Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Selmer Week

It's been a few months since my last entry, but I am back now to tell you what a day I had today.  This week, from Monday October 24th to Friday October 28th, it is Selmer Week at Steinway Hall on West 57th Street in New York City.  Today, the 25th is the only time I had to attend.  The occasion was the showing of the latest model Selmer saxophones and clarinets, with the new limited edition "Dragon Bird" engraved horns, the final in a series of bird engravings representing a bird from every continent in the world, in commemoration of Charlie "Bird" Parker.  Before this, the limited edition "Bird" saxophones were limited to the Reference 54 series.  This time saxophones in the Series III line have been included.

There were dozens of saxophones on display to try out, as well as the full line of Selmer mouthpieces.  I brought my own alto and tenor mouthpieces.  The alto mouthpiece I favor is my Meyer 6M with a LaVoz medium reed and my tenor mouthpiece is a newly acquired Delacole metal 6* which I have become quite attached to for my tenor playing.  I used a Rico Plasticover 2 1/2 on that.

When I first entered Steinway Hall and walked up the stairs to where the rooms were located, the first person to greet me was Jerome Selmer, president of Selmer.  Just as the last time when I met him 10 years ago, he was warm and cordial. 
I went into the room and they were still setting up all the saxophones for display and for all the visitors to try out.  It took the better part of an hour to get them all set up, but once they were, here was what the room looked like from different angles.

To put it bluntly, once everything was set up, I felt like a sex addict in a whorehouse with the most beautiful girls in the world.  For a saxophone lover, this was truly paradise.  

The first saxophone I picked up was the standard Reference 54 alto in deep gold lacquer.  Those of you who read my last review of this model may recall that I had mixed feelings about it.  Not this time.  When I blew into this one, it was easily one of the best altos I ever played.  The feel of the keys was perfect, the response when I blew into it was nothing short of breathtaking.  The tone was dark, but unlike my last test horn, had a lot of spread.  This was the horn I could make my permanent gigging horn.  It wasn't over yet.  There were other standard references and I played them all.  While I still liked the first one I played best, the others were still rather consistent and each exhibited wonderful tonal characteristics. I tried a few Series III altos, and they had a more focused tone.  The classical players in the room were favoring these horns, and it was easy to see why. 

Now it was time to move on to the tenors.  The first one I picked up was a "Dragon Bird" tenor with dark lacquer.  I barely breathed into it, and the sound came out sweet and full.  I took it through its paces, and not only can this baby sing, it could growl, moan and cry.  It could do whatever you wanted it to do.  The keys were perfect as on the other horns, and I found it very difficult to put it down, but I did, and as I did, I spotted a "Dragon Bird" alto further down on the same table.  I picked it up, slid my Meyer on the neck, and blew into it.  Just a few minutes before, I was playing the standard Reference 54 and thinking it was the best alto I've ever played.  This "Dragon Bird" had a little something extra that made me swoon as I played it.  As far as I was concerned, I have found the horn of my dreams.  

At about that time, Richie Cole, Mr. Alto Madness came into the room.  He already owned a Reference and brought it with him, but of course he tried other horns like the rest of us.  During breaks in the playing, we had a few conversations, and this was the first time I actually had the chance to talk to him.  He is a great guy with a great sense of humor, and needless to say, a great player.
Selmer has always been at the top of the heap in the saxophone world, and I really think that with this latest group of saxophones they have basically outdistanced the field at this point.  Forget the Mark VI.  Lots of players will be attached to them, but seriously, these horns blow it away.  I even have to admit that the "Dragon Bird" alto had something extra that my beloved old Conn doesn't.  Sigh!

