Best alto saxophone

Choosing The Best Alto Saxophone

Author: Denise Lacey-Corcoran Published on: November 20, 2020
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Saxophonists all have their own personal opinions regarding the absolute best brand of saxophone.  This article will look at how to choose the best alto saxophone for your needs.

A Brief Word about Professional Model Saxophones

This article will mainly detail how to choose a quality student model alto saxophone.  Professional saxophonists have all developed their own personal preference on which brand of saxophone is the best fit for their playing style.  

Sometimes a professional saxophonist is contracted with a specific instrument manufacturer.  Then they are often called an artist, or a clinician, with the company.  If this is the case, they typically play exclusively on instruments from that specific manufacturer.

Things to be Aware of When Purchasing a New Saxophone

Before we delve into the best brands of student model alto saxophones, there are a few things you need to know about shopping for instruments. 

In the music education world, there are frustrating items referred to as ISO’s or Instrument Shaped Objects.  These are what you need to be on the lookout for when you are purchasing a new instrument.  ISO’s are disguised as quality instruments and can be difficult to discover unless you know what you’re looking for. 

In all seriousness, these so-called instruments are poorly constructed, mass-produced, inexpensive items that are marketed well, but not made well.  Please research an instrument thoroughly before purchasing it.

If you find an instrument that you think you would like to purchase for your child, please check with his/her band director prior to purchasing.  There are specific brands they will immediately know are not quality instruments. Please believe your school’s music educator when he/she tells you that certain brands will only create frustration with your child.

List of Top 5 Things That Point to ISO’s (Instrument Shaped Objects) Instead of Quality Instruments

  1. The instrument is being sold on a website, or in a department store, at a price that seems too good to be true.  For instance, if an alto saxophone kit is marketed online with the instrument, case, tuner, stand, reeds (usually not playable), cleaning cloth, and white gloves for under $300, understand it is not a quality instrument. 
  2. The instrument is available in an assortment of colors other than gold or silver.  A quick online search will show you alto saxophones available in every color of the rainbow, and multicolored designs.  These instruments would make great wall art or a fun DIY lamp project.  They will not provide a quality musical experience.
  3. The instrument arrives broken and cannot be played even by an experienced musician.
  4. Local instrument repair people may not repair  ISO’s.  Many instrument repair people will attempt to repair these types of instruments one time.  After that, if the instrument breaks again (and it inevitably will break again, soon) they will not repair it.  The instruments are made with cheap, often oddly shaped and ill-fitting parts that cannot be replaced or repaired.
  5. Many, many ISO’s seem to be sold with white gloves.  This is typically a red flag that this is not a quality instrument. There are no sound reasons why a student would routinely need a pair of white gloves to play their alto saxophone in a school band or practice at home. If you see white gloves marketed with an instrument, quickly run to a different brand!

Purchasing an Alto Saxophone Online

If you purchase from a reputable source, such as Woodwind Brasswind, you know that you will be getting a quality instrument from a trustworthy business.  Woodwind Brasswind even has a great program that allows musicians to try out several instruments and send back the ones they are not interested in purchasing.

If you are thinking about purchasing from a site such as eBay or craigslist, then that is where you need to be careful. There are many reputable sellers on eBay, but please do your research prior to purchasing.  

Yamaha Student Model Alto Saxophones

Now that you’ve learned a little about what to avoid, here is some advice about quality instruments that will provide your child with years of enjoyment.  One of the best student model alto saxophones is manufactured by Yamaha.

Yamaha has consistently produced quality saxophones since 1967.  Yamaha student model saxophones are designed to set up developing players for success.

The newest student model Yamaha alto saxophone is the YAS-26.  It is made from brass, with nickel-plated keys and stainless steel springs.  Yamaha saxophones come with a quality student mouthpiece that helps students play in tune and with a good sound.  

The older student model Yamaha alto saxophone is the YAS-23, which was last produced in 2011.  This is also an excellent instrument.  There are many used YAS-23 saxophones available from reputable sellers. 

Best Quality For Students
Yamaha YAS-26 Alto Saxophone
The Yamaha YAS-26 is perfect for students looking for a quality instrument with reliable intonation and a great sound.

For a more detailed review, check out our article on the Yamaha YAS-26.

Other Reliable Student Model Alto Saxophones

While the Yamaha student models are the best alto saxophones, there are some other quality brands that are also very reliable.  They may be a bit less expensive than the Yamaha student models, as well. 

