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On the hunt for a professional tenor saxophone that will help you take your playing to the next level? In this article, we’ll be taking a look at some of our favourite brands and their flagship pro tenor saxes. 

[Note: if you’re actually looking for a pro alto sax, you’ll find our top 10 picks here]

You’ll find all the details below, but first here are the two saxes we’d be torn between when looking for an absolute top-of-the-range gem.

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Legendary brand
Selmer Paris Reference 54
Selmer Paris Reference 54

A modern instrument with the sound and feel of the legendary Mark VI sax from the 1950s

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#1 Manufacturer
Yamaha YTS-82Z Custom
Yamaha YTS-82Z Custom

Yamaha's Custom range is at forefront of modern sax technology whilst keeping the vintage feel of revered instruments from the past

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Although you can achieve a great tone and perfect your technique on a beginner or intermediate instrument (you can find our best tips on that here), a professional saxophone can make a huge difference to fine-tuning your playing.

As the name suggests, though, a these don’t come cheap, so it’s good to do your homework first!

With that in mind, join us as we take a look at five of the best pro tenor saxophones on the market today.

Graphic Pro Tenor Saxophones

Yamaha YTS-82Z Custom

Yamaha are one of the few saxophone manufacturers who make top-recommended horns for every level; tenor saxophone beginners need look no further than the YTS-475 whilst those wanting to upgrade a little can go for the YTS-480 intermediate horn.

When it comes to pro saxes, though, their flagship ‘Custom’ range is a standout choice. 

These instruments are at the forefront of modern sax technology whilst keeping the vintage feel of revered instruments such as the legendary Selmer Mark VI.

Some serious engineering has gone into the task of constructing the bell from a single piece of metal, as opposed to the usual two-piece design. The idea of this is to increase the ability of the saxophone to resonate, giving it a stunning, rich response, and the use of a special brass alloy for the custom series adds further to this.

The Custom Z uses metal resonators on its pads to increase dynamic range and, as you would expect, all of the horns in this range are hand-engraved and make use of quality hard-steel springs.

It’s also supplied with the wide-bore V1 neck to resulting in a free-blowing feel with plenty of variety available in the tone.

A nice touch with these saxes is the inclusion of Yamaha’s very own professional mouthpiece, the custom 4CM (or 5CM in the case of the baritone model).

Although many players at this level may well have their own favoured mouthpiece set-up, it is interesting to have a mouthpiece designed alongside an instrument.

Featuring a stylish lightweight case with a shoulder strap, the YTS-82Z also feature an adjustable Front F key, a useful addition for any sax player looking to exploit the extreme high register of the instrument.

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Top Pick For Pro Tenor!
Yamaha YTS-82Z Custom
Yamaha YTS-82Z Custom

Yamaha's Custom range is at forefront of modern sax technology whilst keeping the vintage feel of revered instruments from the past

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Selmer Reference 54

If you’re searching for a pro tenor sax, chances are you’re familiar with the legendary Selmer Mark VI saxophones which were manufactured from the mid-1950’s to the mid-1970s.

Without a doubt the most renowned professional saxophone ever, there’s an aura of mystery surrounding this famous horn with people obsessing over serial numbers in the quest to find the perfect one, as the quality varies drastically from one to the next.

So whilst stumbling upon a great Mark 6 vintage horn is a magical thing, their scarcity have push the prices to astronomical prices, with no guarantee that you’re not in fact buying one of the more ‘average’ ones.

With that in mind, our recommendation for buying into the Selmer Paris brand is to check out their new range of saxophones inspired by the classic Mark VIs: enter the Reference 54. 

Whilst it’s modelled on the design of the most legendary of all saxophones, it’s not a like-for-like remake of the 1954 classic; it’s a little heavier and aims to capture it’s round, centred sound whilst incorporating top-of-the-range modern keywork and intonation. 

In fact, the intonation is one big advantage according to many players, with the horn much easier to play in tune across the whole range, right up to the high F# key which is not present on the original Mark VI.

The Reference 54 also looks the part, going through an oxidation process to give it that vintage appearance.

Whilst that may be visually appealing, it may also help get it so close to that classic Selmer sound, along with the special high-copper brass alloy used.

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Mark VI Spirit!
Selmer Paris Reference 54
Selmer Paris Reference 54

A modern instrument with the sound and feel of the legendary Mark VI sax from the 1950s

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Conn (vintage)

If sound is your primary focus you should try a vintage saxophone by the renowned musical instrument manufacturer, Conn.

Sound-wise these pro tenor saxophones are incredible and perhaps unrivalled – full of depth, warmth and resonance with a real singing quality.

Beginning in 1888, Conn were the first manufacturer to make saxophones in the USA and were played by tenor saxophone legends such as Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon and are still used today by more modern players such as the Norwegian ECM artist Trygve Seim and NYC based Scottish saxophonist Helena Kay.

There are a variety of models that people use with the 10M being the most popular tenor sax and the one used by Dexter Gordon.

As these horns were made just under a century ago, the keywork can be quite awkward and take a while to get used to if you are coming from a more modern wind instrument.

However, there are some saxophone repairers out there who can adapt this to make it feel more modern and ergonomic.

Relatively speaking, these saxophones aren’t too expensive, but it takes some work (and sometimes a surprising amount of money) to find one and upgrade or maintain its condition.

P Mauriat

If you like the look of a vintage saxophone but don’t want to blow the budget then a P Mauriat could be a good option that comes with all the benefits of a modern pro tenor sax.

These tenor saxes are renowned for having a great sound with musicians such as Kirk Whalum (Whitney Houston), James Carter and rising star of the New York jazz scene Morgan Guerin all playing one.

These horns look and feel great, all with the added security of knowing the instrument is brand new and straight out of the factory.

You can choose between models with or without lacquer, but if you decide to go with one of the unlaquered models you just need to be careful that you clean it regularly as they have a reputation for turning a little bit green over time.

Although this horn doesn’t have the pedigree of vintage models like the Selmer Mark VI and Conn, it is a fantastic-sounding instrument that can be ordered straight from the factory with a guarantee that your horn will be in excellent condition straight out of the box.

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P. Mauriat PMST-500 'Black Pearl'P. Mauriat PMST-500 'Black Pearl'

  

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Remy

When acclaimed modern jazz saxophonist Seamus Blake stops using his Selmer Super Balanced Action tenor in place of a new instrument, it’s worth investigating.

After years of repairing saxophones in Amsterdam, renowned professional saxophone repairman Remy Veerman set out to develop his very own which was first launched in 2016.

Remy claims that these horns equal if not surpass the sound and feel of vintage Selmer saxophones which is a bold claim yet seemingly justifiable with many top European saxophonists playing on a Remy today.

The Remy is a beautiful horn with a similar look to the Selmer with its lacquer-free finish.

Each instrument is handmade and are only available to try out in Amsterdam so there may be some waiting time but with the reputation that these horns are building and with the price being well below the cost of a vintage Selmer, the Remy could well be worth a shot.

Check out this video of Seamus Blake comparing the Selmer Balanced Action with his new Remy!

That’s all from us! We hope you found this article on the best pro tenor saxophones helpful.

If you’re looking to upgrade your alto saxophone, take a look at our list of the ten best alto saxes for the professional player or check out our comprehensive guide to some of the best saxophone brands from around the world…

And, as always, join us to dive into the discographies of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, including a special feature on the saxophonists here.

Matt Fripp
Matt Fripp

International jazz booking agent, manager and host of Jazzfuel.
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