The Vintage Saxophone Gallery -

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The Conn 22M & 24M

Ah, the Conn F Mezzo Soprano, model 24M and the Conn-O-Sax F alto, model 22M. These beautiful horns were produced from around 1928 to 1930 -- some documentation indicates that they were available until around the start of WWII, but they were no longer in production (indeed, many Conn catalogs list them after 1930). This was at the very end of the New Wonder era, but some of the Conn-O-Saxes have the "Naked Lady" (or "Lady-in-a-Pentagon") engraving of the later Artist horns, so that may mean that the production end date was actually in the 1931-1932 range.

The idea behind an F saxophone is not incredibly new: A. Sax himself envisioned two lines of instruments: Eb and Bb for marching band and C and F for concert bands. Interestingly enough, very few companies were ever interested in F instruments -- the only other F instruments that I have found have been one-off custom horns -- and, as far as I've been able to dertermine -- A. Sax made a grand total of one F alto (last owned by Canadian saxophonist Paul Brodie).

Please note that there are hundreds of high pitch Eb horns that are still floating around. You can try to make a HP horn play sort-of in tune in E or F -- a few notes at least -- by manipulating the mouthpiece and/or playing with the neck. The most common instrument that people tell me is an F horn is a Evette-Schaeffer (Buffet): don't bother e-mailing me if you have one of these beasties. You DON'T have a horn pitched in F.

The 24M grew out of Conn's 18M soprano tinkering: the old model soprano was stubbier (about 1/2" shorter) and didn't have as good intonation. The newer model was longer and thinner -- which has caused some folks to say that they have an A soprano. This sort-of means that the F mezzo soprano has a more "sopranoish" sound than the Conn-O-Sax, which sounds more like an English Horn -- or, according to Conn's adverts, a Heckelphone. I can also say, after seeing the A. Sax F alto and a couple other F instruments from the 19th century, the F mezzo looks considerably different, especially with respect to its neck.

These horns both used the same mouthpiece and fit in the same range, but while the F mezzo soprano had a keyed range of low Bb to high F, the Conn-O-Sax has a keyed range that is impressive even today: low A to altissimo G. The Conn-O-Sax also sounds a bit more mellow than the F Mezzo-soprano and is a better fit for the "intended" purpose of these horns: to cover French Horn parts. The Conn-O-Sax, in my opinion, is probably the sweetest sounding of all the saxophones.

Paul Cohen has a recording of his Conn-O-Sax on the Vintage Saxophones Revisited CD1 (you can read my review of this CD at Sax-on-the-Web2). I'm working on converting some F mezzo plying from SAXTEK into a computer-friendly format, so there will be audio soon.

Paul Lindemeyer's book, Celebrating the Saxophone3 also has some extremely nice pictures of both these models, but it's rather short on their history.

F Saxophone Advertisements

Above pics from Conn's Musical Truth trade magazine. 1928. (Click for larger version.)

I absolutely love the purple prose Conn uses in their ads. Allow me to quote from a couple advertisements:

F Mezzo Ad (from the Saxophone Journal, March/April 1990; pp. 10-11 -- originally from Conn's Musical Truth trade magazine, 1928):

Announcing the Marvelous New Conn Mezzo-Soprano in F -- the real solo instrument.

An entirely new instrument, perfected during two years in the Conn laboratories -- nothing exactly like it has been built before!

A matchless new "lead" voice for the saxophone family, with exceptional brilliance, power and "snap"; excelling both Eb alto and Bb soprano for solo work.

Most perfect scale of any saxophone yet built. From lower to higher register, every note uniformly spaced as to intonation and blowing pressure Etremely low and high notes come easily, full, sweet.

Enables composers to write in the more brilliant sharp keys. Opens up a wealth of classical music for the saxophone.

New design and taper, smaller bore with improvements in mechanism, but standard fingering is preserved.

Ideal in size and weight. Graceful in appearance. A wonderful model for children to play. For the professional, a knock out!

