Are Vintage Instruments Practical?

Earlier this month a thread was started in the Woodwind Forum that got me thinking. The thread’s title, Are vintage instruments practical for everyday use?, was originally referring to clarinets, but I see the question applicable to saxophones as well. Therefore, in that vein, I’d like to explore this question in far greater detail here.

This is by no means a new topic. The practicality of vintage horns has been discussed ad nauseam in many a saxophone forum—SOTW comes to mind—as well as a multitude of websites and blogs—including this one. That said, when I tried to find a concise list, or even a single article, that covers all the important points that I felt should be covered, I was unsuccessful.

So without further ado, here the Bassic Sax answer to the question:

Are vintage instruments practical for everyday use?

Simply put, they can be, but it depends on a whole lot of factors, including:

  • Pitch

For example: If it’s a high pitch horn, like my Evette & Schaeffer baritone from 1886, it is not practical unless you’re playing with other high pitch instruments.

  • Intonation

Some vintage saxes do not play in tune very well. They were just poorly made, or require very specific mouthpieces in order to play in tune. Remember though: all saxophones are inherently out of tune, it is the player that plays them in tune.

  • Range

Not all vintage saxophones had the same range as modern ones. For example, many 1920s baris—certain Conn and Buescher models come to mind—were only keyed to high Eb, while eBay is flooded with early 20th century European horns that were keyed only to low B.

alto saxophone, Oscar Adler saxophone, are vintage instruments practical?

Oscar Adler alto saxophone keyed from low B to high F. Note it has no front F, or a chromatic F#. Source:

  • Key work

It’s common to see vintage saxophones lacking certain keys we take for granted, e.g.: front F, bis Bb, chromatic F#, and of course a high F# key. Conversely, many vintage horns had extra keys not found on today’s horns like a G# and/or high C/D trill keys, a fork Eb, etc. Either way, a player might find having or not having these keys could be a hindrance to their playing.

  • Ergonomics

Unless you’re talking a Mark VI, most vintage saxes have ergos that are very awkward compared to modern ones. Can you work with these awkward key layouts?

  • Condition

Many vintage horns have suffered from a lifetime of use, abuse, or neglect, while others are outright minty. While a talented repair tech, experienced in vintage horn repairs, can repair any vintage sax, if the horn is missing pieces, those are not so simple replace. In the case of keys or a neck, the parts are impossible to replace with original parts—unless an identical donor horn available. In all cases of repairs however, the questions that have to be asked are: How much are you willing/able to spend? Is the horn worth it?

  • Player’s experience

Unless a player is at least an intermediate level player, they shouldn’t consider a vintage sax. Vintage horns have a lot of things going for them, but they also have a lot of things which make them more difficult to play. A new player starting out is always better out starting out with something like a YTS-23 or YAS-23, since these horns have much less resistance; have spot-on intonation; and maintain their regulation quite well.

I’ve pulled together a list of readings that might of be interest to you if you are looking for more information about the practicality of vintage horns.

If you have anything to contribute to this either the list above, or the suggested readings list below, please leave a comment on this post, or email me. I’m going to turn this into an article for my website, but before I do, I want to make sure it is as complete as possible. Thanks!

Suggested related readings list

Saxophones: Vintage v Modern, by Stephen Howard

Vintage or Modern?, on the Bassic Sax website

Vintage Vs. Modern Saxes: An Interesting Theory, The Bassic Sax Blog

Exactly What Is A Vintage Saxophone? The Bassic Sax Blog

Vintage Or Modern: Choices, Choices, Choices, The Bassic Sax Blog

Yes But, What Does “Vintage Sax” Really Mean? The Bassic Sax Blog

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

Ends In Hours: JK, SX 90 Bass Sax

I’m sorry that I didn’t see this auction until late last night: A seller in Maine is selling his JK, SX 90 bass sax.

saxophone, bass sax, jk, sx 90 bass sax, adjustable bass sax stand

Source: barrywren on

This horn looks absolutely beautiful, and is described by the seller like this:

I’m selling my beautiful Keilwerth SX90 Bass Saxophone. I’m only the second owner. The original owner is the renowned woodwind mouthpiece and repair expert Bill Street. I bought the instrument from Bill about 6 years ago. The instrument has only ever been played by 2 professionals. Bill continued to maintain the instrument for me after I bought it.

There are no dent or solder repairs anywhere on the instrument.

It plays with a lush full tone and the scale is excellent. There is one minor scratch that you can see near the serial number, and just a bit of lacquer wear on the neck. I tried to show that in the picture, but the wear is insignificant and the flash hid it. There is one tiny ding in the neck, also so small I couldn’t get the picture to show it. Other than that, it looks brand new.

The pads are in excellent shape. It comes with the original case pictured. It also is in excellent condition.

This horn plays!! From a whisper to a thunderous roar, this horn is amazing.

