A Rare Bird: An Olds Super Tenor Sax

I freely admit that I have A LOT of tenors. However, as of this week I have a couple less. Yeah me… I actually parted with some horns that I knew I was never going to use. That said, I also brought home a new-to-me horn that has been on my bucket list for years: an Olds Super tenor sax.

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Olds Super tenor # 108X

There is just something incredibly special about their Art Deco design, engraving, and overall build that has long appealed to the collector of early to mid 20th century collectibles in me. As a sax player however, the question was: Would I love its tone?

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Art Deco engraving on the Olds Super saxophone

 

It all started innocently enough 10 days ago while looking at the Worldwide Sax site for a bass saxophone. (No, not for me.) :mrgreen: Naturally I ended up perusing the other fine vintage horns that Chadd has there, and I ended up seeing the diamond in the rough that is Olds Super tenor # 108X. It took me no more than 5 minutes to fire off an email to Chadd, and within 30 we had an appointment set for a week later.

The dream meets reality

On Thursday I drove down to Everett, and finally got to play-test the horn that I had until now only been able to admire via photos. Yes, an Olds Super tenor sax was within my grasp…

Funny thing though, the night before I had decided to break in a new Légère Signature Series reed for the occasion, since the 4 reeds that I’ve been using in rotation are all close to the end of their lifespan. Since I’d already played on this new reed for more than an hour, I thought it was fine. Nope…

Before I even tried the Olds Super tenor, I knew that it needed a total rebuild. I knew that it had ancient pads with a rivet only. I made the 2-hour trek south of the border fully understanding this.

Regardless, I have played many horns in this condition before, but knew it would be possible to get a pretty good idea of what this tenor’s core tone was like.

What was its core tone like? In a word: disappointing.

There was nothing special about the sax. As a matter of fact, I had brought my 10M with me to leave with Chadd for exactly that reason. I found that there was nothing special about the 10M, which is why opted to get rid of it after 9 years. Compared to the other tenors I use regularly, the Conn was just very white bread. There was nothing wrong with it, it just wasn’t interesting enough for me to use while gigging.

I had heard many people describe the Olds Super as being a hybrid of various Martin Committee models in sounds. I love my Handcraft tenor’s wall-rattling, rich, full, dark tone, that still has enough overtones to make it interesting. And my Committee III bari is not only aesthetically, but sonically the most incredibly baritone I have ever played.

I really wanted the Olds Super tenor to have the potential for something special like that… But alas, at first it did not happen….

After being disappointed in the Olds Super, I play-tested a number of Chadd’s other fine, vintage tenors. I simply loved the SML Rev D in dead mint silver plate—but I knew all hell would break out at home if I came home with a $6,000 tenor! The Committee III tenor I tried was awesome as well. Oh… I was so tempted….

Chadd also let me try a couple of his personal vintage horns that I’ve always wondered about—but that are not for sale. I can now say I’ve tried a Hungarian-made Arta Guban in lovely silver plate. (More about that another day.)

All this to say, during the 2+ hours I tried out various horns—and kept going back to the Olds Super tenor—at some point I noticed that its tone had suddenly changed. It had all seemingly of a sudden picked up some treble, and there were overtones present. This baby became much more than a just pretty face looking out at me from under all the grime and gunk of decades of neglect.

Suddenly this Olds Super tenor sax started to sound interesting. But why? The only explanation I have is that the reed must have changed in composition enough through hours of playing.

It is worth noting here, I have played Légère Signature Series reeds on tenor for close to 8 years. I have never had this experience with one in the past before. If I had, I would have obviously tried one of the other reeds I brought with me.

The ghostly story of the Pierret & what it might tell us about this Olds Super tenor sax

If it wasn’t the reed, then perhaps the explanation is akin to the one that explains what happened to my (haunted?) Pierret Modele D’Artistes tenor. If you don’t like paranormal explanations as to why a totally neglected, unplayable horn suddenly became playable again, then perhaps you subscribe to the theory that a number people have put forth that it was in fact humidity that brought the horn back from the dead.

