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Total newby here. Still don’t have a horn to start learning to play. Been learning all I can other ways, but I want to get my hands on a good horn, without spending too much money on a beginner instrument. So when I saw a local auction had a saxophone listed in their estate liquidation this week I decided it was worth taking a look.

I’m quite comfortable with auctions, thanks to being in the antiques trade all my life. So my expectations weren’t too high. I figured I’d probably see a manure encrusted barn find, or a cheap beginners piece with dings and dents and assorted damage. The listing was fairly detailed: “Selmer Tenor saxophone w/ case - 30" body with Paris stamp -Great Condition, good shape!“ but knowing auctioneers tend to fluff their listings I expected to find a Bundy fresh from band camp.

Boy was I wrong!

Climbed the stairs to the third-floor hall, in a building that might predate the invention of the saxophone. Nice small town country auction. While I was previewing the auctioneer started selling box lots; first bidder to offer a dollar buys the lot. Then he moved into the back of the hall, struggling to get thirty or fifty bucks for an entire Ethan Allen bedroom. Gave me some hope that at least the selling price might be low enough to be worth taking a chance...

It was easy to find the saxophone. It was up front, center stage in front of the podium. Gleaming gold. Not lacquer, gold. With extensive and exquisite engraving. Mother of pearl keys. Gorgeous. Body and neck, both clean, undamaged, almost immaculate. No mouthpiece. Pads looked good, not new but not bad by appearance at least. Cork was not new but not deteriorated, just used. Action was smooth, light, seemingly precise to my untutored touch. Serial number 49xxx. Did I mention, it was gold, with elaborate engraving? Yeah, it was that good. Had to mention it again.

I always get nervous waiting for a lot I really want to be auctioned off. Checked my bank balance. Regretted not bringing the money market checkbook to have a few thousand dollars more readily available. Hoped nobody else had seen the listing and invested the time and effort to research it. Hoped the crowd in the hall didn’t know or have interest, encouraged by the auctioneer getting seven bucks for an antique cut glass pitcher, and five for a Roseville bowl.

Those hopes were dashed when he announced a brief pause so his helpers could use their cell phones to call absentee bidders. Three of them. 😢

Opening bid asked was two thousand. At least two phone bidders were in. I would’ve taken a bid at that level, but on the floor against the phones I always wait to see how far they’re willing to go. They started to slow down around 3400, so a floor bidder jumped in to help push things along, with two phone bidders still in. Floor bidder went quiet as they got over 4K, and when it passed five thousand one of the phone dropped but a different floor bidder jumped in. Final selling price, to the phone, was $5,500. Nice horn.

At least not having the money market checkbook didn’t make any difference 😇. And I got to handle a really nice instrument. I’ve always loved auctions as a sort of petting zoo for items of interest. They are a great way to handle many examples and develop a tactile sense, yes truly a feel, for indicators of quality. So it was a useful evening, but I still don’t have a horn.

Maybe next time.

- Brujo
 

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Sounds like fun, but do you want to be a player, or a collector? If you have a couple of thousand available in your budget, you can be playing a nice horn tomorrow. Or within a week at any rate, if you prefer a vintage sax and need to buy online.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Sounds like fun, but do you want to be a player, or a collector? If you have a couple of thousand available in your budget, you can be playing a nice horn tomorrow. Or within a week at any rate, if you prefer a vintage sax and need to buy online.
Good questions, or good point. I really shouldn’t have a couple of thousand in my budget for a horn, but it was a *NICE* horn! 😉

I started out wanting to be a player. As I’ve been starting to learn more about the instruments I’ve been being sucked in, starting to geek out on everything about the instruments. Have even been thinking about making space for a workbench, which would be a major change in style for me. Back when I raced sports cars I could turn a wrench okay but much preferred driving over working on the car. Now I’m finding I’m equally interested in playing the saxophone and getting deep into the mechanisms that make it work. Your comment is a good reminder to focus. One step at a time. Get something and start playing. No need to wait for serendipity to drop a vintage Selmer into my lap!
 

