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Comparing Conn 6M & Chu Berry Horns
Q.  Someone asked me what the chief differences between a Chu Berry and a 6M would be, and I had no idea.  Can you compare them – is there an advantage to one over the other? I think they are referring to a ’30s 6M naked lady, rather than something later after they got rid of the rolled tone holes.  I was wondering in particular if they (Conn) rearranged the key setup to make it easier to play, and if the sound was pretty much comparable between the two. Thanks, Rob, the question guy …

A. The 6M is a completely redesigned saxophone. It has a sleeker body tube with bell opening that sweeps to the front for a more focused, brighter sound. The 6M keywork is a completely different approach from the Chu, though both are very ruggedly built. While the Chu mechanism is a marvel of simplicity and ease of assembly, the 6M has many keywork elements that require exact steps to get them onto the horn. On a full tear down & rebuild the 6M is a bit hard to work on because all the new elements, like many additional pivot mounted keys, require so many additional post pairs. The 6M body looks a little like a porcupine when the keys are off, and the maze of posts & springs make hand polishing plated horns a nightmare.

Ostensibly, the 6M is easier to do maintenance on since the pivot mounted keys can be taken off individually, however in practice that doesn’t always work out due to that issue of the assembly order. It was a nice try though, and the 6M is easier to set up because parts of key combinations can be isolated & approached in a cumulative manner. In that way the tech knows any issue introduced by adding a new part of the combination is associated only with that key. That may not mean much to the average player, but it’s important to a tech. Designing a sax that was easier to set up reduced Conn’s manufacturing costs, as well, which may have been as much a driving force in the 6M design as Conn’s desire to make the best saxophone in the world. As an accountant I can tell you that the ability to take costs out in the right way is the mark of a well run company, which, at least pre WWII, Conn was …

From the players standpoint, these isolated keys can be regulated more precisely, and arguably have a better ‘feel’ or improved leverage for faster action. The octave mechanism is completely redesigned to accommodate the 6M’s underslung neck octave vent, and the vents themselves are different – conical as opposed to a little teapot dome (the advantage is the cone doesn’t easily get water blockage). The 6M neck is more rugged & reinforced to combat pull down. The neck taper is also different on the 6M, and of course has the double socket intended to provide a better seal and firmer feel for the player. I can argue both sides of that point as relates to used examples, but there is no doubt that without the interface pin protruding past the sax body, the 6M octave train is much less susceptible to damage. Finishing out the keywork comparison, the fork Eb is gone and the 6M picks up articulation to the left pinky spatula. The G# trill was retained, at least on the desirable low s/n 6M horns.

The Chu is freer blowing & darker sounding because of its larger bore & taper, especially in the bow area. The 6M gets the nod on action. Each was arguably the best design of its day. Every chance we get we like to remind saxophiles that Conn continued to use major elements of the Chu keywork on stencil, second line & student horns at least until the 1970s. Like George Blanda, the Chu horns may have found a different role, but they stayed on the field long after lesser players had succumbed to age and infirmity. The sheer numbers of Chu & 6M Conns that still survive in playing condition today are a salute to their ruggedness & quality as machines, and to their unique sound & performance characteristics as musical instruments.

Additional Comments
We love ‘em both. Deciding whether you like a Chu or 6M best is one of those happy problems where the evaluation process is too much fun to result in a decision … :-)
Follow Up Question
Q.  So, one more question re: 6m. I know it is said that prewar horns are considered better, but what about immediately post war – say 1946-50? Is there any reason to be concerned about horns of this era? I am considering buying another horn, believe it or not. I am tracking what I think to be a good deal, and the horn I am looking at is 1947.  There really is no rationale as to why I would buy another horn in addition to my Chu. I really just love the look of the 6m as a work of art … and mechanical wonder too.  Rob …

A. Conn converted their production power during the war to make airplane gauges. After the war Conn had to reset for saxophones, plus they had a long strike right after they got production headed back up. All this caused the post war production to be more spotty than before – and you have to assume some of the best craftsmen didn’t return.

The inefficiencies & trouble during that (immediate post war) time is what started Conn’s long, slow quality slide that eventually culminated with production moving our of the country in the early 1970s. Another factor to consider when evaluating the post war production is that due to cost & labor problems Conn eliminated the rolled tone hole in mid 1947. You need to be sure you’re getting a RTH horn when you buy a ’47 — if that’s what you want. Though the first straight tone hole Conns were of good quality, that changed relatively quickly, and the valuations of even the good straight tone hole Conn saxes is lower. After about ’52-53 you don’t want a Conn as a serious player’s sax, and all the straight tone hole models tend to get painted with this same brush.

If you buy a straight tone hole Conn make sure you get a good price cuz it will be harder to unload if it turns out to be a disappointment. To be safe stay with the pre war Conns. They will always command higher values, and the likelihood of getting a lemon is remote. The late 6M viii horns (like the one we have listed on the site for sale now) [4/17/02] are the ones to hold out for if your budget can stand it. It’s always better to stretch a bit for quality when it comes to buying vintage collectibles. Your investment wisdom will ultimately be rewarded …

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