School of The Rock


Horns In My Life

by Paul D. Race

Confession time - before I played guitar, or banjo, or piano, or flute, or harmonica, or bass, I played saxophone.  Tenor saxophone.  A big Elkhart tenor saxophone that I dragged up a steep hill to school when the thing (in the case) weighed about as much as I did. And, let’s face it, any instrument you really connect with sticks with you, and influences your musicianship no matter what else you play or how your musical lifeline twists and turns.

Though I have owned and appreciate the quality and sound of pro models,  95% of my saxophone playing has been on student or “intermediate” models (most of which, as it turned out, were based on saxophones that were considered professional in their day).  

I’ve never written a lot about saxophone, but I recently had some odd experience researching two “off-brand” horms that I have picked up.   I learned quickly that it’s easy to trace top-of-the-line horns because everybody wants to brag about their 1967 Selmer Mark VI or whatever.  But I’ve nearly always made do with less than top-of-the-line horns.  As I started to research those, I learned that the “information” available about the history of many second-tier or “student” horns is sometimes “thin” and sometimes the “common knowledge” is not true at all.  So I accepted the situation as a sort of challenge to set the record straight, at least the record regarding horns I’d personally owned and connected with.

In  trying to sort out the truth from fiction, the most helpful resources were sites with lots of photographs and personal hands-on experience.  So when someone claims that one of my horns was made in the Conn factory, but when dozens of photos from different resoures show that it’s identical to contemporary Bueschers, I’ll draw my own conclusions, thank you.

One rewarding result was learning that three of the “off-brand” or “intermediate” horns I’ve owned over the years were actually based on “pro models” from an earlier age - it’s just that the pro models kept getting better.  So I wasn’t really crazy, in, say, 1990 to try to make good music on horns that were almost identical to the horns that the very best players were using in the ’20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. 

I can’t speak definitively about every model ever made, as some folks claim to do, but I can report on the horns I’ve owned.  If you’ve owned similar horns, or had similar experiences, you might learn something, or at least you may enjoy reminiscing along with me.

Not every article has photographs yet, and some of the photographs are of other people’s horns, because I don’t have that model any more.  But we’ll do what we can. 

In the meantime, if you want to share your story of a horn or horns that were/are special to you, get in touch, and we’ll try to add your story, too. 

The list is in the sequence in which I owned the following horns, not in the sequence they were built, which is way different.

Other Articles you may find helpful include:

Our “sister site” Family Christmas Online has a new article about playing saxophone for a Salvation Army kettle in December, 2013:

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