Stencils and Second-Line Horns


What's a "Stencil"?

A "stencil" is a word that is specifically supposed to refer to a saxophone built by a major sax manufacturer for another company or storefront. On receipt of the saxophone, the storefront would literally take a stencil and engrave their own name or design on the horn.

American stencil manufactures were generally:
* Conn
* Buescher
* Martin
* Occasionally Holton
* Occasionally HN White (King)

European stencil manufactures were generally:
* Couesnon
* Kohlert
* Buffet (Evette & Schaeffer)
* Keilwerth
* Beaugnier
* Pierret
* Amati
* Yamaha (Japanese)

American stencils generally have the following characteristics:
* A different serial number chart than the pro horns form the manufacturer
* Stencil manufacture didn't begin in the US until about 1920
* A reduced feature set than the pro horns (for example, Conn stencils don't have rolled tone holes)
* Generally lower quality control than pro horns
* Designs were generally based on earlier tooling (i.e. body and keywork). For example, if Selmer produced a stencil of their Mark VII, it would have the "look and feel" of the Mark VI.
* Generally cheaper materials were used
* Generally limited engraving
* All American stencils I have seen have been low pitch, A=440hz (modern intonation) horns (I still recommend checking with a tuner, in case some are high pitch and aren't marked)
* Occasionally new designs were released only on stencil models (new keywork, different octave vent designs, etc.). If the design was good, it occasionally found its way onto the pro models
* American stencils were generally made by the lowest bidder for the contract. For instance, if the Vega company requested a bunch of saxophones, they would buy them from whoever was the cheapest supplier: Conn, Buescher, etc. This means that most stencils were not always made by one specific company over the life of the stencil.

European and Asian stencils generally don't suffer from the same problems of American stencils: they had mostly the same feature set (look and feel) of the pro OR INTERMEDIATE horn they were stencilled from, just different engraving. For example, the King Marigaux is a stencil of the SML Gold Medal "Mk. II". The only differences between the two horns is the engraving and that the Marigaux doesn't appear to have as many finish choices available for it.

These are general rules for stencils, of course. There are many interesting exceptions: Keilwerth made sax bodies for many different companies in Germany and not all these horns are exceptionally good. Lyon and Healy (an American company) occasionally designed their own horns, but had other companies fabricate them. The list goes on.


What's a "Second-Line" Instrument?

The best way of thinking of a second-line instrument is that they are student/intermediate horns sold by a major saxophone manufacturer. It is too complex to get into the subject of European and Asian second-line horns, so let's deal with the most common American second-line:

* The Conn Pan-American
* The Martin Indiana
* The King Cleveland
* The Buescher Elkhart

In all the above cases EXCEPT for Conn, the name of the second-line instrument comes from the name of a company that was bought out (for example, the Indiana Band Instrument company was purchased by Martin). In all cases, these horns generally follow the rules for stencils, except that they were actually sold by the companies that produced them -- they just had different names on the bell.

Interesting exceptions:
* The Conn Pan-Americans did not always use the same tone-hole layout of the Conn New Wonder. The keywork also gradually got more and more dissimilar fthan the Conn pro line.
* The King Cleveland was actually produced by the Cleveland Band Instruments company, as a kind of "wholly owned subsidiary" of the HN White Company after HN White purchased them in 1925. Also, the Cleveland has its own serial number chart and, while they have the distinctive keywork of other King saxophones, the body is rather dissimilar.
* The quality of second-line horns was generally higher than their stencil brethren.


How can I tell who made my stencil?

For European/Asian horns, as mentioned above, it's easy: they look EXACTLY like their pro/intermediate counterparts except for the engraving. The only exceptions are with Keilwerth -- because they never follow any one standard format. Look for the "JK" logo, lucite (plastic) keyguards, the Keilwerth name engraved somewhere, the slogan "The Best in the World" engraved somewhere, etc. In any event, Keilwerth stencils generally have at least a passing similarity to other Keilwerth horns, and with Beaugnier and Pierret, who "custom made" horns for the stencil market.

There are several relativrely easy-to-spot characteristics of some stencils:

* If the horn has a Mercedes-Benz-logo low C keyguard, the horn was made by Conn (note that these keyguards are not found on some curved sopranos and that straight sopranos/sopraninos don't have keyguards)
* If the horn has bevelled toneholes, the instrument was produced by Martin
* If the horn has "smooth" keycups, the horn was made by King (there are very few King stencils)
* All Martin and King basses (even those labelled "Martin" or "King") were produced by Conn or Buescher
* Holton stencils generally have additional and cumbersome keywork, as well as very thin construction (there are extremely few Holton stencils)
Buescher stencils are a bit hard to spot. The easiest of determining that you have a Buescher-made stencil is to say it doesn't have any of the above features. The best way, however, is to look at the octave vent mechanism (see below).

There are several alternative ways toi determine who made your stencil. The best is to look at this EXCELLENT article from Dr. Rick's Music.

Of course, you can also look at pictures of a variety of pro horns and go from there. Just note that the most common American stencils were made by Conn and Buescher (in approximately that order).


How much is my stencil or second-line horn worth?

For European/Asian horns, the answer is: "As much as the horn it was stencilled from". For American horns, the answer is: generally not that much. The exceptions are horns with gold plated bodies and/or keywork, horns with extremely elaborate engraving, horns with "prototype" keywork, horns that were owned by someone famous (provided you can prove it) and sopranino, baritone and basses (although curved sopranos are starting to do well in this market). Broadly speaking, subtract about 25% off the value of the pro horn it was stencilled from.

The major exception to this value rule is brass, lacquer or silver C melody tenors (excepting odd designs). Don't expect to get more than $300 US for these.

This is not to say that stencils/second-line horns are all bad. Some can be extremely good. It's just that the ratio of bad to good is higher. ALWAYS playtest a horn thoroughly before you buy.


Final Comments: "Copycat" Horns

You probably have seen an eBay article or three touting a horn as being "A copy of the Selmer Mark VI!" or "Has the same keywork as the Selmer Super 80!" or something similar. These horns fall into a couple categories:

* Asian copies of French-made horns (or horns "Manufactured under the supervision of French craftsmen!")
* Czech copies of Keilwerth horns
* German copies of Keilwerth horns
* Italian horns based on French designs

In any event, these are generally horns you don't want to buy. There are some notable exceptions, the easiest example being the Yamaha 62 and better. These horns are copies of the Selmer Mark VI and Super 80, but they are exceptionally good copies.

Just remember: a copy is only as good as the craftsmen copying it and the materials that they use.

You also should beware of advertisements in ALL CAPS or that have too many exclamaition marks!!!!



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