Choosing Your First Alto Saxophone (Best Value Buys in 2024)

Are you a parent researching the perfect sax for your child, or an adult ready to FINALLY get started playing? As you probably already know, the alto is the best saxophone for beginners, as it’s both less expensive, less heavy and requires less ‘puff’ than the alternative options. But once you’re set on buying one, there are still decisions to be made

In this guide, we dive into 10 of the best beginner alto saxophones and explain the pros and cons of each. So whether you’re looking to test out the sax on a total budget, or find a top quality brand that will turbocharge your progress, we’ve got you covered…

Stay tuned until the end when we’ve recapped a few other essentials for the beginner student, including books, songs & sheet music…

Hello, Matt Fripp, founder of Jazzfuel here!

My own journey as a young alto saxophone player saw me start on a cheap, broken second-hand instrument.

And whilst the story turned out ok (I ended up at music school, then performing professionally), those first few months on a bad instrument almost caused me to give up.

Fast forward a few years later when I was teaching beginner saxophone players and I dug deeper into the world of sax brands to discover the best mix of quality versus budget.

So bearing in mind that not everyone has 4-figures to shell out on a top-of-the range horn just to see if they enjoy it, here’s my guide to the best beginner saxophones out there in 2024.

alto saxophone for beginners - quick facts

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 good alto saxophone as a beginner can be a daunting task.

Compared to the world of higher end horns, the student saxophone market is flooded with a variety 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, here’s my 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)

#1 Recommended
YAMAHA YAS-280 Saxophones Student Alto saxophones

YAMAHA YAS-280 Saxophones Student Alto saxophones

Possibly the most-recommended beginner saxophone of all time.

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Best value
Jean Paul USA AS-400GP

Jean Paul USA AS-400GP

A great mid-priced beginner sax with optional silver-plating

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Budget Option
Mendini By Cecilio Eb Alto

Mendini By Cecilio Eb Alto

The complete beginner set up: saxophone + all accessories at a great price.

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Yamaha YAS-280

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 the best model of student saxophones.

With excellent build quality and durability, it’s really 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.

YAMAHA YAS-280 Saxophone

YAMAHA YAS-280 Saxophone

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 instrument and a really good beginner saxophone – not to mention a solid choice for the intermediate student too.

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.

Jazzfuel Pick!
Jean Paul USA AS-400SP (silver)

Jean Paul USA AS-400SP (silver)

Our favourite beginner alto sax for its mix of style, quality and affordability.

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Mendini by Cecilio (alto saxophone)

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.

Mendini By Cecilio Eb Alto Sax

Mendini By Cecilio Eb Alto Sax

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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Jupiter JAS710GN

Chinese company Jupiter has been a stalwart of the student saxophones 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 beginner alto saxophone arguably performs well in comparison to models that are considerably more expensive.

The keys on many budget 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 alto 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 one of the most popular student saxophones 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 sax 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 saxophone 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.”Beginner

Bonus: Beginner Alto Saxophone Essentials

So, you’ve chosen the instrument you want and are ready to start learning saxophone?

As always, getting a teacher is the best way to make sure you learn the right technique and make fast progress.

But if (like me) you can’t wait for that, here’s a short list of some essentials to get you started…

Easy alto saxophone sheet music

If you’ve already learnt another instrument, you might feel ready to dive into some sight-reading.

There’s a whole world of sheet music out there, but the selection of free beginner music at Musescore is as good as any.

Beginner Alto saxophone songs

Mastering your first song on any instrument is a massive milestone!

With that in mind, it’s good to start with some easier tunes. Some of the most popular ones for novice saxophonists include:

  • Greensleeves (traditional/classical)
  • C Jam Blues (jazz)
  • Let It Be (pop)
  • The Pink Panther Theme (film/TV)
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (children’s songs)

Alto saxophone books for beginners

We’ve already written at length about saxophone method books, but we’d highlight Hal Leonard’s Saxophone For Absolute Beginners as a good first one.

That’s all for now!

Thanks for checking out this guide to choosing the best beginner alto saxophones. I 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 on, take a look at our complete guide to beginning to play saxophone.

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!

4 thoughts on “Choosing Your First Alto Saxophone (Best Value Buys in 2024)”

  1. I play two very different saxes. A Conn Selmer, purchased circa 2010 and a 1934 Adolphe Sax Parisienne, purchased a year ago. I use Vandoren green two and a half reeds and a Selmer*C mouthpiece on both saxes. I have found that the Adolphe Sax horn gives me far more latitude, regardless of what I’m playing, predominantly jazz pieces, than the ‘modern’ Conn Selmer. If anyone has any insight into why this might be I’d be thrilled to hear any comments/ perspectives of vintage horns v contemporary horns. Thanks.🎶🎵🎶🎵🎷

  2. Nice review. I’m not a woodwind player, but my younger brother started with tenor, followed by stunningly beautiful alto tone, clarinet, flute, and got a full scholarship for his bassoon virtuosity. thanks for helping keep the jazz heart pumping through your love of it and your ability to educate your readers!


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