1970s King Super 20 "Cleveland" Baritone

All of the awesome baritones just keep finding me, I'm not sure how it happens, but I LIKE it!  This one came in looking a little rough around the edges, with well-worn original lacquer and verdigris throughout.  The owner really wanted a nice even finish on his baby, and as we don't do relacquering here, and the cost to silver plate an instrument this size is substantial, we opted for a chemical strip of the remaining spotty lacquer and a hand polish, followed by a few protective coats of wax to seal the brass from the elements.  Along the way we moved the strap ring to improve balance and ergonomics, and installed a modern right hand thumbhook base with a gold plated "elephant ear" style thumbhook to improve comfort.

In order to keep a bare brass horn looking clean and shiny, a wax finish must be re-applied every 1-2 years (depending on care and environment of course), but this is not a major issue as the horn usually needs to go in for a clean and oil change by that point anyhow, and it can all be done at the same time.

1929 Selmer "Super" Transitional Baritone Sax

Another really pretty and rare silver instrument I have the pleasure of working on and maintaining is this 1929 Selmer.  Made in the time period between Selmer's Modele 26, and their newer "Super Sax" series of instruments, this is one of only about 200 of these in the world.  This horn has been in a few times as we dial in its set up and get it playing its best.  We have replaced a bunch of pads, fabricated some new pieces for the keywork to improve feel and reliability, repaired and relocated the strap ring for better handling, and most recently fabricated a temporary bell extension to allow the owner to get a low A happening at will.  The note that results from this is one of the most awesome things I have ever heard - too bad low A baritones didn't exist until 30 years later - these early models really roar when you get down there.

Pictured with a 1932 Selmer "Super" tenor - made by the same hands in the same shop only a few years apart, and reunited after all this time.  Note the small changes in the keywork from the "Transitional" to the "Super" - front F key, pearl side F# touch, modern (non-pivot) palm key design, as well as some substantial differences in the stack mechanics.  Very cool to watch this factory figuring all of this stuff out, ultimately headed towards the iconic "Mark VI" mechanism, which has been copied and adapted by virtually every instrument made since.  

 

Ultra rare 1920's Buescher "True Tone" C Soprano

Luckily, I have been managing to take photos of some of the cooler horns that make their way across the bench these past months, so I am thankfully able to catch you all up on what we have been up to!

I really did a double-take when I first popped open the case on this one.  "Is that a C soprano?" I very likely gasped.  Just as I mentioned in my 2016 post about the Buescher "C Melody" tenor overhaul, these C horns were created in the late teens and 20s to allow casual hobby players to play right off of piano sheet music in a parlour setting - both impressing their friends and enraging their enemies.  This one, pitched an octave below the C tenor we did last year, came through the door needing some serious work - bent keywork, missing rollers, original 1920's kid leather pads (!), although still sporting a complete set of snap-in resonators and original springs.  

The owner really wanted to get this one playing again without too much concern for cosmetics, although I couldn't help giving it a quick once over with the polishing cloth to bring out the high spots in the silver.  After a bit of fabrication, a bunch of new pads, a lot of key bending and fitting, and just as much setup time, we had a single-reed-oboe on our hands.  Pretty wild!  These older horns do take a bit more time to get right, due to non-standard mechanical design, although they usually work great once you get them set up the way they want to be.  Another tricky thing about these old C saxophones is finding the right mouthpiece for them, as the typical SATB mouthpieces tend to be a bit large or small to play the instrument in tune.  There are options out there, however, and we are definitely spoiled with lots of great custom mouthpiece craftsmen today, some of whom are even willing to take this type of thing on.  

Keep an eye out around the streets of Vancouver for this little firecracker bringing smiles to young and old alike as a featured squealer in East Van's own Carnival Band.

"What happened to the blog?!!?"

As you may have noticed, it's been a little quiet around here lately.  Rest assured we have been at least as busy as ever making great instruments play even greater, but as you probably know if you've dropped by the shop in the last 6 months, I have been working on a totally new project, one that has been taking up every moment of my non-essential time.  In light of this, please forgive the lapse in juicy "On The Bench" updates, as I present to you, my loyal readers, my most ambitious project yet, an extremely rare and precious 2016 "Max" model, in as-new condition!