If you want to see and try out some awesome saxophones, then get thee down to 109 West 57th Street, 2nd floor and see and play some of the greatest saxophones on the planet.  The hours are from 10am until 6pm until October 28th.  There will also be performances in the evening featuring various classical and jazz artists.  Come on down!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Student and Intermediate Saxophone Reviews

I haven't posted in quite some time now, as I've been busy with other things, but as the new school year approaches, I thought it might be fitting to look at the best student saxophones for young players who are either going to start a school music program or for students of all ages who just need something decent to play on while staying within a budget.  I've had a chance to play on all of the horns I'm reviewing here, and so these are my opinions and may differ with some music teachers, but then I've had plenty of differences with teachers in the past.  I am also reviewing intermediate saxophones.  These are saxophones that have better keywork, more finish options, somewhat better craftsmanship than student horns, and are priced somewhere between a student and professional saxophone.  In many cases, the intermediate priced horns are excellent for professional use.  I know a few players who need to double or triple on the saxophone, and while their main horn is a pro model, the other horns are either intermediate or student level saxophones.  Please keep in mind that all of the student saxophones made today are manufactured in Asia.  China, Taiwan and Vietnam being the leading producers, with Taiwan also making some excellent professional saxophones.  Don't let this fact sway you.  While there are a lot of junk horns coming out of these countries, especially China, there are also saxophones from good to excellent quality also coming out of the same countries, including China.  The saxophones I've reviewed are all altos, but most of them have a tenor equivalent.  Many older beginners from teen to adult may start on the tenor sax if they wish.  For the younger beginner it is always recommended to begin with an alto.  As for the baritone sax, I also recommend that a beginner doesn't play that beast until attaining some level of proficiency with the other saxes.  Although there are lesser priced soprano saxophones, they are also not recommended for the beginner because of its trickier intonation.


Yamaha has become the standard in student instruments, known for its good build quality and homogenous sound.  They are among the more expensive student and intermediate saxes on the market, but they are durable, have excellent keywork, and have probably the best resale value amongst student horns.
Yamaha YAS23 Alto Sax

The Yamaha YAS23 Alto is probably the best selling student alto sax in the world, and the same may be said for the tenor version.  Keep in mind that the current models are made in China.  The general price is around US $1300 and for the tenor around $1800. There are also used altos available anywhere from $500 to $900.
Yamaha YAS475 Alto Sax

The YAS475 is Yamaha's intermediate model which is also now made in China.  However, like all Yamaha instruments, it is solidly made and its tone in my opinion, is similar to the YAS62II which is their entry-level  pro horn.  The price is around $1600 to $1700, tenors around $2200, but you have to check because Yamaha has been raising the prices on its instruments every year. 


Anyone who's followed this blog knows how I feel about their 400 line.  While Buffet does make a student horn, the 100, the 400 in my mind represents the best value, because it is sold at an intermediate price, but is really a pro level horn, with the looks, feel and sound of a top of the line sax.  The price of the alto is around $1650, the tenor at around $1985 and the baritone around $3500 to $4000.  The 400 comes in either gold lacquer or matte lacquer finish.  There are also gold plated versions of the alto and tenor which can be seen at the Buffet showroom.  
Buffet 400 Alto Gold Lacquer
Buffet 400 Alto Matte Lacquer

Antigua Winds

Antigua Winds is a company based in Texas, with manufacturing facilities in Taiwan and China.  They make an extensive line of student, intermediate and pro saxophones.  Here is a model that I've tried and I find worthy of consideration.  
  Antigua Winds AS424OLQ Power Bell Alto Sax

This is another pro level horn at an intermediate price.  These are built in Taiwan, features a range up to F#, with elaborate engraving throughout the horn.  They go from around $1400 to $1600.

P. Mauriat

P. Mauriat entered the market with an impressive line of professional saxophones where most companies would have done so with a student and intermediate line.  This also may be the reason why they very quickly found a place for themselves in what is a limited and very competitive market.  Only after they established themselves with their pro horns did they introduce their student and intermediate saxophones.  I can say that their entry-level horns have the same quality as their pro saxes.
P. Mauriat PMSA202 Alto Sax

The PMSA202 is P. Mauriat's version of a student horn, though it really is more of an intermediate horn.  It compares favorably with the Yamaha TAS23 but has the high F# key which the Yamaha does not have.  It is priced below the YAS23 at around $1000.  It has a brighter tone than most P. Mauriat horns, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, because it's not thin or shrill. 
P. Mauriat LaBrava Alto Sax

The LaBrava is really a pro horn but is priced slightly above what an intermediate sax would be, but below the cost of most pro horns.   The LaBrava has a brushed gold lacquer finish with a nickel silver neck.  I find the tone bright but full-bodied.  It goes for around $2000 to $2100, the tenor around $2300 to $2400. 


