How to buy a used saxophone

A used saxophone has a definite mystique, but even the most sought after used alto saxophones, used tenor saxophones, and used baritone saxophones won’t sound like a buyer hopes if they aren’t in good working condition. Jonathan Cathell, who has repaired woodwinds for twenty years, offers pointers for bargain hunting musicians.

How to buy a used saxophone

Check Craftsmanship of a Used Saxophone

It’s important to determine whether the used saxophone is a student saxophone, intermediate saxophone, or professional saxophone.

“Most instruments have a model number,” Jonathan remarks. “On a used saxophone, the brand, model, and serial number are usually found on the back of the instrument just below the thumb hook.” Once a buyer has this information, a google search can uncover its quality, features, and materials.

If the used saxophone is a vintage saxophone with an illegible or nonexistent model number, buyers might want to take it to an instrument repair shop or knowledgeable saxophone player for advice.

Check the Used Saxophone for Body Damage

Damage to the main part of a used saxophone will be easiest to spot. “Obviously,” Jonathan says, “the first thing to check on a [used saxophone] is whether the body is straight.” A warped body will cause mechanical problems and eventually make the instrument unplayable. A used saxophone can be straightened, but this repair is expensive.

Buyers should look the used saxophone over for dents. While a dent isn’t a reason to reject a used saxophone outright, cosmetic condition definitely affects an instrument’s value.

used saxophone

Jonathan advises buyers to take the dent’s location and size into account. “Obviously, a pretty big dent in the body of a used saxophone can cause some air flow restrictions, but a little ping or minor dent isn’t going to effect the sound that much. A dent in the neck of a used saxophone is more serious and needs to be looked at by a professional.”

Some dents are harder to spot. Buyers should check carefully beneath the used saxophone’s posts for body damage. “If a dent is situated under a post or key cluster,” Jonathan adds, “it can cause rods to bind up, pads to come off level with the tone hole, and a lot of other adjustment problems for a used saxophone.”

Tenons are where the instrument’s parts fit together. Buyers should check the cork where the mouthpiece joins the neck. If this won’t fit properly, cork can easily be sanded down or replaced. Where the neck fits into the body, the tenon is metal on metal. If this fit is too loose on a used saxophone, air will leak. This also can be repaired by a technician.

Check the Finish on a Used Saxophone

One important thing to check on a used saxophone is the condition of the saxophone’s finish. Many vintage saxophones were silver-plated. To make these vintage horns look more modern, some musicians decided to strip the original silver plating and have the instrument refinished in brass. Unfortunately, the process of removing plating also removes some of the metal wall and ruins the instrument’s tone in the lower register. For this reason, a tarnished used saxophone with a few nicks and scratches is preferable to one which is incredulously shiny for its age. If the serial number has been removed or the engraving is worn down, this probably means the original plating was taken off and the tone of the used saxophone is compromised.

The type of finish affects the price of a used saxophone. Obviously, gold plating is most valuable. Next in value is silver, and brass lacquer is least sought after.


Determining the finish can be tricky, but here are a few pointers. A gold-plated used saxophone will probably have worn spots where silver shows through. That’s because gold can’t be directly applied to brass, so a layer of silver plating is between. A silver saxophone will have darkened places where the finish has tarnished. A silver used saxophone that is too shiny to be true is probably nickel-plated.

Check Perishable Parts on a Used Saxophone

Any used saxophone is bound to show signs of wear and tear. Perishable parts such as pads, key corks, and felt deteriorate over time. Basically, any perishable part on a used saxophone can be replaced. But, if the instrument needs to be overhauled or repadded, it should be reflected in the purchase price.

Pads are the leather wrapped cushions beneath the keys which seal the holes. A pad that doesn’t seal properly will make playing a used saxophone nearly impossible. ”If there’s obvious tears or wear marks,” Jonathan says, “that denotes a bad pad.” If the buyer can play, a run up the scale will reveal any leaky keys. The buyer can also use an electric tuner to check the pitch of a used saxophone.

Check Mechanical Issues on a Used Saxophone

“Typically,” says Jonathan, “if the pads look okay, and the instrument plays well except for a little stuffiness. The saxophone probably needs to be adjusted. Adjustment condition is key, and people sell poorly adjusted instruments at top value all the time.”

Buyers should check the rods of a used saxophone for movement or rust. This can present a serious problem since, on certain models of saxophones, the rods can’t be replaced.

Buyers should also check the action on a used saxophone. Action is partly determined by spring tension and partly by the condition of the rods and screws. Buyers can test the keys to insure they move freely and return easily to an open position. The keys of a used saxophone shouldn’t wiggle back and forth or make clicking sounds. Action that’s too soft, or not fast enough, can usually be corrected by adjusting spring tension.

It’s never a bad idea to ask a technician experienced with woodwinds for their opinion of a used saxophone. A little research can help buyers determine whether a particular saxophone is worth the effort and expense to make it enjoyable to play.

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