Saxophones Sax recommendations, and an interesting idea.

AdamBradley

Member
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134
Request: Please list any alto sax that you would recommend someone try when buying - price range is anything up to £3000. Aiming for a sax that will last a lifetime, rather than something that will last 'a few years and then upgrade'. All suggestions welcome, further backing someone else's suggestion is also greatly appreciated!

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Next month, I’m going to start trying out saxes with the aim of buying one in late April. I’m an engineering student working at a science lab, so being a scientist at heart I’ve come up with a system that will hopefully find the right instrument for me, and serve as an interesting experiment to boot! I want to try as many as possible, however there's such a huge range playing them all is inpractical. Hence narrowing it down with recommendations!

Essentially, I could afford anything up to about £3000 for the right sax. I don’t really care what it costs – I’m not trying to spend that much, but if I find one that truly stands out and I fall in love with it, then price isn’t an issue. £3k is my absolute upper limit, so I won’t even touch anything over that :p

The Plan. (I have a plan!)

When picking a sax, I don’t want to be swayed by perceived quality due to the make, or price of an instrument. By asking as many saxophone players as possible, on this good site, ones I know myself and through my family, I will populate a list of all the saxophones that people suggest I ought to try. Then, a musician friend and I will seek out and play as many instruments on the list as possible. However, I’m not going to know what it is I’m playing.

The idea is I’ll sit in the practise room, my friend will bring me a sax from the list and without telling me what it is, I’ll play it. Won’t blindfold myself or anything silly, will just make a point of not looking at the badge! We’ll make short recordings of each and keep a note of our opinions on the sound. I’ll also note down what I thought about how it felt to play. Hopefully I’ll identify a few saxes that really stand out for me and go about making a final decision from there.

However, if I find I can’t tell enough difference between them to make good decisions then the whole experiment will tell me that I’m not experienced enough to know what I want yet, and will proceed to buy the cheapest ‘good’ sax that I know I can’t go wrong with. I will then stick the rest of the money in an ISA and try not to spend it until I am good enough to differentiate!

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Background, for those interested in the reasoning!

I’ve been playing a few months on a rental, my situation is a little unusual for a beginner - I’ve played the oboe and piano for coming on about about 13 years, and along with these have picked up guitar and bass with the usual teenage craze. I come from a generally musical family, so I’m teaching myself without too much difficulty, and resources such as this and Pete’s other sites are exceptionally useful. As such I’m progressing faster than a ‘typical’ beginner.

I’m working an industrial placement this year however in September I go back to Uni, and commence being a skint student again. Working now means I can afford to treat myself while it lasts, but I won’t be able to afford such luxuries as instruments for years to come. For these reasons, my current line of thinking is that I’d prefer to get a sax that’s above me, and grow into it. Whatever I get has to last me a long time and I don’t want to buy something that I might feel I’ve outgrown a few years down the line, because chances are I won’t be able to afford an upgrade (and the chances of any saved money staying intact and 100% earmarked for a sax is slim).

Thanks!
Adam
 

JasonC

Member
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218
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Swadlincote, Derbyshire
Good luck with your quest! I've been playing about 4 months now and I'm no where near getting close to the limits of my Sax yet which is a Trevor James Classic horn that cost me about £550. I did try some Saxes the other week which were much more expensive but they sounded the same as mine! I guess that's because I'm not experienced enough, however, the build quality in certain saxes was very noticeable, I guess the build quality and durability will be important to you also if you going to take it with you to Uni.
Another thing to note is that if you look after the Sax well it will last far longer. One of my teachers saxes is battered to pieces as he uses it a lot at gigs and doesn't look after it at all, he can still play it though which is amazing but that's not the point!

I plan to change from the one I've got in maybe 2-3 years, unless I suddenly improve 10 fold overnight and out grow the one I've got, which I doubt will happen! or if I win the lottery of course, in which case then I would buy a few!
 

half diminished

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Buckinghamshire
Adam

With that kind of budget there's not much you couldn't consider from a Selmer mk VI (or any other vintage horn of stature) right through a new Selmer Ref 54, top Yani, Yamaha Custom, P Mauriat - or even a Borgani. There are many others too.

