Saxophone Buying Advice Good saxophone buying advice – Buying a saxophone can be a bit overwhelming for the beginner

Buying a saxophone – 5 things to watch out for:

1. Asking advice online

People often ask on the forums or social media “what is the best saxophone?” hoping for an answer. Note I said “an answer” (singular). Unfortunately they tend to get a whole raft of different answers and end up being no better off. If you ask “what is the best saxophone?” it can sometimes feel like you are asking “what is the best colour?”

To help narrow things down you can do a bit of homework. Know what your budget is, explain your background, what type of playing you will be doing. For example if you are thinking about marching band, then you need something that is rugged and loud, but not too valuable if (or rather when) it gets damaged.

2. Player reviews

Players tend to discuss mostly how the instrument plays and feels and this is of course very subjective. There are plenty on the forums or on Youtube. The first caveat here is that the reviewer may have some kind of vested interest, maybe they work for a store selling that model or they were given a free instrument in return for a glowing review.

Possibly they are a genuine customer and spent a lot of money on a saxophone and are now trying to convince themselves that it was worth it! I think there could be a lot more of these than the customer who paid out for a real lemon and doesn’t really want to publically admit they made a mistake.

A few caveats

3. Technical reviews

You would expect reviews by technicians to be more objective than a lot of customer/player reviews, though again beware any that may have some kind of business connection. Or perhaps they are looking too much from an engineering angle and may miss some magic spark a horn has when you play it. Certainly some of my favourite instruments to play have been those that technicians found to be wanting in the build quality department, but is not actually that important. Of course there are some build issues that should never be ignored such as metal that is too soft and bendy, or keywork that will fall apart or cause the instrument to go out of adjustment much sooner than normal.

4. “You Get What You Pay For”

No you don’t. Well, not always. Along with “Buy the best saxophone you can afford,” this is a very overused and misleading cliché, implying that the more you spend the better saxophone you will end up with. In some cases this may be true but if you consider that new saxophone prices can vary from about £200 to £10,000, you will probably suspect that the £10,000 saxophone is not 50 times “better”. Not just that but in some cases a £300 saxophone can be much better than one costing 5 or even 10 times as much.

The problem with this for the beginner of course is that you can’t gauge an instrument’s quality by its price.

5. Vintage or Used is Better Value

Yes and no. Obviously a used saxophone is cheaper, and like a car, after a year or three it will have depreciated almost as much as it’s going to and so the resale price will not go down much. However it can be difficult for an experienced player to know whether any instrument for sale has some mechanical issue that could end up being costly, even when inspecting an instrument in person, let alone trusting an ebay description.

Things get a bit better when buying used from a reputable dealer, however it will of course cost more than buying privately.

To counter the argument that used instruments are better value, a new one should come with a warrantee, and in many cases a returns policy so even if you buy online you can show your teacher to get a second opinion.

So, how can this site help?

I am gradually compiling a set of links to sales sites that I trust in this section, and so can pass on that recommendation. If you have any issues whatsoever with any of the sellers listed, please let me have some feedback.

How to get the Best Buying Advice

Don’t just listen to me, there are many different and valid opinions so for a start log in to the Cafe Saxophone discussions, you will also get a lot of useful saxophone information and advice on choosing your first saxophone.

Watch out for the Bad Guys

It’s important to question any online advice. Somebody advising you to buy a saxophone could possibly be the seller or a paid endorser or involved in the company in some way. Usually a bit of reading between the lines or research on that person’s other internet posts can reveal the truth. Very often a private teacher is the best person to give advice.

Ideally see if they will come with you when buying a saxophone. But bear in mind some teachers could be getting a commission from the store or manufacturer. Be wary if they insist too heavily that you only buy one make or from one shop if others also seem viable. Someone starting out as a complete novice needs to think very carefully about your first saxophone purchase. Here are a few points to bear in mind:

  • What size instrument is best for you?, Sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass or what?
  • New or secondhand.
  • Ultra cheap, intermediate (student) or professional.
  • What accessories to get.
  • Where to get the best deal.

What size saxophone?

The more extreme sizes are not generally a good idea to start learning on. The high instruments (soprano and sopranino) can be harder to get a pleasing tone and good intonation (intune-ness). The lower instruments (baritone and bass), apart from being more expensive, may be harder to blow and finger, especially for children or small adults. Most beginners choose alto or tenor, but for small children a tenor is usually too big.

Some instruments have easier fingering for small hands than others (ergonomics), so if you really want to play tenor and find it difficult, try a few makes to see if there is an easier one for you. If you can handle either size, the next thing to consider is which one you prefer. Listen to a lot of alto and tenor players to see which really floats your boat.

Also think about which style of music you want to play, and possibly what openings there may be for performing experience on either in your area. It’s a good idea to get playing with other people as soon as possible and if there is a community, college or church band nearby, find out whether they have more openings for alto or tenor. If you want to play rock & roll, you may find that tenor will be the best instrument.

