Guide to the Purchase of Vintage Saxophones
An interview with Steve Goodson
(November 19, 1999):
I had stumbled upon Steve Goodson’s web site, while surfing the Sax Ring.
The more I looked at his site, the more interesting it became. Since New
Orleans is only a two-hour drive from my home, I contacted Steve and
arranged a time for a visit. We spent half a day exchanging ideas, and I
learned much more from him than he from me, we found we had a lot of
experiences in common. Steve is a real 110%’er, a full throttle type of
person, and a heck of a lot of fun! As part of my "guest article" series,
Steve agreed to this interview.
HOW DID YOU
GET INTO THE VINTAGE HORN BUSINESS, STEVE?
Well, when I was
starting out, I was too broke to buy new horns! My first alto was a
1930 Martin Handcraft, which I still own. My first tenor was a
Buescher 400, which I should never have sold. My first bari was a
Buescher True Tone, and my first soprano was a gold plated Conn "New
Wonder", which I deeply regret parting with! I got my first Mk VI in
1964, and still use that horn regularly. In the early 70's I began to
understand that there was something about the horns that had been
played a lot and were well broken in that just couldn't be duplicated
with current production. I find that new instruments just lack that
certain undefinable "personality" that you only get with a vintage
WHAT VINTAGE HORNS SHOULD A POTENTIAL BUYER CONSIDER, OR MORE
Well, that really
depends on what you're going to do with them. If you're gonna hang
them on the wall, or make lamps out of them, then the Kings from the
20's with that elaborate engraving are hard to beat. The Holton's look
pretty cute as well, particularly the Rudy Weidoft models. Of course,
neither of these play like real saxophones, and are generally pretty
useless in any type of modern music. I would caution anyone who is
considering actually using a vintage horn to make real music to be
very wary of anything before 1930.
Up until that time,
intonation was a little sketchy, and the horns just don't feel right
in the hands and are hard to use. After 1930, there's some really
great stuff available: the Conn "Chu Berry" models have a fantastic
sound. The Martin Committee models are unusually lush down low. King
got it really together with the Zephyr. The Bueschers, both Aristocrat
and 400, are among my favorites, particularly the 400. What a horn!
When Conn replaced
the "Chu" series with the 6M alto and 10M tenor, they took a giant
leap forward in intonation and playing ease. I'm not a big fan of the
Selmers before the Super Balanced Action. I find that you really have
to humor them to get them in tune.
SO WHERE DO YOU FIND THESE HORNS?
I've been at this
long enough to where most of my stuff comes to me. You hear the
stories about the great deals in pawnshops and on E-Bay, but those
great deals are getting harder to come by. Today, there are a number
of knowledgeable dealers who can help guide a novice buyer through the
process. That dealer network didn't exist until a few years ago, and
now a customer can get lots of information and competent advice.
ANY TIPS ON WHAT TO
LOOK FOR TO HELP DETERMINE THE
CONDITION OF AN OLD SAX?
If you like the way
the horn plays, and think the price is fair, buy it and ignore
everything I say after this. If the engraving on the bell does not
have sharp edges to the touch, and is not clearly defined, the horn
has been relacquered at least once, so be careful!
YES, I NOTICED THE FIRST THING YOU DID WHEN YOU SAW MY MK VI WAS FEEL
THE ENGRAVING. WHAT
Look at the keywork
on the stacks and first, be sure it's tight with no horizontal play.
Make sure that the "tubes" are of an absolutely consistent diameter.
If they look a little pinched where two keys meet, then the horn has
been swedged, and that's a sign of high mileage. The pads should be
smooth and flexible, with no rough edges. Take close look at the pearl
holders and be sure that the metal part is not worn down. If they are,
you've got a horn that's too long in the tooth! The metal should be
smooth on the body, not lumpy from dent removal by someone not
competent to do it.
WHAT'S THE NUMBER
ONE MISTAKE YOU
They buy an old horn
that is not complete and assume that they can get parts. You can't.
They don't exist. Particularly necks. If you can find the parts,
usually in the hot little hands of someone like me, I can only tell
you to get out the big leather bound checkbook. If it's not all there,
don't buy it!
IF YOU COULD OWN ONLY
ONE VINTAGE HORN, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I'm lucky in that my
wife lets me buy all the horns I want for my own collection. They're
all my favorites. I wish I could have as many wives as I have
saxophones, but I just don't think Sharon would understand! I do have
a favorite: the LeBlanc Rationale. A little too complex to be owned by
mere mortals, but what a great design. After that, probably a Buescher
WHAT DO YOU THINK
ARE THE BEST BUYS FOR THE MONEY?
Martin Committee and
The Martin models. King Zephyrs and Conn 10Ms with the underslung
octave mechanism and nickel keywork. You can pick them up, the Conns
at least, at bargain basement prices.
ANY FINAL WORDS OF WISDOM FOR POTENTIAL BUYERS, STEVE?
Yeah. Learn all you
can. Be realistic about what these horns cost in the market place.
Understand that old does not necessarily mean good. Look at any horn
literally with a magnifying glass. I do! Believe me when I tell you
that pictures you see on the internet are not sharp enough to tell you
what you need to know to make a final decision. Modern mouthpieces,
particularly the high baffle ones currently in vogue, often do not
work on vintage horns. A $1000 Conn 10M that needs an overhaul is
probably not a bargain. There's a huge amount to learn, and generally
lots of folding money on the table, so take the time to educate