The Olds Super tenor after pics & playing update (well sort of)
In all the drama that has been going on around here regarding the transfer of my website, I have let many things slide. I have a long list of article topics that I have been wanting to write about, but couldn’t. For some of those articles I have contacts I have to followup with. They range from saxophone manufacturers to relatives of famous sax players.
That all said, one topic I did manage to write occasionally about since October, was the Olds Super tenor sax that I bought from Chadd at WWS in Everett. Although Chadd usually sells his horns restored, he made an exception for me in this case, and I was able to buy this baby as it came into WWS—mouldy pads, case, and all.
As a matter of fact, this horn had so much mould and grunge growing on its pads, that when I played it for the first time at WWS, it pulled the high Eb tone hole chimney right off the body tube! I do believe that was a first at WWS…
I would be lying if I said saxophone lung never crossed my mind as I play-tested the horn both at Chadd’s shop, and at home before it went in for its restoration.
Although for me pulling up a tone hole chimney was not a deterrent, as I mentioned when I first wrote about this rare horn, its initial lack of interesting tone was. (BTW, Chadd had that tone hole perfectly attached in less than 15 minutes. Today you can’t see that it was ever off the body.)
That was then, this is now
It was 10 days ago that I met David at his shop to pick up my newest, and rarest, baby. I ended up getting it a bit earlier than planned because of a family emergency that required David to leave town for a couple of weeks.
David asked me to pick up the horn; play it in more; and then bring it back when he returned from Switzerland. Normally he would have liked to have kept it for a few extra days and make more adjustments before sending it home again. However, circumstances being what they were, both of us felt better with the horn out of his shop and back where it belonged.
My initial thoughts
Since neither of us knew what to expect from the rebuild, I brought a number of mouthpieces that had a wide variety of chambers. They included: a vintage HR Otto Link; a vintage gold-plated Wolf Tayne; a vintage HR piece that came with my Martin Handcraft—a piece that has been so well used that the brand name has been rubbed of; and my usual vintage Dukoff S7 and D7* pieces.
The Otto Link immediately made the horn sound like it was in a 1930s jazz band. The horn had a really old-time sound. I started playing a melody—don’t ask me what it was, because I couldn’t tell you—and I had such a strong sense of déjà vu that I had to sit down. David and I joked about me having owned this horn before, because it was just such an authentic sound, and the feel of the horn just felt “right”.
Right or not, I do not play in a 1930s nightclubs today, so I carried on trying my different pieces. The Wolf Tayne was awful-sounding on the Olds Super. When it came to my Dukoffs, I had to really fight the horn to not have it default into a 1930s sound again. Even with the S7, this vintage baby seemed to think it was in a speakeasy or cabaret. I had to fight to get a modern sound from it, but with a bit of coaxing, it was very possible.
On the same night I got it back from David’s shop I took it to a rehearsal for a jazz combo I play in. Everyone really loved the tone of this unique and rare horn. The drummer—who was subbing for us that night and who normally plays in a grunge band—remarked that it didn’t have that the usual high-pitchy whine he associates with modern saxophones. He really liked its sound.
This is how I described the horn in an email to some saxophone-playing colleagues:
- The finish is around 99-98% intact. The only places where the silver is worn off is not where you come in contact with it from playing it.
- It has had no repairs or resolders in its life. The only thing was a lyre holder had been added, and Chadd at WWS removed it before I bought it.
- No dents or dings anywhere on the horn or neck.
- No pull down trauma on the neck.
- This horn was likely not played much. It did require a bit of swedging, but David didn’t have to make any new rods.
- David—who BTW is Swiss, and trained as a woodwind instrument maker before moving to Canada in the late 80s—noted that this entire instrument is handmade. While he was cleaning the keys, he noted he could see hammer strikes on the keys, and the hand-buffing marks on them. This speaks to the fact that this horn was not made by Martin. Yes, Olds may have employed former Martin employees in its design and creation, but this is not a fancied-up Martin Committee II like so many people seem to want to believe.
- Sonically this horn is not likely anything I have ever played. It is very dark—strong core tone presence—with not that many overtones. My usual set-up is a Dukoff S7, and even with that and a Legere Signature Series reed, the Olds has nowhere near the overtones that any of my other “dark” horns have. My Hohner President, JK Toneking Series III, and my Martin Handcraft all have more overtones with the same set-up.
- The Olds seems to default to a 30s or 40s jazz club sound. Why? Who knows. I’ve tried it with different vintage MP’s I have including: HR Otto Link, metal Wolf Tayne; HR Hohner (made by JK); and a few others with a variety of different chambers, and they all have a variation of the same old-style sound.
- It is somewhat of a challenge to play in tune. However, after about 30 minutes with the band, when we played a tenor feature ballad, I had the intonation mostly under control, and was no more than 10 cents out one way or the other. I can tell you that the corrections I have to make on it, are completely different than ones I have to do on any of my other vintage American or European horns.
