The saxophone has been a huge part of the American jazz scene for decades. When we think of jazz, we often think of drums, upright bass and then a saxophone wailing away at the front-center of the stage. The sound of an alto sax is so distinctive, we would recognize it even if we weren’t seasoned musicians.
The saxophone has, however, transitioned to all genres of music, from rock to classical to reggae. Who can even think about the song Money by Pink Floyd without the shrill saxophone solo during the middle 8? Also, what would genres like ska and reggae be without the bouncy horn section that often features a lazy sax sound?
Alto sax is generally really good for beginner saxophone players, allowing them to get to the grips with fingering techniques, with a much easier mouthpiece to use than those of trumpets or trombones. That’s not to say that the saxophone is an easy instrument to learn, far from it - if you crave a challenge and want to learn a new instrument, we can’t recommend the alto sax highly enough.
But you can’t just rush out and buy the first saxophone you see, there are many different types of alto sax alone, and you will need to familiarize yourself with what each one does before going out to buy a new one.
But where can you find the best alto saxophones? What features does an alto saxophone need to have and what materials should it be made out of to give you the best sound and reliability on the stage or in the practice room? How much can a decent alto sax be looking to set you back?
Well, sax-maniacs, you won’t have to worry about these questions anymore, because we’ve compiled an in-depth list of some of the best alto saxophones currently available on the market.
We’ve also got a buyer’s guide that will help you decide between the good saxes and the bad ones, along with a frequently asked questions section from saxophone players across the world.
OUR TOP PICK
Our first saxophone is one that is aimed at beginners, but it can be played by any sax player at any level, delivering that rich Yamaha sound that only the professionals will be able to tell apart from the standard models.
Yamaha is a respected brand around the world, with musicians lining up around the block to buy one of their latest instruments - introducing the Yamaha YAS-280 Alto Saxophone.
This saxophone is constructed from the best materials, built to last for years when given the proper care and attention. This is one for you to upgrade your playing from beginner to intermediate, with an excellent action that is perfectly suited for smaller gigs or the rehearsal room.
The keys will provide the player with an adequate level of responsiveness. It does not punish the fingers of the newbie player, rather gives them a taste of what a real sax actually feels like.
The warm rasping sound that you’ll get out of this saxophone will be the same as a sax that is worth almost 6 times as much.
- The surface of this sax is smooth and shiny, which will ensure that you look like the coolest cat in town alongside your fellow players (looks are especially important if you’re in a jazz band).
- The keys on this model are perfect for the beginner, not being too hard to play. They have enough responsiveness to give you a realistic depiction of how a proper saxophone will handle.
- This saxophone comes with a neck strap and a cleaning kit, two absolute must-haves for any serious saxophone player.
- The construction of this saxophone is extremely resilient and will last you several years if properly looked after.
- The tabs on this saxophone can be a little fiddly to play, which might put off some newbie players who want that smooth transition between notes.
Our next alto saxophone is great if you want a premium quality instrument but are sticking to a limited budget.
It is sold as a full kit, so you will get all the necessary accessories to get you started on the long road to becoming a world-class wailer - introducing the Mendini by Cecilio E-flat Alto Saxophone.
The sound quality of this saxophone is second-to-none, with a durable body producing that long and wailing sound that you might be used to hearing on professional standard saxophones. This is made from quality brass, so it is easy to tune and will certainly stay in tune for a very long time afterward.
This saxophone features a tone booster, which will give your notes that added thickness and menace. It comes with a neck strap, a mouthpiece, reeds, a tuner, a cleaning kit, gloves and a hard case in which to store it all.
All of these things come at an incredibly reasonable price and will stop your saxophone from getting beat up from one gig to the next.
- When it comes to having a top-quality saxophone, then you won’t go far wrong with this model. It has solid keys and an even more solid body which will prevent it from getting battered about.
- You can expect a professional level of sound from this alto - it won’t leave you feeling embarrassed to step out onto the stage for the first time with the pros.
- With top-quality inlays constructed from mother of pearl, you can be sure of that confidence when gripping your new instrument.
- The price - this is one of the cheapest and most featureful saxophones on this list. You can get all the basics that you would get with a top-of-the-range model, perfect for beginners.
- The materials that make up this sax are slightly substandard compared with some of the other models we’ve listed.
Our next model of the saxophone is another one for students, with a bright brass finish and lacquer that will protect it from all the hazards of live playing, including water and sweat, which can damage an instrument over a prolonged period.
This is one for people who want to learn hand positions and fingering techniques comfortably and easily - introducing the Prelude Student Model AS711 Alto Saxophone.
First off we should mention the price, which is pretty amazing, considering the number of features that this saxophone has. This is a great product for anyone who has never even picked up a saxophone before, it’s easy to handle and lightweight. It won’t weigh you down, allowing you to practice for a lot longer.
This comes with a mouthpiece, a ligature and a cap. The ribbed body is also detachable, making it incredibly easy for you to play. The brass itself is reinforced, resulting in a saxophone that will last you for years, whether in the rehearsal room, the orchestra or out on the road.
- This saxophone is incredibly durable, making it an ideal unit for a player who wants to preserve the integrity of their instrument.
- The body of this saxophone is very lightweight too, which is very important when it comes to practicing for longer or playing standing up.
- The keys on this saxophone offer the player a moderate level of responsiveness that will give you a softer introduction to saxophone playing, adequately preparing you to progress to the next level.
- This saxophone is extremely comfortable to play, which will be important for improving.
- Some users have complained that the metal is too soft and this negatively affects the overall sound of the instrument.
Our final alto saxophone is by no means the worst, again coming from the respected brand of Yamaha, you can guarantee that it will give the amateur or experienced sax player that assurance of quality.
This is a great choice for the high school or college student just starting out on their musical odyssey - introducing the Yamaha YAS-480 Intermediate Eb Alto Saxophone.
The design of this saxophone is inspired by the more expensive and professional levels of Yamaha saxophones, with a 62-key neck that will give the experienced player a much more challenging and versatile playing experience.
You can have a very precise intonation on this sax, which is important for hitting those notes exactly.
This saxophone has a very warm tone that will fit in wonderfully with most jazz and orchestral arrangements. There is a hand-engraved pattern on the bell, with keys that respond well to light or firm playing styles. This comes with a host of accessories including a harder case with a padded interior that will keep your sax safe from warping or damages.
- This is the ideal unit for any beginner who wants a more intermediate style saxophone. When you are wanting to progress your skill level, getting the right sax will be very important.
- The tone of this sax is rich and very warm, enabling you to fill out the sound of any band that you happen to be playing with.
- The keys on this sax will perfectly prepare the beginner for a heavy-duty tenor sax. The whole sax is responsive and won’t be too hard on the newbie player’s fingers.
- The accessories with this sax are numerous, giving you everything you need to keep this sax in top condition, which will be important for longevity.
- The price - this sax might be slightly too expensive for those musicians who are still in school and have a very limited budget.
Best Alto Saxophone Buying Guide
An alto sax is a woodwind instrument that is pitched to a constant E flat scale. It is one of the more common types of a saxophone to play, due to its ease.
The other styles of saxophone are soprano and tenor sax. The fingering techniques and hand positions on each instrument are the same, so you won't have to worry about transitioning between them.
Altos are great saxophones to learn on because they are generally smaller and more lightweight, allowing the user to acclimatize to holding them as they learn the various notes and mouth positions.
What you want out of your saxophone will all depend on the style of music that you intend to be playing, so it is certainly worth considering this before you pick up your next instrument. For a jazz band, you will certainly need a slightly different sound than you would for a rock or orchestral sound.
However, there are a few basic features that every alto sax should have to give you a great sound that is consistent and responsive to the notes you’re playing. You also want a sax that is reliable and that won’t give you bum notes or allow air to escape when you’re on stage.
Here are a few things that every alto sax should provide you:
What Shape Is The Mouthpiece?
Mouthpieces are vital when it comes to playing and getting the desired sound. The student alto saxes usually have plastic mouthpieces and are cast from a mold.
However, the more expensive mouthpieces are made from materials such as ebonite, hard rubber or metal. These materials are known for their durability and will last you for several years if cared for properly. You can also expect a radical increase in price on the professional mouthpieces.
Once a sax player reaches a certain level of playing, it is common that they will upgrade their mouthpiece to a more expensive model.
You can expect a beginner's cheaper mouthpiece to wear down quicker over time. The expensive mouthpieces have greater precision and allow you to hit those difficult semi- and quarter-notes.
What Ligature Does Your Sax Have?
The ligature will have a big effect on the sound you create from your sax, in much the same way as the mouthpiece.
The ligature will hold your reed against your mouthpiece. Most student models of sax ligature will be rather basic, while again, much like the mouthpieces, the professional ligatures will be much more expensive.
What Crook Does Your Sax Have?
The crook is an often overlooked feature of the alto sax, being the joining area between the body and the mouthpiece.
Students will generally not need to upgrade their crook, as this is something that commonly happens when an intermediate player looks to turn pro.
Crooks are generally made from brass and bronze and come in different lacquers, colors and platings.
What Is The Body Of Your Sax?
The body of the sax is traditionally made up of 3 parts: the main body, the bow and the bell. All these 3 parts are conventionally made from brass, although you can get parts made from silver and bronze too, which often saves on the overall cost of the instrument.
The brass is treated with an outer lacquer or plated, which will help protect it from scrapes, knocks and sweat. Silver, gold, black or nickel finishes can also affect the sound that your sax makes, so it might be worth researching these different sounds before purchasing.
Best Alto Saxophone - FAQ's
How Much Should You Spend On Your First Alto Sax?
This will all depend on your budget and the intensity with which you intend on playing. If you’ll be playing for every night of the week, we would recommend shelling out more than average, even on your first sax.
Student saxophones rarely reach over the $300 mark, although don’t expect the range or features or the sound quality of a more expensive instrument. If you are an adult beginner, we would recommend you splash out a little bit extra for added durability.
When you feel you’re ready, you can transition to a professional grade sax, although be prepared to spend upwards of $1000 on one of these bad boys.
What Accessories Can You Get For Your Alto Sax?
There are many accessories you can get for you saxophone, most of which will contribute towards the general upkeep of your instrument.
You can get polish clothes that will keep your sax shiny and remove unsightly fingerprints and keep the aesthetic quality of it very high.
Cleaning your saxophone will also extend its general lifespan, as it will reduce erosion that can be caused by the natural oils of the player’s fingers gumming up between the keys.
You can also get some cork grease with your sax, which will help you to affix your crook to your mouthpiece. By applying plenty of cork grease you will reduce the chances of your keys becoming bent or warped when you attach your mouthpiece to the crook.
Another worthwhile investment will be a saxophone stand. A lot of damage occurs when a sax is knocked from a sofa or a table. Saxes can also be irreparably damaged when they are stepped on. Avoid this by displaying it safely and tastefully in its own stand.