Cannonball saxophones are built in Taiwan, but the company is based outside of Salt Lake City, Utah.  It was founded by Tevis and Cheryl Lauket.  Artists like Pete Christlieb, Gerald Albright and Edgar Winter are among some of the pros that play Cannonball saxophones. 
Cannonball Sceptyr Alto

The Cannonball Sceptyr is the company's entry-level saxophone, but it has pro features like a high F# key and abalone key touches.  It is priced below the Yamaha YAS475 at around $1500. 


For many years the Selmer Bundy was one of the few choices for a decent student saxophone, but when Yamaha introduced the YAS23, the brand's days were numbered, because the Bundy was still being made in the US at the Selmer USA factory, formerly the Buescher factory in Elkhart, Indiana. It just got too expensive to produce here unfortunately.  Selmer moved production of student and intermediate saxophones to Asia.  China for the student horns and Taiwan for its intermediate line. 
Selmer Prelude Alto Sax

The Prelude is the name given for all of Selmer's student line, including trumpets, flutes, trombones and clarinets.  The Prelude has a fairly warm tone for a student sax.  My biggest gripe is the fact that quality control seems to be lax.  I have found that many times the keywork was out of whack right out of the box.  Of course whenever I take a horn out of the box I prefer to have a tech go over it to be sure it's properly set up, but with the Prelude, it often looks like the keys were damaged when it was just sloppy work at the factory.  I was recently given an unused Prelude tenor and the C# to Bb keys did not sit squarely on the tone holes.  At first glance it would have seemed that the keys had taken a hit, but closer examination revealed that whoever put the keys on didn't bother to regulate or position them correctly.  Apparently no one at Selmer is inspecting them. My tech took care of the matter.  I found that once the horn is properly adjusted by a tech, it sounds like a saxophone should, and at the price of around $650 for the alto and about $850 for the tenor, it may be worth it to have a tech go over it.   
Selmer LaVoix II Alto Sax

The Selmer LaVoix is the company's intermediate or low pro model depending on how you want to look at it.  They are built in Taiwan, so the build quality is better than the Prelude.  I didn't have key issues with this model as I had with the Prelude.  The LaVoix II also features a high F# key and comes in gold lacquer, rose brass with higher copper content, silver plate and black nickel finishes.  I found the tone to be generally warm and full, and an even scale as horns go.  It goes for somewhere around $1700 to $1900 and the tenor around $2200.     

This doesn't represent all of the student and intermediate saxophones that are out there, only the ones I've had the opportunity to try.  If you're just beginning or want to step up, these are some of the saxes you might look into.

A word of caution.  Please avoid no name instruments from eBay and Craigslist, and only get them from a reputable store or dealer that will back up their product.  If the store you buy it from doesn't have a repair tech in house, also don't buy it, because if it develops a leak or a screw or part comes off, etc., they cannot take care of it. Don't get stuck with a lemon that won't play and may make you give up. 

Update, December 12, 2014

Of all the articles I've written, this is the most widely read one, and tells me how many people are looking for that high quality low cost saxophone and need reliable information.  Since this article was written, the prices of all saxophones have gone up, so at this point, if you can't find a name brand used saxophone that fits your budget, don't throw away your money on some no name piece of junk, which are plentiful on eBay and in small local shops that do not deal in the best musical instruments and do not have repair shops on the premises.  Please refer to my latest article on intermediately priced pro saxophones.  There is a lot of good information there to and links to websites that would have more information. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Saxophones

It seems that we're in the midst of a new Golden Age of saxophone manufacturing.  The first Golden Age of saxophone manufacturing which went from the 1920's through the 60's, saw some of the greatest saxophones ever made by some of the best craftsmen and women from Europe and the USA, from companies like Selmer, Conn, Buescher, Martin, King, Buffet and smaller factories like Dolnet and SML.  Eventually saxophone production in the US ceased, and for a short while Selmer seemed to stand alone as far as premium professional saxophones went, though Buffet was always present.  However, companies like Julius Keilwerth of Germany and Yamaha and Yanagisawa of Japan came along and introduced top quality saxophones into the world market and giving musicians a wider choice.  It also showed that saxophones manufactured in Asia could be made as well as the best made anywhere else.

