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Beyond Tenor and Alto for Beginners

Discussion in 'Saxophones' started by pete, Sep 25, 2016.

  1. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    You may have noticed I have a couple threads devoted to, "Here's a good beginner's alto or tenor you can actually buy for cheap." However, I haven't started a thread on other horns you can buy. Generally, this is because you're almost never going to have a beginner playing one. However, when I started playing sax in high school, I was almost immediately "promoted" into playing baritone. Slightly after that, I bought my own used bari. Right before college, I bought a brand new bari. So, I wanted to address getting horns that are from the higher and lower end of the saxophone family. For "beginners" this would mean Eb baritone and Bb soprano. Definitely nothing higher or lower. Maybe you'd be give a C melody tenor or C soprano to play around with, but it's rare that you'd use one in a group -- and, other than Vito's C tenor in the 60s and modern Chinese horns, the horns you'd get are from the early 1930s or earlier. In other words, none of these are even close to horns I'd want to recommend beginning players use.

    I think the best thing I can do for folks that want to play baritone is point them directly at KesslerMusic.com's Solist Low A bari. It's a good Chinese or Taiwanese copy of the Yanagisawa 901. It's $2395, which is a very decent price, and I'm 100% positive that you're going to get a working, good playing horn if you get one from Mr. Kessler. But what about used? Well, OK, you need to budget about $1000 for an overhaul. So, that's eight horns in eBay Buy-it-Now, right now. Let me list a few:

    HN White King Voll-True from 1930, range to low Bb: $1350. I don't care for the intonation on these and the keywork is rather challenging.
    (Relatively sure; check for "Made in Italy") Ditta Giglio Bundy from 1960s/1970s, range to low Bb: $1250. I really don't have to say much more than "former school music department horn."
    Armstrong (Conn 12M stencil) from 1970, range to low Bb: $800. Rough shape. Horn produced after all sax production moved to Nogales, so it may have some inherent quality issues.
    Conn 12M from 1966, range to low Bb: $589. Missing neck. Missing posts. I do think you could end up with a nice horn for around that $2400 mark, though.
    Selmer USA Bundy from 1977ish, range to low Bb: $595. Broken key, squished tone holes.
    King Tempo (Keilwerth New King Stencil), range to low Bb: $553. Missing 3/4 of the horn.

    I think you get the idea. Even looking at sold auction horns, you're not going to find a bari in any kind of decent shape. There's a Yanagisawa 880 (pro model from the 1980s) with no neck that went for $980. That one is worthy of an overhaul and a new ($330 or so) neck. I think that one might squeak under $2400 after all repairs and it'll be better than Kessler's, although it won't look quite as nice.

    There are two Keilwerth made Bundy horns on worldwidesax.com for $2399 and $1989, both with new pads. These are the same make/model as my first bari, so I know how good they are. They may be a tad better than that Kessler horn. Maybe you can talk to Kessler and WorldWideSax to trial (or have your instructor trial) these horns.


    Bb Soprano
    I think that one of the obvious questions is, "Considering the Bb soprano is so small, why don't people start school-age beginners on them?" Probably the biggest reason is because they require a lot of work if you want a controlled sound (I hear a lot of soprano players "lift" and bend notes, even when the music doesn't call for that) and they're a lot more difficult to play consistently in tune. A secondary, but still very good reason, is because any group you're in will probably not have more than one soprano sax player, unless you're playing in a large saxophone choir. I've seen a few groups that do have two soprano players, but most have only one or none. However, the soprano does have a versatile tone and I've had to use it to substitute for oboe, on occasion.

    Bb sopranos come in a zillion makes, models, and shapes. You're generally going to find them fully curved (looks like an alto sax) or straight (looks like a metal clarinet), and these may have straight or slightly bent necks. For me, personally, I have a problem playing straight sopranos because I tend to play them like clarinets. I'm a lot better on early 30s or earlier fully curved sopranos with alto-sax-style necks.

