Like the guitar and piano, the saxophone is an instrument that captures the imagination and heartstrings of millions of people all over the globe. New sax players are born every day. But, with the staggering amount of options and costs out there, how can you decide on the best saxophone for beginners? We’ve got the info you need to make a decision and some excellent recommendations to get you started.
From its humble beginnings in a 19th-century Parisian instrument building shop, inventor Adolph Sax hadn’t the faintest clue about the effect his invention would have on the music world. In fact, today the saxophone is one of the most popular wind instruments and a favorite among kids and adults. Its flexible and personal sound and use in multiple genres make the saxophone a great choice no matter your tastes in music.
To think that classical virtuoso Eugene Rousseau, jazz pioneer Charlie Parker and R&B/pop legend David Sanborn all play the same instrument really shows its range and diversity.
Woodwind instruments, such as saxophone, clarinet, oboe, and even flute, are found in every genre of music, particularly in chamber pop and film music on the indie side of things. You can go a long way with these instruments, and you can make some truly beautiful music.
Where to start
Being inspired to play the saxophone, however, is what’s important first and foremost. Then there’s the issue of where to begin and crucially, the costs of acquiring and owning one. The saxophone is not the cheapest instrument, even for entry-level brands. And, the variety out there can make you dizzy just thinking about it. This is where we can help with finding the best saxophone for beginners.
For those new to the saxophone, let’s take a look at where to start, which saxophone you should consider, and what you might pay to get started on your musical journey.
How much does a beginner saxophone cost?
“Money’s too tight to mention.” For many of us, this Simply Red track rings true. However, owning your first saxophone does not need to break the bank. If you look hard enough, you can find a decent saxophone that serves you well through most of your formative playing years.
When starting, most beginners choose either alto or tenor saxophone. Although for kids, alto sax is the preferred choice due to it being smaller and easier to handle physically. Prices can vary depending on brand name and build quality, and as with anything, better build quality and brand prestige have a higher price.
If you’re on a tight budget, your choices may be limited. But, a beginner alto saxophone can cost between $300-$600, complete with a case, mouthpiece, and cleaning materials. On the higher end of the spectrum, established brands such as Yamaha and Jupiter can retail between $800 to over $1000.
A crucial item to consider is reeds. Reeds are thin pieces of bamboo carved and shaved into shape to fit on a saxophone mouthpiece to produce a sound. Without a reed, you can’t make a sound. Reeds can be costly as they have a limited lifespan and can break easily if you’re not careful.
When budgeting for a new saxophone, it’s wise to keep the cost of reeds in mind. This will at least prepare you for the “running costs” involved. A typical box of alto saxophone reeds has 10 reeds, and the cost ranges between $11-$20, depending on the brand.
What to watch for when buying a beginner saxophone?
For anyone new to the saxophone, or musical instruments in general, buying a new or used instrument can be a dizzying task. A simple google search will reveal thousands of results with a cornucopia of brands. And, unfortunately, newbies to the saxophone can have a hard time figuring out good brands from not so good. If we take the alto saxophone as an example, there are signs to look out for that can help you make a good buying decision.
The first thing to look for is body construction. Almost all student-level saxophones consist of a two-piece bell, which are two molds soldered together. The two-piece bell design is less labor intensive but doesn’t have the same strength and resonance as hand-hammered one-piece bells.
Next, you should consider ribbed versus post-to-body construction. Ribbed construction consists of long brass plates placed on the saxophone body where the posts are soldered to the plates. With post-to-body, the individual posts are soldered directly onto the body.
Most student-level saxophones use post-to-body construction, but having ribbed construction does not necessarily make the saxophone better. It simply produces a different resonance that might be favored by certain musicians. Post-to-body has been said to vibrate more freely. This may allow a beginner to easily produce a sound, though this is not always the case.
Now we come to finishes. If there is one thing that grabs our attention, it’s the shiny outer coating of the saxophone. This is what we call the finish. The finish is the protective lacquer applied to the brass to shield the bare brass underneath from the elements. It will also influence the sound of the instrument.
There are furious debates about which lacquer sounds best and which improves resonance. The sound difference is tremendously subtle, and only the most experienced saxophonists and technicians can discern any difference. Even then, the differences are personal. What might sound great to one player, might not be for another. It’s similar to the type of wood used in an ukulele.
