Though I teach elementary music, I do a lot to help my 5th graders get ready for band in middle school, and I’m often asked what instrument they should get.
The answer depends on the specific instrument, but the general rule is to get a good brand.
For saxophones, sticking with a good brand is essentially a guarantee to getting a good instrument.
With this in mind, I researched and asked my high-level sax player friends to come up with this list of the best saxophone brands.
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Best Saxophone Brands At A Glance
|Saxophone Brand||Best Quality||General Price Range|
|Yamaha||Great, consistent saxophones across all levels||Medium price point across all levels|
|Conn-Selmer/Selmer-Paris||High-quality sound and consistent tone||Medium to medium-high|
|Jean Paul USA||Durable with a decent sound; Great for intermediate||Affordable for all|
|P. Mauriat||High-end at a reasonable price||Medium-high|
|Jupiter||Great sound, good price||Medium|
|Eastman||Professional Level and beyond||High|
|Yanagisawa||Specially-made, great reputation and sound||Medium-high|
|Allora||Great brand for intermediate level saxophones||Medium-low|
|Keilwerth||Specialty saxophone with a great look and unique design||High|
|Etude||Perfect balance for student models||Low|
The Yamaha corporation has been behind some pretty cool stuff for years now. From motorsports to music gear to even bikes, they’ve got their hands in just about everything.
It’s one of the largest manufacturers of musical instruments globally and manufactures woodwind instruments, drums, and brass instruments.
In recent years, Yamaha has earned a good reputation among professional musicians for making high-quality instruments at affordable prices.
Its greatest strength compared to most other brands is the sheer breadth of skill levels it covers.
From beginner saxophone to professional saxophones, Yamaha has it all.
Sure, the price also comes in at a wide range, but the price is generally lower than other brands without sacrificing sound quality.
Example Of Yamaha Saxophone
The Yamaha 480 is an example of a Yamaha intermediate-level instrument.
The sound is sound, and the playability is great, but it does a nice job of staying in tune across the entire range of the sax and allows for some more advanced techniques.
I know many amateur musicians who play on this, even as adults, and they do just fine.
Despite their names, the Conn-Selmers don’t come from either brand; they’re just named after them.
However, Conn-Selmer distributes Selmer Paris’ instruments in the United States.
Conn was one of the best-known manufacturers of saxophones during the first half of the twentieth century, producing some of the biggest names in jazz, such as Charlie Parker and Lester Young, among others.
However, Selmer Paris has been making instruments since 1892, and its reputation today rests upon their iconic ‘Parisian’ series, which includes the well-known tenor saxophone.
Even though Conn-Selmer has been known for making quality instruments from their inception, they’ve become even better over the years.
Like Yamaha, Conn-Selmer makes saxes for all types of players, so you’ll see these a lot in bands and professional level playing.
It’s a sort of bridge brand; they have a stronger reputation at the higher-end sax than Yamaha, but a little less than some of the others on our list.
Example of Conn-Selmer Saxophone
The Selmer AS-42 is marketed as a professional saxophone, but it fits as a more intermediate or advanced sax.
The black nickel plating and engraved bell look amazing, and the sound backs it up.
It has a strong sound with a consistent tone. People who play the sax well say it’s a very agile and responsive instrument with faster playing.
If you’ve searched for saxophones on your own, you’ve probably come across Jean Paul USA.
This company started making saxes in the 1960s to make good but affordable instruments for the everyday person.
Not many music teachers would suggest this brand, but it does a great job in reaching this balance of price and quality.
Some people play this into the intermediate stage, but at this point, I’d suggest getting a nicer one.
Example of Jean-Paul USA Saxophone
The Jean-Paul AS-400 is a low price for a good saxophone, and it sounds pretty good.
It won’t win any awards, but it’s comfortable to hold, durable, and is easy to make sounds.
One of the common problems with beginner saxes is how the keys stick, but the AS-400 stays smooth without many issues.
Many saxophones are handmade when first designed, but then they move into a more mass production phase once designed.
This isn’t the case with the high-end P. Mauriat saxophones.
These are handmade from start to finish every time.
