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Is It Really A Vintage? What Is Vintage Anyway?

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
There seem to be no clear, hard and fast rules for determining what constitutes a "vintage" sax. For example, I'm thinking for something to be an "antique", I believe said object must be at least 100 years old. With saxes there seem to be "years old" rule.

Another thread on this board talked about student versus pro model horns, so we all agree on that, right? Must be "pro" model/level horn.

Then I guess we need to talk about features...What features does it have to have to make it a horn worthy of the "vintage" label?

Does anyone have ideas on this? Lots of us here play vintage horns. How do we know that it's a vintage?
 
Of high quality. Or as some like to say, prior to what's considered a modern design.
Although the Mark VI is considered by many the blueprint of modern sax design,
and I would call it a vintage horn.

It's a tough one to define. A pos that is 75 years old is just an OLD pos.
I would have to say anything older having value that exceeds the norm for
that time period. (And by value, I don't just mean monetary) It could be an
aesthetic one, or have a mechanical innovation, or have some sort of collectable value.

I'm sure there's more to add.
 
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Groovekiller

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I went to a repair seminar once, and the discussion came around to old horns. Someone asked why old saxophones were not worth much money when old string instruments were the most expensive. The group decided that, unlike strings, old saxophones didn't play as well as new ones.

I asked, "Then why do most of the professionals I know play 50 year old saxophones?"

An old repairman from Chicago answered, "A 50 year old saxophone is not an old horn."
 

Dave Dolson

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I view "vintage" much like the Supreme Court viewed porno - hard to define but I know it when I see it. I have several "vintage" saxophones and while I voted that I prefer both modern and vintage, I really do like good vintage saxophones. For some reason, their sound comes to me as being more focused, not so spread and warm like modern saxophones in my closet.

Yes, I think my Selmer Ref 54 alto is probably the best of the modern horns I've owned and played (and that would be many), but even as good as it is and as luxurious as it feels, there is just something better about my Cigaer Cutter and Bueschers.

To me, "vintage" is the old-style . . . real Buescher, Conn, The Martin, King, and Selmer. Oh, there are a few other brands from the old days, but those say it all for me. I don't see the MkVI as vintage, even if their age is approaching 50/60 years old.

But alas, the term is relative. Someone my age who still remembers barrage balloons over the Brentwood Country Club during WWII usually views newer things as sub-standard to things that preceded me. Younger folks may think early MKVI's are ancient. DAVE
 
This is a toughy... but I think the problem of defining 'vintage' may be similar to that of defining 'historic'

When I, in a former life, was involved with historic preservation the question most often put to us was 'what makes something historic?' The answer is, according to federal regs, anything older than 50 years may be considered historic – but the most common response, especially from the non-fed regulated folk, was an if it occurred "BIWB" (Before I Was Born) definition.

Although both definitions may be true they are both only concerned with time, and time alone is not necessarily determinant of historical importance. You can have 50+ year old houses in just about any suburb in the country that have absolutely no historical merit, BUT if the 50+ year old house was the one in which say Michelle Obama spent her formative years it might well have historic value.

Similarly (maybe?) – Vintage horns = 50+ year old saxes and/or saxes made before I was born. Or a 50+ year old sax played by 70 year old me compared to a 50+ year old sax with John Coltrane's fingerprints still on it ...
 
I went to a repair seminar once, and the discussion came around to old horns. Someone asked why old saxophones were not worth much money when old string instruments were the most expensive. The group decided that, unlike strings, old saxophones didn't play as well as new ones.

I asked, "Then why do most of the professionals I know play 50 year old saxophones?"

An old repairman from Chicago answered, "A 50 year old saxophone is not an old horn."
As my Swiss friend likes to tell me. Americans think a 100 year old house is ancient.
But in Europe, it's not uncommon or rare. I suppose with the sax being a relatively
new instrument by historic measure, 50 years is nothing unusual when compared to strings ... .

Perhaps vintage is a bad choice of words. Maybe we should use the term classic instead.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
Me said:
Another quickie chapter: Vintage.

