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Best Saxophones

Updated December 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 14 Models Considered
  • 8 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 101 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best saxophones

    Last Updated December 2018

    The saxophone has a distinctive sound that is unlike any other instrument. It can belt out a guttural growl or gently whisper a delicate melody. And it can do everything in between. The saxophone has one of the most expansive, expressive, and richly colored tonal palettes of any instrument ever invented.

    Whether you want to be a rock god, a jazz virtuoso, a pop star, or an adult contemporary heartthrob, you can accomplish any of those titles (and more) simply by mastering the saxophone. It is a complex instrument offering a wealth of opportunities to the performer.

    But an artist can only be as good as his or her instrument. How do you know which saxophone is best for you?

    Don't worry. BestReviews is here to help you take the guesswork out of finding your ideal saxophone. It’s our mission to make your shopping experience easier. Toward that end, we’ve listed our favorite saxophones here. Keep reading our shopping guide to learn what you need to know about saxophones so you can start (or further) your extraordinary musical career.

    If you play the flute and would like to learn to play the saxophone, it's easier than you think. Although you’d need to learn how to create sound with a reed, the fingerings for flute and saxophone are uncannily similar.

    All about saxophones

    If you've ever wondered where the saxophone got its curious name, it was invented in the mid-1800s by Adolphe Sax, son of Belgian instrument maker Charles Joseph Sax. Adolphe studied flute and clarinet, but he longed to create an new instrument – one that had the power of the brass family but could be played with the agility of a woodwind. The result was the saxophone.

    A saxophone can be one of the most encouraging instruments to learn because, with proper instruction, most students can produce a satisfying tone after only a few attempts. What holds an artist's interest over a lifetime is the years and years it takes to master the countless nuances of the instrument in order to become a true virtuoso.

    How a saxophone works

    The saxophone has a conical shape (it’s shaped like a megaphone). Attached to the smaller end of the cone is the mouthpiece encircled by a ligature that holds a reed in place. When a performer blows into the mouthpiece, the reed vibrates, making the air inside the saxophone vibrate. Keys are depressed in specific configurations that either lengthen or shorten the cone to create lower or higher pitches. Most of the sound disperses into the air through the larger end of the cone.

    A perfect beginning

    This lightweight saxophone was designed with the beginner in mind. Ergonomically shaped, it features an adjustable thumb rest so it’s easier to hold and play. Yamaha enhanced the neck receiver design to make it more durable and responsive. And the improved low B-C-sharp mechanism ensures consistent closing and easier performance at the bottom range.

    Anatomy of a saxophone

    Mouthpiece, ligature, and reed

    These are the three components that allow the player to produce a vibrating column of air, the first step in creating music on a saxophone.

    Mouthpiece

    • This is where you place your mouth to blow into the saxophone. The table section – the flat area on the bottom of the mouthpiece – is where you place the flat side of the reed.

    • It can be made of many different materials (hard rubber, metal, crystal, plastic, wood). What the mouthpiece is made of does not affect the tone.

    • The size of the mouthpiece can change the sound. A larger mouthpiece, such as one made of hard rubber, forces the performer to open his or her oral cavity more. Typically, the larger the oral cavity, the less "bright" the tone. A smaller mouthpiece enables the performer to produce a tone with a sharper edge.
       

    Reed

    • This is the thin, fragile strip of material that vibrates to produce sound on a saxophone. It rests on the mouthpiece and is held in place by the ligature.

    • Reeds vary in hardness. The softer the reed, the easier it is for a beginner to produce a note. However, softer reeds can make it harder to play in tune.

    • A hard reed facilitates playing in the altissimo range. Though it requires more effort (and skill) to play with a hard reed, it’s easier to play in tune.
       

    Ligature

    • This is a clamp that holds the reed in place against the mouthpiece.
       

    Neck and neck receiver

    The neck is the shorter, adjustable section that connects the mouthpiece to the body of the instrument. The neck receiver is the ring that holds the neck in place. This gives the artist the ability to make individualized adjustments for ease of play.

    Body

    The body is where the music is made. It contains all the moving parts. The body is where the air column resonates and is adjusted to create the different notes.

    Bell: At the opposite end of the sax from the mouthpiece is the bell. This is where the sound radiates out into the air.

    • A larger bell produces more resonant lower tones. In some instances, a larger bell can negatively impact the tone production in the upper register of the instrument.

    • A smaller bell gives the instrument a duller sound.
       

    Keys and pads

    The keys are what a performer presses to create various notes, but it is actually the pads that ensure those notes can be produced. The pads cover the holes to create the specific notes. If the pads are damaged, or some part of the saxophone's complex mechanism is bent or improperly aligned, air will leak out from around the pads and it will be impossible to produce a good tone.

    Rods

    These long shafts are another essential component of optimum performance. A bent rod can be as detrimental as a damaged pad. It is important that the rods on your saxophone are strong and you take good care of them.

    Neck strap

    This is worn around a player's neck and connects to the strap ring on the saxophone to support the instrument while playing. It needs to be adjustable enough to fit the player's individual needs.

