The alto saxophone is by far far the most popular choice when it comes to learning saxophone – especially for younger players who might find the tenor too heavy.
In this guide, we’ll take you through 10 of the best options for choosing your first beginner alto sax.
The alto saxophone is much lighter and less of a stretch for the fingers than the tenor and baritone sax and, whilst the smaller soprano saxophone might seem appealing at first glance, it’s actually famously demanding in terms of embouchure, tuning and sound.
But choosing a first alto sax as a beginner can be a daunting task.
Compared to the world of higher end horns, the student saxophone market is flooded with a multitude of makes and models vying for attention. And while it’s fair to say that, in general, you get what you pay for, there are some saxophones that offer much better value for money than others.
So, covering a range of brands and budgets, we’ve put together a round-up of the 10 best sax options for beginner alto players, followed by a detailed review of each one.
(Had your heart set on learning tenor? You can find our round up of the best entry-level tenor saxophone options here)
Possibly the most-recommended beginner saxophone of all time.
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A great mid-priced beginner sax with optional silver-plating
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The complete beginner set up: saxophone + all accessories at a great price.
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Yamaha is a huge international corporation, with motorbikes, audio equipment and sporting goods all forming part of its staple, in addition to the Japanese brand’s acclaimed range of musical instruments.
The YAS-280 (or ‘Yamaha Alto Saxophone 280’ to give it it’s full name!) is seen as something of a gold standard when it comes to student alto saxophone models.
With excellent build quality and durability, it’s really at the top of its class.
The key-work on this lightweight instrument is ergonomically designed, making it particularly good for younger players.
It is one of the more expensive options out there though, coming in at more than double the price of some of the market’s more budget saxophone brands.
That said, the YAS-280 is renowned for holding its value well, so when the time comes to move up to an intermediate or professional alto saxophone, you should be able to sell it on for a reasonable price or get a good rate on a part exchange deal.
These instruments generally come with a high quality Yamaha 4c alto sax mouthpiece and a strong but lightweight case with backpack straps too.
An excellent quality beginner instrument which can take you much further than just the early stages of learning.
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Jean Paul USA AS-400SP
For those looking to stand out, the Jean Paul AS-400SP is a gorgeous sliver-plated alto sax which is great for beginner and intermediate music students.
In terms of price point, it sits in the mid-range of beginner saxes.
As you’d expect from this, it provides more than your entry level budget option: the silver-plating helps create a warm resonant tone, the keywork is fluid (meaning less resistance for a new player) and the intonation is well-rounded.
All this can help the first-time player make quicker progress.
When considering the fact that this is a leading international saxophone brand which backs their instruments with a generous parts and labour warranty, the Jean Paul AS-400 could be a worthwhile investment for the serious beginner.
Our favourite beginner alto sax for its mix of style, quality and affordability.
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Mendini by Cecilio (alto)
Cecilio is an American instrument company that was founded in 2004.
Its saxophones (which we reviewed in detail here) are built overseas before being play-tested and distributed from its headquarters in Los Angeles.
This remarkably affordable product is built with a focus on comfort, with an easy-to-grip design. It has a ribbed build and stainless steel tone boosters. The low B flat spatula keys have been designed in a tilted style for ease of playing.
The Mendini by Cecilio is available in a range of funky colours, which might appeal to younger learners, including purple, red and green, as well as a more standard gold finish.
It arrives with an accessory pack, including a chromatic tuner, which is a nice touch for the complete beginner saxophonist.
Built overseas before being play-tested and distributed from the headquarters in Los Angeles. A remarkably affordable product with a focus on comfort and ease-of-use.
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Chinese company Jupiter has been a stalwart of the student saxophone world for many years, and numerous beginner students have gone into music shops on the hunt for a Jupiter saxophone, following a recommendation from their teacher.
In fact, its parent company KHS has been making educational products since it was founded in Taiwan in 1930.
The highly playable JAS710GN is best described as a beginner alto sax with advanced features.
Offering a rich sound quality, it’s lacquered brass body is accompanied by quality nickel-plated keys, offering great durability and it’s been designed with comfort in mind. This is, of course, especially important for young students.
As with the YAS-280, is a high quality beginner horn which can see you well through to intermediate level without a problem.
Elkhart 100 Series
The Elkhart 100 Series is something of a music education classic, having been purchased in bulk by countless schools and music services over the years.
And, as one of the most inexpensive products on this list – often retailed around half the price of a Yamaha YAS-280 – it’s certainly worth considering for those on a budget.
