The Inconsistent Saxophone

Not Created Equal

It would be nice if each saxophone played exactly the same (or very similar) to all the saxophones of the same make/model. In other words, if you played a Yamaha EX, it would play just like (or very similar) to all the other Yamaha EX saxophones. Alas, even the best companies have not been able to perfect the consistency of their saxophones.

I can see how this topic of “equality” may be debatable, and I’m not trying to eliminate the unique character of each saxophone. Rather, I would like to bring attention to some of the inconsistencies that you want to look for when buying a saxophone.

The purpose of the next 2 posts is to provide you with information so you can choose the best saxophone on the lot (yes, they can all be very different).

Past Examples

Before we get into the details of choosing the best saxophone, I want to share two past examples of brand name saxophones that didn’t perform as they should.

Past Example #1 (Yamaha EX)

The Yamaha EX is an amazing saxophone. They are built with consistency and have a good feel to them ergonomically. In my opinion, their tone has greatly improved in the last decade. Overall: excellent saxophone- one of the best.

Now that you know that the EX is one of the better saxophones, let me share an experience. I had a student try about 5 different saxophones (all professional models) and he narrowed down his choice to the Yamaha EX. He was really excited about the instrument, but we both had 1 reservation; the middle C was stuffy (the 2nd finger in the left hand without the octave key).

When I say stuffy, I mean it. I had never heard a saxophone with this issue. It sounded like it could be a different instrument. Well, maybe the last sentence is exaggerated, but it was clear to me, and my student, that something was not right.

So what did we do? He returned all 5 saxophones and requested another Yamaha EX, and this saxophone played the middle C as it should; problem solved. The Yamaha ended up being the right choice, but if we didn’t know what a proper C should sound like, he could have spent $4000 on a saxophone that worked against him!

Past Example #2

The Selmer Series 2 Jubilee is also one of the best saxophones on the market. One of its biggest strengths is the unique Selmer sound. This sound has been adored by many since the early 20th century. Overall: Excellent saxophone and one of the best.

My experience has shown that the Selmer Company doesn’t make too many saxophones that are exactly the same. Maybe complete conformity isn’t their goal. Maybe their goal is to provide each saxophone with their own character. This can be a positive or a negative. Here’s the experience.

I had a student try a brand new Selmer Series 2 Jubilee; he fell in love with it and it was a good fit for him. These particular saxophones carry some of the highest prices on the market. So, he decided to return the new Jubilee and look for a used one.

He ordered 3 different used Jubilee saxophones, and they all played differently. Unfortunately, not one of them was equal to the first Jubilee he played. Here’s a list of some of the issues that were found between all three saxophones (each saxophone contained just one problem. All three problems were not found in one instrument):

  1. Tone didn’t match the quality of the Selmer tradition
  2. Higher notes didn’t respond well
  3. The middle C# was incredibly flat (about 40 cents flat)

What did he do? He sent all three back. Because of the lower price of the Yamaha brand, he decided to try a new EX (same price as a used Jubilee).  At the time of this post, he’s had the Yamaha EX for one day. Next week, I’ll provide an update on his experience.

Too Picky?

You may think we’re being too picky here, and that may be true in some cases. But, here’s the bottom line: it takes a lot of work to play the saxophone well. You don’t want to spend your time working out issues that are the fault of the saxophone. There are too many things that need attention, so if we can find a saxophone that helps us succeed, we’ll be in better shape and become a better player

Your Saxophone

Next week we’ll provide a list of items we should look for when buying a saxophone. In addition, I’m interested to know what you like about your saxophone. Is there anything that you don’t like (or find difficult to deal with)? Go ahead and share in the comment section and I’ll be happy to provide any assistance. It will also be nice for others to hear examples of what works and what doesn’t. I look forward to your response!

Comments 8

  1. Hello Jeff, thanks for this post !

    I think I have a kind of problem with my Yana T901 :
    High G & G# are difficult to get from low notes.
    Sometimes, it’s getting a little better but often I don’t really know what sound will get out of my sax!
    I still use No.2 reeds…
    Kind regards ^^

    1. Post

      Hi Yves,

      Why don’t you send a recording of this issue to me through email: You can use to make a recording and then I’ll provide some feedback to help you solve this issue. I look forward to it! If you haven’t tried a 2.5 reed, I would suggest that as well.

  2. Hi Jeff,


    Your post about the ‘ Inconsistent Saxophone ” is quite interesting. I had a great fancy for this wonderful instrument but since I was tight with finance I was resisiting to buy it. Finally on the 10th july 2015 , almost six months before i bought one PRELUDE CONN SELMER ALTO SAX & that too a used one. I was so crazy that by seing the Lable of Selmer without knowing that the PRELUDE model of Selmer products are Made in CHINA. When we speak about China we always have an iota of doubt about the quality & durability of the product. After buying the Sax when I asked the seller he replied that Its a Chinese make but since he got from UK the product is having proper quality since UK wont accept equpiments of poor quality. I had to get myself convinced with it since I have already bought it. It has come with a JUPITER 5 C mouth piece which I have replaced with a SELMER S 80 C* Mouth Piece. I have a Tuner & check the instrument every time I put back the mouth piece to the Neck & also wen ever i replace the Reed.

    At present am with a PRELUDE CONN SELMER ALTO SAX, equipped with a SELMER S 80 C* mouth Piece & RICO 2 1/2 Reed.

    This is a STUDENT MODEL sax as they say. I am making myself quite conversant with the sax & in an years time I would like to Swith over to a better make.

    Need your guidance please. Best regards.


    1. Post

      Hi Sabnavis,

      It’s good to hear from you! Yes, you do have a good student model saxophone, and I would love to hear what you think about this particular saxophone as you continue to improve. The Selmer mp is a good one, and with this mp you may want to try a 3 strength reed as well. Experiment and see how it goes. Do you have any other specific issues you’re dealing with? I know you’re taking our lessons, so if you send in some recordings of what you’ve worked on, we can provide feedback and your rate of improvement will drastically improve. I look forward to it!

  3. I have had a Yamaha Yts 480 since November 2015. The octave key has had some issues. I took the saxophone to two technicians. The first technician said it was the an octave key issue. The fix was simply. The second technician said the sax was fine. I am not experienced enough to know what a actually good sax should sound like. Both technicians said the Yamaha Yts 480 is a excellent horn to learn on. I have been playing on my own for a year. I am currently starting lessons.

    1. Post

      Hi Ann,

      I’m glad to hear that you’re starting lessons. And yes, the 480 should be a very good fit. If you send me a recording of the issue (in regards to the octave mechanism) I can make some suggestions on your playing that might help resolve the issue. Since you’ve taken the horn into repair techs, I assume all is functioning properly. I hope to hear you soon.

  4. Hi,

    I recently purchased a yanigasawa tenor sax (t9932) and love it. I tried different saxophones out and this was by far the best sound, tuning, and responds well in all registers. I was surprised as I have spent many years playing an old selmer tenor which was great but was on loan. I had a balanced action selmer alto on loan too but the instrument wasn’t great . A couple of dodgy notes and had to work a lot harder to play in tune. The alto I now play is a selmer series 3 bought second hand, a few battle scars but plays well. I would always recommend trying out several saxes to see which is the best for you as they are all different even within the same make and model. This seems, in my experience more so with selmers. So new or old try before you buy!

    1. Post

      Thanks for sharing Sharon. It sounds like you’ve played on some great horns, and your advice is much appreciated. Congrats on buying a Yani and finding a good fit!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *