Buying a saxophone for your student? Don't Buy a cheap horn made of pot metal. There's a better way!
Each year, well-meaning parents waste millions of dollars buying the wrong saxophones for their children. At GetASax.com, we specialize in pro saxophones, but we wanted to do our part to help all those who are in the market for a student line horn. This guide is the result. Its goal is to help you to find the best saxophone for your student for the least money.
If you are going to avoid wasting money on a saxophone, the first thing you must be willing to do is buy a used saxophone. An example will illustrate. Right now (2009) online, you can buy a student line YAS-23 Alto Sax by Yamaha for $1423.75 USD. You can sell it used one month later for $500 at best. This is a depreciation of 65%! You are throwing your money away. The case is the same with every student line saxophone.
Buy a Used, Modern Student Horn
If you must have that "fresh out of the factory" shine, you should consider buying a mint condition used horn. Here's why: a mint condition used Yanagisawa A901 alto, which is a suberb instrument, goes for around $1100 on eBay, whereas a new one will cost you $2450. You won't be able to tell the difference between them, except that if band doesn't work out for your child, you can re-sell your used Yanagisawa alto for $1100 and get your money back! Saxophones do not "wear out" over time like cars, so there is no functional difference between a new sax and a very good condition used one.
If your budget is $500 or less, you can still buy a wonderful saxophone for your student. Your best options for modern instruments (last 25 years or so) are a Bundy II, a YAS-23, or a Conn student sax. You can easily find one of these used on ebay or craigslist for under $500, especially if you buy in the off season.
Saxophones with many dents or resoldered joints. These can make the horn difficult to play and are best left to the repair experts.
Whatever you do, PLEASE DO NOT buy a saxophone from discount department and membership retail chain stores. Many cheaper overseas import saxophones are built of pot metal and may not even play. They are not repairable if they get damaged, and parts are not available for them. Most importantly, they play so badly that they will ruin your child's chance of becoming a musician. While the other children advance in skill around her, she will have to fight with the instrument just to get a sound. She will tell you that she does not like music. It is not worth it.
Besides buying a used modern saxophone, your second option is buying a vintage saxophone. This is the very best bang for your buck. You have two options for vintage horns: student horns and professional horns.
Vintage Student Saxophones
This is the very best deal going. Vintage student horns are typically made in the USA and tend to be better players than even the nicer student horns of today. You can find a USA made King Cleveland 613 from the 60's or 70's, or a Martin Indiana or Imperial model for under $300 on ebay any day, and these will blow many modern horns away. I particularly like the Martin Indiana-the 50's horns are the very best of these. Other good vintage student models include the Conn 24M, the Conn PanAmerican, and the Selmer Signet horns. Older Vito and Yanagisawa saxophones are also very nice horns for the money.
Vintage student saxophones came in a wide variety of makes and models, but to keep things simple, if it's made in the USA by one of these companies (Selmer, King, Conn) or in France or Japan (Yamaha, Yanagisawa, Vito) it should be a good horn. Mexican or other countries of origin should raise a red flag.
When you buy a vintage sax, be sure to inspect the pads, and ask when they were last replaced. They should be flat, clean and orange, and the leather should be supple. If it is dried out or if it is swollen and floppy, green, or sticky, the pads will need to be replaced. Getting pads replaced will cost around $300 from a local music store, so be sure the pads have life left in them. You should also know that resoldered posts and key cages decrease the value of a horn, as do dents and lacquer wear. Again, if a horn has dents near the tone holes, or in the neck, you should not buy it as a first horn and plan on fixing it. Leave it to someone who can tell if it is fixable. Many vintage horns have been buffed and relacquered at some point in their lives; this will not be a problem for your child in most cases, though it does affect the value of collectible saxophones.
Top pick: Martin Indiana saxophones
Martins are made with such thick brass that they should withstand the beating your student may inflict on them. Finally, you may find that if your child pays for a significant portion of the cost of the instrument herself, she may take much better care of it. Hurray for the joys of ownership!
Buying a Vintage Professional Horn:
Vintage professional saxophones are collectors' items and works of art. Such horns are not replaceable, so they are NOT appropriate for students who may treat them carelessly. A 6th grader cannot avoid dropping his instrument from time to time, or banging it against a chair or door frame, so a vintage or modern student line horn is the most appropriate choice for a young beginner. However, if you have a responsible high school student in mind, or if you are an adult who is wanting to start playing, this could be your best option.
Many vintage pro horns are not that rare. Since the heyday of the saxophone was in the 20's-60's, vintage professional horns were produced in large quantities. The best buys out there right now for alto are the Buescher True Tone or Aristocrat; the Martin Handcraft or Committee horns; or the Conn 6M, or New Wonder (I or II). Each of these horns will hold its own with anything ever made. These were top of the line horns in their day, yet you can often buy them for $250-$1200. If you invest another $300 on a re-pad, you will have one killer horn for less than the price of a new Yamaha student horn.
Vintage saxophones sometimes have quirky key placements. This is usually easy to get used to but can be difficult if your child has played a different saxophone for a long time previously.
Vintage saxes can have intonation issues. If your child is having consistent problems playing in tune, you should take the horn to an expert vintage saxophone tech who should be able to make the necessary adjustments in no time.
By following these simple guidelines, you should be able to find a great first saxophone for your student, even if your budget is quite low. By buying a quality horn, you are casting a vote for quality, in an instrument market that is currently choked with badly-made junk. Increasing the demand for low-cost, well-made saxophones will eventually correct this problem. You are also making a wise financial move and saving hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Email me through the contact page if you have feedback, or if you have put this information to work and want to share your experience. I will keep improving this guide based on those comments. Thanks!
~ Brian at GetASax