Buying Your First Saxophone
With so many manufacturers now making musical instruments, buying a first saxophone can be overwhelming. We hope that the following advice will be of use if you are looking to make a purchase.
In order to ensure a good learning outcome, student instruments should:
- Be easy to play
- Play in tune
- Have a good sound quality
- Be durable
While there are plenty of cheap saxophones around, they usually fall short in at least one of these areas, mainly durability. Often they are built from inferior metal which easily bends out of shape making playing difficult and resulting in expensive repairs.
Most people start on alto saxophones as they are usually easier to handle and cheaper than tenor saxophones. In our experience, you would probably need to spend at least $1000 on a new alto sax and $600 on a second hand to give a satisfactory and hassle-free learning experience. This is a guide only - you may be lucky and come across a real bargain! In general with musical instruments you get what you pay for - there is no free lunch.
Choosing a New Instrument
If you can stretch to a new instrument, you will have the security of a warranty against manufacturing defects, services for the first few years will be relatively inexpensive, and of course it will be bright and shiny and new. Maintained carefully and serviced regularly, you will be able to re-sell easily when the time comes. Be aware that it is best to buy a well-known brand as lesser-known ones can be a lot harder to eventually resell.
At Sax & Woodwind...and Brass we have specialist staff who can help you with your choice. You will get professional un-biased advice (although we do all have our own personal favourites of course!). If you have a saxophone teacher, ask for their recommendation. The brands we stock and recommend for students are all time-tested and reliable with great playability and quality of sound.
New instruments (reputable brands and models)
- Yamaha YAS280 alto and YTS280 tenor
- Yamaha YAS26 (there is no high F# on this model)
- Jupiter 769 alto and 789 tenor
- Buffet 100 and 400 series alto and tenor
- P Mauriat Viva alto and tenor
What to look for in a secondhand instrument:
If you are on a budget there are plenty of decent secondhand instruments around. You can try websites such as www.gumtree.com.au. It's best to buy locally so that you can see the instrument before you buy. Some issues aren't apparent in photographs (one customer bought a saxophone from an online auction that had such a dreadful odour that it was unplayable! - $300 wasted).
Make sure the pads are in good condition, not black and mouldy, that there are no obvious signs of major damage such as a warped or bent body, and that the pads seal the toneholes properly. Scratches and lacquer wear are normal and not to be worried about. If the instrument has been regularly serviced and is a quality brand, it can last for decades.
Secondhand student instruments (reputable models other than the above list):
- Selmer (USA) Bundy and Aristocrat
- Buffet Evette
- Yamaha 21, 23, and 100 series
There is another issue with second hand saxophones. You might find a "vintage" sax at a very good price, but in some cases whilst these might be very good instruments they might not be suitable for a beginner. Modern saxes have slight differences in terms of key arrangements and playability that might make the instrument difficult for a beginner to learn on. The tuning may also be unsuitable. If in doubt, ask an experienced teacher or shop staff member.
If budget is not an issue, you might like to purchase an advanced saxophone. These are made from superior quality materials and will produce a better sound. We recommend:
- Yamaha YAS62 alto and YTS62 tenor
- Yanagisawa A901 alto and T901 tenor
- Keilwerth ToneKing alto and tenor
- P Mauriat Le Bravo, 86UL, 66R, 76R alto and tenor (some of these are professional instruments at an advanced price)
We recommend you stay away from:
- Online auctions unless you are confident of the source (and remember if purchasing from overseas warranty issues will be a problem)
- Instruments with no brand name - quality instruments always have a brand
- Instruments without cases - the instrument may have damage
- Instruments in unusual colours such as blue or pink - the student will soon be told to get another one!
- Instruments available from shops that are not music shops (such as grocery stores)
- Instruments carrying a brand name (like "Yamaha") that seem incredibly cheap - they are probably copies. There has been an upsurge in the number of blatant copies of major brands lately so be very careful.
You can always call us for advice!