A thread on SOTW got me thinking about a term that is bandied about so much, that it has basically become meaningless. The term vintage saxophone has been used to describe everything from 100+ year-old horns—which would really be considered antiques in the truest sense of the word—to modern horns with a faux vintage finish.
For example, this is my Evette & Schaeffer HP baritone from 1886. It is not a vintage sax. This is, in fact, an antique.
Not a vintage saxophone, but rather an antique
This SX 90 R by Keilwerth is not a vintage sax either. It’s just one of the countless modern horns that manufacturers of both expensive and cheap horns are currently producing with faux vintage finishes, in an effort to try to cash in on the current interest in vintage saxophones.
Not even close to being a vintage saxophone
This is the above tenor’s bell engraving. Oh, just as an aside, if it says “vintage” on the engraving, it’s not a vintage saxophone… yet.
Years ago, saxophone historian Pete Hales provided a good working definition of vintage saxophone:
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 key touches — 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.
In the saxophone world, think of it this way: A Martin Master is vintage, a Bundy II is old. Or how about this one: a Julius Keilwerth Toneking is vintage, while a Super Grange is old.
A true vintage saxophone
There is one part of Pete’s definition that I disagree with. In section b. Pete writes that the horn should have been considered a professional make and model when it was made. I don’t necessarily think this always needs to be the case.
Case in point: the Pan American horns that were built by Conn. These horns were Conn’s second-line horns, but I would argue they are still vintage saxophones.
Pan American saxophones ranged a great deal in features and styles over the years, and some were pretty striped down versions. However, for the most part, many still meet the rest of Pete’s criteria for vintage saxophones:
- They’re no longer being produced anywhere.
- They still have value today as a playable instrument.
- They have maintained their original value, adjusted for inflation, or in some cases even increased in value. (Think of Pan American bass saxophones.)
Besides Conn’s Pan American, there are quite a few other non-professional model saxophones that could be considered vintage, if you take away the professional requirement in Pete’s definition.
For example, The New King by Julius Keilwerth was almost the same as the Toneking. The body tubes and necks were the same, and the key layout was the same. The only difference was that the Toneking was keyed to high F#, while The New King was keyed to high F. Yet JK considered The New King their intermediate level horn, while the Toneking was their pro horn.
Using Pete’s definition of vintage, The New King would not be considered a vintage horn, since it was not “considered a professional make and model when it was made”. In my mind this simply doesn’t make sense. I believe we need to have some flexibility in this area.
That said, we shouldn’t open the flood gates and allow for every POS saxophone ever built in the 20th century to suddenly be called vintage either. There has to be some common sense applied. This common sense has to be used by sellers, but more importantly, by potential buyers of vintage saxophones.
If a buyer doesn’t use their common sense, and some vintage saxophone-buying savvy, they’ll end up spending way too much money on a junker horn being sold as vintage.
If you’ve got any ideas on how to improve on Pete’s definition of vintage, I’m all ears. Leave a comment and let’s discuss.
Notice that I’ve purposely left out discussions of pre-1980, or other age-specific criteria. I know that 1980 is currently the common age cut-off for vintage versus modern horns. IIRC, this may have come from eBay.
I have also left out a discussion of features. Among other things, this takes away those endless and fruitless debates about whether or not Mark VIs are truly vintage saxophones. Let’s just say that they are, and move on.
© 2013, Helen. All rights reserved.