I have two vintage alto SaxSo. One is a Gretsch ARTIST,engraved on the bell. I cannot find anything on the web about the Artist model. Are you familiar with this and can you tell me anything about it. It IS missing the
head joint and mouthpiece .Wondering if it would be worthwhile to overhaul. The only. Umbers on the horn are: 29278,under thr thumb rest.
Next is a Buescher True Tone low pitch Alto, ser. No. 160958. I looked the ser.no. Up and it indicates 1924-25. Satin silver with rose gold bell. I would really like to overhaul this one to make a player. Could you give me input on this horn as well? Thank you so much for your time .will be awaiting your expert comments.
John in Alabama
Thanks for the questions. The Gretsch is a stencil saxophone. This means it was manufactured by one factory but sold to another who had their name "stenciled" on to it. There is a great deal of information on stencil saxophones on the web, just do a search for "stencil saxophones". These types of saxophones are very difficult to pin down as to exactly who made it without seeing it. Gretsch was made by both Conn and Martin. So you will need to compare it to some saxophones from the same time period to determine the maker. I can tell you if it's was made by Martin, the tone holes will be soldered on and should be beveled or slightly tapered at the top. If it's a Conn they would have been drawn from the body tube and should be straight or rolled (a ring on the top of the tone holes). You said it's missing the "head joint" I assume you mean the neck. Unless you can find a neck this instrument's value is going to be close to nothing. Some repair shops may want it for parts but that's going to be about it.
As far as the True Tone, the serial number does place it in the early to mid 1920's and that would be correct for a True Tone. This time period was what is affectionately known as the "Sax Craze". During the 1920's as Jazz became the popular music of the day, the saxophones popularity skyrocketed and was as popular as the electric guitar is now. Manufactures could not make them fast enough to keep up with the demand. As so many saxophones were dumped on the market during this time, they show up in the strangest places today. (i.e. yard sales, pawn shops, ebay, craigslist, in relatives homes, etc.) most are in less than perfect condition and need some type of restoration.
The True Tone was Bueschers "Meat and Potatoes" saxophone of the time. By this I mean it was their mainstay and provided a very large percentage of their sales and profit, so there are still 10's of thousands of them still in existence. This keeps the value of these down. Which is really a shame as they play extremely well and have remarkably good intonation for a horn of this time period. Buescher focused on making horns that were for the classical or concert market and not so much for Jazz. The difference is in the bore of the horn is a bit smaller than some of the other makes and the bell flair is much smaller. I wasn't until the early 1940's when Buescher started to take the jazz market seriously and introduced the 400 line.
You mentioned the finish is brushed silver with a gold wash in the bell. This is very good as the gold on the inside of the bell is extremely thin and was known to rub off and fade over time. If it's still there and hasn't faded it means the horn was likely not played very much. Look for any places the silver may have been rubbed off showing the brass under it. the usual places where there is wear is under the thumb hook, around the strap ring, on the back side of the bell opposite the finger pearls. This is because the player's fingers would rub there when playing. Also the neck may show some wear from being taken apart and reassembled over and over. If there is some wear on the silver that is to be expected on a horn this old. You would have to take it to a tech or send me some photos.
Another thing about the Bueschers from this time is they used a different type of pad compared to other manufactures. The Bueschers had a "snap in pad". This differed from other manufactures that used a glue in pad. The idea behind it was if a pad was damaged or worn out, it could easily and quickly be replaced just by inserting a knife under the resonator, pop out the resonator and the pad would come out easily and then be replaced and the resonator could be popped right back in. The problem with this design was it assumed the pad cup and tone hole would remain level. If either the pad cup or the tone hole was slightly damaged or out of alignment, just replacing the pad would not be the solution. The horn would have to go to a technician to have it repaired and re-regulated. The glue in pads are greatly superior as the glue itself allows for some variation in the pad cups. Even if it's the mechanism is not perfect the pad can be adjusted a little inside the cup to allow for the variations. This is called floating the pad. As Bueschers did not use glue the solution was to bend and alter the pad cups. This could be a daunting task for most techs and many didn't not have the time to complete this type of overhaul. The solution was to take all the pads out and then grind down the spuds that hold the pads in place. Then standard glue in pads could be used. This practice was very common back in the 1950's through the 80's then players started looking for horns with the original pads with the snaps. Horns with these do demand a slightly higher price than horns that do not. The way to tell if you have the snap in pads it to look at them. There should be a slightly domed metal disk on all the pads, that is the resonator. If you can take that disk off by putting a pocket knife under it and then prying it up it should just pop off and the pad come out. If you can't don't try to force it. It's possible the spuds have been removed and the pads are glued in. Also don't loose the resonators if you can take them out. They are no longer being made and quite difficult to find. Many techs will save them if they can find them.
There is a technique that I and many other techs now use to keep resonators but still use the standard glue in pads. The center hole of the pad has to be greatly enlarged to fit around the spud. Then the pad can be glued in and leveled like any other pad and the resonator is then snapped in. This gives the horn the best of both as it has the original resonators and the original sound but allows the horn to seal better and play better with modern pads.
If you have a tech in your area take it to them and ask them to evaluate it. Make sure to speak directly to the tech and not to some guy at the counter. If they have to send the horn off then you want to find a different store. Also make sure the tech has experience with horns from this time period. There are many differences in saxophones from the 1920's compared to modern saxophones. The snap in pads are just one of them. Also due to time and often lack of maintenance there are often hidden issues including frozen rods, screws, broken solder joints, etc. These have to be addressed before the horn can be properly restored.
If you want to have the Buescher overhauled in my opinion it would be worth it if you plan to play it. However if you want to sell it (flip it) than you would put more money in it than you would get back. I personally charge approximately between $750 to $800 to restore a tenor from this time period. If you plan to sell it in it's current condition, you might get between $150 to $350. After the restoration, it might sell for $700 to $1000 assuming the silver plating is still in great shape. If there is any significant wear on the finish that can diminish the value greatly.
If you would like to send me some photos of the instruments you have that would give me a better idea as to their value. You can send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You didn't say exactly where you were in Alabama, however I'm in Covington Georgia about 40 miles east of Atlanta. If possible I would love to take a look at the Buescher and do any work on it you need. It might be worth the day trip for you.