I can’t recall when I saw my first Olds Super saxophone, but I do remember when I regretted missing out on being able to buy one. When Chadd from World Wide Sax (WWS) sold off some of the late Steve Stransky’s collection of fine horns, among them was an Olds Super tenor in silver plate. Although I was late to the party that time, as luck would have it, less than a decade later I would have the opportunity to buy what is one of the most beautiful Olds Super tenors left on the planet, from none other that Cadd at WWS.
In October 2017 I phoned Chadd about an ugly duckling of an Olds Super he had on his website… Man was it ugly… I was fully expecting him to tell me that it had already been sold and was in the WWS queue awaiting its turn at restoration before being shipped to its new owner. When he said it was still available, I immediately made arrangements to come down in a couple of days to play test it.
Olds Super Tenor Specs
- Model: Olds Super
- Serial #: 108X
- Finish: Silver Plate
- Ivory rollers
- Blue-green MOP key touches (colour doesn’t photograph very well
- Mouthpiece: Claude Lakey Apollo
To say that this horn was play-testable was really overstating things. Chadd did not know they history of the horn, only that the family of the owner sold it to him—but really didn’t want to. It sounded like this was a family heirloom that had been kept after the owner had long since either passed away and/or given up playing.
One thing we do know, is that it likely had been repaired at some point by famous, Philadelphia repairman, George Sarkis, since its case contained a water-stained, yellowed business card of his.
The Olds was in terrible shape. The once beautiful original Lifton case had been exposed to water with the horn inside. The case was mouldy and the plywood pieces were separating apart. The horn itself had mould growing on the pads as well as in the body tube. In hindsight, probably the stupidest thing I have ever done in my sax playing life is play test this Olds Super tenor. I really was asking for saxophone lung.
You think I’m being hyperbolic? Nah, I’m not. This horn had been in its case for god knows how many decades, and the pads had literally glued themselves shut on the tone hole chimneys. As a matter of fact, when I played the high Eb key, this happened….
Yup, the key was so glued shut with mould that when I opened it, it pulled the tone hole chimney right off the body tube. Mind you, the seal created by the chimney on the body tube was good enough to allow me to continue with my play test… Yup, it takes a special kind of stupid/determined to keep playing a horn after this happens.
My go-to repair tech for all my vintage babies is David Gsponer. David owns Matterhorn Music in Surrey. Over the years David has overhauled and/or restored many of my lovelies, but none have been quite as special, rare, and pristine as the Olds Super tenor.
David and I carefully decided how best to restore this beauty back to its original pristine shape. We discussed everything from pads and resos, to spring options. (It had to be completely re-sprung due to its submersion in water and subsequent improper storage.)
During the restoration
While restoring the horn, David noticed some things that clearly point to the horn’s hand-made origins. He noted that he could see the individual hammer strikes and tool marks. (David was trained in this work in Switzerland, so he recognizes this type of handcraftsmanship when he sees it.)
Something else that’s interesting to note, is that the distinctive Art Deco design and stylized Olds name is not engraved at all, but rather stamped on the bell.
It might not be all that noticeable in the photos, but I noticed on both this tenor and the alto that Chadd had at WWS when I was there, that the bell is ever so slightly flattened where the stamping is. This is noticeable when you pick the sax up by the bell. You can feel the slight indent in the palm of your hand.
David’s restoration of this museum-quality horn included the following:
- Total disassembly of the horn and removal of all the springs.
- Scrubbing out all the mould growing on the inside of the body tube & neck.
- Polishing the horn.
- Repadding with black Roo pads along with solid sterling silver Reso-Tech resos intended for a Mark VI bari that were custom fitted to the horn. When the key is closed, no leather is left exposed to absorb the sound.
- Respringing with piano wire for smoother action/feel. (Yes, it is just as fast as blue needle.)
The Tone Control Band
In a 1941 catalog for brass winds, the Olds company described the ring like this:
…Artists the world over acclaim them for their glorious tone quality and their unparalleled responsiveness … achieved by the tone control band spun around the bell.
Was it just a marketing ploy to distinguish the Super from their less expensive horns? Don’t know. It certainly makes the horn stand out though.
Who made the Olds Super saxophones?
I am currently in the process of trying to confirm this brand’s pedigree. There is a great deal of debate among armchair saxophone historians about the Olds Super saxophone’s origins. Many believe that it is simply a stencil of Martin’s Committee II.
Others, like myself, believe that these were actually made by Olds, by craftsman who were either former Martin employees, or on loan from Martin.
Some measurements to ponder
While David was restoring my Olds Super tenor, I had him take some precise measurements, which could help shed some light on this horn’s origins. I will include them here as a PDF for anyone who has access to a Committee II and is curious enough to want to measure exactly like David did. If you do, let me know. I’m curious about the results.
Want to know more?
I have a Series on the Olds Super on the blog portion of my website. There are 5+ articles about this particular horn, and the quirks I have discovered along the way. (More to be written in the next while as well.)