Buyer guide for High School Saxophone Players
First allow me to introduce myself:
I am a High School Senior who is now graduating to study music in college. I have proudly played saxophone for 8 years and I have played what I call "The Big Three" which are Alto, Tenor, and Bari Sax. I am writing this guide so that I may help high school players find the best saxophone brands and the positives of what I have observed of each brand, ranging to Yamaha all the way to vintage selmer. I will discuss some other brands and which ones you must avoid. I am not going to tell you the exact instrument you need to buy, but rather give you my personal perspectives on each brand and horn so that you cn help yourself find the instrument that is right for you. Please feel free to post and I will try to answer any other questions you may have, or feel free to comment and help this guide get even better. For easier purposes, I will only talk about Alto and Tenor saxes, as I suggest renting Bari saxes due to their large prices. Without more delay, let us begin.
For starters, DO NOT BUY ANY HORN ONLINE!! These horns may look good, but as a saxophone player, you should play multiple horns to find the sound that best fits your personal tastes. Also, horns that may look cheap and are under $1000 should really not be considered as horns for your high school band. These horns are most likely cheaply made and may not project the sound clearly. Also, most music repair stores may not repair the horn as it is not a well known brand, making it harder to find spare parts for it. If you even think about these horns, I would instead just renting a horn from a music store or the school, insuring that the instrument can be repaired and is a reliable brand.
Now that we have the online segment done, let us move on to brands that you will find in a music store. Most stores have a wide variety of popular brand names and are happy to help you find a horn, but they may gloss over some details. I will help pinpoint what I feel each brand's strenghts and weaknesses are. Here are the brands you are more likely to spot:
YAMAHA: This is the most common brand I usually see in any high school band or ensemble and it is not hard to know why. Yamaha's are known for their reliability and reasonable price. The sound of the horn is projected well, not to mention that the stock mouthpieces for new yamaha saxophones are actually pretty good till your skills reach a point where you will need a new mouthpiece. The brass used in the horn gives it a sound that is more iconic with pop and funk music, but can obviously sound classical when playing in concert band or symphonic band. The Alto Saxes in particular from Yamaha are in my opinion some of the best built, with even my student horn from 7 years ago still going on strong. However, my horn is a student model which is fine, but I've noticed some of the intermediate models are a bit less projective than the student and professional models, making it sound muffled or held back in a way. However, my main doubts aren't with the Alto Saxes but actually the Tenor Saxes. The Tenor saxes sound way too bright in my opinion making it sound out of tune after continual playing over time and less desireable if you play in a group such as Jazz Ensemble. Not even a darker sounding mouhtpiece can balance the brightness of the horn. For that reason, if you can afford a different horn from a brand like selmer, I suggest buying a tenor from them rather Yamaha. Other than that, Yamaha makes solid horns and I would recommend them for any beginner or intimediate student.
YANAGISAWA: Not as popular as Yamaha but is just as if not more reliable than them. These horns are not as bright sounding as Yamaha and are well balanced. When I hear this horn, I usually find it playing in a jazz ensemble but like Yamaha it can play classical if needed. This horn is a bit more expensive then Yamaha horns but are understood when looking at the craftsmanship and key layout of their saxophones. These are excellent horns for intermediate students and would be an excellent upgrade for a student looking for a new horn.
CONN-SELMER (SELMER USA): This is a brand that many students will remmeber playing when they first started saxophone, most likely from renting from a music store. These horns should really not be used in high school as they are really for first time players. The sound is decent but nothing that really blends well. The keywork is simple but the main problem is the brass. It bends way too easy and even the slightest bump could damage the horn. I would stay away from this brand if you are in high school, and if you still own one, I think its time for an upgrade.
CANNONBALL: This brand is a bit hard for me to give an opinion on as I have never really see them but I did have a friend who played one and I was able to gather my best view. From what Ive heard in Jazz Ensemble and in band, I can tell you that these horns sound amazing. The sound is really bold and is perfect for those who solo quite often. It sounds bold and really projects the sound well. The cratsmanship of the horn itself is very well done, from the engraving to the keywork. It uses semi-percious stones in the neck and keys instead of real or fake pearl. It also has an option for a fat neck if needed. I would suggest this horn for the high school player if they want an upgrade but be warned that Cannonball horns can be expensive so maybe wait till the end of sophmore year or the beginning of junior year to get your hands on one.
SELMER PARIS: These horns are the original Selmer saxophones, and is the brand many saxophone players should thank for the modern keywork that ALL saxophones now use. The horns have a tendency to be a bit darker when it comes to their sound. Their biggest sellers are the reference series, which embodies the sound of their vintage horns but with the keywork and crafting techniques of the modern era. These horns are my personal recommendation to any saxophone player in high school if they can get their hands on one.
That was my personal advice and views on each brand. Remember that you have an opinon and I would love to hear it. Feel free to respond and ask questions or help improve this guide. Before I go, I will do one more piece of advice.
VINTAGE SAXES: These are horns that are older than forty years old. Many famous examples are the Selmer Paris Super Balanced Action, The Conn 10M Naked Lady, King Super 20 and of course the Grandfather of the modern saxophone The Selmer Paris Mark VI. These horns are not recommened for high school students as they are very expensive and can be expensive to repair or restore. However, if you are a student who plans on continuing music after high school or study music in college, then I'd suggest getting one if you have tried out a vintage horn and have a personal liking to it.
I hope this guide will help. I will edit this post to improve my view on each brand. Feel free to help out and thank you for reading!!