Where earlier the best saxophones were made in either Europe or America, now the scene has shifted to Europe and Asia, with Japan, Taiwan and China producing more saxophones per capita than anywhere else.  Until the early part of the new millenium, Taiwan was producing at best, student to intermediate level saxophones of varying quality, mostly so-so or just plain terrible.  However, as the demand for reasonably priced professional saxophones grew, Taiwanese manufacturers stepped up, improving the quality of the saxophones.  Now companies in Taiwan like P. Mauriat have placed themselves in the world market as makers of high quality and even innovative professional saxophones. As for China, it has rightly earned its reputation as churning out inferior junk, but this has now also dramatically changed.  Taking advantage of the low cost of labor and production coupled with the modern factories built in China, the established makers in Europe, Japan and Taiwan have contracted Chinese factories to produce high quality saxophones in their name to their specifications.   This has resulted in giving not only students, but also professionals a wider choice of options when looking for a new saxophone.

It would have seemed almost impossible just a few short years ago for any new company, particularly from Asia, to join the ranks of the top manufacturers in the world, but it is happening.  Once a company can establish itself in the marketplace with decent quality, reasonably priced student and intermediate models, they then have the resources to develop and market higher quality pro horns at price points which gives the pro player many more options.  Many professional players need to double not only on flute or clarinet, but also need to play at least two to three members of the saxophone family in order to get those competitive gigs.  Generally, the high cost of a high quality instrument makes it difficult for many players to afford the instruments they need to get those sessions.  Now, with manufacturers from Taiwan and China building excellent instruments at a competitive price point, the pro player and student alike can have a quality instrument that won't break the bank. 

I've already discussed the Buffet 400 line, which is built in China and Taiwan, and P. Mauriat which is built in Taiwan.  I love these saxophones because they look great, play great and sound great.  P. Mauriat very quickly established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the saxophone world.  They were the first company from Taiwan in my opinion that showed that a premium saxophone could be made outside of Europe and Japan.  In a short time they were being endorsed and played by some of the best contemporary players in the world. 

Recently I have been introduced to two fairly new companies who have recently entered the saxophone arena with what I consider quality instruments.  The first is Antigua Winds, and the other is Chateau.  Antigua Winds has actually been around for a while now.  Founded in 1991 by Fred Hoey in San Antonio, Texas, its original mission was to provide students and schools with low-cost quality brass and woodwind instruments.   In the last decade they introduced a line of professional quality saxophones, and have recently introduced a new model, The Pro One, which I will discuss shortly.  The other new company I just came across is called Chateau.  They are out of Taiwan and only recently introduced themselves into the US market when they established a distributorship in California. 


As mentioned above, Antigua Winds was established by Fred Hoey in 1991 with a line of student instruments, entering the professional market in the last half of the last decade.  While the headquarters for the company is located in San Antonio, Texas, the instruments are built in Taiwan.  However, the factory is owned by Antigua Winds and the materials are sourced by them as well.  They have now introduced a new model into the marketplace which is causing a little bit of a stir.  

The new line is called the ProOne, available as an alto and tenor.  It is not known whether or not they will eventually make a soprano and baritone version of this line.  I guess it depends on the success of these two models.  The saxophone was designed by Peter Ponzol, famous for his mouthpieces and saxophone necks.  In fact, it began with him designing a new neck for Antigua's existing saxophones.  The improvement was so pronounced that it was decided to build a whole new saxophone from the neck down.  The ProOne has a couple of innovative features to be sure.  

Along with the neck, the bells keys use double arms from the rods to close the lower tone holes, which branches out to three arms over the cups.  This is called a trident arm, and it is a first for any saxophone.  The tone holes on the bell are also rolled, in order to give a better seal and better projection.  However, the tone holes on the rest of the saxophone are flat for a more centered tone.  Keys have been positioned for an even more ergonomic and natural feel, and the thumb hook and octave key thumb rest is made of metal rather than plastic for a better feel of the resonance to the hands.  So this saxophone is a hybrid of several types of saxophone designs.  They also researched the molecular makeup of brass from French saxophones of the late 40's to early 60's to reference the brass they use for the ProOne. 
Antigua Winds ProOne Alto Saxophone

Antigua Winds ProOne Tenor Saxophone

From all the buzz about the ProOne, I am itching to get my hands on one of these and give them a try.  If any of my readers or followers have the opportunity to try one, please let me know.  Once I have the chance to do so, you can bet I'll write a review here.


