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

We have all seen, read, heard, & repeated the term a 1000 times, but what do we really mean by vintage sax, and are we all on the same page? Sometimes I’m not so sure. All you have to do is ask 10 experienced sax players if they think the Selmer Mark VI is a vintage horn, and see what their answers are. I suspect that you will not get a 100% consensus in either the “yes” or “no” camp.

I have done a lot of poking around the Internet of late, looking for the definitive definition of “vintage sax”… I haven’t found it. It just doesn’t exist.

I did however find 2 very good, comprehensive definitions, both written by men who have become known as experts in the field, so that’s a good place to start.

Stephen Howard is a woodwind repair and restoration specialist from England. In the article Vintage versus Modern he writes:

The first thing to determine is exactly what constitutes a vintage horn.

It’s not enough to slap a date on the table and say that any and all instruments made before that date are vintage – the term actually implies a degree of quality…and just as there many cheap instruments on the market these days, so it was back then – although some vintage ‘cheap’ horns can far outclass their modern counterparts…

As of the date of writing, the general consensus of opinion is that the Selmer MKVI is the most modern vintage horn. Since production of this horn stopped in the early 1970’s you can see that a mere 30 years is enough to qualify a horn as vintage – though the ‘golden age’ is reckoned to be the years from approximately 1920 through to 1965. Curiously enough, if a certain manufacturer doesn’t change the name of one of its models in the near future it may be entirely possible to find that this particular model will be available both as a modern instrument and a vintage one.

Pete Hales, the artist formerly know as saxpics, who founded the Vintage Sax Gallery, recently provided the following definition of  “vintage” in a thread on the Woodwind Forum:

There is a difference between “vintage” and “old”. To me, when you say that you have a “vintage instrument” it should ….

a. No longer be produced, anywhere.
b. Have been considered a professional make and model when it was made.
c. Have value as a professional make and model, today, as a playable instrument or have value as a collectible make and model (for instance, a high-pitch Conn New Wonder alto saxophone in Virtuoso Deluxe finish — a very expensive, elaborate, gold plated, heavily engraved finish with additional pearl keytouches — is still “vintage”, even though it has virtually no playability value).
d. Have maintained its original value, adjusted for inflation, or increased in value.

“Vintage”, to me, should have the connotation of a fine wine: “It’s an excellent vintage.”

Or, using an analogy from the automobile world, a 1934 Cord is vintage. A 1972 Ford Pinto is old.

I recently started a thread on the Woodwind Forum asking the almost rhetorical questions: Is It Really A Vintage? What Is Vintage Anyway?. Because many of the members there are vintage horn players, I thought perhaps the discussion generated would prove interesting, and might answer the questions that I’ve had for a while.

The discussion generated was indeed interesting, and I learnt a great deal that I didn’t know about the differences between BAs, SBAs, & VIs. However in the end, I was left in the same place I was in before I asked the questions: I might not be able to define or tell you exactly what a vintage horn is, or what features it has to have, but, in the words of Justice Potter Stewart of the US Supreme Court, (when referring to pornography) “I know [one] when I see [one]”.

Let’s take for example this Conn 20M alto sax that recently popped up on eBay when I did a search for “vintage saxophones”.





(Why do these people always feel the need to yell at us? And why can’t they look up how to spell saxophone in the dictionary?)

This horn doesn’t even come close to meeting the definition of “vintage”, nor does it even meet the definition of “old”. It’s serial number indicates it was manufactured in 1988. That means it’s used or second hand. Collectible? I don’t know to who.

So like I said before, I might not be able to define or tell you exactly what a vintage horn is, or what features it has to have, but I know one when I see one, and this 20M, well, it doesn’t make the grade.

…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!

© 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. “N”xxxxxx serial number means 1970 era ?

  2. Pingback: Buescher Academy Alto on eBay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *