Determining A Vintage Saxophone’s Value
I get a fair number of emails from people wondering how much their vintage saxophones are worth, or if a vintage sax they are thinking of buying is over-priced. Oftentimes the brands people email about are the obscure ones that I have in my personal collection and/or that I have dedicated pages for on my main website, such as: Pierret, La Monte, Hammerschmidt, Hohner, Oscar Adler, or F.X. or G.H. Hüller.
When I get questions like this, I tend to refer them to
a thread that Pete Hales, the artist formerly known as saxpics, wrote in the Woodwind Forum. It is a really good reference tool to help people figure out for themselves, what their vintage sax is worth.
This is what Pete suggests for your everyday, run-of-the-mill, vintage horn. (Because it appeared on the Woodwind Forum, and thus included information for all woodwinds, where easily possible, I’ve edited the thread to include only the saxophone-specific content.)
Determining Vintage Horn Values Part 1
1. Go to eBay.
2. Look for *closed* ads with pictures for the same make and model instrument as yours in the same condition as yours. That last part’s important. Condition can add or subtract a LOT of value.
3. You’re going to want an average. Write down a list of #2. The larger the list, the better.
4. Fire up Google or your favorite search engine. Start searching dealers for the same make and model instrument as yours in the same condition as yours. Use dealers that have pictures on their websites.
Aside: So, you think dealers charge too much of a premium? Nope. MOST don’t.
In most cases, dealers realize that eBay and other online auctions can provide about the same quality and a lot more quantity at a good price, so they’ve got to be competitive. This means that a dealer’s horn is either a) in better condition or b) is just priced competitively. In most cases. There are still some dealerships that think that based on former clientele or based on who they have (had) working there, they can charge a premium. These places are fairly obvious. Avoid them.
5. You’re going to want an average. Write down a list of #4. The larger the list, the better.
6. Add up #3 and #5. Take an average. Presto! That’s how much your horn’s worth.
If your sax falls outside of the realm of the everyday, such as a Hammerschmidt, or if it’s not a pro horn:
* There are the rare cases where you can’t find a specific horn anywhere. I can help with those.
* Here’s another rule-of-thumb that works about as well as any rule of thumb: your student horn is worth squat, except if it’s a Yamaha. In which case, it’s worth about 1/3 what you paid for it, new.
* Here’s another rule-of-thumb that works about as well as any rule of thumb: your intermediate horn is worth about 1/3 what you paid for it, new. Even if you bought it in 1943 for $50.
I realized that I’ve not spelled this out specifically. Sorry ’bout that:
Your mouthpiece or accessory’s value can exceed that of the instrument. As an example, I went to the WWBW website and looked for their highest priced one there. Almost $600. I’ve seen vintage mouthpieces sell for easily twice that.
Not to confuse you further, but there are other 3rd party products that are out there that can be very pricey, including saxophone necks.
Now, chances are fairly low that you’ll pick up a student instrument from someplace for $9.99 and there’ll be a $1200 mouthpiece in the case, but it has happened before. So, just something else to look for to help you determine value.
So, what if you’re just trying to find a horn in the $x to $y price range?
1. Open eBay. Click on the Advanced search link. It’s in the upper right corner.
2. In the “Enter keywords or item number” box, enter something generic, like “sax” or “sax*”
3. Optional, but recommended, for “In this category:” choose “Musical Instruments and Gear.” I recommend this because you’ll find a lot of clothing (Gunne Sax, to be specific) and other non-instrumental things.
4. Check either “Title and description” or “Completed listings” under “Search including.” The former selection will allow you to find stuff that’s currently available and the latter will give you an historical viewpoint for value.
5. Under “Price,” check the box for “Show items priced from” and enter some dollar amounts.
Everything else is optional. When you’ve finished making selections, hit the “Search” button at the bottom of the page.
Determining Vintage Horn Values Part 2
Monetary value does not equal playability value.
Here are two examples.
One of the most vastly undervalued saxophones is something called the “Buffet SuperDynaction”. Alto versions commonly sell in the $500 range. These horns are easily the equivalent of any top-of-the-line professional model that costs $2000+.
Conversely, slap the name “Selmer” on a saxophone, and you can get some deluded souls paying $1500+ for a Modele 22. Made in 1922. With 1922 keywork. And intonation. And handling. Yes, it has decent tone, but so do about a dozen other horns and a half-dozen others from the same era have better intonation and a couple even have better keywork, too. You’re paying for the name.
Determining Vintage Horn Values Part 3
I get a lot of e-mails from folks that have bought (never “about to buy”) but bought an instrument of some kind and it’s perfect … except it’s missing 95% of its keywork.
