Lisa Simpson would know exactly what to do!
May 5, 2010 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Help me better negotiate in the sale of a saxophone with surprising worth.

My parents bought me a saxophone when I was in middle school from a very nice church lady. It was kind of old and needed a little bit of tlc, but it was in pretty good shape. I honked on it occasionally for several years, but I'm a flute player and it really screwed up my embouchure if I played it too much.

I take it out every now and then and look it over, and think about how maybe I'll play it someday.

When the band director's husband saw it in high school he offered me a cool $1500 for it. I was shocked!

Well, it turns out it is a Selmer Mark VI alto saxophone with a serial number that dates it to 1962. This type of instrument can sell for anything between $4-13,000.

I don't need to keep this horn out of circulation and I could use the money (for a car or a nicer flute!). So I made some preliminary inquiries today. One place offered me $1500 by email without even seeing the instrument. The other place offered to look at it, but the guy had a hard time composing himself while talking to me. He was clearly very excited that this instrument had landed in his lap.

I need suggestions for negotiating this sale that will get me the best price, but the trick is that I don't actually know what this specific horn is worth. Research suggestions, how to handle offers/bids, and general negotiation tactics all welcome.
posted by greekphilosophy to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Looking at completed listings on ebay(login required) for similar instruments will give you a ballpark idea of the real-world value, and you might consider selling it there too since an individual end user will presumably be willing to pay a lot more than a dealer.
posted by contraption at 10:58 AM on May 5, 2010

Negotiation will be substantially aided by you knowing as much as there is to know about your saxophone, so you could consider getting it formally appraised. This will provide you with a disinterested opinion on its condition and value, which (a) increases your knowledge; and (b) gives you a 3rd-party estimation of its value. Investing a few (or a few hundred) dollars in an appraisal could be worth it if it net you thousands more upon sale. You can go to a local dealer, or look online.
posted by googly at 11:03 AM on May 5, 2010

Best answer: Oh snap.

Well, first off, the value of a mark VI varies widely depending not only on the year but on the specific horn. There is a bit of urban myth surrounding the Mark VI. Lots of people will try to tell you that Mark VIs made in whatever year are the best, Mark VIs in this other year are terrible, etc etc. There is a little truth in that only insofar as the older Mark VIs (50's-early 60's) tend to be better made horns and will always go for more than horns made in the later 60's or early 70's. So, '62 is a good year - doesn't mean it's worth 13K, but it's definitely worth more than $1,500.

The short answer to your question is this: your specific horn is worth whatever someone will pay you for it. If you're selling it to a player, they will be more picky about the specifics of your horn then a dealer just trying to get his hands on a Mark VI will- but you'll probably get more $ selling directly to a player who wants the horn.

As a sax player myself, I wouldn't balk at a 4-6K price tag for the horn. That's pretty standard for a Mark VI from an early-ish year. Because the economy sucks, it might not be the best time to sell unless you really need the money. The horn won't go down in value, and if you wait a year or two for the market to pick up, you could probably get closer to the 6K - maybe even 7K, range.

Call Selmer and see if you can get any more info on the horn's history. Then, find an excellent sax repair person (where are you? If you're in New York, I can recommend the best if you memail me) to look over the horn and make sure everything is in working order and tell you what adjustments and whatnot have been made to the horn. Have them play it and tell you how the action is, how the sound is, etc. This will also greatly affect how much you'll get for the horn - for example, if the horn has been refinished and doesn't have the original lacquer, the value will be significantly less.

After you've got all that info you'll know a bit better where in the price range your specific horn falls. Then I suggest just going the ebay route and seeing if you get a bite (put a decent reserve on it). Or if you're in NYC or another decent sized city, you could even post something to craigslist and see what kind of response you get.

Feel free to memail if you have other questions, you lucky bastard :)
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:10 AM on May 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks Lutoslawski! Churchlady sold it to us for $200, so if I get more than that I'm doing fine.

I'm in Houston, and I've called a couple of places to check to see what they say. The instrument guy at the closest shop was the one who offered to take a look at it. And he also thinks he's got a pretty direct line to some serious purchasers - his sax teacher plays for the Houston Symphony. But if anyone "knows a guy" I'm happy to make contact.

