A Guide To Buying A Saxophone

Hey readers! Before we get to the topic of buying a saxophone I just want to update you on something. If you haven’t already heard, the Marc Holt Quintet is hitting the road for a couple of days in October! We are in North Battleford at The Gog on Oct 7 and Edmonton at Café Blackbird on Oct 8. Hope to see you there!

Anyways…. Sorry it has been so long since my last post. I’m going to try to do this more regularly. This time around I want to talk about purchasing or renting an instrument, specifically saxophones of course, but before I start I want to state that I am not paid nor contracted by any of these brands to endorse their instruments.

Unlike instruments such as pianos, guitars, and drums, which you can by cheap version of and still make sounds on, when it comes to saxophones, cheap instruments often don’t play properly, don’t play at all, or very quickly fall into that category. This is because of the way saxophones work. The pitch is changed by making the instrument longer or shorter by covering or uncovering holes that are precisely measured to play in tune. When you close a key, a ‘pad’ on the under side of the key seals the hole causing air to move further down the instrument, thus making the pitch lower. If the key does not seal properly, the air like can cause squeaks, honks, wobbling sounds, or no sound at all. Playing on a poor quality instrument can be extremely discouraging to beginners of all ages, and often ends up as wasted money. This is all to common of a problem on cheap instruments, which is why it is important to always purchase or rent a quality instrument.

Beginner Models

Let’s start by talking about beginner instruments, also known as student models. Unfortunately there are very few manufactures that make quality beginner saxophones and A LOT that make very poor quality saxophones. In my opinion, and the opinion of many teachers, Yamaha makes the best student model saxophones. They retail for around $1200 for an alto and $2200 for a tenor and they are worth every penny. Other quality manufactures of student model saxophones include Jupiter, P. Mauriat and Selmer and they sell for around the same price as the Yamaha. When it comes to brands to avoid, there are far too many to list, so here are a few guidelines. First, if it is an alto saxophone you are buying and it costs less than $1000 brand new, don’t buy it. If it is a tenor, avoid anything under around $1500. Second, if it is a colour other than brass or silver, you probably shouldn’t buy it. Third, if you can buy it in a department store such as Walmart, Sears, or Costco, definitely do not buy it. If you follow these rules you should end up with a good quality instrument that will last many years if it is well taken care of. If in doubt, ask your band teacher or private instructor to help you pick one out. No qualified teacher will recommend a poor quality instrument.

Intermediate Models

When it comes time to move up from a beginner instrument to an intermediate model there are a few more options. Selmer and Yamaha are still very good choices. Yanagisawa also makes some good quality student instruments. As for P. Mauriat, their intermediate models can be ok, but there are definitely better choices. Intermediate model Jupiter saxophones do exist, but the quality isn’t really there. The rules for buying an intermediate model saxophone are mostly the same as buying a beginner model. In price, expect to pay $2000-$3200 for an alto and $3000-$4500 for a tenor. Colour gets a little looser at this level. There are some quality instruments in bronze and black, but brass and silver are still the standard. If it is a colour you would find in the rainbow you should not even consider buying it. The one rule that does not change through all levels is that you should never buy an instrument from a department store. One thing to keep in mind when buying an intermediate level instrument is that at this level, the player is starting to develop their own sound and they are also starting to understand what quality feels and sounds like, so you should always try an instrument before buying it. I still recommend seeking the assistance of your teacher, or if you aren’t currently taking lessons, a qualified teacher or professional in your area would be able to assist you.

Professional Models

By the time you get to the point of buying a professional level instrument you should know your instrument well enough to make your own decisions on what is a quality instrument and what isn’t. If you are not, you are probably not ready for a professional instrument, but I will still provide a little bit of information about brands. Selmer and Yamaha are the gold standard in most professional communities. You really can’t go wrong with either of those brands. Yanagisawa also makes some very good quality professional level instruments. There are some others that there is much debate on the quality of the instrument, mostly because they have a different aesthetic appeal than most traditional instruments and they also tend to retail for a lower price. Two of those brands are Cannonball and SeaWind (which is a Canadian company). I personally think that both of these manufacturers make great quality instruments and would recommend them to my students. As I stated before though, at this level it is about what you want so you definitely need to be trying multiple instruments and comparing them before purchasing. A teacher or trusted professional can still be of great assistance at this level, but make sure that you are buying something that YOU are happy with.

When it comes to buying used the game changes a little. For beginners I highly recommend having your teacher or a trusted professional to help you out with the process. Stick to the same brands mentioned before, but make sure the instrument has been well taken care of and is in good working order. Prices will obviously vary when buying used instruments so use your judgment. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. For intermediate and professional instruments al the same rules apply to used as they did to new instruments. However, when it comes to buying vintage instruments you really need to do your research and learn which vintage instruments are good, which are not, and what they are worth. Again, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

What it all boils down to is just be smart about what you are buying. You will get what you pay for. Buying a quality instrument is so important for a new saxophone player to set them up with the best chance to succeed. If they have to play on an instrument that doesn’t work they won’t first assume that the instrument is the problem, but they will assume that they are the problem and they will quit and be discouraged for years to come.

If you are in the process of buying an instrument and have any questions please feel free to contact me. I would love to help. If you like or disagree with anything I said here I would really like to hear about it. Thanks for reading!

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