- Best Alto Saxophone
- Best Tenor Saxophone
- Best Soprano Saxophone
- Best Baritone Saxophone
- Best Student Saxophone
Invented by Belgium native Adolph Sax, the saxophone is classified as a woodwind instrument due to the reed situated in the mouthpiece which is used to produce sound. Today, the four most commonly played saxophones are the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones.Since its invention in the mid-1800’s, the saxophone has become a staple in wind and small ensembles, bands, solo performances, the occasional orchestra piece, and more. All of the saxophones featured on the following lists are manufactured by reputable brands, feature durable construction, and manufactured with quality materials which facilitate exceptional tone production and intonation. For more help selecting the best saxophone for your needs, you can check out our buyers guide below.
Best Alto Saxophone:
The alto saxophone is one of the most commonly played members of the saxophone family, especially in the classical arena, and is usually the saxophone students learn on. At the professional level, personal preference for tone and feel of the horn are very important and vary between alto saxophone brands. When purchasing a professional saxophone, it is a good idea to play several different reputable instruments to find the best fit for the individual musician.
The alto saxophones recommended here are manufactured by professionally reputable brands, built of quality materials to facilitate great sound production and reliability, as well as professional-level manufacturing details, such as blue steel springs for precise key action and metal resonators for tone projection. All the horns on this list also feature a high F-sharp key, required at high levels of performance to extend the range of the saxophone. Each alto saxophone comes with a case, neckstrap and mouthpiece, though performers will most likely want to customize their mouthpiece.
Selmer saxophones have been manufactured in France since 1885 and make some of the most sought-after saxophones in history, favored by saxophonists such as Frederick Hemke and Paul Despond, along with countless modern saxophonists. Combined with its outstanding brand reputation, the Series III 62 alto saxophone is Selmers latest, improved alto saxophone model, built for great sound and overall responsiveness. Read Full Review
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Yamaha saxophones, manufactured in Japan, have a well-established reputation among professional saxophone players, including famous saxophonists such as Eugene Rousseau and Phil Woods. The Yamaha YAS-82ZII alto saxophone is a high quality instrument for the professional musician, produced for a flexible sound and consistent intonation. Read Full Review
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Yanagisawa, a Japanese company which began manufacturing saxophones in the 1890s, remains a well-established professional saxophone company. The A-991 alto saxophone by is built for quick response and great resonance for professionals looking for a Yanagisawa sound. Read Full Review
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The German brand of saxophone, Keilwerth, is known for its deep, dark tone color preferred by many professional musicians. The SX90R alto saxophone features this big, rich sound and adjustable key features, which provide a unique experience for the professional saxophonist. Read Full Review
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Though a newer manufacturer in Taiwan, P. Mauriat saxophones have quickly become a favorite among professionals looking for a modern take on the saxophone. The P. Mauriat PMXA-67RX combines P. Mauriats signature handcrafting with a saxophone designed for a full sound and effortless facility. Read Full Review
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Best Tenor Saxophone:
The tenor saxophone is one of the most popular members of the saxophone family, especially in jazz, and has approximately the range of a human tenor vocalist. When purchasing a professional level tenor saxophone, a lot of the decision will come down to personal preference in how the instrument sounds and feels. It is best to play-test several different reputable brands of saxophone to find the best fit. The tenor saxophones on this list are manufactured by reputable professional companies, built of quality materials for ideal tone production and consistency, as well as professional-level manufacturing details, such as blue steel springs for key precision and metal resonators for better tone projection. These saxophones all have a high F-sharp key, standard on upper-level saxophones to extend the upper register of the instrument. Each tenor saxophone comes with a case, neckstrap and mouthpiece, though performers will most likely want to customize their mouthpiece.
