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What’s My Sax Worth?
Q.  I am a woodwind player and teacher and have some questions about my saxophones. First, I am very impressed with your site.  I have visited it in the past and have always admired your pictures and history of vintage saxes.  For a while I have been a collector (nominal) as my budget can only allow a few horns in the house.  I currently have 3 saxophones and am considering selling one if I am motivated.  My 2 altos in question are a 1928? H.N. White “King” and my Conn “transitional” gold-washed bell alto,  serial no. 245,xxx (1931-32).  Both horns are silver plate (satin) and the Conn has the art-deco engraving, swivel thumb-rest and underslung octave key.  Both are in playing condition and have a great sound.  Obviously I prefer the Conn over the King (architecturally and feel/sound), but respect both vintages.  The bell on the King seems lacquered but in very “flaky” condition.  There may be a few (at most) “dings” in the bow of the horn.  The Conn was overhauled about 5 years ago, can use some polish, but is in excellent condition (although the keys need a little regulation especially the octave mechanism: there is a little binding if it is screwed in too tight).

My question is:  What monetary value do these horns posses?  And would either one be of interest to add to your collection if I were to sell?  I also have a stencil C-Melody which I have determined it to be a Buescher in fair condition.  Any information regarding these horns and a response is appreciated. Once again I love your site.  Brian …

A. The ‘V’ question is the one we absolutely hate to be faced with — without first examining a saxophone in person. The sites that publish valuations as if they were standard items do the internet & saxophone communities a great disservice. Valuation depends on both condition and the seller’s reason for needing to know. For instance, I would not provide the same valuation (on identical saxophones) to the owner looking for the correct amount to insure as I would an owner in need of a quick sale for financial reasons. If you want a quick cross check on what weight to place on valuations from these web ‘book value’ lists merely refer to the prices the same dealer lists for the instruments they offer for sale – if they even list sale prices …

Truth is, we’ve always had at least three levels of valuation for saxophones: 1) Wholesale; 2) Retail; and 3) Insurance replacement value. Today, with the advent of eBay, we have a fourth level of valuation. Though the typical eBay auction result is between traditional wholesale & retail, an auction can often have a wild card outcome. Because of mistakes in research or listing/bidding tactics, some eBay saxophones are practically given away, while others are either vastly overbid or languish with no bids because of unrealistic seller expectations. With all these possibilities for combining circumstances that influence the answer, how can anyone give you a valid valuation on your instrument without getting to know both your instrument and your purpose in posing the question? Can you expect someone that really knows the right answer to spend their time — when there is nothing in it for them — to gather & consider all the information needed to give you accurate, dependable information? And what is free advice really worth, anyway?

Now you seem to be knowledgeable and competent, Brian, and have provided much better information than we normally receive along with a ‘V’ request. That’s the reason you didn’t get back a rather direct & pointed reply reminding you that we have notices on our site admonishing visitors not to ask us what their instruments are worth. It may be my broad business background speaking when I say that “I don’t know” is a much better answer than a shot taken largely blind. IMO, Physicians have the priorities for helping us right when the primary directive is “first, do no harm”. I’d much rather NOT have you act — or not act — based on what would be largely a wild guess on my part. I’ll be damned that I didn’t, given the choice — and believe me, that has all too frequently been the response of fools in search of a cliff over which to sheepishly follow … :-)

The saxophone market is a dynamic entity. It changes both with economic forces and with the ebb & flow of interest in specific instruments. The Selmer Mark VI models had a tremendous run in value over the last four or five years, followed by a burst in the bubble (not at all unlike our experience with internet stocks) that dragged other models along into its vortex. Likewise, the worldwide economic downturn of the past few years set the vintage sax market back significantly. Thankfully, both these factors have abated of late, and we are seeing a resumption in sensible, sustainable growth in vintage saxophone valuations. So, what your sax is worth depends not just on your motivation & its condition, but also on when you ask, whether you want to buy or sell, and the timeframe over which you expect to act. If this all is starting to sound like a financial market with a bid/ask spread, cyclical trends, ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ individual items, and fluctuations induced by external factors, you’ve got the basic point of this diatribe.