Chateau saxophones are made in Taiwan and have only entered the US market very recently.  I have heard about them and have done a little research on them, and I am eager to see and try them.  As of this writing that is all I can say for now.  However, here are a few models to check out, and if you can find a dealer that sells these horns, give them a try and report.  Again, once I do I will do a full review. 
Chateau Tenor Saxophone Dark Lacquer

Chateau Alto Saxophone Copper Finish

Chateau Tenor Nickel Silver

It certainly looks like the game field is expanding.

You can visit their web sites  at:


Friday, March 25, 2011

How Great Do You Want To Be?

Today I met a man who asked me a question no one has ever asked me.  Of course, once I heard the question, I wasn't sure if I was qualified to actually answer it, but then again, since I have had the opportunity to either meet with or study with the greats, I decided to answer him based on my own experiences and with what I have learned over the last 30 years.

He was an older gentleman who played an alto saxophone at his local church.  He was not a professional, but plays every Sunday, and he simply loves doing it and wants to go beyond the music of the Church.  He loves Jazz and Blues and would like to play that music and expressed the desire to be "great" playing it.  I realized that his desire to be "great" did not arise from his ego, but from a desire to really play.  I can relate because I would also like to be "great", because that means I can give full expression to the music I hear in my head.  Nothing wrong with that.

The answer was simple.  It was the answer that came to me when I also expressed to the Universe the desire to be "great".  I want to be able to play what comes into my head, what I feel.  Real music is an expression of what one feels.  If you don't feel it, it won't come out regardless of what instrument you play.  When you connect with the music, you can express yourself better.

My reply was that if you want to be great, you have to do two things.  First, you have to make up your mind that this is what you want to do.  It's not about the money, though if you can make money that is good.  Nothing wrong with money.  Personally, I would rather have it than not.  However, the most important aspect is a combination of practice and dedication.

You have to sit down with your instrument and just practice.  To be truthful, repetition, though boring, yields results when practicing.  Eventually the repetition becomes automatic, and your response will also be automatic.  The combination of the physical practice and just listening to what you are doing will yield big results.

Play every day.  It's that simple.  I don't care if you practice 5 hours or 15 minutes.  If you practice with concentration and focus, you will get results.  However, do not expect instant results.  It just doesn't happen.  There are very few geniuses like Mozart in the world.  The majority of players have had to work on it.  So what!  Work on it!

The final answer is, just sit down and practice and have patience.  If you have an idea of who or what you want to sound like, then listen and emulate.  If not, then keep listening and learn.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Keilwerth Saxophones/Ernie Watts @ The Buffet Showroom NYC

Today I had the pleasure of meeting the great Ernie Watts, who came by the Buffet Showroom in NYC to try out some of the different models of Keilwerth Saxophones.  He personally has been playing a Keilwerth SX90R Tenor for many years now.  I also got to meet and talk with some other great players.  All in all, a very nice day. 
Keyan Williams trying out a Keilwerth Nickel Silver Tenor
 I'm trying out the Nickel Silver Alto Saxophone as Keyan Williams looks on
We both agree that it's a great sounding horn
Francois Kloc, Vice-President of Buffet USA and I
Laurie Orr, Buffet Showroom NYC manager and Matt Vance, who oversees Buffet instruments when they enter the US
The great Ernie Watts and I
Ernie Watts playing on a Keilwerth Nickel Silver Tenor Sax.  He can make any saxophone sound good.