If you really can't tell the difference between them from listening, you should try at least to get a feel for one model over another. Also get some advice from a good shop. I don't know where you are based but try and get to sax.co.uk of similar where they have a good range and can offer some decent advice.

I guess peeps on here can advise you to get A or B based on their experience but it's best to try yourself and the action/ergonomics are very important.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Wish I could do that.

Suggest you think about build quality, ergonomics, possibly spares. You and your mouthpiece make a huge difference to the sound, the sax less so. If looks are an issue, then factor that in along with finish. But in your price range you're looking at Yani, Yamaha, possibly Keilwerth as well as the best chinese saxes. Perhaps a look at the catalogues of the online stores would be a good starting point.
 
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AdamBradley

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134
Thanks for your replies!

I'm based in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey - London Waterloo is a 30min train ride away so Denmark Street for Sax.co.uk and Chiltern Street for Howarth's are both easily doable. I don't know of any other sax shops in London, again recommendations welcome! The weekend after next I have earmarked for a daytrip down to the bigger Sax.co.uk store in Crowborough. The current outline for how I'll buy is to take a couple of days off work in April, when my mate is off of uni. By then I hope to have a complete list of recommended saxes which we can work through. Currently I'm thinking I'll perform the test at the Crowborough store as I think they'll have the largest range of saxes on offer, so I'm hoping to explain my plan to one of their staff soon and enlist their help with suggestions etc!

Kev: ergonomics and build quality will play a huge factor for me, I love things that feel solid and well-built. I suppose I'm the kind of person who likes to spend a bit more on something first time and then have it forever, rather than buying cheap and expecting/accepting issues. As for looks, my only real hope is that I don't get something that looks too 'bling'. If I make any 'statements', I want it to be through my playing! I wouldn't pay extra for a fancy finish, unless I could genuinely hear a massive difference in tone due to a silver finish etc. I think most of the stuff they put in their blurb is total BS, though. That and my love for well made things mean Stephen Howard's reviews are exceptionally useful for me.

Browsing through the online stock list for Howarth (incidentally, if I do get my instrument there I'll get my £90 rental fee back, though they're not usually the cheapest shop so it might not be worth it even with that considered), there are plenty in my price range - the only ones outside it are the Selmers and a couple of the Yams and Yanis. Even when you account for the large amount of duplicate listings (that are just different finishes), there's still a lot to try - why I was hoping for some solid recommendations on particular models, if anyone has any. The problem I have with catalogues is I rarely trust anything written as I'm pretty sure manufacturers would quite happily stamp the same marketing spiel on two completely different saxes. It's all generic:

... meticulously hand-engraved and assembled for the highest level of quality and workmanship. With keywork up to high F# and exceptional response in the upper and lower registers, the [guess the make/model!] saxophone provides even response and intonation and an ideal combination of tonal qualities for jazz or classical performance...
That happens to be the sax I'm renting, and it's simply not fully true - the intonation is horrible on a few particular notes, as well as a few other notes which sound noticably muffled and damped. I had a professional take a look at it too, and he had similar views.

I will ofcourse be trying as many as I physically can! :)
 

Derek A

New Member
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Bear in mind when listening the mouthpiece has a huge effect on the sound quality. Depends on your bone structure, teeth, mouth, etc. so his mouthpiece may sound completely different played by you.
In my limited experience I played my first mouthpiece for 6 months, then upgraded for 2 years then upgraded again so personally I would not shell out too much on your first m/piece.
And as regards buying a sax I think they are very much like cars. Would you like a brand new Ford Focus or an old Aston Martin which is great but .... .
Best of luck with your choice ... and keep us posted when you get one.
 

Andante cantabile

Senior Member
Messages
696
With a ceiling of ₤3000 you can look at quite a few instruments, as others have pointed out. In fact, you should start to block out lots of weekends from now on.

I assume that in one way or another you will have to arrive at a view of a minimum standard in terms of tone and ergonomics acceptable to you. What that might be I don’t know. If I was in your situation I probably would start with something like the standard BW or similar, and then work my way up. I then would expect to reach something like a plateau with the YAS-62, the Pro BW, etc. Of course, you will have the necessary enthusiasm, and you will test instruments such as Paul Mauriats or Borganis.

