Interesting Questions . . .
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|Q. I went to my Aunt’s friend’s house, whose husband (a 90 year old band conductor) had recently died. The lady had an old alto sax that she wanted to give to me. I was surprised and happy, though the sax was pretty dusty. When I cleared the dust away I saw that it was a Conn, though I don’t know much more about it. The emblem on the front is pretty detailed and says, “C.G. CONN LTD. ELKHART IND. USA.” The sax has a G# trill key and under the right thumb rest it says …
PATD. DEC. 8, 1914
A. It’s an early 1930′s Conn alto sax. The ‘A’ means Alto. The ‘L’ below the number means this is a sax tuned to play at the modern standard of A=440. At the time this sax was made some instruments were still built to tune to higher pitches (no particular standard, either — the reason a standard itself was needed), which was common in earlier times (Conn marked those with an ‘H’). The sequential number in between indicates the year of manufacture, which in this case is 1930. These old Conns play really well when properly restored. Unfortunately, the cost of a proper restoration is in the neighborhood of $500, providing there’s no hidden damage that must be addressed. Sometimes with horns that have been stored a long time the rods & screws rust up — very costly to deal with …
Other common Conn markings that appear above the sequential serial number are: S for Soprano; T for Tenor; B for Baritone and C, which in the case of a curved horn means it a C-Melody (some say C Tenor), or if a straight horn (of about 22 inches), means it a C soprano. If an ‘H’ appears below the serial number the sax is a high pitch instrument, and the overall scale (meaning size, not just pitch) is smaller than the standard, or ‘L’ marked saxes. This particular sax is a transitional Conn, a short series (240xxx to 259999) built between the Chu series and the 6M (naked lady series). Many players prefer the ‘tranny’ Conns over all others. They have better keywork than the Chus, plus a bigger, free blowing sound than the M series horns. The patent date on top is probably for the automatic octave mechanism (earlier saxophones had two octave buttons that the player manually manipulated). This same patent number also appears on other brands, which implies a licensing to use part or all of the patented technology. The patent date, of course, means only that the sax would have had to be built after that time, so it is of no real use in dating instruments. Dating is possible from the serial number using lists that are available to technicians. Some of these lists have been transcribed and published on the web. Both the Selmer and Conn web sites contain lists for their products. If you use the Conn site be sure to look at the correct list because there are two. The first one that appears is for Conn’s brass instruments (trumpets, trombones, etc., but there is confusion because saxophones ARE made of brass). There is a second list far below that’s for Conn woodwinds, which is the correct list for saxophones. Conn’s two number series are amazingly close together, so Conn must have produced about the same numbers of brass and woodwinds over the long run. There is also a collection of serial number lists on Steve Goodson’s very nice SaxGourmet site. You can get to Steve’s site (and lists) from our ‘Links’ page (please see our directory at the bottom of this page).
|Q. Hi, am looking for some guidance on this sax: N146241 Conn alto sax — not sure when it was made and serial number conflicts among various sites lead me to either 1970 or 1981. Any help would be appreciated … Thanks!! Margaret …
A. That sax is what is known as a ‘MexiConn’, built in the 1970s in Nogales, Mexico (hence the ‘N’ prefix). I don’t believe these horns follow the Conn serial number charts at all. At any rate, there’s not enough interest in the horns to warrant checking things like that out.
Here’s the story: Toward the end of Conn’s viability (first Reich) they sent sax mfg. operations to Mexico as a last ditch effort to cut costs down to a survival point. These ‘MexiConns’ are probably the least desirable instruments Conn ever made. The general design is the same as the Conn ‘shooting stars’ horns built in the USA a little earlier, but the metal is thinner and the workmanship is, at best, questionable. If damaged seriously – which is easy cuz they’re so flimsy – you just throw ‘em away & get another … hence the other moniker players have hung on the ‘N’ horns over the years: ‘disposable saxophone’.
These saxes actually sound fine because they have the Conn body tube contours that produced the great voice of the better horns, but any attraction for that reason is canceled out because they are so easily damaged, hard to work on and generally flimsy in character. If you’re lucky enough to get one made after the siesta they can play and sound pretty good – just don’t go putting it down on your knee too hard.
This is the perfect Clinton saxophone – looks great & sounds good at first … then you realize nothing’s really there …