The hammering process takes up to 400 strikes, and each tone hole is drawn and drilled one by one to make sure pitches are precise, consistent, and perfect.
P. Mauriat makes all types of saxes, including the four common ones:
- Soprano Saxophone
- Alto Saxophone
- Tenor Saxophone
- Baritone Saxophone (Bari sax)
The sound quality and overall quality of the saxes are legendary.
This comes in at a much higher price.
Any player will be able to use a P. Mauriat sax, but in general, I recommend waiting until you’re serious about the sax before investing in this one.
While suited for all player levels, a saxophonist will generally invest in an instrument of the caliber of a P. Mauriat once they have fully committed to the saxophone.
Example of P. Mauriat Saxophone
While this company is known for their professional level of sax, they make more intermediate ones too.
The 78-AGL alto linked above is one such example.
It plays great, sounds great, and has a beautiful tone.
It’s not as durable as others designed to be used by students, so watch out if you’re buying this for a clumsy middle or high schooler.
For a great list of P. Mauriat saxes for the professional player, check out this list at Woodwind Brasswind.
Jupiter makes a variety of brass and woodwind musical instruments that are particularly well suited for schools and band programs.
Jupiter saxophones have:
- Great durability
- Affordable price
- Warm sound
While not known for their professional instruments, they’ve come a long way.
But for those looking for a reliable saxophone for beginners or intermediate players, check out a Jupiter sax.
Example of Jupiter Saxophone
The JAS1100 is their top-end saxophone, and it’s an intermediate one.
Anybody who plays this alto would be happy to have it.
As with many intermediate-level instruments, it finds a good balance of an affordable price range with a quality saxophone construction that most cheap saxophones can’t reach.
Of particular note is the specific design of the keys. This intermediate saxophone has easy-to-reach keys.
Eastman isn’t in the market of making saxophones for beginners; they make their saxes for the professional player.
Eastman horns are iconic for their large, warm, rich sounds.
The key design is more modern and results in great action, response, and consistent intonation even through modern techniques.
They feature larger-than-normal bells and rolled-style tone holes.
The design somehow manages to call back to the vintage saxes of the past while building on modern sax techniques.
Despite their specialty, the price for their saxophones remains pretty moderate.
Example of Eastman Saxophone
The Andreas Eastman EAS640 is one of the most accessible and affordable of the Eastman saxophones.
Though it’s not an intermediate instrument, it’s one of those professional models anyone can play on.
As mentioned above, its strengths are its fat sound and great action during fast passages.
Started in Japan in 1894 as a small family business, Yaginasawa originated as a woodwind repair shop.
After World War II, they began making saxophones and have since established themselves as one of the top 3 saxophone manufacturers globally.
Along with their great sound, Yaginasawa is known for the subtle details in their saxes, specifically through their octave rockers, mother of pearl, and blue-steel needle spring.
It’s these fine details that make their saxes more streamlined for the professional and elite saxophonists.
They do not make a student model or even an intermediate model. It’s all high-end for these folks.
A music teacher and tuba player like me can’t appreciate this level of sax for what it is.
Still, my friends and colleague who play the saxophone at this high level go on and on about how ergonomic it is to hold and the dark complexity of its tone.
Plus, each sax comes with a specially designed ebonite mouthpiece.
Yaginasawa saxophones are only available from specially-approved dealers. Check out this list on Woodwind Brasswind for more details on where to buy.
Allora is a lesser-known brand, but it’s one many professional musicians recommend to newer players who want the best bang for their buck.
They offer the Allora student horn for beginners, Vienna series for intermediate players, and the Paris series for the pros.
Allora saxes are durable, often with a gold lacquer finish, and sound pretty good.
Serious and professional players will most likely want to just spend the extra cash, but it’s a great option for the everyday player and even advanced player.
Example of Allora Saxophone
Check out this Allora student series alto on Woodwind Brasswind.
It’s a quality alto saxophone with a lacquered finish for extra protection and durability.
It features a superior tone compared with other student models, and its ergonomic design makes it easy for little hands to hold and play.
In 1925, Julius Keilwerth began building saxophones in Germany along with his younger brother Max.