1970 Mark VI, World Traveller!

We are currently in the process of overhauling this very cool 1970 Mark VI for a customer.  This one has spent a significant amount of its life in the Philippines, and has the rust to prove it.  What lacquer remains has also turned a very dark black-brown colour, making this a very unique and cool-looking instrument.  This horn came through the door with some pretty dodgy previous pad-work and worn / noisy action, making it a great candidate for an overhaul.  Cosmetically, the owner wanted to give it a fresh start mechanically while retaining the world-traveller look, so we are working to clean it up and remove verdigris without doing a full polish.  This beauty also has the headless point screws, a mechanical change that Selmer tried for a year or so before going back to the earlier design.  Based on the character and vibe this one had before starting the work (given the poor playing condition), I have no doubt it's going to be a great player once we are finished with it.

Stay tuned for more photos as the work progresses!

 

 

 

1933 Conn 'Transitional' Tenor - Shop Project!

Our first shop horn!  We just picked up this holy-grail-year Conn 'Transitional' tenor to be the subject of a full custom overhaul, including stripping the very heavy re-lacquer it's currently buried under, fixing up a few half-done prior modifications and adding a few more of our own keywork modifications to simplify and lighten things up.  This horn is a good candidate for this type of work since it has already been messed with enough that it's no longer a collector-worthy horn, so we might as well go all the way and finish the job.  This horn will be listed up for sale once it's completed so stay tuned!

Re-lacquering saxophones is not a service we offer or endorse - this process often involves excessive buffing in order to prep the instrument, which can remove metal and damage sensitive parts of the instrument such as tone holes and neck tenons.  The new coat of lacquer is also often applied much too thickly which may affect the character and response of the instrument (controversial topic alert!)  All of this means it is often the right choice to remove the newer coat of lacquer and allow the instrument to develop its own patina, slowing oxidation with regular care and a thin coat of wax if needed.

1973 Selmer Mark VI Tenor

Look what exploded all over my bench this week - a killin' 1973 Mark VI!  Overhauling this one with a set of custom brass resonators.  

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All finished up last week - came out great, very quiet and solid feeling.  So nice to get to put one of these classic beauties back in the playing condition it deserves to be in.  

1921 Buescher 'True Tone' C-Melody

The next horn in the overhaul queue is this rare beauty.  Vintage Buescher saxophones are known for having the smooth warm sound of the other big American brands of the day (Conn, King), but they differ in that they tend to have a certain 'centre' to the sound, reminiscent of the classic French makers (Buffet, Selmer, etc).  Their unique sound has made Bueschers popular with classical saxophonists in addition to the jazzers.  Specifically, Sigurd Rascher, one of the first big names in classical saxophone (Mr. Four Octave Range), played exclusively on Bueschers throughout his career, including the True Tone model.

This instrument is not just a Buescher though, it's a C-Melody.  C-Melody saxophones are the long lost middle sibling, pitched between the alto and tenor, in the key of C.  These were made during a time (20's / 30's) when playing the saxophone was as pop-culture-cool and common-place as playing the guitar is today.  A saxophone pitched in the key of C allows to you slyly look over crazy Uncle Herbert's right shoulder at his piano music and jam along at those parlour soirees he hosts each fortnight.  Think of the admiration and marriage proposals you will receive!  Without ever needing to study or practice! (see attached advertisement)  All joking aside, C-Melodies have a very unique interesting voice, a little closer to a tenor than an alto, but still retaining qualities of both.  

This one came to me dirty, tarnished, and seized up, but sporting an almost complete set of original pads, which as you can imagine were looking pretty rough.  Thankfully, the beautiful silver plate is in pretty good shape and all of the important parts are there, (along with the original shaped case, mouthpiece, and leather neckstrap!) so it is going to turn out great, both visually and sonically.  This one will get small flat metal resonators to keep its vintage look and tone, while improving the feel of the keywork with some firmer pads and the subtle use of modern materials.  

