Buying Guides

Differences Between Cheap And Expensive Tenor Saxophones

Differences Between Cheap And Expensive Tenor Saxophones
Written by Corey Morgan

What is the difference between cheap and expensive tenor saxophones

Many people would like to purchase a tenor saxophone, but they cannot justify spending several thousand dollars on a concert-level instrument. To assist you decide whether or not purchasing a high-priced tenor saxophone is justified, we’ve provided a comparison of some of the key features between the two types of instruments.

Poor intonation, uneven tone quality over the instrument’s range, and unpredictable response to strong playing are all characteristics of a low-quality tenor saxophone. Cork and pads become less pliable and more susceptible to damage with use, and the horn’s parts become misaligned.

A higher-priced horn will have a more constant action, with less of a jump in stiffness from key to key and crisper, better-aligned enclosures on its more precisely spherical tone holes.

It will have a higher price tag because it’s constructed from precious metals and possibly requires more hands-on work in the final stages of assembly and quality control before being sent out the door. Moreover, it will likely have better aesthetics.

You should spend as much as you can afford on a high-quality musical instrument. As your skill improves, you will likely outgrow any horn that isn’t meant for professional use.

The Differences Between Cheap Saxophones and Expensive tenor Saxophones

  • The Palm Keys

Using the palm keys, the letter “D” will require considerable movement.

Getting to that D will require practically all of your bending motions. And when you do arrive, the palm key may keep turning for a while, which means you may have to open it wide before the letter D pops out.

When using a saxophone with extra keys –which is only available to professional (expensive) saxes, your index finger will be too far from the B key to push it.

In order to make a fair comparison, cheap saxophones’ palm keys aren’t exactly the same (because they’re not uniform),compared to expensive tenor saxes. If the palm keys are not uniform, it can be difficult to learn the rest of the alphabet once you’ve mastered D.

It takes some serious finger exertion to locate all three palm keys. On high-end professional saxes, the palm keys are just where you’d want them to be. You can make a D without opening your hand wide or spreading your fingers.

  • The Feel

The next step involves the saxophone’s physicality.

The saxophone’s front keys will feel unnatural and may even be facing the incorrect way if you’re not using a standard right-handed grip.

In a perfect world, the keys would be right where your fingers would naturally rest, but on a cheap saxophone, you never know. To play the saxophone, you may need to rotate your left hand so that the tips of your fingers rest on the front left keys. You’re in an uncomfortable position to play, and it won’t feel natural.

High-end professional tenor saxophones are comfortable for the left hand. The primary keys will be conveniently located where you’d expect them to be, close to your hands.

  • The Play Distance/Travel

Additionally, the octave key will feature a considerable amount of travel. You’ll have plenty of room to nail things down as you play and go across octaves.

An expensive saxophone’s octave key will have less travel and more padding even when it shows signs of light use. It’s true that the right hand is equally useful for getting around as the left.

You’ll have to move your knuckle a considerable distance away from the side B# key. Things like this are what will cause you to make mistakes when playing the saxophone, especially when moving between the side B# and the front keys.

You’ll need a lot of finger movement to reach B flat. The deeper you go, the more warped your fingers and hand will be in their natural position.

The front-facing keys will also have an off-putting heft. Your fingers don’t feel at home on the keys. You’ll immediately notice the difference if you’re used to playing professional saxes and take up a low-quality saxophone.

When you buy a cheap saxophone, the side keys will seem closer and closer to the body.

The side keys of low-quality saxes tend to get squeezed in closer and closer to the instrument’s body.

The highest one usually isn’t too difficult, despite being too far away from your fingers, but the ones below it, down to the B#, come in further and further away as you go lower.

Cheap saxophones typically have a layout where the player is discouraged from using the octave keys.

  • The Brand

Something to bear in mind when shopping for a cheap saxophone is that the brands can change frequently. It doesn’t take long for a new, more advanced saxophone brand to replace one that sells for a fraction of the price. It could possibly even make a comeback!

Because of this, it is difficult to monitor the long-term quality of these devices, even if they originate from the same Chinese factory.

  • Value and longevity

If you’re lucky, a cheap saxophone will sound great. As a rule, inexpensive saxophones are not something we would recommend. Sure, their prices are rock bottom. And yes, they don’t sound that horrible.

However, all the information we have from repairmen and other players who have bought these inexpensive saxophones (mainly online) indicates that the quality might vary greatly.

It is possible that you could strike it rich and get an inexpensive saxophone that is still in quite good condition; on the other hand, it is also possible that you will purchase an instrument that has to be repaired as soon as possible.

Spending less than you would like on a saxophone is a risky move.

In reality, the vast majority of the repairers I am aware of who work on these affordable instruments claim that they are just not durable.

  • The Packaging

Cheap Saxophones Come with Bad Cases

If you are shipping a cheap saxophone from say, Amazon, the case that they come in are terrible, be ready for some impact damage. On rare occasions, keys may become dislodged and move around in the case while being shipped. Ouch!

The horn rotates freely within the case itself.

Even if you take the time to repair your cheap saxophone after receiving it and get it ready to play, it will be at risk of being damaged again if you merely repack it in its shipping case and tote it around.

Cases on inexpensive saxophones are typically of poor quality.

It’s acceptable to try to cut costs when purchasing an instrument. Please protect it from further impact damage by placing it in a more sturdy container.

The first thing you get with an expensive pro sax is a quality case.

If you’re going to spend more money on an instrument, you want it to come with a decent case that you can actually use.

  • Sound

Surprisingly cheap tenor saxophones have a relatively great sound for such a low price. The benefit outweighs the difference slightly here.

Cheap saxophones usually sound unexpectedly good, sometimes even better than expected (even with their mouthpieces). For the price, they don’t sound too bad across the board, and they’re tuneful.

But I think it’s quite obvious whether you’re listening to a cheap saxophone versus an expensive one.