The whole thing is of course quite subjective, even with your background in the physical sciences. If you are wine drinker you may have noticed that wines with a label known to you favourably often taste better. It is called “drinking the label”. Something similar happens with saxophones. Anyway, best of luck, and let us know how got on. Also, keep some money for mouthpieces. I doubt that you will get that right first up.
 

thomsax

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3,396
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Sweden
I prefer a sax that is constructed, built and sold under their own names. Yamaha, Yanagisawa, Selmer, Keilwerth, R&C, Borgani, Amati, Weril and Jupiter .... are there any more? It's just Yamaha, Jupiter and Amati that are producing saxes from student- to pro- level (according to themsellves).

Other saxes are stencils? I think there are to much "hanky-panky" in the saxophone world. It's nothing wrong with a stencil sax but if you pay £ 2000 -3000 for a sax, you are buying more than the sax itself. To "glue-on" some extra stones and metalpieces, an extravangaza engraving, colours ... doesn't make the sax better. We have seen enough with these manners in the car industry! GM vs SAAB .... .

We have a sax here in Sweden that sells as an alternative to P Mauriats. Less money. Some people says that it's produced by the same company in Tawain that builts the Mauriats. Other says that this is not true!!! So why pay an extra £ 1000 if you can get a simular sax for less money?

A Swedish link to the sax: http://www.blocket.se/uppsala/System_54_PBT_R_Superior_Class_tenor_saxofon_25740384.htm?ca=23_15&w=3

Off topic again , but not that much ??

Thomas
 

Pete Thomas

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Yes, there is a lot of talk about many Taiwanese saxophones being the same as P.Mauriats. It's likely that some parts are made from the same (or identical) tooling, but this is a long way from the horns being exactly the same.

I believe that in the past some instruments were made in the same factory, P.Mauriat now have their own exclusive plant I believe.

I inspected some Taiwanese saxophones that were on show last year at the Frankfurt Musikmesse. There were made by a company who sells to importers to have their own "brand" put on them. Or possibly the company selling them is an agent for a manufacturer.

Anyway the interesting thing is that they had several models that appeared absolutely identical, but were in fact very different in sound, price and quality. And this was from one manufacturer, so to say a saxophone is the same as a P.Mauriat because it looks the same or even comes from the same factory does not necessarily add up.
 

Emma

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Cambridge
Thanks for your replies!

I'm based in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey - London Waterloo is a 30min train ride away so Denmark Street for Sax.co.uk and Chiltern Street for Howarth's are both easily doable.
It might be worth your while taking a trip to Wood Wind & Reed in Cambridge - from either liverpool street or Kings cross. They are based within a short walking distance from cambridge train station. They are really helpful and Tom Dryer Beers is very knowledgeable and will give you very sound advice regarding both instruments and mouthpieces & reeds etc to get the sound you want.
 

Linky Lee

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Salisbury, UK
I'd just like to say, how are you going to deal with the second hand market?

Some of the best horns can't be bought brand new and if you were going to try a BW you'd have to arrange to have one on trial to take to sax.co.uk with you.

I've got a Martin that was made in 1925, had been battered around for years in a school cupboard before I got it and it's still going strong. 99% silver plating still intact and is a great instrument, it's just that the ergonomics let it down for me.
 

TomMapfumo

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Get along to Sax Heaven in Oxford if you want to try the following: Selmer Super Balanced, Selmer SA 80, and a wide selection of Borgani's all under £3,000. Should be somewhere towards a solution!

Kind regards
Tom

Or try out the Rampone and Cazzani Alto at sax.co.uk
 
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AdamBradley

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Haha! What part of 'up to £3k' says I want to spend it?! Thats what i can afford, for the right sax. I'm not actively trying to spend that much. Though yes, some fine ideas - Oxford is definately due a trip anyway as I have a friend at Uni there.

I will be especially careful about vintage saxes, and generally the more expensive the instrument the more rock solid I'd have to be in my convictions. So while I'll definately add those to the list to try, i'll still approach that end of the market with great caution.

As for second hand instruments, I'll make an effort to try what I can but i'd only consider something if a professional I know agreed with me about it. That rules out any eBay stuff (unless the seller is nearby etc).