Saxophonist, lead the procession! Get all the facts about this marvelous new instrument. We can only suggest "high spots" here. Read the whole story on Pages 12 and 13 of this issue.

Made by famous Conn processes, of course. Hydraulic expansion insures scientific accuracy in all dimensions. Integral tone hole sockets, rolled edges, celebrated Conn-foil pads.

C.G. Conn, Ltd., Steps Out With New Baby

Conn's New Saxophone: The Mezzo Soprano in Key of F

Ten instruments now comprise the saxophone family. The latest addition to this illustrious group is the mezzo-soprano saxophone in F. Because of peculiar advantages, this instrument promises to be one of the most popular, if not the mopst popular, of all saxophones.

With the saxophone family, the Eb alto is king, with the Bb soprano, straight model, sharing second honors. Both are lead instruments. While one or the other of these two instruments is chosen for the lead, another of them is entirely satisfactory.

Ideal Lead Instrument

The mezzo-soprano in F is the ideal lead instrument of the saxophone family. It is built in F, one whole tone higher than the Eb alto and has the brightest, sweetest voice of all saxophones. This brightness is due not only to the fact that it is pitched higher than the alto, but is also due to to a completely different bore and taper not posessed by any other saxophone.

In building the mezzo-soprano saxophone in F, the Conn saxophone experts strove to produce a brilliancy of tone and preserve, at the same time, the voice-like quality which is characteristic of the saxophone. To do this they were compelled top work out an entirely new bore and taper. Not only is the bore smaller, but the graduation of the taper is different from all other saxophones. This completely new design lies at the basis of the peculiar excellence of this new saxophone.

Most Perfect Scale

Besides producing a unique brilliance in tone coloring, this new design has produced the most perfect scale of any saxophone yet built. Several of the country's greatest saxophone artists have tested this instrument and all of them remark about the uniformity of the extremely low and extremely high notes with the rest of the scale. The low B and the notes from D to F in the top of the scale are produced with the same ease as the notes in the middle register.

To be able to play from the bottom of the scale to the extreme top without changing the pressure of blowing will give the saxophone player a thrill of satisfaction.

Especially noteworthy is the excellent tone quality of those extreme notes. There is not a trace of "warble" in the low notes, both the B and the Bb being solid and rich. The E natural and F at the top of the scale are big, round and sweet. Nothing like this quality is found in any other saxophone.

The C# on all saxophones has been a difficult note to bring out with clear resonance. But the C# in both octaves on the mezzo-sopano in F is uniformly clear and sweet with the rest of the scale. No other saxophone has such an easy flowing scale and one whose notes are so evenly spaced throughout, both as to intonation and pressure of blowing.

Quickness of Response

Another remarkable quality of this instrument is the quickness of its response. Artists who have never played this instrument say that they have never experienced anything like it. Even with the most rapid triple tonguing, every note sounds instantly and precisely. The tone, while voice-like in quality, at the same time has a peculiar brilliancy, penetrating power and snap which is unique in the saxophone family.

Being built in a key one whole step higher than the Eb alto, this instrument, of course, is shorter in length and lighter in weight. This fact makes the mezzo-soprano in F particularly suitable for children. The Eb alto is just a little large, while the C melody is still larger. The Bb straight soprano requires a reach of the arm which makes playing uncomfortable for smaller children. While the Bb soprano, curved model, is all right for that size, it is rather hard to blow and is not as fine an instrument musically as some of the other saxophones. The F soprano is ideal in all respects for children and is designed to become very popular for this use.

Fingering is Standard

The fingering of the instrument has not been changed from the standard fingering on other members of the saxophone family, with the exception of the new Bb trill key of metal which has been substituted for the usual pearl tip.

Although the Bb hole has been moved from the right side of the bell to the left side, the fingering remains the same. This change simplifies the key mechanism considerably and makes it more positive.

