• The Olds Super

    by  • October 25, 2011 • Saxophone

    First, this is not the Olds Super Star.  You’ll find out, shortly, that Olds tends to recycle parts of model names.

    Olds Super
    Production Information
    s/n 1 to 2000?
    (1941 – 1943?)
    Available Pitches
    Eb Alto, Bb Tenor
    Available Finishes
    Lacquer, Silver Plate, Gold Plate
    (per Olds’ 1941 brasswind catalog)

    This is a very unique looking horn, primarily because of how the keycups are formed. My opinion is that Olds said to the folks that designed with this horn something like, “We want a horn that someone can just look at and say, ‘That’s an Olds,’ along the lines of how you can tell an HN White horn is one by the way its keys look or if you see a Mercedes-Benz-logo low C keyguard that it’s probably a Conn.”

    Well.  It’s a theory, at least.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve only seen only one other manufacturer besides HN White and Olds that decided to make unique keycups:  Josef Hammerschmidt und Söhne.  The horn that Helen and I found at approximately the same time a little while back has completely smooth keycups.  It’s striking because it’s so simple.  It’s also a good way to make the horn look different enough so people — or, at least, saxophone players looking to buy a new horn — can say something like, “Hey!  $Favorite_Sax_Player plays a horn that looks like this! That’s an Olds!  I need to buy the same horn as him!”

    FE Olds was never known as a saxophone manufacturer.  They, like many other companies without their own saxophone line, decided to get stencils, instead.  Probably the most common Olds stencils are the Parisian and Parisian Ambassador, both of which were made by Pierret (the Ambassador — not Parisian Ambassador — was a Buescher Aristocrat stencil).  However, the Super was allegedly all done in-house design; Olds’ first saxophone.

    If the Olds Super was an Olds-made instrument, it probably followed the design of the other Olds Super brasswinds.  That means it had Olin brass (I bet you thought that people advertising, “We use special French brass in our saxophones!” was a recent phenomena).

    Anyhow, the Super model trumpet was introduced around 1932.  The most obvious feature is the nickel-silver band around the bell that reads, “Super Olds.”  However, according to most of the stuff I’ve read and anecdotes, the Olds Super saxophone was introduced in 1941.  Interestingly, the Buescher 400 saxophone was introduced in 1941/2 and featured a silver band around the bell.  Interesting coincidence ….

    One of the things that I’ve incorrectly done in the past is attributed all beveled-tone-hole instruments made in the US to Martin.  This is wrong and I rend my garment in shame, because I’ve done the same.  (Anyone got any sackcloth and ashes?  Just askin’.)  Buescher had a limited run of beveled tone hole instruments from about 1914 to about 1923 and the obscure manufacturer EA Couturier also used them, so there’s no real reason to say that the Olds Super was made by Martin based solely on the tone holes.

    When one of the good folks at the WF got one of these horns, I decided to do some comparison of the Olds Super to various Martin models.  A lot of the keywork looks identical — until you get to the beautifully complex octave key mechanism. It’s definitely not a Martin design: the Handcraft Committee II has a somewhat complex mechanism, but it’s a completely different design. The Committee and Centennial have almost identical mechanisms and they’re much plainer than the Olds.

    It is possible, however, for a manufacturer to buy saxophone bodies and affix their own keywork, as was typified by the Keilwerth/Dörfler & Jörka arrangement, but there isn’t much keywork modification between the Keilwerth and Dörfler & Jörka-badged saxophones. We need an extreme example. Thankfully, there is one: Pierret provided the body for the Sylvester saxophones. The Sylvester was an instrument with with its own, patented, keywork.

    Let me quote (I’ve fixed some of the spelling and grammar. As always, my additions are in [brackets]):

    The Olds Super Sax history, from a former executive at F.E. Olds & Son:

    The Kanstul family runs Kanstul Music, a producer of Brasswinds previously associated with Benge. Zig Kanstul keeps business hours, but other Kanstuls appear throughout the [history of Olds]. Mr. Kanstul started his career working for FE Olds in the early 50’s as a technician reaching the top of the company and overseeing it’s success and decline.

    […] According to Mr Kanstul, the Olds Super sax was made in small numbers until WWII interrupted civilian production, at the Los Angeles, CA F.E. Olds plant. The company hired a former Martin employee who had moved to the LA area(I failed to note his name during our discussion). As a result of this hire, Olds developed the Olds Super sax models intended for the professional market. This was part of the company’s evolving product line.

    Mr Kanstul thought that less than 2,000 [horns] were produced, something beyond a prototype run, and enough to build interest in the new line. Full production wasn’t ever achieved and the tooling was put in storage. The [low] serial numbers reflect the pre-production nature of the Olds Super line. The instruments were not produced for the WWII effort or under government contract, but they were [available] at the beginning of the war.

    The similarity to Martin instruments is explained by [having a] former Martin employee who did the design and tooling. Based on the timeframe, the Olds Super has common roots with he Martin Committee II line. In order to avoid patent problems, the tooling was Olds proprietary production hardware and much of the construction differs from Martin instruments. The keywork, tone hole shapes, [octave key] mechanism, and guards were unique to the Super Olds line.

    Post-war Olds Saxes were all made for the European branch of Olds, the more familiar [Parisian] Ambassador and Parisian models. The US Olds plant never produced additional Olds Super saxes. The tooling was shipped to a sax manufacturer in Holland as Olds production ended. It was last known to be rusting in a container in a small plant in Holland. (I failed to note the name of the company.)

    Given Olds popular brasswind products and their postwar outsourcing of saxes, the Olds Super sax wasn’t important to the company. No one [even kept documentation] on production or serial numbers. Mr. Kanstul considered the sax line as a product that never developed it’s own market.

    Conclusion: An Olds Super sax isn’t a Martin Stencil, although it shares manufacturing techniques.

    Many thanks to David Browne of Anaheim Band Instruments for listening and providing references and to everyone who in the last 10 years has listened [or] played my set of Olds Supers. Many thanks to L&L Music in Gaithersburg for repair, restoration, and patience. It’s a world filled with amazing people and instruments.

    So, where does that leave me? Well, I’d think it’s a better than safe bet to say that the Kanstul story, above, is probably accurate and the Olds Super really was made by Olds.

    Here’s some ad copy from a 1941 brasswind catalog:

    All of the artistry and ingenuity at the command of Olds’ master craftsmen have gone into the creation of the Olds Super instruments.  Though costly, they are greatly in demand, and among the most popular in the entire family of Olds instruments.  Artists the world over acclaim them for their glorious tone quality and their unparalleled responsiveness … achieved by the tone control band spun around the bell [ed. that band is present on the Super saxophones].  In addition, there are a host of other features, exclusive with Olds, which more than justify their name of “Super,” important among which are their light, yet sturdy modern design patented Olds Alloy braces … comfortable and streamlined, with double-curved hand-grips [ed. the grips are a trumpet/trombone thing].  Here, indeed is Olds’ genius at its zenith, in exquisitively crafted instruments that are beyond compare.

    Wow.  People say I write too much.  Also, recognize the use of ellipses instead of periods to create a “breathless” read.  Hmm.  Zenith’s a TV, isn’t it?

    One final story that I’ve heard, in the distant past, is that the reason why there are so few of these horns remaining is because a ship that was ferrying the bulk of these horns to the US military during WWII was sunk in the Mediterranean Sea. Olds just didn’t have the time to produce more (source.  Theo Wanne is also cited here).  That’s an unverified story, of course, but a nice little coda.