Advice for the “late bloomer” looking for their first saxophone
This is a companion piece to our article on buying a saxophone for beginner.
The �late bloomer� is the less common beginning student and generally has different goals and aspirations than the beginning child. They are at a decided advantage in that they are dedicated to picking up the instrument and probably have the financial resources at their disposal to buy a professional horn.
A rent to own program is not generally the right answer for this type of player. Instead, they should seriously consider buying the saxophone from a reputable local or Internet based music store. eBay is always tempting to these players but they should keep in mind that the majority of saxophones purchased off of eBay require a trip to the repair shop to be put into reasonable working order. When I purchase a horn off of eBay I go under the assumption that it will require hundreds of dollars of work to get it into the playing condition that I require.
Because this level of player is probably going to be dealing with a reputable music store and they will be fighting the urge to buy a horn from eBay they will generally consider buying a used professional horn. This is not necessarily a bad idea nor is it a good one. One of the problems with buying a used horn is that there are many choices out there. There are recent horns that are used and there are �vintage� horns. I wouldn’t normally recommend a �vintage� horn to a �late bloomer� because there’s a steep learning curve to truly understand which �vintage� instruments are desirable and which should be avoided. Instead, I would recommend that if the player wants the most bang for their buck that they find a quality used horn that is in good shape from a reputable source.
Generally the best recommendation for the �late bloomer� is to start out with a new intermediate or entry level professional instrument. These horns will not break the bank and provide a log of bang for the buck and should require minimal adjustment (although even new horns generally need to be set up by a technician). They provide the entry point for the player into finding out what kind of instrument fits their needs and it allows them a ready frame of reference when comparing other horns.
Before buying that first horn the late bloomer should find an instructor who can not only teach the player but advise them on what horn to purchase given the budget that the player wishes to spend. The instructor may also be aware of a quality used horn in good repair that may represent a good investment for the new player. Additionally, the instructor should be able to recommend a quality mouthpiece and reeds. A quality instructor will help guide the new student on their path to achieving their musical goals.
Below is a listing of my personal recommendations for used and new saxophones. These are conservative recommendations based on my personal experience. There are other options available as well but these are generally accepted quality makes and models that are somewhat common.
High Quality Used Saxophones (the safer bets)
Selmer Super Action 80
Selmer Super Aciton 80 serie II
Couf Superba I (made by Keilwerth)
Couf Superba II (made by Keilwerth)
Recommended Online Dealers for Used Saxophones
Recommended New Saxophones
Selmer Paris Super Action 80 Model 52 Alto Saxophone 52 Alto – Clear Lacquer
Selmer Paris 54 Super Action 80 Series II Tenor Saxophone 54 Tenor – Clear Lacquer
Selmer Paris 62 Series III Alto Saxophone 62 Alto Sax – Clear Lacquer
Selmer Paris 64 Series III Tenor Saxophone 64 Tenor Sax – Clear Lacquer
Selmer Paris Reference 36 Model 84 Tenor Saxophone
Selmer Paris Reference 54 Model 74 Tenor Saxophone Tenor Sax
Yamaha The 62II Series Mark II Alto Sax Alto – Lacquer
Yamaha YTS62 Mark II Professional Tenor Sax Tenor – Lacquer
Yamaha YAS82Z Alto Saxophone Alto – Lacquer
Yamaha YTS82Z Tenor Saxophone Tenor – Lacquer
Yamaha YAS875EX Alto Saxophone Alto – Lacquer
Yamaha YTS875 Custom Tenor Saxophone Tenor – Lacquer
Yanagisawa A901 Alto Saxophone Alto Sax – Lacquer
Yanagisawa T901 Tenor Saxophone Tenor – Lacquer
Yanagisawa A991 Alto Saxophone Alto – Lacquer
Yanagisawa T991 Tenor Saxophone Tenor – Lacquer
Keilwerth SX90R Alto Saxophone Alto – Gold Lacquer
We don’t need to discount vintage horns entirely. There are some perfectly good ones that go for bargain prices when compared with the listed recommendations. The quirks and varied keywork of vintage horns aren’t necessarily a deal breaker. After all, most of the greats learned on vintage horns. A late bloomer generally has some idea of the style they want to play and the sound that goes with it. That may be more of a Martin, Buescher, King, or Conn sound than a modern sound like from a Yamaha or SA80. But you are correct that there are a lot of older horns, including some being hyped up by unscrupulous online dealers, that are best avoided.
