The tenor saxophone is one of the most emotionally expressive instruments ever invented.
Played slow and barely fingered, it can seduce, it can intrigue, or it can mourn. Blown fast and fingered like the Dickens, it can translate celebration straight from the human heart to all who hear it. It can give you joy, it can plug itself into your pain and help you let it out, it can do just about as much as any heart can bear.
But if a tenor sax has magic in it, then it’s subject to that whole “wand chooses the wizard” deal.
There’s probably no single best tenor saxophone in the world. In the wrong hands, every tenor sax can sound like a constipated goose being wrangled out of the road by an idiot goatherd. But with the right tenor sax in the hands of the right musician – it’s in that combination that the magic lives.
That means there are probably several best tenor saxophones available at any one time – best beginner sax, best intermediate tenor sax, best professional sax, and so on.
Not sure which would be the best tenor saxophone for you?
Follow your ears – we’ve got the horn for you.
In a hurry? Here’s our top pick.
OUR TOP PICK
If you start to list all the reasons why the Mendini by Cecilio MTS-L+92D is our top pick for best tenor saxophone, we’ll be here until tomorrow and you’ll miss meals.
Sure, it’s pitched towards the lower end of the price range, which makes it one of the most accessible true tenor saxes you’ll find.
But music and tone care absolutely nothing for price. If it was just inexpensive, there’s nothing to say it wouldn’t be a highly popular, cheap tenor sax, but that wouldn’t give it quality.
Its placing at the low end of the pricing spectrum does mean it’s a gateway to lots of people who want to play tenor saxophone, but who would otherwise be barred by the cost.
At least as much as that though, the Mendini is a sax for all seasons. If you’re a relative – or even a complete – novice, the chances are high you can pick up the Mendini, start making agreeable noises with it before you understand what you’re doing, and feel safe to explore everything it can show you.
But it also responds well to growing proficiency, meaning it works as a beginner saxophone, but can stay with you, giving you good, sweet-toned, soulful sounds as you get better.
Whether you ever get better than the Mendini can handle is extremely questionable. But it’s built to last, gives you contoured keys for support and accurate fingering, and builds a ribbed bell in with some tone enhancers, to give you the richness and warmth you need to get the most soul out of a tenor saxophone.
That means however good you get, it’s very unlikely you’ll ever get bored or dissatisfied with the sound of the Mendini.
The bore on the Mendini is reasonably large, which means even younger players should be able to coax that warm, full-bodied wine-sound that an accommodating tenor sax can give you.
A particular feature of Cecillo instruments is that they rarely if ever come alone. A whole armful of accessories come with the Mendini – you get a hard-shell case, The package includes a hard-shell case with a handy back strap and a zippered pocket for ease – and did we mention, coolness – of transportation.
You also get a mouthpiece, with both reed and cap, a neck strap, a set of ten replacement reeds to get your sax life started, a polishing cloth and cleaning rod, and a pair of gloves so you don’t end up smearing fingerprints all over your sax while you make it sing.
That’s a heck of a package with which to start learning or playing an above-average tenor sax. It’s also a package that speaks of consideration and pushes the Mendini up our list.
Alongside which, the Mendini comes with a 1-year warranty, so if you discover any defects in it – rather than in your playing of it – in the first 12 months, Cecillo has you covered.
A great, forgiving, easy-access, warm-toned tenor sax, suitable for every level of player, with a kit bag of useful accessories and a year of trouble-free playing. That’s the run-down that means you don’t miss meals, and why the Mendini tops our list of best tenor saxophones currently on the market.
- Priced to allow even beginners to get their first serious sax
- Ribbed construction and tone-boosters give a warm, rich satisfying sound
- Built to last as beginners get more proficient
- Suitable for all levels of player
- Gold lacquer finish
- Comes with a lot of accessories
- 1-year defect warranty
- While you get a good number of reeds, they’re not of the best quality
The Jean Paul USA TS-400 does not believe in hiding its light under any kind of bushel. In fact, if you showed it a bushel, it would probably play harsh notes until the bushel went away.
All of which is a tortuous way of explaining that the Jean Paul is the saxophone equivalent of a hottie, all yellow brass and lacquer on the outside, concealing a hardwearing, hard-working, long-lasting frame.
Power-forged keys with even key action allow you to pick and play the Jean Paul with remarkable ease, and when you do so, unless you have the tone-deaf instincts of a slab of concrete, you can get both warmth and good rapid motion out of the instrument.
