Online Safer Sax Shopping
Since 1998, I have increased my vintage sax collection by 22 horns. Of those, I have bought 5 of them on-line. In part this was because for nearly 9 of those years I lived in the Maritimes, and vintage saxes were as scarce there as rust-free cars. 🙂 I was fortunate in my purchases, in that only 2 of the 5 horns that I bought online, were not entirely as they were described.
To a large degree, the reason for my overall success in the vintage sax buying realm has been because I either: a) Buy from reputable dealers; or b) Buy the horn in person, so I know what I’m getting before I pay.
With regards to the 2 horns I bought online that weren’t quite as described, the first, my Selmer bari (which I did buy through a reputable brick & mortar store in Chicago BTW), was how they described it, with the only exception being that when they re-padded it, they didn’t finish regulating it after the restoration. It took my tech about 2 hours to get it working exactly as it should. It really wasn’t a huge deal. The horn was playable, just not as easily as it should have been.
The other horn, my recently restored late-model 10M, that I bought through a private sale on a discussion board, was not at all as described. I will give the seller the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he really didn’t know what he was talking about, and wasn’t trying to knowingly misrepresent the horn. To his credit, he did refund me some of the purchase price when I had the horn restored recently at World Wide Sax.
When I buy a sax, that I can’t hold in my hands first, I always ask questions like this:
- Has the horn been re-padded?
- What kind of pads were put in?
- How were they put in? Shellac? Hot glue?
- What kind of resonators does it have?
- Is the body tube straight?
- Are the rods straight?
- Has there been dent work done?
- Are there any dents? If so, where are there?
- Are the pads sealing properly?
- When was the horn serviced by a tech last?
- Is the neck original?
- Does it fit snuggly into the receiver?
- Has the neck suffered any kind of damage like pull down?
- Any dents, dings, dimples, etc in the neck?
- Is there any play in the keys?
- Has there been any re-soldering work done?
- Has the bell ever been pushed in?
- Has the horn been re-lacquered?
- Is the case original?
- What condition is the case in?
- Please send me detailed photos of: any past repair work like re-soldering; current damage; the bell; engraving; neck; body; bow; case; & the horn in the case.
Even getting answers to all those questions doesn’t mean that you’re going to get what you think you’re getting, but it greatly improves your odds.
I have never bought a horn through eBay. As much as I’ve looked, and perhaps drooled into my keyboard over some of the horns on the auction site, I’ve never bought or sold anything through it. Of the people I personally know who have bought a horn through eBay, not one of them got exactly what was described in the eBay ad.
I often get emails from people looking for advice on vintage horns. They want to buy brand X, or are looking at horn Y on eBay, and want my advice. I always tell them, budget for an rebuild. Price out what one costs in your area, and then factor that in to the purchase price of the instrument you’re looking at.
People don’t like to hear that I guess. Usually once I’ve written them an email containing that piece of advice, they drop off the face of the earth, and I never hear from them again. I sometimes wonder, did they ever end up buying that horn? Did they end up with a vintage sax? Are they happy with it?
Not once have I gotten an email back saying: I got a great deal! I bought horn S and paid $500. It’s been appraised for more than twice that, and it was ready to play out of the box. It’s great! I’m really happy now! Maybe those people are out there, but they just haven’t been the ones who have been in touch with me.
In Buying On eBay For Beginning Vintage Shoppers, Palo outlines his personal experiences with buying vintage saxes through the online auction house. He also reviews the commonalities that so many of these vintage sax ads on eBay share. Palo translates these commonalities into real-world experiences. In other words: What does this eBay “talk” really mean, and what might the sax look & be like when you get it in your hands.
Palo translates eBay talk like: I know nothing about saxophones; There are no dents; Recently professionally serviced; Original lacquer; eBay user feedback; and Sold as is. He also provides valuable information on photos, as well as condition & playability.
If you’re thinking of buying a vintage sax through eBay, or any similar online source, P. Tung’s Buying On eBay For Beginning Vintage Shoppers, is a resource that you owe it to yourself to read. This article could save you hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars.
In the end though, despite all the questions you might ask, and photos you might ask for, remember, as Forrest Gump so famously put it: “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Or perhaps another way to look at it is: You pay your money, you take your chances. I have to look no further than my 10M for proof of that.