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Out of all the woodwind instruments we know of today, the saxophone has the widest tonal range, with tones that closely mimic those of the human voice. It blends well with other instruments and, as a result, it’s played in combination with most instruments, in addition to being played as a solo instrument. Tenor saxophones fall in the middle of the size scale. They are larger than sopranino, soprano and alto saxophones, and smaller than bass and baritone saxophones. They are considered the most commonly used type of saxophone, right at par with the alto sax. The best tenor saxophones can be comfortably used by student and intermediary players and have a range of tone that is wide enough to give a sound that’s close to what you get from professional saxophones. The tenor sax is most commonly used in contemporary music and jazz compositions. It also features widely in blues and band music; it’s perfect for music with a low, mellow feel.
Finding the right tenor saxophone can be a cut and try affair when you don’t know what to look for in a saxophone. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be. We’ve set out to show you what makes a good sax, the features that matter, and how they affect the performance of the saxophone. We cover all the important aspects, including size, weight, level suitability, and the tenor key.
We’ve spent years playing the saxophone and have singled out our experience with tenor saxophones and the experiences of other tenor sax players to guide our findings. You’ll find all this information below, and we’ve laid it out in an easy to understand format, with a comparison table, in-detail reviews of each tenor sax, and a buying guide. This review seeks to steer you in the right direction, so that you don’t make a costly mistake when buying a sax.
More features: tapered pivot keys, carrying case included
The Jean Paul USA TS-400 is tuned to the key of Bb with high F# and is designed for student and intermediary level usage.
It comes in a shiny and attractive yellow brass body, with a matching yellow brass neck and bell. A lacquer finish helps preserve the beautiful finish on the instrument, and you can confidently use the sax without fear of corrosion or chipping. All keys are power-forged for easy picking, and the pivot keys are tapered for enhanced playability. The bell is particularly hardy and is strengthened for durability.
The TS-400 comes with an accessory kit that has Rico reeds, a mouthpiece, cap, ligature, cork grease, swabs, a clothing cloth gloves, and a carrying case. In short, it comes with everything you need to start playing the sax immediately. You don’t need to buy any additional tools or accessories to play this sax.
All components of the Jean Paul USA TS-400 have undergone two rounds of testing to confirm that it works as it should, and each saxophone is manually checked prior to leaving the factory to ensure it has no defects. That said, if, for whatever reason, you experience problems with your TS-400, the team at Jean Paul USA will gladly help. They’re quick to respond to customer queries and have a record of doing fuss-free replacements when customers report a problem.
More features: detachable reinforced body-to-bow connection, adjustable thumb rest
The Selmer TS711 Prelude is a beautiful sax, with an engraved bell adding to its beauty and a bright yellow finish that is colorful and mood-lifting. Student sax players will be happy to note that the thumb rest is fully adjustable, which is one less problem to fret about when you’re trying to learn the ropes of playing a sax. But even more experienced players will appreciate how comfortable and easy it is to play this sax when they’re in control of where they place their thumb at all times.
The Selmer TS711 Prelude notes play well, and the key response is good for a beginner sax and will guide you well as you improve your mastery of technique. It also has the F# and makes a great practice machine for playing overtones.
The sax comes with a mouthpiece, cap, ligature, and carrying case. You may consider this a bummer because you still have to go out and buy reeds, neck strap and swabs. The Selmer TS711 Prelude has a listed weight of only 8 pounds, which makes it lighter than most saxophones and therefore ideal for the beginner player who hasn’t mastered how to balance the instrument or hold it for long.
You’ll be paying $1,000+ for this sax, and while high-end saxophones cost a lot more than this, there are many student saxophones going for much less than this. All in all, this model is solidly-constructed and has high-end finishes.
More features: 45 day free trial, molded case included
When you’re only starting to learn how to play or have a child who shows interest in playing the sax but don’t want to spend thousands on the instrument yet, the Glory Gold Laquer Tenor Saxophone is a top choice.
