Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Tenor Madness

I own a 50-year-old Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone, considered the holy grail of tenor saxophones. It is highly desired by players because of its playing characteristics and by collectors for reasons that I don't understand.

But most players can't afford it nowadays. I couldn't afford it either because prices for these things have gone out of sight. Fortunately for players, there are contemporary alternatives. I also own a new gold-plated Taiwanese saxophone that plays almost as well as a vintage Selmer yet cost me a fraction of what the Selmer costs.

The same thing has happened to vintage ventriloquist dummies. I don't own one, although I have in the past. I don't own a McElroy or a Marshall. I can't afford it. But, like saxophones, modern ventriloquist dummies are as good, and in many ways better than those lovable old figures. And they are affordable, so working ventriloquists do not have to yearn and pine for an old vintage figure just to get out there and perform.

How did these saxophones and dummies become so expensive? It's a product of collector mania and the auction mentality.

Collector mania should be self-explanatory. Anyone who has ever known a stamp collector or coin collector understands it. But what is the auction mentality?

Ebay is the culprit. In an auction you pay $1 more for something than anyone else is willing to pay. And in so doing, you inadvertantly establish a new price point for that item. The next time a similar item comes up, those who lost out will bid just a little bit more. What's another fifty bucks? And the price point goes up again.

That process iterates until the price point starts to get silly. Collectors and investors watch this phenomenon and get into it. After a period of time, the item is no longer accessible to those who would use it, and its best examples are relegated to wealthy dilettantes, closets and display cases. Which affects the supply and demand ratio, which causes prices to go up even more.

There's no end in sight for vintage saxophones. But dummies? I watched as collector mania and auction mentality drove the prices of Juro Jerrys to obscene levels. Then, when all the collectors who had to have one had one, the bottom fell out. Which kind of indicates that it was a fad, a trend, a passing fancy that ran its course.

So my advice is, don't spend the big bucks for that figure you can't live without. Live without it for a while. When everyone comes to their senses, prices will drop.

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