Sunday, August 21, 2011

Student and Intermediate Saxophone Reviews

I haven't posted in quite some time now, as I've been busy with other things, but as the new school year approaches, I thought it might be fitting to look at the best student saxophones for young players who are either going to start a school music program or for students of all ages who just need something decent to play on while staying within a budget.  I've had a chance to play on all of the horns I'm reviewing here, and so these are my opinions and may differ with some music teachers, but then I've had plenty of differences with teachers in the past.  I am also reviewing intermediate saxophones.  These are saxophones that have better keywork, more finish options, somewhat better craftsmanship than student horns, and are priced somewhere between a student and professional saxophone.  In many cases, the intermediate priced horns are excellent for professional use.  I know a few players who need to double or triple on the saxophone, and while their main horn is a pro model, the other horns are either intermediate or student level saxophones.  Please keep in mind that all of the student saxophones made today are manufactured in Asia.  China, Taiwan and Vietnam being the leading producers, with Taiwan also making some excellent professional saxophones.  Don't let this fact sway you.  While there are a lot of junk horns coming out of these countries, especially China, there are also saxophones from good to excellent quality also coming out of the same countries, including China.  The saxophones I've reviewed are all altos, but most of them have a tenor equivalent.  Many older beginners from teen to adult may start on the tenor sax if they wish.  For the younger beginner it is always recommended to begin with an alto.  As for the baritone sax, I also recommend that a beginner doesn't play that beast until attaining some level of proficiency with the other saxes.  Although there are lesser priced soprano saxophones, they are also not recommended for the beginner because of its trickier intonation.

Yamaha

Yamaha has become the standard in student instruments, known for its good build quality and homogenous sound.  They are among the more expensive student and intermediate saxes on the market, but they are durable, have excellent keywork, and have probably the best resale value amongst student horns.
Yamaha YAS23 Alto Sax

The Yamaha YAS23 Alto is probably the best selling student alto sax in the world, and the same may be said for the tenor version.  Keep in mind that the current models are made in China.  The general price is around US $1300 and for the tenor around $1800. There are also used altos available anywhere from $500 to $900.
Yamaha YAS475 Alto Sax

The YAS475 is Yamaha's intermediate model which is also now made in China.  However, like all Yamaha instruments, it is solidly made and its tone in my opinion, is similar to the YAS62II which is their entry-level  pro horn.  The price is around $1600 to $1700, tenors around $2200, but you have to check because Yamaha has been raising the prices on its instruments every year. 

Buffet

Anyone who's followed this blog knows how I feel about their 400 line.  While Buffet does make a student horn, the 100, the 400 in my mind represents the best value, because it is sold at an intermediate price, but is really a pro level horn, with the looks, feel and sound of a top of the line sax.  The price of the alto is around $1650, the tenor at around $1985 and the baritone around $3500 to $4000.  The 400 comes in either gold lacquer or matte lacquer finish.  There are also gold plated versions of the alto and tenor which can be seen at the Buffet showroom.  
Buffet 400 Alto Gold Lacquer
Buffet 400 Alto Matte Lacquer

Antigua Winds

Antigua Winds is a company based in Texas, with manufacturing facilities in Taiwan and China.  They make an extensive line of student, intermediate and pro saxophones.  Here is a model that I've tried and I find worthy of consideration.  
  Antigua Winds AS424OLQ Power Bell Alto Sax

This is another pro level horn at an intermediate price.  These are built in Taiwan, features a range up to F#, with elaborate engraving throughout the horn.  They go from around $1400 to $1600.

