5 Best Alto Saxophones Reviewed in Detail

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Whether you want to buy your first saxophone or upgrade your current horn, we will introduce you to 10 of the best saxophone brands in the world.

From the highest segment of the market, to the most ‘economical’ options, this article will help in the decision-making process!

Last update on 2022-07-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Choosing a saxophone is a difficult task.

It can be a big investment and there are numerous brands and models to choose from.

As with most products available on the market – from cars to bags and computers – saxophone brands vary widely in their profiles, prices and target audiences.

There are celebrity companies that have been around for decades and more new companies are starting.

World famous brands and boutiques, family businesses. Sophisticated manufacturers of handcrafted instruments and those that cater to a lower budget, with saxophones for beginners.

Whatever your skill set and how much (reasonably) you would like to spend, there is a great saxophone for you.

In this article, we will introduce you to the top 10 saxophone brands from around the world and take a look at the history and reputation of these companies, as well as some of the best models they offer right now.

Proving that the manufacture of saxophones is really an international business, seven countries are represented, as for the location of the companies!

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Last update on 2022-07-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

10 Best lto Saxophone Review

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Last update on 2022-07-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What Is An Alto Saxophone? Different Types of Alto Saxophones

Saxophones consist of a mouthpiece from which air is blown into the instrument. The air then passes through reeds and by pressing the different keys, air pressure is regulated to produce sound.

Depending on the shape of the pipe on which the reeds and key placement, the type of saxophone is determined.

Here we will be taking a look at the four most popular types of saxophones to understand their key features and how they differ from one another.

Soprano saxophones

Among the most popular four types of saxophones, the soprano is the smallest in size. Its build is similar to that of a clarinet, but sopranos are more conical in shape.

The placement of the keys and the shape of a soprano helps produce the sharpest of sound among these four types of saxophones.

A soprano saxophone is the most difficult to play.

Tenor saxophones

Most of the modern saxophones are tenor saxophones.

This type of saxophones is majorly used in genres such as rock and jazz. Tenor saxophones are big in size with a prominent bell. A bend in the neck of a tenor saxophone right after its mouthpiece is its identifying feature.

Tenor saxophones are known to produce a fuller sound.

Baritone saxophones

The Baritone is visually the biggest of saxophones among the four types. It has a huge bell, heavy and is known to produce louder, fuller, deeper sounds.

Alto saxophones

Alto saxophones are similar to the tenor saxophones in terms of features, but minus the bend in the neck. Alto saxophones are also relatively smaller in size, making for a medium-sized saxophone which is easier to hold and play.

Are Alto Saxophones Beginner-Friendly?

If you are just starting out learning a new instrument, you would want to start with something that is more easily manageable. This is more so the case if the concerned beginner learners are children.

As such, the small-sized altos are by far the most beginner-friendly saxophones.

In terms of design, the alto is much smaller and lightweight. This makes it easier to handle with small hands. Furthermore, children who naturally have lesser lung capacity than adults, find it much simpler to play altos as the instruments require less air due to their smaller size.

Also, the gaps between the keys in an alto saxophone are smaller. This helps the younger learners and those with smaller hands play it with ease.

However, it should be noted that the design of the instrument does influence the sound output. The neck of alto saxophones goes a little upward after the mouthpiece, helping create a brighter tone in the music.

In comparison, the tenor saxophones have a downward bend in their neck, which helps in producing a more melancholy and deep sound, adding more dimensions to the music. This is why the tenor is the most popular sax amongst professionals.

But that being said, altos and tenors have almost an identical feature set and design. This makes it super easy to jump to the bigger tenor once you have practised on your alto.

As such, keeping all these in mind, it is clear that the alto is perfect for beginners. Not only are they easier to learn, but transitioning from alto to the professional tenor is very smooth and frictionless.

Best Saxophone Brands

Selmer Paris

Saxophone brands don’t come more prestigious than Selmer.

A true family business, the legendary French company has been making woodwind instruments since 1885, and current president Jérôme Selmer is the great-grandson of original founder Henri.

The French company made its first saxophone in 1922, going on to create historic models like the ‘Cigar Cutter’, the Balanced Action, the Super Balanced Action and the Mark VI.

The Mark VI, in particular, is the most iconic saxophone of all time and has been the horn of choice for all manner of legendary players: Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Michael Brecker, John Coltrane, Phil Woods and many others.

As you’d expect with a brand that has historically been regarded as ‘the best of the best’ when it comes to saxophones, Selmer products don’t come cheap.

