VINTAGE SELMER VALUE GUIDE
Answer 10 Questions to estimate your Vintage Selmer Saxophone’s value the smart way.
You want to sell your Selmer Mark VI saxophone, and you google Selmer Mark VI, and find them listed for wildly varying prices. You will quickly find yourself wondering what your Selmer saxophone is really worth.
The price variation is pretty extreme.
GetASax (or another reputable dealer) has Selmer Mark VI tenors listed anywhere from $4000 (or lower) for a late serial, relacquered sax with old pads, up to maybe $15k+ for a nice example from an early serial range with original lacquer and everything great.
On eBay, (and on some other websites) you may see sellers asking 2-5x those sorts of prices for clean Selmer Mark VI Tenors and you wonder if it’s possible that your horn is worth that much.
Or maybe you have a different model, like a Selmer Balanced Action saxophone or a Selmer Radio Improved or Super Sax or Super (Balanced) Action, or maybe you have no idea what your Selmer is. It may not even be a Selmer. This guide is for you.
This Selmer saxophone price guide is not meant to be super sophisticated for Selmer connoisseurs. It’s meant to answer the kinds of questions that ordinary people (who often don’t play saxophone) ask me every day by email.
Your Selmer Mark VI saxophone might be worth a lot of money, so if you want the best approach on pricing it, here is all the information you need to do a responsible job of selling your Selmer saxophone for a good price.
Time to polish up the old reading glasses and dig in here:
- Is it a Selmer Paris or not?If your Selmer saxophone says Selmer USA on it, or Omega or AS110 or AS500 or anything like that, and if it has a seven digit serial number or longer, by the thumb hook at the bottom bend of the instrument, then it is not made by Selmer Paris. Selmer Mark VI (6) serial numbers begin right around 55000 and stretch to right around 245000 for altos and tenors (Selmer Mark VI sopranos were made all the way into the 325000’s and beyond, as were sopraninos, basses, and baritones, but those make up a small amount of the overall Selmer production.)
- What ‘voice’ of Saxophone is it?You probably have an alto or a tenor. But to cover the bases, a Selmer soprano saxophone is a straight stick, and looks like a metal clarinet to a lot of people. An alto saxophone is the next in size and has a detatchable neck that has a single bend in it. An alto is about 24″ long. A tenor is the next size up. The neck has two bends in it and the instrument is about 32″ long. A baritone is really large. The instrument is around 44″ long. Most people know if they have a baritone.
- OK so if you have a Selmer Paris, and you know if it’s an alto or tenor, then what model is it? This page will help you identify it by the serial number. If you are not sure what model it is after checking the serial number, or it is a number on the border between models (there is overlap of models) then you can email me some photos at [email protected]to find out.
- The next thing affecting value is the finish. Is your vintage Selmer saxophone original finish or relacquered?Your Selmer Mark VI or Selmer Super Balanced Action, or Balanced Action or whatever, will be worth a lot more if it has the original finish than if it has been refinished. In general, relacquered instruments sell for around 40% less than original lacquer instruments, but this is only a rule of thumb. The more valuable the particular example would be if original, the more of a price deduction you get for it being relacquered. A totally mint original Selmer Balanced Action Baritone saxophone will easily sell for $15k at the moment, but a heavily relacquered example might struggle to sell for $5500. So in that case, that’s over 60% lower for being relacquered. My guides having to do with Selmer lacquer and engraving will help you to identify whether your Selmer has original lacquer, but you will likely still need an expert opinion in many cases. If your Selmer has ‘American engraving’ (see my Selmer lacquer guides) then it will probably sell 30% higher than the same saxophone with Euro engraving or no engraving, which is strange but true. Odds are that your Selmer saxophone has been relacquered, but if not, then lucky you! It’s worth more. The highest price examples that you see online are (usually) these very pristine original lacquer Selmer saxophones that are also still in very good physical condition as well.
