most comments about saxophones on forums are from poor players rather than competent professionals. He goes on to suggest that the conclusions reached might be different if the competent players were more vocal in the discussions. I agree with both of these statements, but this does not mean that the conclusions reached are any less useful for the amateur-standard players involved.

Many years ago I “upgraded“ my bassoon. In my search, I tried a couple of top-class professional bassoons, including a Heckel, and I discovered that they were not suitable for me - they needed too much competence to play well - I needed something more forgiving. Similarly, my teacher’s setup was for a professional orchestral first bassoon who needed to project through the strings - designed to be loud. So a bassoon setup that suits a professional will not necessarily suit an amateur. Though of course professionals can help, because they know what suits other pupils.

My impression with saxophones is that there is less of a difference between professional and amateur requirements, but I’m not convinced that a professional or first-class amateur player who doesn’t know me will necessarily know better than me what sort of setup is right for me. Some will, some won’t. My teacher is a much better player than me, but I know a lot more about saxophones than he does, (mainly because I spend time on forums like this whereas he spends the time practicing).

I believe that the conclusions reached by groups of second-rate players may be as appropriate, or possibly more appropriate, for other players of the same standard, as conclusions reached by better players.
 

DavidUK

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I'm an eight year "beginner" so on the one hand I shouldn't be able to uncover the fine nuances of a particular horn and compare with others, but in my case I've had 100 or so altos and a fair few tenors in that time pass through my hands. So I like to think I can tell which are the "better" ones, and this was my original remit - to keep replacing horns when a supposedly better one comes along.

So I made a few mistakes: an Olds Ambassador turns up and turns out to be not so fine as its Pierret cousins; an Orsi alto (Boston Beacon) which wasn't great either; couple of Conn Pan Ams which were fine but the ergonomics didn't suit me, same with a 20's Buffet Evette Schaeffer.

I do like the vintage horns and my present '58 SDA is excellent both sound and ergo wise, but I am easily led... Peter mentions a few horns he likes in his first post, I read this and instantly go searching...

Now Peter admits he's not a great player so perhaps I should take less notice of what he likes, but that's just it... it's what he likes, what suits him, and I think that whatever your level of playing expertise this is key to what horn is going to work for you, far more than the hours you've put in.

I've tried some horns lauded by pros as being great, a brand new TJ Raw for instance, played them and thought "Nope, not for me" and there have been many others which don't fit me physically or sound great to my ears with me playing. That would be where the more experienced player could perhaps overcome some difficulties I have but then a Pro player may be able to select from just a few horns and say "that'll do me" whereas I pick up a Yamaha 275 and think "hmmm, that's a little inflexible for me."

So, as Nigel says, I need the help which some horns can give me in boosting my meagre talents and making it easier for me sound as good as I can and boost my confidence going forward.
 

saxyjt

Saxus Circus Maximus
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My teacher is a much better player than me, but I know a lot more about saxophones than he does, (mainly because I spend time on forums like this whereas he spends the time practicing).

I've had the same kind of experience with my teacher, being primarily a classical player formatted by the French conservatoire curriculum and a rather narrow minded view of gear. The same was true of my son's clarinet teacher who frowned at the sight of anything that was not Buffet Crampon or Vandoren!

Now, as amateurs we can afford the distraction I guess...
 

nigeld

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I was once on a saxophone course given by an incredibly gifted international professional classical saxophone player.
He gave us amateurs a short talk about mouthpieces.
The talk basically contained three pieces of information:
1. Mouthpieces come in various tip openings.
2. Selmer make other mouthpieces besides the S80 C*, so these may be worth considering for anyone who wants to try something different.
3. Metal mouthpieces are BAD and are all very loud! We should stay away from them.
 
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Adrian63

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An informative post and at risk of getting this wrong here's my two cents...
I play vintage horns send have done for 95% of my playing years . I'm far from a great player but yeah...opinion..
In honesty a lot of playing vintage is a kind of romantic notion that because they are old they are better : also the history that goes with them...which great player owned this before me ? Probably nobody : it's been in a loft for thirty some years.
I think if a lot of vint players were honest this would have a ring of truth . Why would one pay ten grand for a Mk VI ? Is it that much better than anything else or do you want to be seen to have one ? Sure it's a wonderful horn ( if you get the right one ) but the owning and playing of the enigmatic legend....is that going to make you a better player ? All of this is a little simplistic...I'm trying my best...
Somebody mentioned the inherent problems that come with a VI : 10M or S20. They are 60 /70 years old and unless hardly used are going to be unreliable until fully set up...why would you choose to spend ludicrous sums for the pleasure of the hassle ? Again because Dexter; Sonny or Parker played one and having the same will help you to achieve that level of playing ; that sound...not so..
Is it not a far more sensible option to make the choice of playing a modern new horn ? After all what we forget is that new horns are the vintage of the future .
Hassle free ; plays perfectly from day one . I " justify " my not playing new by saying they lack character ; soul...To some extent I stand by this . The perfect intonation ; free blowing ; stress free set up has got to be more than an advantage ?
Again I can answer that in that it's the imperfections of vintage that give them their elusive character ; slightly off intonation; clattering keys..it all a good thing ? Nope .
The thing about new horns is the mass production...I'm not up on this so won't comment . It often seems a closely guarded secret anyhow as to who makes what and where.
I've probably gone totally off subject with this ramble so please excuse me...I've enjoyed it . As I enjoy my vintage horns . For all their imperfections and romantic notions . For all the countless trips to the tech.....give me a decent 10M every time..
 
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Adrian63

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After all this ; at sometime in the next few months I'll be getting a new horn and have to weigh up all the pros and cons again...
Will it be vintage or " new " ? All I can say is that I remain open minded and am constantly narrowing the choice down . If it does turn out to be new I doubt it will be mass produced...
 

Adrian63

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I also stand by my opinion that all vintage horns are to be played and not simply collected as museum pieces to be observed and only handled with linen gloves.
I've had the pleasure of holding tenors once belonging to both Coleman Hawkins and Joe Henderson ; both of which I believe the provenance to be legitimate.
I have seen others which supposedly " belonged to " which didn't ring true..
The asked question is always " What would you do with either if you owned one "...simple...play it !! Every time . What is the point of having one of these great horns if not to follow in the footsteps of giants and play . Am I going to sound like Hawk or Joe ? No way but fun none the less....
 

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