There is a difference between "vintage" and "old". To me, when you say that you have a "vintage instrument" it should ....

a. No longer be produced, anywhere.
b. Have been considered a professional make and model when it was made.
c. Have value as a professional make and model, today, as a playable instrument or have value as a collectible make and model (for instance, a high-pitch Conn New Wonder alto saxophone in Virtuoso Deluxe finish -- a very expensive, elaborate, gold plated, heavily engraved finish with additional pearl keytouches -- is still "vintage", even though it has virtually no playability value).
d. Have maintained its original value, adjusted for inflation, or increased in value.

"Vintage", to me, should have the connotation of a fine wine: "It's an excellent vintage."

Or, using an analogy from the automobile world, a 1934 Cord is vintage. A 1972 Ford Pinto is old.
From my article on horn value at http://www.woodwindforum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=806

Conn Cavalier alto = old. Conn New Wonder alto = vintage (but not necessarily worth repairing).
 

sideC

Artist in residence
Distinguished Member
On the subject of old saxophones, I judge antique and vintage mainly by the keywork that's on the particular horn that I'm checking out. Now if it's got two octave keys for your left thumb to work, non articulated G# mechanism or the G# tone hole is around the back of the stack, no alternate front high F, and it only goes down to a low B natural, now we're talking about an antique saxophone.

If it's got the modern version of all the features listed above but has the bell keys split on either side of the bell, or all on the inside of the bell, if the left hand little finger spatula sticks out from the side of the horn and doesn't tilt, if it has inline tone holes and a clunky octave mechanism, then I consider this type of horn vintage. It's vintage if it's made completly in the USA also.

I do consider mk6 saxophones vintage, so they fly in the face of the brilliantly concieved notions I posted above. Most 6's I see anymore have so much wear on them that I marvel that they can play at all, let alone sound as wonderful as they still do. And of course I'm speaking about the people playing them. Plus, when I pick up my mk6 alto, it almost feels to me the way an old Conn felt when I first started playing mk6's back in the early '70's.
 
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Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
If it's got the modern version of all the features listed above but has the bell keys split on either side of the bell, or all on the inside of the bell, if the left hand little finger spatula sticks out from the side of the horn and doesn't tilt, if it has inline tone holes and a clunky octave mechanism, then I consider this type of horn vintage. It's vintage if it's made completly in the USA also.
That's funny!!! :emoji_smile::emoji_smile::emoji_smile:
 

Ed

Founder
Staff member
Administrator
I would argue that the first truly modern horn is the Mark VI. It set the standard and while Selmer has changed the ergonomics around a bit since the introduction they really haven't improved on the basic design. I'd like to see people adopt the JK adjustable palm keys but otherwise I can't think of any major design ideas that have met with general approval.

I also think SideC is right when he talks about the difference between vintage and modern horns. Keywork does play a major role in that. The introduciton of the Mark VI was in 1954 which means we are talking about a 54 year old design. Generally speaking any horn introduced before 1954 is vintage in my mind although a part of me thinks that the true start of modern horns is the SBA - offset upper and lower stacks as well as the Selmer style table keys.

Conn and Buescher never did another new horn design. Selmer USA did the 100/110 series horns and those are quite obviously very Selmer Paris influenced (and introduced about 1980). Keilwerth did a redesign of their horns to incorporate a non-tilting spatula sometime in the middle 1960's.
 

Dave Dolson

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I sold my Balanced Action alto several years ago, and my MKVI has now been returned to my son. So, I can't compare them side by side. But in my memory, the BA and VI were close enough in ergonomics that it didn't impress me as being different. Meaning, that I don't see the BA as being vintage, either. DAVE
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
I would argue that the first truly modern horn is the Mark VI. It set the standard and while Selmer has changed the ergonomics around a bit since the introduction they really haven't improved on the basic design. I'd like to see people adopt the JK adjustable palm keys but otherwise I can't think of any major design ideas that have met with general approval.
The Mark VI is a minor improvement over the Super (Balanced) Action, which is an improvement over the Balanced Action. The SBA has a more ergonomic layout to the keywork than the BA -- which is more-or-less linear. I think you could argue that the BA or SBA were the first true "modern" designs, but the VI is just a variation on the theme.

