King sax review

Hey folks,

I'd really love to read a review essay like the one Pete posted about the early Conns (okay maybe a little less jaundiced one :eek: , but just as honest and frank) by somebody who has played a lot of different vintage Kings.

I had a vintage (40s) silver King Cleveland for a while and I really loved it. Someday I'd love to be able to get another King--I'm thinking series 4 Zephyr.

Anybody got game?

Hey! I'm not yellow!

The only King I ever played was a Voll-True (II, I think). Didn't like the intonation.

However, lots of folks really like the Zephyrs and Super 20s. Remember, though, that the Zephyr was produced for a very long while and just saying "Zephyr" is very close to saying "King". You need to specify the serial number range.

Model breakdowns:
I've played some Voll-true horns and thought that they were pretty typical of what I have come to expect out of King. Bright and powerful. Intonation seemed a little off but I didn't have my tuner with me to really check it out. I like the Super 20's.
I've also played the Voll-True horns. I tried an alto and tenor. Like Ed says, they are bright and powerful. My opinion of the intonation is that it is sketchy. I'm used to playing on Martin Committee's and New Wonder's, but I could not humor the pitch as well on these horns. I'm usually very good at adjusting to a horns intonation issues, but I just could not pull it off with the Voll-True. The tenor did fair a little better than the alto.

I have not played on any pro Zephyrs. The later intermediate models are decent. The tenor I played had good intonation and tone. It was also a joy to subtone with.

I played a Super 20 extensively during my senior year in high school. My high school friend's father owns a Super 20 from the early 70's. I think he bought the horn brand new for $300 back when he was in high school. He liked the VI's, but decided to save a few bucks and used that money to buy a brand new (then) Bobby Dukeoff mouthpiece with the horn. He told me that if he would have known what the VI's would one day go for, he would have saved up and invested in every VI the store had in stock. Anyway's, I played 2nd alto in the school's jazz program next to his son who played 1st. Actually, it was cool working with the kid because we constantly swapped parts and I had many more opportunities than what most 2nd chairs get. We had a series of school basketball games that the jazz band had to play for this year. Unfortunately, the games conflicted with our 1st tenor's work schedule. My friend then asked me if I wanted to play tenor for these games. This was before I even owned a tenor myself, so I was given the choice of using either the Super 20, or a post Selmer buyout Buescher 400 (also his fathers horn). Both were great horns, but I chose the 20 with the recommended Dukeoff metal mouthpiece. I used the horn for several weeks, and it was a very enjoyable experience.

The keys were nickel plated. Off the bat this was the heaviest tenor I've ever played. The metal on these old Kings seems very thick and rigid to me. Oddly, I've read reports of players wearing holes in these horns around the RH thumbhook. The pads and action of this tenor was regularly maintained by the owner. He is a mechanical engineer by occupation, so his woodwind work is pretty darn good. I would say that the horn was in near perfect mechanical condition when I played it. The Super 20 in my mind is the most modern feeling vintage American horn. Of course you have to remember that the design of these horns changed dramatically through the years. This particular one still had the underslung styled octave mechanism similar to the modern Yanagisawas. It did not sport a true underslung like the Conn 6M did. This horn did not have a double socket neck either. Key cups on King saxophones always look larger than other makes, and this 20 was no exception. Despite this, the action was surprisingly light, but the ergonomics clearly favored larger handed players as the stack keys feel more spread out than other horns. The table keys are a good design, but not quite as nimble as the SBA/Mark VI layout. Regarding tone, the owner had made a statement that with the Dukeoff mouthpiece you could make a growl tone that sounded like bacon sizzling on the griddle. Boy, he wasn't kidding. Playing on this horn instantly made me think of King Curtis, Clarence Clemmons, and Boots Randolph. This tenor also had the least resistance of any tenor saxophone I've ever played. The tone was considerably more spread than any Selmer, but it wasn't dark. Actually, the horn was rather on the bright side. It was capable of Ballad work too. Subtoning was a cinch, and it sounded great. From my experience, the only tenor that subtoned better was the aforementioned Buescher 400. I think that vintage American tenors sound best in the lowest registers, and that's the biggest separation from their modern and French counterparts, but that's just my opinion. This horn did take a hit to the neck many years ago, and there is still evidence of a horrific bend that was removed by a competent tech. The owner stated that he would like to get the neck de-lacquered and silver plated to cover up the blemish. All in all, I loved this horn and the time I spent with it. One day when I can justify the cost, I will purchase a King Super 20. In the meantime, I think I'll give these guys a call. They still only live about 5 minutes away from me. :)
I also did a series breakdown on the S20 awhile ago at The S20's with the most features were produced in a really small window: 295xxx to 305xxx. The real question is, "When were the last real 'Super 20s' made?" and the answer to that is, "Depends on what features make up the S20". The double-socket neck? The keywork? The engraving and pearls? All four of those changed at different times.

