What to Look for When Buying a Used Saxophone

When you decide to buy a musical instrument, you have the choice between a new and a used instrument.  For some, this is a no-brainer; they want to buy a new instrument so it is “theirs” and allows them to get to know the instrument and strike up a partnership with it.


At the same time, some people prefer to buy used and old instruments. Who are these people? Well, they might be experienced sax players that want to get their hands on a particular model of instrument, or they could also be new players who can pick up a used sax at a fraction of the price of a new one.

However, it isn’t as easy as simply making the choice between new and old. Here’s what you should be looking out for.

What Condition is the Sax In?

Generally, someone looking to sell any instrument, let alone a sax, will have taken the time to make it look great. At the same time, there’ll be plenty of signs that something might be amiss. The general condition of the sax will tell you a lot. Using polish and shine isn’t going to fix bumps and scrapes to any great degree, and you’ll usually be able to tell if someone has tried to hide something like this (as it often makes them look worse).

You can also spot where any repairs have been carried out, as the lacquer finish on the sax will be distorted, and almost look like a stain. If it’s been fixed, you might not have a massive issue with the instrument, but it probably tells you something will be wrong elsewhere.

The seller might proudly tell you a sax has been relacquered, too. Great, but this could be a sign that the sax has suffered from wide damage and this has been done to try and make it look new.

The Body of the Sax

The body is where you’ll find the most obvious signs of any wear and tear and is the best place to look before you start going into detail observing the keys and mouthpiece area.

What is acceptable?

Some small dents or scratches aren’t an issue, especially if the seller is telling you they’ve had it and played it for years. These won’t have a detrimental effect on the sound of your sax – and the seller will probably know this – but you should still use this as a vehicle for getting the price down.

Sax Rods and Pads

These are easy to look at for damage. All you really need to look for are rust on the rods – there shouldn’t be any – while you want the pads to cover the holes completely so that you can play the note you want rather than getting some obscure sound. Look out for the pads having resonators on them, too. A new sax will have these, but if the pads have been replaced pads without resonators may have been used, as they can be significantly cheaper.

The Neck of the Sax

This is the final part of the sax you should observe if you’re happy with the body, rods, and pads, and there is nothing standing out making it obvious you shouldn’t buy it.

The neck is an area where you shouldn’t accept any bumps or scrapes – even small ones – and the biggest issue is likely to be that it has been “pulled down,” when players put the neck into the horn before applying the mouthpiece.

An easy way to check this is to look for a serial number on the neck, and that it matches the one for the horn, while a different lacquer finish or colour are other obvious signs something is amiss. Bear in mind that a replaced or repaired neck doesn’t have to mean the end of your purchase, but you should make yourself happy with the sound and try to negotiate a reduction before making a purchase.

Buying a Used Sax

Use this guide to help you identify whether you should buy a sax if you’re shopping for a used instrument, and ensure you ask questions of the seller at every stage whenever you need to.

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