Looking at the state of the original case and the pads of this Olds Super tenor, it is clear that this sax has been exposed to both moisture and dryness over the past decades. Given its state, I would also hazard a guess that it has been decades since it has been played.

Perhaps the humidity provided by blowing through it, has somehow brought this Olds Super tenor back to life as it were. (Sort of like mouth to mouth piece resuscitation.) ;)   Or perhaps the repeated vibrations resulted in the horn regaining its metal memory… That’s it! I got it! This Olds Super tenor sax suffered from tonal amnesia. :lol:

Whatever the explanation, this vintage diamond in the rough is going to my tech’s shop next month for a rebuild. I haven’t yet decided what kind of resos I’m going to put on it. Something oversized for sure. Until then, I am enjoying getting to know what my new baby can do. Despite all its leaks, it is capable of producing quite a variety of tenor sounds.

I have never done any recording at home before, but I will try to capture some sounds before the horn goes in for its rebuild. Although it leaks like a sieve, and is a bear to play, I want to make sure that its present essence is captured before I have it changed.

It is nowhere near as loud as my Martin Handcraft, and doesn’t have the complexity of the Handcraft’s tone. It does however, have that quintessential tenor sax sound we associate with small combos in jazz clubs decades ago. It is hard to describe—which is why I am going to record it—but it is nothing like any of the other tenors that I presently have.

Are you looking for an Olds Super?

Although this Olds Super tenor sax is now happily living amongst its new vintage sax family, I was originally not sure if I might return with two. Chadd also has an Olds Super alto in his shop that I was open to bringing home. WWS is just finishing the rebuild on it. It is going through its final adjustment phase.

Nope, I didn’t buy it. I figured I would leave something for someone else. ;)   Besides, I already have 4 amazing altos in gigging shape that I don’t play in any bands (A JK Toneking, Hohner President, Mark VI, & 6M).

So if you’ve been looking for your very own Olds Super, here’s your chance. Unlike the tenor I just got, this alto’s already been rebuilt. All it is looking for a good home. :)

What is it? Who built it? How old is it?

Like so many of the horns in my rather eclectic saxophone collection, the Olds Super is a bit of an enigma. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and many players don’t know the actual facts about them.

I will being researching and writing a page for my website about this rather rare brand in the coming months. I had already begun the work on this years ago, but now that I have an Olds Super of my very own, I will endeavour to get this information confirmed, written, and published sooner rather than later.

© 2017 – 2019, Helen. All rights reserved.

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Helen

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.

13 Comments:

  1. Helen,

    I think I can give you a little history on your Olds Super tenor (I am soooo jealous). I have been limiting my addiction to Martins for awhile now and I think I know some of the heritage of the Olds Super. While the Super has elements of the Martin Handcraft and of the later Committee horns, I think that it is more of a Martin Centennial. I have a Handcraft and a Centennial (sold my Committee).

    Here is the big clue. The 1942 Centennial was a departure from the Handcraft in one not-very-obvious way. Until then, the Martin saxophone bodies were built of three pieces (bell, bow, and body tube) spliced together with a band. The Centennial was unique in that the end of the body tube and the bow had a “slip joint,” sometimes called a “bell end” formed into the brass tube. To use plumbing terminology, the earlier Handcraft (and other makers) used a “coupling” connection, while the Martin Centennial and later Martins used a “street elbow” connection.

    The other very Martinesque feature are the cast key guard posts that support the wire key guards. Very unique and art deco. Well, not that unique. They are identical to the ones used on the Martin Centennial. Top and bottom posts on B/Bb have flat feet. Top and bottom on Eb have canted feet. Top and bottom on C have extremely raked feet. Those castings are identical to the Centennial. On the Centennial, those were cast German silver (like the keywork). I’m not sure what they are on the Super, but the unique Martin posts and body tube leads me to say it is more of a Martin than anything else. And that’s a good thing.

    Did I mention that I am soooo jealous?

