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Martin Makes/Models


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
I'm stickying this because I think it's important enough.

Up until the Martin Committee years -- that's the horn people generally call a "The Martin" because of the engraving on a lot of them -- there were lots and lots of different Martin models that were released possibly every year or two, especially, but not only, under the "Handcraft" banner.

While I made a valiant attempt to catalog all Martin professional models on saxpics.com and Mr. van Druten does a nice job on The Martin Story (TMS), there are models we missed. Easy way to determine that is to add up all the pro models on saxpics.com and subtract them from the pro models on TMS and then note that there were a couple models I didn't include by the time I sold saxpics.com that I had just got pictures for.

So, my points: the model charts are a guide. If your horn is different, it's definitely something to post about. Don't go *just* by serial number.
I'll follow up with some experiences on the various models I've owned/restored/played:

Handcraft models: I prefer the HC altos to the HC tenors. The tenors have a big fat, but almost hollow sound. Altos sound is just a little more refined/modern, IMO. Both sound dark and spread. Both altos and tenors have REALLY GOOD volume and strong projection. There's something just a little "vintage-raw" about these horns.

Ergos are a bit clunky on both alto and tenor, but just slightly more so on tenor IMO. Intonation really wasn't bad on the couple of examples I've had of both, although they (like all Martins up until the Comm-III "The Martin" horns) are very picky both in terms of key heights and mouthpiece.

Re key height, the ideal height will be slightly lower than your tech will expect, IMO. If you're having intonation problems, do some reading about key heights and intonation and see if some adjustments are required. Re mouhtpiece, medium- large or large chamber are required for HC models, generally.

Comm-I (skyline) and Comm-II (lion & crown) models: I find VERY little difference in play quality between these models. MUCH more modern sound than the HC -- although still dark and vintage, it lacks the "rawness" of the HC series and the odd hollowness in the tenor sound.

In terms of sound -- the Comm-I altos became a lot more focused than the HC altos, although still spread compared to Selmers, Bueschers, etc. The tenors stay just a bit more spread. Both remain dark, although less dark than the HC series. They take less air than the HC (and less than the "The Martin" series that came later), and (for me) preferred a slightly more refined airstream. These are much more versatile than HC horns, and can be played in any style from classical to rock.

Ergonomics are improved over the HC series as well.

The lacquer on the Comm-I and Comm-II horns was really really poor. It burns easily, falls off easily, and is generally very fragile. If you're obsessive about a pretty-looking original lacquer horn, move along. But, I've had relacquered versions that played great, and I've had a few that were basically bare brass from lacquer loss that played great. So don't worry about it if you want to play, rather than look at, your horn.

I've repadded skyline altos with both resonator and non-resonator pads, and found that the resonators added a little more volume and a little faster response and added a little clarity to the sound. But, the non-resonator pads kept it dark dark. If I were playing lead or solo work, I'd want the resonators. If I was playing acoustic stuff in a quieter setting, the non-resonator pads offered a really unique sound on the Comm-I Martin alto.

Comm-I and Comm-II horns are substantially less mouthpiece picky than HC horns. Particularly the altos can use medium-small chambers or bigger. The tenors I've owned still preferred medium-large to large chambers, although the intonation didn't get too funky with medium.

Troubadour: My only experience with this line is my baritone. Huge fat vintage sound, slightly clunky keywork. VERY mouthpiece picky and VERY picky about key heights (very very large chamber required). The Troubadour seems to be mainly a HC with some keywork changes, but I could be wrong. Great sound, medium to medium-poor response. My bari is a fine vintage jazz player, but I wouldn't take it out to a funk/rock/blues gig if I could help it.

Imperial. I've had two imperial horns, one alto and one tenor. Both had that funky alt-Eb tone hole next to the low D tone hole (by the way, this is a hugely superior placement for the alt-Eb than around the back of the horn like the HC horns or like most old Conns, etc -- the front alt-Eb is WAAAAY easier to adjust).

Big volume and projection on these -- bigger than any of the other Martin models I've owned, except for The Martins. My Imperial tenor still had some of that "Hollow / Echo-y" sound from the HC series. I never really got comfortable enough on these to explore 'em fully or give detailed reviews, but they felt a bit halfway between the HC and the Comm horns, somehow.