Whether you’re releasing your soul or getting your hot jazz action on, the Jean Paul has everything you need to make a joyful noise.
Available at a price that strikes you as decent for this much saxophone, it doubles down on the value-for-money card by including, like our list-leader, a Santa sack of additional accessories, including a mouthpiece, cap, ligature, swabs, cork grease, polishing cloth, and a set of professional Rico reeds (take note, Cecillo).
That’s by no means all, either – the Jean Paul throws some gloves, a neck strap, and a carrying case in too, so what you have when you put your money down for the Jean Paul is pretty much a grab-and-go saxophone kit, with all the extras.
That’s a thoroughness which pushes the sax up our list, to be sure, but the quality of the instrument and its tones are all-important, and the Jean Paul delivers on those too.
If it didn’t, something would have gone wrong somewhere – each Jean Paul saxophone is tested twice before it leaves the factory, so it’s fair to assume that any bum notes you get out of it once the instrument reaches you are entirely your fault.
It seems unlikely that even should the saxophone be left unguarded in the company of a petulant 2-year-old with a subconscious mission to destroy everything they see, they could do any particular damage to this especially hard-wearing saxophone.
If you find it has any defects that can’t be explained by destructive toddlers or your own shortcomings as a sax player, don’t panic. Like the Cecillo, the Jean Paul comes with a 1-year warranty for parts and labor.
While perhaps more experienced blowers would find the limits of the Jean Paul’s range fairly quickly, for new or intermediate sax maniacs, the Jean Paul gives an easy introduction to the instrument, rewarding you with cool and highly fluid sounds.
If you’re already an intermediate player, but you’re looking to get sweeter tones out of a professional sax, the Jean Paul was almost especially made to serve you well.
- Easy to pick up and play, so a good intro sax for new players
- Also works really well for intermediate players looking for a cool upgrade
- Looks the sax bomb in brass and lacquer
- Hardcore come-to-play build, meaning it can take a knock without buckling
- Power-forged keys give you great playability
- Comes with everything you could need to start playing
- The price is pitched to entice both newcomers and upgraders
- While the sax itself is sturdy, beware of too much traveling with the case
Kaizer has a reputation in the sax world for delivering practically perfect playability, especially in its 1000 series.
The 1000LQ F Flat tenor sax is not going to let anyone who’s heard that rumor down.
If you’ve been tootling around with an amateur sax, the 1000LQ is an excellent step-up into the professional league. And yes, you’ll hear and feel the difference immediately.
The 1000LQ brings good looks to your party before you blow a note, kitted out in classic yellow brass. That not only gives you the looks though, it makes for a durable sax with a tonality that will stand the hairs up on the back of your neck.
What’s at least as much, the Kaizer horn comes with premium steel springs. What does that mean in the scheme of things? Better control and a slicker response, that’s what.
As we say, you’ll notice the step-up in all these elements, and the tonality and response in particular will spark new possibilities in your musical imagination.
We’ve said it’s a doozy if you’re stepping up as an intermediate player, but even if you’re new around these streets, the 1000LQ will be kind to you and give you the combination of fingertip response and sweet tones, either solo or in group situations.
Kaizer is not stingy with the extras, either. Buy yourself the 1000LQ and as well as the standard carrying case, you get a cleaning rod and polishing cloth, a mouthpiece, a ligature set, a pair of gloves, and some lube for the mouthpiece as part of the deal.
Kaizer takes you into a whole new league in terms of playability and tone, for sure, but one other area in which it excels further than some of our other listed saxophones is in its warranty.
There’s no 1-year warranty here. Try a lifetime warranty covering any manufacturing defects. And, in an unprecedented move for saxophones, Kaizer also gives you a 45-day trial period to put the 1000LQ through its paces.
If it’s not the sax for you, no harm, no foul, just return it and find an instrument that sings more clearly to your soul.
Finding a sax with such innate playability, with this kind of warranty and trial option? Oh heck yeah, that makes it one of the best tenor saxophones around.
- Immediate feeling of upgrade when you play
- Great control and slick response
- Lots of extras to make the Kaizer plug-and-play
- Free trial period to see if it’s for you
- Lifetime warranty on manufacturing defects
- Costs more than many on our list, so it’s a step-up instrument
Another sax that works well in both solo and group situations, the La Voix II from Selmer can give you a wide range of options in a single instrument.
