First up; I’m very happy to talk to you before you buy or hire a sax for the first time. So if you’d like to get some completely free expert advice or ask some questions, don’t hesitate to contact me at the planning stage!
Buying a second-hand instrument can land a bargain, but it can also result in a instrument in a very poor condition. Problems that I’ve come across with second-hand saxes include;
- key-work out of alignment
- pads in very poor condition
- key work damaged to the point of un-playability
- soldered joints separated
- springs broken and connector rods damaged
Now, all of the above problems ARE fixable, but at a price; woodwind repairs, set-ups, re-paddings etc. do not come cheap and can easily add £100 plus to the initial cost of the instrument.
If you are tempted to go down the ‘pre-loved’ route – perhaps a friend or relative has offered you a sax they no longer play – do get in touch before parting with any money. Even if the sax is offered for free, do remember that repair costs can mount up….!
Buying or hiring new
If you’d like to ‘try before you buy’ you’ll need to look into hiring an instrument. There are a number of schemes available to you here, but it is definitely worth looking at the hire scheme offered by sax.co.uk. You can apply for this scheme online, and for £75 you can hire a brand new £399 Sakkusu alto sax for three months. At the end of the three months hire period you have three options:
Option 1: Hire for a further three months.
Option 2: Buy the saxophone outright (pay the purchase price minus any hire payments made).
Option 3: Buy the instrument over six equal monthly payments for no additional cost.
The scheme also offers Sakkusu soprano saxes and tenor saxes for hire, as well as the more expensive Trevor James ‘Horn’ range.
OK; buying your first sax. I’ll look at some altos which I know from personal experience to be good choices. What I write equally applies to each company’s ‘companion tenor saxes. I’ve mostly used sax.co.uk for the links below, not because I have any link to the company, but because of their excellent specialist reputation, and for the fact that all of their instruments are checked and set up in their workshops prior to dispatch. Do, however, shop around for prices.
All of the instruments below will come complete with the essential bits and bobs included; a mouthpiece, a mouthpiece cap, a reed and ligature, a neck strap and a case. Most should also include cork grease, a cleaner and a care booklet.
The Yamaha YAS280: still probably the gold standard against which all entry-level instruments are judged. Available for around £840, a YAS280 will serve you WAY beyond entry level, believe me!
The Jupiter JAS-500: another well-tested, highly regarded entry level instrument, available for around £750.
The Buffet 100: a famous French instrument maker, still headquartered and manufacturing in Paris, though at just under £600, the 100 is almost certainly designed in Paris and made in China. Nothing to worry about in this; most of the instruments mentioned here will have a similar provenance!
The Trevor James range: another very good option. Trevor James offers a range of altos from the Artemis at just over £500, up to the SR Special at £1200.
The Sakkusu range: manufactured specifically for sax.co.uk, these saxes offer exceptional value, starting at £299! They also come supplied with a Yamaha 4C mouthpiece, which – like Yamaha’s alto – is the starter mouthpiece by which all others are judged.
The Gear 4 Music range: I’ve no direct experience of the Gear 4 Music saxes, though I do know that other instruments that they offer in their ‘own brand’ ranges are OK. Their altos start around the £250 mark! The case supplied looked a bit more basic and ‘old skool’ than others in the list, and they don’t seem to explicitly mention having the instruments set up before dispatch. They do, though, offer a 30 day money-back guarantee.
One important last point:
A good mouthpiece is more important than an expensive saxophone! The Yamaha 4C is in this respect unbeatable, though Jupiter, Buffet and Trevor James mouthpieces also have very good reputations.
Despite what instrument manufacturers would like you to believe, your ‘sound’ is largely the product of your musical conception, your embouchure and your mouthpiece and reed combination. The legendary be-bop saxophonist, Charlie Parker, was notorious for turning up at gigs without a sax, borrowing one for the night, pawning it the next morning and sending the pawn ticket to the bemused owner to redeem their sax.
Charlie Parker always, however, used his own mouthpiece and reeds……..