There is a Mark VI on the local Craigslist for $2800, so that's another little local-economy-datapoint to put out there.

How much would refinishing reduce its value by? (I don't know that it was refinished for certain, but that seems possible under the care of a churchlady who clearly didn't know any better.) It has a couple of little things that need to get fixed (the neckpiece cork needs replacing, the low C key leaks a little). But the pads are all in good condition. And the action is good. But of course, I'm sure it could use a tuneup.
posted by greekphilosophy at 11:25 AM on May 5, 2010

You may also consider finding an appraiser to get you a certified appraisal for selling the sax, especially if it's in good condition. The website Sax Gourmet has this to say about that model:
MARK VI 53201 - 236000
Of course, this is The Big Daddy Rabbit With the Fuzzy Tongue. Nothing else is quite like it. Longest production run in Selmer history. Lots of minor variations along the line: necks; engraving; side key attachment etc., but even the worst of them is not bad. I’ve always thought that horns without the optional high F# key played a little better. There seems to be more demand for the "five digit" horns, and some snobs reject the higher numbered examples. More than with any other model, condition is everything. Silver plate commands a 20% premium; gold a 30% premium. It’s important that the serial numbers on the neck match the body. Sopranino, soprano, baritone, and bass Mk VI’s were made until the introduction of the Super 80 series. Horns made for the European market are often unengraved, and lacquered examples may have silver plated keywork.

Sopranino $3000
Soprano $3000
Alto $ 6100
Alto Low A $ 5000
Tenor $ 7000
Baritone Bb $7000
Baritone low A $7200
posted by disillusioned at 11:28 AM on May 5, 2010

Best answer: I don't know anyone in Houston, but sounds like a connection to the Houston Symphony will be your best bet in terms of getting leads. And Houston is a big enough city that you should be able to find someone reputable to get an appraisal from and whatnot.

How much a refinish would deplete its value is hard to say. Again, it really depends on the buyer. There are players out there who religiously believe in *not* cleaning their horn just to wear the lacquer because they think it enhances the sound. Perhaps it does, but there's a certain amount of superstition and whatnot going on. Does the finish on the horn look relatively shiny and new? Or does it have that dull-ish, faded look? Is the lacquer worn off at all in some places? (not a bad thing). Do the engravings look original and in tact? Or do they look a little shallow as if another layer of lacquer was added at some point? Again, a refinish wouldn't make your horn worthless or anything - not even close - but it would have an affect. When it comes to a Mark VI, the serial number and whether or not its been overhauled are about the two biggest factors when determining the value.

Neckpiece recorcking and fixing a leaky key is just standard tune-up stuff. Neckpiece corks need replacing every few years. My guess is that it could probably use some new pads as well, as pads generally need replaced - depending on how much play the horn gets - once or twice a decade, depending on the pads. These little repairs are just basic upkeep, so they won't have any affect on the value, and you don't even need to do them before you sell if you don't want. They're cheap fixes.

The Mark VI for $2800 doesn't surprise me, for a couple reasons. First, it might be from a slightly later year, like post '65. Also, Houston is perhaps not the most happening jazz town, so the same horn might go for quite a bit more in NYC or Oakland or somewhere (not to slight the classical saxophonists among us - all 3 of us - but my guess is that if someone is going to buy your horn it will either be a jazz player who will cherish it or some collector who wants it for coolness). But the biggest factor in the low price point for that horn is probably just the economy. When the economy sucks, musical instrument sales are one of the first things to drop and one of the last to recover (have you seen the kind of deals you can get on pianos these days?). So like I said before, you can probably find a buyer and get a pretty good price right now - in the 3K range (I would *not* take less than that) - or hold out for a couple years and get a little more. The advantage you have is that there is a limited number of Mark VIs in the world and they aren't becoming worse horns. A Mark VI is like a good bottle of wine - age only enhances the flavor.

