First off, before I get into the topic I’d like to make it clear that you cannot buy a good saxophone for a couple of hundred dollars, euros, pesos, or whatever currency you’re using. Quality has it’s price.
In the last few years, it seems like “everybody and their brother” is making their own saxophone brand. Sure, it’s been nice to have more choice in buying a new instrument and the trend has encouraged manufacturers to get creative with materials, “bells and whistles”, and more.
One ridiculous side of this, in my opinion, is the red, blue, green, purple, white, and yellow colored instruments being made. What’s the purpose of that? Just to stand out? Just to get more girls (really, only kids want to play a colored instrument) to play the saxophone? In my experience, many girls and women play the saxophone without needing all the rainbow colors.
Interesting side has been the experimentation with materials. Copper and metal alloys, along with wood and some synthetic materials.
Unfortunately, just as human nature is, there are those who are just trying to make a “quick buck” and are selling low-quality instruments, priced between $200-$400 USD / EUR, in order to promote their store, make some extra cash on the side, or maybe try to corner the market on low-cost instruments.
Well, those companies may make some cash, but we all lose at the end of it. I’ve experienced this myself years ago with a new private student of mine. She wanted to learn to play the sax and still needed an instrument. I offered to go with her and her parents in order to pick out an instrument for her. Within a couple of days after our talk, she calls me to tell me that her father found a saxophone online for 250 Euros. I just shook my head.
Why did they do that? Sure, the lure of being able to purchase an otherwise expensive instrument at a fraction of the cost of a student instrument was very persuasive. It was also being sold by a well-established, well-known music warehouse. “How could they go wrong?”, were probably their thoughts. I feared the worse.
She came to our first lesson with her newfound love of a saxophone. Right at the beginning there were (naturally) intonation problems. And that wasn’t just that she was a beginner. The instrument wasn’t made well. Other the next few weeks, more problems arose, and she had it sent away for repairs at least twice. After 6 months, she gave up playing saxophone. It just wasn’t any fun “trying” to play an instrument that wasn’t functioning well. I took a kind of “I told you so” stance about her father not consulting with me about buying a saxophone. If it was about the money, a used instrument would have done a better job than a cheap saxophone. They could have rented a sax for 6 months before deciding to buy it or give it back. And now, with their full purchased “piece of sh*t” saxophone, they can’t even sell it. Who’d want it?
Well, enough ranting.
On the other side of the spectrum, does your horn (alto, soprano or tenor sax) have to cost 6000 USD? I understand the price if you play baritone sax as a main instrument, or if you just happened to find a cheap bass sax :-). Does your sax have to have a gold- or silver-plated body? Do you really need diamond studs and super nauseating elaborate engraving?
How much should your sax cost? As much as you can afford. Why? Because, at least 85% of the sound of your instrument, is YOU! Your oral cavity, your body structure, your lung volume, the shape of your jaw, etc. dictates your sound.
Your mouthpiece and your sax take up the last 15% (or less) in varying degrees.
The main feature you should be looking for in a new sax is; comfort, response, intonation, sturdiness, and craftsmanship. You may notice, I did not mention “brand name”. In truth, they are “40 companies and 10 factories”. And that is so not since yesterday. A lot of the new brands are made by the same factories in Asia (Singapore is a favorite). Even some established brands invest in these companies as well.
For the most part, buying a saxophone is very much like buying a car. It may have a big price tag, but loses value as soon as you walk out that shop door. It continues to lose monetary value over the years. It only becomes valuable in your own heart, just like that old Cadillac you have in your garage right now. 😉
The only exceptions are, if you’re someone really famous or you may have a “classic vintage” horn in your hand (like a Selmer Mark VI), that actually increases in value due to its scarcity and popularity. That could happen to any of today’s horns, but who knows for sure?
So, when buying a new horn, be lead by common sense, your wallet, and your heart.