Elkhart is a name with some pedigree in the saxophone world.
The company was originally based in Elkhart, Indiana, but now focuses on the student market with Taiwanese-manufactured instruments.
Still, this budget saxophone arguably performs well in comparison to models that are considerably more expensive.
The keys on many lower-end saxophones are soldered directly onto the body, but the 100 Series has rib-mounted keys.
This detail, which is intended to give more solid build quality and durability, is more commonly seen on higher-end instruments.
Buffet 100 Series
Buffet Crampon is best known as one of the top manufacturers of high quality clarinets.
But the French company actually began making saxophones as early as 1866, just 20 years after Adolphe Sax invented the instrument.
The Buffet 100 Series is made in China, allowing it to be sold relatively cheaply, despite the fact that it is designed in France by one of Europe’s most renowned woodwind makers.
This entry-level alto sax is noted for its consistent intonation across the entire register and a warm, centred tone.
Conn-Selmer DAS180 Avant
French company Selmer Paris primarily manufactures high end professional instruments, and is perhaps the world’s most famous saxophone brand.
Conn-Selmer, meanwhile, is a modern American company that focuses on student and intermediate level saxophones – although it does distribute Selmer Paris saxophones in the USA.
So, while you shouldn’t expect the quality and prestige of a Selmer Paris instrument from Conn-Selmer, the American company is gaining quite a reputation for producing very well-made saxophones at the upper end of the entry-level market.
The DAS180 saxophone is one of the more expensive products on this list, but it is made from high quality yellow brass, a material that is more commonly associated with professional instruments.
It also comes with a professional standard Rosseau ebonite mouthpiece, which is a cut above the mouthpieces that arrive with most student horns.
Trevor James Classic II
Released in 2012, the Classic II is an update on Trevor James’ ‘The Horn’ Classic, which had been an incredibly popular student saxophone since the early 1990s.
The British company designs and finishes all of its saxophones at its headquarters in Lenham, Kent, although its student models are built at a factory in Taiwan.
Winner of three UK Music Industry Association Awards, the Classic II is notable for its easy, free-blowing response.
Pricewise, this occupies the middle space between the cheaper budget brands and the more expensive Yamaha YAS-280.
It comes in a classic gold lacquer finish and has an adjustable thumb rest for additional comfort.
Sonata Student Alto Saxophone
This Sonata alto model occupies a similar corner of the market to the Elkhart 100 Series, as a no-nonsense, inexpensive starter saxophone that is popular within the music education world.
It’s unlikely to remain useful to the advancing player for as long as, say, the Yamaha YAS-280, but it does mean significantly less initial outlay.
It is free-blowing, with an easy and responsive tone, making it ideal for beginners making their first sounds on the saxophone.
It also comes with an impressive array of saxophone accessories, including a pad saver, a neck strap, cork grease and a cleaning cloth!
Kaizer 1000 Series
The Kaizer 1000 Series is one of the cheaper alto saxophones on the market, but the manufacturer claims that the quality and durability of it is enough to see the player through until an upgrade to a professional horn is required – eliminating the need for the advancing student to consider buying an intermediate horn.
That’s a rather bold claim, but this saxophone has received positive reviews as a durable, low maintenance alto, with premium leatherette pads and steel springs. It’s available in standard gold lacquer, or with a distinctive nickel silver finish.
Kaizer, an American company, explains how it is able to offer such affordable products on its website:
“We seek out original manufacturers that produce quality instruments for popular brands, we put our private label on those same instruments, stripping away distributors, middle-men, dealers, sales people, gimmick and non-sense, leaving you with top quality and incredible value.”
Thanks for checking out this guide to the best beginner alto saxophones and we hope it’s provided you with some useful insight into what options are out there.
If you’re still deciding on which type of saxophone you want to get started with, take a look at our guide to tenor sax too, here as well as guides to lesser common soprano saxophones.
You can find all our other guides and articles on this instrument on our saxophone homepage, including the best albums of alto sax legends such as Charlie Parker, Art Pepper and Cannonball Adderley.
And remember, buying a good instrument is only one part of the journey: once you get started, don’t forget to check out the options when it comes to saxophone mouthpieces, ligatures and even reeds, for helping you get the sound you’re looking for!
1 thought on “Best Alto Saxophone for Beginners (2023 Guide)”
I own a sagawa usa saxaphone.and im wondering if its a good level saxaphone and how much is it worth.