1952 was arguably the best year ever for saxophone buyers. This was the year when the most legendary US-made horns were available at the same time, as well as some really, really nice European horns. You also had a few saxophone firsts.
The Buescher 400 “Top Hat & Cane” — named for the design on the bell — alto and tenor were produced from about 1941 to about 1963. The pictured horn is actually the 2nd generation of the 400, after a bell & bow change. While lacquer is the most common finish, there are some stunning silver plated and gold plated examples.
The Aristocrat was Buescher’s “more classical” alternative to the 400 model. According to some, the Buescher “Big B” Aristocrat (1941-1950s) is the last horn produced with the same “parabolic bore,” as described by A. Sax in his patents. Even if the parabolic bore doesn’t exist, the “Big B” Aristocrat is an extremely nice horn with exceptional intonation. My only complaint is that I find the keywork a bit difficult.
While Conn’s original “super pro” horns, the 26M (alto) and 30M (tenor) Connqueror models had been discontinued in 1943, Conn had another “super pro” model in the works: the 28M Connstellation alto. This beautiful horn was only produced for a very short time (1948 to 1952) and only available as an alto.
Conn’s “bread-and-butter” professional model was the Artist/Standard model — the name changes with different documentation. In 1948, Conn discontinued rolled tone holes, which leads some people to think that post-1948 horns aren’t quite as good as earlier ones. Considering that tone holes are drawn from the body, per the Haynes patent stamped on the back of the horn, I tend to dismiss this theory.
The King Super 20 (1946-1998), Super 20 Silver-Sonic (1950-1998) and the earlier Zephyr Special — with all the additional pearls on the keywork — are horns that used to give the Selmer Mark VI good competition for the highest prices on eBay. This only changed recently, when some Mark VIs have started to sell in the low 5-digits. However, I haven’t seen another gold plated Super 20 sell in the past few years …
I decided to include a Silver-Sonic, just because. The Silver-Sonic is a Super 20 with a sterling silver neck and bell. The horn I picture above also happens to have (factory) gold leaf on the bell engraving. The Silver-Sonic from 1950-1955 had the most features of any Silver-Sonic model, thus it’s highly desirable. IIRC, the horn I have pictured, above, sold for about $5500 US a year or so ago.
The Zephyr is interesting because you could successfully argue that some of them are more or less Super 20s without the double-socket neck and some minor aesthetic changes, especially if you’ve seen the earlier Zephyr Special horns. I also think you can argue that the Zephyrs became more of a “step down” horn in the 1960s. In any case, if I couldn’t afford a Super 20 and liked King horns, the late 1940s and 1950s Zephyrs would definitely be the way to go.
Martin is interesting because it’s the only US manufacturer NOT to have a second pro model available in 1952: the Martin Magna wasn’t introduced until around 1956. The Martin Committee is one of the very few horns on this list that I played extensively: I used a really minty tenor in high school until I found two Selmer Mark VIs in the band room’s closet behind a Bb contrabass clarinet (which became the “main” horn I played in this high school’s band) and a couple of Eb soprano clarinets (which I subsequently shoved into a farther corner of said closet).
The Grafton Acrylic Alto was not intended as a professional horn, but as a “low-cost” student horn. It failed because a) it wasn’t that low cost (about $1000 US, adjusted for inflation) and b) a horn that shatters on impact + students generally does not = a good idea. However, fully intact examples have appreciated significantly in value (350% or so) because of their association with Charlie Parker. This particular model pictured here might have appreciated even more, as silver plate is extremely rare on the Graftons.
[sarcasm=on] No, this horn doesn’t look at all like the Pierret horn pictured here. Not at all. Nor like the Buffet Dynaction. Nor the Selmer. Nor the SML. [/sarcasm] While this horn obviously does not look “unique,” you also have to know that Beaugnier (pronounced “Bone Yay!”) made a ton of stencils, not to mention Leblanc and Vito horns marked “Made in France.” In other words, Beaugnier could have easily influenced all the French makes as much as all French makes influenced Beaugnier.
Buffet saxophones are under-rated and under-priced. The Dynaction (1950-1957) and the later SuperDynaction were extremely good horns that can easily compete with the Selmers. I really only had two complaints with the Dynaction alto I owned: it didn’t like being played loud and didn’t like playing in tune with my Sigurd Rascher mouthpiece. A Selmer LT matched it quite a bit better.