All done - looking stunning and playing so smoothly and easily with a that great unique C-Melody voice!  Scroll right to the end of the photos to see how it turned out.

I just got a very similar horn in playable shape in here on consignment - keep an eye on the For Sale page, it will be listed up soon!

1956 Selmer Mark VI

This week I had the good fortune to be asked to inspect and set up this absolute beauty of a horn.  These early Mark VIs were produced in the Selmer company's absolute prime, and are probably THE most desirable saxophones on the planet.   Once I got through the usual issues with this one (pads, corks, felts, springs, adjustments, lubrication, etc) to get it sealing and looking great, however, it still didn't POP and play as well as I knew it should.  After a little further inspection, I discovered the neck tenon was ever-so-slightly out of round and leaking a significant amount, even though it seemed to fit its socket perfectly.  The instrument played surprisingly well in spite of the leak, so I suspect it has been like this a long time, but after re rounding and tightening up the neck fit a bit, BOOM -the horn really jumped to life.  One of the best instruments I have ever played - so fat and warm throughout the range, and with the most beautiful and ergonomic keywork. The Stradivarius of saxophones.  The prices on these instruments are through the roof these days thanks to eBay and the collector market, which is too bad, because it keeps these world class instruments out of the hands of players, where they should be (and where this one is!)

Bring your horn by and lets check out the neck fit and seal together - if there are any issues here there's no way it's playing as good as it could be.  

1923 Conn "New Wonder II" Alto (A.K.A. the "Chu Berry" model)

Starting into another one of these beauties for a customer.  This one has Conn's beautiful bead blast matte silver finish on the body, with polished highlights, bell interior, and keys.  This is an pretty early "Chu" but it still has the nail-file G-sharp key and the more modern palm key layout that the NWII horns have.  It's getting a full overhaul and polish with modern materials and classic Conn OEM-style flat metal resonators.  This one wasn't in playable condition before starting (see photo) but I have no doubt it's going to roar just like the others I have done once the work is finished.  
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I am very pleased with how this one turned out - it plays with a ton of power and warmth at full volume and purrs like a kitten if you let off the throttle a bit.  Also pretty nice to look at, if you're into that kind of thing (I am).  Enjoy the updated photos!

Grassi Alto Complete!

After a (much too) long delay waiting on the wall for the custom resonators to come in, this Italian beauty is finally all finished!  It definitely has a 'French' vibe to how it plays, very warm and compact sounding, which goes along with the all of the interesting little Selmer design imitations to be found on it.  Very nice alto, I want one.  Although the delay was a real drag, the custom brass resonators do set it off, and seem to add a faster response and a nice warm solidity to the sound.  

In related news:  Thanks to the recent purchase of a shop lathe we will soon be offering custom brass resonators made in-house to fit your specific horn.  This will naturally cut down a lot on the hassle and wait of ordering these from elsewhere, and allow me to make them to exactly the sizes needed for your instrument.  They will be a re-usable screw-back design, so they can be removed, polished, and reinstalled as pads are replaced down the line, for the life of the instrument. I will have a dedicated blog post about this and a few other new products coming in the new year.  Exciting stuff!

1970ish Ida Maria Grassi "Jade Rollers" Alto Sax

I have been super busy tuning up school horns and updating the shop (more info on this soon!) but I am finally back on a cool overhaul that I am pleased to share with you.  This is an Italian-made Grassi Alto Sax from right around 1970.  Information about this company is sparse at best, but the story goes that in the late 1950's a whole factory's worth of Italian sax makers were on strike from another manufacturer, and came to the Grassi flute (?) factory with the proposition to start up saxophone manufacture there.  Fast forward 60 years and If you search for Grassi now, you will find Asian-made horns, which also tells us the name was sold at some point.  

Historical details aside, this is a well made and reasonably rare instrument that is undoubtedly modelled on the "balanced" Selmer instruments of the 1950's (as most instruments these days are).  One unique thing about these horns is the beautiful jade rollers installed on all of the pinky keys.  This one looks like a couple have been replaced with a brighter green material at some point, but the majority are still intact.   Condition wise, aside from the usual mechanical wear, the neck socket needs to be resoldered and repaired, a couple of posts are pushed in to the body, the bell lip is quite warped, and I am going to do my best to remove as much of the red corrosion as I can from the exposed brass without damaging any of the existing lacquer finish.  