Most student-level saxophones come with a standard gold lacquer finish, with the keys either the same lacquer or plated in nickel to improve durability. As you go higher up the quality ladder, some saxophones have silver plated finishes, unlacquered raw brass, black nickel plating, or in some cases, gold plated finishes. Different finishes influence the cost of the saxophone too. If you have a larger budget, you can shop around for a finish that really catches your eye.
If at all possible, try to view a saxophone physically rather than relying only on pictures. Getting up close and personal allows you to spot aspects that can influence your decision-making. If you can’t, that’s fine too. You should still be able to find something perfectly suitable. If you have a sax-playing friend, ask them to test the saxophone for you and check for any intonation issues between notes. They can also check to see if the action (stiff or loose key movement and height) is solid throughout the instrument.
Buying a new beginner saxophone
A shiny new saxophone is a beauty to behold. If you’re in it for the long haul, buying a new saxophone can be a good choice with many affordable saxophones on the market. When buying a new saxophone, take note of the following.
- Look down from the top into the inside of the saxophone. If there is residue remaining after the manufacturing process, it might be an indication that the saxophone was set up too quickly with little quality control.
- Check that keys are secure. You should be able to detect play (or awkward movement) in the keys.
- Check the indentation on the pads underneath the key cups. If the indentation is off-center, then the keys are not seated in the correct position. This occurs mostly on the large keys.
- Notice if all the keys close with little effort. You shouldn’t have to produce a vice grip to press down a key.
- Make sure all the springs work. There are two kinds of springs: needle springs and flat springs. If the keys do not pop up when you release them or stay open when they’re supposed to be closed, then the spring needs to be fixed.
- A vital piece of equipment for the saxophone is the mouthpiece. Most student-level saxophones come with a poorly made plastic mouthpiece that can make producing a sound frustrating. I recommend investing in a reputable mouthpiece brand and spending a little extra so that you have no trouble developing the right sound.
Buying a used beginner saxophone
When you don’t have the budget for a new instrument, or you’re looking for a better-quality brand that is too expensive, then used saxophones are a great choice. Think of the following if you find yourself contemplating buying a used saxophone:
- Can you see signs of corrosion on the finish, particularly close to the posts? This is a sign of poor lacquering and brass quality.
- If you notice a lot of soldering on the posts and key guards, this is a sign of past damage.
- Dents are an obvious giveaway of past damage. The bell and lower bow are not that much of a concern, but close to or around tone holes and posts can affect playability, intonation, and damage to pads and springs.
- Check if the neck connects tightly to the top of the saxophone. If the neck is a bit loose or wobbles, this will affect the sound and playability.
- Sometimes old instruments get relacquered to improve their appearance. Beware that if the process was not done correctly, the saxophone’s sound could lose resonance and response. Vintage saxophones with the lacquer stripped away over any year are better than getting a relacquer.
- Take a look at any felts or corks that protect keys from hitting the body. If many are missing or look like they’re about to fall off, it’s a sign of poor build quality or neglect in the shipping process.
- In extreme cases, particularly instruments older than 60 years, notice any bends in the body. Over time this can cause intonation and air leakages that are tricky to fix. Body bends can be fixed, but require a skilled technician and is a costly process.
Renting a beginner saxophone
Sometimes you are unsure if the saxophone is right for you. Buying an instrument might seem too much a stretch for your wallet to only give up after a few months. In this situation, renting a beginner saxophone is a good option. Most musical instrument retailers have the option to rent instruments out to customers at an affordable rate.
Generally, you will receive an entry-level instrument that has been serviced regularly. It’s wise to check for any of the same issues covered above for new or used saxophones. As rented instruments move from one customer to the next, the constant use means they are prone to wear and tear. So, if you do see any of the above issues, ask to see another instrument.
Our top picks for best saxophone for beginners
With new brands almost everywhere, a beginner saxophone player can rightfully feel confused with the choices available. To steer clear of the clutter, let’s check out four saxophone brands you can consider that are good-quality horns at a competitive price.
Jean Paul USA AS-400 Student Alto Saxophone
- Ergonomic Keywork helps you play more comfortably
- Robust Contoured Carrying Case For Easy Transportation
- Beautiful Yellow Brass Body Construction With Lacquer Finish
- Included Accessories: Semi-hard Backpack Style Carrying Case, 1 Neck Strap, 1 Standard Mouthpiece, 1 Ligature & Cap, 1 Rico Reed #2, 1 Cleaning Cloth, and 1 Cork Grease
The Jean Paul brand has stepped up its game in the past several years to produce one of the best student-level saxophones on the market today. Many satisfied players of all ages give a positive review of the instrument as well as the stellar customer service.
