If you are reading this, then you are probably researching your options for how to sell a saxophone.
I have been asked this question hundreds of times. I’ll help you think through your options for selling it. I’ll do this through a series of observations. Some of this may be disappointing, but some of it might be encouraging as well.
If your saxophone is a recently made “student” or “intermediate” model, then regardless of what you paid for it, it is probably not worth very much for resale.
Almost all modern student saxophones are made in a number of factories in China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. These are instruments made by people being paid as little as $1/day, often using the cheapest possible methods and materials. When I taught saxophone lessons professionally, I had to deal with student saxophones that were literally falling apart, and that were not even made of brass in some cases. Though there are exceptions, the build quality of these saxophones is generally not good. The majority of them are basically “disposable” – not worth fixing. But, you will say, “I paid $1700 for this at Music and Arts or Sam Ash!” Well, those stores only paid their factories around $100-300 per saxophone. The rest was largely profit for them.
Your modern student saxophone is worth around $100-$400 if you sell it on Craigslist or eBay, but you will have to compete with cheap, shiny new versions of these instruments. You could also try consigning it with a local music store, if you still have a local music store. The exceptions among these student horns, value-wise are Jupiter, Cannonball, and Selmer student/intermediate instruments. Because these Asian-made brands have better name recognition, you can sell them for more. Sometimes the quality is a bit better in these than the worst student saxophones out there.
If you happened to buy a Yamaha or especially a Yanagisawa, then your saxophone is well-made and may last for generations if it is cared for.
These instruments are worth more money and are much easier to sell as well. I will sometimes buy them. You can also sell them through a local music store, craigslist, or go through the hassle and 13% selling fee on eBay.
If you have a vintage saxophone, then it is either a vintage student/intermediate saxophone, or a vintage professional saxophone.
If it’s a vintage student instrument, then it is probably well-made (much better than modern student/intermediate instruments). It also probably needs to be overhauled, which costs $500 at the bare minimum, and can be much more. Since you are trying to sell your instrument for the best price possible, I would recommend NOT spending money on restoring it unless absolutely necessary.
If you have a vintage student saxophone, just get it patched up by a local saxophone repair person and sell it locally.
This can be by word of mouth, through a local music teacher or band director, local music store, craigslist, or using online resources.
If you want to sell a vintage professional saxophone, then, oddly enough, you should probably not have it worked on at all before selling it.
I buy vintage and modern professional saxophones primarily, and the less work the horn has had done on it, the better I like it. I would prefer to buy horns that are untouched, because I can have them restored correctly, and many saxophones have been actually damaged by repair people who did not know how to work on them correctly. On a vintage professional saxophone, the value is going to be difficult to estimate yourself.
How much is my saxophone worth?
Well, you will be told a range of numbers. The highest estimates will come from people whose desire is to make you happy, but who have no intention of actually BUYING the horn from you. People love to throw out absurdly high numbers or post saxophones for absurdly high prices online and hope for some fool to come along and overpay for it. But buyers are usually smart, and I have not often seen this strategy work.
Since it is a collectible as well as a musical instrument, a nice saxophone’s value is highly tied to small details of condition that specialists will be able to see, but your average music store/musician friend/repair shop will (usually) not. Original finish or not, lack of past repairs, mechanical condition, condition of the neck, original parts or not, rarity, demand, large differences in price according to vintage, engraving pattern, etc. These kinds of factors are what specialists know, and they are hard to find out without asking. For instance, the featured image for this article is a saxophone that looks to the untrained eye much like thousands of other silver plated vintage saxophones, but I would actually pay $5000 for this particular version because it is rare.
If you have a good condition vintage professional saxophone, and you want to know what your options are price wise, I’m happy to give you some advice. Prices are basically:
1. What a dealer will pay you for it, as-is.
This is often a surprisingly good option, because dealers can deal with some kinds of problems that will turn off other buyers (I don’t care if it plays at all right now:-). And because dealers can pay well for horns that they have buyers lined-up for.
2. What you might get selling it yourself online.
Online selling can sometimes go well, but it often seems better initially than it turns out to be. People tend to focus optimistically on best-case scenarios, and they often price their horns based on unrealistic asking prices, rather than on actual sale prices of truly comparable saxophones. You can basically try Craigslist, eBay, and online forums and Facebook for selling. (beware of the myriad payment and shipping scams – there are a whole host of people whose job it is to steal items from online sellers).
Here’s my eBay rant:
eBay is probably the worst option out of these. eBay has become expensive with 13-14% selling+paypal fees, often higher than dealer consignment! It has also become unfriendly to sellers generally with most rules exclusively in favor of buyers. The money will typically be held in escrow for at least 25 days, and eBay will also force refunds or partial refunds from your bank account for up to 6 months after a sale without your permission, should the buyer complain. Some buyers have learned to exploit these rules to increase their margins. Plus, there’s no way to leave negative feedback for buyers. And international shipping for a saxophone is a nightmare if you’re not used to it.
3. What you might get selling your sax on consignment with a dealer.
This can be a good option if you are not in a big hurry, and if you trust the dealer. Sometimes the problem here is that a dealer like me wants to make the saxophone RIGHT, where the owner of the horn usually wants only to maximize sale price without spending much on fixing it up. Think of consignment as renting the dealer’s reputation, and you will soon realize how to be sensitive to what is really going on. For this same reason, though, it can get you the best sale price, because buyers know what they are getting. I don’t do a lot of consignment, mainly because I sometimes want to spend more on horns than consignors want me to. But when someone has the kind of horn that I like to sell, whether with a good overhaul, or in good original condition, it can be one of your best options if you happen to be lucky enough to have a vintage professional saxophone for sale. Contact me if you are interested in consignment, though, and if you have the right horn and realistic expectations, I will help you get a good price for your horn. And if I can’t take it on consignment, I would be happy to point you towards what might be the best place to sell it.