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Saxophones Alto Sax buying advice for beginner (UK)

Raven

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So, I've recently re-taken up Clarinet after reaching grade 4 years ago and am interesting in getting an Alto sax for more Jazz and pop styles and just to try something new. I've had my clarinet 14 years so I am hoping to keep any saxophone I get for a long time as well.

I've done a considerable amount of research into what is out there but there is a lot of choice so I'd like to some advice. Obviously the Yamahas are the most recommended beginner instruments but a new one is far out of my budget (preferably £400-£500ish) and a used one is often still out of this range if it's been refurbished my a proper shop. I was originally interested in a new instrument as it seemed a bit less gross (haha) (and I bought my clarinet new) but it seems like buying used is common in the sax world and can be good value so I'm open to both options. I would definitely consider getting a 4c mouth piece or similar for a new or used horn.

These are some of the new altos that I have found online, does anyone have any recommendation on which ones are the best from the selection? The prices sometimes vary quite a bit by site so they're just a vague guide.

John Packer JP041 (~£259)
John Packer JP045 (~£501)
Festivo 1AS (~£395)
Elkhart 100AS (~£419)
Buffet 100 Series BC8101 (~£489.86)
Artemis A1 (~£499)
J.Michael AL-500 (~£429)
Trevor James Classic II (~£585)
Vivace 3SKVA-G2 (~£496)
Montreux Sonata (~£340)

I've tried to keep to shops that are woodwind specialists that check instruments before sending them out. Are these shops reputable?

Chamberlain Music (their prices seem much lower than shops, is there a reason for this?)
Hanson Music
Dawkes (seen this shop recommended quite a bit)
Band Supplies.co.uk

For used Altos I have found the following models and prices from various retailers, again trying to stick to sites that look reputable. If I buy used I'd want to buy a refurbished instrument from a reputable shop., preferably with a warranty or good customer service to avoid issues if possible so these are probably not as cheap as used ebay etc prices.

Holton Elkhorn £450
Buffet Crampon Evette £349
Jupiter 500 Series (e.g. 567-565 £379))
Yamaha YAS280 £599 (slightly out of price range but cheaper than some I've seen)
Buffet 100AS £350
Elkhart Series II £295
Earlham Pro Series II £295

And the same question again for these shops that sell refurbished (are they any good?).

Curly Woodwind (seen this shop recommended a few times)
Playitagainuk
Dots Music Camden
The Saxophone Shop
The Sax Shack


Thanks in advance!
 

DavidUK

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From first list - Buffet 100 BC8101 is quite nice.
Some JPs have warped tone holes.
TJ liked by some, but not me.
Wouldn't touch the rest.

From used, these are used prices you can easily find, or reasons not to buy:
Holton Elkhorn £450 - uncommon, avoid.
Buffet Crampon Evette £349 - £100-200 loads around. But avoid anyway. Mediocre some say.
Jupiter 500 Series (e.g. 567-565 £379)) - £200-300. I started on this sax, mint, £200, but upgraded soon after.
Yamaha YAS280 £599 (slightly out of price range but cheaper than some I've seen). £599 good price if in excellent nick. Buy this OR the new Buffet BC8101. The Buffet fares well against the Yamaha students.
Buffet 100AS £350 - Wrong model number. Did you mean Elkhart 100AS?
Elkhart Series II £295 - I'd leave this too.
Earlham Pro Series II £295 - And leave this as well.

Don't go Jupiter if you want to keep forever. Buffet review here: Saxophones - Mini Review - Buffet 400 and 100 Altos side by side

Yam 280 will have better resale, possibly better build quality.

If you can find one, I prefer the older Yam 23 or 25 for sound. Tried quite a few up against Yam 275.
Yam 23 has no high F# key whereas 25 or later do. Not a deal breaker though. Lost of older horns don't have one.

Oh... and Bob's a good chap. Try Hansons too - speak with Alastair Hanson if you can - he's a great guy! They have a cheapie alto too so don't dismiss it.
 

Raven

New Member
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From first list - Buffet 100 BC8101 is quite nice.
Some JPs have warped tone holes.
TJ liked by some, but not me.
Wouldn't touch the rest.

