The Inconsistent Saxophone III

Let’s jump right into it! We will be finishing up our list in regards to what you should look for when you’re “test driving” saxophones. Here are the 2 items we discussed last post.

  • Structure
  • Tone

#3: Intonation

It’s important to test whether the saxophone has the correct tuning tendencies. In other words, all notes have a tendency to be sharp, flat, or in tune. If you go to play a note that is traditionally sharp, and it ends up being flat, that’s a big red flag! Here’s a quick guide to notes that should be sharp, flat, and in tune. Before you check the following notes, make sure you tune the saxophone to an F# (with the octave key). If you need assistance with tuning, you can click here. Here are the notes to check:

  • F# with the octave (tuning note), should be in tune
  • High C# and up should be sharp
  • Low F# should be in tune, maybe a little flat
  • Low G on alto should be a little flat or in tune
  • Low G on tenor can be sharp
  • Middle A B Bb C, tend to be a little flat
  • Middle C# can be very flat
  • Middle D will be sharp

We could go into great detail about the tuning tendencies of the saxophone, but our purpose here is to make sure everything is in the “ballpark” of where it should be. In other words, if your middle D is flat, or your middle C# is sharp, you’ll know something is wrong, and the saxophone isn’t for you.

#4: Response

Some saxophones respond better than others. There is more than one way to look for the effectiveness of the saxophone’s response. This includes starting a note at different dynamic levels, or how easily the palm and spatula keys play. So pay particular attention to how well the saxophone begins its tone. You can test this by starting on a middle B, high B, and a low B. Do this at the forte dynamic as well as the piano dynamic. You can choose other notes as well. And if you’re unable to get the lowest notes out (it may be difficult if you’re in the beginning stages of playing), that’s okay.

Next, pay attention to the palm keys and spatula keys (the lowest notes), and how well they respond to your requests. Some saxophones will play easier up top (and down low) than on other saxophones.

If you are comparing the saxophones to your current saxophone, it’s important to make sure yours is in top working order. If the low notes don’t respond well, it may not be the saxophone. It could be that a pad is not sealing properly. The opposite is true, too. After shipping, saxophones are not always in their top playing order. If pads are leaking, you may not be experiencing a correct representation of the saxophone you’re trying either. To make the best choice, make sure that any saxophone that is involved in the decision making process has recently been checked out by a repair tech.

#5: Feel

Another major influence for choosing a saxophone is how it feels. All saxophone brands have a different feel to them when compared to each other. In fact, some saxophones of the same make and model feel different, too. Try a few brands, and then try multiple (if possible) saxophones of the same make and model. This is just to become aware of how different saxophones can feel. With this experience, you’ll have more knowledge concerning what feels right for your fingers. The purpose of finding the right fit is important; the right fit will help you execute challenging music correctly on a consistent basis.

#6: Color & Finish

There seems to be constant testimonials on how the finish on the saxophone changes the sound. One type of finish will make it brighter, and another could make it darker. This is one reason why so many finishes are available today. However, a book written Jaap Kool titled, Das Saxophone, provides a description of the acoustics of the saxophone. He concludes that the material that is used to make the saxophone does not have bearing on the saxophone’s tone. Instead, it’s the design that changes the acoustics and tone of the instrument, not the material used. If there are any doubts concerning this statement, we can go to M. Sax, who stated the same argument.

And just to throw a little more confusion into this debate, personally, I have noticed a difference between the same make/model saxophones in regards to their tone, when one has traditional finish and the other has none. So even though this debate will continue, there is one thing we can agree on. Don’t choose a saxophone by its color; choose according to the items we have discussed above.

A Little Technical

I realize that I may have been a little technical here, but hopefully this information will help in making a choice when buying a saxophone. If this information is overwhelming, then just take a few points from this list and follow what’s right for you. If you are buying a professional saxophone, I suggest that all these items are covered in your process.

If there are any questions about any of the details about this post, feel free to respond in the comment section. And if you’re currently searching for a saxophone, you are welcome to ask any questions as well. Either way, have fun choosing your instrument!

Comments 6

    1. Post

      Thanks for sharing John. Have you been pleased with the results of your saxophone? It’s a new category of saxophones, so it’s always good to hear (first hand) how they are playing. Thanks.

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  1. Hello Jeff

    Great site with tons of helpful information

    My choice for my son, an excellent great guitarist and song writer, wants an alto sax He has rented a student sax and has already outgrown it.

    My first choice would be the Yamaha YAS 62 III, but there is a shortage of those and the ETA is the end of March 2017. The only other available options in my price range ($2,500 – $3,000 new) are the Yamaha YAS 480 and the Selmer AS42. Which of those 2 should I purchase

    1. Post

      Hi Gikas,

      I’m happy to hear that the site has been informative and that your son is so involved in music. Yes, the Yamaha 62 is a great saxophone and one of the best in it’s category. I would not suggest the 480 because it is an intermediate saxophone and the 62 and 42 are entry level pro models. It looks like Selmer made the 42 to compete with the 62, but unlike other pro Selmer saxophones, this particular Selmer is a USA model; traditionally something to avoid by the pros (but in this particular model they have collaborated with Selmer Paris-a very positive thing). I have not played the 42 myself but they have a great artist backing it up: Jim Snidero. Check out reviews and have your son play on it and see what he thinks. The other question is this: would it be worth it to wait for a Yamaha 62? It’s only a couple of months and may be worth the wait, even if it’s just an opportunity to compare to the 42. Let me know what you decide!

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