One of the most frequent types of emails I get involves how to dispose of a vintage sax in a person’s possession. This is a very delicate topic, and one that requires a fair amount of information before I can provide a good email response.
Most often the emails go something like this: I have a XXXX saxophone, what is it worth? About 50% of the time there are no photos attached. Then I have to email the person back and tell them to send me some photos.
Then over the course of several emails it becomes clear to me that the person is actually planning on selling said saxophone, and more often than not has never played the horn and is likely not even a musician. Often these horns are family heirlooms or attic finds.
My hope with this article is to provide a step-by-step guide to assist people on what to do with vintage saxophones they have in their possession that they want to dispose of in some way. Believe it or not, it is not as easy as you might think.
Step 1: ID what you actually have
eBay, Craigslist, and other online sales sites are just littered with what sellers call “vintage” saxophones. When I look at these ads I see at least 50% of these horns not being vintage at all. They are in fact simply “old” horns.
What is the difference between an old and vintage saxophone? To quote my good friend Pete Hales:
There is a difference between “vintage” and “old”. To me, when you say that you have a “vintage instrument” it should ….
a. No longer be produced, anywhere.
b. Have been considered a professional make and model when it was made.
c. Have value as a professional make and model, today, as a playable instrument or have value as a collectible make and model (for instance, a high-pitch Conn New Wonder alto saxophone in Virtuoso Deluxe finish — a very expensive, elaborate, gold plated, heavily engraved finish with additional pearl key-touches — is still “vintage”, even though it has virtually no playability value).
d. Have maintained its original value, adjusted for inflation, or increased in value.
“Vintage”, to me, should have the connotation of a fine wine: “It’s an excellent vintage.”
Or, using an analogy from the automobile world, a 1934 Cord is vintage. A 1972 Ford Pinto is old.
With that in mind, you should be able to have a more critical eye as you look at online listings and see how people totally get their sax descriptions wrong. No, sorry, that MexiConn is not a vintage sax, not matter what you might think. Nor sadly, is that 1960s Orsi student model horn that is hanging on my wall.
Step 2: Research the shit out of it
Yes, this does take time. I should know, I do it all the time. However, if you want to make money from this you’re going to have to put some effort into this. I have already written an article to get you started. I’ve also written this article on how to avoid a costly mistake when selling your vintage horn.
- Look up completed eBay sales. Don’t look at what people are asking for on eBay, but see what horns in the same or similar condition actually sold for. Oh, and just so you know, a vintage horn missing its neck, is worth almost nothing. Why? Because even if someone was lucky enough to find a matching neck for it—and the chances of that happening vary greatly from next to nothing to 50/50—there is no guarantee that the “new” neck will actually work for the sax. In the days prior to precision everything, saxes were paired with their best fitting/sounding/in tune necks at the factory.
- Check with reputable dealers and see what they are selling the same model for. Depending on how rare a horn it is, this might be tricky. However, don’t limit your searches to only the US or even North America. This is especially important if the horn you have is not made in the USA. There are some great vintage sax dealers all over the world. Here are some of my favourites (in no particular order): World Wide Sax, PM Woodwind, Get A Sax, Junk Dude, Tenor Madness, Vintage Sax.com, Doctor Sax, USA Horn, Sound Fuga (the site is in Japanese), Bluespeter1 (this site is in German), and saxofonservis.eu (this site is in Czech). And there are lots and lots of others. These are just the ones whose sites I tend to check most commonly.
- Yes, there can be regional/continental price differences. However, at this point the idea is just to give yourself a broad range of what your model of horn is selling for.
- Recognise that more often than not dealers have already gone to the expense of painstakingly fixing/re-padding/overhauling/restoring the vintage saxes that they sell. Therefore, the prices you see on their sites tend to be higher than what a private seller would get if they sold the same horn themselves.
- If you absolutely positively can’t find out the approximate value of your horn, you might consider reaching out to people like me or to Pete Hales. However, before you do that, make sure you’ve done your own homework first.
Steps 3: The cold hard facts
I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but since the financial crisis of 2010, the vintage sax market has crashed. If you’d like to know more about that, check out this article I wrote about just this very topic.
This means that unless your have one of only a handful of vintage model Selmers, your saxophone is really not all that valuable. Sure, if you’re lucky selling your vintage sax can bring you some cash, but it isn’t enough to change your lifestyle—and not even the sale of the most desirable vintage Selmer will change your life in a meaningful way.
Simply put: saxophones are not nearly as valuable as some people might think they are. Yes, they are expensive, and not everyone can afford one. And yes, “expensive” is a relative term. However, what I’m trying to do is temper your expectations a bit.