Since the brand’s inspection in 2012, the company made it a top priority to produce a high-quality saxophone at an entry-level price. Jean Paul saxophones are built in China, then shipped to the Jean Paul headquarters in Miami, Florida for adjustments and inspection. Jean Paul sells direct to customers as a way to keep the price affordable.
The AS-400 is ideal for the student, with its ergonomic and solid key design. Also included is a durable case with all the cleaning accessories and mouthpiece needed to set up and get playing.
Jupiter JAS710GN Student Alto Saxophone
- Lacquered Brass Body is drawn using state of the art technology to ensure an instrument of the most accurate scale and playability
- Nickel-Plated Keys are made from the highest quality tempered brass and nickel offering a great combination of both strength and a durable finish
- Contoured Left-Hand Table Keys with Tilting Bb Rocker Arm provides more comfortable fingering and added agility for the advancing student
- Beginner instrument with advanced features
Jupiter has been a major brand in not just the student level, but also professional level saxophones. Founded by KHS Musical Instrument Co. Ltd in 1979, Jupiter remains one of the largest manufacturers of woodwind and brass instruments, catering to all levels.
Over the past several years, the price of their standard student instruments has risen. But, so has the quality, on par with some professional brands. The JAS710GN continues to live up to the brand’s level of build quality, offering a student-level instrument with advanced features like contoured left-hand table keys and nickel-plated keys for extra durability.
Yamaha YAS-280 Student Alto saxophone
- Complete with Case
- Made by Yamaha - World Leaders in Guitars and Keyboards
- Yamaha Alto Sax, YAS-280
- Gold lacquer finish. High F# and Front F auxiliary keys
Yamaha is a household name with musical instruments. Regarded as the benchmark for student saxophones, Yamaha has, over many decades, developed reliable and solid instruments that could last for a generation and get a student from beginner to undergraduate level easily.
The YAS-280 is the current generation of Yamaha student saxophones that offer a responsive, free-blowing build that is easy to play, with improved intonation and ergonomic keywork.
Apart from saxophones, Yamaha produces the best student mouthpieces for beginners on a budget. Most student saxophones come with a low-quality plastic mouthpiece that makes playing harder for beginners. As a general rule, most customers purchase a Yamaha mouthpiece to complement their student-level saxophone and provide years of playing for beginners.
Trevor James – The Horn Alto Saxophone
Trevor James has consistently produced top-quality student saxophones since the 1990s. The UK-based company designs all their instruments and after receiving the built instruments from China, they finish off the finished with adjustments and engravings.
The current generation of The Horn was launched in 2019 with an improved key design and setup, and a higher quality brass for a richer resonance. The closer keywork action and free-blowing design make playing for the beginner saxophonist easier and more comfortable.
Trevor James saxophones come with a durable case, neck strap, cleaning accessories and reeds.
What are the different types of Saxophones?
The saxophone family is a fairly large group of instruments. And, it could be debated that, except for the orchestral string family, is the most homogenized family of instruments. Back in the late 19th century, the saxophone family was split into two subfamilies. The Eb and Bb pitched group was primarily used in military bands, and the C and F pitched family for classical or solo work.
The C and F family fell out of favor due to the superior tone quality and intonation of the Eb and Bb family. Today nine saxophones exist, though five saxophones are used regularly.
The Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone, and Bass saxophone are the saxophones we see and hear most often in bands and recorded music. Though each saxophone uses the same fingering, they differ in size and tone. They also require different times to learn the nuances of each instrument.
Which beginner saxophone is right for me?
As a beginner, choosing which saxophone you want to learn comes down to not only your personal preference but physically what you can handle. For most kids, the alto saxophone or tenor saxophone is the preferred instrument to start. Let’s take a look at different kinds of saxophones to see which one you might enjoy playing.
Beginner soprano saxophones
Despite its small size, the soprano saxophone is a tricky instrument to control. The small mouthpiece and brass conical body produce a piercing tone that takes a lot of effort to control. Generally, someone starting on the saxophone would be better off starting with alto or tenor.
