Updated 13th September 2018
I was inspired to write this post having recently advised my old friend Nick on an appropriate Sax for his son. I’m pleased to report that he just received a distinction in his grade 2 (well done Oscar)!
In particular, parents are often faced with a huge range of instruments and a massive variation in price. So what should you go for?
Actually, there is no “right” answer, and your choice may well have more to do with your child’s age, maturity and previous Musical Experience than the technical differences between various makes and models.
I’ve done my best to unravel matters below:
First some basics, it’s Saxophone not Saxaphone – important to avoid unnecessary embarrassment when emailing said child’s teacher! – (or an old friend for advice!!). If in doubt, stick to Sax…
Also, like Starbucks coffees, they come in a whole host of different, exotically named sizes!
In addition to the “normal” 4 models, there are are a whole lot more (bigger and smaller), but don’t go there to learn on! Almost all students start on the Alto – due to the fact that it is relatively small and light and doesn’t require a huge amount of “puff”, yet is easier to “play in tune” than the smaller, than more temperamental Soprano (which can be torture at first for by-standers!) Consequently the Alto is by far the most popular student instrument.
A Word of Warning…
The Sax sounds great and all children (particularly boys) want to play it rather than the far more “boring” Clarinet and Flute. However, you should make sure that your Son or Daughter is big enough to cope with its relatively hefty weight (predominantly supported around the neck with a strap)!
Many younger, (say under 9 year old) kids start on either Flute or Clarinet – as they share many common characteristics – and then “move up” to a Sax a few years later – picking it up very quickly. With these instruments being smaller (and cheaper!), this is a good way to start down the “sax road”.
In an Ideal World…
The Yamaha YAS280 is undoubtedly the best student model Alto Sax you can buy. For 20 years this model and its predecessors (YAS23/25/275 etc) has been THE benchmark instrument in its class.
However, it has one drawback – price. It’s around 3 times the price of some (pretty respectable) starter instruments!
So, do we need the Yamaha or a cheaper model?
Ultimately, in my opinion, this revolves around the stage your child is at.
Definitely Yes (if you can)
An older child who possibly has experience playing Piano, another wind instrument or a “school loan sax” and has the maturity to persevere and progress quickly on the sax.
A very keen and intelligent child who is likely to progress quickly,
A younger child, with little or no Musical experience.
So, what’s the Yamaha’s competition – and why are they some much cheaper? It’s a bit like looking at different makes and models of cars. Why is a BMW hatchback twice the price of the equivalent Ford and three times that of the Kia? All are the same size, have four wheels, 5 gears and many other similarities!
Well you’re certainly “paying for the badge”, but undoubtedly the BMW will be the better car, due to lots of small details – better materials, more attention to detail and higher quality engineering, the combined effect of which makes for a much better performing (& more expensive) vehicle. The same is true of saxes. Question is, does your child need to learn to drive in a BMW!
BMW v Ford v Kia!
Taking the car analogy a step further, student Alto Saxes can be divided up in to three main categories.
Premium Brands (Mercedes/BMW)
Sax Models: Yamaha YAS280
Will take a player to: Around grade 6, maybe higher
Established “Mid-level” Brand (Ford/Peugeot)
Emerging “Entry Level” brands (Kia/Hyundai)
Old Bangers and eBay Fayre
Avoid, unless you really know what you are doing!
Two Saxophones or Three!
All of the saxes name checked above are good quality, reliable instruments that will not inhibit your child’s initial progress. The key is how far each instrument will allow your child to progress without needing to “upgrade”. You will not see a top pro-player performing on one of these instruments, just as Jensen Button does not drive a hatchback. If, and hopefully when, your child progresses they will at some point inevitably want and need a “pro” level sax – say a Yamaha YAS62 or Yanagisawa A-W01
If you start on a Yamaha YAS-280, you will be able to progress through the “grades” until you reach the point to upgrade to a “Pro” Instrument. If you start on one of the entry level instruments, you’re probably going to need to upgrade your sax to an “intermediate model” (possibly the YAS280 or its older brother the YAS480) before finally having a “pro” model (thus 3 saxes not 2). When you go for one of the “mid-level” Instruments, you’re probably still looking at 3 instruments not 2.
In my opinion, you are best to go down one of two routes:
A big “up-front” investment, but then no need to upgrade to a “pro” (lifetime) instrument for quite some time. Also very good 2nd hand value for Yamaha (further mitigating the upfront investment).
Opt for a good “sub £300” entry level model. In this category the Sonata is my “pick of the bunch” (although all the models I’ve listed come with my recommendation).
Test the water for a relatively small investment, then upgrade, to an intermediate model, or “leap-frog” to a more expensive “Pro-model” after a few years.
My wife (who teaches woodwind instruments) recently had a pupil who was learning Clarinet and making good progress towards Grade 8. She wanted to learn sax as well – especially to play in the school swing band. She started on a Sonata, and took grade 3 then 5 over a two year period before upgrading to a Yamaha YAS-62 “Pro” model.
In my opinion, opting for one of the mid-level instruments is neither one route or the other – more expensive than (say) a Sonata, but unlikely to enable progression as far as the Yamaha.
In the final analysis, all the instruments we list are good credible saxes. Choose the one which suits the stage of your child’s musical development and your budget.
Before I go a couple of other top-tips!
If you’re buying make sure you save the VAT if you can – see our AIPS section – it’s over £100 on the Yamaha!
If you’re opting for an “entry Level” Instrument you can rent one for as little as £15- a month.
See our Rental Section.
You might want to consider a “gig-bag” – makes carrying the sax to school much easier.
Remember to have plenty of reeds – children (especially to start with) chew/chip their way through quite a few. Most learners tend to start on a strength 1 1/2.
An instrument stand is a good way of encouraging practice – little and often – by having it on show and readily available!