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· Registered
77 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello, I am new to the forum and would appreciate any pointers to reasonably-priced repair shops and dealers in the San Francisco Bay Area. (And also some buying advice, see below.)

We moved into the area some years ago, but the local shops are still a mystery to me; not sure if any even exists. It's not that one can say "let's go to downtown Santa Clara to check the music shops" like in a normal city. There isn't even a downtown Santa Clara! I did some web searches, but if any forum member can share any direct experiences with local shops, that would be much more helpful.

Now about the buying advice. Let me describe my current situation in a little more detail:

  • I am looking to buy a tenor in the sub-$1000 range.
  • I have some minimal experience playing sax (3 months or so of classes 10 years ago, plus a couple years playing rock with my friends). Not a complete newbie, but no conservatory material either.
  • I play as a hobby
  • Unfortunately cannot commit to taking lessons at the moment

Now when I say sub-$1000 range my goal is to keep the whole package under $1000. Or, in other words, I want my sax budget to be $1000 for the next 12 months. To keep things simple, let's say that I have a separate mouthpiece/reeds budget.

If I understand correctly, after reading the forum archives, even if I buy a new instrument, a tune-up is always needed. Let's say a tune-up will cost $100 for a new instrument, is that a good ballpark figure?

And then there is shipping if I don't buy local ($50 or so?), so that leaves me with $850 for buying the horn itself.

From what I have read in the forum archives my options seem to be as follow, and please correct me if any of my assumptions is wrong:

1) Buy a new more-or-less-brand-name Chinese or Taiwanese student horn -- Kessler, Prelude ... Are Woodwind horns any good?

With this option, I assume the resale value will take a hit, but at least the probability of buying a complete lemon goes down. Also, the instrument will not be stellar, but then I'm not a stellar player either.

Let's say then that I buy a new Asian student horn, and get it tuned up. Then, if I don't rough up the horn too much I don't have any more sax expenses for the next year or so. Is that a correct assumption?

2) Option 2 would be to buy a vintage horn. I love the look of all those beat-up saxes, you look at some of them and they ooze mojo. And they may even play great today, but I never know if 6 months down the road they are going to need a complete re-padding.

Which costs, what, $500 or so? $700?

Or some other major repairs, cracked solder joints, broken springs, what have you.

So, if I decide to buy a vintage horn today, I don't know where that leaves my 12-month budget. Plan for $700 of repairs and spend $300 on the horn itself? And be prepared to never recoup those $700 if I decide to sell the instrument later on. You need to be an expert in game theory to get all these variables straight...

3) I'm not even sure if an Option 3 exists. There are those Internet sites that sell restored vintage horns, but they are out of my price range most of the time. Any other ideas?

Well I hope all this makes sense. Please feel free to send this way any clues you may have.

Thanks in advance


· Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2008
796 Posts
If you were closer to South San Francisco, I would direct you to Bronstein Music on Grand Avenue. They currently have a Tenor for $960, basically new, it has just been sitting around for a few years. I played it and liked it, but cannot afford another horn at this time. It is unlacquered bare brass, and has started to tarnish. If you ever come up to San Francisco, give them a try. Also Best Music Co. in Oakland, great place with plenty of horns.
One thing about buying a new horn from a shop is that they will have set it up before it goes on sale, because of shipping, etc.

· Distinguished SOTW Member
14,671 Posts
Hernan: Welcome aboard. You've made some interesting assumptions and conclusions, many of which are accurate. After all that you've written, I'd say go with Kessler's tenor. I have one and it works fine. You should call him and talk to him. You could probably get the whole deal (horn, case, good mouthpiece, and shipping) at your price point.

Most new horns require some set-up, but the selling dealer is the guy to do that. And, Kessler does it. Can something screw it up in shipping? Yes, but the fixes are easy. Heck, you could even drive to Las Vegas for any fixin' and eliminate shipping damage.

Vintage horns aren't the problems that you've made of them. I have several saxophones from the 1920's and they require nothing more than do my modern ones. Once they are in playing shape, they'll play just as good as the new ones (or better) - and for as long.

The problem is trying to buy a player from a private party (usually eBay). I ALWAYS figure in the price of an overhaul. There are reliable dealers who sell vintage horns, ready to go (Gayle Fredenburgh of comes to mind) but your budget may not cover her costs. Check out her website, though.

But for your needs, the Kessler would be my answer. DAVE

· Registered
765 Posts
I'll put in another positive note on vintage horns. Many of them play better than modern horns and IMO are built better. The biggest disadvantage to them is that the keywork design (the action) may not feel quite as smooth as a modern horn.

I've actually recommended this shop several times in the past couple days, but he seems to stock what a lot of people are looking for "low-cost quality instruments." Check out the Yamaha ( and the Vito ( tenors he has. I've played both in the shop and I would be happy with either of them as solid "all around" tenors. The Vito, especially, may not look like much, but is a killer horn.

The website may not be the most impressive, but the quality of workmanship that Kim Slava ("Dr. Sax") does is very high, and he's a reasonable individual to work with. Best part is, both of those horns are well under your budget.

Most of the horns at are unfortunately over your budget. is also a reputable dealer, but once again, I don't see much in your budget there.

If you want to go new, I've heard that Kessler Custom horns can't be beat for the price. I've never played one however.