P. Mauriat

P. Mauriat entered the market with an impressive line of professional saxophones where most companies would have done so with a student and intermediate line.  This also may be the reason why they very quickly found a place for themselves in what is a limited and very competitive market.  Only after they established themselves with their pro horns did they introduce their student and intermediate saxophones.  I can say that their entry-level horns have the same quality as their pro saxes.
P. Mauriat PMSA202 Alto Sax

The PMSA202 is P. Mauriat's version of a student horn, though it really is more of an intermediate horn.  It compares favorably with the Yamaha TAS23 but has the high F# key which the Yamaha does not have.  It is priced below the YAS23 at around $1000.  It has a brighter tone than most P. Mauriat horns, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, because it's not thin or shrill. 
P. Mauriat LaBrava Alto Sax

The LaBrava is really a pro horn but is priced slightly above what an intermediate sax would be, but below the cost of most pro horns.   The LaBrava has a brushed gold lacquer finish with a nickel silver neck.  I find the tone bright but full-bodied.  It goes for around $2000 to $2100, the tenor around $2300 to $2400. 

Cannonball

Cannonball saxophones are built in Taiwan, but the company is based outside of Salt Lake City, Utah.  It was founded by Tevis and Cheryl Lauket.  Artists like Pete Christlieb, Gerald Albright and Edgar Winter are among some of the pros that play Cannonball saxophones. 
Cannonball Sceptyr Alto

The Cannonball Sceptyr is the company's entry-level saxophone, but it has pro features like a high F# key and abalone key touches.  It is priced below the Yamaha YAS475 at around $1500. 

Selmer

For many years the Selmer Bundy was one of the few choices for a decent student saxophone, but when Yamaha introduced the YAS23, the brand's days were numbered, because the Bundy was still being made in the US at the Selmer USA factory, formerly the Buescher factory in Elkhart, Indiana. It just got too expensive to produce here unfortunately.  Selmer moved production of student and intermediate saxophones to Asia.  China for the student horns and Taiwan for its intermediate line. 
Selmer Prelude Alto Sax

The Prelude is the name given for all of Selmer's student line, including trumpets, flutes, trombones and clarinets.  The Prelude has a fairly warm tone for a student sax.  My biggest gripe is the fact that quality control seems to be lax.  I have found that many times the keywork was out of whack right out of the box.  Of course whenever I take a horn out of the box I prefer to have a tech go over it to be sure it's properly set up, but with the Prelude, it often looks like the keys were damaged when it was just sloppy work at the factory.  I was recently given an unused Prelude tenor and the C# to Bb keys did not sit squarely on the tone holes.  At first glance it would have seemed that the keys had taken a hit, but closer examination revealed that whoever put the keys on didn't bother to regulate or position them correctly.  Apparently no one at Selmer is inspecting them. My tech took care of the matter.  I found that once the horn is properly adjusted by a tech, it sounds like a saxophone should, and at the price of around $650 for the alto and about $850 for the tenor, it may be worth it to have a tech go over it.   
Selmer LaVoix II Alto Sax

The Selmer LaVoix is the company's intermediate or low pro model depending on how you want to look at it.  They are built in Taiwan, so the build quality is better than the Prelude.  I didn't have key issues with this model as I had with the Prelude.  The LaVoix II also features a high F# key and comes in gold lacquer, rose brass with higher copper content, silver plate and black nickel finishes.  I found the tone to be generally warm and full, and an even scale as horns go.  It goes for somewhere around $1700 to $1900 and the tenor around $2200.     

This doesn't represent all of the student and intermediate saxophones that are out there, only the ones I've had the opportunity to try.  If you're just beginning or want to step up, these are some of the saxes you might look into.

A word of caution.  Please avoid no name instruments from eBay and Craigslist, and only get them from a reputable store or dealer that will back up their product.  Don't get stuck with a lemon that won't play and may make you give up. 







23 comments:

  1. Thanks for this article. I found it really helpful.

    a follower from Tunisia.
    Greetings.

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    1. Thank you very much! I am fortunate in that I have access to many saxophones both new and vintage that I can play frequently, and have definite opinions on them. Of course, these are my opinions, and you should still try out as many saxophones as you have access to. What is goodfor me may not be good for you, etc. Again, thanks for your feedback and I hope to post more articles soon.

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  2. Wonderful series, with a lot of wisdom for the uninitiated. You've written (fairly glowingly) about the Buffet-Crampon 400 and the P. Mauriat series altos, and both seem like an excellent choice for a limited budget. How do you compare them? Which Mauriat model is most comparable with the Buffets, and in trying both, what things should one be looking for to determine a preference?

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  3. At the price of around $1800 for the alto and around $2200 for the tenor, the Buffet is an excellent value, because it can easily be used as a pro horn, not just an intermediate one. They come in either a gold lacquer or matte vintage lacquer finish. The P. Mauriat saxophones are excellent horns. They are powerful sounding saxes. They have many more finish options, and are pricier than the Buffet, but not as pricey as an equivalent Selmer, Yanigasawa, Keilwerth or Yamaha. Both the Buffet and the P. Mauriat play beautifully, and are well made horns, though surprisingly, I found several P. Mauriat horns with imperfections like a solder glob, a misaligned key that was not properly fit at the factory, while thus far I have not found any of the same imperfections on a Buffet sax. If your budget is a consideration, I would go with a Buffet over the Mauriat. However, I have to say that the more I play the Buffet 400 matte finish alto, the more impressed I am with it. Thanks for your comments and I welcome more.

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  4. You've also written about the great American saxes of the mid 20th century. On Youtube one can listen to the wonderful, earthy tone that these old horns have. There are many reconditioned horns available, often for less even than the Buffets and Mauriats. Do you recommend these also for the amateur player, or does one need a certain level of dexterity to coax that sweet tone out of the older saxes?

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  5. Hi Stan! Once again, thanks for your comments and questions. I am really glad you asked this question about vintage American saxophones, because in truth, I favor them above any other in terms of richness and complexity of sound. The Conn 6M is my favorite alto, nothing really comes close to it when it comes to tone. I would recommend them to a beginner if they are properly set up by a technician. The only thing is that the mechanisms are different, much different than on modern horns, all which base their designs on the Selmer model. Personally, I have never had a problem adjusting to the different mechanisms of old horns, or their placement, which is different than modern horns also. I feel that there is a quality, a sound to the great vintage American horns which really defined the sound of jazz on the saxophone before Selmer and other manufacturers dominated the saxophone market. Look at all of the old films featuring big bands and small groups, and you'll see lots of Conns, Bueschers, Kings and Martins. I have yet to pick up a vintage American horn that sounded bad. I have picked up many done by technicians who really don't know how to work on old mechanisms and usually end up making the action too stiff, and this can be a sore point for beginning players on old horns. Still, when it comes to sound, nothing beats these great old horns, and I still play them on stage, because they really sing.

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  6. I tried 4 altos today-- both Buffet 400s, Selmer La Voix II, and Yamaha's 275 (which was not in the same class as the others.) Basically, what my local store had on hand. The two Buffets were quite different, not just in the finish but in the shapes of some keys (low C and Eb, and the Bb, B, C group.) The action felt very different too. The matte finish has terrific resonance in the lower register; the lacquer was very fluid. Both sounded terrific across the C#/D break, and were very easy to play. The Selmer was fun to play too, although I really liked the Buffet tone. Later in the month I'll be in Montreal, where there's a dealer with some vintage Martins, Conns, and Zephyrs for comparison. What should one look for when trying a vintage horn?

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    1. When looking at vintage horns, the main thing is the condition of the horn itself. Not so much the lacquer or plating, but whether or not the pads are in good shape, has there been any damage or dents on the body, the keys, etc. have parts broken off and been re-soldered? How is the quality of the work. If it was a re-lacquer, are there any globs or uneven spots, is the engraving, if it has any, still sharp or is it drowned under the new lacquer? Is the neck original? These days, unless you're buying a vintage horn from a reputable dealer or repair technician, I recommend buying a new horn. In the end, it will all depend on how it feels to you, how it plays and how it sounds. BTW, I am a very big fan of the Buffet 400.

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  7. do you know anything about voodoo master saxophones?

