As promised, this is the second instalment of the saxophone pages from the 1931 catalogue from the Chicago Musical Instrument Co. While the first article included all the Martin saxophones, this one features the Pan American saxophones for sale in 1931.
Let’s just do a bit of a re-cap of what Pan American was and wasn’t, before taking a look at what the company offered up in the saxophone department.
- Pan American was NOT a stencil horn. Rather, Pan American saxophones were a second line produced by a subsidiary of Conn. The Conn Loyalist website describes the company like this:
The Pan American band instrument company was a subsidiary of Conn. It was started in the early 1920’s and produced more affordable instruments than the regular Conn line, geared towards students. Around 1955 Conn started producing student instruments under the Conn brand name and Pan American disappeared.
- According to Kurt, the fellow who has been doing an immense amount of research into the Pan American brand:
Pan American had their own patents, trademarks, catalogs, models and dealer structure.
Source: Woodwind Forum
- The patent numbers on Conn and Pan American saxophones is different. These patent numbers are usually stamped just above the serial number. If you are interested in comparing the patents, the Conn patent was: Dec. 8, 1914, 1119954, while the Pan American one was: Sept 14, 1915, 1153489.
Bb curved and straight soprano, as well as tenor Pan American saxophones
Notice that the tenor has the Mercedes-style key guard on the low C key that we commonly associate with Conn.
Eb alto and C melody Pan American saxophones
Notice how they describe the alto. “It is…the equal of many higher priced [altos in its price class].”
Although easily dismissed as pure advertising hype, I happen to have seen and played one of these babies that was in very fine shape. I can attest to the fact that this particular Pan American alto was just as well made as many pro horns of the day. If you would like to see photos of the horn in question, you can find them in my Pan American gallery. (You’ll see that the alto I played has a Mercedes-style key guard on its low C key.)
Speaking on Mercedes-style key guards, you also notice that feature being shown on the 50M—the C melody.
Eb baritone and Bb bass Pan American saxophones
Now we get to the big boys of the Pan American series. Too bad that they managed to get the descriptions of the horns under the wrong instruments. 👿
If you compare the prices of the bare brass Pan American baritone saxophone at $162.00, to that of the Martin Handcraft in the same catalogue at $150.00, you have to ask yourself: Why the price difference? If Martin was a pro-level horn, and Pan American ostensibly a student model, why did the Pan American cost more?
I would simply answer this question like this: Pan American was not a cheaply-made student instrument like we are used to seeing today. Although the horns might not have had all the features of Conn’s pro models—for example they lacked rolled tone holes, and their left pinkie clusters were different—but at their core they were still built like Conn saxophones, and had many of that brand name’s features.
There is a great testament to the quality of the Pan American bass saxophone, on sax tech’s Stephan Howard’s website. There he reviewed one he had in the shop. (Although he wrongly called it a stencil horn. In his defence, maybe it’s a British thing.) 😉 The bass that Stephan played happened to be the 56M-2, in silver plate with a gold bell that originally would have sold for $275.00 in 1931.
My personal thoughts on Pan American saxophones
I am not going to enter into a debate about the quality of the Pan American build, and whether they measure up to the standard of a “pro level” horn. I happen to own a 62M curvy that I bought about 15 years ago from Gayle at vintagesax.com . Those of you who know Gayle and/or her rep know that she only deals in the finest of vintage horns.
My 62M is a great horn, and I would challenge it against any, and I do mean any, curved soprano built over the last 75 years or so. I just had it restored a little over a year ago, and this baby is in very fine condition. It also happens to sing like you wouldn’t believe. It has a couple of notes that need to be adjusted for, but then I’m not a soprano player, so I have to work really hard to get a decent sound and intonation on all sopranos: including new ones.
I am not alone in my assessment of the high quality of Pan American saxophones. You don’t have to look hard in the online sax world to find techs who think highly enough about this brand that they play and collect Pan American saxophones themselves.
That said, over time the Pan American saxophones started to look less like Conn’s first line of instruments, and definitely took on more of a student horn look, until eventually in 1956 their production was discontinued altogether. In their place Conn introduced the Director Series of horns.
I hope you enjoyed this collection of vintage catalogue pages on Pan American saxophones. The last of the series will be a few pages on Pan American’s own budget brand, Cavalier. (Now there was a true student horn.) That article will be coming up in the next couple of days.