To a certain extent, if you’ve bought an instrument that is MISSING a part, you can try to find (usually) on eBay a beater instrument of the same make and model and around the same serial number that has that part intact and just swap the parts. That is going to be the cheapest, easiest and best thing.
A lot of folks also ask something like, “I’ve got a 1925 Conn New Wonder in perfect shape, but it’s missing the low C# key. I’ve got a 1925 Buescher True Tone that’s a beater. Can I get the C# to fit?”
If you have some wire snips, a soldering iron and a Dremel tool, yes. I’ve seen several horns that have mis-matched parts. It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t play good and I wouldn’t buy your horn. So that makes me value it at $0.
Missing Necks, Barrels or Joints
The easiest and cheapest solution is to do what I mentioned above: you can try to find (usually) on eBay a beater instrument of the same make and model and around the same serial number that has that part intact and just swap the parts. However, do note it’s possible that these parts may have serial numbers that are supposed to match the rest of the horn. This can put a ding on your horn’s overall value if the serial numbers don’t match. Playability? May not matter.
Now, there are several third-party companies that make saxophone necks and clarinet barrels. Say I’m gonna buy a Selmer Centered Tone clarinet on eBay. One has an original barrel and the other has a third-party barrel. Everything else is about the same. It’s a pretty easy choice that the one with the original part will be valued higher. The only exception to this rule seems to be flutes and their headjoints — in most cases. Or bassoons and their bocals.
Mouthpieces are generally not included in this discussion. I’m not a mouthpiece guy and each mouthpiece can be valued independently of the instrument. (And while we’re on the topic, don’t sell used reeds unless you have an exotic instrument that someone will have to copy from to make a new one, like a Sarrusophone or a rackett. Selling used reeds should get you put in jail for breaking health laws.)
Relacquering can be done a variety of different ways, but the most common is to mechanically strip the old lacquer, mechanically buff the horn and then apply a new coat of lacquer. This a) removes metal, b) makes the engravings dull (or completely eliminates them) and c) can damage the tone holes, leaving you with an instrument that is either unplayable or just has intonation problems.
A lot of people will not buy a relacquered instrument, period.
At the very least, consider relacquering a significant hit in price. And don’t tell me your relacquered horn is “minty”. It’s not. It’s relacquered.
MOST saxophones, up until approximately 1930, were not originally sold in lacquer. They were lacquered at a later date. That’s not to call them “relacquers”, necessarily, but — especially if the horn’s an American make — if the horn is that old and it’s lacquered, you want to check it very, very closely. Prefer these instruments in some plating or bare brass.
Replating can ADD value to your horn. But remember, it’s expensive and is generally part of an overhaul package. IIRC, replating an alto saxophone and re-cutting the engraving is close to $1500 US. That’s not really bad if you’ve got a horn that’s been REALLY good, but you need overhauled or if someone’s given you a desirable make/model of an instrument that you’ve determined could be worth well beyond the overhaul price in perfect shape. However, it depends: I’d almost rather pay $75 for the junker horn that’s a make and model I really want and have it restored the way I want by the people I want.
Determining Vintage Horn Values Part 4
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 keytouches — is still “vintage”, even though it has virtually no playibility 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.
Determining Vintage Horn Values Part 5
It amuses me — in a sick way — when I see eBay ads that contain copy in the form of, “This instrument is a copy of the (insert famous name make and model)!” That really may be the case, sometimes: for instance, I can successfully argue that the entirety of the German saxophone market up until, oh, 1960 or so, was based on making very good copies of the Conn saxophones. However, when you see a statement like, “This instrument is a copy of the (insert famous name make and model)!” in an eBay ad, the seller is really saying, “This instrument is kinda junk, but I’m going to compare it to (insert famous name make and model) in hopes of generating hits.”
Which is a shame. Some of those instruments don’t deserve that kind of copy because they stand up just fine on their own merits, but because of the sensationalist ad copy, a lot of people (including me) would not even bother bidding.
(Unless the person screws up in the wrong direction and does offer a really, really nice pro horn for $7. Of course.)
On eBay, several years ago, there was someone that was taking some relatively decent saxophones and engraving them in the style of other “super pro” instruments. And selling them as such. Moral: if you’re buying from eBay, you’d better know what you’re looking at — including how much it’ll cost to fix — and pay accordingly. If you don’t want the hassle, browse the web for a respectable dealer and buy on a “trade-in guarantee” basis: if you really don’t like the horn, you can turn it in for something else (a lot of dealers have this policy). As I’ve mentioned above, most dealers are NOT charging a great premium, if any at all, over eBay.