Saxophone Comparisons

The Tenor Saxophone Comparisons aka “The Shootout”

I have chosen to compare five saxophones, three vintage and two modern. The vintage saxophones are my own two tenors, a 1930s Conn 10M (Naked Lady) and a 1950s “The” Martin, along with a 1954 Selmer MKVI which I borrowed. The two modern tenors are a Yanagisawa 901 and one of the new generation of inexpensive Chinese saxophones, a Walstein – a phosphor bronze instrument with a design based around a Yanagisawa 992.

As with most saxophone comparisons, the testing was not subject to rigorous scientific processes, no blindfolds, no panel of objective listeners (just my wife). I went into this with as open a mind as possible, the results surprised me somewhat so hopefully you can get something useful from it, but please always bear in mind how subjective this is. I don’t believe in a best sound, just a favourite sound.


So which was the best instrument? Well, there wasn’t one. For some interesting discussion see this post on Sax On The Web.

Each of the vintage saxophones had more “character” – which admittedly can be a double-edged sword. They each absolutely excelled at one style, but were let down somewhere else. Among the vintage instruments I was surprised how good the MKVI was (I used to use one, but ditched it in favour of the Conn 10M many years ago – but this just shows how much individual instruments can differ – there are very good and very bad MKVIs, this was a good one).

The MKVI had the smoothest sound over the whole range and it sounded better when playing modern jazz & bebop. The Martin however did not compare too well in the jazz department, but beat all the horns hands down when it came to Rock & Roll. Sadly the MKVI wimped out slightly for me when trying to make it rock, but maybe that is just me – some of my favourite rock and roll saxophonists are MKVI players. The Conn had much of the MKVIs pizzaz but with slightly better intonation and was almost as good for bebop, but it really held its own on a lush ballad or hard swinging jump jive.

The two modern instruments were both very smooth and even, but did not quite have the character, although if anything the Yanagisawa seemed to be the horn of choice for smooth jazz and 70s funk. Of all the instruments though, the Walstein is probably the most versatile, in that it was almost as good as the others in each of their speciality, and did not do badly at anything.

I purposely paid very little attention to intonation. All saxophones have their tuning quirks, and most players get used to, and compensate for, a particular instrument’s tuning foibles. When you try a new instrument, often you are subconsciously compensating for the old one so it can be very difficult to fairly evaluate the intonation without spending days or weeks. However I felt that none of these instruments seemed to have any major tuning issues that would not be resolved with just getting used to them.

Click here for answers

  Jazz Rock Ballads Smooth Versatility
1 Conn 10M **** **** ***** *** ****
2 The Martin *** ***** **** *** ***
3 Selmer MKVI ***** *** **** **** ***
4 Walstein **** **** **** **** *****
5 Yanagisawa *** **** *** ***** ***


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