Saxophone/Value of Used Alto Sax
I'm in possession of a used 1926-27 Buescher True Tone Alto Sax that desperately needs to be cleaned, at the very least. I am not a musician of any sort and know nothing of this market. I'd like to sell but don't want to be taken advantage of and need a bit of guidance. Any information you may be able to offer would be helpful.
Thanks for the question. From what I can see that looks like a beautiful example of a Buescher TrueTone. The Buescher company was started just after the turn of the 20th century. It is believed the very first saxophone ever produced in the United States was designed by Gus Buescher, however at that time he was working for the Conn musical instrument company. Due to a bitter disagreement between himself and Charles G Conn, Gus Buescher left the Conn company and started his own. At that time some of the marketing techniques between the two companies became down right nasty even to the point of defacing each others products.
The Truetone model was Bueschers "meat & potatoes" saxophone of this time period. By that I mean they produced more of these than any other. Also the time between the early 1920 through the 30's, is what we affectionately refer to as the "sax craze" as Jazz was the popular music of the time and the saxophone was as popular if not more so than the electric guitar is now. The result was the manufactures were selling saxophones faster than they could get them out of the factory. This in turn resulted in 100's of thousands of examples of saxophones flooding the market. Consider that the Buescher company started in 1905 and according to your saxophones serial number, they had manufactured over 210,000 instruments in 20 some odd years. To put this into perspective, the Selmer Company located in Paris France started manufacturing saxophones in 1922, but did not manufacture its 200,000 instrument until the early 1970's. So with that being said means the TrueTone saxophones although old are still very common. We see them show up in all types of odd places like pawn shops, garage sales, attics, grandpa's closet, etc, etc...
When these horns are found they are usually in really bad shape and have been neglected and need some costly repairs to get them back to playing condition. I've had many examples come into my store and I really enjoy working on them as they present a few challenges compared to a modern saxophone. I did a restoration on a tenor about 2 years ago that sold for just under $1500. However based on the limited details I can see I don't think your saxophone needs much work to get it playing.... Here is what I recommend you do first...
1) DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CLEAN IT!!!!!
Many well meaning people will think a clean and pretty saxophone is going to be worth more than a dirty one. Believe it or the exact opposite is true. If you want to have a horn this old cleaned, it needs to be taken to a qualified technician. I've seen many well meaning but misinformed people put all types of chemicals and cleaning compounds on saxophones and they usually do more harm than good as the finish can be accidently removed, the rods, screws, and springs that allow the keys to move get gummed up and sometimes frozen. The pads (leather pieces that seal the tone holes) can be damaged, etc, etc. So the best thing to do is to put it in the hand of a professional technician who has had experience with vintage saxophones that can evaluate it and decide on the proper course of action. Based on the little detail I can see this horn appears to be in good shape. It looks like some of the pads have been replaced recently as have some of the felts. But I can't see much more than that. Also there are some areas where the silver plate has worn off. This is normal wear and tear and has little impact on the value. Finding one of these in factory or museum quality is practically impossible. So a few blemishes are to be expected. After 90 years this horn looks great.
2) Send me more photos... PLEASE!
As far as determining and giving a value to this instrument unfortunately you didn't really give me enough detail in the photos. Here is what I really need to see...
The key clusters for both the right and left hands as well as the table keys for the left hand pinkies. The table keys are the keys that operate the 3 large pads on the bell. if you open and close these pads, look for the keys that move. They will be located on the left side of the horn when held in playing position about halfway down the tube. it is a cluster of 4 keys. The top one may be round or rectangular.
A good photo of the pads and resonators. (This is very important) These can be difficult to see as you have to get the horn at just the right angle to see under the pads. You may need to set your camera to macro mode to get in close and focus. If any resonators are different than please show that.
Here is why the resonator is so important... The resonator is the metal or plastic disk located in the center of the pad. Keep in mind in the 1920's plastics did not exist. The resonators on these old horns should be metal and should be original. I've seen many well meaning but under qualified technicians use the wrong type of pads and resonators on the Buescher saxophones. Mr. Buescher liked to do things his own way. Other than the basic shape of the saxophone his models shared little in terms of design and there was a ton of innovations several of which have been incorporated into modern designs. However one of the things Buescher saxophones did that was unique was to create a "snap in pad". These pads had a metal resonator in the center that could be pried out with a pocket knife or a flat piece of metal. The idea was a new pad could be simply put back in and the resonator snapped back in place and all was good to go. However in practice this was not so simple because if the key was bent or damaged simply replacing the pad required a technician's tools and expertise. All other manufactures, even to this day, use a glue in pad that requires the pad cup to be heated to melt the glue and then the pad is removed and a new one is glued back in. There are many advantages here as the glue itself acts as a bed to "float" the pad and allow it a little flexibility during the installation. This is to adjust for tone holes and keys that may not be perfectly aligned and level. The Bueschers saxophones did not allow for this and working on them can be quite difficult.
The way many techs get around this today if they are under qualified and not familiar with the snap in pads, is to grind out the suds that allow the resonators to "snap in" then they can use what ever glue in type pad they are most comfortable with. However when this happens it greatly reduces the value of the saxophone as the real players and collectors want them to be as original as possible.
Take photos of any other noticeable defects as well. You can send the photos to my e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
3) Take it to a qualified technician!
As you are in North Carolina you are close to the largest saxophone repair shop in the world. MusicMedic is located in Wilmington, NC. However you could drive right past their shop and never know it was there. They don't rely on walk in customers but rather word of mouth and the internet. They specialize in the repair and restoration of saxophones from all vintages. However they are not cheep. Having them work on a horn like this would exceed its value. If you are planning on playing this horn or keeping it as a collector it may be worth it to you. However if you are close by, you could give them a call and they would be more than happy to look it over and evaluate it for you.
In addition there are many other qualified techs in your area. I don't know exactly where you are in NC, but I'm located in Covington, GA about 40 miles east of Atlanta. If you're in the western part of NC than you could be a short drive from me. I would love the opportunity to take a look at this and see what I can do with it. If either one of these options is good, go to www.napbirt.org. (National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians) do a tech search for someone near you. Before taking it to them, call them and see if they have experience working on vintage saxophones from this area. Also make sure when you go to the store talk to the tech directly. If the store says they have to send it out, then you need to find a different store.
As far as a value that is going to be difficult to pin down. I've seen True-Tones sell anywhere from $200 to $1500 depending on the condition and condition is everything. The resonators have to be original before it will get anywhere close to that. From what I can see in the photos it looks like some of the pads have been replaced recently as have some of the felts. There is evidence of one guard that is missing in the photo you marked "Back Plate". You can see where it was attached as there is a glob of solder in a diamond shape right above the existing guard. It looks like that guard came off at some point as there is a 2nd diamond shape under that. I would guess someone tried to reattach it but didn't clean the existing solder before hand, thus the guard came off again. Check the case and see if there are any extra parts in the case. This is not uncommon when horns from this time period come in.
I'm sorry I couldn't be more precise, but I just need a bit more information to nail this one down.