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    1. Voodoo Master saxophones are made in Taiwan for Steve Goodson at his Saxgourmet shop in New Orleans. I know Steve, and he's a good businessman, and he knows saxophones. He has them made to his specs, sells them out of his shop. They are good horns, but not cheap!

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  8. When trying a vintage horn, the most important thing is how well the keywork was set up. The sound is not really an issue, because they usually sound great, and that is the result of having been played for many years, at least prior to being shoved into a closet or attic. Horns that get played often really do resonate more over time. Since the placement of the keys and the action is different and simpler than modern horns, it is important that a technician understands this and adjust them accordingly. Another complaint about vintage horns is about intonation, that they're not as good as modern horns. Yes and no. The problem is that the bore sizes are smaller than modern horns and in many cases, modern mouthpieces with larger chambers made for modern horns won't work as well because of this difference. The Meyer 6M I use really works well with any vintage horn I've played. My Conn 6M plays well with several modern mouthpieces, and I also found that Martin, any year and King Super 20 saxes play well with many mouthpieces as well. As for intonation, listen to old players on these vintage horns and see if they ever had a problem with intonation. I think not. Ultimately, whether you get a vintage horn or a modern horn, the most important thing is how it sounds and feels to you. Remember that all vintage saxophones were once new, and that most of them got to sound the way they did from a combination of craftsanship and being played often.

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  9. I went to a place with some vintage horns, and tried several modern and older altos, including two late 50s Conn 6Ms and a Conn "Shooting Star", which played very well (but we shied away from it, for better or worse, as it was a Mexican-made model and had seen rather heavy use.) What I really liked (and confirmed by my best gal, who came with me to lend an ear,) was a 1926 Martin Handcraft, silver with gold-washed bell. Very clear focussed tone, very brassy but sweet too. I hesitated a little, because it was less free-blowing than the others, but the shop guy recommended a more open mouthpiece (Vandoren V16, instead of the classical V5/A28 I was using,) and so that's my setup now.

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    1. I have a good friend who gets a lot of gigs on cruise ships, and he has to play both alto and tenor. His tenor is a Yanigasawa, but his alto is a 1926 Martin Handcraft also silver-plated with gold bell. The horn is a beautiful player, a great sound. Martins in general have been undervalued in the vintage marketplace, which is good for the player, but now I've noticed that the prices of Martins and particularly Committee III's have gone up because they are great looking and sounding horns. Good luck with your horn. I'm sure it will play beautifully for you.

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  10. Very helpful!!! Thank you.

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  11. Excellent web site and explanations for all us who could get inf, I'm trying to buy student saxophone tenor , I'm an adult who use to play a litter big of clarinet , and now after many years with 61 years old got enthusiastic to learn sax tenor .

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  12. I played Alto Sax in school when i was younger. Ive always regretted quitting and would love to try and pick it back up. I originally had no problem learning how to play and hope I'll still be the same. But because it has been roughly 12 or 13yrs I don't want to spend too much on a Sax in the event I suck now and can't pick it up like before. What would be a good beginner Alto while costing somewhere around 200? I don't mind used if you have any suggestions of websites to buy one from!

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  13. Please share your feedback about Selmer AS32 vs Cannonball Sceptyr.I want to by a new alto sax and these are the two models I was looking at. Thank You

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  14. how is roy benson alto saxophones? as-202k?

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  15. can any body help me review the conn 25m alto sax pls..is it a good saxophone to buy? cost $1500dlls

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  16. Very helpful reviews! I put a deposit on a Yamaha 475 tenor for my son, and I noticed it was stamped "Made in China". That surprised me, as I was expecting Japan instead. I started to wonder if this was going to be a wise purchase or an inferior version. The 'closeout' price was $1999. Do you still feel this will be a good intermediate horn for my son? Thanks again for the info.

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  17. Thanks for the great reviews! I'm looking at a Yamaha 475 tenor for my son. You still feel the "Made in China" version is solid? Thanks again!

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