They started with a focus on making the saxophone fit better into classical music and the European concert hall tradition.
When that didn’t take off, they hired jazz musicians such as Peter Ponzol to help adapt their builds for the jazz market.
While not as popular in the United States, it’s much more iconic in Europe, especially Germany, where its black nickel plating is considered dramatic and eye-catching.
In some ways, this is one of the most customizable saxophone brands. It features different ergonomics than what’s traditionally used, including adjustable left-hand palm keys.
Example of Keilwerth Saxophone
The SX90R Shadow Tenor Sax is the perfect example of what Keilwerth tries to accomplish with their saxes.
The sharp and severe look almost distracts from the power and broad tone of the Shadow Sax across the entire pitch range and dynamic spectrum (for a higher price, naturally).
If you’re looking for a great horn for beginner saxophonists, check out the Etude.
It’s built specifically for beginners and thus, does a lot the bigger companies fall short on.
It has great durability and ease of playability to keep new players interested in practicing, and getting better and accurate intonation is impressive for this level of sax.
This is the type of beginner horn and brand-new instrument any new player would be proud to own.
Example of Etude Saxophone
The Etude EAS-100 isn’t an alto sax you’ll keep forever, but it’ll give your student or new player a good enough horn to learn on and decide if they want to invest in a nicer horn later on.
The sound of the Etude is a little abrasive or “honky,” but it keeps its pitch pretty well.
Certainly, it’s light and easy-to-hold for small hands, though advanced techniques and alternate fingerings don’t seem to do as well as with intermediate or advanced saxophones.
What To Look For In Buying A Saxophone
Even armed with this information on brands, you’ll want to keep a few other things in mind as you shop for saxophones.
When buying a used sax, take an experienced musician or saxophone player with you if you aren’t one yourself.
In addition to this, keep the following in mind.
What is your ability level?
If you’re a beginner, stick with beginner or intermediate models, such as those from Yamaha, Selmer, Allora, or Etude.
If you’re better than this, look into some other brands, too, and opt for one at your level.
Pro-tip: There’s nothing wrong with playing an instrument designed to be higher than your level, but you don’t want to play down.
If you’re advanced and get a student model, you’ll make it sound OK, but your skills can only get you so far.
Where possible, get your hands on the saxophone to feel how it fits your hand.
All the top brands, such as those on this list, design their keys and thumb rest to fit most hands comfortably.
All things being equal, pick the one that fits the best to you.
Remember, it’s always possible to return products to Amazon if you order online. Or go to your local music store to test them out.
The biggest element to watch for when shopping is the tone quality or sound of the saxophone.
You want a round sound that’s consistent across the whole range of the instrument.
Outside of this, it’s a matter of personal preference.
If you’re not a great player, use the videos above to help determine which one you want to buy.
Tuning is the key to most of what makes music good.
When we tune a saxophone (click the link for our guide), we tune a single pitch.
As you play different notes, the tuning will be a little off. It’s just the way instruments work.
Good and great horns will stay pretty close to perfect through all the notes when one is in tune.
Poor saxophones will sound OK for some and terrible for the rest.
Bring a tuner or a tuner app and test several of the notes after tuning the G. Are the notes close?
If not, it may not be the sax for you.
New players may have a hard time with this test because they don’t change their embouchure (shape of the lips) to match the notes.
Only players with experience should use this test. Otherwise, bring in a more experienced friend.
Action talks about how well the keys and the springs in the key mechanisms work.
Whether you’re new or a pro, you never want sticky keys or keys that are hard to push down.
Unfortunately, many beginners have a hard enough time playing fast, and they don’t notice poor action on a sax until years later.
When you press the keys down, they should move easily and pop back up right away.
No one wants a broken instrument.
Unfortunately, nicer horns tend to be more breakable, but when you’re at this point, you’re a good enough player; you’ll treat your saxophone carefully.
But for new players, especially middle schoolers, accidents happen a lot. You want a tough horn in these cases.
There’s no good way to test this other than to check with people who own it already, but the better student brands like Yamaha, Allora, and Etude are durable.