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It's a really good thing when you find an instrument that makes you want to play and practice. An easy playing saxophone and mouthpiece is the way to go. The easy to play sax setup makes daily practice fun to play for hours.
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
It's a really good thing when you find an instrument that makes you want to play and practice. An easy playing saxophone and mouthpiece is the way to go. The easy to play sax setup makes daily practice fun to play for hours.
Good advice, thanks! Driving home last night I was thinking similar thoughts. I’ve gotten hooked on saxophones in general, now I’d like to find one in particular that incites me to practice and play frequently. This conversation is really helping me focus my thinking as I’m looking for the right starter horn. That Selmer SBA would’ve been a good one 😍 but maybe a bit of overkill for me at this point (although I do tend that way a lot!). I’ll find it, even if I have to try a few duds first. Thanks for the feedback!
 

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If you haven't played before, it really won't matter too much what horn you buy as long as it is properly set-up and in good playing condition. Until you spend a couple of years playing (hopefully with a teacher) your embouchure, breath control, etc. won't be developed enough to tell the difference between a good student horn and a good professional horn. So I would start more with a horn like this:
https://www.junkdude.com/collections/saxophones/products/cannonball-alcazar-tenor-saxophone or something similar, or contact SOTW member Jayelid and see if he has a Yamaha or Vito student tenor in good playing condition.
With a couple of years under your belt, you will better be able to tell what sound, feel, response best suits your style.
 

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Interesting discussion here...IMHO I took the point of the thread being: even in a simple country auction which would seem to be pretty obscure and remote - one cannot peg a vintage Selmer, France for anything approaching 'a steal' these days.

One cannot be blamed for getting their hopes up that in a context such as that, perhaps 'under the radar' may be a realistic possibility....but, apparently not so.
 

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Should have bought the Ethan Allen bedroom set. Then sell it on Craigslist and use the profits to buy a horn. (Just a thought)
 

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I’ll guess that it was a tenor. I didn’t see you mention it in your post.
You must be like me. When says sax I always assume it’s a tenor.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I’ll guess that it was a tenor. I didn’t see you mention it in your post.
You must be like me. When says sax I always assume it’s a tenor.
TBH I am not sure I’d be able to distinguish a tenor from an alto yet. Pretty sure it was tenor, but mostly basing that on the auctioneer giving a dimension of 30” in his listing.
 

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Interesting discussion here...IMHO I took the point of the thread being: even in a simple country auction which would seem to be pretty obscure and remote - one cannot peg a vintage Selmer, France for anything approaching 'a steal' these days.

One cannot be blamed for getting their hopes up that in a context such as that, perhaps 'under the radar' may be a realistic possibility....but, apparently not so.
Exactly! With online listings, search engines, good digital cameras, ubiquitous mobile internet and online and phone bidding, the radar doesn’t leave many blind spots. Only real hope is an auctioneer who doesn’t know or care enough to offer a description beyond “saxophone”. But now even the local yokels notice if it’s got fancy decoration or looks special and jump online and find those good comps, and then they start the hype machine and no more under the radar.

Same thing happened when I was dealing high end art glass, good pieces almost never fell through the cracks. There were occasional exceptions, like the time I scored a great buy on a piece of Durand King Tut pattern because the auctioneer wasn’t confident the signature was legit and hedged about it in his announcement. I knew it was good but he scared off all his regulars so I got a great score. Or the misattributed pieces. So this is still hope for superior knowledge to occasionally get an edge, it’s just much too infrequently these days.

Seems to me the best chance of finding a hidden gem is not one of the big name knock your socks off items, but one of the good quality but lesser known examples. Maybe something like a good classic Martin or Conn, or a good stencil that nobody but the cognoscenti will recognize as a great player. But that’s not the primary marketplace, just happens to be a game I’ve played for years in other fields so it’s a tempting distraction...
 

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If you haven't played before, it really won't matter too much what horn you buy as long as it is properly set-up and in good playing condition. Until you spend a couple of years playing (hopefully with a teacher) your embouchure, breath control, etc. won't be developed enough to tell the difference between a good student horn and a good professional horn. So I would start more with a horn like this:
https://www.junkdude.com/collections/saxophones/products/cannonball-alcazar-tenor-saxophone or something similar, or contact SOTW member Jayelid and see if he has a Yamaha or Vito student tenor in good playing condition.
With a couple of years under your belt, you will better be able to tell what sound, feel, response best suits your style.
That seems like very good advice, thanks! Am I correct in interpreting “in good playing condition” as meaning good pads, cork, mechanically sound with no major dents, bent or binding keys, rods, etc.?
 