The "balanced" keywork design, the repositioned bell key and right side chromatic key rods and the keyed range from low Bb to altissimo F# as a "standard option" were all found in the Balanced Action model. While the keyed range was introduced much earlier, the combination of all these is particularly interesting. You also can't forget the sheet metal keyguards, although Buffet, Dolnet or Pierret may have had those first.
 

Ed

Founder
Staff member
Administrator
The main difference between the SBA and the BA is that the SBA has offset upper and lower stacks.

Does anyone still make a horn with the keys inline? I have not seen the IW bass sax that is based on the old Buescher/Conn design. Every horn I've played that was designed after 1960 has offset stacks.

The Mark VI was the first horn to introduce most of the features (I would dare say nearly all of them) that players consider standard today. One may not like some of the features but Selmer style keywork dominates.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
The main difference between the SBA and the BA is that the SBA has offset upper and lower stacks.

Does anyone still make a horn with the keys inline? I have not seen the IW bass sax that is based on the old Buescher/Conn design. Every horn I've played that was designed after 1960 has offset stacks.

The Mark VI was the first horn to introduce most of the features (I would dare say nearly all of them) that players consider standard today. One may not like some of the features but Selmer style keywork dominates.
Read "offset" as "ergonomic". Same difference, for me.

I've not seen the IW in person, so I can't comment. I think it might be more accurate to say that all professional horns have the "offset" stacks. I remember playing the Bundy II and think it felt rather odd in comparison to the other horns I played with.

You're still not telling me substantive differences between the SBA and VI, Ed. A little better intonation isn't good enough for me to say that the VI is "more modern" than the SBA.
 

Ed

Founder
Staff member
Administrator
Only major difference between them to me is the tilting table keys on the VI. Slight tonehole changes. I think otherwise they're pretty similar horns.

The VI remains as the horn that has most of the features that we consider standard which is why I think it is the first modern horn. I wouldn't refuse a SBA or a BA though if anyone wants to send me one. :emoji_smile:
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
Only major difference between them to me is the tilting table keys on the VI. Slight tonehole changes. I think otherwise they're pretty similar horns.
The "tilting" G# was introduced on the last SBAs. IIRC -- and off the top of my head, so YMMV -- it was patented in 1952 and added about that same time.

While I can grant you minor tonehole changes and changes in bow and neck, they're pretty darn slight.
 

Ed

Founder
Staff member
Administrator
I haven't seen a SBA with the tilting table keys but I also don't doubt your knowledge of these things :D

SBA/Mark VI. 1952 or 1954. Somewhere in there. :D
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
I just enjoy beating on you, Ed.

In any event, that "tilting table" was only on the VI for a very long while. And, while I agree that the SBA or VI was probably the "first generation" of the "modern" saxophone, neither is necessarily better or worse than, say, the Buffet Dynaction or Conn 28M (both horns that were noted for exceptional keywork). Then there's the later Buffet SDA/S1 transitional which tried some improvements on that G# cluster -- and came up with some interesting ideas for the low C/Eb key.

In uber-modern terms, the Eppelsheim horns are where it's at. Not only because the Tubaxes and Soprillo are new additions to the sax family, but because Mr. E's bass design is different, particularly with the crook and that vent operated by a cable.

Maybe I should do that bit on saxophone evolution ....
 

Dave Dolson

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I'm not so sure the tilting pinky-table is any indication of being modern. Many recently-made sops have the older style pinky tables and are modern - at least in MY mind.

My Yanagisawa SC902 for example, has a p;inky table like my '32 Cutter. And, I have a MKVI-clone with a similar pinky table. For sure, that design never posed a problem for me.

But like I've written before, I play both vintage and modern and a particular horn's keywork was not an issue for me. DAVE
 
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