Between the saxes.  From left to right, Ernie Watts, a rep from Rico reeds, and Francois Kloc of Buffet USA
Moi in the center, with Baritone Saxist Lauren Sevian(left) and Alto Saxist Russel Kirk(right)
Lauren Sevian, Russel Kirk and Laurie Orr

The weather in NYC today was a mix of snow rain and sleet, so being inside with these great people was a much better way to spend the day. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Today, a colleague and I were looking at a new book on improvisation by an author who is well known but I won't mention here.  After looking it over, we both agreed that a better title might be "The Tedious Study and Science of Improvisation".  The book was thick and so overloaded with information that if someone was trying to understand how to approach improvisation based on this, they might be so seriously confused as to give up trying to play completely.  Over the years I've been asked how to approach improvisation.  I always try to keep it simple, because in reality it is.  This article is really addressed at those who would like to start improvising, maybe attend a few jam sessions but aren't quite sure how to do it and what to do.  Let's take the mystery out of it.  Improvisation is not some esoteric or mystic thing that only the few initiates can do.  Anyone can improvise.  This article will be far smaller than that book.

To start with, the basis for becoming a good improviser is to study and practice your scales and chord patterns. However, the most important aspect of being a good improviser is to be a good listener.  When you study your scales and chord patterns combined with listening to them, you'll start to hear outlines of melodies that you know and then start hearing melodies that may be original.  Many composers past and present have written great compositions that came out of their improvisations.  Study and play the scales and chord patterns in all keys, and then as you listen to music you'll start to recognize those scales and patterns that are used by other players.  Then, as you continue to listen and play, you'll even start to embellish a song you know with your own ideas.  You'll find your own approaches to playing various musical phrases.  The most important thing is to approach this in the spirit of self-discovery and fun.

I recommend the Jamey Aebersold and Hal Leonard Play-A-Long books to practice improvisation in the comfort and privacy of your own home or room.  Jamey Aebersold Volume 1 is especially useful in demonstrating to the novice a very practical, easy and fun approach to jazz improvisation, employing some simple but effective exercises for hearing and improvising.  You play along with the rhythm sections on the CD's that accompany the books, and in a very short time you should understand the really simple approach to what it takes to come up with your own lines and phrases.

I also recommend Jerry Bergonzi's "Inside Jazz Improvisation" volume 1, because the basic premise is that we take a chord pattern, and rather than look at the notes as C, D, A, etc., we take the number of notes in that chord and from the root, count each note as 1,2,3,4, and that every chord has 24 permutations, meaning when we practice these patterns, we will mix up the order we play these chords 24 times.  This enables us to not only hear each chord pattern a little differently, but to give our ears and fingers a different way of playing these chord patterns for different tunes.  So for example if you play a C major chord, the notes are C, E, G and B.  Now they become 1,2,3 and 4.  You play it first in that order, then go 4,3,2,1, then 2,4,3,1, and so on until you've played all 24 permutations of that chord.  This trains your fingers to mix up the way you play any pattern so as to not be monotonous when soloing and improvising.

When you have practiced enough to gain at least a basic understanding of improvisation, then go out and look for jam sessions and open mics.  Don't be afraid to get out there and hone your chops.  Don't worry about whether or not you're going to play great.  Of course, in the beginning, I don't recommend going to jam sessions where the real heavy cats play, because unless you're at their level, they will be positively brutal to anyone that can't cut it.  There are plenty of jam sessions and open mics where interested amateurs play and don't try to cut each other to pieces, just jam for the fun of it.  Most of the tunes at these sessions are simple blues or pop tunes.  Just go out there and have fun. 

Once you have gained a good knowledge of scales and chords and have practiced them extensively and gained proficiency on them, then basically forget about them and just open your ears when it's time for you to improvise.  If you've studied and practiced your scales and chords and pay attention to what's going on around you, then you'll automatically begin playing whatever comes into your head without worrying or wondering about which note, scale or chord to play.  It may not come out perfectly every time, but so what.  The main thing is that you continue to explore melodic and tonal possibilities and above all, have fun.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Great Vintage Saxophones Part Two

In part two, I'll discuss saxophones made by other prominent American brands, as well as Selmer, and a couple you may or may not know about.