Just because you have a Conn New Wonder tenor that belonged to your Grandfather and it is in good condition, that doesn’t mean it is going to bring you $2,000 or more. Some of the nicest, and most beautiful tenors I bought I have picked up for under $1,000 Cdn each. Let that sink for for a minute.
Oh, and how could I forget my first Hammerschmidt? I got my full-pearl Hammerschmidt alto for $175 Cdn at an antique and collectibles fair.
But there’s lots of buyers for vintage horns out there, right?
If what you have is truly a vintage saxophone, and not just simply an old one, then your market for selling it is actually not that big. More and more younger players are playing new horns. And while sites like Sax on the Web would have you believe that vintage sax players are super common, they are not nearly as common as you might think.
Buyers of vintage horns are often DIYers who are looking to learn how to fix saxophones. They’re not looking to drop a lot of coin on ruining a horn. (My words, not theirs. 😉 )
The other buyers are hobby players or weekend warriors, and they too are not looking to drop a lot of $$ on new-to-them sax, since they likely already have a couple in their practice spaces. (If you haven’t read the article I linked to above on the crash of the vintage sax market, now would be a good time to do so. It also describes the kinds of vintage sax buyers out there.)
Once you’ve tapped into that vintage sax player marketplace—more on that below—what is your best chance of making a sale?
- Don’t spend money re-padding or fixing up the horn. Sell it as is.
- A good re-pad will cost you upwards of $400 and an overhaul north of $800. (These are conservative estimates and will vary greatly from shop to shop and region to region.)
- You will not recoup the money you spend on fixing or repairing your horn.
Step 4: The facts con’t – What your saying makes no sense. If I fix up my car or house before I sell it I would get more, why not a sax?
Because simply put, a vintage sax is not like a car or a house. You can’t just slap a new coat of paint on it, or fix its brakes and ask for more money. It simply doesn’t work that way. Vintage saxophones are like any collectible: they appeal to a limited number of very knowledgeable buyers.
Furthermore, serious saxophonists who only play on vintage horns have their own techs and rely on them to do the work. Personally, I only use David Gsponer, the owner of Matterhorn Music.
David does everything from simple cork replacements to full out restorations for me. He is one of only a couple of techs I trust implicitly to do exactly what I want with my horns. His work is precise, and the horns are better than new when they leave his shop. They are tight, quiet, and set-up exactly the way I want/need them to be.
Best part of all: When I leave the shop, that horn doesn’t have to go back for a year or more. Yes, his work is that good. (I also don’t bang my horns around, which helps keep them in alignment despite some getting quite heavy use.)
What happens if I do get work done on the horn?
Any recent quick fixes or re-pads will likely need to get redone anyway, and more often not the sax needs to be overhauled before it can be seriously used. This is especially true if a vintage sax has been sitting for any length of time and then is going to be used regularly. Grease and oil dry out. Corks become brittle. Pads harden. Depending on the conditions in which the horn was kept, there might even be mould or mildew on the pads or inside the instrument and case.
Case Study 1: Olds Super Tenor # 10XX
This is an example of what mould and mildew can do to a vintage collector horn. In short, this [now] museum-quality horn was a train wreck.
Here is the restored sax. Only a highly trained tech can pull this off!
Any work you had done, will likely be undone
I hope these photos of my Olds Super tenor allow you to understand why throwing a few pads on a horn and fixing up some leaks won’t necessarily increase its value. If you are interested, you can find all the before, during, and after photos on the Olds Super on the Bassic Sax Blog.
While an extreme example, the horn illustrates why true collector horns are best left unrestored, so that the new buyer can have them restored or overhauled to their exacting specifications.
FWIW, I always tell people when they are looking at a particular sax to count on paying for an overhaul when they get a vintage horn. This way when their tech looks it over and gives them the news that it doesn’t need it they are ahead. However, if the horn does need the work, that cost has already been factored into the final cost of the instrument before they decided to buy it.
Case Study 2: JK-stencilled Jubilee Tenor # 29XXX
Earlier I mentioned my Toneking tenor that I picked up for around $750 Cdn. When I saw and played the horn it looked and played nothing like it does today. The minute I played the first note I knew that this 1957 JK had a ton of potential, but for it to reach its true potential it was going to need to be restored. This is where my trusty tech came in.
David did a fabulous job getting my JK back into top playing condition and undoing all the weird customizations that the original owner had done on the horn. Then David added the original JK angelwing and clothes guard that I managed to source from the late Gerhard Keilwerth’s workshop in Nauheim, Germany.