Selmer saxophones have been manufactured in France since 1885 and are responsible for some of the best saxophones in history, favored by musicians such as John Coltrane, along with many modern professional saxophonists. Combined with its outstanding brand reputation, the Series III Model 64 tenor saxophone is built for great sound and responsiveness, making it the top pick tenor saxophone. Read Full Review
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Yamaha saxophones, manufactured in Japan, have a well-established reputation among saxophone players at all levels, including professionals such as Otis Murphy and Phil Woods. The Yamaha YAS-82ZII tenor saxophone is a high quality saxophone for the professional musician, produced for a flexible sound and consistent intonation. Read Full Review
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The Yanagisawa T-991 tenor saxophone comes from a reputable line of Japanese saxophone manufacturing established in the 1890s. With its own distinct tone quality, this tenor saxophone produces a great sound with solid key action features. Read Full Review
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Made in Germany, Keilwerth saxophones are known for their unique tone quality. The SX90R tenor saxophone features a big, dark sound and adjustable key features that provide a distinct sound for the professional saxophonist. Read Full Review
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A more recently established Taiwanese saxophone manufacturer, P. Mauriat constructs their saxophones almost entirely by hand. Their high-quality handcrafted modern instruments have quickly become a favorite among many professional saxophonists. The P. Mauriat System 76 tenor saxophone is designed for a big, rich tone. Read Full Review
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Best Soprano Saxophone:
The soprano saxophone is the highest sounding member of the 4 most popular saxophones, covering the same approximate range has a human soprano vocalist. When purchasing a professional level soprano saxophone, a lot of the decision will come down to personal preference. A jazz performer and a classical performer will each be looking for something different in the sound of their instrument. Once the player has narrowed down several reputable saxophones, the best thing to do is play test several of them to get a feel for how each plays and sounds.
Each of the saxophones recommended on this list are manufactured by professionally reputable brands, built of quality materials to facilitate great sound and reliability, as well as professional-level manufacturing details, such as blue steel springs to enhance key facility and metal resonators for better projection. Unless noted otherwise, these sopranos feature a high G key, to extend the range of the horn and all of them come with both a curved and straight neck so the player can choose which option they prefer in terms of comfort and tone. These soprano saxophones all include a case, mouthpiece (though performers will most likely want to customize their mouthpiece), and neckstrap.
Selmers Series III Model 53 soprano saxophone is the top pick for a professional soprano saxophone. Selmer saxophones have been manufactured in France since 1885 and Selmer has made some of the most sought-after saxophones in history. Selmer saxophones are the favored instrument of choice for their outstanding quality by world-renown saxophonists such as Marcel Mule and John Coltrane, along with countless modern saxophonists. Read Full Review
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The Yamaha YSS-875EX Custom soprano saxophone is a high quality and consistent saxophone for the professional musician. Yamaha saxophones, manufactured in Japan, have a well-established reputation among professional saxophone players and teachers, such as Eugene Rousseau and Phil Woods. Read Full Review
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A newer saxophone manufacturer, P. Mauriat has grown to be a reputable horn for the professional saxophonist, distinguished by the fact that nearly the entire manufacturing process is completed by hand. The P. Mauriat System 76 soprano saxophone has a nice tone quality and a great look. Read Full Review
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Yanagisawa began manufacturing saxophones in the 1890s in Japan, and remain a favorite professional brand. The S-991 soprano saxophone by Yanagisawa is built for quick response and a distinct, round sound. Read Full Review
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Best Baritone Saxophone:
The baritone saxophone is the lowest pitched member of the commonly played saxophone family, and also larger and heavier than the soprano, alto and tenor saxophones. It often rounds out the bottom part of saxophone sections in bands and small ensembles. When purchasing a professional level baritone saxophone, personal sound preference and how the instrument plays is very important. Therefore, testing a variety of reputable baritone saxophones is essential for finding the right instrument. The baritone saxophones on this list were chosen because they are manufactured by professionally reputable companies, built with quality materials for sound and durability, as well as professional-level manufacturing features, such as precision blue steel springs or metal resonators for projection. Each horn on this list also has a high F-sharp key and low A-key, required at high levels of baritone saxophone performance to extend the range of the horn. All of these saxophones come with a case, neckstrap and mouthpiece, though performers may want to choose a mouthpiece other than the stock version that comes with the saxophone.
The YBS-62 baritone saxophone, manufactured by the Japanese company, Yamaha, has a well-established reputation among countless professional saxophone players. The YBS-62s durable construction and consistent tone quality make it the top pick professional baritone saxophone. Read Full Review
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Selmer saxophones have been manufactured in France since 1885 and make some of the most sought-after saxophones in history, favored by musicians such as Marcel Mule and Charlie Parker. Combined with its outstanding brand reputation, the Series III Model 66AF baritone saxophone is built for great sound and responsiveness. Read Full Review
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The Yanagisawa B-991 baritone saxophone comes from the reputable line of Yanagisawa saxophones manufactured in Japan since the 1890s. With a distinct, desirable tone, this baritone saxophone produces a rich sound and playable key work. Read Full Review
P. Mauriet began creating saxophones this century, but the Taiwanese company manufactures quality, hand crafted, saxophones preferred by many professional saxophonists. The P. Mauriat PMB-301GL baritone saxophone is handcrafted for a rich sound and fast key work. Read Full Review
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Best Student Saxophone:
Beginner saxophonists usually start on the alto saxophone. Though there are four commonly played types of saxophone soprano, alto, tenor and baritone the tenor and baritone saxophones are too large and heavy for young students, while the soprano, though smaller in size, is more difficult to master because it requires expert muscle control. While it may seem best to purchase the least-expensive instrument, especially for a beginner, lower quality instruments make learning to play difficult and frustrating. In addition, poor quality saxophones are prone to needing extensive and frequent repairs, repairs that are often costly or near impossible to fix. All of the saxophones on this list were chosen because they come from reputable, educator-approved brands, use quality materials that facilitate good tone production and intonation (the ability to play in tune), as well as durability. In addition, each of the following picks comes with a mouthpiece, ligature, sturdy case, neck strap and at least one reedall the necessities students need to start playing the instrument straight out of the case.
