Saxophone/Purchasing a saxophone for a 14 year old
She has been playing for 4 years, and we need to buy her a new one.
Any tips on what models, buy used or new, where to buy - would be much appreciated.
Also, is Kessler a good instrument? Seems like you can get one new for around $800. But there are mixed opinions on the net.
Thanks for your help!
When recommending a saxophone for a student is very important to know why you are buying a new one as well as the students plans for the future. If a child's parents came in to my store to buy a 2nd sax here are a few of the questions I would ask.
What is wrong with their current saxophone?
What make and model are they playing now
Why do the want to upgrade?
Are they involved in marching band?
What are their plans for the future?
If you are replacing their original student horn with a new one due to mechanical problems or the horn is just not playing as well as it should than maybe instead of replacing it, you could take it to a shop and have a technician look at it to determine the issues. It's very wise to have a saxophone looked at, at least once a year and to go into the shop for a complete C.O.A. (clean, oil, and adjust) every 4 to 5 with a complete repad every 5 to 10. As the horn is played they gradually wear down as pads wear out, rods and post wear down a bit, felts and corks might fall off, minor dents and hidden damage occur that can have an effect on the way the horn plays. You might find it less expensive just to have the horn repaired.
If your daughter wants to upgrade just to have a new one or a prettier one that's ok as well. If the price of the horn is not an issue and you can afford to get her a new horn than by all means, get her a new horn. There is nothing like having that feeling of being brand new in your hands. Just like when you get in a new car for the first time there is just something about owning it that makes is special.
As far as knowing the make and model, this is to make sure we don't just sell you the same thing or downgrade you. I had a young man come into my store a few years back to buy a new trumpet because he wanted a shinny one. He had been playing a trumpet that his grandfather bought brand new in 1956 and it looked like it had 50+ years of playing on it as the silver plating had tarnished and worn off in some places. Turns out He had a 50+ year old professional trumpet that was worth several thousand dollars. Switching would have been a down grade. However his mother didn't know the trumpet was worth as much as it was and bought him a new student model anyways and put her fathers trumpet back in the case only to be used for special situations. This is kind of an extreme situation but is an example of how we make the decision to upgrade you and what we upgrade you to.
If she is in marching band or is planning on it next year? If so it might be a good idea to get her a new horn she can use for concert performances and other "legitimate" reasons and use her original sax for marching band. Marching band can take a huge tole on the instruments due to moving around the field, kids bumping into each other, etc. etc. It's not just the games, it's all the practicing. If she was to damage her new one due to someone making a misstep and walking right into her could be devastating emotionally and financially. Marching band as well could be a reason to get the older horn checked and fixed up. Also having a back up instrument "just in case" is never a bad idea.
What does she plan to do with it in the future? If your daughter is planning on playing the saxophone through college and taking it to a professional level, than you should look into the college she is going to be going to and speak to the saxophone professor regarding the make and models they recommend. Sometimes college professors can get a bit "specific" on what they want their students to have when they come to their studio. If she is considering college you might find yourself spending several thousands of dollars in another 4 years for a true pro horn from one of the big 4 manufactures. However if this is something that she plans to do through high school and then put it away or just play recreationally than you really don't need to go with a pro horn.
As far as brands.... Anytime a group of sax players starts talking about what is best or what they would recommend it becomes a plethora of names and models some new, some old, and sometimes just off the wall recommendations. What is really going on here is each player is telling you what they have and sometimes why. What works best for them may not be the best for your daughter. Every person is unique and their playing style is going to be unique therefore they will have to spend years experimenting to find the right horn, mouthpiece, reed, ligature, etc to make the horn sound the way they want. A 14 year old that has only been playing for a few years is not going to have the experience, unless they are extremely gifted, to recognize the difference between one model or another. She might be able to tell a pro horn form a student at this point but not the difference between say a Selmer and a Yamaha.
As far as brands there are many and I break them into 4 categories. The Big 4, Vintage, The Up and Coming, and the To be Avoided.
The Big 4 are Selmer Paris, Yamaha, Yanagisawa, and Keilwerth. Each of these have been in the saxophone business for decades with Selmer Paris just shy of a full century. Each of these brands bring something different to the table and each horn has a slightly different sound.
Selmer Paris was founded in Paris France by Henri Selmer in the late 1800's but did not manufacture saxophones under their own label until 1922. Prior to that they bought the factory that belonged to Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, where the Sax family produced saxophones under the family label that were then distributed by Selmer. In 1922 Selmer produced their first sax under their own name and by the late 1930's were being recognized as one of the best and on par with the big American manufactures at the time (Conn, Buescher, Martin, and King). The Selmer Paris saxophones are unique for having a particular sound that no other company seems to be able to copy. Its characterized as being a bit "dark" but extremely flexible. With the right set up their saxophones can be made to sound like what ever you want and this is why more professionals play Selmer Paris than any other brand.
From 1954 until 1972, Selmer manufactured a saxophone that became the bench mark by which all others are compared to. That is the legendary Mark VI. The design of the Mark VI has been copied by everyone with only a few modifications. Even the modern Selmers are considered inferior when compared to a Mark VI. The reasons why are numerous and no one has ever found that specific formula Selmer got right with the Mark VI. For this reason when they come up for sale the prices are about the same or higher than buying a brand new sax from Selmer. The Mark VI even has it's own wikipedia page here.
One last thing about Selmer is don't be confused by Selmer saxophones that don't have the Paris logo on the bell. The saxophones with just the Selmer name are produced by the Conn-Selmer Company (formally Selmer USA) This is a separate company that was started in New York by Alexander Selmer (Henri's Brother). The Conn-Selmer / Selmer USA instruments are manufactured in Asia for the student market and are not built to the same quality as the Paris instruments.