    The arguably best modern sopranos are from Yanagisawa. I was also kind of surprised that they can be fairly inexpensive, too. This Whitehall, a stencil of the Yanagisawa S-6 straight soprano from 1975, sold for $499. That's a professional horn that was in an auction, not a BIN. KesslerMusic.com again has their own line, ranging from $1469 to $649 for straight horns and $929 to $839 for curved. So, could I get a decent BIN soprano for less than $1469? Well,

    * Brief survey of sax dealers finds this nice little curved Martin stencil from the 1920s for $800. I think that, after all the repairs are done, it'll easily be under $1400.
    * There's an HN White King curvy from 1918 for $1250. Doesn't look like it'll need too much to get into good shape.

    ... and that's about it. If you want an inexpensive good soprano, you have to be lucky in an auction -- and I can't give you much more of a recommendation than "get a Yanagisawa."
  2. saxhound

    saxhound Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    PM Woodwinds has a nice selection of used baris. While many are above the $2400 range, there are a couple under that that look pretty good. The SML at the bottom of the page looks to be in great condition. Also, the Buescher 400 looks pretty good. The King Zephyr and Martin look a bit rough.

    The Conn 11M (low A) looks to be in decent shape, but the ones I have played (including 12Ms to low Bb) can have some wonky intonation issues. You really need to use a large chamber mouthpiece and a ton of air support to play in tune. I don't know enough about Conn serial numbers to tell if they are US or Mexican made. Also, IIRC, the 11M is just a 12M, with an extra bell piece added on instead of a re-design. Folks have reported that this tends to mute the sound a bit, which diminishes the distinctive Conn "bark" of the 12M.

    One thing about ordering from PM, is that you know that the horn will be very well set up. Paul has a great team, and he will go over every horn meticulously before sale. Of course, he can't do anything (other than good packing) to avoid shipping damage from the gorillas at UPS, Fedex, et al.
  3. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    You're right, saxhound. I didn't check them.

    That SML's got such a nice price ($2100) I immediately wonder what's wrong with it :). I feel pretty much the same on that Buescher 400 ($1995). For the 11M, the L prefix serials = 1968 and Conn didn't farm out their pro horns to Nogales, AZ until 1969, so not exactly a "Mexiconn." I've also heard about the low A being a bit of a problem because the extension to low A isn't conical, but cylindrical -- I'm also pretty sure I even saw an article in one of the Saxophone Journal issues, several years back, about pulling out the low A keywork, altogether, to create a better lower register. In any event, the 11M is more expensive ($2795) than Kessler's offering and it does look like it's had an awful lot of dent work. I'd MUCH rather grab that SML.
  4. JfW


    I got into Bari by hitting up Junkdude for a $350 Trutone over a dozen years ago.

    Needless to say it needed a ton of work (still does), but it plays.
  5. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    I still remember an SML Gold Medal tenor that looked like it had been submerged in a swamp for about 50 years that Junkdude had for sale. I even put an offer on it, because I thought I could play around with attempting to restore it as a new hobby. He declined :(

    Adjusted for inflation, my Keilwerth-made Bundy bari was slightly under $1700. My brand new YBS-52 was slightly under $3600 -- they sell for $5600 on wwbw.com, now ...

    The kinda round-about point I'm trying to make is that to get a baseline "decent" horn you're going to be paying $X. If you're talking alto or tenor, X is fairly low. If you're talking soprano or bari, X will be fairly high. There can be exceptions, but not with any degree of consistency.
  6. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Administrator Staff Member Administrator

    Unless you buy from us (Quinn the Eskimo) and they are much cheaper. but we sell them as fast as we get them in. I wonder how the Selmer USA bari sax we have for sale plays? I should wander down the warehouse and check it out. Now that's a great price.
  7. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    QTE doesn't have any Yamaha baris, ATM. At Brass & Winds, he was selling a used Yani B901 for $5169. I'd probably rather have that over the YBS-52. However, I probably could find cheaper prices for each. I generally use the WWBW website because I know they have most makes and models. One stop to get a price. And, of course, new is always going to be more than used.

    Anyhow, I'd still rather pay $100 more and get the SML. Pro vs. student, ya know :). One thing I can say is that, as a buyer, I've always appreciated the hundred-ish photos Quinn posts. You can pretty easily say, "Good pads. Not too much lacquer wear," after reading that Selmer USA bari ad. There are too many eBay ads where you have to guess.

