For years, I’ve said that students shouldn’t get a vintage horn. There’s just too much that can go wrong with vintage. However, when you’re ready to graduate to a better instrument, you’ll see that the cheapest horn on the market marketed as “pro” is a Taiwanese-made Cannonball for around $1500 and “intermediate” horns aren’t much cheaper. I was pretty sure I could take $1000 or so and get a really good vintage pro horn, throw $400 at it to get it close to good mechanical shape and end up with a horn any pro would love to have. The below horns are the results of my experiment.
How many models did Martin make? Way too many. However, that’s good for those of us that really appreciate the elaborate engraving on these horns.
Handcraft through Magna -- and some other gems
The "Artist" finish was Conn's designation for a horn with heavy gold plate and a non-custom, but more elaborate than standard, engraving. All US manufacturers produced horns in a similar style, but they're a lot less common than the Conn examples.[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_martin-handcraft.jpg]5580Handcraft Eb Alto, s/n 69507 (1926). From DoctorSax.biz. Click here for the full album.
The Handcraft was the first Martin-made saxophone -- they imported stencils before this -- and I think they're quite pretty. My experience has been that the intonation was a bit iffy, but the tone was very nice.[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_15143_1200_900.jpg]4722Master Martin Handcraft Eb Alto, s/n 79359 (1927). From Saxophone.org. Click here for the full album.
This is another of the very elaborate finishes that was available in the 1920s. This particular variant is exceptionally rare. [img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_13904_1200_900.jpg]4550Master Model ("Typewriter") Eb Alto, s/n 94086 (1930). From Saxophone.org. Click here for the full album.
I've actually played a few Martins, including one of these. It's a nice look, but it is a bit uncomfortable to play. It's a very nice look on the baritone.[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_martin-handcraft-special-eb-alto.jpg]4690Handcraft "Special" Eb Alto, s/n 109726 (1935). From Saxpics.com.
The serial number is a bit too high for a Handcraft and the neck looks like a Martin Master or later. The engraving looks a lot like a Handcraft Standard, and I had initially categorized it as such. It's also not a "one off." There was one of these for sale on eBay, recently.[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_martin-handcraft-imperial-alto.jpg]4850Handcraft Imperial Eb Alto, s/n 111921 (1935). From DoctorSax.biz. Click here for the full album.
This model has been called the rarest Martin model -- not just an interesting finish, but model. In my searches, though, I tend to think that the Centennial deserves the honor of being called the rarest.[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_martin-handcraft-standard-alto.jpg]3661Handcraft Standard Eb Alto, s/n 112511 (1936). From Saxquest.com. Click here for the full album.
There are at least two variants of this horn, with the interestingly placed forked Eb vent (it's offset from the D tonehole) and one without. There's some debate over whether there was one stamped "Special."[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_martin-handcraft-troubador-alto.jpg]3621Handcraft Troubador Eb Alto, s/n 120xxx (1938). From Saxophone.org. Click here for the full album.
The big innovation on these horns is the lack of a altissimo E/F side key. The function is taken up by the chromatic (side) C key and a few strategically placed springs. [img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_martin-handcraft-committee.jpg]3560Handcraft Committee Eb Alto, s/n 124xxx (1938). From Saxpics.com.
Gold plating became fairly rare after 1929. That's a shame because the finish really does look great on horns that have a lot of engraving, like this one.[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_martin_handcraft_committee_1.jpg]3630Handcraft Committee I Bb Tenor, s/n 1298xx (1939). From Saxpics.com.
This is an interesting variant of the Handcraft Committee: you can see that it's clearly engraved "Comm. I." That would of course, mean that the Handcraft Committee II was on its way. That's an insanely risky business move: why buy the I when the II is coming out?[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_martintenor143xxx-10.jpg]32710Handcraft Committee II Bb Tenor, s/n 143126 (1942). From GetASax.com. Click here for the full album.
Speaking of "Committee," these horns were supposed to have been designed by a committee of about a half-dozen respected players and designers. I also found that there was another committee for brasswinds, so there probably was another for other instrument families, too.[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_martin-centennial-eb-alto.jpg]3130Centennial Eb Alto 141xxx (1943). From cymru97 @ SOTW. Click here for the full album.
This horn was produced in celebration of the 100th anniversary of one of Adolphe Sax's patents. This exceptionally rare model is obviously the model for the next Martin model, the Committee "III." [img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_mart206k.jpg]3452Committee "III" Bb Tenor, s/n 195xxx (1956). From WorldWideSax.com. Click here for the full album.
This is a wonderfully restored horn from Steve "Sarge" Stransky over at WorldWideSax.com from several years ago. The horn was replated by Anderson Silver Plating.[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_martin-committee-iii-music-man.jpg]3640Committeee "III" Official Music Man Model Bb Tenor, s/n 202801 (1958). From GetASax.com.com. Click here for the full album.
The lacquer used on Martin instruments tended to disintegrate extremely quickly and even faster when you had a lot of engraving, so finding a lacquer horn in this good of shape is outstanding. I was fortunate enough to play an almost mint one of these in the late 1980s. Wonderful tone, "OK" to "meh" intonation.[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_martin-magna-baritone-low-a.jpg]3350Magna Eb Baritone w/Low A, s/n 215xxx (1963). From ehopper1 via Saxpics.com. Click here for the full album.
The Magna baritone was offered in both a low Bb and low A ... but no chromatic F# key. The Magna had an optional silver neck to go with the standard silver touches on the keys and the "stars" on both the bell and neck.[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_i.jpg]3726Dick Stabile Eb Alto, ca. 1941. From reeder31788 on eBay. Click here for the full album.
Martin stencils are always a bit odd. I've had this horn described to me as "the Holy Grail" of Martin stencils and as a horn cobbled together out of old Martin pro and student parts. I've never heard it described as "bad," though.[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_olds-super-alto.jpg]3660Olds Super Eb Alto, ca. 1941. Click here for the full album.
The Olds Super is supposed to have been made by former Martin designers; the much later Reynolds Contempora -- which appears on the next page -- has the same octave key mechanism, supporting that argument. In any event, the design is striking.[img src=http://www.thesax.info/photoblog/wp-content/flagallery/martin/thumbs/thumbs_contempora-visser.jpg]3140Reynolds Contempora Eb Alto and Bb Tenor, ca. 1962. Thanks to AH Visser.
(This is a sample pic from the calendar I did in 2008.) The Reynolds Contempora is mostly a Martin Committee "III" with some keywork changes, but the octave key mechanism is quite different. Note that there is an SML-made Contempora and a Reynolds Contempora Medalist intermediate horn.
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I’ve mentioned in a few places that the reasons why I never paid much attention to Holton were because not a lot of folks had the horns and not a lot of folks considered them to be good horns: as an example, Rudy Wiedoeft famously didn’t play the Holton Rudy Wiedoeft model. On this blog, though, I’m not terribly worried about playability: I just want to see some really pretty horns and Holton did have several.