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Saxophones What saxophone should you buy?

PaulM

Member
Messages
143
What saxophone should I buy? This question, or a variant of it, appears to pop up on sax forums regularly. The replies often recommend almost as many makes and models as there are people replying. Some will advise the questioner to go and try a few and see what they prefer, as they can't know if their preferences are similar. I decided to go down this route recently.

First a bit about me so you can see where I'm coming from. I've been playing alto sax for about nine months. Prior to that I'd never touched a sax before. In fact it had been the best part of forty years since I picked up any musical instrument with the intention of playing it. I'm a real novice, but I got this urge to add a tenor sax to keep my alto company. As I've got abirthday ending with a zero coming up, my wife suggested I might as well get a nice one. Prior to deciding to buy one, I asked my professional musician niece if I could have a blow on her tenor and she said, "Oh just borrow it for a while, I've not played it in ages". So I brought home this rather battered case. On opening it I found it contained a lacquer challenged instrument that turned out to be a Selmer Mk VI from the mid sixties together with a selection of equally sought after mouthpieces. If I'd known what it was I would probably have declined her generosity. Anyway, every note played although what the instrument produced did not necessarily correspond to the position of my fingers on the keys. Some notes were pretty hard to make sound. At the time I had no idea if it was me or the sax, so that provided at least one good reason to go and try some others. I thought as a minimum I'd be able to feel the action and position of the keys even if they all sounded the same when I played them.So off I pootled to the saxophone Mecca in Crowborough. I took the following with me:

- one of the mouthpieces from the Selmer that I knew I could handle. I wanted to compare saxes, not mouthpieces and saxes,
- some reeds that worked well with the mouthpiece,
- a reasonable idea of the qualities I was looking for in terms of sound,
- my musically talented wife for a second and better informed judge of the sound I was producing.

Jules set up some tenors in one of the practice rooms and I spent a very pleasant hour or two having a blow on the half a dozen or so tenors in my price range. Before I started playing he gave me some particularly helpful advice which was that the saxes might not reveal their different qualities if only played in the middle register at medium volume, so make sure to play them at both extremes of volume at the very top and bottom. On playing the first tenor my first thought was "that Selmer must be as leaky as a kitchen sieve" because the notes just popped out. So it wasn't me after all which was a relief. To my surprise I was able to notice differences between the instrumentsI played. I'd put the Trevor James Signature Custom and a P Mauriat model of a similar price at one end of the spectrum. Boy they were belters and did loud better than any of the others. I thought the concave pearls on the TJ were wonderful. If it were down to keywork alone, I'd have bought the TJ in a heartbeat. Sadly the qualities I was looking for were subtlety, understatement, nuance and the ability to play quietly without excessive effort on my part. I thought these qualities were best displayed by the Yanigasawa T901 and the Yamaha YTS 62 II. It was hard to choose between them as the differences seemed small to me. In the end my wife said the Yamaha sounded just that bit more sure footed when played pp and the tone across the range was just that itsy bit more even. As my alto is also a Yamaha, my fingers felt at quite at home on it. So the Yamaha won by a short head.

While the instrument was being given a final check-up in the workshop I chatted with Jim and Jules and mentioned that I was surprised to have been able to tell so much of a difference between the tenors I'd played. Jim said he wasn't surprised and that even players with only a couple of months experience could often detect quite a lot. I was even more surprised when my impressions of some of the models agreed with theirs and they did say they weren't agreeing with me just to be polite.

I'm really glad I did what I did. In the end I left with the best tenor sax for me. I know that's the case because I tried enough different ones to be reasonably certain. Also, I bought the same instrument I test played, so I knew exactly what I was buying. Finally, the moral of this ramble. Even if you're a novice with a limited amount of playing skill like me, you more likely than not have enough about you to be able to tell what the best instrument is for you just by playing it. If that's not reason enough to go and have a test play, it's undoubtedly tremendous fun too.
 
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MellowD

Lost In Theory
Messages
544
On this basis, I've arranged to go to Windblowers in Nottingham just as soon as my £windfall arrives and do just what you recommend!
 

Fraser Jarvis

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,910
Ah yes, of course, Blue badge..no problem then, also while your there if you come out of Windblowers then look across the road but about 50-100 yards further down the hill you will see another music shop (cant remember who they are) but if you go in they have a woodwind section down in the basement, when i went several years ago it was stuffed full of all kinds of vintage saxophones! defo worth a look....i seem to remember just having learned take 5 at the time a very bad version of take 5 i might add, anyway my friend who came with me insisted i "test play" loads of different sax's all i could think of was bloody take 5! God knows what the shop staff must have thought...makes me cringe now when i think back!, I'm surprised i wasn't asked to leave!!
 

PaulM

Member
Messages
143
my friend who came with me insisted i "test play" loads of different sax's all i could think of was bloody take 5! God knows what the shop staff must have thought...makes me cringe now when i think back!, I'm surprised i wasn't asked to leave!!
The good folk at sax.co.uk didn't complain about my incessant repetition of "Sunny side of the street". Mind you I did inject some badly played scales to relieve the monotony. One must show some consideration after all.
 

MellowD

Lost In Theory
Messages
544
insisted i "test play" loads of different sax's all i could think of was bloody take 5! God knows what the shop staff must have thought...makes me cringe now when i think back!, I'm surprised i wasn't asked to leave!!
LOL if I were to walk in today, they would get repeated renditions of Clair de Lune or Scales, and nothing more adventurous!!! so I guess you were a hell of a lot more interesting than that lol. Either that, or the part 4 of the piece from the training band for Batman - cos I like it!!!
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
It's a good thing to play the same piece(s) on each sax. That way you get an accurate comparison. Just pick pieces that cover the full range - and tones/subtones. Make sure you check all the palm notes & C# as well..
 

What

Member
Messages
314
Sounds like a great time. Another one of my co-workers who plays trumpet has offered me a ride to a local well reputed music store in a year or so when I am financially ready to move up so I can get some test plays on the next sax I get. I too am lured by the Yamaha and Yani and will include these in my test. I am glad your quest lead you to your right sax.
 

AndyWhiteford

Senior Member
Messages
454
come out of Windblowers then look across the road but about 50-100 yards further down the hill you will see another music shop ....they have a woodwind section down in the basement, when i went several years ago it was stuffed full of all kinds of vintage saxophones!
http://www.themusicinn.co.uk/pre-owned

..this place, maybe?? , That sounds like MY kinda basement ;-)
 
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