There are many brands of saxophones and within those brands exist several types: beginner, intermediate, advanced, and professional. No one company has discovered how to make a perfect sax. Certain ones will suit your taste more than others. Try some out to see what you like. Before buying a completely new horn though, try getting a new mouthpiece, ligature, and/or reeds. Those alone make a major difference in your sound.
To start off, a beginner model will work fine. They
will cost less, but also have less special features like a high f# key
or rolled tone holes. Intermediate and advanced horns will be a bit
higher end and advanced are rather close to professional. Professional
horns are at the top of the line with all the bells and whistles- high
f#, rolled tone holes, engravings, silver/black nickel plating, etc.
Most companies make saxophones for musicians at different stages.
Keilwerth- German company. I’m a fan of
my Keilwerth tenor. One of my sax teachers, Kristen Strom, liked it too when
she tried it. Other teachers have preferred other horns.
The bells on Keilwerths tend to be a little bigger- so not all cases will work with them.
Mine has rolled tone holes which seems to help prevent leaks under the keys a bit better.
Selmer- French company. They made
the famous Mark VI, which many saxophonists prefer using. Unfortunately
they stopped production for a time. The older Mark VI’s are great, but
some have come into disrepair, and made need more maintenance.
Some musicians also like the Super Action’s, others don’t. I played a Mark
VII once, it sounded all right, but they didn’t improve on the Mark VI.
Yanagisawa- Japanese company. Good reputation. I only tried a couple many years ago. Know some people who like them.
Yamaha- Japanese company. My friend
Tom really likes his custom Yamaha. They make many student models. I’ve
played the beginning and intermediate models and they have a decent
I tried the Custom Z models not too long ago and liked them.
Conn- They have made some decent saxophones. Vintage horns are often harder to play. If you find one, try it out to see what you think.
Cannonball- Make some pretty good modern horns. I tried one out and it’s decent. Not going to give you the same tone as a Mark VI or nice vintage horn, but they make some professional horns. Designed in the US and manufactured in Taiwan I believe.
Jupiter- My first sax/clarinet teacher had a Jupiter. They play fairly well. I just bought a Jupiter Alto and it has a pretty good sound.
Martin- An older brand that made some good saxophones.
Buescher- Another older brand. There are a lot of Buescher saxophones on the market. Sometimes they don’t cost very much. If they’re in good shape, they can sound great.
They are less ‘user friendly’ than a modern horn. That means they’ll be harder to play than a student model horn. You may need to spend some money on repairs. But you can also get a great sound if you’re willing to put in some time and money.
L.A. Sax- These horns often are colorfully painted, the paint will not help your sound though. More of a gimmick really.
Materials- Saxophones are usually
made out of brass. Some are made of silver.
Many others are plated or painted. Plating can change your sound with black nickel or silver. They say that black nickel gives a darker sound.
However, paint will not help your sound. It covers the brass with something that
deadens the sound. I do not recommend the red/black/whatever color
lacquer on saxophones. It may look cool, but it will NOT help your
- High f#- nice to have, but not completely necessary since you can reach the same note with alternate fingerings.
- Rolled tone holes- where the metal meets the leather pads on
the keys it is rolled to make a better connection that is less prone to
- Plating- silver and black nickel may help create a sound you want, paint will not
Cost- A halfway decent sax will cost at least
$800 or so. You might find a used one for less, but you might need to
look into repairs also. Tenors will cost more than altos and baris more
than tenors. Sopranos usually also cost more than tenors and altos.
It’s good to support local music stores. If you don’t have that option, you may want to order online or from a catalog if they have a good return policy. It’s difficult to know in advance whether you’ll like a certain saxophone.
Advice- Go and try out some different saxophones when you’re looking to buy one. Germany, Japan,France, and the U.S. generally have a better reputation, so watch out for a name you’ve never heard of.
Remember though that not all saxophones, even of the same brand are identical. So try out a few and bring a friend, preferably a musician, to listen.