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Vintage Saxophone Restoration Issues
1. I Need to Get My Vintage Conn C-Melody Restored
[note: makes a specialty of restoring & offering the C tuned vintage saxes - both C-Melody & soprano]
Q.  Hello Bear and greetings from the UK, I recently purchased a Conn Alto Sax for my wife from E-bay. Serial number etc. is: C | 65293 | L. In my layman’s’ opinion it is in need of a considerable amount of restoration, new pads, thorough cleaning, attention to the octave key actuating arm, which is bent and looks like it has been replaced/repaired. There are also two solder/braze marks either side of where I believe the aforementioned actuating arm should sit. One or two of the other keys may also have slight bends.

After reading through many pages on your very informative site, as well as other sources of Sax/Conn information, I have one or two questions which I hope you can answer. Firstly, what exactly have I bought? I believe from the serial number it was manufactured around 1921. It is approx. 3 inches taller than my wife’s other Conn Alto from the sixties (K62498), & the micro tuner neck is also longer. The mouthpiece that came with it does not have Conn or anything else stamped on it, is wider than that of the above, and tapers towards the neck end, where there is a round, circular collar. The construction of this mouthpiece appears to be brown bakelite.

Although the engraving is very similar in design to pictures I’ve seen of Chu Berry Conns, it has no ‘border’ as in the above, nor is the CG Conn signature in scrolled engraving. It’s more uniform like the engraving of ‘Made by’ etc. It does not have a ‘nail file’ G# key so I’m reasonably confident it is pre 1925. I cannot tell whether the bell ever had a gold wash or not, too dirty & discoloured.

I am also a little concerned at what I’ve read about the ‘C’ as in C melody saxes. Are they nothing more than objects of curiosity anymore, to be played for fun etc., and of little value? Secondly, based on the information supplied, and your expert opinion, is it worth having it restored, bearing in mind I’m in the UK, although we do have plenty of sax shops around. Thirdly, if your answer to the above question is “yes”, can you give me any suggestions to pass onto whoever restores it over here, i.e. type of pad used, etc. — cos if I’m going to get it restored to its former glory, I’d like it to be both as close to original as possible and also playable. If you need more information or pictures of the sax itself to base your opinions on, then please let me know. Thanks and best regards, Graeme …

A. That’s not an alto. It’s a C-Melody, but that’s not all bad though. Our fully restored 1920s Conn C-Melodies typically command higher prices than comparable altos.  Whether that holds true in the UK or not I cannot say. 

When we restore rolled tone hole Conns we use real Conn Res-O-Pads, but a good flat metal reso pad will work, too. I would be sure to question the tech you expect to work on your sax about their feelings on vintage saxes in general, and C-Melodies in particular, before you let them touch that horn. You want someone who has a healthy respect for these fine old instruments. A tech that thinks they are of little regard will make them play to that level of expectation, not the extraordinary levels of which these wonderful instruments are capable. Another thing you want to insist on is that your nickel, silver or gold plated vintage sax receives a hand polish as opposed to buffing with powerful & abrasive industrial buffing machines. You want the plating left bare, as well, not sprayed with clear lacquer as the tech will probably try to tell you is needed to prevent tarnish. Commercially available silver anti tarnish strips in your case will be very effective for this purpose, and we can supply a specially treated wrap of Silversmith’s cloth for serious long term tarnish prevention. Bare, hand polished precious metal plating has a much more beautiful lustre than the bright, but shallow look of finishes that have been highly polished & lacquered. Insist on doing the job of polishing the right way.

The damage you describe is a bit of a concern as far as you sinking the US$600 or so that we charge to do a premium restoration on a sax like yours, but you will have to be the judge of how you spend your money. From your description the horn does not appear to be a prime restorable carcass, but I’m reasonably certain it will turn out well if you put it in the right hands for the work. If you go ahead we recommend you obtain the Selmer metal short shank Jazz model tenor mouthpiece in a C* through E facing, with D preferred. There are other possibilities discussed on our Q&A article on C-Melody mouthpieces, but I play the Jazz Selmer in D facing on my Conn straight neck C-Melody myself and cannot recommend anything as better.

Once you get the horn in playing shape you will find that it has a very unique & interesting sound, with the power of a tenor down low and the grace of an alto up top. I suppose it’s a bit of the capon of the saxophone clan. You all will find that though it’s not an alto, the fact that you can read any charts written for C instruments a tremendous advantage to finding musical applications for you ‘new’ saxophone. I hope this information is helpful to you. Please write again if we can ever help in the future.

Additional Comments can accept vintage saxophone restoration work on a very limited basis. Our work is not cheap and it is not fast, but we treat every instrument we restore with with complete respect and make them look and play as if they are for Bear’s own personal collection. We restrict the instruments we accept to fine gold and silver plated examples without debilitating abuse, excessive wear or material damage. As a Certified Public Accountant, Bear sees his duty to you as his client to respect your finances as much as he respects your fine vintage saxophone. He will never accept an instrument for restoration that will not repay your investment in our work.

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