Available in a variety of lacquer finishes, the Selmer Reference horns are two of their current flagship models: the Reference 36 takes inspiration from the 1936 Selmer Balanced Action, while the Reference 54 is a modern take on the legendary 1954 Selmer Mark VI.

Both attempt to recreate the ‘special’ feel of a vintage saxophone whilst offering the reliability and ergonomic design of a modern horn – you can read our comparison here.

The brand also continues to produce two long-time favourites in the Super Action 80 Series II – described as “without doubt the world’s most popular professional alto saxophone” – and the Series III.

Selmer Paris produces some of the more expensive instruments on the market, but that’s in part because over 80% of each saxophone is still produced by hand (including all the engraving) in one of the oldest factories of its kind in Mantes-la-Ville, to the west of Paris.

Yamaha

Yamaha Corporation has put its name to all manner of products, from motorbikes to sporting goods to audio equipment.

The Japanese company also makes a selection of musical instruments: it is the biggest manufacturer of pianos in the world and also produces woodwind instruments, drums, brass instruments and keyboards.

Yamaha might not have the name prestige of Selmer in the saxophone world, but in recent years they have gained a reputation for producing extremely well-made horns that offer excellent value for money.

And, unlike Selmer Paris, which focuses on professional-level horns, Yamaha also makes student and intermediate level alto and tenor saxophones.

The YAS-280 alto and YTS-280 tenor are recognised as being amongst the best student level saxophones on the market, although they will set you back a bit more than less recognised entry-level brands.

The 480 is Yamaha’s intermediate instrument.

Perfect for the advancing saxophone student, this is again considered one of the best in its price range, and is available in a range of finishes, including silver plated lacquer.

The Yamaha Custom has been Yamaha’s top-of-the-range series since 2002.

The free-blowing, wider-bored Custom Z is a particularly great saxophone for playing jazz, while the Custom EX is considered to be more of a classical saxophone.

These are highly rated instruments: alto sax great Phil Woods converted to a Custom Z later in life, having played a Selmer Mark VI for many years previously.

Yanagisawa

A small family business based in Japan, Yanagisawa as a company dates back to 1894, when it started as a woodwind repair business.

The company began producing saxophones in 1951, and is now established as one of the top three manufacturers in the world, alongside Selmer and Yamaha.

Yanagisawa tends to focus on selling a relatively streamlined selection of products.

Since 2014 it has produced the WO Series, which is split into the ‘professional’ WO1 models and the slightly more expensive ‘elite’ WO10 models.

The brand does not manufacture student or intermediate level horns, but its professional-standard saxophones offer great value for money and are considerably cheaper than top-of-the-range saxophones elsewhere on the market.

They produce a rich, warm sound and boast extremely smooth ergonomics. Each saxophone comes with a high quality ebonite mouthpiece.

Well known Yanagisawa endorsers include J.D. Allen, Gary Bartz and Lakecia Benjamin from the jazz world, and Jess Gillam and Christina Leonard from the classical sphere.

Elkhart

Elkhart is one of a number of brands – along with King, Vincent Bach and (in the USA) Selmer Paris – that is distributed by the American company Conn-Selmer.

Originally based in Elkhart, Indiana, it now focuses on producing saxophones for the student market and makes its products in Taiwan.

The Elkhart 100 Series is an excellent budget option. A cheap saxophone compared to many others here, it’s well-regarded by teachers around the world and has been bought in bulk by countless schools and music services.

They are well built and, when comparing to other student horns such as the Yamaha YAS-280, extremely affordable as far as saxophones go.

Elkhart also offers the SXAD Deluxe, a more high-end student alto saxophone, and the SXB-WB, an intermediate level baritone saxophone.

P. Mauriat

P. Mauriat saxophones are a relatively recent arrival to the industry, but the Taiwanese brand has become a real success story since it first started making waves in the sax world in the mid 2000s with its excellent value intermediate and professional level horns.

One of P. Mauriat’s selling points is the fact that it offers the option of rolled tone holes on its professional alto and tenor saxophones.

This means that the tone holes are fully extruded from the brass, rather than being soldered on separately, and aims to provide superior pad fit and resonance.

All saxophones are hand-hammered from French brass, and many come with a distinctive vintage-style unlacquered finish as standard.

Their beautiful ‘black pearl’ tenor sax looks great whilst their 66R tenor saxophone range in particular is a flagship product for the company and has come to be regarded as something of a modern classic.

