The 10 Best Saxophones
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in September of 2015. Whether your playing style is like Branford Marsalis or Clarence Clemons, or if it's wholly unique to you, one of these fine saxophones will let you share your musical talent with the world. We've included models in a variety of styles and keys to meet your individual preferences, as well as instruments priced specifically for both beginners and professional performers. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 27, 2019:
You'll notice two manufacturers who feature prominently on this list, and that's not an accident. Yamaha and Selmer are, and have been for decades, two of the most trusted names for woodwind and brass instruments (and saxophones are essentially part of both of those groups). The Yamaha YAS-62 and its tenor version, the Yamaha YTS-62III, are two of the best choices you'll find without ordering your own straight from the source, or scoring a 40-year-old used Martin that's already been broken in. For that matter, the Selmer La Voix II Alto and Selmer La Voix II Soprano are in just about the same category. The only mention we'd have is that the soprano sax isn't a very good one to start out on; if you are looking to equip a beginner, we have another list of student saxophones that is just for you. If you've played some student horns and want a significant upgrade but don't want to shell out for a top-of-the-line model, the Yamaha YAS-280 is also a great choice.
If you're looking for something that is playable, consistent, and comes with a high pedigree but a reasonable cost, the Yamaha YAS-23 is almost certainly the one for you. It's not the easiest to get your hands on, but this exact model of horn is almost undoubtedly the most commonly recommended for beginning and intermediate players who are serious about their craft. Alternately, the Selmer Prelude TS711 can fill that role for dedicated tenor players.
And while many band directors will warn of the dangers of buying "instrument-shaped objects" from questionable online-only brands, we've actually found some that are reported to be highly reliable, while only costing a few hundred dollars. The alto Jean Paul AS-400 and tenor Jean Paul TS-400 are two such models that are priced well below the cheapest good-quality Yamaha, and the Mendini MAS-L, despite being alarmingly inexpensive, is actually a great horn.
Midwest Musical Imports As with many complex instruments, it's entirely possible to get a used one in great condition, and it can be considerably more economical to go used rather than new, as well. In fact, it's possible to get some extremely well-made instruments from decades ago, as long as you know what you're looking for and are prepared to maintain it properly. mmimports.com
Yamaha Instruments Along with just a few other producers, Yamaha makes inarguably some of the best new horns on the market. If you're looking for the best of their offerings, and you can afford one, we'd recommend checking out the Custom series, where you'll be able to get the perfect horn for you. But, rest assured, all of their saxophones (and trumpets, for that matter) are of excellent quality. use.yamaha.com
All That Jazz: A Wealth Of Sound
The alto E-flat sax has a pitch range higher than that of a tenor sax, but not quite as high as the soprano.
Music is seen as a window into the soul. Each instrument evokes a different style and group of emotions, yet still provides the versatility to be injected into many different forms of music, while maintaining its individuality. An instrument reflects the time during which it's played, the feelings of the player, and the mood of its surrounding environment and audience. After all, a major purpose of music is for it to be performed, heard, and remembered. Considering the richness of an instrument like the saxophone, it is no exception to the art of orchestrated storytelling.
Also referred to as a sax, the saxophone is actually a woodwind instrument, typically made out of thin brass with a cone-shaped tube and a single-reed mouthpiece that is similar in style to a clarinet. The reason the sax is considered part of the woodwind family is because of the use of an oscillating wood reed to generate sound waves, as opposed to just one's use of their lips and airflow.
The tip of the saxophone is flared into the shape of a bell. Along its tube are approximately twenty to twenty-three variously-sized tone holes and two small vent holes designed to assist with playing music in the upper register. The saxophone's vent holes are covered by keys with pads made from soft leather that provide an airtight seal on the instrument tube. It's interesting to note here that when the saxophone is at rest, some of these vent holes are left open, while others are closed off. A player will use their fingers to press on the keys, while their right thumb remains underneath the sax on a thumb rest, to keep the instrument stabilized.
Adding to their allure, saxophones are available in several different types, and the user can choose the one that best suits his or her needs and personality. The four most common types of sax are the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. Less common are the bass and C-melody saxophones.
The soprano B-flat sax is characterized with the highest pitch of all four main sax types. It is often heard as part of background or elevator music. The soprano sax can be either straight in shape or curved with a flared bell. The alto E-flat sax has a pitch range higher than that of a tenor sax, but not quite as high as the soprano. The alto sax is a common choice for beginners, school music bands, and is considered the most popular among classical performers and composers.
Alto saxophones contribute to concert, funk, jazz, pop, blues, and rock music. The B-flat tenor sax is slightly larger than the alto and has a crook in its neck piece. The tenor sax is popularly believed to be the signature instrument of modern jazz. The E-flat baritone is the largest of the common group of saxophones and is the most difficult to carry around due to its size.
A Brief History Of The Saxophone
The saxophone was first invented in 1846 by a Belgian instrument maker, flutist, and clarinetist named Adolphe Sax. Prior to his invention, Sax made keywork and acoustic improvements to the bass clarinet and succeeded in extending its range. Adolphe Sax developed several saxophones in various sizes throughout the 1840s and received a fifteen-year patent that included fourteen different versions of the instrument on June 28, 1846.
When Sax's patent expired in 1866, the design and keywork on the instrument continued to evolve and improve, thanks to the work of other manufacturers and saxophonists. Such improvements included the addition of extra keys and alternate fingerings in order to make certain music passages less difficult to perform. Another important advancement was in the ability for the left thumb to operate both tone holes on the instrument using a single octave key, which is still common with most modern saxophones.
Additional advancements to the design of the saxophone were made in the 1930s and 1940s by Henri Selmer Paris, which included offsetting the instrument's tone holes as well as a redesign of the octave key.
Play To Your Heart's Content
For newcomers to the instrument, finding a saxophone package that makes it easy to get started is the most important thing. This involves finding a good mouthpiece and choosing reeds that make the instrument produce the richest sound possible without too much effort.
This involves finding a good mouthpiece and choosing reeds that make the instrument produce the richest sound possible without too much effort.
If your investment is for a beginner, the alto sax is a great choice because it requires the use of less air than other saxophones. Additionally, there's a large volume of music literature written specifically for the alto sax, making it easy to pick up the instrument and learn the fundamentals.
Not only does the smaller key scale of an alto sax fit easily in a young person’s hands, but both the embouchure and airflow needed to successfully play the alto sax is transferable to all of the other types of saxophones. That said, your student will acquire training early and be able to apply it to more complex saxophones when their interest grows.
Some saxophones are made with lacquered keys and treated leather pads, which serve to add durability to the instrument. That said, if you're purchasing an instrument for a student, longevity of the instrument's construction will be a large consideration.