For a beginner, the YAS-26 is the best pick saxophone. A long reputation of the highest quality, Yamaha builds all their instruments, from beginner to professional, with the same care. As such, the YAS-26 is the most reliable, reputable and recommended saxophone for playing in tune, having a great sound and withstanding every band practice. Read Full Review
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The Amati AAS 33 student alto saxophone is loaded with construction features often found on intermediate and professional level saxophones. Using a combination of durable materials and professional level manufacturing techniques, the Series 33 alto saxophone is a quality horn for beginners and into their intermediate years. Read Full Review
Conn-Selmer is a well-recognized saxophone brand with a history that goes back to the late 1880's. Conn manufactured popular early American saxophones around the turn of the century and into the 1940's, and Selmer instruments remain a favorite choice of professionals. The Prelude AS711 alto saxophone by Conn-Selmer utilizes that combined tradition and vast brand knowledge-base in this reasonably priced student saxophone built for quality performance. Read Full Review
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Bundy brand instruments, including the BAS-300 alto saxophone, have a reputation as sturdy, reliable student saxophones since the 1960s. Bundy caters almost exclusively to student level musicians, and their instruments last long after students have outgrown them. Read Full Review
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The Jupiter 769GN is a student level saxophone with upgraded features normally reserved for intermediate-level students. Combining quality construction, good tone production and upgraded features, the Jupiter 769GN serves well beyond just the beginning stages of saxophone playing. Read Full Review
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Saxophone Buying Guide
The saxophone is a fun and rewarding instrument. However, there are various types to choose from and finding the right one can sometimes be difficult. In choosing a saxophone, especially at the professional level, the final decision often comes down to personal preference in terms of tone and feel to the player. When purchasing a saxophone, it’s a good idea to play several different types from reputable companies to find the best fit. This buyer’s guide will help point you in the right direction to purchase the best saxophone for your needs.
There are four commonly used saxophones which include the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. Each type offers a different pitch range as well as a different function within musical ensembles and the style of music being played.
The alto saxophone is the most commonly used saxophones for beginning players and students because of its manageable size and forgiving mechanics. The alto saxophone is essential for those studying classical music, but of course it has a place in jazz, wind ensembles, small ensembles, and as a solo instrument.
The second most common saxophone is the tenor, a favorite among jazz musicians and a valuable tenor voice in ensemble playing. This instruments tenor/mid-range timbre is a standout features which lends a mellow support in ensembles.
The soprano saxophone completes the upper register tones in saxophone sections and has a place as a solo instrument in classical and jazz music. Smallest in size and highest in pitch range, the soprano saxophone challenges intonation and pitch control thus making it a difficult experience for new players. The design of this instrument is most commonly straight, but curved models are also available based on personal preference.
The baritone saxophone rounds out the lower range in ensemble saxophone sections and have voices as solo instruments in select arenas across the musical landscape. As the largest and lowest member of the most common saxophones, this instrument can be unwieldy for beginner players.
Beyond choosing what size saxophone is desired, saxophones are constructed at a variety of ability levels which include student, intermediate and professional horns.
Students will typically learn on an alto saxophone thanks to their manageable size which allows for comfortable learning. Saxophones designed with students in mind focus on durable construction, ease of play, good intonation, and the ability to play in tune.
A transition level instrument, intermediate saxophones typically provide a step up from a student level instrument. They add a few professional level features such as a high F-sharp key while remaining within an affordable price range. For those looking for a long term investment, it’s best to avoid the intermediate category and invest in a professional horn.
The highest quality instruments, professional saxophones will have all the extra keys standard for upper level performers while placing focus on optimal tone quality, intonation and key action. A professional horn from a reputable manufacturer will last decades or even generations if well maintained.