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The thing about buying a horn that you really want, and really love, is that when you get it home you want to really play it. Whatever you spend to get there is totally worth the cost. Play because you love to play; play your horn because you love your horn.
 

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If I were in your situation, never played before and able to spend enough to get a great instrument I’d look into a brand new big 4 instrument. Yamaha, Selmer, Keilwerth, Yanigasawa plus some of the others like Cannonball and the many fine Taiwan-made instruments. Vintage is great if you are an expert and know how to evaluate a vintage instrument based on its playability. Not so great for the novice buyer. I say this from experience. I bought a vintage Conn 10M not knowing much about it. After plunking down $800 I put $1000 into it to make it playable. Looking back I might have been better off spending $2000 on a new Taiwan-built horn that plays easily. So much of what you read here on SOTW is from people who have a great depth of knowledge OR people who know nothing but are highly opinionated. Be careful and take the safe route. Gambling on a vintage horn you know little about is like diving into pork belly futures when you know nothing about markets. Buy something you can count on.
 

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If I were in your situation, never played before and able to spend enough to get a great instrument I’d look into a brand new big 4 instrument. Yamaha, Selmer, Keilwerth, Yanigasawa plus some of the others like Cannonball and the many fine Taiwan-made instruments. Vintage is great if you are an expert and know how to evaluate a vintage instrument based on its playability. Not so great for the novice buyer. I say this from experience. I bought a vintage Conn 10M not knowing much about it. After plunking down $800 I put $1000 into it to make it playable. Looking back I might have been better off spending $2000 on a new Taiwan-built horn that plays easily. So much of what you read here on SOTW is from people who have a great depth of knowledge OR people who know nothing but are highly opinionated. Be careful and take the safe route. Gambling on a vintage horn you know little about is like diving into pork belly futures when you know nothing about markets. Buy something you can count on.
I was already starting to think about that, so it naturally sounds like good advice. 🙂 I got the idea when I ran into this thread a couple of days ago: https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?245562-Well-well-well-what-have-we-HERE. From a quick browse after reading that it seems an intermediate Kessler might be a good choice. Taking on faith that they are as good as they claim, that is.

Also have a PM from a SOTW member who needs to downsize (for credible reason) offering me the pick of several reportedly well set up instruments. I’m contemplating that, just got the PM so barely started researching them, and have not started talking price at all so no idea how they’d compare to buying one of those new horns. Seems like this would also be a safer course than buying vintage and then getting it refurbished.

Thanks for the good advice, everyone. This is a wonderfully welcoming community here on SOTW!
 

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Am I correct in interpreting “in good playing condition” as meaning good pads, cork, mechanically sound with no major dents, bent or binding keys, rods, etc.?
Yes, that is what I meant. Experienced players can sometime play through problems like leaks, but it could be pretty tough on a beginner.
 

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Yes, that is what I meant. Experienced players can sometime play through problems like leaks, but it could be pretty tough on a beginner.
Beginner or not, when you buy a horn you have to take into account the playing condition and how much you'd also have to spend in order to get the horn in top playing condition. But, luckily you don't have to buy a brand new, modern horn to get one in top condition (and in fact even new horns might not be set up all that well).

AddictedToSax mentioned: "I bought a vintage Conn 10M not knowing much about it. After plunking down $800 I put $1000 into it to make it playable."

That's still a good deal. $1800 for a top quality vintage horn in perfect playing condition (I'm assuming the $1000 was for a total overhaul). Nothing wrong with going that route. The other way would be to buy a similar horn from a reputable dealer who has overhauled the horn, in which case you'll likely pay a bit more than $1800, but it'll save you the hassle of getting the work done.

Back to the OP, $5500 for a gold plated BA tenor may not be a bargain basement price, but it's probably close to the going rate for that horn, assuming it's also in good playing condition. You are going to pay a premium for cosmetics (gold plate or 99% original lacquer, etc). Also collectors who care more about originality and finish will drive the price up.
 
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