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Selecting Saxophones for Beginners
Q.  I am a beginner alto saxophone player and I am looking for my first alto saxophone.  Which of these brands would you recommend?

Yamaha, Martin, Selmer, Conn, Ravner, Jupiter, Bundy, Alpine, Armstrong, Winston, Vito

Mike …

A. We really can’t deal with a list like that. What you need to do is buy a sax from someone you trust, and who will guarantee both their description and that the sax will be in top playing condition when you receive it (as we do). We have a number of altos that we can recommend. You will find these instruments in a variety of prices on our altos for sale page.

The problem with your list is that these brands encompass many models produced over (in some cases) almost 100 years. Some of the names were once fine American or European saxophones, but today represent Oriental junk. I hope you see the issue.

Additional Comments
We recognize that many fine saxophones are produced new today in a variety of price ranges and in a number of locations across the globe. There are also many instruments produced that only mimic the quality examples and that are impossible to play or work on in a meaningful way. Because of this proliferation of what we call ‘disposable saxophones’, that only look like they should do the job, it is especially important to know your seller and buy from a trusted source. Since beginners (nor their parents) seldom have the skill to select a saxophone — or to know if the selection is the stuff or the fluff — these buyers are especially susceptible to a shiny new horn and a slick sales pitch. The really unfortunate situation with beginners is that they don’t have the ability to determine whether performance issues are the horn or themselves, so a promising young player might give up the saxophone needlessly because of a purchasing mistake.

Of course we are vintage instrument aficionados here at CyberSax, so we have a natural tendency to steer our friends and clients toward the good, used vintage instruments — whether we make the sale or not. We recognize that there are many reputable dealers other than ourselves, and in fact, we link to several that we know and trust (and who quote prices for their web listings) from our links page. We want all our visitors to get the right sax at the right price. Period. The classic issue with  buying new versus used (or vintage, which is a sub category of used to which these analogies especially apply) is that any new item takes an immediate value hit at the point where you take it home and begin to use it. Everyone thinks of the value hit on new cars, but with saxophones the hit is perhaps even larger on a percentage basis. Just like it’s true that the cheapest bottle on the wine list is not always the best value, the same holds true with saxophones. In the case of some of the ‘disposable saxophones’ made in third world countries you cannot even find anyone willing to buy them in the used market. That’s because buyers in the used market are usually more astute than those who simply opt for ‘new’ because that should mean a higher degree of reliability. Many saxophones from the third world are ‘reverse engineered’, meaning they take apart an example and try to make something exactly like it. The result can be made to look pretty good, but the real guts of the creation process that causes a fine saxophone to play beautifully cannot be gleaned by simply shaping and cutting things to measurements.

A carefully selected used saxophone will always be a better value than a new one, and if it happens to be a fine vintage saxophone you have made as much a sound investment as a fine musical choice. Vintage saxophones are built better than the vast majority of their modern counterparts, they have a richer sound, are easier to service, and often have a better feel and action. Vintage saxes come in all price ranges. You can buy a really good Conn or Buescher (or others) alto in the $400 to $800 price range, and if your young prodigy later needs a step up horn (or decides to switch interests) you can realistically expect to get your value back out of the instrument. That’s a stark contrast to a shiny Oriental wonder that no one will even consider purchasing from you in the used market.

We know kids like to be cool — and a shiny new horn will be cool for a while. It will cease being cool when the kids with the vintage horns that started in the same class begin to blow rings around your kid. This is time for some parental guidance. It’s an opportunity to teach about value and about music in one lesson. Next time you’re in Wally World take a quick look in the fishing section. All the lures will be nice and shiny — and you know where that lands those tempted to bite …

A note on renting instruments: renting implies a short term situation where you simply need the use of something for a specific period of time or for a specific purpose. We have no quarrel with real rental arrangements on musical instruments. A real rental arrangement will usually be for a used horn and will NOT assume you will own the instrument at the end. Real rentals are good for finding out if your child has sustainable interest in band or in the saxophone, which should typically take 90 or 120 days to determine. The rental agreements that contemplate a purchase are really financing leases that are sponsored by finance companies. These are extremely expensive vehicles by which to acquire a musical instrument. The financing rates are often well above those of even the most expensive credit card rates, and the base instrument price on which the financing rates are added are usually super retail prices that no one would normally pay. Need I say that the ‘disposable saxophones’ are quite often the object of these lease-finance arrangements? There are good rental companies on the web — companies that offer good used instruments on a temporary basis. As you may know, Bear is a retired accountant in addition to being a sax geek, so he’s used to advising friends and clients on the financial side of things. Write to him if you have a deal at hand that you consider suspect. We want everyone to end up with a good sax at a fair price …

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