The saxophone features outlined below provide an idea of what players should look for based on their personal playing preferences and ability level.
These are the most common additional/auxiliary keys most professional horns will have and good extras to have when choosing a student or intermediate level horn.
High F-sharp Key
The high F-sharp key is standard for any saxophone type at intermediate and professional levels of performance. Extending the range of the instrument one note higher, it isn’t necessary at the student level; however, this key and note will be needed at higher levels of performance.
High G- Key (Soprano)
The high-G key is unique to the soprano saxophone, extending the range one note higher on the instrument. This key is important at higher levels of performance but at the beginner level, this key won’t be necessary but certainly a nice bonus if included on student instruments.
Low A-Key (Baritone)
The low A key is unique to the baritone saxophone, extending the range of the horn one note lower. This key is essential for high-level performance as it will be written in some saxophone literature. This is a nice addition for a student horn but not necessary at beginner levels.
As instrument production technology has advanced, so have the choices in lacquer and finishes. Different lacquer and finishes give saxophones a variety of tone qualities and many models of saxophone can be purchased with alternate finishes.
This is the most common lacquer finish on saxophones. Gold lacquer provides a good response and flexible tone appropriate for jazz, classical, solo settings, and blending with other musicians during ensemble performance.
Silver-plating brightens saxophone tone considerably and most common in jazz where standing out may be important. The brightness of the tone can be tempered with mouthpiece options designed to provide a darker sound.
This darker, heavier finish provides a moodier natural tone in addition to the sleek visual aesthetic.
A lacquer-free finish allows the metal of the instrument to vibrate freely for better projection. This finish is also great for blending with other musicians during ensemble performances.
Numerous other niche finishes exist such as nickel-plating in silver or black, matte, or dark vintage lacquers. These unique choices offer more options worth looking into as you test for the perfect horn.
When purchasing a saxophone the following should be included in the case: the body of the instrument, neck, stock mouthpiece, ligature, neck strap, and often a single reed. All of these pieces are necessary to play the instrument.
Usually saxophones will come with a singular neck in the same finish as the rest of the horn and calibrated to the specific model. Soprano saxophones may provide both a curved and straight neck to allow more playing options. Auxiliary necks in alternate finishes can also be purchased separately by advanced players to further customize their sound.
The shape and cut of the mouthpiece alters the tone quality of the saxophone. Differences such as a round or square chamber on the inside of the mouthpiece, or the amount of space between the mouthpiece rails and the reed all provide significantly different sounds and responses.
Saxophones generally include a stock mouthpiece but many players prefer customizing their mouthpiece. Classical, ensemble or jazz performance will dictate the choice of mouthpiece and many players have several mouthpieces on hand for different musical settings.
Ligature choice is generally another decision made based on player preference. The ligature holds the reed in place against the mouthpiece and a stock option will typically be included with the mouthpiece when a saxophone is purchased.
The material and tightness of the ligature against the mouthpiece will affect how freely the reed vibrates against the mouthpiece, and therefore the sound. Ligatures are available in many different designs such as inverted, single or double screw as well as materials such as various metals, leather or string.
Reeds help create the saxophone’s unique tone. The reeds are thin pieces of wood attached to the flat surface of the mouthpiece using the ligature. When a musician blows air into the mouthpiece, the air passes between the thin tip of the reed and the slight opening in the mouthpiece which then vibrates the reed against the mouthpiece.
Saxophone reeds come in many different brands and strengths to provide more or less resistance as well as various sound qualities based on personal player preference. Replacements will need to be purchased regularly and saxophonists should always have at least three (if not more) reeds on hand at all times.
A neck strap ensures a proper saxophone playing position and optimal hand movement by distributing some of the weight of the instrument around the neck. Saxophones come with a stock neck strap included and musicians can opt to upgrade if desired.
There are a wide variety of neck straps built for comfort and positioning (such as padded neck straps) with all featuring different adjustment mechanisms. For example, baritone saxophone players may opt for a harness which prevents neck strain by distributing weight evenly across the shoulders and back.
While pricing on instruments varies between saxophone type and ability level, in general, saxophone quality is reflected in the pricing. Be wary of instruments significantly less expensive than their peers, as inexpensive saxophones can result in costly and excessive repairs, poor tone quality or intonation, and you may end up replacing it entirely very quickly. Sticking with established saxophone brands or consulting with reputable music educators and professionals will help ensure you make a solid, long-term investment.