Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My Approved List Of Student Saxophones

The summer is now over and I am back after taking some time off to enjoy some time away.  I hope everyone else had a good summer as well.  

The most frequently asked questions I get from readers of my blog are usually from beginners wanting to know "if so and so or such and such saxophones are any good,  they were advertised on eBay or I saw one in my local music store and the price was right", etc.  If you look through eBay's listings, you'll see a glut of saxophones with lots of different names, and very often, they don't even give you a name, just advertise it as "gold lacquer alto, tenor saxophone", etc., You look at the price, it looks good, and you may think, it's cheap enough and it looks good in all the pictures, so I'll get this for my kid or for myself because it's good enough to learn on.  Most beginners really don't know that much about saxophones when they're starting out, and to see so many "names" and types being sold new and used all over the internet can be confusing.  This often leads to sometimes being ripped-off by a shady dealer, or in most cases buying an inferior instrument that is badly constructed, has shoddy keywork, simply won't play in tune no matter what you do.  When a beginner's parents or the beginner themselves buy that kind of horn, because it's cheap and it's "good enough to learn on", they end up frustrated and think that they are not any good, not considering that it's the saxophone itself that keeps the beginner from making any progress.

Though I have written blog posts on beginning and intermediate before, I want to update and expand on it for beginners so that hopefully any questions that I have been and will be asked can be answered.  Hopefully, the information you get here will help you select the best saxophone for you to learn on.  When you are starting out, regardless of whether you are a child or adult, it's important that you get all the information that you can and spend your money wisely, so that you can spend the rest of your time learning and making music.

First, let me give you a run down on all the real name brands on the market.  Many of the questions I get are often "is "this" or "that" saxophone any good?", and the fact is I never heard of it, because it's either just another Chinese sax dumped on the market, or possibly a store or proprietary brand, meaning that a music store or perhaps a repair tech contracts a company, usually located in China or Taiwan, to make saxophones with their name stamped on it.  It's a common practice which is also known as stenciling and has been done for many years.  I will get to these a little later in the article.

I want to start out with brands that have earned a reputation for making fine quality saxophones, whether for the professional or the student.  Some of the brands listed are fairly new, but have already marketed saxophones that have earned a good reputation for quality and sound.  Others have been with us for a long time and have been so because of the fact that they have been consistently making saxophones of the highest quality.  All but two of the manufacturers I will list make a full line of saxophones from student to professional, and these are the brands you should always consider first before plunking down your hard-earned money.  Okay, here are the names you should know.

Selmer: The most famous name in saxophones, and most famous for their professional saxophones, they also make, through their various subsidiaries, intermediate and student saxophones.  

Conn: Conn was at one time one of the greatest names in saxophones, but after WWII, the fortunes of the company declined as well as their quality.  Eventually it came under the Selmer umbrella and is now known as Conn-Selmer, and they make a line of student level saxophones.

Yamaha:  Yamaha makes some of the best saxophones in the world, student and professional, and the 23, which is now the 26, is probably the highest quality student saxophone on the market, as well as the best selling one.  

Keilwerth: Keilwerth, based in Germany, has been making top quality professional saxophones for many years. They were recently acquired by the Buffet Group.

Buffet: Although more famous for their clarinets, they have been building saxophones longer than any other manufacturer on this list.  They built their first saxophone only 20 years after Adolphe Sax invented it.  While their saxophones have never been as popular as Selmer or the other brands, they have always been of the highest quality, and it's possible to get used Buffet saxophones like the Dynaction, Super Dynaction, S1 and Prestige saxophones, all high quality professional horns at a good price. 

Yanigasawa:  Yanigasawa builds some of the best saxophones in the world today.  

P. Mauriat:  A relative newcomer to this group, P. Mauriat, based in Taiwan, quickly became a major player with their line of quality professional saxophones, and their horns are being played by many top professionals.

Antigua:  Based in Texas, their saxophones are made in Taiwan.  They were mostly known for making good quality student and semi-pro saxophones which were also widely used by high school and university bands, but with their ProOne model designed by Peter Ponzol, have entered the high end professional market. 

Cannonball:  Based in Salt Lake City Utah, started by Tevis and Cheryl Lauket, their saxophones are made in Taiwan and they make a full range of high quality mostly professional saxophones, but also have a student line.

 Chateau: The newest name on this list, their professional and semi-pro horns are already getting a lot of attention for their high quality, great sound and price point.  Made in Taiwan, their parent company Tenon, also makes Steve Goodson's line of top quality professional saxophones. 

Jupiter:  Based in Taiwan, Jupiter acquired a good reputation for building good quality student and semi-pro saxophones, and have also entered the professional market.  Their saxophones were widely used by many high school and university bands.

Proprietary brands are instruments made by a manufacturers, usually in Taiwan or China, for a retail store, repair shop or mail order/internet dealers with either the dealer's name or a "brand" name which is exclusive to that business.  Usually large retail stores will create a store brand in order to offer a cheaper option for students and players on a budget.  This works if the business in question has an on-site repair department that can adjust the horns before they go out, and also maintain them after they are purchased.  It's important that the store or service you buy your saxophone from can back their instruments with a good return policy and warranty that covers repairs at least in the first few months.  If the store has repair facilities, even if you buy some cheap Chinese horn, at least they can service it.  If the shop doesn't have facilities, and something goes wrong with it after the return period has expired, and you can be sure something will go wrong, and that bargain you bought won't be such a bargain.  Before you buy, make sure of all these things before you lay down any money.  As far as buying from a private seller, you always take risks, as you have no guarantees and the horn may not even be in playing condition.  My advice is always buy from a reputable dealer with a repair department, unless you know this person really well. If you don't, you will be losing, not saving money.  I would also stay away from eBay for buying a student horn, unless it's being sold by a reputable dealer that will back it up. 