Standard: I owned a "Handcraft Standard" tenor. It lacked the alt-Eb key, so themartinstory.net calls it a "Standad Special" although the word "Special" wasn't engraved anywhere. This played A LOT like a Comm-I or Comm-II tenor. Bit more focus than the other models, bit more refined air required. Somewhat less volume, but nice and versatile. Here's a quick soundclipe I did on the Standard when I was trying to sell it:


Again, the lacquer on this horn was terrible. Mine was a total closet horn and had most of its original lacquer. But it burned really easily, and when the bell lip got a little bend it cracked easily.

This horn definitely liked a mouthpiece with a little baffle. With a link-type piece it sounded pretty dead, but with a baffled piece it got a nice crisp sound.

The Martin: My favorite Martin model BY FAR, both in terms of altos and tenors. Great intonation on both. Ergonomics far improved over earlier models (although still not as good as a new horn or a Selmer). The mouthpiece-pickiness and key height-pickiness of the earlier models is very much improved.

On alto, the focus from the Comm-I and Comm-II horns is smoothed over just a bit, to give a much more pleasant sound (IMO). BIG low end for an alto. Here's a quick clip of the alto (sorry for the excessive vibrato -- ha -- I'm not really an alto player these days):


My main instrument is a 1954 The Martin tenor. I've played nearly every other brand, make, and model (including VIs, Conns, SAIIs, etc), and have always come happily back to my tenor. Extremely free blowing tenor. Its got a naturally dark sound, but can happily accomodate baffled-up mouthpieces. So, although dark, you can get lots of nice high partials if that's your taste (personally, I use a Wanne Durga for most everything, and can make it sound bright or dark on the The Martin tenor). Here's a few clips on a couple of different mouthpieces, playing several different styles:



The coolest thing about these horns is that they have a certain "smoothness" to the sound. I don't know how to describe it fully, but its almost like the sharp edges of the sound are blurred over and rounded out. A definite "smokiness" in the tone (and no, that's not just because I play at a lot of smoky blues bars -- ha).

The lacquer was very much improved by the The Martin horns. You can find original lacquer horns still in decent shape.

These are FANTASTIC value horns -- for $1500-$1800 you can get a fully restored The Martin, and never need to go shopping again. I cannot believe that these aren't priced higher given the prices of Selmers and Kings. But whatever, I'm biased.....

Indiana: Best value horn on the market. I've owned a few, and find them very similar to the Comm-I and Comm-II horns. Volume is a little restricted compared to the The Martin horns, and the sound lacks a little bit of the roundness/smoothness of the The Martins. Build construction seems a little lower quality, although still good. Nice horns for the few hundred that they seem to run, typically. I'm rebuilding another Indiana alto right now, and I'll post a few clips when its done.....

Ok, those are my thoughts -- anyone want to disagree? :) I know that every model has its enthusiasts.


Friends of the WF
Distinguished Member
Nice run down MyMartinTenor, and I generally agree with your assessments. As you know I am quite the devotee of this make as well, I guess the rest of the world needs to be in on the secret too.:D

BTW, The Martin Committee baritones are spectacular as well.

Many thanks for posting this.
Indiana: Best value horn on the market. I've owned a few, and find them very similar to the Comm-I and Comm-II horns. Volume is a little restricted compared to the The Martin horns, and the sound lacks a little bit of the roundness/smoothness of the The Martins. Build construction seems a little lower quality, although still good. Nice horns for the few hundred that they seem to run, typically. I'm rebuilding another Indiana alto right now, and I'll post a few clips when its done.....

These, and the Medalist, have become my favorite AT player, especially the Olds, Wurlitzer, and other, brass-keyed stencils, which typically sell for around $100. The neck tube/body tube measurements (other than the bell flair which is smaller on the Indiana) are virtually identical to those of the Committee, as are the tone holes (except for difference in placement for 2 palm key notes). They were manufactured with an overly small, choking neck tenon (which constricts the bore 2mm+ more than necessary), which obviously was intended to make the horns sound and play more like intermediate models, so they wouldn't compete with the pro model.

