Buying used alto saxophones can be the least expensive way to get a good saxophone. Professional level horns cost from $6000 to $10,000, but can be purchased for much less when bought used. Of course, you won't get the secure feeling that the instrument is ready to play without being serviced by a repairman. In fact, the used sax might need to be serviced to be ready to play.
Another down side is that the finish might not be perfect. Of course, this won't affect the sound that much, but it might affect the player's attitude toward the instrument, particularly if it is a beginner. Still, a new cheap horn, regardless of how shiny it might be, can be a nightmare to learn to play. Some new horns that can be purchased for under $300 are reported to be impossible to even play decently.
Some of the things to look for in used alto saxophones are dents and places where the instrument has been resoldered. Also check the pads to make sure they are soft and full, not hard and shrunken. They can be replaced, but saxophone repair is not cheap, and some jobs are quite challenging to do yourself.
A good tip for buying used saxophones is to have a knowledgeable sax player with you to help you evaluate the saxophone in question. If you play the sax yourself, great. Try it out and see how well it plays. If you don't know how to play, it can help greatly to have someone with you who can try out the saxophone.
One thing to keep in mind when looking at used alto saxophones is that sometimes replacing the mouthpiece with a different type can make a big difference in the sound and playability of the saxophone. If the mouthpiece seems old, that's even more reason to replace it.
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