Now I will go into the brands and models of student instruments that I recommend.  If it's not on this list, I never heard of it, and chances are neither has anyone else.  Just stay away from them no matter how attractive the price.

I haven't discussed renting an instrument because in most cases, rental instruments are no name, or older name brands that have never been properly taken care of, abused, and in general not very good shape.  Again, if you decide to go the rental route, just be sure that the place you rent it from has a repair department.  If the horn is not properly maintained, that will lead to the kind of frustration that can cause someone to quit.  

My personal list of the best student saxophones 

Hands down, the top student saxophone is the Yamaha YAS and YTS 26.  It is also the priciest, but for good reason.  It is solidly built, and has the best resale value of any student horn.  You may eve be able to find used 23's, the 26's predecessor in good playing condition at a great price.  The 26 is also available as a tenor.

 Yamaha YAS-26

If there is any drawback to this model, it's a minor one.  It doesn't come with a high F# key, where other student models do.  However, its solid construction and reliability negates that.

The Cannonball Alcazar is a well made student saxophone that has the look of an intermediate horn.  It gas a high F# key and has a balanced tone
Cannonball Alcazar

Antigua Winds began by offering a wide range of instruments for students and have been used by many high school and university bands.  Though they have graduated to building high quality professional saxophones, they still produce excellent entry level horns.  The AS and TS 3100 saxophones have a range up to F# and a well balanced tone.  

Antigua AS3100

Though Selmer is most famous for its high end professional saxophones, they offer several lines of student and intermediate saxophones.  The Prelude AS711 is a good beginner saxophone, having all the features of a Selmer saxophone.  Range to high F#, also available as a tenor. They also have a 400 and 500 student line, but I have found them to be rather flimsy.  The AS711 and the TS711 are much better choices.  I had a TS711 at one time, and after being properly adjusted by my tech, was used for some of my gigs where I needed a tenor.  It did the job just fine. 

Selmer Prelude AS711

You have already read my reviews of the Buffet 400, and I highly recommend them as an entry level pro model.  However, Buffet also has a good quality student model, the 100, available as alto and tenor.  It looks very similar to the 400, but less engraving, single arms on the lower keys instead of the double arms, and available only in gold lacquer.  Range up to high F#.  

Buffet 100 Alto Sax

Jupiter began by marketing high quality student and intermediate saxophones that were widely used by high school and university bands long before they entered the pro market.  The JAS 1100 alto and the JTL 1100 tenor are their student saxophones, and are worthy of consideration.  

Jupiter JAS 1100 Alto Sax

The P. Mauriat PMSA-57GC alto saxophone is listed on their website as an intermediate step up horn, but its price point is below that of a Yamaha 26, which makes it worth considering.  

 P. Mauriat PMSA-57GC Alto Sax

Chateau is the newest kid on the block, but already their professional and semi-pro saxophones are getting positive reviews.  Based in Taiwan, their parent company Tenon, also makes high end professional saxophones for Steve Goodson's Saxgourmet line.  The Chateau VCH-222 is their student sax, and it is as solidly built as their professional saxophones.  The light rose brass finish indicates that it has a higher copper content, which gives the sax a richer more complex tone, and is unheard of for a student sax and at this price point.  It also makes a great back up horn for a professional.

Chateau VCH-222 Alto Sax

Keilwerth and Yanigasawa at this time are only making high end professional saxophones, and even used models command a high price.  However, sometimes a bargain is out there, so you should always be on the lookout.  

When you go to the websites of the larger retail stores, you will often see their "specials", store brand saxophones on sale as a more affordable option from the name brands.  However, the quality of these horns are always inconsistent and more often very questionable.  

Jean Baptiste is the store brand for Sam Ash, and the consistency of quality of these saxophones vary from one horn to the next.  They are made in different factories in Asia, either China or Vietnam.  Their JB290AL saxophone however is a good beginner saxophone and is inexpensive as saxophones go.  The plus side, Sam Ash has a liberal return policy, warranties and repair shops to back the horns.  The down side, if you live near a Sam Ash it may not have an in house repair shop and they have to send the saxophones out to another store that does, and that always takes time.  If you order from the internet, you know the whole thing of having to pack it and ship either to return or repair it and it takes even more time. Regardless, it's better than buying a saxophone that isn't backed by anything.


You may not live near a music store and so you may have to rely on the internet.  Here are some online shops that you can look into, in the US and abroad.  This is a fairly comprehensive list of links, and I highly recommend doing some research, check prices and services, and even contact them and ask questions. 





























Many smaller mom and pop or local music stores will sell or rent cheap Chinese made saxophones for students.  However, be warned, if they do not have a repair shop on premises, when something goes wrong with the horn, you're screwed, unless you already know a repair tech.  If you rent or buy the horn, it may not be in real playing condition and it can lead to frustration, where you may think it's you, but it's the instrument, and then quit before you give yourself a chance.  So always make sure the place you buy or rent from can back up the horn.

So there is my list of approved saxophones for beginners.  Anything not on this list that you buy or rent you do so at your own risk.  Remember, it's not a bargain if it can't play in tune and is poorly constructed.