What is the Difference Between a Cheap and Expensive Saxophone?

by ReverbLxnd in Saxophone

Cheap Saxophone vs Expensive: What is the Difference Between a Cheap and Expensive Saxophone?

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A lot of people want to buy a saxophone but they’re not ready to spend thousands of dollars to get something of professional quality. Here’s a comparison that highlights the difference between cheap saxophones and expensive saxophones to help you decide if it’s all worth it.

We’ll go over a few little things that you can look out for if you are buying a saxophone, or things to look out for on your sax if you want an upgrade.

Let’s get started.

The Differences Between Cheap Saxophones vs. Expensive Professional Saxophones

#1 — The Palm Keys on Cheap Saxophones Will Have a Lot of Travel

With the palm keys, there will likely be a lot of travel to get to that D key especially.

You will almost have to bend your hand to get to that D. And when you actually get there, the palm key might keep going for quite a while, which means it likely opens quite a long way to get the D to come out.

The problem with palm keys with a lot of travel is that once you’ve pressed them, your index finger is now miles away from the B key on the other side.

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#1 — The Palm Keys on Cheap Saxophones Will Not be Uniform

If there is not uniformity to the palm keys, once you’ve got the D down, it’s actually quite awkward to get the other keys down.

You really have to work your hand to find all three palm keys.

The palm keys on expensive pro saxophones will be exactly where you expect them to be. You don’t need to open your hand up or spread your fingers to try and get to a D.

#1 — The Front Left Keys on Cheap Saxophones Might Be Misplaced, Feel Awkward

The next thing is in the feel of the saxophone.

The front keys of the left hand will feel awkward, they likely will even be pointing out the wrong way when you’re holding the saxophone.

Normally, they should be in a position where the keys are just underneath your fingers, but with cheap saxophones, there are no guarantees.

And with the general lay of the front left keys on the saxophone, you might really have to bring your left fingers round for your fingers tips to sit on the keys. It will be awkward for you to play in this position and it just won’t feel right.

Also, be prepared for how far these keys will travel.

The left hand on expensive pro saxophones will sit nicely. The front keys will sit exactly where you expect them to be — right underneath your fingertips.

#1 — The Octave Key on Cheap Saxophones Might Have a Lot of Travel

The octave key will also have quite a lot of travel as well.

As you play and move between the octaves, you’ll have a lot of distance to get that down.

The octave key on an expensive saxophone, even when slightly worn won’t have a lot of travel, and there’ll be slightly more padding on it.

#1 — The Front Right Keys on Cheap Saxophones Might Also Be Misplaced, Feel Awkward

The same can be said for the right hand with regards to travel.

The side B# key will be quite far away from your knuckle. These are the sorts of things that will make you mess up when trying to play your saxophone when switching between the side B# and the front keys.

There will be so much travel in your fingers to get the B flat to come out. The further the travel, the further your fingers and hand position will be distorted.

The keys on the front won’t feel right either. It doesn’t feel like your fingers are sat naturally on the keys. If you’re used to playing pro saxes, you’ll know it immediately you pick up a cheap saxophone.

#1 — The Side Keys on Cheap Saxophones Will Gradually Get Closer and Closer To The Saxophone

On cheap saxophones, the side keys will gradually get closer and closer to the body.

Typically, the top one won’t be too bad even though it will sit too far away from your fingers, but as you get lower and lower, to the B#, they will come in further and further away.

The lay of cheap saxophones is almost always never go on the side keys.

#1 — Cheap Saxophone Brands Change Rapidly

The thing to keep in mind about cheap saxophones is that the brands can come and go quite rapidly.

A cheap saxophone brand will last only a couple of years, and then something else comes in to take it’s place. It might even come back!

This makes it very hard to track the quality of these instruments over time because they are constantly being changed even when they come from the same factory, in China or wherever.

#1 — With Quality, You Might Get Lucky With a Cheap Saxophone

It is hard to recommend cheap saxophones in general.

Yes, they are very cheap. And yes, they don’t sound too bad.

But, all of the information that we have from repairers, and other players that have purchased these cheap saxophones (mostly online), is that the quality can vary wildly.

You may get lucky and get a cheap saxophone that is in quite good shape, but just as equally, you may get one that has to go to the repairer immediately.

A cheap saxophone is a gamble.

In fact, most repairers that I know work on these cheap instruments say they simply do not last.

#1 — Cheap Saxophones Come with Bad Cases

If you are shipping a cheap saxophone from say, Amazon, the case that they come in are terrible, be ready for some impact damage. Sometimes, you’ll even get some keys coming off and bouncing around in the case during shipping. Ouch!

The horn moves around inside the case.

And even if you fix your cheap saxophone after shipping and get it ready to play, and then go and put it back in the same case and carry it around, it’s just as likely to get damaged again.

Cheap saxophones come with bad cases.

If you want to save some money on an instrument, that’s fine. But please put it in a better case so it doesn’t constantly get impact damaged.

The #1 thing you get with an expensive pro sax is a quality case.

When you spend more on an instrument, you can expect there to be a decent working usable case that comes with it.

#1 — Cheap Saxophone Play Suprisingly Well

Okay. This is a bit of a pro than a difference.

Most cheap saxophones play surprisingly well — almost shockingly well (even with their mouthpieces).

For what they cost, they don’t sound half bad over the whole range, and they play in tune.

However, I think the sound difference between a cheap saxophone and a professional saxophone is pretty clear.

Is a cheap saxophone worth it? Is an expensive professional saxophone worth the extra money?

To be honest with you, cheap saxophones are completely useless.

You’ll be surprised by the sound, sometimes it actually won’t sound too bad at all, especially if you don’t use the mouthpiece that came in the case.

The mouthpiece does make a huge difference to the sound.

What would I recommend instead of a cheap saxophone?

I would jump on to Craiglist, or Gumtreer whatever the online classified website is in your area and check out a second hand professional saxophone.


Well, they are very affordable, they sound great, they’ve got a legendary reputation for being extremely reliable, and you are taking just as much of a risk with a cheap purchase anyway.

You won’t actually spend too much more, or any more, on a secondhand pro saxophone than you would on one of those cheap saxophones but what you’ll get is a saxophone that has been tried and tested for decades, something that both beginners and professionals really love.

That is the advice of myself and so many professionals I know that are in the industry.


I've been a musician and brought in my stuff for mixing and mastering, I've been my own producer where I wrote, recorded, mixed and sold my own stuff. Now, I'm *mostly* an audio engineer, where I only record and mix for clients. I'm currently based in Berlin, Germany, where I operate ReverbLand out of. Got a question? DM me on Instagram or Twitter @reverblxnd everywhere, or shoot me an email [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you.

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