- You also need to know that the value of your Selmer saxophone will depend not just on what model it is, but on when it was made. Our Selmer serial number chart is here.In general, the most desirable Selmer saxophone models are the Mark VI and the Super Balanced Action. Among these, the most desirable serial numbers tend to be from about #38000-99999, with values tapering lower as your get into the ‘six-digit’ serial numbers (100,000 and over). The earlier Super Balanced Actions are still valuable, but the value tends to go down as you get earlier than 38000 or so, depending on the particular features. We’re just trying to get the main points in this guide. By the time you get to the very end of the Selmer Mark VI run, in the mid 1970’s, the value has gone down quite a lot. For an original lacquer example 230,000 serial alto in good (not excellent) condition, with old pads, needing overhaul, you might only expect to pay $4500 from a dealer much of the time. A Selmer Mark VII (7) saxophone is the model after the Mark VI, and sells quite a bit lower – maybe $1000-1500 less than a late Mark VI in similar condition.
- Online asking prices are a difficult way to estimate the value of your Selmer, for three reasons. First, (a sort of surviver bias) the saxophones that are sitting on eBay or wherever online for sale, have often been there for years. Nobody is buying them. That’s why they’re still sitting there for sale. So they tend to be overpriced. Second, there’s a recent trend of people asking 2-5x what Selmer saxophones are actually worth, apparently hoping to rip off some unwitting buyer. This seems to be a pandemic-era trend. I guess with trillions of dollars of stimulus money washing around and people becoming crypto millionaires overnight, some saxophone sellers wanted to get a piece of the action. The prices of lots of collectibles, from baseball cards to classic cars, went up many fold during the past three years. But I haven’t seen evidence that this happened for saxophones. They’re mostly a niche market. Third, it is very hard to compare apples to apples when looking at Selmers currently for sale. You might not realize, for example, that your Selmer Mark VI alto would sell for more if it has a 140k serial, where a Selmer Mark VI tenor would not. There are dozens of factors influencing value that are hard to understand when selling, and that make it hard to ‘comparison shop’ a unique vintage saxophone.
- How do you price it online?One of your best tools for estimating value is probably searching eBay or Reverb SOLD listings. This lets you see actual sale prices of Selmer saxophones that have sold in the recent past. In the case of Reverb, you have to be signed into your account to filter by sold prices. In the case of eBay, it’s also under the filters menu, but there are two caveats. eBay only shows recent sales, and eBay also doesn’t tell you what ‘Best Offer’ listings actually sold for. I have often bought a Selmer saxophone with a lower best offer and then have seen the higher asking price appear to be the sale price when searching eBay sold listings. Of course, eBay takes 10% of the sale price, and paypal takes another 4%, so the take home from a $4500 sale on eBay is only $3870, and then eBay reports that sale to the IRS to be taxed as income (so you may lose another 30% in income tax!), thanks to a problematic law that just went into effect after being delayed a year.
- What condition is it in?If you have made it this far, then you are ready for one last big factor affecting your Selmer saxophone’s sale price. That is its overall condition. This is separate from the question about whether the finish is original, because many relacquered Selmers look better than many original lacquer Selmers. Condition can be divided into cosmetic and mechanical. You only need the big picture for the purposes of this guide.
- Cosmetic things to look for: Are there large areas where the saxophone is scratched? Are there small dings or large dents? Are the key guards bent? Is the neck dented, or does it have creases along the sides? Do you see lines in the lacquer from dent removal? Do you see wavy patches or cloudy areas from past dent work? All of these issues will affect the value of your Selmer. Some more than others. In general ‘honest wear’ from use is better and damage and signs of serious repairs is worse.
- Mechanical things to look for: Is the saxophone playable? Does it play easily, including low notes? If so, that’s a plus. Are the pads old or new? (Sometimes original pads are actually better than new pads value wise in pristine examples.) Do the keys move freely? If you wiggle the keys from side to side, do they move a lot? That’s a sign that the saxophone needs lots of mechanical work or that the body tube is bent or both. Is the thin metal tube of the saxophone perfectly straight, or does it have a bend? The usual place for a bend is just above the brace that connects the bell to the body tube. This can take some experience to spot.
