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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I do a lot of traveling. Whenever I can, I drop into pawn shops, flea markets, antique stores, thrift stores, yard sales, etc. There are often instruments being sold by people who don't know their history, condition, etc.

I adopted this practice after buying a nice Yamaha slide trombone from a thrift store for $30. The price was low because they said no one could get a note out of it. (It didn't have a mouthpiece.)

I carry the following in the RV or car whenever I'm on the road, irrespective of whether its a trip for a gig or just traveling.
  1. Mouthpieces and reeds
  2. Serial number printouts downloaded from the net
  3. Notes about various models, vintages, etc,. collected mostly from sotw posts and recent online sales
  4. Posts from the recent Jason Dumar thread on how to spot a relacquer
The goal is to be able to test-play any sax I didn't know I was going to encounter and have some idea of its value, desireability, and so on, to whatever extent possible.

Even though I have such resources, what I don't know is what to look for in the way of mechanical and pad condition.
  • I don't have a leak light and don't know how to use one anyway
  • I don't know how to look at pads to see if they look like they'll soon need replacing
  • I don't know how to spot badly done repairs
  • etc.
So, here's the question. Given all the above and a sax that seems to play well and has a reasonable price, what else should one look at and for when thinking about buying one at a yard sale?
 

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Forum Contributor 2011, SOTW's pedantic pet rodent
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I resisted a strong temptation to make a vulgar reply to the title here..;) Anyhow, I'm no sax tech (God knows!) but my tactics are as follows: 1. Check it's straight. 2. Check for obvious bits missing and pads that are clearly decayed or missing. 3. Buy low on the grounds that "I'm going to use it as an ornament or hang it on the wall". 4. Budget for a proper overhaul. The key element is buying low enough, in my opinion.
 

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Besides the obvious points mentioned above, other details to look for are:

Areas of damage around tone holes, sloppy solder work which is both a sign of a poor repair, and previous damage issues. Look for replacement of parts like octave mechanisms, neck socket receivers, key guards etc. as this can be a sign of well concealed damage in the horn's past. I'd also insure that the neck fits the horn properly, and looks to be original to the horn. Make sure the neck doesn't have signs of pull down damage, or is misshapen from serious damage.

As far as pads, I'd expect most horns to need at least most if not all replaced unless it shows signs of having been recently re-padded, or is a new-ish horn.
Look for darkening and hardening of the leather (signs of extreme, long term moisture absorption), abraded or rough spots, tears, and mold growth. Also corrosion of metal resonators is a no no.

Signs of a relacquer will include:
Drips or swirls in the finish, splotchy areas, zink leaching around the tone holes and soldered areas (also to be found on perfectly original finishes, but can be a sign). Unusually bright, clear, or miscolored lacquer on older horns that would normally be seen with dark, honey cellulose lacquer. Also signs of over buffing on the engraving and serial numbers, and lacquer sprayed over engraving that was originally cut into the horn AFTER lacquering are also signs of a refinish.

I concur, the price paid is a major factor in whether a horn is worth any effort to make it right.
 

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You'll be able to spot a bad solder or dent work. Good solder work will go from hard to see to not visible at all. Good dent work will still stress lacquer so look for hairline cracks concentrated in an area, often sunburst shaped from a deep ding. Look down the bell. Sometimes you can see where the dent ball rubbed the inside.

Look carefully at all the posts and keyguards to be sure that they aren't pushed in. Also take a hard look at the bell to body brace to make sure that it is firmly attached at both ends. Gently push the bell away from the body and look at the brace for movement.

Pads that look good usually are good and nasty blackened ones seldom cover.
Look at them from as many angles as possible. Sloppy techs sometimes burn the edge of a pad and it usually isn't the side that's easiest to see. Look for tears. Look for mold. Feel them and be sure they aren't hard. If they look decent and the horn plays all the way up and down, they still have some life left.

I'll try to take some pics in the next few days that may help.

Happy hunting.
 

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In addition to the excellent advice already given, I would suggest checking the tightness of the keys on the rods. "Wiggle" the palm keys, side C and Bb, and each of the "stack" keys from side to side to check for excessive lateral motion on the rods. An instrument that has had a lot of wear on the keys will require a complete mechanical overhaul to play properly which costs considerably more than a simple repad. "Closet horns" that have sat for 50 - 60 years without being played are still out there, but are getting harder to find. Of course some makes and models are certainly worth a mechanical overhaul regardless of the cost IMO.
 

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Another thing to consider when going to yard sales is, will I be able to look myself in the mirror if I "steal" this instrument? Sometimes you run into jerks and can walk away with a clear conscience, but what about the lady selling her husbands old horns? Would you be fine with it if it was your wife or mother in that situation? I've gotten my fair share of bargains, but I've shared realisitic values a time or two as well when I thought a person was unaware of the true value of an instrument.