The low price tag does not in any way imply a cheap production. Quite the contrary, the sax components all feel sturdily built and will certainly last a good many years. The gold lacquer finish not only enhances its overall look, but also boosts projection so that the sax gives better sound.
It even has hand engravings on the bell for that extra wowness. If you like bells, stars, and wonder works on your instruments, the engraved design is a definite plus for style and aesthetics.
Glory offers the sax complete with all the accessory needed to play a sax, including a mouhtpiece, 10 2.5 reeds, neck strap, nipper, screwdriver, pair of gloves, cleaning cloth, and hard-shell case. Some of these accessories are of a surprisingly good quality, like the screwdrivers, cleaning rod, and carrying case. Even the reeds are okay when compared to what competing models come with. But you’ll need to replace some accessories like the neck strap and gloves with pieces that are more comfortable and durable.
More features: pro-deluxe durable hard-shell case included, leather pads with metal tone boosters
If you’re looking to buy a sax at the lower price-end, Mendini by Cecilio MTS-L+92D is a good choice. It’s a student saxophone, great for a beginner who is still learning the ropes and wants to master key placement first before concentrating on tone quality and style, this sax is fair game.
The body is solidly made and features a ribbed construction, which provides robust support for the keys. The manufacturer includes leathery pads with metal tone boosters for enhanced sound quality. Keys are contoured to make playing easy, and they are framed against pretty faux mother-of-pearl inlays.
The metronome is crucial to beginner sax players and is considered necessary when practicing as a new player. Cecilio has included a metronome in this sax, making it easy for beginner players to practice time feel and improve their technique.
It’s hard to look at a sax and not think of beauty and art. This Mendini is perfectly curved and given a gold lacquer finish which amplifies its golden shine. Add the solid structure of its body and the faux mother-of-pearl inlays and leather pads and you have a magical blending of art and aesthetics.
It comes with all the basic sax accessories, including a mouthpiece, reeds, cleaning cloth, neck strap, pair of gloves, and hard-shell case. The reeds and neck straps are of inferior quality though, and will need replacing.
What makes it stand out?
Comes with a full kit of accessories
Includes a tuner with metronome
One-year manufacturer's warranty
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?
Neck strap has no padding and can be uncomfortable
More features: leather style wood case included, adjustable thumb rest
A student cum intermediate tenor sax with F and F# keys, the Legacy TS750 is good investment for anyone looking for a sax they can play long term. Its sound construction ensures the sax feels solid when in your hands, and the pieces come together seamlessly. It’s made from quality brass and coated in clear lacquer. The finishing won’t alter or enhance your notes, but it provides a protective cover for the metal beneath, ensuring you never have to deal with oxidation and corrosion.
The notes play well and the keys are responsive, thanks in part to the quality of steel springs used to support them. The manufacturer uses professional pads for added comfort and improved response, qualities that make this model a top choice for intermediate level playing.
Legacy TS750 sax comes with a comprehensive accessory kit that includes a mouthpiece, cap ligature, neck strap, a Selmer Cleaning and Care Kit, and a hard-shell canvas case. The case can be hand-held or strapped on like a backpack. The mouthpiece isn’t of very good quality. For better sound, buy a different mouthpiece and use in combination with your preferred reed.
This sax is faily-priced at just over $300, a price tag that makes it one of the more affordable saxophones in the market. The manufacturer throws in a comprehensive warranty with an unconditional money-back guarantee, enough incentive to get you interested in trying out the TS750.
More features: 45 day free trial, molded case included
The Kaizer TSAX-1000LQ is made from durable yellow brass and comes in a gold, shiny lacquer finish. Its material and the gold finish enhance tonality and greatly improve the quality of sound you get from the sax. It only weighs 9 pounds and is light enough for a newbie player to handle.
Kaizer uses professional leatherette pads in this sax, ensuring you get a complete seal whenever you need your keys to be closed. Underneath the keys are premium steel springs that facilitate quick response and allow the keys to control the pads with ease.
