10 Best Alto Saxophones in 2020 (Review)
Alto Saxophones have a warm and commanding sound. Frequently used in chamber bands, military bands, and marching bands, they can be a crucial element for the band as a whole. (They aren’t typically used in classical music.) One of the greatest things about saxophones is their ability to shine in solo performances, and they’re a fantastic instrument to build your repertoire on. If you’re looking to start playing or if you’re a professional just looking for the best, it’s crucial to know which saxophone to invest your money in. This is why we’ve created a list of the 10 Best Alto Saxophones in 2020.
In this article, we will cover a variety of products that are sure to astound you with their projection, build-quality, and ability to last for many years to come. We will go over the best brands with you, so you know what to look out for. We’re going to talk about how to tell the difference between a beginner and professional alto sax, what your price point should be, and what you need to know before making your purchase. If you need the best alto sax guide, look no further.
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The Best Alto Saxophones
1. Mendini by Cecilio Alto Saxophone
The Mendini by Cecilio Alto Saxophone is a versatile model. It can be used by both children and adults, beginning students, intermediate students, and even advanced players. This is a heavy and durable instrument with a large sound, a large bore, and faux mother of pearl inlays. You’re not only getting a nice build-quality — you’re getting an attractive instrument, as well.
Praised by music teachers and loved by students, this instrument tends to sway a little more toward the learners. The main reason for this is it isn’t made of the highest quality materials. That being said, the materials are easy to replace, thanks to the fact that Mendini is one of the most popular brands out there.
This sax is in the key of Eb with an added F#. It has a large bore, metal tone boosters, and ribbed construction. You’re sure to get an amazing care kit with this, as well. It includes a hard-shell case, a mouthpiece, a neck strap, a box of 10 (2.5”) reeds, a cleaning cloth and cleaning rod, a pair of cleaning gloves, and a chromatic tuner and metronome.
2. Glory Professional Alto Saxophone
One of the best things about the Glory Professional Alto Sax is its testing process. Each sax is put through a long process of quality control before it leaves the factory. It is not, however, a professional sax like its name suggests. This instrument is best-suited for students. It’s also extremely cost-effective, which makes it a great choice for learners.
For a student sax, this model packs a punch. It has the ability to sound clear and jazzy, even with the lower-quality materials. On top of that, this comes with a cleaning and starter kit: hard-shell case, mouthpiece, cleaning cloth and rod, a pair of gloves, and 11 reeds to get you started. It is coated in a lacquered gold, which makes the instrument attractive.
The metal thumb rest equipped with this sax is very helpful for beginners, and so are the leather pads with metal resonators. One of the biggest factors to consider when buying for young children is the placement of the keys. While this sax has a great placement for beginners, it might be tougher on intermediate players or advanced players. It isn’t a typical placement. The buttons are slightly spaced out and a little off-center.
3. Lazarro 360-2C Alto Saxophone
The Lazarro 360-2C is wonderful for students. It is also cost-efficient, attractive, and available in 23 brilliant and bright colors. The color options make it appealing for young beginners who like to customize their style.
Lazzarro follows USA standards for all of their saxophones, which is a “must” when making this kind of purchase. That means that the sound quality, mechanisms, and durability need to be up to par before the models are shipped out. Thankfully, this model is also cost-effective. You won’t find a much lower price for an alto sax. If you decide to make this purchase for one of your children and they decide they don’t like it after a year, it will have served its purpose and can be passed on.
When we are speaking about sound, this may not be the best option for a budding professional. Its tough mechanisms are great for keeping the instrument in tune, but it isn’t quite as warm as some of the other brands. This doesn’t affect its quality or durability, but it will affect the ear of a seasoned player.
4. Jean Paul USA AS-400 Student
The Jean Paul USA AS-400 Student Alto Sax is perfect for children or adults that are currently taking music lessons. They key action (how easily the buttons push down) is fairly light, which makes it a good candidate for those who are just starting and haven’t built up their hand strength yet.
This model comes with a mouthpiece, a nickel-plated cap, and nylon resonators (for a smooth and warm sound). It also comes with a standard care kit: a carrying case, cork grease, gloves, cleaning cloth, swabs, and one Rico reed. The cleaning kit is always a large plus because often, the items in the kit itself have a value of over $100. Especially when you start looking at the cost of high-quality saxophone cases.
Another nice feature of this AS-400 model is its stamina. This brand is known for building tough musical instruments. Taking the instrument to and from practice, through many marching band sessions, or in and out of lockers is perfectly safe. Especially if you use the contoured case provided (or if you choose to purchase a hard case). Yes, this model is slightly more costly than others. But you can’t really beat the durability for the price.
5. LyxJam Saxophone Kit
The LyxJam Saxophone Kit truly does come with everything you need to get started, including a maintenance guide. This is a fun and innovative model that’s great for students (older children to adults). It may be hard on smaller hands because the keys are spread out a little bit too much. It’s recommended for ages 11+. Because of the quality of the brass body, we don’t recommend this for advanced saxophonists or collectors. (Unless you’re looking for a backup for your already existing sax.)