If you want to play classical then there is much more repertoire for alto saxophone. (Classical tenor is mostly useful in a saxophone quartet). If you want to play jazz, whether it’s mainstream, modern, fusion, smooth or whatever, then either alto or tenor are useful.

New or Secondhand?

Very often the easiest option is to buy a new instrument as you can be confident that it should be in good working order and is covered by a manufacturer’s guarantee. It is quite likely that, as with buying a new car, the most depreciation in value will happen in the first few months (or hours) of buying. If you are buying from a reputable dealer or teacher, then a secondhand instrument should also be fine, but may need some maintenance a bit sooner than a new one would.

If you are buying a vintage instrument, you can often get a very good professional level instrument for a very good price, though some vintage saxophones command very silly prices (e.g. Selmer MK VI or SBA). Some vintage instruments are not suited to beginners as the ergonomics, consistency of sound across the range and intonation may not be as good as modern horns, though some are better. More information about these on the Vintage Saxophones page. If you in doubt, many shops will let you hire an instrument for a while, then take the hire charges off if you decided to buy it.

How much to spend?

Over recent years the gap between cheap and expensive instruments has been narrowing, almost to the point where a £200 saxophone is very nearly as good in every respect as a £2000 instrument. To the majority of players the most important thing is obviously the sound of the instrument, but other factors to take into account are intonation, consistency of tone across the range, build quality (will it let you down during a performance?), feel (does it feel and sound good to play, irrespective of the sound projected?), ergonomics, cosmetics and resale value.

The Really Good but Ultra Cheap Saxophones

Currently quite a controversial topic. It used to be the case that ultra cheap instruments made in the far east were vastly inferior, often very out of tune and made from metal so soft that keys would bend and leaks set in almost as soon as you took the instrument out of the box. Over the last couple of years some very good instruments are now being imported from China.

Many people disagree about the quality as it’s very easy to lump them into one bracket. It’s easy to play one bad Chinese saxophone and then assume that all Chinese saxophones are bad. While visiting the trade shows I have tried many many Chinese instruments and have discovered some very good ones, which are at least half the price of the intermediate instruments, but actually appear to be better – intonation, tone, build quality and looks.

Intermediate Saxophones

For the last few years these are makes such as Jupiter, Trevor James, Earlham etc. and are aimed at the student market. Until recently these were a good way for a beginner to start without the expense of a pro saxophone or the risk of a secondhand or vintage instrument. These would generally cost about half the price of a professional saxophone. That’s not to say they only sound half as good – some of them sound as good.

The saving in price is usually reflected by a not quite so rugged build quality and a more utilitarian finish. Many are made in Taiwan, which could be a saving for manufacturers compared with Germany, France or Japan. Being made in Taiwan does not mean the quality is any worse, in fact most Taiwanese instruments are extremely well made. More recently there have been some newer models from Taiwan including P.Mauriat and Cannonball which would definitely give any so called professional saxophone a run for its money.

Professional Saxophones

People talk about the “Big Four” manufacturers of professional quality saxophones – Selmer, Yamaha, Yanagisawa and Keilwerth. The first two of these also have a cheaper range of student instruments. All of these are no doubt very good instruments, and beyond the initial hefty depreciation, will probably hold their value quite well. There is no reason why a beginner should not buy one of these if he/she can afford one, they are generally no harder to play than cheaper saxophones.

The main thing to realise is that it may cost ten times the price of a saxophone that is almost as good, and that if you find the saxophone is not for you, you will have made quite a considerable loss due to depreciation. I cannot recommend any particular one of these, they are all built to last and have good intonation and sound. Which one is best is very subjective.

Each different make or model can have a distinctive character in the way it sounds or the response you feel from playing it. This is possibly a reason to wait until you are more confident about your playing before buying a top of the line horn. Having said that, I recently tried many saxophones at the Frankfurt Musikmesse exhibition and my favourites were a Rampone & Cazzani alto and Inderbinen tenor.

Advice on Getting The Best Deal

You are most likely to get the best prices from an internet mail order company, but of course, not necessarily the best service. A well stocked shop with knowledgeable and experienced staff can be a real bonus. If you do buy from an internet site, try to find one with a money back no quibble guarantee. Beware the many scammers on Ebay. You will get plenty of good friendly advice on my forum about the good and bad suppliers.

There are many great bargains on our very own  Cafesaxophone forum

What Accessories to Get.

Beware any shop that tries to sell you too many unnecessary accessories. Unless you buy a professional instrument, you will probably need to buy a mouthpiece, as generally the ones supplied with the saxophones are not very good. As well as this I would recommend you get some reeds, a good strong and comfortable neckstrap, a swab or pullthrough and a stand. Accessories that may be a waste of money include padclamps, padsaver, gigdust, pad treatment and fancy ligatures.

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