Saxophone Forum


by Ya Boi Ike
(19 posts)
7 months ago

How to Pick a Saxophone

I am a sophomore in High School and I play tenor. I've only been playing for half a year, but I'm completely invested and really good. I already perform in Marching, Jazz, and Concert Band, and I also got first chair in a Senior Honor Band in my county. 

I play on a Yamaha-YTS 26 currently. While I am currently experimenting with mouthpieces which has helped, I'm ready to move up from a student model and I'm looking to upgrade. I want a darker sound, but I'm open to other options and I want to try as many as possible to help me decide. So I was wondering what the best way to try a bunch of saxophones to get a base idea would be. A popular music store? Maybe a convention or festival? I live in Delaware, so I can't go anywhere that's not within a couple state radius. If anyone can give suggestions that would be great.

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  1. by mijderf
    (157 posts)

    7 months ago

    Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

    The first step is to figure out what is driving your desire to upgrade.  In general, if you just want a darker tone, that can be achieved with your current horn by selecting the right mouthpiece and reed.  Do you want better ergonomics or faster key action?  Or do you just want a horn upgrade because it will make you feel better about your playing (nothing wrong with that actually).  Recognize that your YTS26 is a very good horn.  If you are thinking of majoring in music in college, it might be a good idea to contact the sax department at a college you are interested in and see if they have a preference for a certain brand (some colleges do).  If you are looking to upgrade before then, you might consider the following:

    There are a number of very good music stores in your surrounding states.  A few of them are:
    Chuck Levin's in Maryland http://www.chucklevins.com
    USA Horn in NJ  http://www.usahorn.com
    Joe Sax in NJ  http://www.joesax.com

    If you are interested, there are some excellent horns (although not the big name brands) at good prices at the following sites:
    https://www.philbarone.com and
    http://www.justsaxes.net/just-saxes-crescent-saxophonesintroduction/
    You can call both of these sources and discuss what you are looking for with them.

    Good Luck with your search! 

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    1. by mijderf
      (157 posts)

      7 months ago

      Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

      Oh, and by the way, you are financially much better off getting a good used saxophone.  Like with new cars, as soon as you take the horn home, it drops close to 1/3 in value.  Used horns are much more likely to hold value, even if you have to spend one or two hundred dollars with a tech to get it in great playing shape.

      They have some very nice, used modern tenors on this website, and they ship in perfect playing condition.  Saxquest will be glad to talk to you about them.

      Like you needed more to think about! 

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      1. by archcherub
        (8 posts)

        7 days ago

        Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

        i agree totally with him. you are much better off buying an used saxophone than a brand new saxophone.

        most of the depreciation comes from the first owner.

         

        buy a 2nd hand, i did it on ebay

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      2. by Ya Boi Ike
        (19 posts)

        6 months ago

        Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

        I am aware of the idea of used horns. I haven't entirely shut out the idea, but new horns simply offer better features. I like the faster key actions. Plus you mentioned that simply feeling better about wanting to play it, and I like the idea of a unique finish (I adore black lacquers), and buying used it's hard to find the specifics I want. Mostly though, I want to improve my sound. I just upgraded to an Otto Link Vintage mouthpiece which helps, but my YTS-26 struggles on higher and lower registers, an issue I've found the couple pro horns I've played simply don't have. 
        The problem, however, is my mom is skeptical. She's told me that she can afford it, but she doesn't really fully understand why I want to upgrade despite my explaining it as best I can, and she thinks getting one right now would be rushing it. So I've settled for waiting, but I really do want a new one. I'm interested in Cannonballs and Sax Dakotas because they're a more affordable price range and play well, but really I just want to find a place where I can try a bunch so I have more of a foundation, and maybe my mom will realize I'm not making a rash decision.

        Also thanks for the lengthy reply, there's a lot of good info in there

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        1. by bjroosevelt
          (47 posts)

          6 months ago

          Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

          I think you are going to have a challenge.  In my experience prioritizing “Looks” vs. “Key action,” vs. “Sound” wil lead you to completely different choices on which horn to buy.

          I’ve gone through a rather intensive horn selection process in the last 6 months.....and I have been working with a bunch of different reeds and mouthpieces combinations.  In my opinion, which many will disagree with,  there is no doubt that there is a certain richness of sound quality that you can only achieve by purchasing the correct horn - especially if you are a jazz guy.  The mouth piece can help, but it is going to be really hard to get a new Yammy or Selmer to play as warm and richly as some of the vintage horns that are out there.....on warmth of sound, even a Cannonball with a tricked out finish is going to sound better than Yammy or Selmer.