Given how much money you’ll be spending on a single sax, it would be great to find a model with a comprehensive guarantee. Kaizer TSAX-1000LQ is that model. The manufacturer goes above what are thought to be the standard warranty periods and gives a lifetime manufacturer’s warranty on this sax. For many of us, this alone is enough to convince us that our money isn’t going down the trenches.
You also get a 45-day free trial, and if after this period you’re not satisfied with the performance of the sax, you can return it and Kaizer will give you a full refund of the buying price. If you’ve never played a tenor sax before and you’re looking to explore this specialty, this is an attractive incentive.
There’s an accessory kit included in the purchase, containing a mouthpiece and mouthpiece lubricant, ligature, neck strap, gloves, cleaning rod and polishing cloth.
What stands out?
Professional quality pads
Premium steel springs
45-day free trial with 100% refund
What cons did we manage to find?
Stock neck strap is of bad quality
Does not include reeds
Things to Consider
The thrill of buying a new saxophone is something you experience whether you’re buying your first, third, or tenth sax. The pointers herein will help you pick the best tenor sax for your level of play, and if you’ve been playing a long time, the tips will be a welcome reminder.
Feel the music with the tenor saxophone
There’s a reason why the tenor sax is arguably the most popular sax we have. Here are our favorite advantages of owning a tenor sax:
It’s just the right size, not too big and not too small.
It’s the most versatile sax in the saxophone family.
Its tonal variation is wide enough to give a sound that’s close to professional level tones.
It comes in a classic, curving design.
How to test a saxophone
Testing a saxophone is best done by someone with some experience playing the saxophone. If you’re only starting to learn how to play the instrument, take an experienced player along when going sax testing. They have the skill to work the instrument and extract sound from all notes, and will tell if anything is off. Ensure that you play all the notes, including the high notes, and note how each sounds. Also, test the sax using different reeds and mouthpieces to see what quality of tone you get with each.
Main tips on maintaining a saxophone
Your tenor saxophone will last a long time if you take care of it well. I’m sure you’ve heard of sax players who’ve been using the same instrument for more than two decades. That’s what happens when you adopt a strict care and maintenance routine for your sax. Here are some main tips to observe:
Avoid dropping the sax
Always wipe the sax (especially the mouthpiece and neck) dry after use
Avoid touching the keys until you’ve strapped up the sax, ready to play
Don’t store any other items in the sax case. This case is for the sax only.
Don’t use abrasive cleaning agents and techniques to clean your brass.
Don’t lift the sax by the body – the keys are sensitive. Lift it by the bell instead.
Features that will help to choose the perfect tenor saxophone
To choose the best tenor sax, you should understand what features determine how the sax will sound and how easy it will be to play. Below are the most important ones.
We have large tenor saxophones and some smaller ones. A good size for you is one that sits properly against your body and does not feel bulky. When considering the size, it is good to remember that the tenor sax won’t be as small as an alto sax, so keep your expectations real.
Always consider the weight when choosing a sax, as some saxophones are heavier than others, depending on the brand. You want a piece that will be light enough for you to play in comfort. If you’re a beginner, choose a light model and as you get accustomed to wearing the sax, you can upgrade to a bigger model, if necessary.
The mouthpiece attaches to the neck and is the vessel by which your mouth and lips transmit the sound to the instrument. It is held in place against the neck by a cork, and you can tighten or loosen the cork as needed till the mouthpiece fits just right. The size and shape of mouthpiece affect the tone produced by the sax.
The neck is a cone-shaped tube whose design, size, shape, and material help define the tonal quality and dynamics of the saxophone. In some saxophones, the neck is made from the similar brass material used to make the rest of the saxophone body. In others, the neck is made from a sterling neck or copper. It can also be gold or nickel plated. You can replace the neck your sax came with if you like, particularly if you want to test the tone variations different necks give.