In the pictures is an amazing custom stand made by Andreas Kraling of Deep Schrott, a German bass sax quartet. I will sell that for an additional $350, if the winning bidder would like it. It holds the saxophone absolutely securely in any playing position, sitting or standing. It is fully adjustable.

Shipping is expensive on an instrument like this. I am will to deliver the instrument within a 300 mile radius of Portland, Maine for $300. Shipping and insurance will depend on your location, of course.
Best internet price is over $18000, with a long wait! Just BUY IT NOW!!
Winner bidder choose a mouthpiece!!!!!!
All are custom hard rubber mouthpieces by Bill Street.
1 Vandoren Blank, med facing, med chamber–very versatile. Big & Warm
2 Old Berg Larson blank, more open tip, roll over baffle med large chamber. Big & Full
3 Custom blank, open tip, raised baffle. Simply killing piece.
Choose one, and I’m willing to sell the others for $150/ each.

My only question is: Why didn’t anyone in Maine sell a horn like this when I lived in New Brunswick? :bang:

Oh well… I don’t really need a 2nd bass sax now, do I? Check out these photos that show what appears to be a JK, SX 90 bass sax in stunning condition…

…. Oh, and per the discussion that Tristan and I were having, yes, JK did definitely make some of the SX 90 bass saxophones with sink trap necks. (If I’d have taken a look at my website, I’d have remembered that. See link in last paragraph.) :dunce:

The stand that is available as an extra for $350, is the same one that I use. BTW, that is a really, really good price. If you’d like to read more about the stand; see more photos of what it looks like; or check out a video of how it works, check out this page on my website that is all about Andreas’ revolutionary bass saxophone stand. It simply is the BEST bass saxophone stand available anywhere—and that’s no hyperbole. (Yes, I’ve tried the SaxRax bass stand as well, but Andreas’ is better.)

If you are looking for a bass saxophone, then this JK, SX 90 bass sax could just be the one for you. (It would really keep your shipping costs down if you live on the East Coast.)

The auction for this lovely horn ends at 1PM PDT today, so you have only a few hours to get your bid in. Bids are to start at $7,500.00 US, with a BIN price of $10,500.00. At the time of writing there were no bids yet on this wonderful horn.

If you’d like to read more about the JK, SX 90 bass sax, check out the page dedicated to the model on my website, and also this blog article I wrote about it in June.

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

Sax200 Runs Until Jan. 11 2015

This morning I read a great article in The Independent, about the Sax200 exhibition at the Brussels Musée Instrumental (MIM). When I checked back to see what I had previously written about Sax200, I realized that I had forgotten to write anything at all. Idiot…   :dunce:    Too much stuff going on I guess. Somehow I completely let this fall through the cracks.

sax200, exhibition of Adolphe Sax's work, MIM in Brussels, 2014OK, so today is the day to correct this oversight, and write about Sax200, a year-long exhibition of Adolphe Sax’s work, which is timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of his birth. (Adolphe Sax was born on November 6th 1814.)

Sax200 occupies the entire fourth floor of the MIM.

According to the MIM’s website:

The main themes of SAX200 are ‘Sax, the inventor’, ‘Sax, the entrepreneur’, ‘Sax himself’ and ‘Sax after Sax’. Besides telling you everything – and we mean everything – about the saxophone, the exhibition will also cover his other inventions (saxhorns, saxotrombas and even medical instruments!) as well as his commercial vicissitudes and eventful private life. The exhibition curator is scientific assistant Géry Dumoulin.

The mim is pulling out all the stops for SAX200. Our own collection of Sax instruments, the largest in the world in public ownership, will be on display in its entirety, but there will also be loans from museums and private collections in Paris, New York, Basel, Edinburgh, Leipzig, London, Amsterdam, Vermillion, Ann Arbor and Bad Säckingen. Many of these instruments have never been on public show before.

The SAX200 exhibition will be accompanied by a packed programme of concerts, guided tours, promotional activities, events and special after-hours viewings.

To check out what’s coming up and what’s already happened at Sax200, make sure you visit the official website for the exhibition. There, under the News section, you will also find a fascinating three-part series on the history of the saxophone. Poke around on the site. With its links to the MIM site, there’s no telling what you’ll stumble across.

If you’d like to hear some period instruments playing, the MIM was kind enough to put together a trailer for Sax200 featuring Les sax de Sax, performing “Allegro Vivace” from Premier Quatuor pour saxophones Op. 53, by Jean-Baptiste Singelée (1812-1875).

Lastly, I’d encourage you to read The joy of Adolphe Sax: a major exhibition brings together rare saxophones for the first time since 1877, from the Sunday August 10, 2014, online edition of The Independent. It is a really interesting, and quite accurate, take on the history of Adolphe Sax, his life, his instruments, and what happened to his inventions after his death.

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!