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Evolutionary Convergence of Conn Shooting Star 50M
And the Vito Kenosha.
Or should I say "Connvergence"?

There are at least two distinct models of the Conn "Shooting Star" (aka "Starburst")
Both of these Shooting Star horns also went under the "Director" moniker.

(Pictures at the bottom of this page)

The 14M is a "real" Conn, while the 50M is actually the Vito as it had evolved from the Made-In-France, Beaugnier horns, and was further developed by Art Best and built by his company, "Coin Art".
When Art couldn't make enough money to stay in business making the horn for Vito, he went bankrupt.
Vito and Mr. Greenleaf, who owned Conn, went to the auction and Mr. Greenleaf evidently outbid the 'man from Kenosha' and purchased the company and kept Art to run it.
It does seem possible however that Coin-Art may have continued making Vito horns even after Conn either purchased or entered into agreement with Coin-Art.
Later, the company was moved to Elkhart, then to Arizona (Nogales) in the 70's (maybe the mid 60's?).
One reference says:
"Production of Conn's student line of horns (i.e. the Director models) moved from Elkhart, IN to the newly acquired ex Best Novelty Manufacturing plant in Nogales, AZ c. 1960. They further descended into Conn's waning era by moving production across the border to Nogales, Mexico in 1969. Those later horns are marked MEXICO, thus spurring the nickname "Mexi-Conns"."
The "Conn Loyalist" says Conn moved their Pan-American division to Nogales in 1960.
Despite this, there is a mention in LeBlanc's catalog for their Model 38 line of saxes of their factory in Nogales, AZ. This is, in part, what leads me to think that Art Best/Coin-Art might have been doing double duty for Conn and LeBlanc.

Eventually though, the Vito horns moved away from the "Best" as they entered into a working arrangement with Yamaha of Japan. There are a variety of transitional Vito horns that have a mix of Japanese fabricated parts with American parts. These horns might have been assembled in Kenosha. I also read that:
Conn bought the A.M. Best Manufacturing Company of Nogales, Arizona in 1961, and moved production of the student instruments in their line (including the "Shooting Star") there. The tone hole placement and bore were carried over from previous designs, and were reall pretty good. The keywork was cheapened considerably. but the horns PLAYED.

Conn's 50M "Shooting Star" model was nearly identical to the Kenosha Vito sax.

The production in Arizona was half marked Mexico and half marked (or unmarked) for the US. Usually, they just hand engraved (with the wiggle method) the word MEXICO on the back near the serial number in about 3/16" high letters, they were big and ugly, all caps.
The horns were built in a special foreign trade zone back then. It was a narrow stretch of land on both sides of the border.
There might have been only three men building all the LeBlanc saxes; but more likely they had at least three guys "correcting" the horns, like Selmer did in Elkhart.  It appears that at some point the Coin-Art horns were sent to Wisconsin from Arizona, and perhaps they were "checked" there. 

Conn's original "shooting star" was the 14M with the shooting stars and the wire Mercedes key guards, based on the Pan-American. Conn took over the original Vito, called that the 50M and also put their shooting star stencil on the bell. The 50M had the sheet metal type key guards and the different F# tonehole placement. Over time, these models melded a bit, with the 14M taking on the 50M's keyguards (which might have been easier to install than the Mercedes cage type, and easier to replace for sure.
To the best of my knowledge, only altos of the 50M type were made...no tenors, whereas the 14M model type had a tenor big brother, the 16M.

UPDATE - I have seen some 60M Tenors.

The 14M and 16M started life in the mid-to-late 1950's, made in Elkhart. Production moved to Nogales in the mid-60's and ended in the early 70's.

One fellow states categorically that contrary to common belief, the Conn student lines began the move to the ex Best Manufacturing plant (Art Best, Coin-Art) in Nogales as soon as Conn acquired it c. 1959/1960 NOT 1968.

The 50M started production in 1961, also moving to Nogales around 1966 (perhaps as late as 1968). Production also ending in the early 70's.
After production of the 14M and 50M ceased, I think the 20M came on the scene sometime in the 70's. I've never met one of these that I particularly liked.

I'm not sure that if Art Best was making 50M's in 1961, whether that meant he had stopped making Vitos for LeBlanc at that point. I thought the Kenosha Vito's persisted well into the 60's and paralleled LeBlanc's continued importation of Vito-branded Made In France horns. Per the information given above, it is possible that some Vito horns were assembled in Nogales and sent to Kenosha for quality control and correction.
It'd be good to get a date as to when LeBlanc started outsourcing to Yamaha. I HAVE seen some Vito horns with Yamaha bodies and Kenosha keyguards. Hybrids, if you will.

The 50M was a great little horn, held up well and some played really well. I am guessing the body tube had the same specs as the alto's that LeBlanc originally imported from France.
The 14M was an old school design out of Conn, a good design without getting ridiculous.
Both these can be good quality horns if made before the move to Nogales.
The quality control of the production of the Nogales horns was spotty at best.

Also of note are the pictures of the 50M (or so it appears) horn pictured in saxpics and billed as the "last Conn made in America" or at least the last Conn alto made at the Elkhart Beardsley Ave. factory.

The Fourth grouping of pictures shows an alto sax engraved "Evette" with serial number N10xxxx which is sort of similar to the Conn N00000 series of the 1970's, though the Evette s/n has an extra digit. It does have "MEXICO" under the serial number. Not sure what company owned the "Evette" mark at that point. I would have thought it was European, but I have no information.

The fifth grouping of pictures is a Conn Shooting Star (Starburst) 14M alto. The serial number, 712429 dates it to 1957. It has the distinctive wire keyguards, with the low C bearing the distinctively Conn 'Mercedes Benz' or 'peace symbol' guard.

The sixth grouping of photos below show a Conn 7M. The bell brace looks like Vito or Beaugnier work. Serial number N9922.
It differs in that it has right-hand bell keys and the bell key keyguard looks like a 20M.
The eBay seller says the 7M was Conn's top-of-the-line pro horn at the time. I am dubious.
This modern 7M does not appear in the Conn Loyalist sax model table ...just the older 7M models.

The seventh grouping below (a single photo) is engraved as a Blessing horn. Hard to make out much detail, but it looks very simlar and the serial number seems to fall in line.

Jan. 2010 - Here are pictures of Vito V3300 with the O-Ring in the neck receiver.

Vito Kenosha Alto s/n V2549


Conn 50M Shooting Star


Vito Alto N120476


Evette s/n N10xxxx


Conn 14M Shooting Star s/n 712429


Conn 7M s/n N9922


Blessing "Artist" s/n N136057


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