Buying a saxophone is a major investment, one that will require you to make many decision about small details. Deciding between the different types of saxophones is a daunting enough task, but you'll also have to consider whether you'll buy new or used, figure out when a saxophone is in good/bad condition, and investigate where and where not to buy your instrument.
Different Types of Saxophones
You, as a shopper, have more options than you might have thought. Here are ways to approach the decision-making process and find the best horn for your buck.
* '''Newspapers''': Some of the best deals on used saxophones can be found in classified ads listings. However, you won't be the only one who knows this, so it's a good idea to get in contact with the seller(s) before falling in love with a saxophone and taking time out of your day to check it out, only to find that it's been sold or that it's not in the condition in which it was described. Also, there will be sellers who have very little experience with the instrument in question--or with saxophones in general--so it's up to you to get the information out of them. Saxophone.org gives you a sample of how to handle a phone conversation with a seller who knows very little about the instrument.
* '''Music Stores''': Aside from the occasional pushiness of sales people, music stores can be the friendliest places to shop. They also serve as one of the only ways you can get your hands on a sax and play it before you commit to buying it. Shops can be dangerous for uninformed buyers, though, as the salespeople are incentivized to sell, and you might be pressured into buying something you're not in love with. Bringing along an expert or your teacher might prevent you from making a poor choice or paying too much.
* '''The Internet''': The internet presents shoppers with a well-organized, streamlined way of seeing hundreds of saxophones without leaving home. Specialty stores are geared at giving you a reliable source at which to buy a quality instrument, but they tend to be a bit pricey. There are cheaper options, of course; however, these tend to be a little tougher to gauge. Being that you can't get your hands on the actual item until you've paid for it and it finally shows up on your doorstep, it's easy to be taken advantage of. Independent sellers and auction houses can be the hardest places to buy a sax, but if you've convinced yourself that this is the way to go, don't be afraid to ask questions. It's ''your'' money, and it's up to you to decide how you want to spend it, so make the seller tell you everything you want to know. The bottom line? Be careful!
New vs. Used
There will never be a clear cut answer as to whether to buy your saxophone new or used. Obviously, there are benefits and downfalls to both sides. Buying a new sax guarantees that it's ready to play and has no previous wear and tear: all the pads will be brand new, and overall, a new sax can be played right out of the case. However, due to mass production, faulty instruments are now more likely to leave the factories than ever before, so you must be vigilant.
Older used saxes are usually laden with lots of engraving and other frills that cannot be found on new versions. They are also more likely to be plated instead of lacquered, and have much stiffer brass. Used saxes are also easier to find, whether through eBay or other independent sellers.
A certain mystique surrounds used horns. The lacquer may have worn off years ago fro constant performances in a swing band in the 40s, or you might find a dent or two from knocking into a stand at the Birdland. More often than not, the history behind saxes is lost, but it doesn't mean that they aren't fascinating historical specimens, and you can can daydream about this for the rest of your life.
Buying used presents a few problems, though. For one, dealers (especially those on eBay or other online auction sites) may withhold information about defects that keep the sax from playing. Unfortunately, there are also dealers who sell stolen saxes. You can usually tell when a saxophone is stolen when the serial number has been filed off or if the case has the name of a school spray painted onto it.
Here are a few more warning signs:
* Unrealistically low price for condition and model (especially Selmer!).
* Strange behavior by the selling party.
* Someone who is not a player selling a pro horn that looks to be recently played.
* Someone who knows nothing about saxophones or the sax he or she has.
* Someone who will only show the sax outside of his or her home or business.
* Someone who is too anxious to sell the horn.
If you come across a Selmer Mark VI tenor (typically $5000 for used) for $50, please resist the urge. You'll only get ripped off.