If you’ve ever visited the saxophone section of my SchoolOfTheRock.com web page, you’d know that I love writing about vintage saxophones almost as much as I love playing them. I’m also a professional writer and researcher, so when I get a question from a reader, I can usually track down the answer. Sometimes, the answer is so interesting that I wind up writing another article. Or so disturbing.
This is a case of the latter. A reader trying to find a horn for a student was negotiating with an ignorant or outright dishonest seller. The seller was claiming that his vintage Pan American (student) saxophone was the desirable vintage (professional) “Chu Berry” model.
Ten years ago, I might have given the seller the benefit of the doubt and judged him ignorant but not dishonest. But I’ve encountered enough “dumb like a fox” resellers since then, that I’d be willing to bet the value of the horn that he is lying and he knows it.
So I wrote an article on Fake ChuBerrys. To help folks shopping for instruments from that period of continuous saxophone improvement (1926-1965), I also added a one-page printable version of my “Vintage Pro Saxophone Timeline.” You can get it by clicking on the timeline image in my “Vintage Pro Saxophone Timeline” article.
The “Fake ChuBerrys” article explains what a “ChuBerry” sax is and isn’t, but it doesn’t address the bigger problem of liars, frauds, and deliberately mislabeled instruments all over the internet.
Let’s face it; if I see a “Les Paul” guitar advertised for $150, I know it’s not really a “Les Paul.” But there have been some decent knockoffs of the thing over the years. So taking forty photos of the guitar but somehow “forgetting” to take a photo of the headstock so I could tell if it was a Cameo (bad) or an Aria (good) doesn’t really advance your case.
My favorite is the guy who sands the Hondo logo off the headstock and then says that he thinks it’s a real Fender or whatever but he’s not sure.
I’ve seen quite a few high-end “Gibson” banjos advertised, which had replacement necks, tuners, bridges, and hardware (and sometimes resonators). At what point does having a Gibson pot, tone ring, and resonator flange justify calling it – and pricing it – as a high-end Gibson? (Yes, I understand the 4-string to 5-string conversion many of the pre-1940 banjos went through, but advertising them as Gibson and forgetting to mention that they’re over half replacement parts is – shall we say – disingenuous?)
Part of the problem is that each class of instrument has its “silver bullet” or “Holy Grail,” and the less-than-honest resellers have figured out which brand or model names will get attention and trap the unwary. To put it in terms most people would understand, the same guys would pull the nameplates off a Vega and try to sell it as a Camaro.
If you call them on it, they simply say, “Oh, the fellow at the store told me it was a ‘such-and-such,’ so I didn’t know any better.” But they don’t change the ad. And when they list the identical model again six weeks later they “accidentally” mislabel that as well.
In many parts of the country, it’s impossible to get your hand on the kind of used pro gear I prefer to shop for. You may have no choice but to go online. But don’t go alone. Get someone you trust who knows the instruments inside and out to advise you.
By the way, most vintage Pan American saxophones that can be made playable are more solid than the average under-$1200 saxophone coming out of China today. The problem isn’t what he was selling, but how he was trying to sell it.
You can literally save thousands on decent used professional instruments if you shop carefully, but you can also lose big to scammers if you aren’t careful. And if you catch the fellow in one lie, even if he feigns ignorance, that’s all you need to know.