Replace the small tenon with a standard averaged diameter cylindrical tenon (diameter is the average of the neck tube and body tube end diameters - ca .5mm larger than the neck and .5mm smaller than the body), or a matched conical tenon, and the horn becomes sonically, everything the Committee model is/can be.

Other than the LH table keys, the only objectionable design characteristic, IMO, is the side Bb lever/fulcrum-style mechanism, which provides too much leverage for the player. The slightest brush of the palm will open the key. It would be better as a rotary mechanism, similar to that of the side C.

Here are some clips of my The Martin Alto (first sax playing after 6 year complete lay off), before I sent it to NZ. My new Medalist sounds/plays exactly the same, to my ears.

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Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Just to clarify, there is a Handcraft Imperial -- which MMT mentions here and I have a small write-up about at http://saxpics.com/martin/handcraftimperial.htm -- and there's an Imperial, which was an intermediate horn. Don't get the two confused!

Standard: I owned a "Handcraft Standard" tenor. It lacked the alt-Eb key, so themartinstory.net calls it a "Standad Special".
There is a difference, which I seem to have screwed up when I worked out the galleries on saxpics.com in 2006: the Standard has the funky Eb vent (below the C key in this pic), the Standard Special does not.


I haven't played around with downloading pics for the Martin stuff in a long while. You'll note that the engraving is rather hard to see in the pictures and, when you combine it with Martin's occasional practice of putting a model name on the bell and one above the thumbrest, it's really hard to determine if I'm right or if themartinstory.net got it wrong and I repeated it or vice-versa. At the very least, the Eb vent is an obvious difference. I don't know if the lack of the vent also indicates that Martin changed the bore.

The Indiana was originally "Indiana Band Instruments" and the Martin-made Indiana model was made for a long while after Martin purchased them -- but it was made in a couple eras: during the Handcraft run and during the Committee ("The Martin") run. The former was, to all intents and purposes a Handcraft. The latter was a student model. Hey, I have a picture of one hanging on my wall. In other words, watch out which one you're talking about!


I should have mentioned my Martin history, too:

* I played a minty Committee ("The Martin") tenor in high school for about a year. Nice tone, bad intonation. I gave it up when I found two Mark VIs stashed in a corner.
* I've tested a Handcraft C soprano, Martin Master alto and fooled around with a Magna tenor that was missing a neck. The C soprano and alto were unrestored and somewhat original. They did, oddly, have the wimpiest springs of any horns I've ever seen: they just flopped around. The Magna, I'm sure, would have had an excellent tone, if there was a neck, but it introduced me to the ergonomic hell of some Martin Committees and Magnas: a poor G# cluster and, on bari, the lack of a chromatic F#.
Exactly right, good points. I was referring to the HC Imperial -- I've never owned one of the later imperials. And, I was referring to the later Indiana's when I mentioned Indiana -- my Troubadour bari is technically an Indiana Band Instrument Co. ("IBICo") horn, one of the early Indianas you mention. They are, as you say, Handcrafts (or in my case, a Troubadour based on keywork).

Lance -- pm incoming about the tenon change on the Indiana. I may be interested in having you do this to the alto I'm (slowly) working on.


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
The other thing to mention is that Martin was bought and sold so often, it's difficult to follow all the changes -- especially as Martin occasionally made horns for other folks, like the beautiful Olds Super and one version of the fundamentally flawed, rare and very pricey Lyon & Healy "Perfect Curved" soprano. (Pricey? Very. There's one for sale for $4500 at http://www.vintage-instruments.com/navigate/catidx11.htm.)

You do have to like the engraving on some of the stencils, tho.

One Martin model I found slightly before I sold saxpics.com was the Handcraft Comm. 1 (which I assume stands for "Committee I"). Looks an awful lot like the Handcraft Committee, but has completely different engraving -- and you can even see a partial serial number: 1289xx. That serial number is a crossover into the Handcraft Committee II and Handcraft Standard lines.

Oh. A note on the Handcraft Master (i.e. "typewriter" model): I really didn't care for all the round pearls on everything. I might have gotten used to it if I had it longer, but it did feel ... odd.
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Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
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