The kit includes a detachable neck strap, a cleaning pipe and cloth, a mouthpiece + ligature, a convertible carry bag with a reinforced nylon strap, and a maintenance guide. It’s laden with faux mother-of-pearl buttons for a stylish addition. To top it off, this LyxJam gives off a nice, loud, clear sound.
6. Selmer SAS280 La Voix II
The Selmer SAS280 La Voix II is in a different class than others in this review, and not just because the price is over 10x the student saxophones. Made with high-quality brass and professional key styling, this model is sure to last a lifetime. This is the type of instrument that requires little-to-no maintenance, which will also save you money on repair costs in the future.
The intonation on an instrument like this is nearly perfect. Its keys are very fluid and will make it easy to play. It also has a traditional-sized bell, which can help to focus the tone. One of the things we love about this model is its ability to reach the low altissimo, giving it an amazing range and a dark, jazzy sound.
7. Yamaha YAS-23
The Yamaha YAS-23 is a lacquer-coated alto sax brimming with smooth intonation, easy-to-handle key action, and the much-needed standard care kit. This model is considered one of the top-tier student models because of its tonal quality and ability to stay in tune. Yamaha has a wonderful reputation for their sound in brass instruments, wind instruments, and acoustic instruments. This is mainly because of the materials used, but it’s also because of their high standards in quality care. Even though this model is pricier than other student models, you get what you pay for with this one.
One of the things band and music teachers often talk about is learning on an instrument that will provide you with accurate sound. If an instrument is consistently falling out of tune (or in this case, if the key is not in an exact Eb), the student’s ear may not develop properly. This is why instructors highly recommend this particular alto sax as a starter.
8. Yamaha YAS-280
This Yamaha YAS-280 is considered a student saxophone, mostly because of the bore size (smaller), the weight (lighter), and the spacing of the keys (close to one another). None of these things impact the incredible quality of this instrument. Being a student sax doesn’t necessarily mean it’s just for kids, either – it works in the favor of adults, as well. That being said, because the keys are slightly smaller, it is great for young kids.
Yes, this model is more expensive than some of the other student trumpets in this review. But with nearly-perfect intonation, impeccable build-quality, and some of the highest quality control standards on the market, it’s more than worth it. This is not a purchase you’re going to regret, whether you’re purchasing for yourself or your child. It’s also something that can carry a student through many years of practice, marches, and solo performances. Because of its warm sound quality, it is a great model for recording, as well.
9. Eastar AS-Ⅱ
The Eastar AS-Ⅱ is the perfect alto sax for a budding musician. Any beginner would be amazed at the extensive kit it comes with, not to mention its aesthetics: handcrafted carvings on the bell mouth, faux mother-of-pearl inlays, and a double-coated transparent lacquered gold color.
This model also has a full bounding key stick gasket, making the keys smooth with each impression of each finger. Other practical aspects include its imported blue copper needle string, durability, and high-air tightness. These things will all help a beginner or intermediate student along on his/her sax journey.
The kit includes the sax, carrying case, mouthpiece, real leather strap, cork grease, two shoulder straps, white gloves, a resin practice reed, advanced bulrush reeds, soft swabs, soft cloths, a cleaning brush, and a saxophone stand. Quite literally everything you will need to get you started and keep you going.
10. Yamaha YAS-480 Intermediate Saxophone
The design of this Yamaha YAS-480 Intermediate Saxophone is modeled after the more advanced models, specifically the neck (62-style for more warmth). While this is not an advanced player instrument, it is considered intermediate — meaning better materials and a heavier instrument. This sax is a little more than four pounds heavier than the other two in our review.
The neck is probably the most unique thing about this model. Yamaha completely redesigned it to make it sound more professional while still giving it the cost of intermediate alto saxophones. The neck was created to emit a near-perfect tonal quality and a smooth response. There is also a new mechanism that allows you to play the low B and C# with ease. As you grow in this instrument, most of the parts are replaceable, meaning you can upgrade as you go. This is a huge selling point because it means that this YAS-480 is meant to last a lifetime.
What You Need to Know Before You Buy an Alto Saxophone – 3 Key Features to Look For
One of the most important things to think about when purchasing your alto sax is the present and the future. Are you buying for a young child who may or may not continue? If so, you may want to go with cheap alto saxophones. And if the child is young, you want to make sure the keys are spaced closer together so they have an easy reach. Are you buying for yourself? If so, do you plan on performing in the future? And if you’re performing, will you be doing mainly solo performances, band performances, or recording? Make sure you find the sax with the right tonal quality and bore size. If you’re buying for a professional (or if you yourself are a professional), know what is wanted from the saxophonist – not what is needed. Having full knowledge of what you’re buying your saxophone for will drastically increase its usability and allow you to get your money’s worth.