- It has a very even scale; almost no resistance—until you try and subtone low C and below (which I am guessing has to do with my reso choice)—;and the altissimo pops with ease.
- The Martin Handcraft tenor I have, has a particular “something” to its timbre that is very hard to quantify. There is a darkness, yet overtone presence that has long made it a favourite among my friends and band mates. My Committee III bari has that same type of “something” in its tone as well. Perhaps it’s a vibration at a particular frequency or whatever, but Martins seem to have that “something” that makes sax players recognize them as being what they are. This Olds does not appear to have this. I have read from others that they claim theirs does. If one subscribes to the argument that horns get “played in”, and that that one of the things that makes vintage horns sound the way they do, then perhaps the explanation for why my Olds lacks that Martin “something”, is because it hasn’t been played in yet. I have at this point no explanation, but will enjoy getting to know this horn better, and playing it in both the 19 piece big band, as well as the jazz combo for the next while.
- FYI, I had it repadded with black roo pads, and flat, sterling silver Reso Tech resos for a Mark VI bari. They fit almost perfectly. Only 1 needed minor adjusting to fit the Olds.
- Because the case—with the horn in it—had been exposed to moisture at some point, I opted for total re-springing. I chose to go with piano wire. The feel is stunningly smooth.
- Fortunately I had a first generation ProTech case, so with only minor adjustments with a wooden mallet to where the end plug touches, the Olds now has a case that fits it perfectly—almost like it was custom-made for it.
The after pics of the Olds Super tenor sax
Because I waited a bit too long before taking photos of my Martin Committee III bari after it came back from its restoration a few years ago, I decided I would get photos of this baby before any tarnish or water spots could really have a chance to form. This is what Olds Super tenor #108X looked like three days after coming home from the shop:
- Serial # 108X
- Silver plated with matte silver body tube, burnished keys, neck socket, “tone ring”, and bell interior
- Ivory rollers
- Pearls have a very unusual, and very striking, blue/green hue that doesn’t photograph well—even in HDR
- Distinctive Olds Super “tone ring” found on all the Olds Super series of horns (trumpets, trombones, et al)
- Re-padded with black roo pads
- Flat, sterling silver, Reso-Tech resonators intended for a Mark VI bari
- Springs made with piano wire
Piano wire vs. blue needle springs
Many people will tell you that blue needle springs are the gold standard when it comes to re-springing a saxophone. Me, I’m rather meh about the whole thing.
I am of the belief that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The springs on many of my vintage saxes have never been replaced when I’ve had them overhauled. I am also of the belief that newer isn’t always better. Many times the older stuff lasts years—in some cases decades longer—than what you can buy new today. (Many of my horns from the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, all still have their original springs.)
I am not the biggest fan of blue needle. Why? I find the resistance is very different under the fingers than say when I play one of my saxes from the 1950s, like the JK Toneking, that doesn’t have them.
That said, blue needle springs do have their place. For example, in a recent overhaul of my Mark VI bari, David used a blue needle spring to fix a problem that I’ve had with my low C# key ever since I bought the horn.
My problematic low C# notwithstanding, when David and I discussed re-springing the Olds Super tenor (since some springs did need replacing), he was the one who suggested piano wire. At that point it naturally only made sense to replace them all, and have the entire horn feel consistent.
So how does the Olds feel under your fingers? In a word: fantastic!
This is by far the easiest, and lightest playing horn I own. The keys open and close effortlessly, and their speed is brilliantly fast.
There’s of course a reason your tech keeps your horn after an overhaul
The night I got my Olds Super tenor back from David, I played the hell out of for a good three hours during our jazz band rehearsal. Once I got the tuning figured out, the sax had a tone to die for.
Since its tone is so unique, it will not blend well in a section. Read: I won’t be using it for shows with the big band I play in, since it won’t blend with the Selmers everyone else uses.
However, as a solo jazz horn, it has the potential to whisper, scream, and provide a tone like none that I have heard before. Sadly however, it did not last long…
A couple of days after its stellar début during the jazz band’s rehearsal, I pulled the Olds Super out to use with my student. Suddenly the horn wouldn’t play. Not only was its tuning problematic, but the sound kept closing off mid midway through an expressive ballad we were working on. IIRC, this is kinda’ what I sounded like when I first started to play sax.
What next for my Olds Super tenor sax?
David will be back next week, so the Olds will go back and get re-tweaked. Whatever is going on with it will get straightened out, and my baby will be amazing. After that I will record a sound file and upload it for people to hear.
A couple of months ago I bought the Shure X2U XLR-to-USB Signal Adapter and have been experimenting with trying to capture a somewhat true, live sound using Audacity. That’s a bit of a learning curve given everything else I’m supposed to be doing. However, once that’s done, I’ll post an update to this article.
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