Buying Your First Saxophone

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Buying your First Saxophone

This little guide to buying your first saxophone will help you get started as you begin your journey. There is much, much more to consider that what is written here – please contact us for expanded advice!

Below this guide is a list of new and second-hand saxophones which are perfect for the beginner.

New, Second-hand, or Rental?

There are two main concerns when it comes to the condition of a saxophone:

  • Issues with the build quality at the manufacturing level
  • Issues with how the instrument has been treated over the years

New horns

The first thing to get your head around is this: Almost all manufacturers (despite what they might say) release horns with quality issues.

Some manufacturers are consistent, e.g. Yamaha saxophones often have unlevel toneholes in the exact same areas. Many other manufacturers release horns with random problems. This may sound terrible, but manufacturers who produce hundreds of horns a week cannot give each instrument the hand-finishing it needs to be perfect.

This is something you must accept when buying a new horn. It is also why buying from a repair workshop like Vanguard is a smart idea! A workshop will be able to set up a new instrument; it will bend, level, and adjust the things that need to be bent, levelled, and adjusted.

A new horn is a wonderful thing. The pads are snappy, all the mechanical bits work as they should, and the player does not have to fight the instrument.

Important: if you want to enjoy playing the saxophone, do not buy a cheap new on off TradeMe. As I write this, I have just looked on TradeMe and found a “Fever” brand alto for $500 which boasts an ‘expressive tone and incredible playability.’ No! Avoid!

Second-Hand Horns

Tread carefully in the minefield that is the second-hand saxophone market. As well as the potential issues remaining from the manufacturer, an old horn might have had a tough life. It may have been dropped off stage during a drunken jazz session or left rotting under a bed in a damp Wellington flat for ten years.

If your budget only allows for a second-hand instrument, please do the following:

  • Buy a brand that you have heard of

‘Yamaha’ or ‘Selmer’ or ‘P Mauriat’ are brands you have heard of. ‘Angel’ or ‘Stonerock’ are not brands you have heard of. Google if unsure.

  • Check the horn first

Bring the potential horn into a workshop (e.g. Vanguard Orchestral) to get it checked if possible. It is no good buying a $400 alto saxophone and then learning that it needs a $2000 overhaul.

  • Buy from a workshop

Some workshops (including us) will sometimes sell instruments on behalf for people. These will generally be in good playing condition or will have the repair cost built into the price.


Renting is a great, affordable way to start playing saxophone. It can let a new player know if they want to pursue the sax without committing to buying one.

Rental instruments have usually been around the block a few times and may not be in the greatest condition. Your rental shop should keep their instruments serviced to a reasonable standard. If in doubt, bring the horn into a workshop to get it checked over.

A bad instrument can discourage a player. A good instrument can bring year of joy!

We have several good student-level instruments available for the beginner: