New to the Saxophone

Welcome to the world of this fascinating and charismatic instrument. The saxophone, as you probably know, comes in several sizes. The key system is the same throughout the range - from the tiny soprillo right through to the enormous contrabass (give or take some extremely minor variations), so once you’ve mastered one size of horn you’ll also have a grasp of the others. By the way, the ergonomics of the key system means that the finger stretch needed on a huge bass sax isn’t going to be much more challenging than the key stretch needed on the smaller types of horn.
For most people the starting point is either the alto (slightly smaller) or tenor (bigger and more resonant). Children will almost always start on alto (due to its smaller size), though it should be noted that, as an adult learner, there’s no reason not to start on tenor if that's the instrument you prefer.

Here’s a guide to the different sizes of sax…

Soprano Saxophone

Generally these horns aren’t recommended for beginners in that they can prove tricky to control and make more demands of the player to really make the most of them. One exception to this is clarinetists coming over to the sax who will probably feel relatively at home with the small reed and precise control needed.  The other big question is: straight or curved? Ultimately there’s no right answer but most folks have views one way or the other.  Once mastered, sopranos can be some of the most beautiful sounding horns out there but be prepared for a somewhat steeper learning curve over the larger saxes.

Alto Saxophone

Very much the default for beginners, the alto sax is both the classic jazz instrument as well as being the lead voice in a lot of other music from funk (David Sanborn and Candy Dulfer to start with) to classical chamber music. It is slightly smaller than the tenor and looks and sounds as you'd expect a saxophone to. Compared with the tenor it is lighter, slightly quieter, takes less puff, less finger stretching and is cheaper to buy or rent. Many people start on alto expecting it to be a stepping stone on to tenor at a later date. However, most of these people never sell their alto once they realise the tremendous versatility of the instrument.

Tenor Saxophone

The other classic voice of the saxophone, tenors tend toward a bigger, more booming or huskier tone than altos and, as such, have become the main voice of blues, rock & roll, swing etc. They’re bulkier and also take more airflow but with the right reed and mouthpiece they shouldn’t really be significantly harder work for an enthusiastic beginner. With its rich, smoky tone and warmth, for many people the tenor is the definitive sax sound.


Baritone Saxophone

These huge saxes are a fairly specialist instrument and are rarely seen except with other horns (with a few notable exceptions). Having said that they’re enormously fun to play and, in the words of Jools Holland, make “The sexiest sound in the world”. Their large size makes them rather more challenging to get to grips with but once mastered, boy are they impressive.

Different Makes of Saxophone (new and used)

Over the years there have been countless different makes of saxophone. Selmer (Paris) instruments are still regarded as some of the best and can cost thousands of pounds. Leading makes costing in excess of one thousand pounds such as Yamaha and Yanagisawa come from Japan, P.Mauriat from Taiwan, Rampone & Cazzani from Italy, Keilwerth from Germany and Selmer from France with Eastern Europe and the Far East producing the cheaper saxophones. Unfortunately some of the cheaper instruments are very poor and make the beginner's life very difficult. However there are some excellent value for money instruments produced in China and Taiwan these days and most independent teachers will recommend these to start on. Prices for these instruments generally range from £400-£1000. Many, such as Trevor James, Sakkusu, Artemis, Earlham, Elkhart & Jupiter are made to a high standard specifically for European companies.

Can a Saxophone be Too Cheap?

YES!!! If you're about to buy your first sax then please read this article.

Good second hand saxes hold their prices exceptionally well and there is always a healthy demand. Typical depreciation is around 20% from new and there is rarely anything worth buying under £300 unless it is battered and bruised. If you are a novice we do not recommend buying second hand unless you have expert advice or buy from a recognized dealer.

Saxophone Mouthpieces

It is so important to have a good mouthpiece and these can cost hundreds of pounds. It's the interface between you and your instrument and they vary enormously. A poor mouthpiece can render an adequate instrument unplayable and a high grade mouthpiece can make a huge difference to tone and ease of playing. Consequently we supply recognized good quality mouthpieces with all of our outfits.

Click here for more information on saxophone mouthpieces