I will not really address the Super 21, as it's kind of a different animal and you're unlikely to see one other than at
Thanks for the link Pete. Judging by the pictures, I think that the tenor I played most closely resembled the Series IV. Now I'm going to have to call those guys up to get a serial number.

Back when I was in the high school marching band, we played the half time show for the first Monday night football game at Heinz Field. It was the Steelers against the Titans. This was 2001 and they had Clarence Clemmons come out and perform "America the Beautiful". He came close enough for me and my buddy to get a look at the Super 20 he was playing. We were even able to tell that he was using a Rovner Deep V mouthpiece. His tenor that night was in fact a later UMI model with the engraved SUPER 20 USA right on the bell. The horn was completely lacquered, and the keys looked very modern. Several key features on the neck, like the octave tone hole placement and double socket, were changed. I wonder if the overall neck angle and dimensions changed. For that matter, did King (later UMI) ever change the body tube, bow, or bell?
My opinion is "yes". However, a factual answer is "I don't know". I've never gotten bore measurements from anyone.

I really think the Cleveland, Eastlake and USA-stamped horns (or HN White, Seeburg and UMI, if you prefer) are probably very different and I can base that on players' comments, but I can't back that up on any facts other than the obvious visual differences. I think the neck changes are an obvious design difference, too. How significant they are is a question I can't answer.

The Super 20 is a model I haven't played. I'd be interested to see how it stacks up against my memories of the 30M.
Thanks guys.

The silver King I had was really a remarkably good sax. I often regret selling it. I guess I'll never really know about the Zephyr until I buy one. A friend of mine plays a gorgeous Super20; I doubt, however, that I'll ever have that kind of cash.

rleitch said:
A friend of mine plays a gorgeous Super20; I doubt, however, that I'll ever have that kind of cash.

The coolest thing that seperates the S20 from the Mark VI is that it is POSSIBLE to find one of a good vintage for as little as $1,500. The 20 is a popular horn, but the King name is not as well known as Selmer. So it is possible to do some hunting and find a good deal on the Super 20's. I have not found an incredible deal on any Silver Sonics though. I think the cheapest SS I've ever seen went for $2,500...which is still cheaper than most used modern Selmer's.

If you do not want to use eBay, do a little reasearch and figure out which cities have "Selmeritis", then find their local music stores. I'll tell you for a fact that most of the horns sold in Pittsburgh are Selmers. In fact, it's difficult to find any of the other Big 4 brands here. Yamaha is scarce, JK is VERY scarce, and I've only come across 1 Yani made horn, which was actually a Vito. There are two huge stores in and around the city that speacialize in saxophones. One is Volkweins, and the other place is Hollis and Germann's. The last time I was at Volkweins, they had a very nice fully lacquered Super 20 complete with the store overhaul going for $1,800. Both stores have excellent techs, so you'll end up with a well set up horn.


My now two-year-old list of prices (my chart says most of these are from 2006) from eBay and the 'net says that the S20 prices are:

Alto, low: 1092 (s/n 625xxx), high 3298 (s/n 300xxx)
Tenor, low: 1530 (s/n 285xxx), high 3700 (s/n 290xxx) -- minus the horn without a neck that sold for $700 :)
Bari, only one on my list: 1225 (s/n 439xxx)

Silver-Sonic? I've got an alto and a tenor on my list. And they sold for about the same amount: 2550 (s/n 446xxx and 427xxx, respectively).

The high range, there, is considerably less than my Mark VI highs from approximately the same date-range, which you can see on SOTW. The current range for Mark VIs is ... considerably higher.

There's a bari (there ya go, Jim!) and alto on eBay, ATM. 170194352720 and 290206958940.,, and have a few. I'm surprised that didn't have any.

Silver-Sonic? One, an alto: 200200286339.

Personally, I wouldn't want one. I'd like to try one, tho.
I have an opportunity to pick up a King 615 Cleveland tenor for $'s a student model & after the H. White horns, but I would like some opinions on it if anyone has any experience with it.......thanks.
no, (sorry to have taken so long to reply, but you know the circumstances) I didn't go for it.....I bought a late but pre-Selmer Buescher 400 with the big bell.......same bore & specs as the Super 400 I think, just missing the tone ring & has the overhead octave mechanism instead of the underslung, back bell keys.......lacquered with nickle keywork, gold Norton springs and snap ins; had a new repad, they used the snap ins but shellac'd em in too. whoever did it did a good job per my local tech, horn was in very good condition needing nothing, plays well, sounds good....a nice older pro tenor for $700. that King was a student horn, & sorta skanky with a $600 plus price tag; not for me.
This week I was given a King alto saxophone by a relative, It was her Mother's, who bought it used in 1944 or so (paid $80.00 for it then).

