Buying a saxophone
Over the years that the Saxofoonwinkel has been selling and repairing saxophones, we have been asked many questions, such as: Is this brand better than that one? My saxophone leaks like a sieve, how is it possible when it is still new? It has a French brand name, how can it have been made in Taiwan? I have phoned 20 shops and they have all told me something different.
We have written this article for saxophone players of all abilities. It gives useful advice about saxophones, their brand names, where they are made, and their strong and weak points. We can do this because of our years of experience in the business. Our advice is unbiased, because we are not associated with any single manufacturer. For a saxophone of average quality you pay about $800 - $1000. Only a small part of this goes towards the material. Roughly speaking, you pay about $50 for the brass, and the rest is made up of wages, transport, tax and profit To make a saxophone requires a lot of time and it must be made very accurately.
First you have to make all the different components, then assemble, solder, polish, and lacquer them. Pads must be fitted and the balance adjusted. All of this takes a lot of time and is mostly done by hand.
While one manufacturer consistently makes a fantastic product, another makes saxophones whose quality varies a lot. Unfortunately there are a lot of manufacturers who produce poor instruments.
A saxophone may be a brand new, but this doesn't mean it plays well. This can even be the case with the more expensive ones. Do not be misled by the bright shiny finish. In a lot of cases the pads leak. (these are the round brown leather disks which fit under the keys and are supposed to close the tone hole) Sometimes the keys have play and more often the balance is set wrongly. Machines may be superior for some aspects, but fitting pads to the keys and getting the right balance remains the work of a craftsman. Wages, especially in western countries are very high and that's the main reason why saxophones are so expensive. Due to competition instruments are made as quickly as possible using machines. In countries where people earn low wages, there is often not enough craftsmanship available. Well-known brand names don't give any certainty and security in these matters. How can you judge these matters? Our advice is this
Play the instrument with a light touch of your fingers. Start by playing the higher tones and continue to the lower ones. The left hand plays B,A,G etc, and the right hand plays F,E,D All the keys are closed now including the B flat using your left little finger. Only for a saxophone with well fitted pads, is it possible to hear the lower tones. A lot of saxophones will not pass this test. Leaking pads means air is being lost. This doesn't have to be a disaster, since they can be repaired. However, it can be expensive. Other aspects you should check when considering a saxophone are:
- the instrument must produce the correct sound only, with no side effect.
- the keys must not vibrate
- there should be no sound of metal on metal
The clear and lovely sound produced by the saxophone is dependent on the way it is made. However, no saxophone has a completely pure sound. There are too many compromises made during its manufacture. In general, the better the brand, the better the sound it produces. Change of clarity is a well-known problem as you change from one tone to another. Sometimes clarity can be improved by repair, but sometimes this is impossible, because the impurity is in the instrument itself.
The fullness of the sound
One instrument has a beautiful warm sound, the other sounds shrill. The fullness of the sound is determined by the way the saxophone has been build. The form of the tube is very important, but also the material used, has effect on the sound. More expensive and older saxophones are often made of a better quality brass and sound better.
There are about 100 different brand names. A few pros and cons of the most important brand names are addressed below. For new saxophones, Japanese brand names are most frequently sold. Yamaha is market leader in selling the student models (23 & 25 series). (25 = a 23 with high F sharp-key). The clarity is rather good and the mechanism is of good quality, with no great differences between the various models. They are easy to play and have an application which is useful for people with small hands. A lot of music colleges and teachers recommend a Yamaha for people who are just starting to play.The saxophone is light in weight and therefore the sound is rather thin. People who are more experienced prefer to buy a better quality and more expensive saxophone. Yamaha also produce more professional models. The 32-series is not much more than the 23/25 student models. But the 62-serie is a typical Japanese semi-professional saxophone. Not really the top but well build and not to expensive. The custom-series of Yamaha are real beauties.
Another very good manufacturer is Yanagisawa. This is an example of creative imitation of the Mark 6 Selmer. They continually improve their instrument. The application is terrific and the technical finish is very good. The Yanagisawa is, at the moment, the only brand name whose products are delivered fault-free from the factory. The price- quality relationship is excellent. This brand name has achieved a market position among the better quality brand names. The fullness of the sound has perhaps less personality than Selmer saxophones or the older American ones. Yanagisawa build a semi-professional model and a more expensive "Elimona" pro-model. One can also buy all kinds of extra's saxophones build of bronze, and of solid silver. Even pure gold is a possibility.
At the moment a lot of saxophones come from the countries in the Far East such as The Republic of China and Korea. Seven years ago their quality was very poor, but not any more. Dixon and Jupiter produce reasonable saxophones for students. However, care is necessary, these factories deliver a lot of different models with various quality levels. It is common custom among wholesalers to order a whole range of instruments in these countries under their own brand name such as Boston, New York Symphony, Windsor and many more. The cheaper Evette model of Buffet Crampon e.g. is produced in R.O.C,. The price-quality relationship is difficult to understand for an 'innocent' consumer. For instruments of the same quality there is sometimes a difference in price from 20 to 80%. The fact is that too often a new saxophone needs too much correction to play properly. Within Europe there are only two countries which can be taken seriously, France and German.