    The alto saxophone is an E-flat instrument. It does not sound as written. When a saxophone plays a written C, it actually sounds like an E-flat. The E-flat alto saxophone is just one of the many instruments in the saxophone family. If you like this instrument, you might also like an E-flat sopranino sax, a B-flat soprano sax, a B-flat tenor sax, an E-flat baritone sax, a B-flat bass sax, or an E-flat contrabass sax.

    Special keys

    Every saxophone has two sets of stack keys (the home keys of the instrument). The left hand plays the upper stack while the right hand plays the lower stack. Depending on your model, your saxophone might contain the following additional keys and features.

    • High F-sharp and high G: These two keys are located next to each other and can be played with the palm of the right hand, specifically the area just below the wedge between the thumb and forefinger. This facilitates playing the F-sharp and G above high C (in the altissimo or upmost range) without depending on overtones.

    • Front F: Located just above the first finger key (B) in the upper stack keys, a performer uses the left index finger to depress this key. Like the high F-sharp and high G keys, this allows the performer to play the E and F in the altissimo range without overtones.

    • Tilted spatula keys: These are four flat keys that are played by the left hand's little finger. On some saxophones these keys are tilted to allow for quicker, more fluid changes between the lowest notes on the instrument.

    • Low A: This rare key, which is played with the left hand's little finger, allows a performer to go below the normal range of the saxophone to play a low A.
    EXPERT TIP

    A routine is the easiest way to make sure you take proper care of your saxophone. Always assemble the instrument the same way before practicing or performing. Always disassemble and clean the instrument the same way when you’re finished playing.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Saxophone prices

    Saxophones range in price from about $230 to $2,700 and more. There is some price overlap with higher-end student models and more affordable professional models. In general, here is what to expect with the different models.

    • Student

    These saxophones are constructed to be lighter and easier for the beginner to play. The body material is likely thinner. Additionally, the instrument is designed with smaller hands in mind, so the key placement might not produce the optimum intonation. In other words, a student saxophone is probably not going to be completely in tune with itself. Expect to pay about $230 to $900 for one of these saxophones.

    • Intermediate

    These saxophones are a step up from student saxophones. They have a mixture of features found in both professional and student models. For example, an intermediate saxophone might have a lighter weight, but the key placement may be better, so the intonation is better than that of a student model. Between $900 and $1,400, manufacturers mix and match features to provide a higher-quality instrument. If a feature is important to you, make sure the saxophone you’re considering has it.

    • Professional

    These saxophones are finely constructed instruments that are designed with the best players in mind. Intonation discrepancies are nonexistent, the instrument itself is thicker and heavier, and you will have a wider choice of finishes. Additionally, it is important to note that the better the instrument, the better the case. Expect to pay between $1,400 and $2,700 for one of these saxophones.

    Carnegie Hall awaits

    The way this lacquered beauty plays is as dazzling as it looks. This finely crafted instrument features a narrower bore in the neck for greater control over tone and boasts elaborate engraving of a quality only found on the finest instruments. The improved low B-C-sharp mechanism ensures consistent closing and better performance at the bottom range. And the included semi-hard case eases transport while protecting your investment.

    Tips

    • Take care of the reed. Whenever you’re finished playing your instrument, remove the reed and place it in the reed guard, being careful not to chip it.

    • Clean the inside of the saxophone. Your breath contains moisture that is filled with particles that can damage your saxophone. Use a saxophone neck and mouthpiece swab to clean out the neck and mouthpiece of your instrument. Then, use a saxophone body swab to clean the moisture out of the body.

    • Clean the outside of the saxophone. Before putting your instrument in its case, gently wipe down the outside of your instrument with a soft microfiber cloth. Do not wipe the sides or the bottoms of your keys because that could damage your instrument.
    Although the saxophone is constructed of brass, it’s part of the woodwind family because the sound is produced by blowing into the instrument to vibrate a reed. Brass instruments require players to create sounds by vibrating their lips.

    FAQ

    Q. Why won't my mouthpiece fit?

    A. The mouthpiece slides over the cork on the neck of your saxophone. If you’re having trouble, don’t force it to fit. Instead, find your cork grease – it looks like chapstick (but it isn’t edible!) – coat the cork lightly, and rub it in gently with your fingers. After that, your mouthpiece should slide much more easily onto the neck of your instrument.

    Q. What the heck is embouchure?

    A. Embouchure is a fancy word that simply means how you place your lips on the saxophone mouthpiece to allow the reed to vibrate freely. Without biting down, place your upper teeth against the mouthpiece and your lower lip against the reed at the edge of the opening in the mouthpiece behind the reed. Keep your muscles relaxed and blow, allowing the reed to vibrate freely.

    Q. I think I'm doing everything right, but my saxophone still sounds horrible!

    A. Check to make sure the end of your reed hasn't chipped, and be certain there are no cracks or splits in it. Also make sure the flat side of your reed is against the mouthpiece, it's centered, and the tip of your reed is lined up with the tip of your mouthpiece.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Allen
      Allen
      Writer
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      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Kristin
      Kristin
      Writer
    • Linsay
      Linsay
      Editor
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer

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