From used, these are used prices you can easily find, or reasons not to buy:
Holton Elkhorn £450 - uncommon, avoid.
Buffet Crampon Evette £349 - £100-200 loads around. But avoid anyway. Mediocre some say.
Jupiter 500 Series (e.g. 567-565 £379)) - £200-300. I started on this sax, mint, £200, but upgraded soon after.
Yamaha YAS280 £599 (slightly out of price range but cheaper than some I've seen). £599 good price if in excellent nick. Buy this OR the new Buffet BC8101. The Buffet fares well against the Yamaha students.
Buffet 100AS £350 - Wrong model number. Did you mean Elkhart 100AS?
Elkhart Series II £295 - I'd leave this too.
Earlham Pro Series II £295 - And leave this as well.

Don't go Jupiter if you want to keep forever. Buffet review here: Saxophones - Mini Review - Buffet 400 and 100 Altos side by side

Yam 280 will have better resale, possibly better build quality.

If you can find one, I prefer the older Yam 23 or 25 for sound. Tried quite a few up against Yam 275.
Yam 23 has no high F# key whereas 25 or later do. Not a deal breaker though. Lost of older horns don't have one.

Oh... and Bob's a good chap. Try Hansons too - speak with Alastair Hanson if you can - he's a great guy! They have a cheapie alto too so don't dismiss it.
Thanks for the tips! I had heard mixed things about the cheaper Buffets but I guess if you ask around enough you can get every answer under the sun from people, especially if they're into high end instruments. I have a Buffet clarinet that is solid so it is appealing to buy from a brand that you have good experience with.

I think the Buffet 100AS this was just a typo because I remember thinking that was weird, so ignore that haha! Interesting about the Jupiter, I was expecting that to come out top as I've heard the brand mentioned a lot with higher end horns but it seems like even within a manufacturer their models vary a lot by age and location of manufacture.

A lot of the prices seem more expensive than what similar models have gone for in the past (from other threads from beginners on various sites), not sure if this is just normal inflation or perhaps lockdown popularity!

Thanks again!


The sax shack has some other horns that I didn't mention such as:

Conn Shooting Stars – £295 (google says mixed things)
Corton Alto £295 (awaiting Workshop)
Yamaha YAS-275 – £550 (must have missed this before)
Boosey & Hawkes ‘New Century’ – £350 (again, mixed on google/not great)
Buescher True Tone – £495
Jupiter 767-565 – £425
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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From first list - Buffet 100 BC8101 is quite nice.
I agree, I have refurbished around 8 of these and they are just plain and simple, GOOD saxes. Respectably made, very nice tone, quite slick under the fingers.

The PRICE you (@Raven) quoted for a NEW one ? THAT is a really GOOD price. That is actually close to the usual price I sell USED, serviced ones for.

I would jump on that one, IMHO.
 

Raven

New Member
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I agree, I have refurbished around 8 of these and they are just plain and simple, GOOD saxes. Respectably made, very nice tone, quite slick under the fingers.

The PRICE you (@Raven) quoted for a NEW one ? THAT is a really GOOD price. That is actually close to the usual price I sell USED, serviced ones for.

I would jump on that one, IMHO.
Yeah it seems weird. I might double check it!
 

DavidUK

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Conn Shooting Stars – £295 (google says mixed things) - Fine if fettled. Better in USA made ("N" prefix means Mexico - some build issues.

Corton Alto £295 (awaiting Workshop) - No. Anything with bell guards shaped like one this I'd avoid.

Yamaha YAS-275 – £550 (must have missed this before). Yep, can't go wrong if it's as it should be. Some earlier ones Japan made, supposedly better than later Indonesian. I've never noticed the difference.

Boosey & Hawkes ‘New Century’ – £350 (again, mixed on google/not great) - Nice if perfect but it won't be. Avoid until you know what to look for.

Buescher True Tone – £495 - Nice if fettled. But a vintage horn may be more difficult to start on.

Jupiter 767-565 – £425 - 767-765 you mean? One model up from 5 series. Various incarnations. Again, I would avoid for now.
 

Raven

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This is the Hanson in your price range: Hanson SAV-Lite Alto Saxophone

I did speak to Alastair about it a while ago but can't recall much. Best to call and discuss. As you can see it's pitched against the Yam 280. A used 280 will always be worth what you paid for it though...
Ah, nice thanks! I'll check it out! The Jupiter 767-565 was copied from the website but must have been a typo. The Conn Shooting Star doesn't have a number listed but was apparently made around 1968. From what I gather that isn't enough information to tell where it was made. I also found a new Conn AS650 for £549.

Thanks for your help, I'll have a think.
 
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DavidUK

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1968 is Mexico I think. @JayeNM will correct me if not.

I've never been persuaded to look at an AS650, it's not one widely discussed. What does that tell you?

