Here’s my recommendations when considering to buy your first vintage instrument online…..
Establish what it is you are looking for: Sounds easy – but have you clearly defined the brand, model and era of instrument you are interested in purchasing?
Set yourself a budget: It’s really easy to blow your hard earned cash when the emotional factor hits (especially online auctions). Be sure to set yourself a budget you can afford and stay within it (factor a 5% increase over your original budget at max).
Reviewing the instrument you are interested in: (The most important step) This is almost a 10 step process in itself.
Review images generally and look for obvious damage (major dents, solver breaks, bell droop, missing parts), check the description/ad and see if you can see if the seller is disclosing accurately what you are seeing?Find yourself and online image of an excellent example of what you are considering to purchase.
Do a First pass. Below is an example of a first pass. I have identified these 5 items:
- Potential stuck mouthpiece
- Dent on leadpipe
- 2nd valve inserted incorrectly (why?)
- Is that an original bottom valve cap or a replacement?
- Why is the tuning slide not aligned with the section?
Seems to be relatively easy fixed on most. Then the 2nd image shows the importance of rechecking images multiple times – turns out that the bell is bent. This would have been easily missed if you just reviewed the first image only.
Once you do your first pass – take a moment, assess and then go in deeper. If you can zoom in on every images and check for less obvious damage. Check braces on common areas such as the bell, water key areas and mpc receiver. Do they show signs of having been re-soldered?
Look next for signs of corrosion and red rot. Look at slide connections again – are they all aligning well?
Next look at the trim and compare vs. you sample – are all the parts original to the instrument? Also, be sure to notice the height of the finger buttons in relation to each other – mis-alignment is a dead giveaway for bad springs or in need of new pads and a valve alignment.
Consider the finish and how that might need treatment/replating, or if it’s in good condition
Look at the water-key corks and the water-keys. If you can see these not aligning then you know these need replacing. (This is an easy fix and makes a huge difference to the play ability of an instrument.
Lastly look at the accessories: mouthpiece, case, mutes etc. This is also an important step – are these original, are they desirable? Can I sell these accessories to recoup money on the original purchase price?
Establish if the person/business you are dealing with is a reputable source: For online Auctions this is relatively easy as you can check the feedback scores and ratings. For retailers and stores google and forums are your friend for sourcing information. For online groups you will need to rely on google and a wee bit of cyber sleuthing to determine if the persons reason for selling and background matches up.
Ask questions to the seller: If you are unsure on anything – ask the question for clarification! A common question would be for a serial number so that you can determine the era the horn was manufactured if not immediately clear.
Negotiate a price: Everything is negotiable in this day in age – but don’t be a low-baller. (general rule of thumb if it’s a reasonable price you might get to save 5-10% max). Make a copy of the Ad for future reference
Negotiate Shipping options: Be sure to select a service that works for you (For example shipping to Canada certain Courier company charge very high clearance fees) – so I often request the seller to use the postal service where possible.(It’s only $10 via the postal system)
Make the purchase with the maximum protection for yourself: For example Paypal has Seller protection which covers a wide range of issues. Your credit card may also have some protection elements. Unless you know the person well, or they are a reputable re-seller I’d recommend not sending cashiers cheques, direct deposits or direct money options. Obtain Tracking information.
Receive the item: Be sure to check the item over, re-look at the original Ad/description you saved earlier and be sure what you are getting matches.
Follow up with the seller: Let them know you received the item, thank them for the smooth transaction, great packaging etc. Those positive interactions could lead to potential future leads and additional buying opportunities in the future when you least expect it!
Leave Feedback – let other’s know about your experience and that they can trust that person when buying.
And that’s the full process. Quite a bit to take in but with practice it becomes second nature and you can easily spot red flags in the process.
Good luck with your purchases!