Aside from the unsually fine musical qualities of this instrument, the fact that is built in the key of F has certain important advantages. An F instrument adds only one sharp to the signature of a composition and takes one flat away; for this reason saxophone parts can be easily added to the great classics by adding one sharp or taking away one flat. This fact takes on peculiar significance when it is recalled that a great share of the classics for orchestras are written in sharp keys. When parts have to be written for instruments that add two or three sharps to the signature of the composition, it becomes necessary for the composer or arranger to rewrite the whole composition in some flat key in order to avoid embarrassing the players of these instruments with six or seven sharps.

It is believed the F saxophone will open up a wealth of classical music to the saxophone, which has been hitherto out of reach.

Created by Conn

The mezzo-soprano in F is a Conn creation. As far as we know, no other manufacturerin this country has ever attempted to build a saxophone in F. This instrument has been in the Conn experimental department for over two years, where the design was thoroughly perfected. A number of America's greatest saxophone players have played the instrument and they are unanimously enthusiastic about its future.

Models, Finishes and Engravings

    Models (it is doubtful that these F instruments were available in high pitch variants)4:
  • 24M F Mezzo Soprano
  • 22M Conn-O-Sax (F Alto)
    Finish Choices (all from a March, 1922 catalog, unless otherwise marked):
  • 000 - Virtuoso Deluxe: (introduced around 1922 for the C melody and on all models by the end of 1924 ): "Furnished only on special orders and prices quoted on request." Heavily gold plated over all, hand burnished over all. Each and every key inlaid with special choice and carefully selected pearls. Highest class hand engraving on bell of instrument, as well as a greater portion of the body, all of which is a special design and of the highest character.5
  • 00 - Artist's Special ("Burnished Gold"6): Heavily gold plated, hand burnished over all, pearl inlaid keys, pearl rollers, bell richly hand-engraved. Inside of bell, engraving background, keys, posts and ferrules hand burnished.
  • 0 - Artist Finish ("Satin Gold"): Heavily gold plated over all, pearl inlaid keys and rollers, bell richly hand-engraved. Inside of bell engraving background, keys, posts and ferrules hand burnished.
  • 1 ("Silver & Gold"): Body heavily silver plated, sand blast velvet finish, bell richly engraved, pearl finger tips, pearl rollers. Inside of bell, engraving background keys and ferrules gold-plated and burnished.
  • 2 ("Silver, Gold Bell"): Body heavily silver plated, sand blast velvet finish, bell richly engraved, inside of bell gold plated and burnished. Engraving background, keys, posts and ferrules hand burnished. Keys inlaid with pearl and pearl rollers.
  • 3: Quadruple silver plated over all, sand blast finish; interior of bell and points hand burnished, finger tips pearl inlaid, and on saxophones, pearl rollers. On woodwinds this finish symbol represents heavily silver plated keys, posts and rods, hand burnished. (Not advertised in any catalog I have.)7
  • 4: Highly polished brass throughout, pearl inlaid finger tips and pearl rollers.
  • 5: Gold brass, highly polished, nickel-trimmed. (Not advertised in any catalog I have.)7
  • 6: Body heavily nickel plated and highly polished, pearl inlaid finger tips, pearl rollers.
  • Chrome Finish was the trade name for a colored enamel finish. Available colors were red, white, blue, green, Old Rose ("dark pink") and black. This was available as an add-on for any style of plating for a mere $15 extra, in March 1922 dollars.
  • Poly-Chrome Finish was the trade name for the CHROME finish, but with added "beautiful designs on bell or body of flowers, vines, etc. in various colors" and cost $25 extra, in March 1922 dollars.

Conn also saw fit to enclose a NOTE: "The Chrome or Poly-Chrome finish will last according to the care given the instrument. Should the owner desire to remove the colored finish, send in the instrument to the factory or obtain our advice on same. The original finish will not be affected by the chrome finish after the latter has been removed."

There are at least seven standard engraving styles, that are slightly varied as this series progresses. There were (allegedly) around 30 engraving patterns for the Finish 00 horns -- and the engraving on the Finish 000 horns was supposed to be unique.

