Best Saxophones For Beginners: What Is The Best Student Sax

For first time saxophone buyers, the best advice I ever heard was this: "You don't have to buy the best saxophone, just buy the best saxophone you can afford." Sounds obvious, right? But what is the best brand?

If you search the internet for "best student model saxophones," you'll get close to 2 million results (I know. I tried it.). As you read the top results, you'll probably notice two things right away. The first is that nobody can agree on who makes the best student saxophones. That's because it's largely a matter of personal preference or brand loyalty.

The second, more telling trend is that the same four or five brands rise to the top in most of these debates. If you don't know what you're looking for in a sax, the most debated brands are a good place to start.

Soprano Saxophone
Soprano Saxophone

The Best Student Saxophones

You'll often hear saxophone players, dealers, and teachers refer to The Big 4 when talking about brands. They're talking about the four manufacturers that are generally considered to make the best saxophones in the industry. They're also among the most expensive. The Big 4 are Yamaha, Selmer (Paris), Keilwerth, and Yanagisawa (Yani, for short).

If you can afford one of these saxes, you won't be disappointed. Horns made by The Big 4 are crafted to the highest quality standard for playability, durability, and sound quality. That's where the big price tag comes in. High quality musical instruments don't roll off an assembly line like automobiles. While some of the processes may be automated, the features that make up a great saxophone are handled by skilled craftsmen; and some of the best, most experienced craftsmen in the world can be found within The Big 4.

Alto Saxophone
Alto Saxophone

What Are The Best Cheap Student Saxophones?

The question of cheap horns is a tricky one. There are cheap saxophones, and then there are those are less expensive, but still a good value.

You can find cheap saxes all over eBay for around $100. The brand names don't really matter because the majority of them are imported from China with no brand or serial numbers. Distributors buy them like this for as little as $25, then engrave their own brand and serial numbers. The numbers are not usually recorded, so they're as meaningless as the brand name. Don't be fooled by a seller's high approval rating. Avoid these horns at all cost. They probably won't make it through the school year, and most repair shops will refuse to work on them.

There are plenty of brands that offer reasonably high quality saxes at lower prices than The Big 4. They may have fewer features, or use materials that produce less of a full, rich sound; but they are still respectable brands that are built to last.

The best way to find a sax that fits your needs as well as your budget is to visit a dealer. They don't usually carry the Chinese imports, and will often let you play-test several models to get a feel for what you like. Each model has its own unique characteristics; and some are harder to blow through than others. That's why a play-test is always a good idea.

Dealer prices are sometimes on the high side, so once you find the horn you like, you can always write down the make and model for comparison shopping. Many times you'll find the same horn online, for hundreds of dollars less. Brands like Vito, Beuscher, and Jupiter are all names that are worth looking at, and your dealer or band director will probably be able to recommend several more.

Student Saxophone Prices

On average, The Big 4 student saxophones cost from $1000-$1500. That's a lot of money, but it's not unusual for a one of these to last from middle school, all the way through college. If they're well maintained and cared for, they also make great hand-me-downs for younger siblings who decide to join the band. If you do eventually decide to step up to an intermediate or professional model, these top of the line student saxes also hold a higher resale value than other brands.

Most of the mid-range saxes are in the $500-$1000 price range. You may find a decent sax for under $500. They do exist. But if it's a brand you've never heard of, ask a local dealer or your child's band director about it.  If they're not familiar with it, you should probably save your money for a better horn.

If you go too far below $500 you're asking for trouble. The $100-$500 price range is where you're likely to find sticky keys, substandard materials, and a host of other problems. These horns are much harder to play, usually produce a poor sound quality, and often cause students to get discouraged and give up on music altogether.

LJ Hutchen Musical Instruments

While many parents of beginning band members want to get their children the best horn that money can buy, that's not always a practical option. Up and coming instrument manufacturer LJ Hutchen knows that, for beginners, the best horn is often the one that strikes a balance between quality and price.

LJ Hutchen saxophones are not designed to compete with the big 4. They're manufactured overseas, but are made of much higher quality materials than the typical "cheap" saxophones. These horns are leak tested, play tested, and hand checked 3 times before being shipped to eager musicians, and they carry a two year warranty to boot.

Tenor Sax
Tenor Sax

Or Try A Rental Sax

If you can't afford to spend the money for a good quality saxophone, don't despair. Most local music stores that sell band instruments also have rental programs. This is another good way to decide on a model before buying. The majority of rental saxes will probably be in the mid-range, but for a few extra dollars per month, you can often get a top of the line model like the Yamaha YAS-23.

Accidents Happen

If you decide to go the rental route, be sure to buy maintenance and repair plan. With marching band season comes bumps, dents, dings and extra wear and tear. A maintenance plan will help ensure that your musician will always have a horn that looks and plays well, and you won't have repair bills piling up. With a good, solid rental sax, your child has a horn he enjoys playing, and the maintenance plan lets you sit back and enjoy the halftime show without worrying; so marching band season will never end on a sour note.

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