What was the final cost? I never did tally it all up, but it was around $2000 Cdn give or take. Would I be able to sell it for that? In today’s market? Doubtful, but I didn’t restore it for resale. I restored it to use, which is what I do.
It’s a buyer’s market – and this is really important!
If the previous owner had had any work done, I would have had that undone in the overhaul, and I wouldn’t have offered him any more for the horn. If he had been firm on the price, I would have walked away. Period. Full stop.
There are a lot of other Tonekings out there so I would have bought one of those instead. Why? Quite frankly, because thanks to the Internet it’s a buyer’s market. That’s why I have managed to find the perfect horns from as far away as Chicago to New Orleans, and as close as 20 miles down the highway.
Step 5: OK, so you convinced me to sell “as is”. So how do I dispose of this vintage sax?
When it comes to selling your vintage sax you have a number of options. The first thing you have to decide is do you want to hassle with buyers yourself? Or do you want to outsource that hassle to someone else?
Sell it yourself
If you decide you like the idea of selling the sax yourself, then you next have to decide if you are willing to ship it, and deal with the hassles of that, or are only willing to deal with locals. If that latter best suits you, then your local Craigslist, Kijiji, or whatever your local online sales sites are, as well as online local auctions/classified through Facebook etc. are the obvious choices.
The thing is that safety is becoming an ever-increasing issue as more people get assaulted and their goods get stolen. That’s why many police stations have set up safe spaces to conduct these types of transactions. However, when dealing with a musical instrument, this might not be a practical solution. One thing that is never a practical solution though, is inviting people to your place to play-test or see the vintage sax that you’re selling.
If shipping is something that you’re willing to do, then you can cast your net a bit wider and advertise on places like eBay or Reverb. Besides the issues of shipping, there are things like shipping damage, insurance, and buyer unhappiness/unreasonableness to deal with.
Some saxophone speciality shops or general music shops do handle consignment sales. If you do opt to go the consignment route, do make sure you do the following:
- Phone ahead of time and find out if they do consignment sales.
- Find out what they charge for consignment fee. It usually starts at 10% as a minimum.
Sell it to a dealer
Some vintage sax dealers buy particular brands or models of vintage saxophones if they are in particularly good condition. If you opt to go that route, realise that not all dealers are created equal, and not everyone is going to give you the same price. However, each one is going to need to make some money when they resell the horn down the road.
Therefore, if you go to their website at a later date and see your old horn for $1,000 or $1,500 or more than they paid you for it—depending on what it is of course—that doesn’t mean that you got ripped off. It probably means that they did a lot of work on the sax.
For example, if I sold a dealer my currently unrestored Pierret tenor, I wouldn’t expect to get more than $500 for it—and many dealers might not even give me that. Why? Because it needs a full overhaul as well as quite of bit of other mechanical work. In addition to the work necessary on the horn, the Pierrets people most covet are not this model, but the newer, Super Artiste and its contemporaries.
That said, a dealer selling this sax fully restored could easily sell it for upwards of $1500, and more likely close to $2000. Why? Because there are a few very dedicated Pierret lovers out there—many of those are in Europe BTW—who would very much love this sax.
Furthermore, people are more willing to spend more money on a horn that has been professionally restored by a dealer that they trust. Why? Because this way the get a sax that’s ready to play, and they don’t have to wait to get it restored first.
I’m not going to dis anyone, but again, not all vintage sax dealers are created equal. We each have our preferences. I have played some amazing horns that came from certain shops, and horns that should have been amazing, but were dogs that came from others. It might not affect my buying choices, but it will temper my expectations…. In some cases, A LOT.
If you are going to go the dealer route, and you happen to live in or near a large urban centre that has a number of dealers, do your homework ahead of time.
- Get the name of the owner, or person in charge of appraising saxes that they buy.
- Phone that person and make an appointment.
- Bring the sax in an get them to look it over and get their opinion.
- Take lots of notes about what they say is wrong with it, and what they say the condition of the instrument is.
- Get a price that they’re willing to give you.
- Take your horn and walk away. Tell them that you need to think about it.
- Don’t be pressured into selling your horn to the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place you go to. You have a right to shop around.
And finally, depending on what your sax is, make sure you drop a note to getasax.com Brian generally offers the best prices on vintage and collector horns. I’ve had people who contacted me sell their horns to Brian, and they have been quite satisfied with the price they got, and said the process was very painless.
If you haven’t read this yet, you need to
Putting this all together
Because this is is a huge, and somewhat complicated subject, I have put together a flowchart that summarizes the high points covered in this page. In addition to the .png file below, I am including the How to sell your vintage sax chart as a PDF. You will need some kind of PDF reader such as Adobe if you download it.