Meanwhile the Le Bravo is an excellent intermediate saxophone: with a solid nickel silver neck, it has a punchy, more contemporary tone that makes it an ideal saxophone for jazz.

The brand’s baritone saxophones are also well regarded and, for the doubling saxophonist who wants to own a baritone at a mid-level budget, Mauriat could be the perfect option.

P. Mauriat endorsees include high profile American jazz musicians James Carter and Marcus Strickland.

Keilwerth

Julius Keilwerth started building saxophones in his native Germany along with his brother Max in 1925.

The brand began with a focus on the European concert hall tradition, but in 1986 hired saxophonist Peter Ponzol as a consultant to help build instruments for the jazz market.

Within a few years the SX90R range was proving popular, with the likes of Branford Marsalis, David Liebman and Courtney Pine opting for Keilwerth horns.

The Keilwerth Shadow is something of an icon: made in Germany, it has distinctive black nickel plating for a rather dramatic look.

Keilwerths are known for having ergonomics that feel somewhat different to most modern saxophones, and the inclusion of adjustable left-hand palm keys is rather unusual.

The hand engraving is ornate and covers both the bell and the neck of the horn. This is certainly a saxophone for the high level player searching for something a little different to the norm.

Keilwerth produce some of the best soprano saxophones and this highly acclaimed range includes a David Liebman signature model that was designed with input from the saxophonist.

Conn-Selmer

In spite of its name, the modern American company’s Conn-Selmer saxophones have little to do with the products made by the two illustrious brands ‘Conn’ and ‘Selmer’ – although Conn-Selmer does distribute Selmer Paris’ products in the US.

Conn was arguably the major saxophone manufacturer of the first half of the 20th Century, with famous players including Charlie Parker and Lester Young opting for legendary models like the 10M, whilst Selmer Paris, as we’ve already discussed, is probably the world’s most distinguished saxophone brand.

Despite this, Conn-Selmer has established itself as a major player in the saxophone world in its own right since its formation in 2003. With production now largely moved to China, it is the largest manufacturer of band and orchestral instruments in the United States.

The brand’s intermediate level saxophones, for the advancing student or budget-conscious professional player, have particularly impressed reviewers and dealers.

The ‘Premiere’ PAS380V comes in a stylish unlacquered finish, with some reviewers comparing it to classic (and much more expensive) vintage Selmers. It also comes with a high quality Rosseau ebonite mouthpiece.

Other Conn-Selmer models include the LaVie and Liberty ranges.

Cannonball Saxophones

In 1996, Sheryl and Tevis Laukat founded Cannonball Musical Instruments in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the company has 25 employees.

Cannonball saxophones are built in factories in Taiwan, before being shipped to the Utah headquarters, where they are “acoustically hand customised” and extensively tested.

The brand’s signature range is the Big Bell Stone Series.

Each saxophone comes adorned with various semi-precious natural stones and two necks: a standard one and Cannonball’s patented silver-plated FAT Neck, which has the octave key on the underside of the crook and is inspired by the design of the King Super 20, a classic vintage saxophone of yesteryear.

Smooth jazz star Gerald Albright uses the FAT Neck on his own Gerald Albright Signature Series alto, which he helped design.

This special model is hand engraved by artisans in Salt Lake City, with black Italian leather pads completing the elegant look.

In terms of price, Cannonball are, roughly, in a similar category to P. Mauriat, in that they are professional saxophones at the more affordable end of the spectrum.

Borgani

Borgani is a family-run company that was founded in Marcerato, central Italy in 1872 by Augusto Borgani.

The current president, Orfeo Borgani, has been in place since 1983 and is the fourth generation of the family to head up the company.

Borgani makes high end alto, tenor and both straight and ‘half-curved’ soprano saxophones. Each instrument is available in a range of materials, including a 24K gold-based alloy and the particularly popular silver-plated model, each of which provides its own distinct tonal qualities.

When choosing a new saxophone, it’s often useful to see what your favourite players preferred.

With the Borgani, they have tenor sax great Joe Lovano as a brand ambassador: helped design his own signature Borgani model, which is made from Pearl Silver alloy and has Gold 24k keys.

“It’s a really beautiful instrument and gives me such a warm, brilliant sound, with a dynamic range, beyond my wildest expectations. These newer horns are made like an older horn with handmade, hand-pounded brass but with modern mechanisms.” – Joe Lovano

Other endorsing artists include Will Vinson, Jimmy Greene and Tim Garland.

