Pointers for parents about the process of buying a saxophone for their child.
There are two types of beginning saxophone players. The most common player is the new student who is young and playing in band for the first time. The second type of player is what is referred to as the “late bloomer”. This player is typically an adult who has decided that they would like to pick up the saxophone. There are other types of players but this article will not deal with them. They are “the doubler” and “the returning player”. These players generally have a different set of needs and wants from a saxophone than the beginning player. This is due to the fact that they have a musical foundation already built (or one that can be quickly reclaimed in the case of most returning players).
As I stated above, the young student beginner is by far the most common type of player. Typically, their parents are taxed with the task of buying the student a saxophone. Some well off schools may actually provide an instrument for the first year or two for a nominal fee. Most schools will assist in this process by recommending local music stores or by hosting an event that allows the new music students and their parents the opportunity to hear from local music reps and to look at instruments. Inevitably, the time will come for the parent to make that fateful decision – rent or buy.
Some music stores offer rental programs that include regular check ups for the horn. This is a great service because most kids are not gentle with their instruments and thus the horn will require some regular adjustment so that it is in optimal playing shape.
If you buy your horn you should still follow a regular maintenance routine. The horn should make a trip to the repair shop over winter and summer break to be adjusted by the woodwind technician. They can take care of any minor problems before they develop into major problems.
These days there are a host of choices out there for new instruments. You can buy a saxophone from Walmart, your local music store, an online music store, your neighbor, or eBay. There are three basic levels of horns one can purchase. A student horn, an intermediate horn, or a professional horn. For new saxophones this means a price range of $400 to $7000. Student and intermediate horns (alto and tenor) generally top out at $1700 or so. At the top end of this range you may be able to find a gently used professional horn.
If you opt to purchase a horn for you child bear in mind that you will have a difficult time reselling it and reclaiming your investment; however, you will end up spending less in the long run if your child decides to stay with playing a musical instrument through high school. Another point to keep in mind is that even if your child advances to the point to where you would like to reward them with a professional horn it is still a good idea to keep the old student horn around for marching band season. It will also serve as a backup horn in case your child’s better horn needs to go into the shop for service.
What should you buy?
A good quality student horn. That generally means avoiding most of the horns made in China. The horns coming from Taiwan have greatly improved in recent years and will make up the bulk of house brands (these are horns that are private labeled by your local music store or enterprising musician). Some of the more common quality student horns are the Yamaha 23, Selmer AS300, Antigua Winds, Jupiter 700 series, and Keilwerth ST-90. Another horn that you may still find in stock is the Vito 7130 which is actually the same as the Yamaha 23. Of these the Yamaha 23 and the Jupiter 700 series horns are the most solidly built horns. The Yamaha is a slightly more advanced design but Jupiter has made recent changes that mimic some of the Yamaha features such as adjustment screws. The AS300 replaced the Bundy II which is said to be the only saxophone that you could run over with a truck and it would still play. While this is an overstatement it does say a lot about how much abuse these horns were made to take. I still have my 1979 Bundy II which was my first horn.
I generally recommend that parents buy their child’s horn locally if at all possible. It is beneficial for the parent to understand what a horn should cost but they shouldn’t expect for the locally available horn to be as cheap as the online offering. The other thing that parents need to do is to make sure that the horn they purchase is acceptable to the band director. It is advisable to request a list of acceptable instrument makes from them so that you do not cause any friction with the band director. At the bottom of the article are links to one of the largest online shops with some of the recommended horns I have discussed.
My list is by no means inclusive of all of the acceptable student horns that are available. Use this guide as a jumping off point in becoming more informed about buying the right instrument for your child. Ask lots of questions of your local music store and of the band director. Remember to invest in a decent mouthpiece and reeds. Take whatever horn you purchase back to the music store a couple of times a year for a check up. And most importantly, be supportive by encouraging them to practice and arranging for private lessons. Give them every opportunity to succeed. There’s a reason why most of us parents have a garage full of sporting equipment!
Recommended New Saxophones for the beginning student