soprano saxophone

New Horn Setup – Yes or No?

If you shop the websites of boutique sax stores, you’ll find that many of them promote their “new horn setup” fine-tuning service as one of the benefits of buying from them. And they might tout this as “a $300 value,” included in the price of the horn, for free. I’ve even found some online sellers who offer this as an optional premium charge when buying a saxophone.

Let’s Talk. John Yoakum on Soprano Sax, and flute. On Spotify.

I was puzzled about this, and wondered whether it was necessary. It just seemed to me that companies like Yanagisawa and Selmer put a premium on their build quality. They have a reputation to uphold, so I would imagine that they would do quite a bit of quality control before sending out their instruments. And the idea that horns would somehow go haywire in the shipping process didn’t make a lot of sense to me either. New horns are very well packaged in their cases, inside of shipping boxes, so they’re quite safe.

I spoke to a highly qualified independent repair person with no stake in the matter. I asked her if musicians ever brought her brand new horns to adjust, and what sort of new horn setup she did. She said that occasionally someone would come in with a key or two that needed adjustment, something that could be taken care of in a few minutes. But that was about it. The notion that a tech would need to spend 5 or 6 hours adjusting a brand new horn from a high end maker seemed like fiction to her. Although, perhaps a cheap sax from a less respected manufacturer might require more work.

With All Due Respect

I have a great deal of respect to the highly skilled sax technicians out there, as well as merchants trying to run a business. I suppose that just financing the inventory of fine instruments alone must be a huge challenge in itself. It’s got to be difficult competing with online sellers too. And I would suppose that adding services that can help support the bottom line and the staff are crucial.

But the bottom line for me as a consumer becomes the cost/value proposition. When it came time to buy my new sax, I decided to pass on a new horn setup from a store, where I’d be paying a premium. Instead I opted to buy from a reputable online retailer with great credentials. Perhaps for a horn from a less well respected factory this might be an issue (a certain Italian maker comes to mind), but not for something like a Yanagisawa. Right out of the box my new soprano displayed incredible workmanship and attention to detail from the builder. It worked and played evenly and smoothly with no issues.

Perhaps I just got lucky, and as always, your mileage may vary. Maybe you would feel best about buying from someone you can shake hands with, supporting a small (or local) business, and being absolutely sure you’re getting a horn that’s in tip top shape out of the gate. And maybe spending the extra money isn’t much of an issue for you. In that case, buying from a store that offers a new horn setup might be your best move.