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How much is a saxophone?
Today we are going to look at buying your first saxophone, how much a beginner or student saxophone costs and how much a good professional saxophone costs, and what to expect.
Good entry-level Chinese made beginner saxophones will start somewhere around the US$350 mark. A good Taiwanese made student saxophone will cost you between US$650 and US$1000. A professional saxophone set you back a couple of thousand dollars at the very least, perhaps, north of US$4000.
One of the questions I’m often asked is what is the difference between a student saxophone and a professional saxophone. Why is there such a huge price difference?
Let’s start by looking at buying your first saxophone before we get into the pro stuff.
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How Much Does a Good Beginner (Student) Saxophone Cost?
Now, it is can be intimidating — and confusing — if you are just entering the world of saxophones because there are just so many types, so many parts, so many accessories, and so many other things to factor in.
To simplify this, we are going to be focusing on the two main types of saxophones — the alto and the tenor.
Here’s a comprehensive guide of the saxophone family of woodwind instruments I wrote, if you want to see how big this list can get. And that’s not even everything… there’s north of 30 types of saxophones in existence today — some common everyday stuff, some rare.
A good beginner or student saxophone will start somewhere around the US$350 mark. It will probably be a Chinese made saxophone, it will be the right shape, it will feel nice under your fingers, it will make the right sound, and that’s about it. I wouldn’t recommend that you look any lower than this.
With a couple of extra dollars, you might even pick out a finish you like.
What is the Best Saxophone for a Complete Beginner—Alto or Tenor Sax?
If you’ve never gotten your hands on a saxophone, and are wondering what to get between the two, here’s a comparison of the alto and tenor saxophones for complete beginners to help you with that decision.
That said, when we are looking to learn the saxophone, we are looking to learn the alto saxophone. So our first saxophone will, typically, be the alto.
There’s a host of reasons for this, but I won’t get into that right now.
Buying on Amazon vs. Buying from the Internet vs. Buying from a Your Local Music Store
I get it, a lot of people want to buy a saxophone but they don’t have thousands of dollars to get something of professional quality.
A cheap, no-name brand, beginner or student saxophone on Amazon — almost always Chinese manufactured — will be somewhere in the US$300 range. You can probably do slightly cheaper than that with a bit of digging.
But is it any good, for a beginner?
Straight out of the box, the included mouthpiece and cork will taste like a Chinese factory, you’ll get a bit of play in some of the pads, but don’t be surprised if it plays shockingly well.
That’s with the included mouthpiece.
And it doesn’t look half bad either.
You can get a second-hand saxophone on any website, say, eBay as low as US$150. You won’t be guaranteed it works, or whether it plays properly. And if you are a new player, especially, you will have no idea of what you’re paying for.
Yes. You can get your saxophone checked by a professional, but that will usually be after the fact.
If you are looking below the US$250, chances are that you will get something that will not perform properly.
That’s when you start to get a leak somewhere, some of the key work starts not to consult your hands properly, etc.
Do You Have to Start on a Student Saxophone?
A student saxophone is designed for a student who is not looking to overly invest. Someone who’s just picked up saxophone playing. Someone who is not 100 percent sure whether they’ll still be playing in 6 or 8 months.
The idea is to get a feel for it. To learn how to play and get started on. Nothing more.
And you get everything you need — a nice case, a saxophone that works, and a few basic accessories. Nothing fancy here.
Almost everyone trying to sell you a saxophone will tell you to get something “fantastic”, something “really special” that will last you forever. And you can do that.
And nothing’s stopping you.
Realistically, student saxophones are great little horns, fantastic starting points, they’ve got a nice immediate tone to them, and they play fantastically for the money.
Everything you can do on a professional saxophone you can do on one of these student saxophones as well.
A Good Student Saxophone (Upgrade) — Middle of the Road Stuff
Once you get past the entry-level, complete beginner stuff, you start to explore a few options here.
A good mid-range student or beginner saxophone starts at about the US$650 mark. As a beginner, you’re getting a lot of saxophone here. You’re getting a well put together student saxophone for your money, it looks good, and it plays superbly well.
What you’re going to get is a saxophone that’s main in Taiwan, rather than China. You get a manufacturing and parts improvement from a Chinese horn.