          In my experience, your Yamaha is a great playing horn (key action and looks), but its sound quality is nothing nearly as good as what you would find on an 80 year-old horn.  A Cannonball has a better sound than a Yamaha.....but I am also very partial to Jazz and not so interested in Classical sound;  and I can not say that a Cannonball has better key action than what you have now.  I’m sure your Yammy is better.

          I strongly encourage you to take a drive to one of the music shops recommended in this thread and take several hours trying out a bunch of horns they have in stock.  A used Dolnet or Conn are going to give you a very different sound than anything you can purchase new today (at close to the same price).  If you can afford a new Cannonball, you should be able to afford a Dolnet or Conn in top working condition.

          For a totally different type of sound that may be appealing to you, consider a Keilwerth.  I find their sound to be quite unique.  Their key action is going to be different...you might like it a lot.

          There is no way you are going to find the right horn for yourself by reading reviews on the internet.  On this one, the internet can only help you move in the right direction.

          On one of my horns I have great sound.  In another one of my horns I have great key action. 

          ......in the end, you need to be honest with yourself as to why you want to replace the Yammy.  You first said you were looking for sound, but then you were referencing looks and key action as a reason to only look at new horns.....

           

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        2. by Ya Boi Ike
          (19 posts)

          6 months ago

          Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

          Well sound is my primary reason for wanting to upgrade. But my prinicipal is that if I'm going to be spending that much on a sax, I might as well go for one that's pretty and feels good in the hands, as well. I play a variety of styles but lean more in the direction of classical, so I wanter a darker, deeper tenor sound. I played a Cannonball at a local music store and absolutely loved it, but I want to try others and not rush the decision. The stores you listed definitely seem like the best way to go, and I might consider running to one eventually. Do you know which one of the three has the most varietous selection to try from?

          My Yammy is by no means a bad horn, I didn't mean to try and make it sound that way. But the intonation is poor and the key action is rather average, I would't call it bad or good. It's basically right dead set in the middle, mediocre if you will. But I've gotten myself involved in so many things already and I have a ton ahead of me. I've been nominated for this college "School of Excellence" program, and I plan to go for a section leader position next year. I just want to upgrade for the best sound and playability I can get at a decently affordable price.

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        3. by bjroosevelt
          (47 posts)

          6 months ago

          Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

          Actually, I hadn’t recommended the three shops in neighboring states to Delaware.  Mijderf made that recommendation.....you are not in my area, though I have previously lived in Philly.

          I live halfway between Detroit and Chicago.....I like PM Woodwind in Evanston and I am trying out Cameron Music in the Livonia (Detroit area), as they are closer....Next option, if I needed one, would be SaxQuest in St. Louis.   

          When I finally selected my Mark VII, it was at PM Woodwinds.  They must have had 20 or 30 saxophones I could try......and I did.  They are a top sax shop so I took my chances and just showed up there one day.  Their back-room inventory was probably 5 times of the othe shops I had visited.  Their website had a ton of horns on it too.

          Perhaps you could give each of the mijderf recommended shops a call to find out how many new and how many vintage tenor saxes they have in inventory.  If they only have 3 or 4 used horns in inventory, they probably aren’t worth the trip. 

          If you are truly looking for sound, I think you are going to end up with vintage.  The relaquered vintage horns, which normally look a ton better than original lacquer, aren’t worth as much. Might be a good idea.

          I personally never understood why there is such a strong preference for the Yamaha saxophones.  The ones I have played are a bit dead-sounding.....I hear they are manufactured very consistently, though.

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      3. by GFC
        (727 posts)

        7 months ago

        Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

        By all means try different mouthpieces on your search missions.  Tone can be darkened with a larger mouthpiece chamber, a more open tip, or a stiffer reed.  Stiffer reeds are the least expensive thing to experiment with when you're trying to develop *that* sound, but they demand the most from your chops (if a stiffer reed induces you to bite, back off and work up to it).  Keep various experimental reeds around to use when you are testing different mouthpieces - compatibility makes a huge difference.  You will probably find "jazz" mouthpieces with smaller chambers and high baffles unsatisfactory - they're about volume and projection, not richness of tone.  They are also less compatible with some older horns, leading to intonation problems.  But the other side of that tradeoff is that the large chamber, low baffle pieces tend to be less dynamic.  If you want max volume from such a piece, that can be done with a large tip/soft reed combination.