The very first saxophone made in the United States was built by Gus Buescher (properly pronounced Bisher) in 1888 when he was a foreman for Conn.  In 1894 Gus Buescher left Conn to start his own company, The Buescher Band Instrument Company.  For many years, Buescher saxophones, as well as their other brass and wind instruments, competed well with Conn, Martin, King and Selmer.  Buescher saxophones are noted for their rich and smooth sound.  Sigurd Rascher, the well known classical saxophonist, author and teacher played a Buescher Tru-Tone throughout his playing career, and in jazz, Johnny Hodges sweet and soaring tone was played on a series of Bueschers, most notably an Aristocrat and a 400.  Sonny Rollins also played a Buescher Aristocrat tenor early on such recordings as "The Bridge".  Later on, Selmer bought the company and that ended their production of high quality professional horns. 

The style and mechanisms of the Buescher are similar to those of Conn, so I never had a problem playing them.  In fact, in terms of sound, vintage Bueschers are among the best saxophones out there as far as I'm concerned.  Here are some of my favorite models.


The Buescher Tru-Tone production run was from the mid-twenties until about 1930 or so, when they made the transition to the Aristocrat models.  Sigurd Rascher used a gold-plated model throughout his musical career, and his followers use them as well.  They have a full, rich tone that lends itself to classical and orchestral music.  However, I found that it can play a blues with just as much authority.  
Sigurd Rascher with the full line of Buescher Tru-Tones from sopranino to contrabass

Gold-plated Tru-Tone alto saxophone, favored by Sigurd Rascher


The Aristocrat followed the Tru-Tone, and it not only gained a following among legit players, but also in jazz, most notably Johnny Hodges and Sonny Rollins.  It had some similarities to the Conn M series, minus rolled tone holes, and whereas the "Naked Lady" of the Conn M series could be bawdy, the Aristocrat seemed a bit more refined.  Though the model run was from the early 30's to the late fifties, the models with the "Big B" engraving are considered to be the best of the bunch.
Big B Alto similar to what Johnny Hodges played
Big B tenor similar to the one played by Sonny Rollins

The 400

At the end of WWII Buescher commemorated it with the production of the 400 line.  Its model run continued until the 1970's, but the best and most sought-after models are the first and second series, with a Top Hat and Cane engraving.  It also featured bell keys that were positioned to the rear of the bell, rather than to the left side like other American saxophones, or to the right like Selmer.  The bell flare was also larger than any other saxophone, the prototype to many modern saxophones today.  It also sported an underslung octave key similar to the King Super 20.  Johnny Hodges had a custom-made model with more elaborate engraving on the bell and neck. 
Johnny Hodges with his Buescher 400 THC alto
Buescher 400 THC tenor

The 400 series has one of the smoothest, fullest tones of any saxophone I've played.  I'll go so far as to say it has one of the sexiest tones of any saxophone I've ever played. 


King saxophones, as well as their other brass and wind instruments were manufactured by the H.N. White Company of Cleveland, Ohio.  Later on, they moved production to Eastlake, Ohio, but it is the King Cleveland made saxophones which are considered the best.  Though they made saxophones early on, it wasn't until they made the King Zephyr in the 1930's that they made any saxophones of consequence.  The Zephyr and the Super 20 are saxophones with big, bright sounds that are considered the epitome of a modern jazz sound.  The Super 20, which followed the Zephyr and which was basically a Zephyr with an improved mechanism and ergonomics is still one of the most popular vintage saxophones, with a market value second only to the Selmer Mark VI and Balanced and Super Balanced Action saxophones.  Zephyr Specials and early Super 20's have elaborate engraving on the bell and keys, and pearls riveted to the key touches.  They also featured an underslung octave key.  Later models would use the standard top octave key.  The most popular and the most sought-after are the SilverSonic models, with sterling silver neck and bell.  The Super 20 was not only used by notable jazz players like Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, James Moody and Yusef Lateef, but by many rock, blues and r&b bands of the 50's and 60's.  In the 1980's, King tried to market a Super 21 model, and several prototypes were made, but the market wasn't there so it was discontinued.
King Zephyr Special tenor saxophone
King Zephyr Special alto saxophone
Cannonball Adderley with his King Super 20 alto saxophone
King Super 20 SilverSonic tenor saxophone
King Super 21, which never took off