    When I was in HS, and after I bought my first bari and kicked the junk horns into a corner, the school bought a Selmer USA to low Bb (which is, in turn, essentially the low A version of the Buescher 400 on the PM Woodwind website, and yes, I'd pay Quinn $4 more for a low A). They're not bad horns. I remember the low end being pretty decent. I then remember some idiot dropping it on the "pigtail" top ...
  8. JfW


    yeah me too, not knowing how they play just on sheer looks alone. The later "studentized" Bueschers may play above their station, at least tone-wise, but they sure aren't that pretty. The minimalist or utilitarian approach is hard to pull off on something as mechanically busy as a saxophone, IMO
  9. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    Hmmm... OK, I want to reply to these two instruments--baris and sopranos--in two different posts, because I treat these instruments very differently, and trying to find any good, used ones can be extremely challenging. Since I'm a bari player first and foremost, let's start with the big boys....

    A couple things as a preface, I would never recommend that one of my beginning students buy a bari sax. Ever... I would encourage them to stay on their alto, or tenor and get really proficient on that before spending lots of money on their own bari. Why? Well for a whole host of reasons actually. Now I should also state that this would depend on who the beginner is. If the beginner is a youthful player still in school, then for sure I would encourage them to stay on the smaller horn for longer. If, on the other hand, the beginning player is an adult, then I would give them all the following info, and let them make their own decision.

    Saxophone players, just like everyone else in the world, held hostage by of the economies of scale. Hence everything for baritones costs more, since fewer of said baritone items are made relative to alto or tenor items.

    Need reeds? Alto or tenor reeds costs less than bari reeds. Need a mouthpiece? MPs are considerably more expensive for baris than for altos or tenors. Need a stand? Expect to pay more as a bari player. Need a baritone sax? You will be pay more, not just because more brass goes into the horn itself, but because the companies produce less of them than they do altos and tenors.

    If a beginner--or intermediate player--really wants to get a baritone sax, what choices do they have? Since there are so few of these babies made in relation to altos and tenors, there are fewer of them around for resale. Furthermore, since they are big, they tend to get banged into things, thus are more likely than smaller horns to be in rough condition from a dent perspective. Also, because they are expensive, oftentimes players can't afford them, so schools and bands buy them for student/player use, and because they are used by students, these instruments have a very hard life. They might go years between overhauls--if they get them at all--and are often abused or even mistreated by students in a school setting.

    Bottom line: if you are looking for a good, used, intermediate or professional baritone, you have to take your time, and be prepared to be patient. It's easy to find a POS, but it's hard to find just the right horn for the right price. If you are prepared to buy a beater horn, as Pete mentioned above, you have to budget a MINIMUM of $1,000 for an overhaul. Likely extra if you want dent removal.

    In addition to the brands that have been mentioned in the thread thus far, I might add the following:

    • B&S Medusa (Hard to find, but when you do, they are excellent, and can often be found for a good price. But make sure it's the one with the high F# key, as the non-F# key models are really only dressed up versions of the intermediate Series 1000 model.)
    • Weltklang: they have a loyal following, and are worthy of a some research.
    • B&S blue label: they too have a loyal following and are worth a some research.
    • I think this has been mentioned, but not only the JK-made Bundy baris, but any of the countless stencils that JK made, like the one I listed below that 2nd Ending currently has for sale. (BTW, there were never any Bundy Special baris made, so don't let anyone tell you any differently. ;) )

    A quick search of eBay turned up the following possibilities:

    A YBS-52 for a current bid of $1,325 with 3 days left in auction
    A YBS-61 for $3750 BIN

    Junk Dude has an interesting relaq King Super 20 from the 1960s for $3,600

    2nd Ending in Oregon - the place I bought my lovely Hohner President alto from - has a JK-made King Tempo for $1775 (scroll to the bottom of the page thru the rest of the saxes to find it.)

    I could go on, but you get the picture. There aren't many, but there are a few.

