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You might be looking for a saxophone for your youngster who’s joining band class.
Or, you might be a complete beginner starting to play later in life, maybe just for fun.
Whatever the case, tracking down the right instrument for the task and wading through the options can be a bit of a chore.
Not to worry, however, as we’ve personally selected nine of the best alto and tenor saxophones for beginners.
See our picks below.
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Jean Paul USA AS-400 Student Alto Saxophone
The Jean Paul USA AS-400 student alto saxophone strikes a good balance in terms of price point and feature set for beginners.
Available in Brass, Gold and Silver, this Eb alto saxophone comes with a lacquer finish.
If you purchase the starter bundle, you can get many of the essentials in one fell swoop – contoured carrying case, Rico reed, cork grease, gloves, cleaning cloth, swabs and mouthpiece.
Constructed with beginner and intermediate players in mind, this instrument offers great tone, key action/placement and intonation.
It features power forged keys, a strong bell brace for durability and tapered pivot keys for comfort and ease of use.
The Jean Paul USA may not be of the utmost quality but it’s an excellent solution for beginners, and its lower price tag shouldn’t keep too many away.
Yamaha YAS-280 Saxophones Student Alto Saxophone
The Yamaha YAS-280 certainly isn’t going to prove the most affordable option on this list, but it is the best option for quality.
It comes with a case, gold lacquer finish as well as high F# and front F auxiliary keys.
A reliable instrument for beginners, this saxophone offers a bright tone, neck receiver with durable screw, low B-C# connection and adjustable thumb rest.
Most customers are quite impressed with the Yamaha, you won’t find many substantial negative comments for it.
Again, the price is up there for a beginner instrument, but if you want a reliable and impressive saxophone, this is a good place to look.
Yamaha YAS-480 Intermediate Eb Alto Saxophone, Gold Finish
Even among beginners, we know that players run the spectrum from people who’ve never played before all the way to students who know the basics and are working on their technique.
If you’ve been playing for a while, you might be looking for something with a little more “oomph”, and the Yamaha YAS-480 intermediate saxophone will give you just that.
Yamaha claims this sax has many of the same features found on their professional saxophones.
It features a hand-engraved pattern on the bell, improved low B-C# connection, professional 62-style neck, key guards with adjustable screw cap stoppers, left-hand seesaw key, a backpack style carrying case and is compatible with Yamaha custom necks.
The YAS-480 has many happy users with no major criticisms to speak of.
If you need an instrument with a little more staying power, the Yamaha should be right down your alley.
Herche Superior Alto Saxophone AS-630
Designed for beginner and intermediate players, the Herche AS-630 offers great tone and intonation.
The instrument is made of solid brass for durability, and each sax is set up in Herche’s USA facility.
It comes with a tarnish resistant lacquer finish and is built to last.
The extended side Bb key makes the instrument easier to play with durable leather pads, metal resonators, blue steel springs and professional ribbed construction.
The bundle comes with plush-lined protective sax case, cork grease for lubricating the mouthpiece joint, cleaning swab to remove bore and key condensation, and two, thin vamp cut #2 Rico reeds.
The family-owned Herche has been around for 30 years, and this instrument comes with a one-year, free maintenance and repair plan as well as a three-year warranty.
For a beginner instrument, the Herche does cost quite a bit, but not as much as the Yamaha.
Customers like the sound of the instrument and have also commented on excellent customer service.
Jean Paul USA Intermediate Tenor Saxophone TS-400
An intermediate sax in the beginner price range, the Jean Paul USA TS-400 is a Bb tenor saxophone with power forged and tapered pivot keys for playability.
Designed for beginners and intermediates, it features a yellow brass body construction with lacquer finish, engraved bell pattern and contoured carrying case.
The bundle comes with one Rico reed, carrying case, cork grease, cleaning cloth, swabs and mouthpiece.
Manufacturer claims quality tone as well as even key action and placement.
Reviewers are largely smitten with the Jean Paul USA, so if you have a little more to spend for its kind, this sax is worth researching.