Please note that there are later relacquered examples with a lacquer body with silver or nickel keys. This is NOT original. In the late 1950's, Conn produced their first horns with a lacquer body and nickel keys. Conn then continued this finish choice for years. So, it seems that when some people brought in their old Conns for refinish work, the repairman would look at the horn and say: "Relacquer? Yep. All the new ones have a yellow body and nickle keys ..." not realizing the variety of plating choices Conn had. I've seen a couple of horns refurbished by Conn themselves relacquered this way!

Additionally, it is almost universally thought that lacquer was not introduced until the 6M "Naked Lady" models, starting around s/n 260xxx (1934). It seems to have been a common practice to get old bare-brass horns lacquered in the 1930's to protect the finish, but this was not original -- it may have been done by Conn themselves, but it's aftermarket.

22M 24M
00 260 250
0 220 210
1 185 175
2 145 135
6 120 110
4 110 100

A price chart, in 1927/8 dollars. ONE 1927 dollar = 10.33 2006 dollars.8

(In other words, tack another zero to the end of the price for about what that horn would have cost today.)

Finish 000 horns, I have been told, generally cost twice as much as a Finish 0 horn.

F Saxophone Articles

There is way too much information out there for me to digest, at this moment. It's going to have to wait until I revisit this section, so I'm just going to give y'all a whole bunch of links: Article on the Conn-O-Sax and Rob Verdi's Prose and Connversations CD (my review of this CD is on SOTW) pictures, audio Article on the one-handed F Mezzo Soprano pictures Article on the Hecklephone, the instrument that was the "inspiration" for the Conn-O-Sax pictures, audio
Margaret Downie Banks Brief mention in her Conn history article pictures "The Saga of the F Alto Saxophone" article by Paul Cohen PDF File
Gandalfe's Space Some pictures of Gandalfe and his Conn-O-Sax (horn featured in my 2006 Sax Calendar) pictures Conn-O-Sax article in the Winter 1988 edition of the Saxophone Journal magazine n/a Article: "A Brief Outline of the Origins of Orchestral Saxophones in F & C" pictures
A $42K Conn-O-Sax Essentially a sales ad pics, video, audio
F Saxophone Discussion The Sax-on-the-Web forum area for misc. instruments; large showing of F instruments varies


Although I said to my helpers working on the CPG for me that I wouldn't be including any new data in this update, I wanted to include a final quote from Paul Cohen on what happened to these instruments:

Conn operated a repair school in Elkhart, where apprentices studied the art of instrumental repair. Russell Davis, ace repairman from Billings, Montana, was a student at the school in the 1940's. He explained to me that F Mezzos were used as their practice repair instruments. He remembers seeing overhauled and beautifully restored F Mezzos, after careful inspection by the class instructor, being thrown far and deep (without case) onto a huge shelf high in the back of the classroom. He grimaced, recollecting the clash and clatter of the saxophone colliding with other horns that had met a similar fate.

Ron Semak, an extrodinary collector from Detroit, recounted to me a story told to him by a member of the Conn Instrument Repair School. When the day came in which the class would learn how to remove dents and other abrasions from saxophones, the instructor would take an F Mezzo off the shelf, very often one that was brand new and unsold, and bash the bell and underside with a large sledgehammer.9

Footnotes & References

  4. The information for this chart was compiled from a number of 1927 and 1928 catalogs.
  5. ibid., 1927 catalog.
  6. While Conn generally used the numbers to refer to finish, they also occasionally used the appleations that are in quotes. You can see these in use in the above-mentioned 1927 catalog. Please also note that "burnished" means "mirror-like" and "satin" means "frosted" or "matte" when referring to saxophones.
  7. This finish choice is mentioned on the Conn Loyalist website. I believe Finish 3 refers to a silver-plated horn without the gold wash in the bell. I've not seen Finish 5 on any New Wonder saxophone.
  9. Special thanks to Paul Cohen who allowed me to copy liberally from his articles. This quote is from the Saxophone Journal magazine , May/June 1990, p. 10.

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