Ok, I didn’t make you listen to all that without intention of rewarding you in the end. CS has sold three (3) silver Conn transitional altos over the last few years, all of which have gone in the $1,800 to $2000 range. Of course those were retail sales, supported by the CS reputation for service & quality – factors that make it unreasonable for an individual to expect to sell their instruments at full retail price in the open saxophone market (we also have superior marketing oomph, but that’s another discourse). These instruments had their silver plate freshly polished and were offered in top playing condition – things we can offer our buy clients by virtue of our complete vintage saxophone restoration facility and extensive experience in sax tech matters. The point is, you should expect to sell your tranny alto for substantially less than a $2000 dealer retail level should you take it to market on your own. That is a very popular instrument though (for good reason), so it should be salable. In addition to the three silver examples I mentioned we’ve also handled several other brass finish tranny altos, and though they bring lower prices, are still fabulous playing instruments that knowledgeable people want.

On your King alto: It’s not a very popular or widely sought model – again, for good reason. The octave & G# trains are woefully deficient, prone both to damage and to falling into maladjustment. Unfortunately, these two critical areas of a saxophone mechanism are tied into a substantial portion of the the instrument’s overall mechanism by combination functions. So a malfunction in either the octave or G# mechanism affects total playability. All the King saxes have a great sound, but that wasn’t enough to propel King into the American saxophone limelight until they adopted superior mechanical designs, starting with the Zephyr. These older King instruments are a tough sell at any price. They typically go on eBay for a couple hundred bucks. I’ve worked on them, so I know of which I speak when I assess them mechanically, but CS has never had an alto of that model for sale. 

Except for the fancy gold plated models, or rare, very late branded Buescher horns with front F, the Buescher Cmels have little following. The straight neck Conns with rolled tone holes are much superior in both performance and market appeal. Stencil Buescher Cmels are in the same valuation/salability niche with your King alto. If you’ve got one in good playing condition it’s worth more to you than to anyone else. I’ll offer a little hint about successfully playing that horn, though: The Beechler Cmel mouthpieces perform very well on the Bueschers. You get nice projection and a dark vintage sound with some nice nuances. These mouthpieces are sized for tenor reeds, so the reed issue goes away. Get a Rovner 2R ligature for it (Beechler doesn’t provide a cap or lig) and you have the ultimate Cmel setup for around $100. These mpcs also work well on the Conn Cmels, too, so if you ever upgrade your ‘fleet’ you’ll already be fixed in the mpc department. I recommend the 5 or 6 facing if you decide to give the Beechler product a try.

So if the ‘motivation’ to which you referred is for a relatively quick turn of one of your horns for a meaningful amount of cash, selling the Conn tranny is your only practical answer. But please keep in mind that with a bit of patience and an assist from a consignment with a reputable web dealer (CS offers a very successful consignment program) your net should be significantly more than selling that instrument on your own. Of course if you sell the Conn you’ll be left with an inferior alto to play, and will give up the considerable potential for appreciation on a vintage sax model that is gaining in popularity among both players & collectors. Nice silver trannys are becoming very hard to find, so don’t expect to later replace yours at what you can sell it for today.

CS would not be an outright buyer of your Conn tranny at more than dealer wholesale price, which frankly, I would not recommend as a course of action for you — unless you find your self in dire financial straits. We would be pleased to consider a consignment arrangement on the Conn, though, and would apply ourselves to gleaning top retail value from it so as to assure you the highest net possible from a sale. I can tell you more if that’s of interest. On your other two saxes you would net more by selling them yourself — if that’s what you choose to do. My advice on selling modestly valued saxophones is to take some clear, relevant, detailed pix and list the horns on eBay with simple, honest descriptions. A successful strategy for you to consider might be to sell the King alto in order to fund your Beechler mouthpiece for the Cmel. You might even find an extra jingle in your pocket for a little added Christmas cheer … :-)

So, “What’s my horn worth?” isn’t a simple question, huh? I hope this message served your purpose for writing. Please visit our site regularly for new information, and be sure to let us know how we can be of help again. We would love to have your future saxophone business … 

Additional Comments
Believe it or not, there’s even more relevant information on this topic. We’ll be adding to the discussion as time permits.

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