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The Conn New Wonder Transitional

[About 1930] a new alto was introduced which set the saxophone world on its ear! The totally new design carried over some of the great features of the past such as rolled tone holes; Resopads; Microtuners; and adjustable pivot screws; and added an entirely new mechanism which was far superior to anything seen before. The neck gained a tenon skirt to assist in sealing and aid in the elimination of the "buzzy A"; the octave key was moved to the underside of the neck to protect it from damage; the low C sharp, B, and B flat keys now opened the G sharp pad; and the high E key gained a curve. A swivel thumbrest was added and most keys were repositioned to give the most direct mechanical action. Most, but not all, of these features soon found their way to the tenor. The line continued to evolve, and the baritone and bass models were soon offered keyed to high F.1

"Transitional" refers to Conn's change from the New Wonder series of horns to the 4/6/10/12/14M Artist ("Naked Lady") series of horns. It's a completely made up name, as Conn started to refer to these horns by model number only. This series is characterized by:

  1. The evolution in keywork design. This is most evident in the change from split bell keys to bell keys on one side of the horn (LH side for alto and tenor, RH side for baritone and bass). Less evident is the change in design of the chromatic F# key and G# cluster, lengthening of the altissimo keys and the addition of an adjustable thumbrest on some models.
  2. The beautiful "art deco" engraving on the bell, but this is not necessarily indicative of a "Transitional" horn!
    In other words, during this era you could get:
  • A horn that had most of the features of a "Naked Lady" model, but with New Wonder or plain engraving.
  • A horn that had most of the features of a New Wonder model, but with art deco "Transitional" engraving or "Naked Lady" engraving (might have only been high pitch models. Take a look at THIS example).
  • A horn that had most of the features of a "Naked Lady" model, but with split bell keys.
  • A horn that is essentially a 6M (etc.) that doesn't have "6M" (etc.) engraved near the serial number.

As afore mentioned, the biggest change from the New Wonder to the M series of horns is the switch from split to one-sided bell keys. This STARTED at approximately s/n:

  • 220xxx for baritone and bass models (actually during the late New Wonder period)
  • 237xxx for the alto and included the underslung octave key
  • 263xxx for the tenor (considered the start of the "Naked Lady" series)
  • In other words, all pitches were completely transitioned to the "Naked Lady" one-side-bell-key M series by ABOUT 263xxx.

    Interestingly, this means that Conn's baritone and bass had more advanced keywork before their alto and tenor siblings, which is a rather refreshing change.

    Models, Finishes and Engravings

      Models (odd numbers would indicate high pitch -- e.g. 11M tenor -- and are not included)2:
    • 20M Straight Eb Sopranino (they called it an "Eb Soprano")
    • 2M C Soprano
    • 4M Bb Soprano, Curved
    • 18M Bb Soprano, Straight
    • 22M F Mezzo Soprano
    • 24M Conn-O-Sax (F Alto)
    • 6M Eb Alto
    • 8M C Melody Tenor
    • 10M Bb Tenor
    • 12M Eb Baritone (low Bb; low A not available until 1955-ish)
    • 14M Bb Bass
    • 16V Eb Contrabass Sarrusophone

    However, the only horn that had any DESIGN CHANGES was the Eb alto. The straight Bb soprano had already been transitioned to the new "longer" design and the bari and bass didn't have that much of any change after s/n 220xxx -- and the tenor didn't change until around 263xxx. C instruments and the 16V aren't even listed in the Conn catalogs of this era.

      There were fewer finish choices:
    • 00 - Artist's Special ("Burnished Gold"3): 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.
    • 4: Highly polished brass throughout, pearl inlaid finger tips and pearl rollers.
    • 6: Body heavily nickel plated and highly polished, pearl inlaid finger tips, pearl rollers.

    "Chrome" (enamel) and "Poly-Chrome" (enamel with painted design) were probably discontinued by this time.

    I have been contacted by someone who said that he had a horn with a gold body and silver keywork (finish 1), but I have yet to see one and it's not in any of the catalogs I've seen from 1930 to 1940. I think this finish choice is possible, though: I think that there are some horns produced in this serial number range that are 100% New Wonder models and were available with the large variety of New Wonder finishes.

    The only gold-plated horns I have seen throughout this series generally feature a stylized full "Naked Lady" in a pentagon. I thought this was standard on the gold plated horns (regardless of any additonal art-deco filigree) until I saw this horn. My current opinion is that there were either a couple engraving choices you could get or Conn engravers just got bored :).

    Finally, I have not seen examples of a straight soprano or bass in full Transitional glory: M series keywork and art deco engraving. If you have one or have pictures of one, please contact me!

Footnotes & References

  1. From Steve Goodson's Conn article ( Used with permission.

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