How Would You Reply To: What’s My Sax Worth?

The most dreaded question I receive: What’s my sax worth?

what's my sax worth?, Martin Handcraft C melody saxophone, tarnished silver sax, black saxophone, red background, curved neck C melody sax

Martin Handcraft C Melody # 48XXX. Yes, this is my horn—and not a valuable one at that.

Have you ever been in the situation where someone asks you what their old saxophone—maybe it’s vintage, maybe it’s not—is worth? You don’t want to hurt their feelings, but sometimes the truth isn’t pretty—as is often the case with saxophones that people either inherit, find in Grandpa’s attic, or buy at a garage sale.

Running a website that specializes in vintage saxophones, it is inevitable that I get emails from people asking about their horns. For years I agonized about how to tell people that their fine, vintage saxophone was really not vintage at all: it was simply old. Or that if they thought they had something of extreme value, they were seriously deluded, since what they had was simply a stencil of a Conn or Buescher circa 1930.

I understand where people are coming from. We all tend to think that what we own is worth top dollar. I for one have had little appetite to crush people’s dreams of a big payday, and have them be pissed off at me.

That was then, this is now…

Filters? I don’t need no stinkin’ filters!

microphone filter, head set, I’m not exactly sure what has changed for me. Perhaps I am just not concerned about hurting someone’s feelings anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling people who write me that they have a POS horn, or that they should make lamps out of their saxes. I am however, being rather blunt in my replies.

For example, this is what I wrote to someone who inquired about a Series I Buescher Aristocrat alto. The horn belonged to his Grandfather, and was in unrestored condition. The owner asked me a couple of different ways if he should polish the silver, and if that would increase its value.

This is what I wrote to him about the horn:

No problem about the lots of photos. They help with the identification. However, what you don’t provide me with is a photo of the serial number. Without it, it makes it impossible to say with certainty exactly what you have.

That said, here is what I can tell you.

  • This Buescher Aristocrat alto is either a Series I or III—it all depends on the serial #.
  • The fact that it has its original accessories—like the reed case, sax stand, strap, cleaning swab, MP, etc,–all add to the “completeness” of the instrument.
  • From a player’s point of view, the used reeds are garbage—no one uses some else’s used reeds. That said, for you they are likely quite meaningful.
  • The new reeds are likely better than what you can buy today b/c the cane has aged. But again that depends on who has the horn. I have bought lots of horns with both used and new reeds. The new reeds go into a reed drawer I have—since I only use synthetic—and the used ones get tossed into the trash.
  • The Aristocrat was a very lovely, and fine quality pro model saxophone. Since I don’t know what the serial # is, I can’t give you a year of manufacturing, but the general range would be circa 30s.
  • The horn is made of brass, but is indeed silver plated. That is standard for musical instruments that are silver in colour.
  • If you leave the horn out of its case, the silver with oxidize and will turn black (which is reversible with serious polishing). If I were you I would NOT polish it yourself. Just leave it in its case. You can add a couple of anti-tarnish strips—like  those from 3M or Hagerty—to slow down this oxidization even when it is in its case.
  • If you are not a saxophone player, I would not bother restoring the saxophone—or the clarinet—and enjoy them the way they are: as mementos of your grandfather.

If you would like to read more about the Buescher Aristocrat, you can do so here. If you would like to look up when it was made, this is where you can look up serial #.

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The following day, in reply to a follow-up email from the fellow….

A couple of things here:

  • No, polishing it will not add to its value. Anyone buying it will have to have it restored by their tech anyway. Polishing a silver horn is included in the cost of a restoration, so that’s not an issue.
  • As for what it’s worth, the best way to determine that is to do a check on SOLD eBay listings for Aristocrat altos in the roughly the same condition as yours, as well as the SAME SERIES. Because the Aristocrat was made for a very long time, you have to look for one approximately the same age. Also, the Series II, or Big B, is not the same. You do really have to look for a Series I. Also, it has to be unrestored and have the neck present. Add up all the ones you find, and divide by the number you found to get an average price.
  • The horn was likely made in 1935 & is a Series I.
  • If you do go to sell it, sell it as is. Don’t bother overhauling it. A player who buys this kind of horn is either 1. Likely going to be very fussy and want it done a certain way and have their tech do it exactly to their specs, or 2. Is looking for a project horn to DIY. Either way, it is highly unlikely you will get the costs of your overhaul out.

Hope this answers your questions. Enjoy the horn as a memento of your Grandfather. To be blunt, in saxophone land, this is not a valuable horn. It is not particularly desirable. It has a niche market, but those players are savvy, and will not spend a lot for a sax like this. They likely already have a bunch of vintage horns—like I do—and are looking for another to add to their stable. It will always have more value to you sentimentally, than it will have to someone as a musical instrument.

Don’t get me wrong, they are fine horns, but there are many fine horns out there. It just isn’t special enough to be valuable.

If you’ve always wanted to learn to play saxophone, then we would be having a different conversation, but nothing you told me indicates that that’s the case.

That was then, this is now. It all comes down to the definition of value

In the past it would have been very difficult for me to tell someone that their sax is simply not that special. In an effort to not have them pissed off at me, I would have tried to couch the information in such a way as to spare their feelings. However, in hindsight I realize that I probably wasn’t being fair to them.

Now before all you Aristocrat lovers start emailing me, or leaving nasty comments on this article, let me simply state that I appreciate your love for these horns. Hell, I love and own some vintage horns brands & models that can easily be picked up for around $1,000 or less when unrestored. But are they valuable?

I guess that depends on how you define “value”. Is it solely monetary? Compared to a $22,000 vintage Selmer it certainly isn’t, but for someone who doesn’t have enough money to pay the rent, then yes, a $1,000 sax would be seen as extremely valuable.

Is value determined by an horn’s uniqueness? Or perhaps its place in saxophone history—for example as would be the case in an original Adolphe Sax horn.

The definition of value is something that is worthy of its own article, but for the purposes of this one, hopefully as saxophone players we can objectively agree that an unrestored, unremarkable, vintage saxophone which was produced by the tens of thousands, isn’t particularly valuable.

So back to my original question: How do you tactfully tell someone that their saxophone is likely not worth as much as they think? Sending them off to eBay to research similar horns seems to be the best way. This way they can find it out for themselves.

If any of you have any better ideas, I’m certainly open to them. Please chime in below with a comment.

© 2018, Helen. All rights reserved.

Helen

Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.

2 Comments:

  1. Valuations can get worse!
    My original sax teacher died leaving his family with an early (and desirable) Mark 6 alto. The family asked my opinion, having seen prices around $5,000 for similar horns. On inspection the horn had been dropped at some stage and the body was slightly bent. Some pads had been built up to accommodate the bend.The verdict?
    A horn worth around $2,500 “as is” with any potential buyer needing to give it a total rebuild and any sale made on that basis. I don’t think this was what they wanted to hear!

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