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        1. by Ya Boi Ike
          (19 posts)

          6 months ago

          Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

          I've just got an Otto Link Vintage mouthpiece and Vandoren Java Red Reeds. I also have a Pomarico Crystal mouthpiece, Legere reed, and Francois Louis Ultimate Lig for jazz. So my accessory set up is all good now, the horn itself just leaves much to be desired.

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          1. by GFC
            (727 posts)

            6 months ago

            Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

            Your Link Vintage should give you everything you need for a big-but-dark sound.  I know nothing about the Pomarico.  

            My perspective on grouping saxophones by tone is that there are three basic "families," the "Yamana 23 family," which you would have no interest in, the "Conn family," which is the darkest, and the "Selmer family," which falls somewhere between the two.  Of course there is variation within the three families; a horn modeled on the Selmer Balanced Action design is going to sound somewhere between a Mark VI and a Conn 10M (which Selmer was emulating at the time they introduced it).  The best known current production horn in the Conn family is the Keilwerth SX-90R, and if you encounter a good used one in a store it could work for you.  But be careful - some runs had a problem with unlevel tone holes, so make sure that issue is addressed if you are considering one.  The Cannonball Big Bell gets compared with the Keilwerth but also with other classic big-name horns, so you would just have to compare and see for yourself.  You might find a Theo Wanne Mantra in a store, which is a very interesting Conn family horn.  It's priced higher than other Asian-made horns but still less than a new Keilwerth.  In the Selmer family there are more options.  The Antigua Pro One, Eastman 52nd Street, and the RS Berkeley are quality Asian-made horns with store distribution, definitely worth checking out.  Lastly, the Yamaha 875 is Yamaha's entry in the Selmer family and they've been eating Selmer's lunch with it.  Definitely worth checking out and keeping an eye out for a good used one.  

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            1. by Ya Boi Ike
              (19 posts)

              6 months ago

              Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

              Unfortunately, all of those horns (which I'm interested in, by the way) are outside my price range. I would love if I could find a cheap used Mantra or Keilwerth, but I feel like my chances of that are rather low.

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            2. by GFC
              (727 posts)

              6 months ago

              Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

              Take your time and start saving your dough.  Even if it takes a year or two to get where you want to be, the time you spend tolerating your YTS-26 will still be a relatively short portion of your playing career.

              Reply To Post


            3. by Ya Boi Ike
              (19 posts)

              6 months ago

              Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

              Well while I'm in high school, I have all sorts of things popping up. I just got nominated for a week long music program in the summer at a college, I plan to go for a section leader position in marching, and my band even gets to go perform in Atlanta at the Peach Bowl in december. I want to play after I graduate, but I feel as if the prime of my musicianship is over the next two years and I don't want to go to all of these events and honor bands with a student model instrument I'm unhappy with. I dunno if that makes sense, but it's how I feel. I'm grateful for what I already have as I know it's not terrible. I just want to perform at my absolute peak as a musician, and I feel like my sax is holding me back a little

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            4. by mijderf
              (157 posts)

              6 months ago

              Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

              I do not know your budget, but the Phil Barone tenors I referenced above are under $2K new, and the Just Saxes tenors are under $1K new.
              You can even contact these two and discuss what you are looking for in tone and looks. 

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            5. by Ya Boi Ike
              (19 posts)

              6 months ago

              Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

              The Phil Barone's definitely did catch my eye. But I've read a few bad reviews about them getting scammed by the company. Do you have any personal experience with them?

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            6. by mijderf
              (157 posts)

              6 months ago

              Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

              Here is a link to Phil Barone saxophone reviews on Sax on the Web.  I am not aware of any poor reviews on these horns.

              https://forum.saxontheweb.net/gtsearch.php?q=Phil%20Barone%20tenor%20saxophone

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            7. by Ya Boi Ike
              (19 posts)

              6 months ago

              Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

              Phil Barone's definitely seem like an incredible option. Thanks for all the help

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            8. by archcherub
              (8 posts)

              7 days ago

              Re: How to Pick a Saxophone

              phil barone seems like a hot favorite among the experience players.

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