Martin ‘The Martin’ Alto (1944)

The Story

My friend Tony H brough this round the other day. He’s owned the horn for about 3 months. Unlike me he’s a transient collector, preferring to own just one tenor and one alto at any particular time.
He associates Martin horns with Art Pepper – a player he remembers from the 1950s. He had a melodic and light innovative sound – very different from Charlie Parker and his many imitators who were all the rage at the time. I definitely agree, having many Art Pepper albums. The poor man’s personal life was unfortunately in stark contrast to his beautiful horn playing. He also noted that a number of British dance band players used Martins in the post war years. Continue reading

King New Voll-True Alto (1930)

The Story

I bought this in 2001 when I was travelling a couple of times a year to San Francisco to events such as the annual Sun Microsystems analyst meeting. There are a handful of Savings and Loan shops in the less touristy places – areas where people will ask you for money on the street and your middle class American friends advise you not to go. I really like these shops, because their owners tended to undervalue their stock, minimising the loan value on the assets. Although I didn’t realise it at the time the pound’s rising value against the dollar made buying secondhand saxophones even more attractive. It’s all changed since then – the pound hs declined significantly in value and eBay makes all saxophone values knowable for the shop owners. I also believe that these instruments are a finite resource – they got pawned years ago. I can’t find many interesting saxophones any more in San Francisco in these shops – I joke with my friends that I bought them all. Continue reading

Dearman ‘New Super’ Alto (1959)

The Story

I bought this for from my excellent saxophone doer-upper in 2006. He knows that my collection spans all types of saxophone and was right that I’d go for the art deco look and feel of this one. I know Dallas Arbiter as a UK importer of guitars in the 1970s and it’s nice to have an example of the company’s earlier activities with brass instruments. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Conn 28M Alto (1950)

The Story 

I was travelling for business in Phoenix, Texas, a few years ago and went searching for saxophones. At the time the British Pound was at a very high exchange rate against the dollar, so I had been buying quite a few horns from America. I remember visiting three or four pawn brokers (savings and loan shops). This particular one sold mainly guitars and had several hundred on show around a pretty big store. There was a glass display cabinet with six or seven saxophones in it and I had a look to see what was inside. This stood out as unusual at the bottom left hand side. The shop assistant got it out for me. I was immediately surprised that it had a plastic keyguard and was made by Conn. It didn’t look like any of the others I had or had seen. Continue reading

Hawkes And Son XX Century Alto (1932)

The Story

A Couple of years ago I was looking to add a good English saxophone to my collection. Hawkes and Son made saxophones in their factory in Edgeware near London. I saw this in an eBay auction and put a bid on it.
I never took much interest in the instrument when it arrived, because it was immediately evidently that it was a ‘high C’ and unplayable in tune. Although I collect saxophones, I’m really not interested in them if they’re unplayable with other musicians, which is true of all ‘high C’ instruments. For those of you who don’t know, concert pitch was not always the standard 440Hz in is today. Many instrument manufacturers from the nineteenth onwards made high and low pitched instruments. While pitch is possible to adjust for stringed instruments, it can’t be changed for brass and saxophones, where the length of the tube dictates the frequency of the notes. Looking at the pictures now I realise that I completely failed to see that this horn had a solid silver bell and neck – like a King Silversonic. If I had I might have been more tempted to keep it.

I had some trouble getting a refund for this sax, but took some photos, which I think are useful for those thinking of owning a Hawkes XX Century horn. Oh… and to avoid purchasing a high-pitched Hawkes look for the ‘#’ or ‘H’ (bad) and ‘b’ or ‘L’ (good) markings by the serial number. I’m not personally against owning ‘high C’ horns, but I’m not going to pay proper saxophone prices for them.

My advice to those selling them is to make sure the fact that it’s a ‘high C’ is listed right at the top of the advert. Sell the instrument on its historical importance, but not on its playability.

Continue reading

Conn Artist 6M Naked Lady Alto (1956)

The Story

I bought this from my saxophone technician a couple of years ago. He knows my collection very well, and wondered if I wanted to add a classic alto. There was a time when Selmer, Conn and King fought it out to be considered the best instrument for modern jazz. Specifically the Mark VI, 6M and Super 20 were the specific horns to pick. Each has their adherents and key features. For me this is in second place to my Mark VI of all the altos I have. It was made at a time before manufacturing moved from Elkhart Indiana. I’ve started playing it in concerts and am beginning to understand its many values. Continue reading

Selmer Mark VI Alto (1962)

The Story

I’ve owned this since I was 13 when a school boy at Abingdon School. I managed to get a term’s free lessons because I ‘looked like a saxophonist’ according to the head of music, Antony Le Fleming. I was very lucky to be taught by Pat Crumley, who was a fine musician. He used to borrow this horn to play with Johnny Dankworth. Alas neither are with us any more. Continue reading

Lyon And Healy ‘Artist’ Alto (1920)

The Story

I bought this alto from Magginisupplies, who are based in the West Country. Over the years I have acquired a number of fine instruments from Tony, who is a keen on sailing, so we sometimes meet in the car park of a local reservoir when something interesting comes up. This was one of a couple I bought at the time. What a grand tribute to capitalism it is – to be buying ancient saxophones on a Sunday morning from the back of Tony’s estate car. He has a lot of different instruments for sale, although I believe violins are perhaps his main thing. Continue reading