The major reason why I wanted to undertake this project was to come up with a standardized classification system for determining a saxophone’s condition.


All classification systems, be they for saxophones, baseball cards, coins, or whatever, are somewhat subjective.  The very difficult part is to come up with a system that’s only somewhat subjective, as opposed to completely subjective.


The following system is definitely not as strict or exact as the classification systems for coins or stamps, which tend to have “quality breakdowns” for every kind of coin or stamp ever minted or printed (e.g. “VG-18 is defined on the Lincoln Cent by slight wear on the President’s right nostril …”).  I believe that system is a tad unwieldy and essentially requires you to go to an expert to have him tell you what the condition of your coins/stamps are in.  My classification system is closer to the Kelly Blue Book classification system for used cars (see, which bases value on mileage and condition (e.g. “A 1984 Pontiac Phoenix with 150,000 miles with some mechanical problems is worth …”).


Here’s what this system is based on:


* FINISH: While the horn’s finish generally does not impact a horn’s playability that much, it does affect the horn’s value significantly, and this is borne out by the data I’ve collected.


* DAMAGE/MISSING PARTS: Face it: most damage to a horn can be corrected, if you have a sufficiently skilled technician.  The real problems are when you have missing keys or, more commonly, a missing neck or keyguard.  While the keyguard generally does not affect the playability of the horn – that much – it seriously affects the collectability of horns like the Conn 28M, which had plastic keyguards.


A missing part automatically takes the horn down to the “1” classification, due to the price of replacement parts (e.g. finding a Martin Committee neck is virtually impossible without having one fabricated).


* PAD LIFE: If the horn doesn’t have good pads, you’re out a MINIMUM of $350 US on an alto.  That’s a significant percentage of the maximum value of most horns.  Additionally, some horns that have the incorrect pads (e.g. Bueschers that have had snap-in pads removed) are valued less than originals, sometimes two classification levels.

Here are my classifications, with on representative picture for each:


1.  Poor:

a.   Instrument in unplayable condition because of significant damage (e.g. major dents, body bent) or is missing parts OR

b.   Instrument completely intact, but has 60% or more finish wear and is unplayable because of bad pads/corks/springs.


2.  Fair:

a.   Instrument in playable condition, but is missing 40 to 50% of its finish or the finish is in bad condition; i.e. discolored, cracked or crazed


b.   Instrument in unplayable condition because of bad pads/corks/felts/springs, but has only 20 to 30% finish wear.


3.  Average:

a.   Instrument in playable condition and has normal finish wear for its age (20 to 30%).  Pads are in good condition and are all from the same set (i.e. no “mix and match” pads/resonators)


b.   Instrument has recently overhauled, but has 40 to 50% finish wear.


4.  Very good:

a.   Instrument in good playing condition with newer pads (replaced less than 5 years ago) and has very little finish wear (under 15%)


b.   Instrument recently overhauled, but has 10 to 20% finish wear.


5.  Mint:

Instrument in perfect playing condition (may have had a recent overhaul) AND has almost no finish wear (less than 5%).


NOTE: “Overhauled” means that the instrument has had all new pads, felts and corks added, in addition to minor dents beaten out and springs being replaced, if necessary.  The horn is then swedged and is in PERFECT playing shape, but nothing is really done for the finish, except for, perhaps, being dunked in a chemical cleaning solution (“dip”).




*    I rather like the “plus” and “minus” system.  For example, a “4+” could be a horn with 5% wear, but it’s had a key relacquered.  A “4-” could be a horn that’s been extensively overhauled, but has 25% finish wear.

*    Relacquering negatively affects value.  This is the point where playability should come in: if the horn was subjected to an all-chemical delacquer and then relacquered without buffing, AND this was done by a good woodwind repair tech, AND the horn plays in tune, isn’t stuffy, etc., you should just move the horn down a classification level, otherwise if the intonation’s shot, you can’t see the engraving and there are other problems, the horn could be valueless.

*    Replating positively affects value.  I’ve seen a number of horns that have non-original plating and were restored into better-than-new-looking, museum-quality horns.  Playability is not affected by replating, according to an informal survey I’ve done of over a half-dozen owners of replated horns.

*    There ain’t no such thing as a mint vintage horn, in the sense of a “mint” quarter, unless you jump in a time machine and get one from the factory on the day it was produced.  I have seen several “new old stock” horns in the past few years, i.e. horns that were in some music store’s basement and still in plastic or newspaper.  These horns almost ALWAYS require new pads, felts, corks and swedging.  There are some horns that are restored into better than new condition and may, logically, command more value than my “5” classification, but research has not borne this out.

*    Additional engraving or re-engraving generally doesn’t do that much to the value of a horn, except if you’re adding engraving to an original “Artist model” horn from the early part of the 20th century: these horns are sometimes one-of-a-kind works of art from Conn, Selmer, King, Buescher and others and were engraved by “master artisans”.  You don’t draw a toothy grin on the Mona Lisa and expect to add value to the painting.

*    Horns that have serial numbers on both the neck and the body are a little unusual.  If the horn is supposed to have matching serial numbers, but doesn’t, I have not seen these horns take a significant hit in value, provided the neck is from the same model.  There is a decrease in value, but sometimes by not more than a 1 or 2% of the overall asking price.