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.
Selmer Paris Series III Model 62 Jubilee Edition
Yamaha YAS 82ZII Custom Z Professional Alto Saxophone
Selmer Paris Series III Model 64 Jubilee Edition Tenor Saxophone
Yamaha YSS-875EX Custom Soprano Saxophone
P. Mauriat System 76 Professional Soprano Saxophone
Yamaha YBS-62 Professional Baritone Saxophone
P. Mauriat PMB-301GL Baritone Saxophone
Yamaha YAS-26 Standard Alto Saxophone
Prelude by Conn-Selmer AS711 Student Model Alto Saxophone
The Series III 62 alto saxophone incorporates the long history of Selmer’s clear tone quality and consistent intonation, or ability to play in tune. With a lighter design to be more facile this model includes compact keys, a lighter neck mechanism and thinner, but beautiful, engraving. Mini-rib construction means the system to attach keys to the saxophone is comprised of less metal, allowing the saxophone to vibrate more freely for better response without compromising durability. Keys are positioned to naturally fit the hands for speed. This alto saxophone also comes standard with an S80 C* mouthpiece, another professional Selmer favorite, especially among classical and ensemble musicians. The Series III 62 is available in a matte finish, black lacquer, and silver-plating.
The YAS-82ZII is Yamaha’s top alto saxophone model. The bell of the horn is constructed in a single piece for better response in the low register and increasing overall tone color variety. Equipped with domed metal resonators, this allows for clearer articulation and volume flexibility in all registers of the saxophone. Another feature for dynamic, or volume, control is the wide bore taper of the saxophone neck for free blowing expression. Mechanisms in the table keys are designed to ensure keys seal properly for the best response in the lower register. The front F-key, used for notes near the top of the saxophone's range, is adjustable to make producing the highest notes easiest for each individual player. The YAS-82ZII is also available in an unlacquered finish to allow the brass to vibrate freely for more projection, black lacquer for a darker tone and silver plating for a brighter sound.
Selmer Series III 64 tenor saxophones have a centered tone and consistent intonation throughout the range of the instrument. Updated to be lighter in construction, a new lacquer with thinner engraving has been used. A lighter mechanism on the neck further streamlines this tenor saxophone. Selmer’s Series III 64 is constructed using mini-ribs, which means there is less metal used to attach keys to the saxophone. The result of using lighter materials and less metal is freer vibration and better resonance. Keys are adjusted to fit naturally underneath the hand and are compact for better facility. Improved from older models, the Series III 53 tenor saxophone has an overall slimmer appearance and quicker response without compromising Selmer's signature sound. This tenor saxophone is also available with matte, black lacquer, or silver-plating finishes, each of which provide a slightly different tone color.
Yamaha’s YSS-875EX has a hand hammered body, constructed for the best tone quality and consistent intonation. The key post rib plating is adjusted carefully for the most response and resonance in the saxophone's sound. With a new neck design, the YSS-875EX allows for greater dynamic control and good intonation. This model is designed with one of Yamaha’s most comfortable key designs with an adjustable thumb rest. The YSS-875EX is also available in silver plating for a brighter tone and black lacquer for a darker tone.
P. Mauriat’s System 76 soprano saxophone is one of the most affordable saxophones on this list. The body is hand hammered from a single piece of brass, allowing for a warm, centered tone and has a large bore and bell for maximum projection without compromising the tone quality. In addition to being available with two necks, the System 76 soprano saxophone can also be purchased as a one-piece straight neck horn, based on player preference. The downside to this saxophone is it does not have a high G-key, which comes standard on most other professional soprano saxophones. However, this can be worked around. Outside the standard gold lacquer, the P. Mauriat System 76 soprano saxophone is also available in a vintage dark lacquer, for a slightly darker tone. The lacquer is applied in three stages for an aesthetically pleasing look and even coating.
Known for a clear, consistent sound and reliable intonation, or ability to play in tune across all registers, the Yamaha YBS-62 baritone saxophone allows musicians a great sound. The bell of the baritone saxophone is constructed in one piece from annealed metal, a process which makes the metal denser for optimum tone production. Yamaha manufactures their octave keys with three vents, which eliminates buzz on notes in the mid-range of the saxophone for the clearest possible tone. This instrument has an adjustable thumb rest, and the keys have been designed so the hands naturally reach them all comfortably. With long rods and solid construction, Yamaha’s YBS-62 combines durability for the larger-sized baritone saxophone with top notch tone.
The P. Mauriat PMB-301GL baritone saxophone is designed for a big, full sound with the flexibility to blend in with an ensemble or stand out while playing solo. Designed for fast key facility, the keys feel light and easy to press quickly. The key buttons are abalone, a multi-colored pearl effect for added style. A hand-engraved bell adds more to this robust baritone saxophone. Using P. Mauriat’s 3-stage process, the PMB-301GL horn is also available with a vintage dark lacquer for a slightly warmer sound or an unlacquered model. In addition, the P. Mauriat is the most affordable baritone saxophone on this list.
The YAS-26 features nickel-plated keys, which are more resistant to wear. It also has an adjustable thumb rest, in addition to key work that makes the saxophone adjustable and easy to play for different hand sizes. Because of the quality of manufacturing, the YAS-26 is a reliable, durable saxophone for beginning students that will last decades. And for the practical, the YAS-26 has a high resale value when beginners need to upgrade to a professional level saxophone, as this horn’s standard features are designed exclusively for the beginning stages of saxophone playing. The YAS-26 will provide every student the strong saxophone foundation they need.
The Prelude AS711 combines Conn-Selmer's long history of quality instruments with upgraded features to create a solid student saxophone. Though not necessary for beginners, this horn has a high F-sharp key, used to play higher notes once saxophonists advance to an intermediate level. Designed to make the larger, low register keys easier to operate, the AS711 is calibrated to easily manipulate the keys without sacrificing tone quality. The saxophone bore design allows for projection of tone and ribbed construction adds weight to the horn to help produce a full sound. It also has a reinforced connection where the bell and the body of the saxophone meet for extra durability. In addition, the Prelude saxophone is a great value under $1,000.
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.