ABOUT VINTAGE SAXOPHONES

The interest in vintage saxophones has been important for a while,
and the interest rose intensely over the 60s-70s-80s because many companies were cost cutting
and moving factories--Conn to Mexico in the 60s,
King cheapening in the 60s too, Buescher getting bought our by Selmer .
In addition when Selmer Paris did not manage to follow up with a good enough successor to the Mark VI,
the interest in both the old Mark VI and other older vintage saxophones increased further.


WHAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE

It’s generally agreed that Selmer Paris has made great saxophones and one of  the most popular model
 is without doubt the Mark VI.

Most of the pro saxophones of today are modern copy improvements over the Selmer Mark VI
so a comparison between older vintage saxophones and Selmer Mark VI will give an idea of the most significant differences.

THE MATERIAL

The material makes an very important role in the sound produced. Saxophones are primarily made from brass.
Brass is a composite alloy made up of metals including copper, tin, nickel, and zinc. The most common type used for instruments is yellow brass which contains 70% copper and 30% zinc. Other types include gold brass and silver brass which have different ratios. The zinc in brass makes the alloy workable at lower temperatures. Some custom manufacturers use special blends of brass, silver and copper  for different saxophone parts.
Silver  is a precious metal that imparts a particular sweetness and a velvety charactrer to the sound and removes the edge that brass instruments can have.

Dependent of the material and alloy in a saxophone it can have a strong fundamental tone and sound warm, dark and sultry but also on the other hand brighter and edgy, thin and even annoying. Student horns sound like "thin" because they are, typically, thinly constructed of lightweight and inexpensive metals.


King Super 20 Silversonic alto with solid silver bell- and neck
 

THE MATERIAL THICKNESS

In order to compare material thichness between older vintage saxophones and newer models we need to pick two refernce
saxophones and has selected Selmer Mark VI tenor from 1965 and Martin Handcraft Gold Plate Phase II  tenor from 1926.

Several measures taken shows that Martin in general has 0,9mm body material thickness while Selmer Mark VI has 0,7mm.

Thickness of the material plays also an important role of how the saxophones sound.

 


THE MATERIAL FINISH

To protect the a saxophone's body and parts from oxidation and tarnishing, a surface finish is applied. The finish can be a spray applied lacquer or an electroplated metal.

Lacquers (Clear, Matte, Honey Gold, Rose Gold, Black, Antique Matte) tend to damp a little of the very high harmonic content in the sound. This gives lacquered instruments a slightly warmer sound when compared to identical plated instruments. The color of the lacquer has no influence, only the amount of lacquer applied.

All saxophones of the same geometry, material and pads with the same amount of lacquer will sound identical. Black lacquered models are lacquered with several coats of black lacquer, engraved and then clear lacquered again. The additional coats of lacquer normally makes these models darker sounding than other like lacquered models.

Gold, Silver-Plated, nickle or bare brass saxophones tend to play a little brighter and with a little more power for the same effort due to the absence of a lacquer coating. Silver-plated instruments will tarnish and can be kept new looking for a lifetime with a few tricks we recommend 
Gold-plated saxophones will not tarnish.

Vintage saxophones particular form the 20's and 30's are often in the execution of silver plate, gold plate, nickle plate or bare brass.

HANDCRAFT

Vintage saxophones are from a different time, back when saxophones were made with pride and care, often totally handmade (handcraft) with care and skill. Back in the time when the focus was on making the best product and not like today
where cost cutting and saving time in production have more and more focus.

TONE HOLES

Vintage saxophones are made with toneholes either, straight like on contemporary/ newer saxophones,
bevelled and soldered on or rolled toneholes.
It's generally agreed that the toneholes also plays a very important role of how the saxophone sound.


Straight tone hole (Selmer Mark VI)



Rolled tone hole (Conn C melody)



Bevelled tone hole (Martin Handcraft Phase III)



Bevelled tone hole (soldered off body)

KEYWORK ACTION

Keywork action is normally defined as description of how long way the keys has to move
from their rest postion until the pads reaches tone holes.
A saxophone with fast / good action is a saxophone where the keys have limited
distance to move from rest postion to the point when their respective pads reaches the tone holes.
It's considered to be easier to play fast and precise on a saxophone with good action.

However, the key heights should be set for the saxophone to play in tune with a full and responsive tone
and in general as low as possible but not so low that the sound get's stuffy and/ or the intonation poor.

In general, the key action on the upper- and lower stacks is very much the same on vintage saxophones compared
to newer saxophones because both have to deal with the same principle for setting key heights mentioned above.

The conclusion of this is that the only difference worth mentioning between vintage saxophones and newer
 saxophones is the aciton on the left hand pinky cluster. Due du the construciton of the pinky clusters,
there are not much you can do to change the action on these.


Action measurements on the pinky cluster between Martin Handcraft Phase II from 1926
and
Selmer Mark VI shown on the two pictures below.






ERGONOMICS

Ergonomics is defined as how natural and pleasant it feels to play the saxophone.
How the saxophone fits in the hands and how easy it feels to play it.
Different saxophones have different keywork design, but the main difference is in fact only
on the left hand pinky cluster. All other keys are more- or less the same with minor modifications.

The left hand pinky cluster is pictured above in the section of ACTION and it's quite obvious that
the difference between Selmer Mark VI and Martin Handcrat Phase II is easy to see.

But in order to make up any opinion about ergonomics, you have to play a saxophone for quite some time,
because everyone will normally prefer the ergonomics of the saxophone they are used with !

Ergonomics can be if you feel that the action is good, it could be if you feel that it's best with
convex mother of pearls instead of concave. It could be if you feel that the weight balance of the
saxophone is good when it's hanging in the neck strap and it can be if you feel that some keys
are too close- or too far away from your fingers.

So the ergonimics is very much a matter of what you are used with and what suits your hands.

For some players with shorter fingers than average, the Selmer Mark VI left hand thumb rest
may feel quite bad because the big flat left hand thumb rest don't leave it up to the player to
decide what position that's best for his- or hers left hand thumb.

So ergonomics is something saxophone manucaturers have had in mind all from the early years.
Some are good solutions and some not so good.













In order to improve ergonomics on saxophones, many products are available for
installation on your saxophone. Most known are the key risers as pictured below


 

Other producs are available and some have even made it a business making
ergonomic modificaion to vintage saxophones like Martin Mods.

Links for some ergonomic modifications to saxophones :

http://www.martinmods.com/



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