The body refers to the portion of the sax between the neck and bell. It is where the keys are located, and it can be ribbed or non-ribbed. The sax body is made of brass and may be gold, silver, or nickel plated for strength, to prevent oxidation, and for shine preservation.
A tone in a sax has to do with the quality of the sound or the tonality and how the different overtones come together to produce the sound we hear. The tone is affected by the type of reed used, the size and shape of the mouthpiece, even the keyholes and pads used.
Tenor saxophones are typically tuned to the key of Bb. Sax keys are the small, padded, cup-like metal pieces that cover and expose the tone holes. They’re used in combination with each other and may open or close depending on which other keys are pressed. The placement of keys is standard in all saxophones, though some saxophones may have a few extra keys, for example, a high G or low A. It’s important to note that, in most cases, you can still play these notes even in saxophones where the extra key is absent.
The reed is essentially made from cane and is the only component in the saxophone that you’ll replace more frequently than all others. When you’re just starting to learn how to play the sax, go for a thinner reed, preferably a 1.5 or 2. These lower ranges are thinner and easier to operate than reeds in the 4 to 5 range. As you become proficient, you can then switch to the thicker reeds which require more skill and mouth energy to operate. Good reeds for beginners and intermediaries include the Vandoren SR223 Tenor Sax Traditional Reeds. Try out different sizes of reeds to find what size you like best, as reeds don’t all come in the same size and shape. Thinner reeds tend to give brighter tones, while thicker reeds sound thicker and stuffier.
Most of the saxophone pads are located within the body of the instrument. For tone enhancement, always ensure that the pads are properly shut in. Pads can be replaced over time. Just ensure that the new pads are of the right size. If you can’t get the pads in the exact size of your old pads, pick ones that are smaller as opposed to bigger ones, which will end up being loose.
Brass is the material most commonly used to make saxophones. Some saxophones may have parts of their body made from other metals such as sterling silver, bronze, and copper, but these are an exception. Many of the tenor saxophones you’ll come across will be made from brass. Brass is preferred for its malleability, strength, hardness, and rust-resistance.
Saxophones are expensive. Even the cheapest sax costs quite a chunk of money by any standard. It’s therefore wise to choose a sax that comes with a manufacturer’s warranty so that if any part turns faulty during the warranty period, you can have it replaced at no cost rather than spending extra on it.
Saxophones come with a case, which can be used both for storage and to carry the sax around. Most cases can be hand-held or carried backpack-style. Don’t like what your sax is in? Try the premium Protec PB305CT Tenor Saxophone PRO PAC Case with corner runners. It’s hardy for superior protection and light for easy carrying.
Yes. You can enjoy the same great sound of a new sax from a used saxophone, provided it’s in mint condition. Like with any equipment you’re buying used, take the time to examine the quality of the sax before buying, checking all the parts for wear. Note down all the parts that need to be replaced or look like they’ll need replacing in the near future. Then decide whether the cost of buying these replacement parts is insignificant compared to the price tag of a new sax.
Yes, to an extent. If you play other instruments, it may be easy for you to learn the basics of playing the sax. However, if you’re completely new to instruments, the sax will present a challenge, and you’ll find it easier to learn with a teacher guiding you. You can learn the basics on your own, but it will take longer than it would take you to master the skill under the tutorship of a teacher.
The Jean Paul USA TS-400 is our top choice for tenor sax. Flawless workmanship and sound are among the things that informed our decision. Those looking for low-end saxophones may find its price a bit high, but for intermediate level playing, it is a good price when you consider what high-end intermediate-professional level saxophones go for.
At second place is the Selmer TS711 Prelude, another precisely-constructed model whose quality construction can be traced in every curve and bend. If you’re out to buy a sax that you can use for many years and price is not a hindrance, this is a perfect model to pick.
Our third-favorite best tenor saxophone is the Glory Gold Laquer Tenor Saxophone, an easy-to-use sax that is best suited for students. We like how it sounds, how the keys are placed along the sax body, and most of all, we like its low price tag.