Take it to the shop and have the repair guy take a look. Ask him to put you in contact with his sax teacher. Get a second opinion on the appraisal. You can't have too much info on the horn, and any serious purchaser will want to know as much as is possible to find out. A Mark VI is a lifetime investment for a serious sax player. If they know it's a good horn with a solid history, they'll pay for it.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:48 AM on May 5, 2010

As a sax player myself, I wouldn't balk at a 4-6K price tag for the horn.

As a former alto player myself, this sounds right to me too. I was thinking $4K when you said Selmer Mark VI.
posted by dubitable at 11:52 AM on May 5, 2010

Um, you're doing it wrong if it screws with a flute embouchure but that's neither here nor there. (I play both, on an accomplished amateur level -- which is to say that I play sax and flute in public; the sax/flute double is fairly common among HS and college band members; and two of the four other sax players in the community band also play flute.)

It's highly unlikely that a 1962 Mark VI that's been in private hands for 45+ years has been refinished -- refinishing is expensive, and usually is only done for cosmetic reasons by people who don't know any better. A 1962 Mark VI is more likely to be a good horn than a 1973 Mark VI, but so much depends on how it's been cared for and stored. Unfortunately, the only way to determine whether this is a good Mark VI or not is for someone who knows saxes to play it.

It's worth what you can get somebody to pay for it. If it's in good shape mechanically (pads and corks are trivial to replace), $4-6K is not unreasonable.
posted by jlkr at 1:40 PM on May 5, 2010

And it is only worth about 1/2 that to a dealer...
posted by Gungho at 1:50 PM on May 5, 2010

Response by poster: Okay, so the sight-unseen immediate $1500 offer is about right for what a dealer would offer, expecting that they could make twice that by cleaning it up and selling it to someone directly. That's good to know in terms of negotiating. What do I say to that, if anything at all? "Sorry, that's not in the price range I was anticipating." Do I even dignify an offer like that with a response?
posted by greekphilosophy at 2:07 PM on May 5, 2010

Best answer: Okay, so the sight-unseen immediate $1500 offer is about right for what a dealer would offer

You don't know this. It's a plausible number, not the right number.

I'm not a musician, but I would think that basic pricing and negotiating principles would apply. You find out what it's worth by getting offers from multiple potential buyers. Each buyer should know that you're getting offers from others, but they shouldn't know the specific amounts you've been offered by others, for fairly obvious reasons -- if you tell buyer Y that buyer X offered you $1500, then buyer Y will offer $1500.01, even if the horn is worth three times that much. Tell these buyers that you're taking a few offers to see what it's worth. You can tell a buyer that their offer is lower, even much lower, than other offers you've gotten, but don't get more specific that that. Don't tell them who else you've gotten prices from, either.

To get the best price, you'll have to shop it around, in person. There's no shortcut.
posted by jon1270 at 2:23 PM on May 5, 2010

Also, don't let any potential buyer create a false sense of urgency. You may hear something like, "I can give you $XX if you sell it to me right now, but I can't promise that much tomorrow. Tomorrow may be too late." The explanation might be that they have a buyer lined up today, but the opportunity will pass. Don't believe it. They aren't offering more today than they will tomorrow; they're trying to prevent you from getting other offers. As noted upthread, this thing is not declining in value. Time is not of the essence.
posted by jon1270 at 2:52 PM on May 5, 2010

My husband is a sax player and has a mark VI as well. He says don't refinish it! Some players particularly like the redder hue to older mark VI's and even if the lacquer is coming off - that has a nice/desireable look to it as well. Regardless of the look of the finish, refinishing definitely effects the tone of the horn. If the buyer wants to refinish the horn, let him/her do it, but it shouldn't really effect the sale price.
posted by dog food sugar at 5:49 PM on May 5, 2010

if you do sell it on ebay, make sure you ship it in a GOOD case. not the bullshit one that got dropped off the bleachers at marching band practice, etc. and insure it. and so forth.

i always wanted a selmer mark vi when i was an aspiring musician (too bad all they want is jazz sax and never classical sax, which is what i liked). jealous. i want to touch it.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:44 PM on May 5, 2010

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