Eastar AS-II Student Alto Saxophone
A practical and affordable solution, the Eastar AS-II student alto saxophone offers professional tone adjustment and noise-free sound quality.
This saxophone was made with dedicated copper, lead-free welding green craft, imported leather pads and imported blue copper needle spring.
The package contents include a carrying case, mouthpiece set, leather strap, cork grease, shoulder strap, white gloves, resin practice reed, advanced Bulrush reeds, soft swab, soft cloth, cleaning brush and hard sax stand.
Getting all the accessories and extras in one fell swoop can be nice, and this bundle offers that.
Most customers were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the instrument, especially based on its affordable price point.
Negative comments are mostly negligible.
If you’re on a tight budget, we recommend checking out the Donner.
ammoon Antique Finish Bend Eb Alto Saxophone
The ammoon antique finish alto sax is made of bronze, and as you can see, comes with an antique finish.
It features water-resistant leather pads, bluing steel needle and shell key inlays.
The beginner friendly package comes with carrying case, mouthpiece, strap, cleaning cloth, brush, grease and gloves.
Some users love the ammoon, but others have found air leaks, and apparently some notes are either difficult or impossible to play.
Aside from a few flaws, however, the ammoon still ranks as one of the better beginner bundles available.
Mendini By Cecilio MAS-L+92D+PB Gold Lacquer E Flat Alto Saxophone
The MAS-L+92D+PB features gold lacquered body and keys, large bore, ribbed construction, quality leather pads with metal tone boosters and contoured keys with faux mother of pearl inlays.
This bundle also includes a pro-deluxe durable hard-shell case, mouthpiece, neck strap, a box of 10 reeds (size 2.5”), cleaning cloth and rod as well as a pair of gloves.
As a bonus, the package comes with a Cecilio 92-D chromatic/string tuner with metronome and pocketbook.
To make it extra fun for beginners, this saxophone comes in Black, Blue, Gold, Green, Nickel, Purple, Red, Black/Gold, Black/Nickel, Gold/Nickel, Lacquered Gold and Sky Blue.
Finally, one-year warranty for manufacturer defects makes it a promising solution for beginners.
Customer reviewers are largely optimistic for the Cecilio though some customers indicate it is not designed for long-term use, nor should it be used by more advanced players.
It is, however, another worthy entry under the budget options category.
LyxJam Alto Saxophone – E Flat Brass Sax Beginners Kit
The LxyJam alto saxophone is made from high quality materials, resilient pads.
The exterior neck and horn feature shiny gold lacquer, faux mother of pearl key inlays, nonslip palm key risers and durable ligature.
The cleaning kit allows you to keep your instrument looking and feeling great, and it includes a pad saver swab for absorbing excess moisture and soft cloth for exterior polishing.
This beginner package comes with neck harness, mouthpiece, cleaning cloth and brush, gloves, carrying case, case strap and maintenance guide.
The carrying case comes with plush lining and the convertible nylon straps allows you to carry the bag in four different ways.
This sax also comes with a limited one-year warranty.
The LyxPro seems on par with other budget beginner saxes, though some customers have had to get replacement pieces to keep theirs in working order.
But the value is certainly there in terms of a beginner bundle.
What Should I Look For In A Beginner Saxophone?
One thing we know about beginner instruments is they aren’t always top notch in terms of quality.
If you’re willing to spend a little more, you can get a great instrument that will last you for a long time to come.
And, even the budget options are great for some, because they often include all the accessories and are at least playable.
So, there are many important factors to consider here.
Let’s take them one by one.
An Alto Saxophone
Although we’ve featured one tenor saxophone on this list, alto is typically the best option for beginners, and they are also the most common.
If you’re taking band class in school, there’s a good chance your teacher will start you off on an alto sax.
This isn’t to suggest you can’t buy another saxophone but if you know you’ll be using it in school then an alto instrument is likely what you’ll require.
A Tone You Love
At the beginner level, a sax doesn’t necessarily sound its very best.