It is a 1920's model (split bell pads, and the serial number 713XX puts it in 1923 or so, by the list I checked). It has a front-F mechanism.

A vintage mouthpiece came with it which was so stuffy when I played it (I didn't have an alto piece with me), that I thought I'd need to do a complete overhaul on the horn.

When I got home, I put my own piece on it and WOW! The horn plays great. Oh, it has a few faults (upper octave arm moves and the G# remains open a bit), but other than that, this horn is a player. Intonation is fine, played against my tuned piano.

The finish is a bit rough - an orangy lacquer (or is it gold-plate?) with silver or nickel keywork. When I put my polishing cloth to the keywork, it brightened up considerably and looks pretty good.

Where the body finish is thin or off, I can see silver underneath, not bare brass. That's what makes me wonder if the horn was gold-plated. Hard to tell. I hope no one put a colored lacquer over silver-plate. The engraving on the front of the bell looks sharp to my eyes, but I'm no expert when it comes to assessing finish-material.

My previous experiences with H.N. White products has been so-so. A Saxello I once owned was difficult to play in tune. A Bb straight soprano I tried once was weak. I have a Silver King clarinet that plays decently. But this alto is a fine player. I think I'm going to enjoy it with just a few tweaks.

I also received a C Albert clarinet in this gift, which I've described elsewhere. DAVE

My experience with the early, King "Improved" models has been precisely as you have written. I find them to be very well built horns, with advanced keywork for the time, a fine, typically King tone, and more than adequate intonation.

I really believe them to be equal or ahead of most of their 1920's competitors, and all at a reasonable price on today's market.

The lack of interest among the uninitiated works in our favor.;)
I may have solved the moving upper octave arm issue. The upper octave is a weird design (alluded to at Goodson's Saxgourmet site). The octave pip on the neck comes out at an angle, right of the center line. The neck-octave arm's pad cup is also off-center to sit on top of the vent.

By siting the neck differently in the socket, the piece that engages the octave ring operates the upper octave ring off to the left of center. At that point, the movement is almost nil when one depresses the octave touch, opening the lower vent.

Interesting design. The G# is also different than most saxophones I've seen. The vent is on the back of the body, not in line with the stack's tone-holes. And, the G# trill (a little button just below the right hand stack touches, operated with the right index finger) is neat, but I don't know when I'd ever use it. DAVE

That G# tone hole location (As well as the side F# for some) is a potential issue with these horns. I have soldered spare wire key guards (the small, Eb trill type salvaged off parts horns) over mine to keep them from being forced shut when held close to the body.

When properly adjusted, the octave key arm should NOT require fussy positioning of the neck.

One caveat that I'm sure many who have sampled these horns might have noticed, they respond very differently with various mouthpiece setups. Finding a complimentary one makes all the difference in the world, even as compared to other King models. There ARE some that just don't flat out work on these horns.
The way the whole upper octave arm and tone looks, it may be proper to NOT center the actuating arm in the center of the ring (which is how I align the necks on my other altos). If I hadn't read about these upper octave design features on Goodson's site, I might have though the horn had been bent in the past. But all looks correct, especially after learning about that design.

As far as mouthpieces go, I read that these horns were fussy with "small chambered" pieces. Oh NO!! here we go again!

The piece that was in the case, and I assume was the one the owner used to play the thing, was typical of how vintage pieces play for me - NO GOOD. I'm amazed every time I listen to old saxophone recordings and realize those guys used these vintage mouthpieces - and well, too.

But all I did was slap on my Meyer 6S-Medium Chamber, with a soft Java 2 reed and got to it. As far as I know, this King alto is not finicky - it worked beautifully with what I use on all my altos, modern and vintage. DAVE
Try checking all your mouthpieces against a tuner, and also running through the altissimo, and you might find some winners and losers there. With the right piece (Most Runyons, Meyers and Morgans work very well on these BTW), the altissimo is effortless.

I find Kings and Martins to display a very easy altissimo range in general.
I sure don't intend to shock anyones' senses, but I don't do altissimo on saxophones.

I know - HORRORS!

But after I get the horn tweaked, I will run through other pieces I have, even though I anticipate that all of them will work because they all work on my other altos. DAVE
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