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eBay Lessons in Tragedy
in the end, the results of idiocy, dishonesty and just plain ignorance impact your saxuality in exactly the same way…
Q.  I think I’ve been taken. The seller of my Selmer Bundy II alto sax on ebay said the instrument was in great condition, bought new 7 years ago and played only 2 years — has only normal wear and tear, but plays great.  I paid $xxx for it. Ouch,  I think I’ve been a sucker. When I received the sax, it was damaged.  The technician at the music store said it looks to have been dropped, that the bell is pushed into the body, affecting the octave keys. It isn’t playable. It will need reshaping, and at least $100-$150 to make it usable.  He said the heating will cause finish damage and it will be ugly — ruin the finish.  Is it worth fixing? The eBay seller won’t give me a refund. What would you suggest? Thanks, Carol…

A. I hope this doesn’t sound too brutal, but the time to write me is BEFORE you buy a saxophone over eBay. Unless you are an expert saxophone buyer the likelihood of getting taken like this is quite real. I do this for a living & still get taken by crooks & idiots on eBay. Of course the numbers we deal in makes the average quality we get on eBay – after we apply our knowledge & experience buying saxophones online — acceptable. If you are out to buy just one saxophone on eBay — and must rely on the descriptions (and honesty) of the sellers as opposed to a broad experience base — a bad deal can really hurt you. I know these eBay tragedies happen a lot cuz I hear from folks like you regularly.

I wish folks would realize that you should never buy a sax from anyone but a reputable dealer without expecting to have a lot of work done to it before it will play right for you. There’s a reason some saxophones are cheap on eBay: They aren’t worth any more! Dealers and other regulars zero in on anything of real value on eBay these days. So if you are left to buy what you believe is a ‘bargain’ it’s cuz the pros know better than to chase this junk you’re looking at.

Not having seen your sax I cannot advise you what to do with it. All I can do is sell you a sax that we guarantee to arrive in top playing condition…at a fair price. Remember, a bargain is measured by the all-in cost you experience. Your initial purchase price is only the starting point.

Additional Comments
As I told Carol, I get these same pitiful emails all the time. I hate to unload on eBay because it generally does a lot of good, but I got two really pitiful messages today, alone. At least I can clear my conscience by posting this article so it can be found by anyone doing proper research before making their eBay saxophone purchase. Truth is, that eBay is getting worse all the time — instead of better. That’s because of two colliding trends in online business. One trend is that almost every savvy saxophone collector, player or dealer has developed an efficient search criteria to uncover the tidbits of saxual value that surface on eBay. Because there are so many qualified players viewing the listings, virtually any saxophone of real value will get bid up to a more-or-less fair price. The second trend is that there are multitudes of eBay newbies being drawn in by all the email solicitations and infomercials that promise them they can build a lucrative online business — overnight. Some of these ill-informed idiots are bound to pick musical instruments as their ‘new business’…after which they set out buying up local junk (that the professional pickers avoid like the plague). These idiots take pitiful pictures and laud praises on their junk listings just as they’ve been instructed to do in the literature they’ve bought. The problem is that their junk remains junk, no matter how they describe it. These junk listings get ignored by the pros, of course — but not by the uninformed who’ve decided that they will take the plunge & get one of these eBay bargains for themselves. Come on, man. Folks are selling bowls of cereal that have images of Abe Lincoln in ‘em on eBay. This crazy stuff is way overrun. eBay is no place for a saxual neophyte to go looking for a horn for them to play — and especially NOT a horn for their kids to try & learn saxophone with. There’s no telling how many kids have given up music in frustration over an instrument bought on eBay that simply wouldn’t play to begin with — for anyone. There’s help out here if you ask for it. In the end, the real bargain is getting your money’s worth for the long term — not getting something for the least amount of money…on the front end. Now here’s the second sad eBay story from today…
Q.  Thanks for putting together a really great web site. I was wondering if you could confirm something for me? I have a Conn silver plated tenor, serial # 140 575. Would I be right in thinking that it was probably made around 1924. If so, would it be a Chu Berry model? The Conn I referred to in my email has a micro tunable neck, as well. I really hope you guys have time to answer this one. Thanks a lot, Damien…

A. Thanks for writing. It’s nice to meet you. Kind words about our site are always welcome. I would appreciate seeing a picture of your Conn tenor with micro tuner neck. The s/n you mentioned is 1924, but the official Chu Berry horns started a little later – at about 145xxx. If I am guessing right your sax does not have the textured G# key. Is that correct?
Q.  Hey Bear, I actually haven’t got the horn with me yet. I have just bought it on eBay and it’s being shipped to me as we speak. However, I have included the pictures of the sax that I saw on the eBay site. Unfortunately, there is not a clear picture of the G# key, so I will have to wait until it’s in my hot little hands (to answer that question). I’m still holding out hope that it is a “Chu”, if for no other reason than I am a big fan of Mr. Berry. His recorded “Lime House Blues” solo blew my socks off. Anyway, if you can shed any more light on it from the attached pics I would be very grateful. Thanks, Damien…