Everything will be affected by that.
The quality of the brass, for instance, will be better, and the key work setup will be better — it will feel a bit nicer around the fingers and a bit more responsiveness.
You’ll be able to push a little more and get a bit more out of the horn. What you’re going to get as well are a few more colors and finishes. It feels great to play, and again it comes with everything you need in a lovely little package.
What you will find is that the voice will be considerably larger, and darker, than it was at the lower price point. But the best thing is that the key work is noticeably more ergonomic.
With better ergonimics comes considerable comfort and the ability to run around a bit quicker.
For a beginner, you’re getting a great horn. You can’t go wrong here. The reinvestment point is a little bit further down the line at this point.
Most of the horns in the saxophone mid-range will be in the similar vein to what I’ve said already — you’re getting longer life out of your horn investment-wise, and the quality of parts is fantastic — but they’re all going to be different in their unique ways.
If you get a Chinese made horn here, it will likely be one of the best in the market.
Some Good Student Saxophone Brands
#1 — Buffet 100
One of the big brands in instrument making in Buffet Crampon. They are world-famous clarinet makers, and they also make some very great student saxophones such as the Buffet 100.
The quality you get from Buffet is world-renowned.
The Buffet 100 is a Chinese made horn but it is almost certainly the best Chinese horn on the market. It certainly feels like the darkest, most refined, and classical of horns in this range.
#2 — Yamaha 280
When we talk about student horns, of course, we have to talk about the gold standard — the Yamaha 280.
If you go on any sax forum or talk to any music teacher, or you go pretty much anywhere on the internet and ask what saxophone you should buy, the Yamaha 280 is going to come up, and it’s for good reason.
The Yamaha 280 is the gold standard for student saxophones.
It is designed, in every way, to be as accommodating for a new player as possible. It’s fantastically finished. It’s made in Indonesia.
The keyguard, for instance, is designed with new players in mind. Can’t go wrong.
How Much is a Good Professional Saxophone?
Even though student saxophones are fantastic horns, absolutely amazing for beginners, at least for the first couple of years of your learning, you might feel that they, perhaps, produce a slightly one-dimensional sound.
So if you’re trying to push into different areas of music, you might find it a little bit hard to work on student saxophones.
A good professional saxophone will set you back a couple of thousand dollars at the very least. Prices vary wildly here but if you are in the market for a professional saxophone you’ve probably been around the block and, hopefully, you have a pretty good idea of what you’re after.
Student Saxophone vs. Professional Saxophone — What to Expect
We can break down the differences between these two price ranges of saxophones into two basic — aesthetics (how it looks), and the tone quality and responsiveness of the instrument.
#1 — Aesthetic Differences
Student saxophones will have no engraving on the bell whereas most professional saxophone will have some lovely hand engraving.
With the bracing mechanism at the back, professional saxophones will have a less intrusive design which also drops down the weight.
On the keyguard, professional saxophones will have machining, which is both decorative and designed to also drop the weight of the instrument down.
Professional saxophones will have a higher level of manufacturing quality, usually from Japan whereas a good student saxophone will be Taiwanese made.
Professional saxophones will have a denser metal being used on the neck receiver, that will be missing on student saxophones. What this allows is additional resonance between the neck and the body of the instrument.
Also, the neck on professional saxophones will be of a larger bore and will have thicker metal.
The key work and Pads
Some of the subtle but more important touches between the two happen around the key work and the pads
Professional saxophones will have the mother of pearl key touches whereas student saxophones will have imitation mother of pearls key touches.
The ergonomics of professional saxophones will have been much better thought out. The palm keys, for instance, will contour much more closely to your palm, and the key work will be much closer to the body.
The key work being much closer to the body allows us to run more fluidly in the faster passages.
The pads on professional saxophones will be of much higher quality leather. This provides us with a warmer more rounded tone.
And finally, the pads on professional saxophone will have blue steel springs which respond in a much quicker fashion than ordinary steel.
#2 — Tonal Quality
On a professional saxophone, we will get a more rounded and refines tone, and we’ll get greater ease of response in all the registers.
We can tell the difference between these two horns mainly in the upper registers and the extremes of the instrument.
That should, hopefully, give you a fairly accurate picture of what to expect from various price points when looking for a saxophone.