- Should I fix it up?Don’t spend money fixing up your vintage Selmer for sale. In most cases, someone who loves vintage Selmer Balanced Action, or Super Balanced Action, or Mark VI saxophones will prefer to buy them in as original condition as possible. If you take your Selmer to a shop, they will often want to work on it. They are fun to work on, and some shops rarely see them. But the money you spend fixing up a horn for sale is basically just money down the drain. Or worse. Many times, I have seen nice, original Selmer Mark VI saxophones marred by bad repair work done to ‘fix up’ the horn for sale. Sometimes it can reduce the value by as much as $1000 or more! So don’t work on the horn.
- Should I clean it?Don’t Clean your Selmer to get it ready for sale. I just bought a vintage saxophone that someone tried to clean with Brasso, thinking he would ‘shine it up’ before selling it. Brasso, of course is a very abrasive cleaner that would mess up any finish. But also keep in mind – the brass on a saxophone is under a layer of fragile lacquer finish. So all the brasso did was put scratches in the lacquer. If you try to clean dirt off of lacquer using a Q-tip, you will just rub the dirt into the lacquer, also leaving tiny surface scratches all over the instrument. Don’t do that. If you must do something, you can use Lemon Pledge and a microfiber cloth, but you have to keep moving to a clean part of the cloth after each wipe. Better to skip it. Anyone who is a serious buyer can tell the instrument’s quality with the dirt still on the instrument and can then clean it correctly with the Selmer saxophone fully disassembled in the proper way.
Modern Selmer Paris Value Guide: (brief) Many people reading this will turn out to have a modern Selmer saxophone rather than vintage. A modern Selmer is usually considered anything after the Mark VII, so Super Action 80 series 1, Series II, or Series III, and also the Selmer Reference 36 and 54, as well as the new Supreme. If you have one of these modern Selmer models, then here are some considerations.
First, your saxophone probably needs a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, Selmer stopped doing very good factory pad work starting at least 30 years ago. They used thin pads with not enough adhesive behind them, and they clamped them tightly closed to make really deep seats in the leather pads. A pad wears out when its seat becomes so deep that it has no more ‘give’ to seal over the tone hole. And a pad leak is adjusted by heating the adhesive behind the pad until it ‘floats’ on the adhesive and can be repositioned to seal again. But when you start out with a pad that has a seat so deep that it has very little give left, and you also can’t float the pad because of too little adhesive, your only option is to replace the pad. But if you replace it while using the proper amount of adhesive, the pad sticks out farther than the other pads around it, and you end up having a cascading effect of needing to adjust everything.
A friend of mine calls this ‘Selmeritis’ and defines it as follows: ” Selmeritis: The condition on a new horn where thin pads have super deep seats and barely any adhesive behind them, with adjustment materials that are squeezed into compliance rather than chosen from the outset for their correct sizing.”
That said, these are good saxophones, but they basically all need a complete overhaul at this point to really play their best. That costs upwards of $1000 to do correctly on a modern Selmer, so that has to be factored into the sale price, unless yours happens to be overhauled aready or unless it had a really thorough new horn setup involving reseating all the sprung-open pads to make them work well long-term.
Second, modern Selmers tend to sell for moderate prices. If you search eBay completed listings, you’ll see what I mean. They’re still valuable, but you’re unlikely to get above $3500 for most modern Selmer altos, unless they are pristine or overhauled or both. If you have a Series II alto from the 90’s that needs an overhaul, it’s going to sell for quite a bit less than that. In general, nicely engraved ones sell better than unengraved ones. Regular lacquer sells better than black lacquer or that horrible matte finish that they did for a while. The Reference 36 tenors are great when overhauled, and a really good Series II alto is still hard to beat for classical playing.
OK happy selling!