Sure, you can play any saxophone in both situations. But if you’re ever played the saxophone, you’ll know there’s playing in both situations, and playing in both situations.
With the Selmer, you get a spine-melting intonation and the potential for neat, fluid keywork, so this is a saxophone that almost plays you. Alone, or with others.
One of the joys of the La Voix II is that it has adjusting screws and a rocking table mechanism. What that means is that you can tune the sax to the tone and intonation you want.
Add a set of leather pads and you have a sax that sings whatever’s in your heart, exactly as you want to hear it.
Extras? Selmer gives you a mouthpiece, ligature and caps, complete with a case and care products.
Perhaps not as impressive a bundle as some of the higher-ranking saxophones on our list, but enough to get you started with an otherwise excellent, almost dark fruit tone.
- Great deep, rich tone
- Works well in both solo and group situations
- Impressive intonation
- Fluid keywork
- The extras leave something to be desired compared to some on our list
- No warranty comparable with others on the list
Sticking with Selmer, the Selmer Prelude TS711 is a great option for newcomers to the saxophone, particularly in bands.
Yellow brass with a ribbed construction gives you sturdiness, and a unique bore design allows you to give the saxophone as much projection as you need.
Something that makes the TS711 stand out is the fact that it comes with a molded mouthpiece, which gives you an easy warmth to the tone of your instrument.
Kid leather pads with metal resonators give you an impressive boost to the projection you can get with the TS711 too. A table key rocker mechanism and an adjusting screw mean you can tune the instrument to the keynote of your heart.
The keys are tight to the body of the sax, so the TS711 is a very playable instrument. That freedom, the rich, warm tone, and a projection that helps you stand out when you need to help the TS711 onto our list of the best saxophones.
- Sturdy construction
- Unique bore design, for extra projection
- Molded mouthpiece giving warm tones
- Adjustable thumb rest
- Case included
- Price. It plays well for newcomers, but they need to be rich newcomers
Best Tenor Saxophone Buying Guide
Buying a tenor saxophone can be a complicated business. Keep a few crucial factors in mind.
Choose Your Level
Are you a genuine sax virgin? An intermediate player looking to step up into the world of professional instruments? A professional virtuoso?
Look for a tenor sax that helps you get the most out of your current skill level, and one that can take you further on your journey into sax.
Reflect Your Environment
In the same way that you take the level of skill you have into account when buying a tenor saxophone, take note of the kind of playing you do or intend to do.
Are you a soloist? A band sax player? Believe it or not, the arena in which you want your sax to shine will determine the features that you most need in the instrument.
That in turn will determine which tenor sax will most appeal to you, and which will be of most practical use.
Be Kind To Your Bank Balance
Buying a new tenor sax is always going to be an investment.
Be sure you pay for the elements that will take your saxophone playing forward – but always beware of paying too much for elements that are extraneous to your kind of sax playing.
Buy smart, rather than necessarily bold.
Best Tenor Saxophone - FAQ's
What makes a great tenor sax?
Ultimately, that depends on what kind of playing you do. For slow, solo sax, you need mouthpieces and reeds that can give you a richness of tone that turns your emotions into musical poetry.
For band work and hot jazz, it’s all in the fingers, so you need slick, easy-reach pads and keys. The greatness of the sax depends on the degree to which it’s built to meet your needs.
Does the look of a tenor sax matter?
Yes, and no. Firstly, the aesthetics of the sax only matter as much as you feel they do. As with everything though, if you believe your sax looks good, it can lift your playing to match the instrument.
On a more practical level, getting a sax in brass, say, while it might be a mostly aesthetic issue, also brings an extra ruggedness to the instrument, and a richness to the tone, so yes. And yes.
How much should I pay for a tenor sax?
Like everything in life, if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. And if it’s worth doing well, it’s usually worth paying for. But there are limits.
Buying a massively expensive tenor sax won’t instantly make you the world’s best tenor saxophonist. Define your parameters – understand how good you are right now, whether you’re a beginner, an intermediate player, and so on.
Understand what kind of saxophone playing you’re going to do – solo, band, soul, jazz, etc. And then look at the available saxophones that best serve your personal Venn diagram of saxophonic needs.
Be prepared to pay good money, yes. But pay it for the sax that most suits you at this point in your playing journey, rather than the ultra-sax, to which you can graduate later.