In the early days, one could get online, find almost anything, bid and strategize bidding techniques, and often win the item at a great price with the seller shipping it to your door. What's not to love when it works that way?
The majority of musical products for sale on eBay used instruments. Sometimes these can be a appear to be a really good deal but too often the savings of buying a used instrument is offset by the cost of making the instrument play well. Repairs can be very costly on older instruments. I called my favorite repair shop and asked about overhaul costs for an alto saxophone. (To be fair, not all used instruments need a complete overhaul.)
A student alto saxophone costs $500 to overhaul and a professional overhaul is running $1250.00!! In a typical overhaul, all the pads, corks, pad resonators, broken or damaged springs are replaced and minor dents are removed. A seriously damaged saxophone will cost more. The end product is a near new saxophone mechanically, but this does not cover cosmetic issues like finish (lacquer or plating).
If you are an experienced eBay buyer and have a good understanding of the product, a great instrument can be found every once in a while. But, one must consider the cost of any used instrument in addition to needed repair costs when shopping. I would guess most parents shopping for a student saxophone will not have any idea what repairs might cost. Since many sellers are not very educated either, a simple description and a few pictures are all you have to go on. If you buy a 350.00 saxophone that requires 500.00 to play well, you just spent 850.00 for your saxophone. I would assume the purchase was made to save money, yet in reality, it can cost more than many new saxophones.
As a new instrument buyer, you can find nearly every product ever made on eBay and many you have never heard of before. If saxophone shopping for example, the first thing you might notice is the high number of saxophone names you don't recognize. You also will find out really quickly that a name search on the web will tell you nothing about most of these saxophones.
I run a number of saxophone sites online and can't tell you how many times I have received email asking me about another no-name saxophone by a parent looking for more information on an eBay saxophone listed. The reason so many saxophone names exist in 2011 is that a few Asian factories are selling saxophones and stick any name you want on them. I call this the "Your Name Here" brand. I get an email every month from another manufacturer asking me if I want to sell a saxophone with my name on it!
What does this mean to the consumer? Basically the consumer has nothing to judge these products by. There is no brand name to recognize and no way to know if this is a good instrument or even a good deal not to mention the reputation of the seller. As noted above, searching the saxophone brand name might show nothing online or might show one single site the guy selling them put online. How can you make an informed decision when you don't know what you are buying, who you're buying from or what the recourse is if there is a problem with the instrument!
Auction sites like eBay are a great place to comparison shop to get an idea how much instruments are selling for this month, but it can be a place that costs you more than it saves you. Remember the old saying, "Buyer Beware!" And remember, "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is."