    A couple of years ago I just happened into one when my tech had a Martin Committee III bari in on consignment. It was a one-owner horn that was in amazing condition. Nope, not a student horn. Silver plate with gold wash bell, and nickel plated keys. This was a custom order that was available from the factory back in the day. This horn from 1957, replaced my Mark VI as my main sax from the day I picked it up from my tech's after its overhaul. The total cost to me after overhaul: <$2,000 Cdn.

    The point to this story? Sometimes horns turn up when you're not looking, or turn up in places where you least expect them to. Check with your tech. He/she might have a lead on a horn for you as well.
  10. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Baritones currently on eBay under $2400 ...

    $1999 - 1932 Buescher, low Bb. Professional. Looks like it was refinished (poorly) at some point. Currently nickel plate.
    $1955 - "1950s" Geo. M. Bundy (Conn stencil, maybe), Low Bb. Intermediate-ish. Looks like it's been used for batting practice. Which sport? Doesn't matter.
    $1500 - 1930s Buescher Aristocrat "Big B," low Bb. Professional. Overhauled and relacquered.
    $1400 - 1976 Selmer Bundy, low Bb. Student. Not too bad.
    $1350 - 1929/30 King Voll-True, low Bb. Professional. Some of that rust looks really bad. I dislike the intonation on these, anyhow.
    $1295 w/$1695 buy-it-now - Armstrong (Conn 12M stencil), low Bb. Professional-ish. Looks like OK pads. Lots of dent work done.
    $1250 - 1970s Selmer Bundy, low Bb. Student. Not too bad.
    $1050 - 1930/31 Martin Handcraft Troubadour, low Bb. Professional. No pads. No neck. Bad rust. (FWIW, this is an extremely uncommon Martin model, but it's going to cost a lot to fix.)
    $700 w/ $995 buy-it-now - 1951 Buescher Aristocrat "Big B," low Bb. Professional. Incorrect neck, otherwise maybe 6/10 cosmetically. Lacquer actually looks pretty good for this make/model horn.
    $549.50 - 1976/77 Selmer Bundy, low Bb. Student. New neck. Damaged tone holes. Broken key. Needs a lot of work.

    Worldwidesax.com has 4 horns under $2400, two of which are Keilwerth-made Bundys, so I can definitely recommend.
    pmwoodwind.com has 4 horns under $2400, my favorite of which is that SML I mentioned above.
    GetASax.com has a rather unique Selmer Modele 22 for $2250, but it needs an overhaul -- it doesn't have pads -- and a keyguard fabricated for it.
    JunkDude.com has no baritones for sale.
    USAHorn.com has a 1980 Bundy for $800, but it needs a lot of work.
    saxquest.com doesn't have any horns under $2400.
    TenorMadness.com doesn't have any horns under $2400.
    VintageSax.com doesn't list prices for any baritones.

    I think that's thorough enough :). Out of this entire round-up, I'm still most interested in the pmwoodwind SML. In second place, that $995 Buescher with the incorrect neck might be a really decent horn with $1400 thrown at it. Maybe add a Gloger Handkraft solid silver neck for $500.

    EDIT, because Helen posted while I was composing this, I think that King Tempo would be my #3 choice.
  11. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Administrator Staff Member Administrator

    I also like to recommend to musicians to ping their family tree. I can't count how many friends did so and discovered relatives with superb instruments that were now living in a closet. YMMV.
  12. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    My wife was really interested in me giving an opinion on her father's old horn. It was an old student horn ...

    I have a second cousin that used to be a school band director. I got several old non-woodwinds from him when I lived in New York.
  13. JfW


    The Shipping on that YBS-52 is a hundred dollars too high and there is no case for the thing, so add another couple hundred. However, all in all it's not such a bad deal.

    Vito VSPs are seem like they are still the way to go for the best deals overall....
  14. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    That's a definite maybe :D.

    The Vito VSP is a Yanagisawa with a different name on the bell. From 1997-ish to today it's the B901. It was probably the B900 from 1990 to 1997. From 1967 to 1990, it was the B6. I've played three different Vito Yanagisawa baris that were all probably B6s. They all looked 95% like a Selmer Mark VI, but played 5% like one. I liked my Keilwerth Bundy much better and my YBS-52 a billion times better. However, I can say that Yani had an awful lot of variation in their bari design, even within a single year, and the B6 was available for over 20 years, which is a really long time for a model to be around. It is possible that the horns I played, which were from the late 60s or early 70s, were all just a bad batch or something.