This French brand name has a lot of advantages: a tradition, an instrument with a good application and a many-sided fullness of sound. The instrument can be used for pop music, jazz and classical music. A lot of players are very fond of this particular brand name. Nevertheless, the time has passed when professional players automatically chose a Selmer. There are two reasons: 1 Competition. The Japanese brand names get better and better and competition from this country is enormous. And a lot of players have rediscovered the robust sound of the older American saxophones. 2 Carelessness. The design of the Selmer is very good, but the technical finish is not always good. Faults, such as leaking pads and mechanism which doesn't work, occur too often. A lot of saxophone players complain too often; "The instrument has a nice sound, but the lower tones sound miserable". This is caused by leaking pads. The instrument is never corrected after it has left the factory. Sometimes the pads are stuck with glue instead of shellac. This is an example of poor workmanship and may damage the firm's reputation. We are not suggesting that these saxophones are no good at all their finish in the factory needs to be improved and unfortunately a lot of retailers and consumers don't recognize this. But the last years Selmer has improved a lot.
Selmer Mark 6.
This legendary saxophone produced from the fifties to the seventies sometimes lives up to its reputation but not always. The best are the older ones, which are regarded as the best ever made. The later ones, though not bad quality, have a less spectacular sound. It is interesting that Selmer is still producing the neck of the Mark 6 and it fits newer types and other brand names
is another French brand name. They are market leader in the area of clarinets, less so in the area of saxophones. Buffet Crampon produces various models and they are expensive. The main comment is: not bad, but the sound is too decent??? Buffet Crampon has been taken over recently by the Boosy & Hawkes group. which also includes Keilwerth. Since then the various Buffet types show a remarkeble resemblance with Jullius Keilwerth saxophones.
saxophones are known for their dark-old American sound. The cheaper ST-models are largely build by Amati. The professional EX and SX-(R) models are build in Germany, They are build very solid. The SX-R saxophones even have rolled tone holes.
has over the years produced four well established brand names: Conn, Buescher, Martin and King. From the twenties to the fifties good to excellent saxophones were produced. In the sixties and the seventies the quality level came down and now they produce good quality saxophones for students but not excellent quality any more. Examples of these types are: King Cleveland, Buescher 200 and Bundy. Nowadays America doesn't play an important part in the world of the saxophone industry. They are completely withdrawn from the scene because of bankruptcy or poor quality. However, many saxophone players rediscover the old instruments from the glory period of the American industry. If they are overhauled well then you can easily see the craftsmanship. These saxophones have a full sound and the sound is full of expression. They are well-suited to play jazz or pop. Some examples of the better American saxophones:
Conn. The showpieces of this once famous brand name are the Conn Conqueror, the Conn Ladyface and the Conn LTD or Chu Berry. The application and the comfort to play was for that period in time excellent. In particular the fullness of the alto sound (with tuning-neck) brought many player in pleasant confusion. The more recently produced 16 M models are a worthy second best. Nowadays Conn produces only very poor quality.
Martin. The main characteristic of Martin is its thick soldered tone holes. Everything about the Martin is thick, fat and robust and so is its sound. This brand name has various good models such as their Indiana and Handcraft. They're best piece is "The Martin". A wonderful model produced in 'Jugendstill' with a massive neck, with a smooth control and a solid sound. The Martin's sound remains full and warm where others sound shrill.
King. King is especially known for its Super 20 model with its massive neck made of silver. A little less famous is the King Zephyr Again as for other saxophones the real champions are among the older models. Many players prefer the King S- 20 in stead of the Mark 6. Please note! Brand names named New King come from Eastern Europe and there is no connection with the King from the USA.
Buescher. The older types have rather thick plating and this makes the clarity of the sound very harmonious. Such an instrument can whisper beautifully soft. The Buescher was in early days rather late with improvements on modernizing of the application. When Conn started their new manufacturing techniques in the twenties and the thirties, Buescher was still producing an old key systems. The best ones are the older 400-series and the Aristocrat.
In general the older saxophones represent an era where craftsmanship was available everywhere and the wages were low. There you find the masterpieces. The older instruments are becoming more and more expensive. Buying a quality instrument is a good way of investing your money e.g. in the Conn Ladyface or the "The Martin". In the more expensive countries such as Japan and Germany the prices are increasing rapidly at the moment. The price of a Mark-6 is already very high world-wide.
THE TRADE AND THE CONSUMER
The main pitfall to someone who wants to buy a saxophone old or new is its technical condition. A prestigious saxophone can be hard to play, if the pads don't close well This can be a reason for not enjoying playing anymore. Renewing the pads will take one hour of work for a skilled person and costs about fifty guilders. However, making the pads fit well costs about 450,- Euro because there is a lot of high precision work involved. Nowadays there are a lot more people who play the saxophone compared with some years ago but there are fewer skilful repairmen. Sometimes you have to drive 150 miles or more for a simple repair. If you buy a saxophone or if you want to judge a repair don't be mislead by the shiny lacquer but blow gently with a light touch of your fingers and listen to the lower sound. This practice will perhaps not tell you everything but it will tell you a lot about the quality of the instrument`