Saxophones are one of the coolest and undoubtedly sexiest instruments out there. Although they are made of brass, they are actually part of the woodwind family due to the mechanism by which sound is produced.
If you’re looking to start learning the sax, you might be interested to know how much they cost and the variance of price between different sizes and models.
Like most musical instruments, there is a variety of sizes and types of saxophones available, and the price can vary from as little as $200 to over $30,000. Of course, what you get for that amount of money will be massively different from the cheaper, beginner options.
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The Different Types of Saxophone
Before we get into more complex price guides, I’ll run over the different types of saxophones available, and explain the pricing involved within these different models.
Technically, there are 14 members of the saxophone family, but many of those were short-lived experiments from the past, and only 6 are in widespread use today.
Of those 6, only 4 could really be considered popular enough to be able to easily find for sale online and in music stores without having to make a special order.
Those 4 types of saxophone are what we’ll be discussing today, and they are, in order of pitch from highest to lowest:
Note: All the prices discussed in the following sections are for intermediate and professional models. Student models are much cheaper, but we will discuss those options later in the article.
The soprano is the smallest of the four and is distinct from the rest of the saxophone family by its straight design and lack of a bell curve. It is tuned to Bb and has a loud, clear, and bright sound, with a focus on midrange tonality.
It is notoriously difficult to play and takes considerable skill and effort to intonate properly. Because of this, the soprano is rarely chosen for beginners and is often the secondary instrument of musicians who regularly play the alto or sometimes the tenor sax.
The soprano saxophone is often fairly cheap to buy, with prices starting from around $1,000 for an entry-level instrument. On the other end of the scale, a super high-end soprano can set you back around $3,000.
Although this is quite a lot of money, it is generally less than you would expect to pay for the equivalent grade models in alto, tenor, or baritone size. This is obviously due to the fact that the soprano requires fewer materials to build, which saves on cost.
Alto saxophones are a much more popular size instrument for all players, and that includes beginners. The alto is tuned to Eb and is pitched lower than the soprano. It has the distinctive look of the saxophone, complete with a curved bell piece.
Although it is obviously heavier than the soprano, it is still a relatively lightweight and easy-to-handle instrument; another thing that makes it appealing for beginners. It is also considered ‘easier’ to play than other types of sax, and most students pick it up fairly quickly, making it popular in the band.
This popularity has led to more alto (and tenor) saxophones being made, which has driven down the cost. Alto saxes can range from around $1,000 to $5,000.
As you can see, even though there is significantly more material used in the alto than in the soprano, the popularity of the instrument has brought down manufacturing costs for the equivalent entry-level model.
Much like the alto saxophone, the tenor is also a majorly popular model. This is largely due to its relatively easy playing, along with its ability to fit into many different types of bands.
It is larger and slightly heavier than the alto and is tuned to Bb, like the soprano, but a whole octave lower.
While it is still touted as easier to play than the soprano, it can be slightly more challenging for beginners as its larger shape requires more air to be pushed through its body to produce a sound. This often leaves the tenor as a choice for more advanced players.
With it being yet again larger than the two previous models, more material is required in its construction, which can bump up the cost a little more.
Expect to pay around $1,200 for a lower-end model and up to $8,000 for a high-quality professional tenor saxophone.
Baritones are one of the largest but still fairly common sizes of saxophone out there, and probably the biggest horn you’ll see in most modern ensembles.
Tuned to low Eb, a whole octave lower than an alto sax, the baritone is known for its powerful, deep bass and raw, organic tone.
Of course, this deep tone can only be achieved by using yet more materials again, and an instrument of that size comes with its own challenges to players. One, it is considerably heavier than the other sizes, and two, the volume of air required to be pushed around the baritone saxophone’s body is significant. Again, baritones are usually only played by those who have mastered the alto and tenor sax first.
Due to their size and unsuitability for beginners, baritone saxophones range from $1,300 to $12,000, and there’s not much to be found at the lower end of that scale.
Beginner/Student vs. Intermediate vs. Professional Models
As I mentioned earlier, all those prices above are for ‘professional’ models. There are a large number of ‘beginner’ or ‘student’ grade saxophones of all types available online today. The differences between professional and student-grade instruments are largely reflected in the price, too.
The main difference is build quality. Student instruments are designed and constructed to different specifications. They are generally built of thicker brass sheeting and have extra protections around the lower keys to protect them from wear and tear.
Although the brass is thicker, the instruments themselves are generally lighter due to a build method known as single post construction.
Professional models, on the other hand, are built with ribbed construction, which involves brass-specific welding techniques. This usually results in a more solid body but with extra weight. The difference between these two construction methods is evident in the price.
The keys are generally faster on professional models to offer more responsiveness to players who are used to playing faster and more technically advanced music.
Intermediate models bridge the gap between beginner and professional models and offer a middle-ground price wise.
The allure of a cheaper saxophone is very strong, especially when the other options seem so incredibly expensive in comparison.
While you can get a beginner set for around $150-$200, you are essentially saving money on quality. The idea being that you can try the instrument first without having to shell out thousands of dollars for something you may not enjoy.
Beginner models are definitely worth considering if you (or whoever is learning) aren’t entirely convinced that the saxophone is for you. Save your money for the intermediate or professional grade instruments for when/if you know this is something you’ll stick to!
As I briefly touched on in the previous sections, there are a few different factors that will affect the cost of a saxophone. I’ll run through a list of things to be aware of here so you know what to check for when considering what to buy.
- Size/type of saxophone.
- Grade (beginner/intermediate/professional)
- Build materials (brass/gold plate/silver plate)
- Brand (Yamaha/Selmer/Vento)
- Condition (used vs. brand new)
While some of those may seem obvious and are not strictly related to saxophones, they’re all things that can have a bearing on how much you’ll pay for a new sax of any size.
With how widely the price of a saxophone can vary across sizes, types, entry-level, and build quality, it can be easy to feel out of your depth rather quickly when browsing online. Personally, I think the main thing to consider when buying a saxophone is how often I am going to play this.
If you’re a regular in a band, and your skills are improving, it’s probably worth shelling out a bit more for a high-quality instrument.
If you’re just starting out, then save yourself some money and wait and see how you get on with the sax. The student-level instruments are there for a reason!
But most of all, when it comes to buying anything online, and especially musical instruments, just remember: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!