A. Have a seat & pour yourself a large portion of your favorite adult beverage before reading further…

You have purchased a Conn straight neck C-Melody saxophone – NOT a tenor. That ‘C’ above the serial number should have alerted you to what you were bidding on — though the straight neck should be enough, absent a peek at the serial number area. I knew you were in trouble when you mentioned you had purchased a Conn tenor with a neck tuner: Conn did not make tenors so equipped, I’m afraid.

I hope you didn’t over pay for this instrument, my friend. Perhaps if it isn’t shipped yet (Damien lives in Australia) you can get out of the deal. In the future, the time to write to me is BEFORE you buy a saxophone on eBay. The heartbreaking stories such as yours come to me all too frequently. It is no longer possible for an individual to find a real bargain in the eBay saxophone listings. The dealers & eBay regulars assure that desirable saxophones sell at fair (if not inflated) prices, and the idiots & crooks who write listings that mis-describe & mislead are all too plentiful.

I share your love for the work of the great Chu Berry. If he had lived a full life he would be a name we think of along with Bird, Trane, Hawk & The Prez. :-)

Q.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I feel sick. Thanks mate, but I think i’m gonna be stuck with it. I paid $232, plus freight to Australia. How does that stack up with what it might be worth? It needs some new pads and a service but the body is in very very good nick ( so they say ). 

I looked at the saxes on your site and drooled. You guys do amazing work. I would love to be involved with your company in some way but I don’t think you need guys in Australia that buy C-melody saxes thinking they’re Chu Berry tenors. If there is anything I can do for you over here let me know.

Oh, and if you have time, how old do you think a Conn Alto, serial # N151173, might be? This could be another really bad purchase I have just made. The listing on eBay said vintage Conn, but after today i’m not so sure of anything. Thanks for everything, Bear. God Bless, Damien…

A. Please spend some time in our Q&A section before you continue your eBay shopping. The information is there to have warned you about both these instruments:


Let’s hope your bad saxual karma is at its end. :-)

All the best,

Additional Comments
Of course the true saxophiles among us know immediately from the serial number on that second sax poor Damien bought on eBay, it is the infamous ‘MexiConn’ (made in Nogales, Mexico back in the 1970s — largely by unskilled laborers). The design is the same as the Conn ‘shooting stars’ instruments made earlier, but poor materials and inept workmanship make these instruments disasters awaiting an opportunity. It appears the eBay frenzy has taken a serious bite out of poor Damien’s saxuality. We can only hope that he profits from his two expensive back-to-back lessons. We recently had a lady from Australia go through a similar experience — with more than two eBay purchases, made en masse. She was not nearly so gracious as Damien in her acceptance of the bad news. Too bad. Just because the Australian Dollar is strong versus our currency for the near term (written 2-9-05) is no reason to waste it. I’m pleased to report that Damien’s story had a nice turn at the end:

Q.  Mate, thank you so much for your advice. I was able to get out of both those sales and I’m a lot wiser for the experience. Your website is locked in my favourites folder and I think I have decided to buy one of your genuine Conns. I just have to get the $$$. Thanks again, Damien…

A. I’m really glad for you, Damien. You have no obligation to me for the advice, but we would of course love to have your business when the time comes. When you’re ready I’ll be happy to help you find the saxophone that’s right for you.

This same week I was contacted by two individuals about a King Super 20 Silver Sonic that had the wrong neck. One was a gentleman in The Netherlands who had just purchased this instrument on eBay, and who was horrified to learn that the neck he received was merely silver plated, and had an octave arm that extended over the top of the neck. (real Silver Sonic necks are solid silver & have an underslung octave arm). The other contact came by phone from within the USA. It didn’t take much thought to match these two parties up as the ebay seller & buyer in a common transaction. The short version of this story is the seller has owned this instrument for several years. They had bought the sax this way (with the wrong neck) for a child in school band, and they simply did not have the experience to know they had been dooped. Now the child has grown up, moved out on their own, and the parents had decided to sell this saxophone. Of course they thought it to be a really fine instrument — and with the correct neck it would have been. The sellers were obviously good, honest people who unwittingly passed on their saxually transmitted condition to another unwitting gentleman half way around the world. Bear referred the two parties to Gloger Handcraft in The Netherlands to get a proper aftermarket solid silver custom neck. Bear further suggested that a cost sharing arrangement would be the fair thing to resolve an awkward situation brought on by saxual ignorance & inexperience. So you see in these three very recent examples the effects of dishonesty (the first case), ineptness and lack of research (the second case), and innocent ignorance (the King neck situation). Fortunately, ignorance & ineptness are treatable maladies. Unfortunately, dishonesty is a permanent blight upon humanity. At least you are properly forewarned: Don’t let greed lead you to saxual dysfunction… :-)