Borgani is not stocked as widely as other brands on this list, so you may need to search carefully to find a dealer if you’d like to try one out.

Trevor James

Beginner saxophones by British company Trevor James are manufactured in Taiwan, but designed and finished in Lenham, England.

Trevor James’ The Horn Classic has been acclaimed as an excellent student saxophone since the brand’s emergence in the early 1990s. It was revamped as the Classic II in 2012.

Priced approximately at the midway point above the Elkhart 100 Series and below the Yamaha 280, it has won three UK Music Industry Association awards, and is an extremely solid choice for a beginner saxophone that will last some time.

Whilst still primarily known for entry level saxophones, Trevor James has more recently started producing well-received professional horns.

The TJ Signature is hand built in England, with the RAW and RAW XS offering unlacquered finishes in different shades.

Trevor James’ top model is the AS Autograph tenor, a limited edition collaboration with British ECM artist Andy Shepherd.

One review described it as “quite simply the most playable, sweet sounding sax that has ever landed on the Jazzwise test bench”.

Trevor James also now produces the SR range, a series of competitively-priced intermediate saxophones.

Alto or Tenor Sax – Which One is for You?

Alto saxophones are lighter and smaller than tenor saxophones. They’re also slightly easier to play, which is why they’re preferred by beginners. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have a professional sound.

You will also notice that alto saxophones have a slightly different design with the neck coming up at the end. Tenor saxophones feature a neck that bends down.

There’s also a distinctive sound to each instrument. Because of its size, the alto sax sounds brighter and the high notes are more detailed. While the general impression is that the tenor sax has a deeper sound, I would argue that it’s even richer and more complete.

The register is different for both instruments. A tenor saxophone is built half an octave lower than an alto sax. More specifically, an alto sax is an E-flat instrument and the tenor sax is B-flat. You have to keep this in mind as it will affect the way you read sheet music.

In the hands of expert players, both instruments can be manipulated to create a wide range of sounds. For professional musicians, the choice comes down to personal preference. But when it comes to beginners, an alto sax is a lot easier to start with, especially if you’re young or just have small hands.

In What Way Does Price Matter?

Believe it or not, these days there isn’t a lot of difference in performance between affordable and high-end saxophones. Part of this is because a saxophone maker can take the same design and materials and make the saxophones in a low-cost country.

Although there will be differences in intonation, note sustain, consistency, and of course build quality, you don’t always have to pay a premium to get a good instrument.

It comes down to how much you can afford to spend. Also worth keeping in mind is the fact that some saxophones don’t have good resale values. You won’t be playing with one sax for the rest of your life, so you might want to consider getting one that can be resold when you decide to upgrade.

Besides the reputation of the brand and model, the resale value can be affected by the sound and also the build quality. But you can resell any saxophone if you set the price low enough.

What I Look for in Accessories

Almost all saxophones come with some accessories. At least the basic cleaning cloth and rod will be included. But you might not always be fortunate enough to get a good carry case or replacement reeds.

There are many things that you’ll need for tuning, playing, and maintaining your saxophone. At least for a beginner instrument, I put a lot of value on the quality of the included accessories, and so should you.

Keep in mind that some of the included standard mouthpieces won’t bring out the best in your new sax. Whenever you can get something of higher value as part of the package, it’s usually worth paying a small premium.

Your Choice Determines What You Can Play

As previously mentioned, a tenor sax has a rich sound. Therefore, if you’re interested in playing rock & roll, jazz, and more modern fusion, a tenor sax will generally blend better with the other instruments.

Best Saxophone Brands to Choose From

As is the case with most beginner-friendly or practice instruments, you can get an affordable and decent saxophone from almost any manufacturer. But, if you’re looking for quality too, then it’s best to stick to the well-known and reputable manufacturers.

Here are some of the most reputable saxophone brands:

  • Yamaha
  • Selmer
  • Jean Paul
  • Mendini by Cecilio
  • Jupiter

These are just some of the bigger names in the industry. All of them cater to both beginners and experienced concert players. Therefore, there’s no need to worry about finding a high-end instrument or a starter-friendly pack complete with replacement parts and accessories.

You’ll have to understand that paying a small premium will be a given. Another thing regarding where to get your saxophone from touches on another subject, which is the state.

Should you get it new or second-hand? How much should the brand impact the pricing in this case?

Settling the New vs Used Debate

I’ll almost always be a proponent of buying a new instrument over a used one. That’s mainly because buying a used instrument is much more difficult and even sketchy to do from the comfort of one’s sofa.

