Buying A Saxophone


So you've decided to go ahead and buy a saxophone. Assuming you've worked out which size you are after (alto, tenor, etc.) and have a rough idea of budget, here's some advice on how to make sure you spend your money wisely.

Buying On-line

It does seem tempting, buying on-line offers maximum convenience, you can find all makes of saxophone ranging from £100 - £3000+ and have one delivered to your door the next day.

You'll also find plenty of new instruments listed on auction sites such as eBay, many giving you the chance to return the instrument in 14 days if you don't like it.

Whilst the convenience and price may tempt you, ask yourself, do you really know what you are buying in to ? If you know the brand and have played a similar saxophone before, then you have a good idea of what you are buying. 

I always prefer to play a saxophone before buying. If you want to buy on-line, then make sure you have the option to return or exchange the instrument. This gives you time to assess the quality of the sound, the craftsmanship, and the feel of the saxophone for yourself. offer the ability to order on-line and pick up at one of their 19 UK stores. Of the selection of saxophones that they offer, I can recommend Trevor James and Jupiter as good quality beginner/intermediate saxophones. Their range of Yamaha saxophones are an excellent choice for all levels of players.

If you are serious about playing and are ready to invest in a good quality saxophone, it's worth putting some time and effort in to choosing a saxophone that will last you for a while. This doesn't mean buying the most expensive model, it means trying a few saxophones, experimenting, taking advice and finding one that suits you. Makes that I can recommend at this level include Yanagisawa, Selmer (Paris), Keilwerth, Yamaha and P. Mauriat.

If you have never played a saxophone before, then this is harder, but not impossible. Find someone who does play, and who is willing to help you buy a good sax e.g. a teacher or experienced music shop sales person.  

Where the web can help though, is helping you locate a specific instrument if you have a good idea of what you are after, especially secondhand instruments. The web is also a good place to research the makes and models and to get an idea of prices.

Buying Secondhand Saxophones

Buying a used saxophone from a private advert can net you a good deal if you know what you are looking for, and know enough about saxophones to check one over thoroughly and be confident that you are buying a good one. There will be little or no comeback if you get it wrong though.

Many saxophone shops stock secondhand saxes that have been traded in against a new one. You may pay a little more compared to a private ad, but you should get more peace of mind, especially if that shop has an on-site saxophone repairer who has checked the saxophone over and made any necessary adjustments or fixes.

I recently purchased a "back-up" soprano saxophone, and spent some time searching various free-ad websites looking for a relatively cheap used saxophone. Since I already own a soprano, I had something to compare against, and was interested to see if the cheaper Chinese saxophones produced over the last few years came anywhere close in terms of build and sound.

After a few weeks of searching I came across a used Trevor James soprano saxophone that was being sold privately. I'd not played one of these saxophones before, but had heard that they were respected student level saxes and so was willing to take a look. This particular model was one of the Chinese made Artemis sopranos from Trevor James. These are manufactured in China and then set-up and regulated by Trevor James in the UK.

The soprano had had very little use, the only thing I could find was a couple of sticky pads, which I knew would be simple to fix. I put on the supplied mouthpiece, played for a few minutes, and my initial thoughts were nice key action, even tuning, but thin and uninspiring sound. However, swapping the supplied mouthpiece with my usual (Yanagisawa ebonite) mouthpiece completely transformed the responsiveness and the quality of the sound.

This used soprano saxophone ended up costing me less than £200.  As a "back-up" saxophone it is more than adequate, and now that I have fixed the sticking pads and played it for a few months, I can say that I am impressed with the build quality and sound (once the supplied mouthpiece had been ditched !) It's not up there with the likes of Yanagisawa, Yamaha or Selmer, but it does provide exceptionally good value for money.

The moral here is that you can locate some good secondhand saxophones, and quite often they have had very little use. If you have played a number of saxophones and know what sort of things to look out for, then you are in a better position to buy secondhand and not end up disappointed. Be careful though, there are some poor quality saxophones out there, and some that need a fair bit of work to get them playing well (which could end up costing hundreds of pounds). So be prepared to try a few and only buy a used  saxophone when you are sure that you have found a good one. Buying on price alone could end up being a false economy in the long run.

Buying from a Good Saxophone Shop

A good saxophone dealer will help guide you through the different saxes available, and will spend time with you to find the right one. 

If possible, plan to visit during the week (when it won't be as busy) and call ahead to find out what they have in stock. It may be that you have to travel to find a good shop with a good selection of saxophones and knowledgeable staff, but in my opinion, this is well worth the effort.

Another thing to bear in mind (especially for beginners) is the mouthpiece that comes with a saxophone. As I experienced above, the mouthpiece supplied with a budget saxophone can be low quality, or even just not suited to you. When buying your first saxophone I'd recommend trying a few alternative mouthpieces. For around £30 - £70 you should find one that makes quite a difference. Again, a knowledgeable dealer can help guide you through the different makes, models, materials and sizes.

It can be daunting for a complete beginner to try an instrument. A good shop will help you with the basics, and help you try a few combinations. I'd suggest calling ahead, explaining your situation and what you need help on, and finding a shop that is willing to spend time with you.

Some other advantages of buying from a good dealer:

  • many will let you exchange an instrument after a number of days
  • some will offer hire schemes, ideal for keeping the upfront costs down
  • a good dealer will have an on-site repairer who will set the instrument up for you and cure any annoying issues e.g. sticking or leaking pads
  • if possible, once you have made your choice, ask to try a second identical sax if they have one in stock. You'll find that no two saxophones are ever quite the same !

© 2011