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.
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?
It all started innocently enough 10 days ago while looking at the Worldwide Sax site for a bass saxophone. (No, not for me.) 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.
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.
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