I'm not too worried about mispending my money - the blind testing part should go a long way to haul in my tendency to get carried away with shiny brands that have even shinier price tags.

Thanks for all the suggestions so far!
 

Pete Thomas

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Request: Please list any alto sax that you would recommend someone try when buying - price range is anything up to £3000.
I would suggest a bauhaus walstein M2. I'm thinking of buying one as a main horn. I love my vintage Buescher 400 TH&C but as I get older and have less opportunity to keep practising, I need something with a bit more accurate intonation and better ergonomics. I would also consider a Rampone & Calzoni, but I'd prefer to go to the factory to choose one of those. I'd also consider an Inderbinen but above your budget. For me there's very little between those three.
 

Taz

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Hi Adam, my first horn was an Earlham series 2 alto. I bought it 5 years ago for about £450.
This is what I found.
For a starter instrument, it did exactly what I wanted. My fingers fell comfortably in the correct places and the palm keys were all well situated. The Right hand pinkie keys can be a bit of a stretch though. It felt fairly heavy and very solid to hand and I was at ease with it from the start. As for too much bling, she's a nice gold lacquer.
For a beginner, I found the intonation was pretty spot on and it was supplied with a very usable mouthpiece.
As for playability, I love it. I mainly play the tenor nowadays, but when I do pick up the Earlham, she is very forgiving. The notes just seem to skip out of her. I can't manage altisimo yet (that's me not the horn) but subtones are sweet and lush.
Dooce had a quick play with her a couple of weeks ago and I think he quite liked her.
I'd recommend that it's one for your list. (It's well within your budget, not only that but it would leave you enough money to buy yourself a tenor when you realise that that is the horn you really wanted in the first place)
 

TomMapfumo

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Well if money IS a concern get the Bauhaus Walstein M2 Alto for £1225 and get on with it-even Pete thinks it is as good as a £3000 Rampone & Cazzani Alto.

Life is too short to be too obsessive about these things........ or you could just get a Borgani.
Love & Cuddles
Tom:w00t:

Just back from a Portico Quartet gig - brilliant!
 
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AdamBradley

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134
I'm pleased to see suggestions rolling in! Thanks very much.

I will be sure to try all of these. If I make predictions, I think I'm more likely to come out with something in the middle of my budget, as I expect the workmanship will be up to my standards, while pushing over the £2k mark... Let's just say it's going to have to scream my name for me to justify it. Could happen though ^_^

I'll publish the list when I get a few answers from friends i've asked! Do keep adding suggestions /emdorsements if you have amy though!

As for the tenor, Taz... Someday maybe, I'm going to have a go on some tomorrow, not yet played one. For now I'm set on alto as 90% of the sax music I adore is alto stuff. Will see how strong my convictions are after tomorrow afternoon!

Thanks all
 

Pete C

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Exeter
just to complicate things.....

Hi Adam,

just to complicate things for your search, you should bear in mind that horns vary even with a particular make & model so if possible try more than on of each model. You also need to be sure that the horn you are trying has been set up properly. Many brand new saxes come out of the factory leaking like a sieve so the diligence of the dealer is pretty crucial.

Pete
 

TomMapfumo

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If you really like Alto then stick with Alto. I bought a decent enough Tenor but I far prefer playing my Alto - just the right sound, preferred music etc. Gilad Atzmon, Martin Speake, Matt Wates are all brilliant current Alto players, and loved listening to Ron Aspery in the early 70's (Back Door!). I think people are either one or the other, and rarely play/love both.

Anyway, back to my 1953 Martin Tenor Trombone (same range as a Baritone sax/Bass guitar!).:w00t:
Kind regards
Tom:cool:
 
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AdamBradley

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Pete Canter said:
Hi Adam,

just to complicate things for your search, you should bear in mind that horns vary even with a particular make & model so if possible try more than on of each model. You also need to be sure that the horn you are trying has been set up properly. Many brand new saxes come out of the factory leaking like a sieve so the diligence of the dealer is pretty crucial.

Pete
Once I find one I like a lot, I will try several more. I remember going with my dad to buy a Bach trumpet. He paid in a shop and they have him a ticket. He took that along to the distributors where they lined up 10 for him to try. Huge range of difference.
 
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