Prices range sporadically depending on things like sales, alto saxophone brands, and whether you’re buying a new or used saxophone. Buying an instrument just because of the price isn’t necessarily a good indicator of the quality of the instrument. Make sure you do your research: read the reviews, the descriptions, and read all about the materials used. Remember that student models tend to have smaller bores, they tend to be lighter and made of lesser-quality materials, and the keys tend to be closer together. Professional models are heavier with bigger bores and spaced-out keys.
The care kits and cleaning kits are a wonderful addition to your new sax. They typically give you everything you need to get started, including tuners, metronomes, reeds, mouthpieces, and cases. Remember that oftentimes, a quality hard-shell case can cost upwards of $100. Finding a good-quality case in a care kit is a huge bonus, especially if you have a child who takes their instrument to and from marching band or on/off the school bus. A hard-shell case is also recommended for musicians who do a lot of gigging.
What are the Recommended Brands of Alto Saxophones?
When it comes to brands of saxophones, there are always two major brands in the running: Yamaha and Jean Paul USA. Yamaha is considered the best brand for more serious players or for the people who can afford to spend a little more on student instruments. Jean Paul USA always offers affordable options. This doesn’t mean that they don’t make high-end saxophones – it just means that their affordable ones are the most popular because of their low price and their ability to project.
It really just comes down to knowing what you’re buying the sax for, or who you’re buying it for. If you can afford to spring for a lower-end Yamaha for a beginner, we suggest that. Yamaha parts are often replaceable and will grow as your student grows. Their tonal resonance is also quite sophisticated.
Yamaha is a company that is based in Japan and they cover all of the USA’s quality standards and the inspection of each instrument before it leaves the shop. Needless to say, Yamaha is well reputed brand. They make motorcycles, guitars, pianos (acoustic and electric), and all kinds of woodwind and brass instruments. They’re consistently praised for their quality and customer care.
J.P. USA is known for mainly their brass and woodwinds. They make trumpets, saxophones, trombones, flutes, clarinets, and a multitude of accessories. Their main goal is to make affordable instruments that are tough and have a great sound.
You can’t go wrong with either of these brands. They both serve different and valuable purposes.
How Much can you Expect to pay for a Professional Alto Saxophone?
When you’re researching professional alto sax instruments, you’re going to be looking at a price range of $2,500 – $5,500.
This can change drastically with things like sales, where you buy it, whether you buy it used or new, and what model you’re purchasing. It’s perfectly logical to buy a used professional instrument if you’re looking to cut costs. If you’re buying new, it’s good to know what to expect. Buying the new top alto saxophones can come with big perks. Oftentimes you’ll get warranties. The parts will be easy to replace because the models will be newer. And they’ll have more modern features than some of the older models. If you want to get into the question of whether or not older saxophones are better than newer saxophones, it’s really just a matter of preference in sound and feel.
Professional alto sax models are made with completely different materials than the student models. For one thing, there is the quality of the rods to take into consideration. There are also things like the keys, which are typically custom-made with professional alto saxophones. Everything from the finish to the intonation is top-notch. There is also the number of features included to consider. If you want all of the high-end “bells and whistles” for a perfect sound and look, you might be looking at the higher end of our estimate.
What Should Beginners Look for When Choosing a Student Alto Saxophone?
If you are a parent and your child is going to be taking their sax to and from school, the ruggedness of the instrument matters. If you purchase a sax that doesn’t have a durability rating or guarantee, you risk losing it with a few drops or falls. If you do choose to buy a sax that isn’t the most durable (or an expensive sax that you don’t want any harm to come to), make sure you get a top-of-the-line hard-shell case to go with it.
The year and the brand
Buying a well-known brand or a newer sax is the best choice when buying for a student. When you go this route, you know you’ll always be able to take it into the shop and find parts. If you choose to buy an off-brand, especially an off-brand made in a separate country, you risk waiting weeks (or even months) for parts. After you get the parts from the manufacturer in the mail, you then have to take them to the shop and have the repairman fix it. If this becomes the case, you’re not only paying for the parts and the service – you’re also paying a hefty shipping fee. Try brands like J.P USA, Mendini by Cecilio, Yamaha, or Glory Professional.
The key action
The key action simply refers to how easy it is to press down on the “keys” or buttons of the sax. Look for brands that advertise light key action for beginners. Whether you’re an adult or a child, your hands most likely won’t be the strongest when you start out. As you play more and more, your fingers get stronger and stronger, and you’ll be able to tighten the action to push yourself.
It’s important to get a lighter model for a student. A light alto sax can range anywhere from 9-13 lbs. Anything heavier will just make it harder on the learner. Lighter saxophones are typically thinner and have smaller bores, which also helps a student when they’re starting out.
If you’re buying for a student, it’s important to know the student. Whether it is for yourself or someone else, certain things need to be considered. Is the student going to be serious about keeping up with their practice and their lessons? Do you know that they will be committed? If so, buying a more expensive student sax might be a great option for you (like the Yamaha models in our review). If you’re buying for a younger student who is unsure of whether or not they will continue with the saxophone long-term, a less expensive option might be better.