Along with the overhaul, we have also decided to go with a beautiful custom-sized set of Resotech domed brass resonators, which are going to look stunning, and should add a nice dark crispiness to the sound (will post a photo when these come in!).  Also check out the engraving, neck socket design, bell-to-body brace, pinky key layout, and neck logo (all very distinctly Selmer-looking).  Stay tuned for more photos as the rebuild progresses on this rare Italian beauty!     

1950 Conn 10M "Naked Lady" Tenor Saxophone

Tearing into another overhaul on another great instrument this week.  I thought this time I would post up some before photos and then update them as the work is completed.  When you see an instrument that is all covered in red corrosion like this, it's usually a sign of very high copper content in the brass, which leaches out to some degree given enough time and the right conditions.  In my experience, horns that take on this deep red corrosion are usually very nice to play on.   Of course this kind of thing is hard to say for sure, although a lot of new manufacturers are moving towards using high-copper-content brass in their horns, so they must have their reasons as well.  

These Conn 10M's were the #1 horn in the big band era, and were played by many players right through into the sixties and beyond (most notably Dexter Gordon), and they have an unbelievable sound.  They were nicknamed the "Naked Lady" horn for the engraving of the armpits-up woman on the bell.  The bells were all hand-engraved and after having worked on a number of these instruments, I can tell you that some of these ladies came out a lot more…ummm….proportionate than others did.  This beauty has old pads, a lot of mechanical wear, a warped neck socket (common on these) and a nice banana-bend in the body, but will be right as rain soon enough.  

UPDATE:  Finished and playing well - these are just so darn big and husky sounding.  Any tenor player who hasn't played a well set-up 10M owes it to themselves to try one out.  Very cool and very tempting, no matter what you're playing on now.  Check out the new photos below.

Early 1930s King "Voll-True" Baritone

The shop has been very busy and I haven't been keeping up the blog as much as I should be, but I had to show this one off - a very cool old horn that came to me in pieces in a box.  This one will have some stories to tell once I get it talking again, no doubt.  When this instrument was made Henry Ford had only been mass producing automobiles for a handful of years.  Hitler had just been elected as the leader of Germany and no one knew what was about to happen.   The first phone call across the pacific had just been made.  I could go on.  I had time to think about these kinds of things while restoring this horn as it has some pretty crazy mechanical design choices that made for quite a bit of extra work to sort out, including a one-piece G key that has 2 key cups mounted to it and closes both simultaneously, and a forked Eb mechanism operating a full size pad in the lower stack.  Also pretty much every key was bent and mangled.  Madness.  I am just wrapping this one up and am pretty excited to welcome it back to the musical world and see what it has to say for itself before it goes back to its righteous owner.

UPDATE:  Added some photos of the completed instrument.  This thing has an absolutely phenomenal sound - it barks and whispers like no baritone I have played.  Makes up for some of the mechanical quirks for sure!  It feels very good to have brought it back to life so it can continue to make more music.

1969 Selmer Mark VI Tenor

Working on this very cool horn at the moment, it took a nasty spill and has a pretty good body bend just below the palm keys and a good amount of rippling and dents as a result.  I am repairing the body and doing a full setup to get her back to her former glory!  This is one of the relatively rare Mark VI horns that came from the factory with head-less point screws (see photo).  It's easy to see why this idea wasn't kept around for very long, one of them was permanently seized in the horn and needed to be removed and a replacement made.

 

1952 Selmer SBA

Some gentle adjustments (using the light sabre below in honour of Star Wars day), a little snugging up of the neck fit and a fresh neck cork on this beautiful Super Balanced Action tenor from 1952.  Gorgeous instrument!

An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

1925 Conn "Chu" Alto

Just finishing up an overhaul on this beauty between other jobs.  It played surprisingly well before, despite very old pads, a poorly fitted neck, and lots of tarnish (see photo), so I have pretty high expectations for how it's going to turn out.