The Martin company was first founded in Chicago in the 1860's, but when a fire destroyed the factory, John Henry Martin moved to Elkhart, Indiana where he became a foreman for Conn.  In 1904 he once again opened his own factory in Elkhart.  Martin saxophones are sought-after collectibles, but very underrated in the vintage market, which is good for the buyer.  They are top quality vintage horns that can be had for a bargain.  Martin saxophones feature soldered tone holes, which add weight and resonance to the tone.  The tone holes on Martin saxes until the Committee II are beveled.  All Martin saxes that I've played have a rich, dark sound, great for jazz or blues.  The most popular and sought-after of the Martin saxes is the Committee III line, which simply had "The Martin" with either Alto, Tenor or Baritone engraved on the bell.  Other interesting features of the horn are improved ergonomics and an adjustable thumb-hook which moves up and down rather than side to side, which I find to be a much more practical idea than standard thumb-hooks.  They also have beautiful engraving.  In the late 50's Martin released the Magna, which was basically a standard "The Martin" with sterling silver keys, and a cross on the bell, which I guess was employed to keep vampires away when you soloed.  Art Pepper, Tex Benecke and Louis Jordan played Martin saxophones. 
"The Martin Alto"
"The Martin" Magna tenor saxophone


Selmer is simply the most popular saxophone on the planet, there is no doubt about that.  Selmer set the standard for ergonomic design when the Balanced Action was introduced in 1936.  In the 1940's the Super  Balanced Action set the bar further, and then with the Mark VI, created the most sought-after vintage saxophone on the market. 
Selmer Super Balanced Action alto saxophone

Just about every major player in the world is using or has used a Selmer Mark VI at some point.  It has been called the greatest saxophone ever made, the Rolls-Royce of saxophones.  The reason for its success is due to the balance of its ergonomics and sound.  It has a homogenous, slightly dark tone, that can however be shaped by the player, making it a very versatile horn, and balanced with its key ergonomics, made it the most popular saxophone, the most sought after ever made.  Its design is now pretty much standard for all modern horns made by manufacturers around the world.  Its homogenous but flexible tone lends itself to studio and ensemble work, and just about every jazz player seems to have one.  It was designed partly by Marcel Mule, the eminent classical saxophonist.  Yet it was never embraced by the classical players to the extant it has with jazz and rock players.  Now in my experience, I've played literally hundreds of Mark VI's, and there are large inconsistencies from one to another in terms of tone quality, as most saxophones are anyway. However, when you find one that sounds and feels right, you really can't go wrong. 
Selmer Mark VI alto saxophone
Selmer Mark VI with low A


Those of you who read my review of the Buffet 400 line already know the company's history, so I won't go into it here.   What I will go into is that of all manufacturers making saxophones today, Buffet has been at it the longest, building them since 1866, only 20 years after Adolphe Sax patented his invention.  They make what are probably the most popular clarinets in the world.  However, for some reason, their saxophones never achieved the recognition or respect of some other makers.  This is odd considering that they made and continue to make some of the best saxophones on the market.  In fact, the Dynaction, Super Dynaction and S-1 models are said to have even smoother key work than a Selmer, excellent build quality and beautiful complex tone.  Perhaps the reason they never caught on is because they have considered more of a classical instrument than a jazz sax.  The fact that they are undervalued in the marketplace means that if you want a fabulous saxophone with great ergonomics, key work and above all sound without breaking the bank as you would for a Mark VI, then you really should be on the lookout for these.  I think a little recognition and respect is due these saxophones. 
Buffet Super Dynaction tenor saxophone
Buffet S-1 alto saxophone.  The copper bell and body give it a nice warm and complex tone

There are a few other vintage horns which I tried from smaller companies like SML, Dolnet and Cuesnon.  However, I haven't played enough of them to make a fair evaluation like I have the other horns I discussed.  However, a Cuesnon alto called the Monopole came into the shop and is being sold at a student sax price.  I've been playing it and I am surprised and delighted.  It seems to combine design elements of both Conn and Selmer.  The tone is light and airy, good for those Desmondesque type solos.  In any case, this horn plays and sounds nice, and is had for a real bargain.  
Cuesnon Monopole alto saxophone
This makes me want to look more into the less known brands and play their horns.  There are no doubt some hidden treasures buried somewhere.  For the more adventurous players who are looking for a unique sax and sound, I recommend the horns I've discussed, and be willing to look outside the box.  There are gems hidden in them thar hills.