Entry-level soprano saxophones tend to have intonation difficulties. It’s for this reason that a saxophonist who wishes to switch to soprano saxophone spends a bit more to have a better-quality instrument. Brands such as Jupiter, Yamaha, and Trevor James make good quality student-level soprano saxophones.
Beginner alto saxophones
The alto saxophone is the go-to saxophone for beginners, particularly for young children. The medium size and free-blowing response make the alto saxophone one of the best saxophones to start with as a beginner.
Aside from the manageable size, the alto saxophone is a versatile instrument. You can play serious classical concertos or wail on popular smooth jazz songs. Reeds are less expensive than other saxophones as well.
The are many brands out there that make entry-level alto saxophones, and we’ve covered a few in this write-up. Also, there is a slew of ultra-cheap (around $300) alto saxophones that offer the beginner the option to take up the saxophone on a tight budget.
Beginner tenor saxophones
To many, the tenor saxophone is the most balanced of the saxophones. Its large size allows for lower, fuller tones and a powerful high register. In fact, most of the innovations in saxophone playing, and particularly in jazz, came from tenor saxophone players.
Though not as common as a beginner instrument, the tenor saxophone is a popular instrument in school music programs and for adult beginners. The instrument is heavier and requires more air to sustain a sound. Reeds and mouthpieces are more expensive compared to alto saxophone accessories. Particularly with reeds, tenor saxophone reeds come in boxes of five and can range in price from $18-$26.
Beginner baritone saxophones
One of the larger members of the saxophone family, the baritone saxophone, is a heavy instrument that requires a large amount of air to sustain the sound. Though it can be a fun instrument to play, especially hitting those low notes, the baritone saxophone is recommended for older kids who can physically handle the instrument. Be aware that it also might require players to use a shoulder harness to hold it.
Everything is bigger on a baritone saxophone. The key size and spacing, the mouthpiece, and the reeds can be expensive. In today’s market, there are manufacturers from China producing affordable baritones. Although you will need to check intonation and build quality, which can vary widely and inconsistently between different brands.
Beginner bass saxophones
One of the largest saxophones in the family, the bass saxophone is a monster instrument that is not for the faint-hearted. Its size and weight mean that it takes a lot of physical effort to play. And, due to its size and rarity, it’s an enormously expensive instrument. Prices can range past $20,000!
Needless to say, you will not see this instrument in many school bands, unless there is a big music budget. However, the bass saxophone is common in military bands, concert bands, traditional jazz groups, and even theater bands. Despite this, some manufacturers from China have worked to produce a much more affordable instrument to make the bass saxophone accessible to those daring enough to play it.
UK-based saxophone retailer Sax.co.uk has a house brand called Sakkusu that features a bass saxophone in their catalog, which sells for around $4700. So, the Sakkusu bass saxophone can be classed as a student-level saxophone. But, for the money, you get a fairly solid instrument that can add punch to any musical setting.
Is a name brand important?
Depending on who you ask, buying a name brand or a lesser-known brand comes down to budget and preferences. Instrument brands develop a reputation over time. And, if you’re going to spend a large amount of money on an instrument, you need to know that you’re getting something reliable that sounds good and will last for many years.
A cheaper saxophone might get you going. However, you could be faced with the unfortunate need to purchase another after several years. The cheaper build quality could mean that you’ll pick up the saxophone one day and have it fall to pieces. Not fun if you have a gig coming up.
The best advice is to buy the best saxophone you can find within your budget. It might mean spending more than you would like. But, then you can be sure that a better instrument will stick around for several decades with proper care and maintenance. It’s no different than owning a car, though no need for gas and insurance.
Best saxophone for beginners: Final thoughts
If you’ve been bitten by the sax bug, you have every opportunity to take the leap and learn to play the saxophone. One of the most popular instruments in the world, the saxophone’s versatility and distinctive sound make it an enjoyable and captivating instrument.
There are many ways to get hold of a saxophone, whether you’re buying one new, used, or renting. Also, there’s no shortage of method books and online videos to get you started. Although getting a beginner saxophone can still be a big financial commitment, owning and maintaining a student-level saxophone is much easier. So, you don’t have to put your saxophone playing dreams on hold.
To quote saxophone great Stan Getz: “If you like an instrument that sings, play the saxophone. At its best, it’s like the human voice.”
Last update on 2023-03-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API