    Anyhow, it's a bit of a moot point. There's only one on eBay and it's way too expensive, at $3850 -- and it's an auction.

    I noticed I didn't highlight it here, but on the other couple threads I made for alto and tenor beginner horns: I try not to list straight auctions. (We don't really have a highlight BBCode, so changing font color will do.) I try to list only Buy-it-Now posts. While this thread really isn't for beginners (which I'll highlight again), for the beginners, I wanted to be able to say, "You can buy this now at $X," rather than, "This will probably sell for $X." I suppose I could do that, but I don't want to spend that much time on it :). In any case, my idea in this thread was to see if I could find some used baris that could be made into decent horns for a total outlay of cash under $2400.

    Wrapping it up a different way,
    * I think that SML at $2100 is the best overall horn, out of this entire list, for the price.
    * The Keilwerth Bundy I could actually see at WorldWideSax would definitely be a pick. I don't know about the one I can't see, but it's a lot cheaper. I think the low A one, at $2599, isn't bad. Again, I know this make/model very well: I owned one (low Bb)!
    * By extension, I think the King Tempo might be a very good buy. I have a small concern that it's a relacquer. Completely overhauled, though, so that might make up for it. I'd ask to trial.
    * I think the Buescher 400 at PMWoodwind is decently priced at $1995. I'd at least trial it.
    * I think the eBay Bundy for $1250 is a really good price. Again, I know the late Selmer USA bari relatively well. They have a pretty big sound.

    After a whole lot of work,
    * I think the Buescher Big B Aristocrat I mentioned in my last post really could be turned into a good horn for under $2400.
    * I think the Conn 12M over at PMWoodwind for $1250 could also be turned into a really good horn for under $2400.

    I will mention that the only Conn bari I played for any length of time was a New Wonder. I really didn't like it, but I've not played a newer Conn bari. I have played a late Buescher True Tone bari and really liked the tone. I'm fairly sure a Big B would sound as good.

    I think the other horns listed here are a bit too beat up for their prices.
  15. I've owned only two baris, a Buescher 400 and a Vito VSP (B901). The Vito was far, far superior to the Buescher in keywork and response. I'd rate them a toss-up in sound.
  16. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    That actually sounds about right, from what I know of the B901. It's comparing an entry pro model with essentially a student model. The 400 bari was a Selmer USA product -- i.e. built after Selmer USA purchased Buescher after 1963/4 -- there were no "Top Hat & Cane" baris.

    Other than getting into a debate about tone, the only real problem with the Selmer USA/Bundy horns I've played, minus my wife's Omega alto, is that the keywork was very tight. Probably something that a tech could adjust for me, tho.
  17. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    A found a few random sopranos under $1000, buy-it-now, on eBay this week. However, the only one I'll point out is this Kessler Custom curved soprano for $499. I like the price. I like that you can get a 6 month warranty for an extra $17.48. I like that the seller has 100% positive feedback with 2993 sales.
  18. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

  19. JfW


    It is missing the neck.

    I wonder how much interest things like that actually get.
  20. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Yup; the ad is now modified to say "no neck" and it's $399, too. I'm going to say that it was affected by my posting, alone. Oh, the power!

    Anyhow, I did mention in an earlier post that a really high-end custom neck is $500 and that's solid silver. A copper one's all of $350. That really isn't that bad. Again, I'd want a bunch more pics to confirm that there's no nasty damage, but you'd still have almost $1650 to spend on refurbishing the horn.

    It does come down to having a specific amount of cash in mind for the entire project, having a realistic idea of how much the project would cost, and budgeting for the time. How many folks jump onto eBay with that in mind is a completely different discussion :).

    I'd *really* like to play one of the Kessler horns, even for just the little bit that I'm able before my head asplodes to have some idea how good those are. Positive reviews are one thing, trying for yourself is another :D.
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