Conn C-Melody Saxophone
Artist Model 
in Burnished Gold Plate

The burnished gold artist model will forever be the top of the Conn saxophone line. This dazzling burnished gold sheen was created by repeatedly stroking the entire plated surface with a highly polished tool steel iron until absolute brilliance was achieved. The burnishing process was applied by skilled craftsmen of the highest order, to whom time was of little concern. After burnishing was complete, the Conn master engravers imparted each instrument with a unique, elaborate design. Sometimes the client would specify the engraving subject, hence we see these instruments also referred to as portrait saxes. Numerous pets, wives and girlfriends are immortalized in the lavish engravings of these saxophones. The opulent 1920′s were never more clearly characterized than by the burnished gold plated Conn artist model saxophone.


The vast majority of artist model saxes were altos. It is truly rare to find one in any other type of sax, especially the C-Melody. The original client for this instrument appears to have been a sportsman, perhaps a hunter. The main subject of this engraving is an elk. The elk is accompanied by two different angelic visions, plus one of an imp or demon, playing a drum. These figures are masterfully surrounded by floral swirls and filigree. It is hard to capture the details in these pictures, for the engraving is cut so that the figures jump out in 3-D fashion to meet the eye. If all this isn’t enough, the Conn craftsmen graced this particular instrument with pearl touches on every key. All considered, this is an incredibly rare and beautiful saxophone from Conn’s golden years.

The 108,xxx serial number traces to 1923. This would be considered a ‘Pre Chu’ Conn, meaning that it has all the Chu features except the sculpted palm keys and textured G#. You will note the familiar Chu features: split bell keys, G# trill key, forked Eb and micro neck tuner are clearly visible in the pictures. Not visible are lock nuts on each end of every pivot screw (low C#, high E, etc.), a feature which added mechanical distinction to the Conn line well into the 1950′s. These Pre Chu’s share the same great sound and very good action as their more famous younger relatives, the real ‘Chu Berry’ Conn saxes. Pre Chu’s are rarer in that they were produced for only about two years. This example is virtually flawless, right down to the near perfect original case.

We’ve tried to capture the engraving for you to the extent possible with a surface at once so brilliant and detailed. Netscape visitors may right click on images to view them full screen. IE visitors will need to use the save option, then call the full image up for viewing. You may also click here to go to a directory from which all the pics may be viewed in full display.

Whuz Up With C-Melody Saxophones?

The tale of the rise and fall of C-Melody saxophones has many versions. Some of what we read as we travel about the web is truth and some is myth. It is true that Adolph Sax originally conceived the various saxophone models would be keyed in C and F, the convention in orchestral arranging. Since the saxophone did not immediately gain acceptance for orchestral work (as Sax had expected) the prevailing designs defaulted to Bb & Eb, keys more common to brass band instruments. At times all the Bb saxophone types (soprano, tenor, bass) have been produced in versions tuned to C. These C saxophones are equally as serious and well made designs as the corresponding Bb versions. It is therefore myth that a C saxophone is somehow inherently flawed.

During the economic let down following WWI American instrument makers seized upon the C saxophone as a way to promote sales outside the professional musician and student markets. Benefits of playing along with piano or guitar charts for home entertaining, combined with the relative ease with which one can become proficient on the saxophone, were strong marketing arguments. It didn’t hurt this master marketing campaign at all that the onset of Prohibition had severely limited options for entertaining guests ‘with full hospitalities’ outside the home. Later in The 1920′s America saw a strong economic revival accompanied by voracious appetites for lavish excess. The saxophone was further popularized by the developing recording industry and by the growing number of touring orchestras. Things jazzed up rapidly as The Twenties started to roar, and the saxophone bellowed out its due share of the hype. With the saxophone being regaled as so easy to play, it’s not difficult to imagine gaily adorned C-Melody sax cases piling up under America’s Christmas trees. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to imagine the horrid sounds emanating from these misfortuned instruments as they were passed among rank amateur parlor guests partying on Saturday night. So, you see, it is also myth that C-Melody saxes play poorly and out of tune — though you might be tempted to think so if your only exposure to them was after Uncle Fred had nosed a bit too far into the gin …