One cheapie you could look out for is the Jericho alto. Discontinued, not many made, they do pop up occasionally for £200-300 (£299 when new) and are a great horn for the money. But you could wait a long time to find one...
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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New Mexico, US
Well, I guess it also comes down to...how important is it to you to save 200 quid ? As in, the ones hovering at around 500-600...is that a comfortable budget for you ?
A Conn from '68 (if it is USA-made it will be engraved USA on bell, below "Conn")...is a GOOD $350us sax...if what I have to spend is $350us (250-275 quid).
BUT, if what I can afford comfortably is $650usd (470-500 quid), then I'd opt for a Buffet, Jupiter 787.
(I (respectfully) disagree with David there, 787's are good saxes....I have just refurbed 3 of them, and done 6 in the past 6 months ~ superior to a YAS 23 and it's various iterations (25,26,275, 280) IMHO. The Jupes (7XX series and higher) are just quicker under the fingers, better engineered, and there's no loss in build quality of them).

Conn Selmers (formerly 'Selmer Inc', often mis-referred to as "Selmer USA's" although the latter company actually ceased to exist sometime in the 90's)...get NO love on the 'net, lol.

I mean, nary a mention, anywhere...yet the student Selmers/Conn-Selmers seem to certainly sell well enough to keep 'em going.

I have actually been tempted to buy a couple of these JUST to see how they stand up to a Yama or Jupe or Buffet. But, have never been liquid enough to actually high-bid one on eFlay.
They may be quite OK, but that info is not readily apparent on either sax forum....
 

Raven

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Well, I guess it also comes down to...how important is it to you to save 200 quid ? As in, the ones hovering at around 500-600...is that a comfortable budget for you ?
A Conn from '68 (if it is USA-made it will be engraved USA on bell, below "Conn")...is a GOOD $350us sax...if what I have to spend is $350us (250-275 quid).
BUT, if what I can afford comfortably is $650usd (470-500 quid), then I'd opt for a Buffet, Jupiter 787.

(I (respectfully) disagree with David there, 787's are good saxes....I have just refurbed 3 of them, and done 6 in the past 6 months ~ superior to a YAS 23 and it's various iterations (25,26,275, 280) IMHO. The Jupes (7XX series and higher) are just quicker under the fingers, better engineered, and there's no loss in build quality of them).

Conn Selmers (formerly 'Selmer Inc', often mis-referred to as "Selmer USA's" although the latter company actually ceased to exist sometime in the 90's)...get NO love on the 'net, lol.

I mean, nary a mention, anywhere...yet the student Selmers/Conn-Selmers seem to certainly sell well enough to keep 'em going.

I have actually been tempted to buy a couple of these JUST to see how they stand up to a Yama or Jupe or Buffet. But, have never been liquid enough to actually high-bid one on eFlay.
They may be quite OK, but that info is not readily apparent on either sax forum....
Thanks for your input! The Conn does have USA underneath "Conn" it on the bell so I guess it is a USA made one, thanks!
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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New Mexico, US
Thanks for your input! The Conn does have USA underneath "Conn" it on the bell so I guess it is a USA made one, thanks!
Conn only moved production to Mexico (literally ACROSS THE STREET, as Nogales was a pre-existing town which was cleaved in two by the US-Mexico border, lol, so there's Nogales Arizona and Nogales Mexico, now) in 1970.
NO 1960's Conns are Mexico-made.
There exist some old, not-updated serial lists on the web which still erroneously state this, however.
As noted by David, N prefix started in the 70's and went to 1984....the "Mexico" stamp disappeared from them around 1979-80, when company was sold to Henkin (this was the time that the Shooting Star Alto - official model designation = 50M, was discontinued).

Conn 'Shooting Stars' (the 50M) get no love, but the reality is...they are actually primarily a Beaugnier design (another story for another time)...sound really good...intone well...and are ergonomically straightforward enough....that they are quite OK, again if what you have to spend was that sorta budget.
 

Colin the Bear

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:Best advice is try before you buy.
:Be aware that some good old names have been repurposed by eastern manufacturers.
:Beware of fakes. Especially on line.
:Very old saxophones can sound lovely but lack a few modern conveniences and can be a little awkward to play.
:Just because they make a good clarinet doesn't mean they make a good saxophone.
:There are some cheap saxophones out there that with a few tweaks and a set up will play very well.
:There are some cheap saxophones out there that will never play well no matter what you do with them.
Get a mouthpiece and reeds first so you can try before you buy.
If in doubt buy off a reputable repair shop or our yard sale.
Gear4music have a no quibble returns policy and are worth a look see. They do the big brands too.

