Holton Saxophones

    A Rudy Wiedoeft model Holton alto sax.  
    Source: www.saxophonspezialist.de

A few years ago I saw a Rudy Wiedoeft model Holton saxophone on a repair tech’s bench. I remember being struck by some of the strange key work it had. Then a little while ago I started researching Holton saxophones a bit more. I guess I was curious about this vintage brand, and wondered why I knew so little about it.

    Left side of the Rudy Wiedoeft alto.   
    Source: www.saxophonspezialist.de

SOTW has a board specifically dedicated to Holton saxophones. It was there that I discovered that there were some very loyal Holton owners, who were picking up Holtons on eBay, Craig’s lists, yard sales, & flea markets, and bringing them home like they were lost puppies. The extremely low prices of Holtons, compared to other vintage saxophones, contributed to this “lost puppy” phenomena I believe.

So through my researching of the brand, I came across A Trip Through The Holton Factory. This 24 page booklet was presumably given to people as they toured the Holton factory in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. It is an interesting read, if not a bit full of company propaganda, that provides the company’s history.

Despite it covering both woodwind and brass wind production, saxophones do get their fair share of mention in the booklet. What I also found interesting was the information on their brand of pads and the details of their mouthpiece manufacturing. 

So, armed with company information, some Holton owners’ opinions on their horns, and a bit of spare time, I decided to see what I could find if I were in the market for a Holton saxophone. Before checking the on-line dealers like Sax Quest, USA Horn, Vintage Sax.com, World Wide Sax, Junk Dude, etc, I decided to check eBay to see what kind of “deals” I could find on horns in need of a “home”. The puppy phenomena and all…

Well there were certainly a lot of puppies to chose from on the American eBay site alone. I was quite surprised actually, at how many there were. Here’s a quick sampling of the more interesting vintage ones…

Here’s a Holton C Melody. There’s no reserve on the horn. At the time I’m writing this, there’s one bid of $9.99.  

Next up, the first of the interesting altos. According to the seller:

Early vintage Holton Eb Alto Saxophone. This is the precursor to the Rudy Weidoeft Model from the 20’s. Extra keys: forked right hand Eb; right hand G# trill key; right hand high D trill key; front high F key; no articulated G# in the left hand. Was repadded and adjusted by our local saxophone repairman and is in excellent working condition. Brushed silver finished body – inside bell is polished brass. No major dents or dings…  

Is it me, or does the horn looks like it is satin gold finish to you too? Maybe it’s just the lighting… But in any event, opening bid is set at $200. No takers as of yet.

Next up in the interesting alto category, I found this one: A “professionally restored Jazz Age Frank Holton Alto Sax”. (Too bad the seller didn’t put a bit more effort into some better pictures.)

This instrument was purchased in South Dakota in 1914, played for two years and then put back in the box until it was restored four years ago. Then it went back into the box….until now. Needs polishing but otherwise is in nearly mint condition. New pads, corks, springs…

OK, so I’m thinking to myself: when you had it apart to put new pads, corks, & springs in, wouldn’t that have been the time to polish it? Starting bid on this piece of history $275. No bidders as of yet.

Now this next alto, is a very interesting little historical piece. It comes complete with the original letter from the Holton Company that accompanied the sax when it was shipped to the original owner. This letter explains that mishandling during shipping can cause misalignment, so included with the sax are some tools, and some “simple notes” on adjusting the instrument.

Also included with the sax is the original ownership letter from 1923. The starting bid on this piece of history is $750. No bidders here yet either.


This is the first photo of the Holton case emblem that I have come across…

The last alto on eBay that caught my attention was this little gem, which this eBay seller got through an estate sale. The horn comes with a band emblem from a band in Lubbock, Texas.

This is a beautiful shot of the engraving…

But more than anything, you gotta love the vintage reed, complete with vintage lipstick, that comes with the horn. That alone is worth the $2,000 Buy It Now price! … Not …

    Somebody really needs to tell these sellers that old, used reeds aren’t worth anything.

If you don’t want to spend the $2,000 on the Buy It Now price, you can always gamble, and bid on the auction. Starting bid for this horn is $950. Guess what? No bids for this one as of yet either.

The last interesting Holton sax I found on the American eBay site was a baritone. Now I suspect that this one will go up quite a bit in price from it’s current $153.09, because when I first saw it this AM, it was only $50, and there are still 6 days to go in the auction.

There is certainly no shortage of vintage Holton saxophones looking for a good home on eBay. I hadn’t counted on there being this many. They really almost are like puppies, in so far as some sellers will try to charge obscene amounts of money for something that’s in need of a flea dip & a vet check! :roll: What’s up with that anyway?  :???:

Well my curiosity about these old timers has certainly been peaked. I will definitely want to check one or two out one day.

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

© 2008 – 2009, Helen. All rights reserved.


Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.


  1. I recently visited my 96 year old brother and saw the Holton alto he purchased in 1936 for $50. I guess it has held its value. I learned to play that horn while he was in the army during WWII. It needs a neck cork but is still playable.

  2. I have Hilton bass Sax, I’m having trouble with D2 and G2. They sound kind of pinched and will squeak. Any ideas?

    • How are you playing your notes? D2 doesn’t speak well on vintage horns. The best way to play it is with your palm key without the octave key. Are you doing that already?

      What’s going on with the G2? It should be stable. Have you had your horn checked for leaks lately?

      One thing I would also suggest you do is join the Bass Sax Co-op, and if you are on FaceBook, there is also a bass sax group on that as well.

      Both of these groups are full of players who are incredibly knowledgeable about bass saxophones, and are more than willing to help other players out.

  3. Did Holton make stencils for York? I have a “lost puppy” soprano I’m trying to ID. Definitely not made by any of the big 4 American manufacturers of the era. It’s a very light horn and the rods are squishy as rubber bands. Definitely not an in-house made York, as it’s missing those infamous ribbed tone holes. The pinky cluster in particular looks very similar to the one on the C Melody pic above, finish has a similar cheap look. Oh and has that very tinny, loud sound to it you mentioned. Safe to say I hate this horn, but it’s mine for better or worse. Got stuck with it by a dishonest seller who straight up lied about it’s condition.

  4. Pingback: The Bassic Sax Blog » Blog Archive » Holton Serial Number Chart

  5. Update: The alto that looked like it had a satin gold finish went unsold with 0 bids.

    The bari sold for $585 on Nov. 16/08.

    And no real surprise here, but a couple of the previously-unsold altos are back on eBay again.

  6. Update: The C Melody sold for $61 on Nov. 13/08.

    In the interesting alto category, the “Jazz Age” Holton; the one with the original documentation and tools; as well as the Holton with the Lubbock band crest and lipstick-coated reed, all went unsold & all with 0 bids.

    The other alto (the one that looks like it has a satin gold finish in the photos) & the bari, are still up for auction at the time of writing.

  7. Mea Culpa.

    Good point Jim.

    I guess I’m so used to mine not tarnishing even after 8+ years, (in the case of both my Martin tenor and my bass) because I use the anti-tarnish strips in the cases, that I don’t think about it anymore.

    I replace the anti-tarnish strips religiously every 1 to 2 years, depending on how often the particular horn gets used.

    I seem to recall your bass being much shiner than mine though…What’s your secret?

  8. If you put a silver plated instrument that has been polished up real nice in a case for four years, you most likely end up with an instrument that needs to be polished again. Sad but true.

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