Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Holton Model 666: The Super Collegiate Alto

Holton 666 Super Collegiate Alto

 Here's a close-up of the copper body tube.  I scraped on the inside of the tube to see if it was merely copper plated brass, but it appears to be solid copper.  You can click on any of these pictures a few times to zoom in.
 The horn is a mixture of copper body tube, brass posts, thumb rest, key guards, and nickel or nickel plated neck and bell.  The neck appears to be nickel plated, but the bell is difficult to say.  It's difficult to scratch though nickel plating to see what's underneath.  The inside of the horn had a thick green verdigris common to copper and it extended down onto the nickel bell (which appears nickel inside and out).  I didn't think that nickel could be worked into a bell shape, but the advertisements for the Holton Super Collegiate Trombone (still being made) and the Holton Super Collegiate Trumpet say that they have solid nickel bells.  Difficult to say on this one.
The serial number places it in 1959, about the middle of the 5 or 6 year production run for the 666.

The nickel plating is very nice.  It was actually lacquered (which I removed) as is the copper and brass.  Even the nickel keys were lacquered which is kind of odd.  One of the nice things about nickel keys is that when heating them for floating pads you don't have to worry about burning lacquer.  Not so with these keys.  I should have stripped them as well.  The plating is still perfect, but the lacquer isn't.  Even the rollers were lacquered.




I put in Roo pads with copper resonators.  I guess I should have gone with nickel resonators for the bell pads.

So, is it a "pro" horn, a "student" horn, or a "professional student" horn?  The answer is maybe.  I've never played a regular Collegiate.  I own several horns that I purchased from longtime professional players, but these horns, while wonderful, aren't ever on the short list of "professional" horns. I know that my horns made money for their owners in the past.  That makes them "pro" rather than "student" under the NCAA rules (National Collegiate Athletic Association), but the rules for "collegiate" saxophone may be more complex.  The following advertisement from 1956 shows Holton's Super Collegiate Trombone (the one designed with the help of Maynard Ferguson and still in production) and says at the top of the ad "America's Finest Student-Line Instruments."  So that settles it.

This horn was not set up as a pro horn. The Db/C rollers are cigar shaped (which I like), but the openings in the keys were too tight and I could tell that the rollers had never rolled.  Not that they had become stuck, they simply couldn't roll straight from the factory.  The original pads were junk even compared to other pads of the era.  The felt on the backside was exposed (no cardboard backing) and they were shellaced only around the edges.  I removed most of them by just grabbing the tiny resonator and pulling them out.  That had to contribute to the weak sound on my first play test.

One key cup was so far off center from the tone hole it looked like it had never been able to seal correctly.  And it was off in a direction that didn't indicate that it was bumped.  It looked like it came from the factory out of adjustment.  The side Bb/C/E keys are so close together that any little bump causes them to interfere with each other and open more keys than what you want.  Time will tell whether the key material is stiff enough to stay in adjustment.

So this Super Collegiate had one hand tied behind it's back from the beginning.  A pro would have never put up with that and would have had those problems corrected right away.  Or, a pro would have paid an additional $400 for a "pro" horn of the era (more than the Super Collegiate original price).  One of Holton's selling points for its Collegiate line of horns was that the horns were priced such that a student (or a student's parents) could afford one.  So, it's greatest advantage was also it's greatest disadvantage (who wants a "student" priced horn?).  It's second selling point is the bling.  Again, some say advantage, others disadvantage.  The looks are eye-catching either way.

Not that it's not all bad.  Far from it.  The nickel plating is luscious.  The pearls are a deep concave, like my Kohlert 57, which I really like.  But then the thumb pearl is a small convex button that I don't like.  The needle springs seem to be longer than most, though thicker, and give a smooth and quick action.  The needle spring attachment posts are large and easy to work with.  Doesn't seem to have any intonation quirks once the key heights are set, in fact some of the time it seems like the note is kind of locked-in.  Push the key and out pops the note just like a piano.  Tone is more centered than my mid-30s Conn and less centered than my Beaugnier Rationale.  

The Holton key rod pivot points are a conical pin rather than a bullit point like on Conns.  If the allignment isn't perfect, either from the original manufacturing or a later bump to a rod or post, you can feel an "out-of-round" friction as the pivot point is screwed in.  You have to make sure that both points are at a place where there is no friction yet both are driven home so that there is no lateral play in the key.  I guess it's a Holton thing.  The octave mechanism is pure simplicity, yet seems to function well, though a little finicky.

The horn was in really good shape for it's age. I probably added more scratches to the lacquer during the rebuild than were on the horn when I got it. The pads were original except for the Db, which was understandable given that the horn didn't look like it had ever been swabbed out. The horn was actually fuzzy inside, which, combined with the mushy pads, made my first test play a dull and disapointing experience.    I now wish I had paid a little more attention to cleaning out the inside of the body tube when the horn was apart.  The copper verdigris really is quite thick and rough.  Enough so that you can feel some friction when pulling a silk swab through. 

The "new" Db pad had been replaced using a booger-like glue (which is now stuck to my bench), so I don't think that the horn had ever seen a technician. With new Roo pads and Maestro airtight copper resonators installed, the horn came alive and now has that wonderful buzzy vibration on the fingertips feeling. I haven't tried a lot of mouthpieces on it because it seems happy with an old  Tonolin. You can see on the neck cork (which I haven't replaced yet), that the prior owner had the mp pushed almost all the way to the end of the cork to get it to tune. No wonder the shank on the origninal mouthpiece was cracked. I lowered the pad heights on the lower stack quite a bit and that brought the upper and lower octave together and allowed a more reasonable position of the mouthpiece.

The neck is either nickel or completely nickel plated, inside and out, including the neck tenon. This has an interesting effect. Even when tightened down, it can still be rotated. The fit is perfect, but the nickel plated tenon in the nickel plated receiver on the horn doesn't have as much "grip" as does brass on brass (especially as brass tends to get a layer of corrosion or "patina" on it). It's not a problem, just something that I noticed.

Once dialed in, it's a nice horn. I have a little more fine tuning to do before I decide if it's a keeper. I'm not sure that my playing will ever live up to the three-tone looks, the prophetic 666 model number, or the Super Collegiate name (or should it be nicknamed Superphone like the trombone is nicknamed Superbone?).

The case appears to be the regular Collegiate case.  Or is it a Super Collegiate case?  As you can see, it's also a three-tone.

1 comment:

  1. I have one of these awesome saxes. It was the alto I learned on in my teens and I have just had word from my sax tech that its refurb is finished. I can't wait to pick it up and start playing again.