The follow up question below is a bit off topic, but there are some pertinent points that relate to getting a good saxophone online for your hard-earned cash — no matter the currency …
Q.  I am out of my element here.  My son, Richard, age 12, would like to play the saxophone.  Which sax, I don’t know.  I have been searching on the internet for beginner saxophones and they are very expensive.  Do you have any recommendations?  This could be a whim on his part and I’ll end up having a nice and expensive instrument on my hands.  If there are any out there for a few hundred dollars, would you know where…so that he could make an attempt on one?  Thank you, Rosa…

A. You have to be very careful when shopping for a beginner’s saxophone these days. There are many over priced junk horns made in the Far East on the market. Some of the cheap ones are more over priced than the expensive ones cuz they are basically worthless to begin with. No secondary market exists for these new junk saxophones because the used sax buyer is a more educated animal. Besides, the factories keep pumping out the new trash hand-over-fist.

The real answer lies in finding a good used vintage saxophone from a reliable dealer. For all the good eBay does, it is NOT the place to find a used saxophone for your beginner. Many of the sellers on eBay are merely ‘pickers’, meaning they go about to yard & estate sales buying up anything they think is worth a quick profit on the ‘flip’ (a quick, as-is sale to a buyer higher up in the food chain). These pickers perform a very useful service, but the instruments they sell cannot be relied upon to play well – if at all.

Many dealers (such as CS) buy instruments on eBay that we then refurbish and sell as reliable saxophones that your beginner can be sure will play properly when they do their job — of learning diligently & correctly. The problem with a poor playing instrument is that even if your beginner does things the right way they won’t get the proper results. The ensuing frustration causes many beginners to give up music, when with a better (in terms of playing condition) instrument, they might have excelled.

In addition to the pickers on eBay, many other sellers are either pawnshops (or individuals) who deal in a variety of musical instruments. Neither of these groups have a sufficient knowledge of saxophones to provide a sax for your beginner that you can trust to be trouble-free when it arrives. There are also music stores, both on eBay and online, that do minimal repairs so that instruments will play — at least temporarily — when they arrive. These instruments from such sources are NOT the bargains they may seem because you will have unforeseen costs ahead of you to perform the needed repairs in a lasting way.

So we’re back to the reputable sax dealer that guarantees the needed repairs have been made so your beginner has a fair chance of success – and that you can count on what you pay up front to be your all-in investment on the instrument. Note that I selected the term ‘investment’ in that last sentence. The reason is because there IS a secondary market for good vintage saxophones where you legitimately can expect to find a buyer for a used saxophone that you keep in good condition. If you buy the right vintage horn you can even expect to make money — over time — by holding and maintaining the instrument in top playing condition.

The right sax for your beginner probably won’t be the very cheapest horn you can find in terms of front-end cost. In the long run, though, it will be cheapest horn you can buy in terms of all-in cost — and in terms of allowing your child a fair chance to learn to play saxophone. Fortunately, you have come to the right place to make your successful saxual acquisition happen. What we need to know now is which type sax your beginner will be needing to start. For most beginners these days that is an alto sax, but older or larger kids can also start successfully on tenor. Tenors are not any harder to play, but their added size makes them difficult for smaller kids to handle. The decision on which sax your beginner will start with needs to be made in conjunction with a music teacher and/or the school band director. The great thing about saxophones is that once you can play one type you can play ‘em all – physical considerations excepted. Your questions are always welcome, Rosa. We would love to have your business.

Additional Comments
Make the right decision and your child will have a rich school musical experience. Band kids work as hard — or harder — as any of the athletic teams. Band teaches discipline, teamwork and responsibility that enriches for a lifetime. Some of us even find our life’s work through music. I certainly thank my parents for taking the time to learn enough to find a great saxophone for my first instrument. They didn’t know beans about saxophones, either — but they went to a trusted source that guided them in making a wise saxual decision. That sax wasn’t the most or least expensive you could buy back in 1959, but it was a well-designed instrument, in top playing condition. I still have it today, and would rather play my old Kohlert ’57 tenor than instruments worth many times as much from my collection. If my parents had gone the cheap & dirty route to getting me a saxophone you probably wouldn’t be reading this right now. Some of you may be wishing my parents had done things differently, I realize, but others out there are getting the message and taking it to heart. You good folks are why we work so hard at to supply the information you need  for a healthy sax life. Anyway, if you got this far and hated every word I wrote you have issues that are beyond the scope of this web site… :-)

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