Sure, you may be able to save a few bucks that you can later invest in spare parts and important accessories like reeds and mouthpieces. Although you may be getting a good sax, you can hardly expect that the accessories will be in the same condition.

That said, you never know what you’ll get with a used sax until it arrives at your doorstep, and you test it out.

Indeed, some saxophones are bad off the factory line too. However, those will be under warranty, and you can quickly get a brand new replacement. Besides, even though most brass-made saxes are durable instruments, they’re not immune to wear and tear.

And, finding parts for vintage saxophones is getting harder and harder each day. Last but not least, it’s not a given that used saxophones are cheap. That’s especially true if they’re made by top manufacturers and belong to the midrange or the high-end lineup.

For student saxophones, this may be the case, but if you’re shopping for something to elevate your playing during gigs, you’ll find that even a used pro-level saxophone can still carry a hefty price tag.

Finally, the choice is up to you and what you need and can afford. If you need a pro instrument but can’t afford a new one, buying a used one is your best option.

If you’re interested in classical music then you might want to find an alto sax. The bright tonality is better suited for classical sheet music. But a tenor sax can also do a good job if you are to play in a saxophone quartet.

Buyer’s Guide

Materials and Finish

Typically, Saxes comes in a yellow brass body. However, yellow is not the only color as top saxophone brands about are trying to produce high-quality brass that will meet the aesthetic need of users.

This explains why sax, alongside the standard brass body, is adorned with a twist. This could be in the form of a bell or neck made from different material like bronze or copper.

Also, times past, the clear lacquer was seen as the standard for all saxophones. However, there are varieties of finishing touches with which standard horns come this day which gives it an elegant look in addition to a brilliant performance.

Silver Plating: With silver plating, sax manufacturers are spicing things up. This gives the wind instrument a more precise projection with enhanced volume allowing you to express yourself.

Nickel plating: This is a good choice if you want a distinct sound from your wind instrument. This explains why it is the top choice for jazz players

Copper and Bronze: Besides adding weight, life, and fullness to your saxophone, it also gives your sax a soft finish that will produce rich and dark tones.

Presence of All Accessories

If you want to buy a good sax, do not be tricked into getting unnecessary accessories. While purchasing a sax, it is good to watch out for essential accessories to make sure you have a good time with it. Some of the essential ones:

  • Mouthpiece
  • Reeds
  • Case
  • Cleaning kit
  • And grease

What to Look for When Choosing

  1. Key:

Various alto Saxes comes with different keys. Many players have concluded that the extra keys are redundant since it causes cluster.

A beginner might find the extra couple of keys helpful though. We recommend an alto sax with high G or high F sharp. For beginners, we recommend the instrument with alternate key positions and adjustable height screws.

  1. Neck:

How comfortable your instrument is, is a factor of the length of the neck. As a result, you need to take note of this feature in choosing the sax. The good news is that you can replace the neck if you do not like the one you have.

  1. Material and Finish:

Majority of sax comes with a beautiful yellow brass finish. However, many also come in copper, bronze, and silver as discussed above. Bear in mind, that the construction material seriously affects the sound quality and the cost of the instrument.

Concerning finish, clear lacquer is the most common type. Although, others like vintage, black nickel plate, and colored lacquers also exist.

  1. Thumb rest:

A bad thumb rest will give you some discomfort while playing. As a result, it is essential to know how comfortable you will be while using the instrument. This is the part of saxophone where you rest your thumb to make your instrument balance. It is usually hook-shaped and could either be metal or plastic.

  1. Reeds:

These are the little wood that is found on the flat surface of the mouthpiece alongside the ligature. On blowing air through the wind instrument via the spokesman, the air flows through the pipe. The air travels between the tip and the slight opening of the mouthpiece. This air flow causes the reed to vibrate against the mouthpiece that gives out the sound.

Since there are various brands in the market, they come with a different reed which gives a unique sound that suits the taste of each player.

However, bear in mind that you will have to replace reeds quite often. With this in mind, it is recommended that you always have at least three reeds all the time.

  1. Presence of necessary Accessories:

A good sax always comes with the required accessories. It is essential to go for brands that offer simple accessories like cleaning kit, gloves, carrying cases and tuners.

Conclusion

We have examined the top alto sax available in the market. Our top choice in this review is the Selmer SAS280 La Voix II Alto Saxophone.

We love it due to the presence of amazing features, as well as the budget-friendly price. It is recommended for both intermediate and professional sax players and will surely bring out the best in you.

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