Martin Handcraft Alto (1930)

The Story

I bought this from my saxophone technician a few years age, who had already repaired, repadded and replaced the felts on it. It is a silver-plated Martin Handraft alto from 1930 and is excellent condition, made just after the stock market crash the previous year.

The Instrument

I really like the precision engineering of Martin saxophones. They have a feel to them unlike any other make. Johann Heinrich Martin was born in Dresden in Germany in 1835 and learnt to manufacture musical instruments there before emigrating to the US. He founded The Martin Company in 1865 in Chicago but his factory was burnt down in the great fire of 1871. Moving to Elkhart he joined Conn, where he was one of only five employees at the time; although he also made instruments for a company in Michigan.

Leaving Conn he set up The Martin Band Instrument Company in 1904 and ran in a factory at 431-433 Baldwin Street in Elkhart, Indiana. Although John Henry died as early as 1910, his company thrived – eventually leaving the saxophone trade to help make rockets for NASA. I can guess that making O rings and saxophones are similar – just on an immensely different scale.

This instrument is a ‘Typewriter’ – a term used to describe the use of flat pearl key caps in places usually reserved for curved metal parts. It is not as extreme in the use of these as some I’ve seen in pictures – the three palm keys on the left hand side have these key tops but the bottom ones do not. Perhaps I should refer to the instrument as a ‘transitional typewriter’.

It is a silver-plated horn in excellent condition having been cleaned in a silver-polish bath and supplied with a silver saver in its original case. It is a ‘clapper’ with the bottom keys split between the left and right sides of the bell. It has the classic Martin ‘bevelled’ tone holes of course, which bend in for the last quarter of an inch. There’s no doubt that Martin manufactured any saxophone which has these features. They look better than the rolled tone holes found on Conn instruments, but for the life of me I can’t tell any difference in playing between these two types of tone holes and normal ones.

It is marked ‘Martin Handcraft, Elkhart Ind.’ on the bell and ‘Martin, 99698, Low Pitch’ under the strap holder. It has the serial number stamped on the neck as well – the sign of a good quality professional horn.

The Player

I must admit I haven’t played this much since I acquired it. However it blows really well. The action is smooth – if anything too smooth on the D to E and G to A transitions where I find myself playing the sharps without really wanting to. It has a good weight, although it is a bit colder to the tough, being silver-plated rather than lacquered.

The tone is strong and rounded and it plays reasonably well in tune in both octaves. It is not as easy to play as a modern Selmer or Yamaha sax, but that’s not surprising given its age.

I’ve included the usual video clip so you can hear what the horn sounds like played with my Bobby Dukoff LD 7 metal mouthpiece. I’d certainly opt for a more enclosed ebonite one if I intended to play this more regularly.

Saxifications

  • Make – Martin
  • Model – Handcraft (Typewriter) alto
  • Serial Number – 99,698
  • Date of Manufacture – 1930
  • Place of Manufacture – 431-433 Baldwin Street, Elkhart, Indiana
  • Finish – Silver-plated
  • Weight – 5lb 8oz
  • Sound – Strong and clear
  • Ease of Blowing – Open but not as full as a modern saxophone
  • Ease of Fingering – Well balanced, a bit too light on G# and D# keys

There’s a great site called The Martin Story ru by Edwin Van Druten, which you should visit to get more information and lots of pictures of Martin saxophones.

Do you own a Martin saxophone? How does it compare with others you’ve played? As always, let me know by commenting on this article.

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One Response

  1. Saxophones from the early to mid 1900s are priceless. In my opinion, they look better – and they play with more soul.

    The same goes for trumpet. The Martins were built with unmatched quality in those days.

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