Yes, there are most definitely counterfeit saxophones in Vancouver, Canada
A number of months ago I started writing a fully illustrated, updated piece on how to spot counterfeit Selmer Paris saxophones. That article got so complicated to research, that I put it aside while I was playing in a musical. Then of course I took off on holidays for over a month.
A thread on the Woodwind Forum about a knockoff Yani reminded me about the in-progress article, so this morning I began nearly from scratch, to get my head around all the permutations that distinguish a fake from an authentic Selmer Paris saxophone.
During the summer I came across a couple of ads on Vancouver’s Craigslist, which should get all of us—regardless where you live—thinking. Why? Well even if you’re like me, and don’t generally buy horns online, you could still encounter fake horns.
Would you know how to spot a fake—regardless of the brand? Selmer, Yanagisawa, and Yamaha saxophones are often copied and sold as the real thing.
It just so happened that the two saxophones for sale in Vancouver this summer, were both Selmer knockoffs. There might be Yani and Yamaha fakes in the local market as well, but I wasn’t looking for them. I just happened across these while perusing Craigslist to see if I could find a vintage sax bargain, but instead I found horns to illustrate my counterfeit article.
Both horns were sold by the same seller—ostensibly because he has throat cancer.
Counterfeit saxophone #1: fake Selmer Reference 54 tenor
The tenor is very easy to identify as a counterfeit:
- The finish is not one offered by Selmer for its Reference 54s. The model only comes in antique and dark lacquer.
- The engraving is not even close. The tenor below illustrates what real Selmer Reference 54 engraving looks like. It is not laser cut; it does not have an oval around the ®; the font is different; the laurel leaves are different.
- The serial number is wrong, as is the entire engraving/stamping around it. Below is what a real Selmer Reference 54 tenor’s serial number looks like*…
*N.B. It should be noted that some of the Reference horns had the stylized “R” engraved above the serial number like the alto below. I am not sure at what point the practice stopped, but the early Reference horns certainly had this engraving.
Counterfeit saxophone #2: fake Selmer Reference 54 alto
At first blush the alto might be a bit harder to spot as a counterfeit since its finish is closer to what a real one looks like, but let’s take a closer look…
- There is no original Selmer neck with the horn. It should have one that has a Selmer logo on it like this…
- While necks might have been lost and replaced, what immediately jumped out at me was the double arms on the bell keys and some of the key shapes.
- The Reference horns don’t have double arms on the low Bb, B, and C keys.
- The real Selmer Reference horn also has round chromatic F# key*, as well as a round, MOP front F key. The high E key is also flat, and level with the other left palm keys*.
- A real Reference Alto from Selmer Paris looks like this…
- * N.B. It should be noted on the later editions of the Reference 54 alto from Selmer, the chromatic F# key and high E high do more closely resemble those of the counterfeit saxophone. Therefore, it is up to the buyer to carefully research the model of Selmer in question, and carefully compare it to the saxophone they are considering buying. The Reference 54 alto below is Selmer’s antique finish.
- Another thing that gives the Craigslist horn above away as a counterfeit sax is its engraving. The sax below illustrates what real Selmer Reference 54 engraving looks like on an alto. It is not laser cut; it does not have an oval around the ®; the font is different; the laurel leaves are different.
What can you do to prevent yourself from buying a counterfeit saxophone?
No matter where you live you can run into counterfeit saxophones. What can you do to protect yourself from buying one by accident?
- Educate yourself.
- Know A LOT about the brand and model of saxophone you want to buy.
- Get the serial number of the horn ahead of time, and research what features the horn should have.
- Bring your smart phone with you and confirm things while you have the sax in your hands.
- Trust your gut.
- If something seems not quite right, it likely isn’t.
- Take along a friend who plays sax, or your teacher.
- A second pair of eyes is always a good idea, and can be helpful in doing research while you’re busy play-testing the horn.
- If something is too good to be true, it probably is.
- You’re not likely to get a real Selmer Paris horn for $1,200—unless it’s stolen—and you don’t want that one either.
- Any Selmer Paris horn that’s being sold for $1,200, or even $1,800 is likely a counterfeit.
Taking this to the next level then…
Until now we’ve assumed that these counterfeit saxophones could be spotted, and/or buyers are paying less for them than they would for the real, brand name horn. Now let’s for a moment turn that around, and say that a buyer got taken by a seller, and paid top dollar for a counterfeit. What then?
Let’s say John unknowingly bought a counterfeit Series III tenor from Paul, and paid $4,000 for it. John takes the horn to his tech, who informs him that it is Chinese knockoff, and worth few hundred bucks at most. What will John do?
Sure, John could go after Paul to get his money back. But if Paul is smart, and knew he was selling a counterfeit saxophone, Paul will have slithered back into the cesspool whence he came. If John is ethical, he learns his lesson, and recognizes that he is out the extra $3,500 or so he spent on the POS. He plays his knockoff until it falls apart, and then he buries it the backyard next to the family pets.
If, on the other hand, John is not ethical, John tries to recoup his money by passing this counterfeit saxophone off on to another unsuspecting buyer.
And therein lies the problem with counterfeit saxophones.
Yes, counterfeiting saxophones is just as illegal as making knockoff Hermes or Louis Vuitton purses. It harms individuals, and it hurts the original brand name company. Selmer takes this matter very seriously, and so should you. Don’t fall victim to it. Don’t be a John.