If you can honestly say you did the right thing I say go for it, if not, shame on you.
 

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No matter how uninterested you are in the horn [Oh ANOTHER student Vito alto!], always look to see what kind of mouthpiece is in there. Sometimes good players with great mouthpieces get down and out and play on crappy horns before they get to the pawn shop! {edit} not meant to disparage Vitos. They are often YAS23s.
 

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Great point, a couple years ago I came across a scroll shank C** in an Olds Ambassador case. The guy let me buy it for $15. That is my main piece to this day, I love it.

I was in Indy for a presntation yesterday and stopped by a pawn shop that had a mix of the usual student horns, but they also had this silver Brazilian sax, don't recall the name something with an 'M', it was stamped Sao Paulo, looked like a student instrument. Interesting but not worth what they were asking. There's a vintage tenor in the window painted black that might go cheap (it's a beater) next time I'm back I might check it out. Or if anybody's in Indy and wants to look at it it's at Dock Brother's on Meridian Street.

The main thing I use to decide on any given horn is the scowl factor. How irked will my wife be when I drag another on home? Is this particular horn worth the risk?
 

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Prodigal Son and Forum Contributor 2008
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Al Stevens said:
So, here's the question. Given all the above and a sax that seems to play well and has a reasonable price, what else should one look at and for when thinking about buying one at a yard sale?
I would wonder if the husband knows that his horns are on the lawn.
 

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LBAjazz said:
No matter how uninterested you are in the horn [Oh ANOTHER student Vito alto!], always look to see what kind of mouthpiece is in there.
Ditto. I once found a hard rubber Brilhart Personaline tenor mpc in a box of used mpcs in a pawn shop. Bought it for $10.
 

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Mouthpieces found in cases:

Mint Brilhart hard rubber tenor in box
Very vintage silver Selmer C*
Perfect C* soloist w/ original cap and lig
Mint Gale Companion
M.C. Gregory Model A 4A18
Scroll shank vintage Larry Teal
and many, many others including vintage Bueschers, Conn Eagles, assorted Selmers and more.

By all means, look in that old case. I've covered the cost of the horn with mouthpieces that came with it.
 

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I rarely run across decent saxes (decent for my area of interest) in pawn shops. 98% of them are Bundy II's or Yamaha YAS-23's - the typical altos sold to beginning band students. But this could well vary by locale. The best mp I've run across with these saxes is a Selmer S-80 C*. Not very exciting . . .
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
LazySaxman said:
Maybe it would also be good to post what we should look for if we find a mouthpiece. Just check if the rails are even and the tip is in good shape?
Good idea. I'd prefer that you started another thread for that to keep this one focused on used sax issues.
 

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Great idea to add mouthpieces to this thread. In addition to the tip and rails, look at the shank for cracks or banded shanks for repaired cracks. Look for indentations on the beak. Look at the condition of the biteplate on metal pieces. Learn about different mouthpiece models from different makers. Theo Wanne's website has some great info about this.
There are other guys MUCH MUCH more qualified than me to answer this, but I think it would be good to be able to recognize signs of refacing work, particularly poor refacing work. That could take you from deal to doorstop fast.

Sorry Al! You posted this as I was writing.
 

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Remember to factor the possible need for a replacement case.

Kind of a no-brainer, but has slipped my mind on occasion.
 

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I've been planning on doing this. I hope the MKVI that a friend of mine snapped a pic of is still there!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Might be a relaq though.
 

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Fred said:
I rarely run across decent saxes (decent for my area of interest) in pawn shops. 98% of them are Bundy II's or Yamaha YAS-23's - the typical altos sold to beginning band students. But this could well vary by locale. The best mp I've run across with these saxes is a Selmer S-80 C*. Not very exciting . . .
I'm afraid this is more often the case than not. Mostly because of the internet and fine sites like this one, horn players are much more knowledgeable than in the past and any decent horn will get snatched up quickly. Still you could get lucky. I wish in a big way I could go back about 30 years and cruise those pawn shops for horns. I do remember seeing lots of horns in pawn shops in the Bay Area back then, but I had no clue about what they were worth or the different models. I also had no money to spend so it wouldn't have helped much.

Going back to Al's question, I guess the first thing I'd look for is the type of horn (but you have that covered obviously), then I'd play it to get a pretty good idea of its playing condition. Beyond that, the posters above have covered it pretty well.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Grumps said:
And I thought you were a married man...
It's a pawn shop thing. Ever since my wife met me standing beneath the sign of a pawn shop. She kissed me under the...

Uh, better leave it at that.
 
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