Can a saxophone be too cheap?
YES!!! If you're about to buy your first sax then please read on.
I haven't written this article in a cynical attempt to scare you into buying from us. Honestly, we don't care where you buy as long as you get a decent sax that isn't going to shatter your ambition. There are some very poor quality cheap saxes on the market, mostly from the Far East and Asia. Many of these are not just cheap they are BAD and could put you off for life. Some are so bad I'm amazed that Trading Standards haven't yet dealt with them as they're more ornamental than playable. OK, they're brass, shiny and look the part but there's more to it than that. Some samples have been sent to us with amazing claims such as "this sax is as good as the leading brands," and "this sax was tested by a leading music professor who declared it as good as the best student models." We're not saxophone snobs and appreciate that for many people even a student sax is a major investment. So, when these samples arrive we always test them with an open mind but here's some of the more worrying problems we encounter:
Poor tuning (intonation) - Most of these saxes are so out of tune that even experienced players cannot make them play in tune. As a beginner you don't stand a chance.
Soft low grade metal - This means they bend easily: not just if you have an accident but the keywork bends out of shape through normal playing. Sure, a repairer can bend it back into shape but it's only going to bend out again and again....
Bad design - This means that instead of keys sitting nicely under your fingers they're instead misplaced, making the sax awkward and uncomfortable to play.
Poor build quality - This can be anything from bad lacquer, to solder joints coming apart, pads not sealing, corks and felts falling off, and poorly fitting necks. Any one of these things can make the sax unplayable.
Want a more independent opinion? Then contact any of the sax teachers listed on our website. These guys are on the front line of having to give a reality check to the unfortunate purchasers of these horrible saxes, many on auction sites or from non-specialist shops. To the untrained eye they're not easy to spot as they often have European or American sounding brand names.
What can you do to avoid getting caught? Ask where the sax is made, not where it comes from as these saxes usually arrive through European or American importers. Taiwan is generally fine as they've been making good student saxes for decades such as Earlham, Trevor James, Elkhart, Jupiter 700 etc. The Jupiter 500 Series is made in China and along with Sakkusu, Trevor James Classic, Artemis & Buffet are some of the best Chinese made saxes that (so far) we've found acceptable and it’s true to say that the Chinese quality is getting better all the time. Buy a sax with an established reputation: no-one was ever disappointed with a Yamaha! Buy from someone you trust or if in doubt get an opinion from a sax player or teacher.
I'll leave you with a final comment from a sax.co.uk staff member, made after he had play tested one of these saxes:
"It made my skin crawl. It was the saxophone equivalent of scraping your fingers down a blackboard."