    Mark

  2. I’ve got the movie on DVD, great fun.

    I think you’ll find that the Arta Guban is from Timisoara in Romania, not Hungary. Some are very ornate.

  3. @Bob: I’ve never had any more of a “spitty” sound on a Légère than I’ve had on any other brand of reed.

    I think this is where the expression: Suck it up sunshine, has never been more true. We sax players do that all the time. I’ve never played a horn/reed combo where that hasn’t been the case. :lol:

    @Steve: Thanks for mentioning that movie. Funny thing, I musta’ missed that somehow. I don’t remember hearing about it. I it up on imbd, and found a few clips on YouTube. Looks rather amusing. I’ll have to keep my eye open for it.

    As for where they got their tenor from, I don’t know where they filmed it, but lots of prop shops have all kinds of weird and wonderful things. I know when one of the shops here in Vancouver was shutting down a few years ago, the period pieces they were selling was amazing. Yes, they did have musical instruments. Can’t remember if they had any saxophones, since I ended up not going to the sale.

    @Theo: Thanks for the tip on spraying the pads with a bit of water before recording. I will have to try that. I just dug out my mic and mic stand tonight.

    @Dylan: I just bought the sax. It is not, nor will it ever be for sale. :)

    @Bo: Glad you liked it Bo. Do you have one of these in your collection of saxes? Or have I hit on one that has so far eluded you?

  4. Very interesting article, thank you Helen.

  5. How much are you wanting for the Tenor?

  6. There are a lot of nice metal work details in this saxophone.
    It will do great on a steam punk photo.

    I am curious how the sound will change with oversized reso`s.
    When you make a recording you could spray the pads with water.
    A few hours before recording so the moisture can spread.

    The small combo sound remark, reminded me of the voice of my Couturier designed tenor. Which has still 17 of its original full leather pads. There are no clear similarities in design with the Olds Super.

  7. A bit of trivia for you. Some years ago I had the fortune, or perhaps misfortune, to watch the Judy Dench TV movie, ‘Last of the Blonde Bombshells,’ which is about on an all-girl band that formed during WWII since guys were largely unavailable. Without commenting on the actual movie, I noticed that when she got out her tenor sax, it was an Olds Super. I remember wondering whether this was something lying about the studio, or whether someone was sent out to buy a vintage tenor sax, or what the story might be. The idea that they had managed to pick up one of the rarest tenors out there for this movie and never saying a word about it suggested to me that they had no idea what it was they had.

    • I think it’s quite likely they borrowed whatever props they could from crew members before buying anything. That would mean someone involved in the filming owned it. Or they may have rented it, seeing as how the need was temporary. This seems less likely on the face, because music stores generally don’t rent out vintage horns, especially ones of this caliber. However, we ARE talking about Los Angeles here. This could have been borrowed or rented from any number of musicians around town who had a buddy in the crew.

      Those would be my guesses as to how it got there.

  8. Interesting that you are using Légère. I have a love/hate relationship with them. Sometimes they work perfectly. The next time I use them I find that I get lots of spit sound. I think that moisture is building up between the reed and the mpc., but I can’t seem to figure out how to prevent this. I’ve tried different ligs, but that doesn’t seem to be the issue. Oh well … guess that is why there are so many different reed choices!

  9. http://thesax.info/blog/the-olds-super/

    At the very least, I have some references in the article, rather than *just* speculation, but the speculation is cool, too :D.

    I’m mostly a fan of the horn because of the look. I never did much in the way of mechanical comparison. Off the top of my head, the octave key mech looks a lot like Pierrets and even some AE Sax models. IIRC, someone said that it’s also the same on the Reynolds Contempora (not the SML stencil with the same name).

    I’ll be happy to see it once it’s polished and overhauled!

    • Not only the A.E. Sax, the octave mechanism also like those found on certain Hammerschmidts—while the left thumb rest/octave lever looks like it was borrowed from Hammerschmidt’s idea almost entirely.

      As for their looks, IMHO the Olds Super is arguably the most beautiful saxophone ever designed. Once David has worked his magic on this one, she is going to be a rock star. :cool:

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