Some “safe” vintage horns that you don’t have to break the bank for:
Conn – just be sure says Elkhart, Indiana on the bell. All 6Ms/10Ms, Pan Americans, and early Directors (“shooting stars”) up to about 1960 are Elkhart Conns. The keywork is as ergonomic as it needs to be. The later 6Ms/10Ms with the nickel keys aren’t quite as nice sounding as the earlier ones, but you can get a good one for under $1000 and the difference may not be relevant until a player has developed to a certain level. They are also apparently a little easier to play in tune. The Directors were essentially 6Ms/10Ms with different keywork until about 1960, when production was moved to Nogales, Arizona. The Arizona Directors aren’t of the same quality as the Elkhart ones and the Mexiconns from the 1970s are junk. The New Wonder (“Chu Berry”) horns from the late 1920s are nice horns too, a little less expensive than an early 6M/10M, and with keywork that’s not quite as nice. The Pan American was a second line horn that preceded the Director, based on the New Wonder body style. Pan Americans and early Directors are two of the best kept secrets in the saxophone world.
Martin – beautiful rich sound, well made, and inexpensive. Ergonomics aren’t always the greatest and some mechanics are downright primitive. But those same primitive mechanisms are simple to maintain. Good deals are to be had on Committee I and II (“searchlight,” “skyline,” and “lion and crown” horns). Some highly regarded later Martins are the Magna and the Music Man. Some later Martins were made by Yanigasawa. The Martin Indiana is a second line horn produced between about 1940 and 1960, based on Committee I and II bodies. The earlier ones are highly regarded, particularly for altos, and very inexpensive. I learned on an Indiana tenor and survived the bad ergos.
Buescher – Tru-Tones and later Aristocrat models are relatively inexpensive. Lighter tonal characteristics than Conns and Martins. Playing characteristics and intonation get mixed reviews. Earlier Aristocrats and 400s are more sought after and expensive.
King – The early Super 20s are legendary. They have a reputation for playing very well in top condition but also for being delicate maintenance queens. Collectors have jacked the prices on the early ones with the pearl key touches, and ones with silver bells and necks. Good horns into the 60s, with declining quality towards the end of the run. But don’t overlook the Zephyr, which was essentially a Super 20 by 1940. The Zephyr went into decline during the 1950s, but were still a good horns for some years after the Super 20 was introduced. Zephyrs from the late 40s to early 50s are sleepers.
If a late bloomer wants to hear their sound develop into something beautiful and distinctive rather than bland and generic, chances are that’s not going to come from anything Selmer or Yamaha for the price of a good American vintage horn.
I have been playing sax off and on for over 35 years and found the discussion about new and used horns last night. I had a decade plus lay off due to health problems, and recently dug my old Yamaha YTS62 out of the closet again. It had not been played in all that time, and probably needs a good overhaul by now, but my point is I had a strange experience the other day. I went to a fairly large retail store that keeps a fine line of many new pro model horns in stock….I went to try new mouthpieces and ended up playing well over 8 new modern tenors. Long story short, I expected the new horns to blow away my old unit, not the case in the least. It still out shines all of the new units, leaks and all. I bought said horn brand new in 1980, 34 years ago this Decenber and had many other over the years also. Lots of Selmers have come and gone and they were great for what they were, but the Yamahas keep popping up for me. They have some faults like the body of the horns being lighter metal, and the keys do bend if not kept in a good case, and babied a little more than some of the older horns(which by the way would survive a nuclear winter), but they just cannot be beat for the money. When I was playing professionally, I never once had some one come up to me after a gig and say, “Man you sound good, but you would have sounded better on Brand X!!” I also kept my 1923 Buescher Curved Soprano, one of the nuclear winter horns, they are the last of my arsenal. My point, I would and do advise that the Yamahas are as good as anything I have ever played or heard and think any player, new or seasoned would do themselves a favor by putting away old prejudices and using their ears and fingers to try a horn, not just their eyes and opinions. Mark VI Fever is an odd idea, which I have seen in other areas of the instrument business……many of my friends still think old Fender and Gibson guitars are the bees knees, losing out on the fact that we are living in a new instrument nirvana the last 25 yeras or so. Thanks for a great website…….off to check out some Yanigasawas now, their stock mouthpieces that come with the horns are something else. CHESTER
The King Zephyr (early 1955) model is fantastic. I owned a Super 20 tenor (full pearls) with Roo pads. I have played a King Super 20 alto and loved it (again with full pearls). I took a gamble on ebay and purchased a Zephyr from early 1955. WOW!! It plays with all of the character (using same mouthpiece, ligature, and reed brand) as the full pearl Super 20. I could not be more pleased. The sax was beat up and I spent time and money putting it into playing order. Boy, am I glad I did! Nothing speaks like this sax. I have played and owned a Conn Tranny, a Yamaha YAS 62, and a Selmer BA. All of these saxes have played well through the years. The King Zephyr speaks in tune and from subtle to big and bold. Truly, an amazing horn.