So much for the rise. The reasons for decline of the C-Melody sax are equally clear and explainable. Two seminal events ushered in the 1930′s: Prohibition ended and The Great Depression began. The impetus for home entertaining abated, while the ability to make lavish gifts diminished greatly. Demand for luxuries of all manner dissipated, and since professionals and serious music students had never adopted the C-Melody, its market evaporated in rapid fashion. As a natural conclusion, manufacturers desperate to survive The Great Depression would reduce operating costs by first phasing out products where demand was weak. The C-Melody saxophone quite unavoidably slipped into obsolescence. Uncle Fred’s audience now eagerly sought any excuse for escape, so the C-Melody saxes went into attics or under beds — if not to the pawn shop. The fad was over. Values plummeted and remained depressed for over 50 years. When both fashion and the economic pendulum turn against something the only prudent choice is to get out of the way …

Thankfully, the C-Melody saga does not suffer the apparent ungracious end. After the C-Melody saxophone languished in myth and obscurity for over half a century, many saxophiles are rediscovering the virtues of this wonderful vintage instrument. Today, many C saxes have been restored and are once again finding a welcome place in the saxophone family. Fledgling saxophone collectors are eagerly acquiring them, often before filing out their collections in the other major sax types. C-Melodies and C Sopranos are also finding their way into public performance, especially in worship services. In our churches these instruments sing out praise as avid hobbyists play them, reading directly from piano charts and hymnals. How ironic that the impetus for the current C sax rebirth (the ‘universal’ key of C) is exactly why the bathtub gin crowd popularized it in the Roaring Twenties! Renewed demand is steadily pushing the value of these instruments up from the depressed levels reached during decades of obsolescence. This trend toward increasing value will likely continue until C-Melodies reach parity with the other sax types of their era. While it’s true that sax makers pumped out huge numbers of C-Melodies during the 1920′s sax craze, it’s also true that none have been built since that time. Relative to the world’s total saxophone population the C tuned saxophones in existence today probably out number only rare types such as the bass sax. Thus the notion that a tremendous over supply of these instruments will always keep their value depressed is exposed as just another myth …

Bold players are discovering that by matching modern mouthpieces to C-Melodies these instruments produce a clear, lovely vintage sax sound, voiced enticingly between alto and tenor. Specialty mouthpieces built to play with tenor reeds are available, but most players don’t bother. We more commonly see alto ot tenor mouthpieces matched to these horns, depending on the sound character a player desires to achieve. With tube length close to the tenor and bore taper more like the alto, the C-Melody sounds at once like both — and neither. Low tones have the tenor’s depth and projection, while the upper register floats lyrically, with somewhat of an alto character. The choice of mouthpiece can push the sound more in either direction, per the player’s preferences. It takes a bit of effort to properly match alto or tenor mouthpieces to your C-Melody, but the rewards are definitely worthwhile. My personal preference is a tenor mouthpiece, but then I’m a tenor player by nature. If you start with a short shank model tenor mouthpiece in a medium sized chamber and tip opening in the 0.080″ range you will be in the ball park. The vintage short shank Selmer Jazz model in C** or D facing seems especially well suited to all the brands of C-Melody saxes. With this mouthpiece the soft, mellow sounds we relish in smooth jazz saxophone work seem to flow naturally from your C-Melody. When in good playing condition, and with a well suited modern mouthpiece, C-Melodies have a fabulous sound and perform as well technically as any of the more vaunted 1920′s saxophones. In the hands of skilled players the rap C-Melodies take for sounding ‘stuffy’ is completely unwarranted — another myth exposed …

Part of the criticism for poor play and sound these instruments have suffered during their long ‘Dark Age’ is because few thought them worth the cost of putting into top playing condition. Many have the cheapest replacement pads, often without resonators, and little attention paid to regular maintenance. Under such conditions no saxophone can be at its best. If you find a good, restorable C-Melody carcass it is definitely worth the cost of a quality restoration. You can have some fun and save a bit on resto cost if you are willing to do the polish work on the plating yourself. Probably 90% of these instruments are finished in lovely satin silver plate with brightly polished silver keywork & gold bell wash. They are truly breathtaking pieces after a thorough hand polishing. A few satin silver examples were produced with brightly polished gold plated keys. They are at least as rare as the satin gold models with bright gold keywork. C-Melodies in either of these premium finishes are true treasures — if you can find them. There were also models simply finished in polished bare brass (no lacquer), and in utilitarian nickel plating. Oddly, even though the bare brass and nickel plate finishes were the economy models of the era, both are fairly rare. All the models play well when properly set up, though the different finishes impart subtle tonal nuances. Regardless of which model C- melody you acquire, after restoration your saxophone will be both a musical treasure and a sound investment …

Sorry, this rare instrument is not for sale, but we usually have playable C tuned saxophones listed for you in our for sale pages.

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