Conn Pan-American Alto (1920)

The Story

My friend Chris Ingle was travelling on business in San José and gave me a call on a Saturday afternoon. He was in one of my favourite ‘savings and loan’ shops and ran through the saxophones they had. He mentioned the Pan-American alto, so I asked him about the condition. He bought it and brought it back from the States and into work on the following Monday. It was a truly great find – a classic horn, made by Conn in 1920.

The Instrument

I’ve always been confused by descriptions such as OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) in the computer industry and ‘stencil’ in the musical instrument industry, because they ought to describe instruments made for one company by another and yet often are used to refer to something else. In this case the ‘Pan-American Band Instrument and Case Company’ etched on the bell of this alto was, I believe, a wholly owned subsidiary of Conn itself. Therefore, although referred to as a ‘stencil’ this is really just a different (cheaper) brand, as Squire is to Fender in the current guitar market.

Conn had very big vested interest in marching band instruments and used the three marching men as a logo. In fact Colonel Conn entered the US Senate and passed a bill ensuring that every unit of the American military had its own band (to which of course his company provided many of the instruments). The company continued supplying to the military after the Colonel lost all financial interest in the company in 1915.

This instrument is a fine alto. It doesn’t have the microtuner neck: nor does it have the rolled tone holes of the professional Conn branded saxes of the day (although interestingly it does have the ‘Patd dec 6 1914 1119954’ patent stamp which refers to them according to saxpics). It is made of good quality brass and is finished in gold lacquer. Although this has worn off in places, it hasn’t got the nasty reddish-brown rust that appears on some of the Conn horns of the 1950s. The key tops don’t have pearls and there is no top G# of course. By design it is a ‘clapper’ with the bottom keys on both left and right of the instrument. Conn moved the keys to the left with the 6M and even kept them there with the 28M Connstellation, when Selmer had moved them to the right.

The Player

It’s a little bit rough when blowing, especially around the G on the bottom octave. However it plays reasonably in tune across both registers. The keys are much less balanced than on a more modern horn, but they stand up well to comparison with the other altos I have from around this date. In fact the over all sound is clear and crisp, with nice sub-octave undertones you’d expect from a Conn. I notice no difference without rolled tone holes – in fact this horn would last a lot longer if played for hours every day. As always I got my excellent local saxophone technician to replace the pads, felts and cork.

As always I’ve included a video clip so you can hear what this horn sounds like being played.

I must admit I haven’t played this sax much over the years. Not least because I have many other – arguably better – altos to choose from. However, having played it for this review I have no doubt that I will be taking it out to a few jam sessions in future.

Saxifications

  • Make – Conn
  • Model – Pan-American alto
  • Serial Number – P6687
  • Date of Manufacture – 1920
  • Place of Manufacture – Elkhart, Indiana, USA
  • Finish – Gold lacquer
  • Weight – 4lb 8oz
  • Sound – Full and moderately loud
  • Ease of Blowing – A bit rough in the middle
  • Ease of Fingering – Unbalanced, no pearls

More about stencil saxophones can be found in an excellent article on Cybersax.
Do you own a stencil saxophone or Conn of this early date? Do you play them live? As always please let me know by commenting on this post.

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13 Responses

  1. I have a Pan American alto almost I identical to yours I am in the process of restoring now Ser#p49xx. I didn’t get a case with mine though.
    Mark

  2. I have some pictures on SoTW in this thread where I was looking for information on my Pan American alto:
    http://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?136799-Pan-American-Alto
    These Pictures were taken when I first got the sax and I will post some more when I am finished with It.

  3. Hello!
    I have a sax conn produced in 1915. Does anyone have any information from him?
    If yes, could you help me?
    I always trippin something but never find anything.
    Hugs

  4. Erick
    Very intersting- 1915 was when colonel Conn sold the company. Send a picture to Martin_Hingley@yahoo.co.uk if you can.
    Best
    Martin

  5. I have a Conn tenor, SN 46537 which dates for 1918, and a Commonwealth (Conn stencil) tenor, SN 45426, also 1918 if Conn was still using their serial numbers for stencils. The Conn marked horn is not very attractive with some moderate dings and the lacquer is quite worn, but it plays surprisingly well. The Commonwealth is sliver-plated, and the plating is completely intact. It has the original white pads and doesn’t seal that well, but it is a beautiful instrument. Both saxophones are similarly made, leading me to believe that they were made within several days of each other.

    • Gregory
      Many thanks for your comments. Interesting that the stencil has a prper serial number rather than the shorter on on mine above.
      Let me know if you’d like to have either one reviewed here.
      Best
      Martin

    • About commonwealth , I got an alto commonwealth 14 sept 1915 by conn, id like to compare with yours you a a photo?

      • Thanks for your comment.
        There are lots of photos here. Is there something specific you want to look at? Let me know and I’ll update the post.
        If it’s really from 1915 it’s very interesting, given Conn’s sale of his company in that year. Would you like us to cover your saxophone here? ou can contact me on martin_hingley@yahoo.co.uk.
        Best – Martin

  6. Hi, could you help me with a pan american, I know from all the web searching its a conn stencil. Found at an estate sale. All new cork, felt, an pads with I’m guessing vinyl resinators. From all I can findit may of been made from 63-72. Case smells like the 20’s. On the rear it has patd Dec. 8 1914, 119954, A. P21009 It plays just great, the family said it was there fathers. I think he just had it rebuilt not long ago. Can you help me with the year, or am I close? Thx Pat

  7. The holes are extruded on this, It looks exactly like all your pictures posted, including the cas is the same. Thats what makes me question my research. thx Pat

  8. Pat
    Thanks for your comment. It’s from 1925 according to the Conn Loyalist – see http://cderksen.home.xs4all.nl/ConnSerialsPanAmBrass.html.
    The patent number ‘Dec. 8 1914… refers to the Haynes tone hole patent – see saxpics http://saxpics.com/conn/docs/numbers.htm. which I believe is actually for the rolled tone holes on more professional models than mine (and probably yours). It’s not to do with the micro-tuner neck – so the post is wrong in that respect. The Pan American brand was a lower specification than those horns sold under the Conn brand, but were manufactured by Conn (a bit like some Fender Squire or Gibson Epiphone guitars today).
    If the case is smelly try putting an air freshener in it and if you’re playing the sax a lot, try and find a modern case.
    Hope this helps.
    Best
    Martin

  9. Rough playing around G1 might be an artifact of the double-cup G configuration, used at Conn from about 1910-20. The smaller cup is to vent the note better and always opens/closes with the bigger cup. This makes it tricky seating or adjusting both pads correctly.

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