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As a new player I am astounded at the number of saxophones which are relacquered. Why is this? Is it a matter of simply cosmetics or preservation from corrosion? Some players seem to value the vintage, worn horn look.

How have so many horns evolved to the condition which would require relacquer? Who usually makes the decision? Is there any evidence that the presence or absence of lacquer makes any difference at all to the sound of the horn (assuming excessive brass hasn't been lost by buffing)? You sometimes see a horn which has never been lacquered. Will it sound different from its lacquered twin?

Thanks for your input.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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As a new player I am astounded at the number of saxophones which are relacquered. Why is this? Is it a matter of simply cosmetics or preservation from corrosion?
Both.

Relacquering used to be more prevalent, partly because older lacquer is not as robust as modern lacquer, and partly because there seems to be more of a collector base for vintage saxophones, and collectors value original lacquer over a relacquer. This makes sense to me if you collect a genuine mint condition closet horn, very nice, but not when you by a really tatty "original lacquer".

And no, the lacquer can't make any difference to the sound.
 

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And no, the lacquer can't make any difference to the sound.
If the horn was completely missing most of the lacquer, I think that there would be a sound difference between that and a fully lacquered horn. But that is just me.

Personally I would chose a original "beat up" horn over a new relacquer anyday because I like character to my instruments.
 

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I tend to agree with Pete. The 'relacquer = bad' notion has come about for a couple of different reasons.

1) Bad relacquers. It is really, really, really expensive to get a great relacq job. One where the horn is stripped and prepped properly before the lacq is applied. Not to mention the actual color and correct application of lacquer to achieve a uniform finish which will last.
Add to that the re-engraving of the original engraving after the relacq (which in and of itself can cost $200-500 to have done properly).

So...most relacqs are...bad. Ugly. Poorly done. Unevenly buffed prior. Drippy. Not uniform in application or color. Showing dark spots at post and foot bases or where tonehole stack meets body tube, because all foreign material was not removed prior to application. Showing tarnish BENEATH the new coat. Inconsistent in lacquer longevity/quality. Not re-engraved afterward.

2) Vintage-mania ! An original lacquer horn retaining only 50% lacquer and looking really like sh#t..is in fact worth more than that same horn, expertly relacquered by a top-notch shop. Go figure.....

3) Price. Like everything else, folks get what they pay for. Sure, you can shop around and get a great price on a relacq...the shop will even e-mil you pics which look really good. But you get what you pay for. If you want a relacquered horn done very well, and correctly...you have to face the fact that you are going to invest more into it than that horn will be worth on the market.

This dissuades most people. BUT...I say...if you love that horn, and if she's your baby...and if you wanna spring for a good job on a 'keeper'....don't even hesitate. One is not beholden to having to play (and upkeep the finish of) an ugly horn for the rest of their days....and forever rationalize it by saying it has "character"....

Sometimes a spiffed, cleaned-up, polished up old horn with a lotta lacquer wear ends up looking pretty good, indeed.
But sometimes...you (or someone) will pop a rotator cuff trying to make 'er look good...to no avail whatsoever...
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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I agree there are very bad relacquers and very good ones. A bad one will look awful because the engraving is buffed away or the lacquer is drippy or has dust in it. Even if a lot of metal is buffed, it's hardly going to affect the sound though, which is one of the myths about relacquering.

OTOH a good relacquer can make the horn look as good as new, especially if the engraving doesn't get buffed or if it can be recut. I believe my Buescher alto is realcquered and possibly my The martin tenor, but I really don't care. I didn't even think about that when I bought them.

I do remember a bad lacquer job though. I had a Conn 10M relacquered. It looked good, but within a week all the lacquer had dropped off . I took it back to the lacquerer who blamed me, saying I probably used too much hairspray! He refused to refund me so I won't be going back there.
 

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hairspray will take off lacquer? or the dude just didn't like you and was telling you that you used too much hairspray in general?
 

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Above all else, regardless of conjecture (those early horns are better because they were made with World War II brass ammo casings), controversy (original lacquer vs relacquer vs gold plate vs purple paint with tiger stripes, etc.), pride (I have to play the same set up as my hero even if it means biting through my lip to play a 12* Otto Link with a #4 rico plasticover - no Ernie Watts is not my hero, but he's good), ego (Look at me, gee whiz I can play a lot of notes really fast even if they don't jive with the harmonic rhythm), etc. go for the tone!

That said, financial considerations may play a role. Some players find THE SETUP for life, others think they have IT, develop a new conception and decide to change IT so it's might be a good idea to have something you can sell easily to make that transition if it becomes necessary. Over 10 years ago, I bought an original lac 1955 Mark VI tenor that was probably a junior high school loaner horn. The bottom bow looks looks like it was left in a hale storm and the bell has been tipped more than the entire wait staff at a 5 star restaurant. It has about 50% lacquer left. It's ugly. Amazingly, the body of the horn above the bow and neck have hardly been damaged. It is an absolutely killer horn with the early Mark VI sound so many really dig (along with great intonation and a lightning fast response - oh it's good), but it would probably never be worth it to sell since it would be competing with pristine closet horns up for sale by various hearse chasers (said for effect, no offense intended). (I am currently smitten with a relac SBA, but whenever I play that VI, I still really dig it.)

But be careful out there, these old horns are getting outrageously expensive. Try not to overpay (a decent relac that's been expertly overhauled and has IT might be a better buy than an original lac that needs an overhaul so you can't really tell if it has IT, chances are it will, but should I put a down payment on a house or buy this sax). Oh, just be careful and have fun!- blah blah bob lablaw
 
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