With a clear and pristine tone, the is a staple amongst the jazz world. In this guide, we’ll take you through our top ten picks for the on the market. If cared for properly, these instruments could last your entire professional career.
In the professional realm, superior build quality is a given, and so the emphasis is usually on ergonomics and tone.
Covering a range of manufacturers, we’ll focus on our ten top picks. For this article, it’s worth noting we’ve left out vintage saxophones, focusing instead on the that can be bought new.
There are vintage saxophones out there that are fantastic instruments and have stood the test of time for good reason but they can be much more variable even amongst the same or model due to different engineering methods.
JazzFuel Top Pick
Any on this list would be a great choice for a professional looking to up their game, but we’ve chosen the Yamaha YAS 62 as our top pick.
It’s an excellent all-rounder and incredibly versatile. You’ll also be pleased to hear that it’s one of the cheaper options on this list. If you’re a looking for a to play multiple genres of music on, this could be the one for you.
Read on for our full breakdown of the on the market right now.
Yanagisawa produces some of the on the market, with a fantastic reputation amongst professional players and repair technicians for their engineering quality and tone.
A family company since its founder began repairing instruments in 1894, Yanagisawa only makes professional-quality instruments, which is clear to see just from the design of the saxes.
The AWO20U is a solid bronze , with a warm tonal core and a rich, smooth .
We recommend the unlacquered version to really allow the metal to resonate and retain some of that attack, but some players may find an unlacquered hard to tame. Due to the tarnishing of unlacquered brass, this will not be suitable for players who need to maintain an immaculate looking .
The front F key features an ergonomic design to fit under the finger of the better than a traditional key. This allows for easier access into the harmonic register, particularly at speed, and is becoming a popular modification for players on other horns.
The right-hand pinky keys have been modified to allow for faster finger movement. Ultimately, this is very comfortable to play and the bronze model has a warm tonal core.
Paris Reference 54
The modern hasn’t had the best reputation until recently but in line with modern engineering and using the same type of brass as the vintage Mark VI has placed this firmly in our top 10 list of the .
The tone of any is instantly recognisable and the 54 is no exception.
With a strong centred , the Reference 54 has a focused with a large character.
New developments around keywork and tuning have alleviated the headache often found with the Mark VI or any other vintage horns.
The key action on the feels very fluid but can be very different coming from the factory so it’s worth having your technician set it up exactly how you like it.
The palm keys and the Eb/Db are a little higher than expected which may take a little getting used to, but does allow for faster keywork once locked into the .
Yamaha YAS 62
This is one of the best all-rounders on the market.
A cheaper option than the rest of the saxophones mentioned here, these Japanese made horns still hold up against more expensive options and are arguably more versatile. This could be a great option for an who intends to eventually turn pro.
The tone is very middle of the road, suitable for , jazz or pop and is therefore suitable for the professional with a range of gigs, from musical theatre to jazz bands and weddings.
The neck is slightly smaller and the octave mechanism allows for custom necks, in order to change the tone of the to suit. The smaller neck improves the and the consistency of tone across the range of the , with no obvious dead spots.
All in all, this is a wonderful and versatile that can’t really be pigeonholed into a particular genre that may suit the modern professional.
Near perfect , stress-free key work, and easy playability in the low range make this a true ‘s . With a defined tonal core and decent projection, it is almost the opposite of the softer touch bronze models on the market.
With that being said, the depth of the is fantastic, the keys have been altered to be more ergonomic, the resistance is consistent through the entire range of the , and with options for silver plating or even black finish, you’ll also be sure to own a fantastic looking and sounding .
Yamaha YAS 82Z
The Yamaha 82Z is a well-known – and for good reason. With an unparalleled level of projection and a solid tonal core, this Japanese is one of the out there.
While not as free blowing as the atelier series of saxophones, the 82Z is extremely responsive, In part to the metal reflectors on the pads, and is available with a “V1” neck to give more of an open .
The responsiveness of this is one of the best on the market, and the it produces is reminiscent of a vintage , but with the engineering quality of a modern .
Eastman 52nd street
A larger Bell and rolled tone holes contribute to a wonderful vintage-sounding and a first choice for Bob Mintzer.
With adjustable palm keys, you’re guaranteed a comfortable fit under the hands.
The vintage has a wonderful depth to the tone that other modern vintage designs don’t quite hit. The is precise and responsive across the whole range of the .
Rampone & Cazzani R1 Jazz
A family-owned company from Italy, this handmade is still amongst some of the on the market. One of the oldest companies in the world, this level of experience shows in their craft.
As with any handmade , each differs slightly. This isn’t to say any are better or worse, but with different craftsmen on different days, the horns will be different.
The aesthetic will also not be perfect as with mass-produced horns, but we think that adds to the charm.
The R1 JAZZ comes in a range of metals which affects the tonal core greatly. They are built using the same techniques of vintage saxophones and this is certainly reflected in the rich . of each
It is worth noting that (as with any professional ) it is worth trying the exact you intend to buy out, as some horns can have slight variances in .
Paris series III
With good and the unmistakable tone, the Series III is incredibly responsive with a centred and near-perfect across the range.
The bottom end on the . is warm and vibrant as you’d expect, and the top range has a high brilliance to it that you only get with a
The Series III has a big with a much stronger tonal core than its siblings, thought the action is quite high and may require a technician to make it more comfortable for you.
The is clearly built to last. It is a big with just as big a , plenty of projection, and it’s very responsive throughout the range.
This Keilwerth has rolled tone holes, and an all-over chunkier feel which may take some getting used to.
The offers a non-stick G# mechanism, which can alleviate some problems found with other saxes.
The itself is very free blowing with a decent level of projection. The raw brass is coated in a clear lacquer, which may dampen the response compared to unlacquered horns, but retains the aesthetic of an unlacquered brass with the extra protection of a lacquer coating.
They are also available in a black nickel coating and .
As with any , it’s worth noting that these will need setting up well by a good technician. The tone holes can sometimes be warped, and in order for your pads to stay reliable and leak-free as they settle they will need to be assessed by a good technician.
They can also vary between instruments, so it is worth checking the tone holes even on a brand new .
Despite the price being almost double for this model than the AWO20, this is still an unbelievably good that your technician will thank you for.
All Yanagisawa’s are made with an unparalleled focus on engineering quality that produces an unbelievably reliable . While solid silver doesn’t come without its pitfalls, the tone of this magnificent looking is to die for, with the clarity and focus that altos are known for.
The keywork is the same as the rest of the AWO series, with an underslung Octave mechanism, an additional neck plate, an ergonomic front Fand a C#/Bb rocking table to name a few. The keys may need adjusting as with all Yanagisawas as they can tend to be a little tight to play at first. This really isn’t a bad thing though as your technician will be able to lighten it to your specifications, and allows for a “definite” feel under the fingers which can really help in those fast passages.
The Solid silver provides a clear and bright tonal core to the , with very good and speaks clearly throughout the whole range. Each is hand-engraved and truly looks like a work of art.
Which Saxophones would you have included in this list? Let us know in the comments!
The label ‘Discover Jazz’ is attached to articles which have been edited and published by Jazzfuel host Matt Fripp, but have been written in collaboration with various different jazz musicians and industry contributors. When appropriate, these musicians are quoted and name-checked inside the article itself!