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.
Update, December 12, 2014
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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. If the store you buy it from doesn't have a repair tech in house, also don't buy it, because if it develops a leak or a screw or part comes off, etc., they cannot take care of it. Don't get stuck with a lemon that won't play and may make you give up.
Update, December 12, 2014
Of all the articles I've written, this is the most widely read one, and tells me how many people are looking for that high quality low cost saxophone and need reliable information. Since this article was written, the prices of all saxophones have gone up, so at this point, if you can't find a name brand used saxophone that fits your budget, don't throw away your money on some no name piece of junk, which are plentiful on eBay and in small local shops that do not deal in the best musical instruments and do not have repair shops on the premises. Please refer to my latest article on intermediately priced pro saxophones. There is a lot of good information there to and links to websites that would have more information.