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)!

sax lesson

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:

What Size
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!

sax_family

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)!

Playing-Sax

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!

YAS280

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.

Maybe Yes
A very keen and intelligent child who is likely to progress quickly,

Possibly Not
A younger child, with little or no Musical experience.

Choices, Choices
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

YAS280
Established “Mid-level” Brand (Ford/Peugeot)
Sax Models: Jupiter 500 Q
Will take a player to: Around grade 4-5

jas567

Emerging “Entry Level” brands (Kia/Hyundai)
Sax Models: Sonata 701, Elkhart 100 Series
Will take a player to: Around grade 3-4

SAS701

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)

If you go for one of the “mid-level” Instruments, you’re probably still looking at 3 instruments not 2.

My Recommendations
In my opinion, you are best to go down one of two routes:

Yamaha YAS280
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).

YAS280

Sonata 701
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).

SAS701

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.

That said, the Jupiter, in particular, is a well respected instrument and it comes with a nice mouthpiece and accessories (but in essence is a similar quality instrument to the Elkhart and Sonata).

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.

2 sax players

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!

VAT FREE

If you’re opting for an “entry Level” Instrument you can rent one for as little as £15- a month.
See our Rental Section.

rent

You might want to consider a “gig-bag” – makes carrying the sax to school much easier.

gigbag

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.

sax reeds

An instrument stand is a good way of encouraging practice  – little and often – by having it on show and readily available!

sax std

About the author

Gareth is managing Director of Normans Musical Instruments.
A Brass player, Gareth has considerable technical knowledge and experience on a broad range of instrument types – gleaned from working with and visiting both players and instrument makers across the globe during his 20 years in the business.

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Comments

  • KWIYUH MICHAEL 26/12/2014 at 3:04 pm

    Gareth, thanks for this article! I love the Sax and so passionate about playing it. I’m in Cameroon in West Africa. How do I get the cheapest of Yamaha YAS280? I want to begin. Thanks so much, I will be waiting

    Reply
    • GeorgiaM 02/01/2015 at 11:23 am

      Hi, Thank you for your comment. If you would like to email jonty@normans.co.uk he’ll be able to give you a price for the YAS280

      Reply
  • Erik Skjold 03/05/2015 at 8:38 pm

    Thanks for the very good advice. The car analogy really opened my eyes only being a dad who needs to get in the “know” on behalf of my sons. 9 year old going on his 2 year baritone horn and advancing to the euphonium, an 7 year old eagerly looking forward to getting hold of a saxophone – both with the school brass band.

    I have been looking at the Roy Benson AS-201 Children’s Alto Saxophone and was wondering if anyone has some experience with this? It surely sounds sensible with the closer keying and recurved neck.

    Reply
  • Mary Jane Dixon 02/06/2015 at 11:16 am

    I am looking for a Tenor sax for my eldest child who is working towards taking Grade 8. We are interested in a soprano sax as well! Any advice?

    Many thanks

    Reply
    • GeorgiaM 03/06/2015 at 3:51 pm

      Hi Mary, thank you for your comment.

      I would be more than happy to help you and talk through some models and prices. Do you have a contact number I could call you on?

      Alternatively you can email me direct via jonty@normans.co.uk or call 01283 535333

      I look forward to your reply.

      Reply
  • Jamie 18/07/2015 at 9:39 pm

    Today we bought an Oxford Alto Sax for my daughter. She is going into 8th grade and has three years on the flute and wanted to start playing the Alto along with the flute. I’m not finding a lot of information on the internet about the Oxford Saxophones which is making me think that maybe purchasing it was a mistake. Does anyone have any information (good or bad) on the Oxfords?

    Reply
    • Diana Stone 20/07/2015 at 4:13 pm

      Hi Jamie,

      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, we have not previously heard of Oxford saxes, I would imagine that it might be someone’s own brand. You are always welcome to contact our sales team on 01283 535333 option 1 or sales@normans.co.uk who will be happy to help you choose the right saxophone and offer any further advice.

      Kind regards,

      Diana

      Reply
  • Alan 20/07/2015 at 3:06 pm

    Surprised to see there is no mention of the Trevor James AlphaSax as an ideal starter for children. 30% lighter and modified to be easier and faster to learn.

    Reply
    • Diana Stone 20/07/2015 at 4:07 pm

      Hi Alan,

      Thanks for leaving a comment. Unfortunately, the Trevor James AlphaSax is not a model that we currently stock, therefore are not as familiar with it. However, we are always happy to source other instruments that are not listed on our website, so please do not hesitate to contact our sales team on 01283 535333 option 1 or sales@normans.co.uk.

      Kind regards,

      Diana

      Reply
  • Donna G 20/11/2015 at 4:54 pm

    My grandson is 3 years old and I want to get him a starter saxophone. Any ideas for a starter for a child that young? Please email me. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Diana Stone 23/11/2015 at 10:29 am

      Hi Donna,

      Thanks for your comment. I have asked our woodwind specialist Jonty to get in touch with you and he will email you shortly.

      Best wishes,

      Diana

      Reply
  • Roger William Ahiati 17/05/2016 at 12:02 am

    Thanks for your article. Am 48 and a lover of sax.when I was a young boy I used to play flute but didn’t grow with it. I now want to learn how to play sax and want to know if I can start with the tenor sax. Please let me know how much it would cost me to buy one.

    Reply
    • Isabelle Howie 17/05/2016 at 9:04 am

      Hi Roger,

      Thank you for your comment. The Tenor Sax would be a great choice for you to play, and we have a good range of instruments starting at £525. There is also a more recent blog on our site talking specifically about Tenor Saxophones which you can find here: http://www.normans.co.uk/blog/2016/05/buying-guide-tenor-saxophones/

      I hope this offers some more insight into the Tenor Sax for you, and if you would like to discuss further then you can call us on 01283 535333.

      Thanks,

      Isabelle

      Reply
  • Dylan M 16/11/2016 at 2:16 am

    Hello I have played alto saxophone for three years going on my fourth, and I was thinking about getting a Soprano and learning how to play it. I have seen that there is a straight and curved version. Which type is best for concert band for school? Which one do you prefer?

    Reply
    • Isabelle Howie 17/11/2016 at 9:27 am

      Hello Dylan,

      Thank you for your question. We only sell straight Soprano saxes here at Normans, as we find them to be the most popular, and the more “traditional” Soprano sax option. However there is no real difference between the Sopranos, except one is curved and the other is straight. Soprano saxes are notorious for their varied and sometimes problematic intonation, so I would recommend trying out some different models and checking their tuning to find one that you like to play, rather than choosing one based on its appearance.

      Reply