I would avoid eBay. An instrument shop can safely bid on eBay because if a horn is missing parts, they quite likely will have replacements in stock, or at the least can break a horn down into parts to use for other activities. Consumer buyers, who may not know what to properly look for in an eBay horn are hurt much more when the instrument requires a lot of work. Stick with the dealers if you can.

· Registered
773 Posts
Dave's advice is sound. Kessler's has a fine reputation. You may also want to know about Lee Kramka owner of Lee's Sax Worx in San Francisco on Taraval out toward the ocean. Inventory is nearly non-existent, though he does have vintage horns floating through his shop. The reason I mention Lee's is that after you get your horn, Lee's does repairs, re-builds, etc. He is currently doing a rebuild on one of my vintage tenors. It's a friendly place to get quality work done in San Francisco.

· Distinguished SOTW Member
5,652 Posts
You've received solid advice from everyone so far. Therefore, it depends upon what you're looking for. Vintage vs. new. Which horn will produce the sound you're looking for. If time is of no import, a good vintage horn can and will surface on SOTW. Lots of advice and support from the board in that regards. Can be well worth the time and wait. Just don't expect a Mark VI or comparable horn in your price range.

If time is of the essence then it's new and Kessler's is the way to go. I have a Kesseler Custom Deluxe. Just out of your price range by ~$100 but it's a very good horn and you won't be disappointed (unless you've got your heart set on vintage that is.) The Kessler's are great to work with to top it off. The horn was shipped across country and played better out of the box than several horns I played in local shops.

Do an advanced search for "Kessler" and display individual posts. There's a member whose name I can't recall off the top of my head who uses Kessler as his main working man's horn and he speaks well of it's durability. I'm more in your league. So do some more reading on the forum and decide upon one of your two options and then go for it

Good luck and happy hunting. The adventure begins!

· Banned
4,483 Posts
Vintage Horns:
Vintage horns are a great. You can get screwed however, if you do it the long way. If you go to old, you have problems with identifing C-melody's and high pitch horns. A C Melody plays in the key of C, which makes it great for playing with a paino or playing a flute part. However, their is not much music written for it out side of those two. High pitch, you can not play with an ensemble today. Since the modern ensemble will tune to A440, you will be off with the tuning completly. On Vintage horns, it is hard to identify the High pitch horns from the more deseriable low pitch, or the C-mel from the regular Bflat Tenor, in which you are looking.
However Vintage horns, other than that are great horns, and as you said you like the old beat up look of one. I would also consider the sound. For instance my Martin Alto has a sweeter sound than my YAS-23 Alto.
Ebay can be a great place to find a horn. Unfortunatly you must assume on E-bay that the horn will need a Complete Overhaul, which $700 sounds about right for a Tenor. You have to have a game plan on e-bay. Many people Snipe on E-bay. If you don't want to spend the time waiting for the auction to end, you put in the max you are willing to pay at a certain site or download program. And if your bid is to low, and the price goes over it you lose the auction. However, their are alot of impatient people on e-bay and you will see the price skyrocket rather quickly, as people in the beggining quickly raise the price. Patience is the key.
Modern Horns
Modern horns tend to have more fluid action then their older counterparts. Their are also less ways to screw up when purchasing one. As your first horn, that may be the way to go. However they may be more expensive.
A few good brands that are in your price range roughly.
Used Antigua Winds

Yamaha makes a Great student model horn the 23. And it will carry you easily though the learning stages, and will probably suit you though the rest of your saxplaying carrer. Again it is hard to tell. Kessler Custom are great horns, though I have not yet had the pleasure to play on one, they are supposed to be great. Antigua winds same thing. All these horns are Asain. Tawian or Japanese made. Infact I don't believe any of them are made in Main land Japan.

I personally know about two Vintage horns a Buescher and a Conn Pan American. I know one of them will be rented out. The other one is still open. Let me know if you are interested and I will send you some pictures.

Good luck with your search. And Welcome to SOTW

· SOTW Columnist, Distinguished SOTW Member
25,302 Posts
-88- said:
You may also want to know about Lee Kramka owner of Lee's Sax Worx in San Francisco on Taraval out toward the ocean. Inventory is nearly non-existent, though he does have vintage horns floating through his shop. The reason I mention Lee's is that after you get your horn, Lee's does repairs, re-builds, etc. He is currently doing a rebuild on one of my vintage tenors. It's a friendly place to get quality work done in San Francisco.
Lee is one of the best in the country! He's worked on my horns and put them in tip-top shape. He is worth every penny he charges, but he does charge top dollar, which will be out of your budget, Herman, unless you only need a minor repair job. Given your budget, I think a Kessler might be the way to go. One of the few new, inexpensive horns with a solid reputation.

Just fyi, I want to second what Dave and others said about vintage horns. The great vintage horns are MORE durable and less likely to need attention, once they are set up well, than most new horns, including the top-line new horns. The caveat is, they have to be set up by a good tech and put into good playing condition. This probably puts the vintage horns out of your price range, unfortunately. The deals are out there, but you have to know what you're looking for and get very lucky.

· Registered
77 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thanks everybody for all the very useful replies!!!

Lots of options out there... I will get in contact with some of the shops mentioned in the thread, and will keep an eye on Craigslist for a while.

Not sure how to use the SOTW marketplace though... any pointers?
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