Selmer Alto Saxophones

Selmer is always a dependable choice for saxophones.  After all, it was the Selmer company that purchased Adolphe Sax’s manufacturing company in 1928.  So, they have been making saxophones for a very long time! 

The Selmer AS400 and AS600 models are both great instruments that will stand up to daily wear and tear.  They are quality instruments that provide a foundation for students to successfully achieve good tone and intonation.  

Selmer 400 Series Alto Saxophone
The Selmer  400 series Alto Saxophone is a top-quality student saxophone with a beautiful sound.

Jupiter Alto Saxophones

The Jupiter JAS700A and JAS710GNA are well-built student alto saxophones.  The relatively new models are much improved from the Jupiter saxophones of a decade ago (which are not recommended).  

Both of the newer models include a high F# key.  Beginning players will not use this for quite some time.  However, it does extend the use of this instrument, rather than needing to upgrade to an intermediate model.  

Advanced Features
Jupiter JAS700A Student Model Alto Saxophone
The Jupiter JAS700A is perfect for students looking for a sturdy instrument, with a great sound and advanced features.

Bundy Alto Saxophones

Someone once said you could throw a Bundy down a flight of stairs, and it would still play!   Their rugged construction makes them a good option for those less-than-careful elementary and middle school students.  Bundy Alto Saxophones are a tried and true beginner alto saxophone. 

The current Bundy alto saxophone being produced is the BAS-300.  This is the least expensive of all the new student model saxophones mentioned in this article. An added bonus for music teachers with this instrument is that it has left and right-hand adjustment screws.  This is a huge help in repairing saxophones!  

As a side note, I started on a Bundy alto saxophone in elementary school.  While I upgraded to a professional model Yamaha, in high school, I still used my Bundy in high school marching band and college pep band.  And yes, I still have it, and it still plays very reliably!

Intermediate Model Alto Saxophones

Companies such as Yamaha and Selmer offer intermediate or step-up alto saxophones as a transition between the student and professional models.  If you, or your child, are very serious about beginning the saxophone, you may be tempted to skip the student model and jump right to an intermediate model.

Intermediate models include features that are not on student model saxophones.  These features are great if you think someday you will transition to a professional model.  However, if you are looking at purchasing an instrument for a first time player in elementary or middle school, definitely choose a student model.  The added features (typically extra keys) will not be needed or used by a beginning player.

Intermediate or step-up alto saxophones usually include a high F# key, improved key and tone response, and are lighter weight.  

Used Saxophones

Purchasing used saxophones is obviously a personal preference, and some people would rather only look at new instruments. Used instruments can be just as good, and sometimes better than a brand new instrument.  However, please check with a qualified musician prior to purchasing a used instrument. 

If the seller allows it, try out the instrument (or ask an experienced musician to) prior to purchasing.  Think of it in terms of purchasing a used car.  You probably wouldn’t buy a car without first taking it out for a test drive. 

Upgrading to a Professional Model Alto Saxophone

If you are thinking about upgrading your instrument to a professional model, you are probably very serious about your playing.  Perhaps you, or your child, are interested in going to college as a music major.  

If you have enjoyed playing on a certain brand of student model saxophone, you may be able to upgrade to their professional model.  For instance, both Yahama and Selmer offer quality professional model alto saxophones that would be an easy transition from their student models. 

When purchasing a professional model, it would be wise to consult with trusted band directors and private teachers.  Ask their opinion on instrument brands.  If you are considering studying with a specific professor at a college or university, you may want to reach out and ask his/her opinion, as well.

It is critical to try out a saxophone prior to purchasing it.  Take your own mouthpiece, ligature, and reeds, and try out several saxophones before you decide to make the big commitment of buying a professional model instrument.

Concluding Thoughts

Purchasing an alto saxophone, whether it is a student or professional model, is a big commitment.  There are numerous companies marketing a variety of products.  Please read carefully, ask questions, and do research if you are unsure about a certain instrument or brand.  Always know that you can reach out to a trusted music educator for help in purchasing an instrument.

Photo by woodleywonderworks |CC BY

Denise Lacey-Corcoran

Denise Lacey-Corcoran

Denise is a music educator and saxophonist, with over 20 years of experience. She holds degrees from Ithaca College and Syracuse University. In addition to conducting and teaching saxophone, Denise also loves teaching and learning about music history.