However, if you buy second hand from a reputable repairshop it will have been cleaned, oiled, and set up with any worn or suspect pads replaced.
Private second hand may need some work so factor that into the price.
Crumbs...what a long post. ;)
 

Stephen Howard

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From your list I'd go for the Trevor James. Hands down.

Jupiters are OKish - just not very interesting. The 567 series isn't that well put together, and while the tone is pleasant enough (if somewhat uneven across the range) it really doesn't have the sparkle an alto should have.
Avoid the 767 if it's an early example.

If going used, any Yamaha in good working order is a very safe bet.
 

Raven

New Member
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:Best advice is try before you buy.
:Be aware that some good old names have been repurposed by eastern manufacturers.
:Beware of fakes. Especially on line.
:Very old saxophones can sound lovely but lack a few modern conveniences and can be a little awkward to play.
:Just because they make a good clarinet doesn't mean they make a good saxophone.
:There are some cheap saxophones out there that with a few tweaks and a set up will play very well.
:There are some cheap saxophones out there that will never play well no matter what you do with them.
Get a mouthpiece and reeds first so you can try before you buy.
If in doubt buy off a reputable repair shop or our yard sale.
Gear4music have a no quibble returns policy and are worth a look see. They do the big brands too.

However, if you buy second hand from a reputable repairshop it will have been cleaned, oiled, and set up with any worn or suspect pads replaced.
Private second hand may need some work so factor that into the price.
Crumbs...what a long post. ;)
Ok so not one for team Buffet then, interesting. Thanks for your input! All of the used horns I had listed were refurbished ones from shops, I don't feel experienced enough to buy private used. I'd like to go and test them but the best used shops seem to be spread quite around the country. I will definitely consider seeing if I can get to one though.

~~~~~
I think my shortlist now is:

Used Conn Shooting Star £295
The new Buffet 8101 £489.86
Used Yamaha 275/280 £550/£599
(4th option probably some kind of Jupiter or Trevor James)

I guess it's really down to deciding on the exact budget as there's quite a different between the Shooting Star and Yamahas so I guess I just have to decide if it's worth that or not.
 

nigeld

I don't need another mouthpiece; but . . .
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My advice, for what it's worth, is to go for a modern horn, rather than the Shooting Star. In my experience they are just a bit easier to play for a beginner, and that makes a difference at the start. I don't know anything about the Buffet, I've never been impressed by any of the cheaper TJ or Jupiter 5xx horns I have tried, but I haven't tried many. I once had a Yamaha 280 and it was the most fun to play of any alto I have tried.
 

DavidUK

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My advice, for what it's worth, is to go for a modern horn, rather than the Shooting Star. In my experience they are just a bit easier to play for a beginner, and that makes a difference at the start. I don't know anything about the Buffet, I've never been impressed by any of the cheaper TJ or Jupiter 5xx horns I have tried, but I haven't tried many. I once had a Yamaha 280 and it was the most fun to play of any alto I have tried.
One of the few brand new horns I've bought was a pricey TJ Raw alto. Did nothing for me. Sold straight away.
Similarly, a new TR SR tenor impressed neither my tutor nor myself.
As a starter horn, and possibly one you'd keep forever, a Yamaha is the best bet if you have to choose 'blind'.
 
Messages
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Not actually answering your question, but worth saying from my experience:

I had clarinet lessons from age 8ish to 18. I got quite good, and was playing in a wind band and trad jazz band. Then the wind band was starting to play more swing/big-band scores and they wanted me to double on alto sax. So I bought a cheap second-hand Corton/Amati and just played it like a clarinet - it's the same thing with slightly different fingering, right? I got away with it at the time - bell notes were hard to play but I just blamed that on the cheap sax.

Then a few decades later I bought a baritone sax, just because I'd always wanted one, and found I absolutely could NOT play that like a clarinet. That's when I did some research and realised you're supposed to play a sax with a very different embouchure (much slacker and nearer the bottom of the mouthpiece playing pitch, compared to near to top for clarinet). That was a revelation, and the alto suddenly became much better and easier to play than ever before.

So as a clarinettist, don't fall into the trap that I did and just play your alto sax like a clarinet. From my experience you'll get away with it on alto, and it will work fairly well for all but the bottom couple of notes, but it's nowhere near as good as when you treat it like a different instrument (that happens to have the same type of mouthpiece) and play it like a sax should be played.

I still have that Corton alto, BTW - it gets played regularly in a rock band and sounds much "saxier" now I'm playing it properly :)
 

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