There are many great players who know the quality and performance of Olds trumpets better than me, so please do not view this guide as definitive or authoritative. It is merely my observations based on owning and playing over 350 vintage Olds trumpets. I am sure this guide will alter over time, and I would welcome your comments on olds trumpets or this guide by contacting me through ebay.
LA trumpets vs Fullerton trumpets
I know trumpet players and collectors that get very excited over LA horns which were produced pre 1953. I really am not concerned how a horn looks today, only how it plays. I have had great playing 1970s Fullerton Ambassadors and bad playing 1950s LA Recordings. With olds trumpets, it is my opinion that each horn is an individual and should be judged so; not dismissed just because it is a student horn, a 70s horn; similarly it should not be revered because it is a Recording trumpet, a 4 digit serial number horn or an LA trumpet! All Olds fans have probably read that Olds quality declined in the 70s. I would say that 2 out of the best 10 olds trumpets I have played have been from the 70s. There has only been one Olds 40s horn (a super recording) that I have played that could be usable alongside modern horns in a section.
Custom Bb (Ultrasonic)
The Custom trumpet was made in the 70s, when it was reported that Olds quality had declined. The Custom trumpet was endorsed by Bobby Shew and was a lightweight model. It was marketed as being above the Recording and Mendez trumpets and rumours were that Mendez himself actually preferred a Custom trumpet. I have only played 3 of these but have found that they are at least equal to the Mendez model. These are very underrated and I have heard several people describe them as a sleeping giant waiting to be found. The term "Ultrasonic" I believe referred to the bell design, and whilst my experience of the Ultrasonic Custom and Super is very positive I know two owners who found the Ultrasonic Mendez not to their liking. Ultrasonic was engraved on the leadpipe/receiver of the trumpets that had the ultrasonic bell design. When the Custom was first offered for sale the buyer had the option of a choice of leadpipes or bells, hence the name "custom".
I have played well over 20 of these ranging from a 52 model to a 76. They have all been exceptional trumpets. I have had pro players around my house just to try a selection of vintage olds. Invariably they all say that the Mendez has the edge. The bracing on a mendez is different to all other olds which I believe makes it more efficient, I may be wrong but they certainly produce a massive sound. A well set up Mendez horn can't be beaten!
These were introduced in 1960 and were targeting symphonic player because they had large bores of 0.468". They are fantastic players for those that like very large bore horns. I play a Large Bore Claud Gordon Benge (0.470" bore) but these have an Heavy feel. I am not a fan of these!!!
Olds version of the balanced trumpet. The valve block is closer to the bell end, middle valve offset and it shares the same 3rd trigger mechanism as the Mendez. This is a one off horn in style and playing. It has a rose brass bell that gives it a dark sound but can be brighter with the lacquer stripped, and in my opinion does not benefit from being silver plated (i would say that with all olds). These are really very nice playing trumpets that are still played by pro players. As a matter of choice I prefer the red brass leadpipe to the yellow brass or nickel.
The Super was aimed at the pro player and had a silver (brass on rare occassions) tone ring around the bell, I suppose this was a gimmick and was copied from or by the Reynolds Contempora and the Getzen Super Deluxe. I have found these very tight players except for a 70s Ultrasonic version which was very open and amongst the best Olds I have played. I know many people feel that they have a bright tone suited to lead playing.
Pre 1967 Studios had a silver end to the bell flair, it looks fantastic on a restored horn and gives the horn a distinctive sound. I have not found a bad playing pre 67 Studio and would put them right up there with the Mendez for playing satisfaction. They are not as dark sounding as the Recording or as bright as the Super and it lacks the enormous sound of the Mendez, but a great all round trumpet. These are very underrated and under priced for the standard of trumpet you are getting.
Post 67 Studios were nickel plated and had a 1st slide trigger. The nickel takes away the zingy sound, the typical Olds sound. In my opinion the revamped Studio was a step backwards.
Another nice trumpet but it went through several stages of development from being an ambassador with a different name to being a beautiful tri coloured trumpet. There is some great playing Specials around (my first trumpet was a 48 special), The last one I had was a mid 60s tricolour model, looked like a sterling bell with rose brass flair...played superb!!!!
The Ambassador is a trumpet most people have played or know someone who has played one. If you want a good second trumpet or a solid student trumpet then you can't go wrong. There is a load of rubbish said that they are equal to many pro horns that are made today. It may have been the case when they were new but you have to remember that they have been around for between 30 to 60 years. Like all Olds trumpets they will have aged uniquely, depending on the how much use it has had, how ofen it has been cleaned, the acidity of the players hands or breath etc. Out of around 100 Ambassadors that I have played I would say that probably half of them would hold their own as a section horn in a big band or concert band. 6 or 7 of them have been exceptional and you could truly say that they were as good as many pro trumpets made today ( by pro horn I mean those that claim to be such as the top of the range Blessing, new kings and new conns - certainly not as good as the xenos or strads.
These are pretty rare, and I have been lucky to have played one of them. It was a good horn for a 75 year old but thats all it was. I guess you have to draw the line somewhere at what is still a pro standard playable horn and what is a collectors horn.
You are lucky to find an original Olds with lacquer intact. Losing the lacquer is part of the aging process and what make the sound of the vintage horn special. I would advise if it is too patchy and you are worried about the look of it, strip it completely rather than risk the relacquering altering the sound. It is very tempting to have a vintage horn restored but don't be surprised if it sounds totally different when it comes back.
Raw tarnished brass can turn your hands green. Once you have polished raw brass try finishing it off with furniture polish. It keeps its shine for longer and stops the green on your hands.
The Super Recording is a very special horn. Everyone that has played one thinks they are exceptional...and they are rare! These are the most sought after Olds. I have been lucky enough to play a late 40s Super Recording and it was as good as I imagined! Not only the best 40s horn but right up there with the best of today.
The pinto was an experimental flop, very ugly with a moulded valve block. I played one a few years ago and was surprised at how good it was!!! It was only student standard but not as bad as I expected.
My Current Olds Horns
I have a 1952 Mendez and a 1952 Studio. These are keepers and really can't be bettered as great playing vintage trumpets by any standard! At the moment I do have 3 Ambassadors ready to sell on!