You’ve just gotta like rolled tone holes on a French-made horn: it leads you to think that the horn will have qualities of an SML crossed with a Conn. There was a bit of redesign on the Monopole around 1950, but Couesnon (pronounced “Quee-non”) didn’t make a revolutionary change in the design until the late 1970s when they started producing Selmer Mark VI clones. Speaking of Selmer, Couesnon is also known as one of the few companies to have made a low A alto.
Well, this horn probably wins in name length. The model is, officially, “Artist.” “Royal Jazz” refers to a Dolnet that has the extra keywork — altissimo F#, etc. — and a microtuner neck. In any event, the Artist model was virtually unchanged from about 1950 to 1970, when the very unique M70 model was introduced.
The Leblanc System horns were made from around 1945 to around 1980. Occasionally a key was added here or there, but there wasn’t a significant design change: there really didn’t need to be one. The Leblanc System horns are reputed to have the best intonation of any sax, but that’s also coupled with a keywork system that’s actually simplified from the Le Rationnel models from the 1930s. In this case, “simplified” means that there was a specific manual for adjustments to go along with the additional keywork’s fingering chart. Well, it probably is easier to adjust than the Grafton Acrylic alto.
A little explanation is in order: I know exactly what a 1952 Pierret looks like, because I know where a 1952 catalog is. However, I’m starting to get the impression that Pierret gave names to different “levels” of horn after WWII: Standard, Artist(e), Super Artist(e) and Artist(e) Competition and the defining factors between them were gauge of brass used, microtuner and additional keywork. I’m also fairly sure that all of the Super Artist(e) horns with the “ring” bell-to-body brace are post 1963, because of their resemblance to the Pierret-made Olds Parisian Ambassador horns and the Super Artist(e) horns with the “unique” sheet metal keyguards are older. In any event, look for the microtuner neck and the “Super Artist(e)” name or find a Super Artist(e) Competition.
(If you want to see a more original horn, I recommend checking out Matt Stohrer’s bari. I’ve featured it in a couple of my calendars. I just thought that WorldWideSax’s horn was equally pretty, this is an interesting angle to see and I’ve already used Matt’s horn in a few places.)
The Super Action — “Balanced” was added by Selmer so you didn’t confuse an SBA with the Super 80 horns — introduced the first mass-produced low A bari in 1952 (the first low A saxophones were built by Adolphe Sax, himself). Low A translates to a concert C. While that gives you a bit of extra growl for jazz pieces, it *really* helps classical players (like me) that play cello parts.
SML (Strasser-Marigaux-Lemaire) saxophones are some of the finest horns ever built. A slightly modified “Rev. D” (1950-1956) won a gold medal at the International Music Festival at The Hague in the 1950s over the Selmers — and that’s also why the next SML model is called “Gold Medal.” Unfortunately, SML’s saxophone output was incredibly small: over their entire saxophone production run, about 50 years, less than 28,000 horns were produced.
There were three Keilwerth brothers that manufactured instruments: Julius, Richard and Max. Richard, as far as I’m aware, never manufactured saxophones; he concentrated on clarinets. Max, after working for himself, then Amati, started the saxophone division of Hohner — yes, the folks that make harmonicas and accordions. I’m told that the Hohner Presidents (1949-1972) are incredibly good horns and they’re very underpriced. The horns made in late 1953 to 1963 seem to have the best feature-set, though.
In 1952, Keilwerth began producing its most iconic saxophone: The New King and Toneking “Series III.” As you can see in the above pictures, these horns were the ones with the patented Plexiglas “angel wing” keyguard. The really fun part is that these keyguards were available on the baritone, too! It’s almost aside from the point that these horns play as good as they look, but they cost a lot less. That makes these horns — and the dozens of stencils of them — an exceptional buy in today’s market.
Kohlert probably had at least three models: an unnamed one that I generally call “Winnenden,” the Regent, the Star and possibly one called “DeLuxe.” Note the differences in the keywork between this and the Kohlert Regent, but the similar keyguards. After WWII, Kohlert and Keilwerth were trying emulate Martin more than Conn. You can see a bit of that Martin influence with both the keyguards and the slight bevel to the Regent’s tone holes.
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