Yamaha is a Japanese company that started in the late 1800's making organs and other traditional Japanese instruments. In the late 1960's they began producing saxophones and exporting them to the west. Shortly after they branched out and began making motorcycles, boats motors and other non musical products, but at their core is musical instrument production. Currently Yamaha manufactures saxophones for Students to professionals and saxophones made for more classical music to jazz and rock. The one thing I can say about Yamaha is their consistency. Rarely do you ever find a bad instrument or have quality control issues. I can't say that about the other brands. If you were to line up 100 Yamaha saxophones of the exact same model, I doubt you would find much difference in any one of them. However if you were to line up 20 Selmers you would find at least 5 that played really great and 5 that may not be as good as the rest.
This is a German company with a convoluted history. Due to various mergers, buy outs, acquisitions, etc. the Keilwerth company has gone through many changes over the past 50 to 60 years. Currently they are owned by the Buffet Company. Keilwerth is likely the most expensive of the big 4 with some of their models hovering around the 5 figure mark. Most players that gravitate toward Keilwerth tend to be jazz players however I've seen Keilwerths used in classical performances as well. They are often described as having a "full" sound due to having a larger bell than other makes and slightly larger bore. I wouldn't recommend them for a student in high school. They do have some student models but those are produced in Asia rather than the factory in Germany and not on the same level.
The Yani's as they are sometimes called are the other Japanese saxophone. Ther production is not as high as some of the others but the quality and consistency is about the same a Yamaha. The Yani's are characterized as having a very bright but very focused tone. They are designed almost exclusively for classical repertoire, but like any other brand I've seen them used for jazz, rock, etc. In my personal opinion I like them best for classical / legit performance.
In years past there were other manufactures who are no longer in production however the old used horns are still on the market and in some cases quite good. The most common vintage names to look for are Conn, Buescher, King, Martin, Buffet, Leblanc and the older Selmer Pairs saxophones. For these you really have to know what you are looking at as there are so many models each with it's own sound and characteristics. Sometimes you can get a great deal on them, other times you may think you got a deal only to find out the saxophone is going to need a lot of repair before it's playable. There are of course other vintage manufactures who are less common. When considering a vintage sax it's best to ask around for opinions of it before buying. Also have the horn looked at by a tech before you make a commitment like I said what seems like a great deal can require expensive repairs.
Up and Coming:
There are brands I refer to as the "Up and Coming" mainly because they are newer and have only been on the market for 10 to 20 years. They don't have the reputation or history of the big 4, they also don't have the big price tag. Every one of these brands are manufactured in Asia however the quality control varies widely. Some are quite good and others are to be avoided. Some have unique features, available in various finishes and others are rater plain. These brands include but are not limited to Cannonball, Chateau, Sax Dakota, P. Mauriat, Sax Gourmet, and Jupiter. Each of these has it's own sound and marketing strategy. In my opinion some of them are better than others, and some features are just hype but each one of these are a good product. I own and play a Chateau and a Jupiter.
As far as Kessler goes they are very good saxophones that may one day appear on that list above. I have not gotten my hands on an actual Kessler yet. but I've worked on some that have come out of the same factory. I can tell you more about them, just not here as I'm not allowed to publish it publicly. If you would like to send me an e-mail I can tell you more about them. My email is at the bottom of this message.
This also brings up an interesting point. Three and maybe four of the names I mention as up and coming are being made in the same factory. This is a process commonly referred to in the industry as stenciling. This practice goes back almost 100 years. What happens is a company or individual contracts a factory to manufacture a product for them. The customer provides the specs and the options they want, then the factory makes the horn and "stencils" the buyers name on it. To my knowledge there are only 5 or 6 factories in China, 2 in Taiwan, and 1 in Vietnam producing saxophones. The Vietnam factory is actuly owned by one of the Taiwan factories. So if you wanted to go into the saxophone manufacturing business, all you would have to do is contact a factory, give them your specs and number of instruments you want. As long as your check clears Sanjay saxophones can be a reality. That is what Kessler has done.
The horns to be avoided are anything you can find on the internet that seems to good to be true. It's not possible to manufacture a quality instrument and price it for anything less than $800. You can find saxophones on Ebay for under $200 and they are often available in multiple colors that could match your daughters prom dress. While these may sound like a good deal, they don't hold up, quality control is given up for quantity, They often need adjustment before they can play the first time, keys bend easy, the body brass is very thin, pads are made from synthetic materials instead of leather and felt, parts are not available, cases are made from Styrofoam, etc. They are to be avoided unless you plan to buy another one in 12 months (or less).
Then there are the counterfits. China does not recognize copyright laws, thus anyone can make anything they want and stamp any name they want on it. Some less than reputable factories are now stamping the logos of the big four, mainly Selmer Paris and Yamaha on much cheaper instruments. These then show up on online auctions where the prices are greatly inflated those not in the know who fall for it. If you are buying through an online auction site be extremely careful and make sure you know what your looking at. You can always send me a link and I'll let you know if what you're looking at is real or not.
Where to buy?... Unless you are 100% confident you know what you are looking at avoid an online auction site. Buy from a legitimate and reputable store in your area and make sure that store has a repair department located in the store where you can speak directly to the repair tech if necessary. If you buy a horn on line from say Kessler who is located in Las Vegas and your on the east coast, you are going to have a difficult time getting the horn serviced under any kind of warranty unless you ship it back to Kessler. I don't believe they have any distribution channels out side of their own store in Las Vegas. Also you will not have the opportunity to play the horn before you buy it. As I said there are somethings I know about Kessler that I cant publish here but I can speak to you via a private email.
My email is
I know this is long and maybe more than you expected, I may have gotten carried away. I just hope I can help you and your daughter to be successful in her future endeavors.