What’s a Good Saxophone?
I am often asked to give saxophone recommendations, endorse mouthpieces and big up the retailers. I am not an official endorser of any product apart from Legere Reeds, and so I feel I can give independent advice on most things. I only recommend those that I have personal experience of, but I cannot guarantee that what works for me will work for you.
To be brutally honest though, when somebody asks, “what is the best saxophone?” the only true reply is “the one you like the best.” There is no objective answer to that question as what works for one player may not work for another.
My Favourite Saxophones
Out of hundreds I have playtested, here are a few favourites:
- Rampone & Cazzani
- Adolphe Sax & cie
- Adolphe Sax & cie (Aspirant)
- Justsaxes Crescent
Do you “get what you pay for?”
If by that we mean “are the high budget the best?”, then I would have to say “not necessarily.” I am constantly surprised at how some of the medium budget instruments these days are as good as, or better than, some of the established “top four.”
What is a good saxophone for a beginner?
Until recently one of the best recommendations I could give a beginner was to get either a Yamaha or Jupiter student model as the build quality, intonation and tone of these instruments is very good. However, there have recently been a lot of very inexpensive Chinese made saxophones available, especially on Ebay and internet stores.
Some of these instruments are astonishingly good for the price, but some are total rubbish, so beware. It is best to avoid buying one unless it is from a reputable dealer with a no quibble money back guarantee, e.g. the stores mentioned above. Among the very best makes available are the (new) Adolphe Sax and the Justsaxes Crescent. More information on the saxophone buying guide.
What about a secondhand saxophone?
If you know a bit about saxophones you may get better value with a secondhand saxophone. If it is well maintained a saxophone doesn’t get worse as it gets older. (But neither does it get any better).
The main problems are with saxophones that have been relacquered, but only in their resale value. In order to relacquer a saxophone, all the scratches must be removed and this can involve polishing the instrument to such a degree that a significant amount of metal is lost. Although this is unlikely to affect the sound unless the toneholes become damaged due to overbuffing it may well affect the instrument’s value.
A good “vintage” saxophone can be a very good buy. Apart from the Selmer MKVI, Super Balanced Action and Balanced Action (which are good horns but generally overpriced) you can often get a professional quality instrument without spending too much. Some good models to look out for are Martin (“The” Martin), Conn 6M/10M, King Zephyr & Super 20, SML Gold Medal, Buescher 400 & Aristocrat.
Which size saxophone to buy?
The most commonly played saxophones are the alto and tenor, of these the most popular saxophone for beginners is the alto. It is easier for small hands and, of course, is that little bit cheaper than a tenor. The fingering is the same, although as the saxophone is a transposing instrument, the notes sound different.
The soprano is becoming a more popular instrument (possibly thanks to the influence of Kenny G), but can be more problematical for beginners as it is often harder to play nicely in tune. The baritone is also an attractive instrument for younger beginners thanks to Lisa Simpson, but is not easy for small fingers, requires a lot of puff and can be very heavy on your neck.
I use a PPT mouthpiece for tenor, soprano and baritone saxophones. These are mouthpieces I have developed after years of experimenting trying to get the ideal saxophone mouthpiece.
I also recommend Ed Pillinger and Morgan Fry for mouthpieces and refacing work in the UK.
If you are a beginner I think it is best to use something a little less specialised to begin with such as a standard Yamaha 4C, Hite Premiere or Rico Graftonite. Once you are ready to “upgrade”, then it’s very much a case of trying mouthpieces out for yourself, but Jody Jazz & Rousseau are good ones to start with. Check out the alto mouthpiece comparison soundfiles