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Deciding to learn how to play the saxophone is one thing. Figuring out where to start when it comes to actually buying your first saxophone is another. As you may have guessed, the world of saxophones is vast, and tempting as it might be to go all out and splurge on a top-of-the-line Coltrane-level sax, we’d advise you to start a little smaller.
Certain instruments are made specifically to appeal to student sax players (not to say more experienced musicians won’t have luck with them as well). These tend to be a little lighter, easier to handle, and don’t come with any extra keys you won’t need until you level up. But just because it’s a starter sax doesn’t mean quality doesn’t matter — you’ll still want to be sure you’re getting the best possible tone from the instrument.
What You Should Know Before Buying a Saxophone
Before taking the plunge and buying your first saxophone, there are several factors to keep in mind, from basic types to quality.
Type of saxophone: Saxes come in five basic varieties: Alto, tenor, soprano, bass, and baritone. The tenor is perhaps the jazziest of the bunch, but the alto is the real classic. It is also the sax most people find easiest to learn on, and teaches skills you can transfer to almost any of the other tones if you eventually decide to level up.
Quality of materials: A poorly-made instrument will never produce the kind of sound an excellent sax should, no matter how proficient you become. Make sure your purchase is well-constructed from solid materials and isn’t going to fall apart in your hands to moment you put mouth to reed.
Used vs. new: Many beginners choose to buy a used saxophone rather than new, which can certainly be a viable option. But as with any used purchase, there are risks. Always be sure of the condition of the saxophone you’re buying. Damage like dents in the body or poor pads will damage the sound, and you could end up spending hundreds more on repairs than you did the actual sax.
Whether you’re just starting out on the sax, or need a reliable second instrument for practice or travel, here are some solid saxophones to pick up.
1. Jean Paul USA AS-400 Student Alto Saxophone
In the class of saxophones for beginners and intermediates, this Jean Paul alto is a real standout. Music teachers give it top marks for students, while even professional and experienced sax players praise the beautiful tone, excellent intonation, and responsiveness even in higher and lower registers.
It is also exceptionally easy to use, in large part because of the precise key configuration. The key action is described as fluid and even, giving it a relaxed, effortless feeling when played. The manufacturer, trusted in the industry, also underscores the durability of the instrument — so you won’t need to replace it until you’re ready skill-wise for an upgrade. It also comes with a hefty carrying case and accessories. Honestly, unless you’re ready to go on tour with Kenny G, it’s hard to think of a better place to start.
Pros: Superior quality in tone and construction, easy to use.
Cons: Some say the parts and construction, while durable, felt a little cheap.
2. Mendini by Cecilio E-Flat Alto Saxophone
According to the manufacturer, each instrument is assembled with over 300 hand-crafted parts that are all made exclusively by Cecilio. They are all play-tested at the Cecilio factory and then re-tested at the Los Angeles distribution center to ensure quality standards are met.
Instructors like this sax for students because of how easy it is to get a handle on. It has a satisfying, full-bodied tone and fast action keys which make it easier to use. You can feel the high-quality metal in the weight of the thing, and it gets top marks on all the technicals. Of course, if you’re going to get really good sound from it, it’s going to take a certain level of skill and practice to get there.
Pros: High-quality materials and easy to use for beginners.
Cons: The mouthpiece and reeds should be replaced for best quality sound.
3. Glory Black/Gold Keys Professional Alto Saxophone
The style-minded will probably be drawn to this black and gold sax from Glory initially because, well, it looks cool. That said, it is also a solid starter instrument with a nice key layout and compact design making it easy to use for players at all levels. Tonally, it sounds pretty great on both the high and low ends of the scale. Experienced sax players do advise taking the small extra step of replacing the mouthpiece and reeds, which will go a long way toward improving the overall sound, especially if you’re a first-timer.
Pros: Sleek design and solid tone.
Cons: Some awkwardness in the design might throw some people off at first.