That’s to be expected, because certain corners must be cut to keep costs lower for beginners.
But it’s still nice to play on an instrument that sounds good, and each instrument featured in this guide does.
But your preferences can also factor into your decision, so it’s worth watching video demos and reviews to get a sense of what you like best.
It’s still possible to find an instrument that sounds good in the student sax category – but it won’t sound like a pro instrument.
An Instrument That’s Fun & Easy To Play
This is one of the key factors for beginners.
Companies sometimes cut corners on their student instruments to keep costs low, which can lead to a compromised playing experience.
This should not be the case with any of the products featured here, but it’s worth noting.
If it’s fun and easy to play, a student player will learn much quicker and have more fun with the instrument.
If it’s hard to play, it can negatively affect their experience.
Intonation basically refers to how in-tune an instrument sounds across its tonal spectrum.
It might seem commonsense to say that better intonation is better.
But among the other factors mentioned here, it can be easy to forget.
Beginner instruments will vary somewhat, though most should have decent enough intonation.
If you’re going to be playing in school band, it is important to find an instrument with good intonation because you will be playing with other instruments.
And, likely your instructor will tell you the same.
A Durable Instrument
A beginner not familiar with the care and storage of a saxophone should be, if possible, equipped with a more durable instrument.
This is to say that a durable instrument shouldn’t damage as easily, prove easy to maintain and should be usable for several years.
At some point, if you continue playing, you will need to upgrade from a beginner instrument to a better one, but if your first gets you through your formative development, it’s worth every penny.
Body Construction Matched To Your Preference
Earlier in this guide, you may have noticed mention of the term “ribbed”.
When it comes to saxophone bodies, they either have a ribbed or non-ribbed construction, though most newer instruments are ribbed.
Ribs can help keep your sax in good working order for longer without adjustment.
But they can also make your instrument slightly heavier, which can be a negative for some.
Ultimately, it doesn’t make a huge difference, but it’s still good to be aware of factors affecting body construction.
Materials & Finishes That Look & Feel Good To You
Saxes are typically made from yellow brass, though some are made of bronze, copper or sterling silver.
Further, the individual parts – body, bell and necks – can all be made of different materials.
These materials may not be as durable, make the instrument sound warmer and may even cost more.
Saxophones with varying materials are usually built with intermediate and advanced players in mind.
Thus, a brass instrument is usually the right choice for a beginner.
In terms of finishes, most saxes come with clear lacquer, but there are other finishing options like pigmented lacquer, nickel plate, black nickel plate, silver plate or even antique finishes, as we’ve seen earlier.
A brass saxophone with a clear lacquer finish is often good enough for a student.
An Instrument With Additional Keys
Again, this isn’t to suggest that you must buy a sax with additional keys.
But some saxes come with high F# and even G keys, though these notes are playable without the additional keys.
This might be a consideration for some, and in some cases may make the instrument easier to play in some regards.
But for most beginners it’s likely not essential.
A Saxophone That Includes Accessories
We’ve looked at several bundle options in this guide, because they tend to be cost-effective and convenient for students.
This isn’t to suggest you can’t buy a standalone saxophone, especially if you know exactly what accessories you need and don’t mind buying them separately.
But if you don’t know what you’re looking at, having a basic starter kit can be helpful, and you can always replace or upgrade the individual accessories later.
A Price Matched To Your Budget
There is a bit of a spread in terms of price point among beginner instruments.
Based on the above list alone, you can spend roughly anywhere from $200 to $2,000.
This is good news because you can match your budget to the instrument.
It may not be great news if you’d prefer to spend a little more for an instrument that will last you for longer.
Our advice is always to save up and not go into debt if you’re intending to spend more.
How Popular Is The Saxophone? How Has It Changed Over Time?
Before the guitar became the main lead instrument in every band, the saxophone played a similar role.
It was hard to ignore the presence of the sax in the 40s, 50s and 60s music, but that’s arguably when the great exchange began.
In the 60s, we saw the rise of bands like The Beatles, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones.
