12 Tips for Buying a Used Saxophone

Used Saxophone

Whether you’re looking to get a great horn at a great price, or whether you’re looking to put your own spin on the classic sounds of your idols, a used saxophone can be a perfect solution.

A little bit of Google-ing on the topic of buying a used horn will yield you bushels full of information. Of course, when making this sort of purchase, the more information you have, the better.

That said, I thought it would be helpful to distill those bushels of wisdom into a quick overview to get you started. From here you can drill deeper into the areas of most interest and concern to you.

The 12 Tips

sax body
Fig. A - Looking at the horn from this angle will quickly reveal any dents.
  1. It’s best to stick with horns that have not been refurbished. In other words, you want to make sure that this horn wasn’t trashed at some point and then reconstructed or drastically repaired outside of the normal periodic overhauls and adjustments.
  2. Make sure that the horn isn’t dented. A good way to check this is to put the horn on its side and carefully look down the body of the horn to make sure that the surface looks smooth and even (see Figure A). Especially troublesome are dents on the neck. Otherwise, if a dent on the body of the sax is about 5mm wide or smaller, then it’s probably a non-issue.
  3. Be careful about purchasing a horn that has been refinished or relaquered, as the finish may have been stripped in the process which can negatively impact the sound. Some tip-offs for a re-laquered horn are scratches that reveal a different color than the rest of the horn, an extremely shiny finish considering the horn’s age, and fuzzy engravings & serial numbers.
  4. Make sure you can see the serial number! If the serial number has been intentionally rubbed out, it is likely that you’re dealing with a stolen horn (ouch!).
  5. If you get an icky odor when you open the case, then that probably means that important parts of the instrument have started to rot away. Green discoloration is also a bad sign.
  6. Also avoid horns with visible soldering. Solder is the stuff that melts metal together and can leave globby splotches as seen on Figure B.
  7. If you’re at a horn shop, ask the dealer to drop a fluorescent light stick into the instrument so that you can check for leaking pads.
  8. Bring a sax-playing buddy friend along to get their opinion on how the horn sounds, as it’s easy to lose objectivity in the event that you’re trying out a bunch of different instruments.
  9. Bring your current saxophone to compare so that you can A/B test it against your prospective horn.
  10. Since you’ve got your buddy along, bring a tuner, and have both of you play the horn checking for intonation issues.
  11. Make sure that the rods on the sax are not bendable and that they don’t move around when pulled.
  12. Most importantly, how does the darn thing sound? As long as the construction of the horn is solid and it feels good under your fingers, then it doesn’t matter what other imperfections the used saxophone may have – as long as you’re in love with the sound.
Soldered Saxophone
Fig. B - Oh no, soldering is BAD!

You’re off to a good start now, so get out there and find that hidden diamond before I do!