Led Zeppelin also got its start in the late 60s, though their heyday was certainly in the 70s.
These acts brought guitar to the forefront.
That doesn’t mean the saxophone isn’t an important instrument, however, and whether it’s in the 60, 70s or 80s, it could be heard on a lot of popular songs.
In the 60s, it played an important role in songs like “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by The Temptations, “Lady Madonna” by The Beatles and “Reconsider Baby” by Elvis Presley.
In the 70s, it was “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel and “Young Americans” by David Bowie.
In the 80s, we had “Careless Whisper” by George Michael, “Smooth Operator” by Sade and “Forever Your Girl” by Paula Abdul.
In the 90s, the saxophone took a serious backseat to the growing popularity of hip hop, electronic, grunge, alternative and other popular genres of the time.
Bands like No Doubt and Sublime still used horn instruments in the 90s and they could be heard on Ska tracks as well, but that’s where the saxophone was most present.
Again, this isn’t to suggest the saxophone is any less relevant or important today.
Its role has changed through the years, and it can’t always be heard in the latest pop hit, but it’s legacy lives on in the classic songs it was used on.
And, as we know, these are the same songs that keep getting recycled today in commercials, TV shows, movies and so on, even if it’s with a different arrangement.
What Types Of Saxophones Are There?
We’ve touched briefly on the fact that there are different types of saxophones.
Considering its popularity in jazz, pop and early rock and roll, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that there are multiple types of instruments.
The saxophone family of instruments covers a wide range of pitches and tonal properties or voices.
Alto saxes are the most common and are generally thought to be the best choice for beginners, but it’s good to know what else is out here.
Here are the different types of saxes available:
The alto sax is tuned to Eb and is the most common choice for beginners.
It has a compact key layout, which can make it easier to play, and it doesn’t not require as much air as some of the other saxes available.
In school bands, the alto sax section is typically the biggest of any section.
Alto saxes can also be more affordable than other types.
Additionally, it's good to know that the skills you learn on this instrument can only help you if you ever transition over to another sax.
This isn’t to say that the alto sax is the domain of the beginner, however, as it is a mainstay in jazz and intermediate and advanced players also use them (but they would likely be looking at higher-priced instruments).
Another mainstay in jazz, the tenor sax is tuned to Bb, and stylistically, it’s what many have come to associate with their image of a saxophone.
The tenor sax is another good choice for beginners because of its smaller size and lighter weight.
Tenor saxes can be a little less durable, so it’s important to keep them safe and secure while handling as well as in transport.
If the body is made from durable materials, that can also help.
Bass saxes are lower-pitched and are tuned to a Bb an octave below tenor sax.
Bass instruments are larger in size and are usually played sitting down.
You typically won’t hear bass or baritone saxes in jazz music, but they are more common in orchestral/classical music.
If you can learn to play the instrument well, you will likely be in high demand.
Its sheer size along with the range of keys can make it a harder instrument to play.
Baritone saxes are more common than bass sax and are used in a variety of styles including jazz, classical, R&B and rock and roll.
They are tuned down to Eb and are two and a half steps higher than a bass sax.
Baritone saxes can be played standing with a strap.
They are, however, vulnerable to damage, so you must look for an instrument built with strong materials.
As with bass saxes, its sheer size along with the range of keys can make it a harder instrument to play.
The soprano sax in somewhat similar in appearance to clarinets and because it’s the smallest of the sax family, it can be more affordable.
Naturally, it’s a higher-pitched instrument than the alto sax and it’s also harder to play – achieving good intonation is a skill.
The soprano sax is tuned to Bb, two and a half steps above alto saxes.
Some jazz players like John Coltrane have used the soprano in their music.
Best Saxophones For Beginners, Final Thoughts
Whether you’re planning to play in an orchestra or rock band, the saxophone is a cool and versatile instrument.
If you’re shopping for a sax, it can take a while to figure out exactly what you need, so stay patient with the process.
You will find what you’re looking for at the right price point if you don’t give up.
Have fun on your sax journey!