Cheap vs Expensive Saxophone: What’s the Difference?

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The popular phrase “a sax is a sax” is commonly used among some people in the saxophone world. This phrase is tossed around to mean that a cheap saxophone is the same as an expensive one. 

Thus, why should you even bother to go beyond your financial limits to acquire an expensive saxophone? However, is this actually true? Are cheap saxophones just as good as expensive ones? 

If you are interested in finding out how cheap saxophones measure up against expensive ones, you should read this article to the end.

Differences between Cheap and Expensive Saxophones

Though many people, including novices and even some expert saxophonists, believe cheap saxophones and expensive saxophones are the same, that is not true. 

Let’s look at some of the things that distinguish cheap saxophones from expensive ones. These can also serve as a guide when you are looking to buy a saxophone so take time to go through them carefully.

The difference in Saxophone Keys

One of the major differences between cheap saxophones and expensive saxophones is the variations in their keys. 

A saxophone as a musical instrument comes with lots of keys. The palm key, octave key, side keys, front left keys, and front right keys of cheap saxophones are not uniform. 

Their general layout and locations on the saxophone body tend to be misplaced. This makes cheap saxophones feel awkward to play.

Also, the keys of cheap saxophones have lots of travel between them. What this means is that the distance from one key to the other is relatively far apart. So, to get to a particular key, you need to stretch or strain your fingers. This is easily evident when trying to get to the D-palm key on a cheap saxophone. 

In fact, to find all the three palm keys on a cheap saxophone, you really have to work your hand.

However, this is not the case for expensive saxophones. The palm keys on expensive saxophones are uniform. They do not have lots of travel or distance between them as well. 

Thus, you will find them exactly where they need to be on the saxophone. The keys literally sit right where you will expect them to be. Thus, you do not have to spread and strain your fingers or open your hand up when moving from one key to the other.

Brand Longevity

Manufacturers of cheap saxophones are not household names like those that manufacture expensive saxophones. This can be attributed to the fact that; these cheap saxophone manufacturing companies fold up after a couple of years of springing up. 

Simply put, they do not stay long enough to make a name for themselves.

For this reason, it is not easy to keep track of the saxophones they produce and their quality. Well, this is not surprising since the quality of their work is usually not satisfactory for most professional musicians. 

On the other hand, these expensive saxophones are widely known and established in the industry. Thus, they have a proven track record of their works, which actually speak for them.

Build Quality

Most cheap saxophones have poor build quality. They are made from low-quality materials that are not durable. Most of them tend to be poorly constructed and assembled as well, and they don’t last. Most times, after buying a cheap saxophone, you need to take it to the repair shop immediately.

However, the build quality of cheap saxophones varies. If you are lucky, you may be able to get a cheap saxophone that is in good shape and built with great materials. 

Unfortunately, most people are not that lucky when it comes to buying cheap saxophones. What this means is, buying a cheap saxophone is very risky.

On the other hand, the quality of materials used in manufacturing expensive saxophones cannot be questioned. Expensive saxophones are made from high-quality and durable materials. Every part is properly assembled as well.

Nature of Case

Cheap saxophones come with very questionable cases. These cases are bad and of low quality as well. They are usually nothing more than Styrofoam wrapped in black fabric. So they do not provide adequate protection for the saxophones placed in them. 

This means any physical impact on the case affects the saxophone as well. The saxophone placed in them also moves around in the case. Therefore, your cheap saxophone is prone to get damaged easily due to the corresponding cheap case they come with.

Thankfully, an expensive professional saxophone comes with a quality case that offers greater protection for the saxophones placed in them.

Can You Hear the Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Saxophones?

Although cheap saxophones have poor build quality, most of them usually sound surprisingly well when played. Lots of cheap saxophones sound clean and clear. 

They don’t sound as bad as they may look or seem. Most cheap saxophones play in tune as well. To understand what it means for a saxophone to play in tune, read this article.

That notwithstanding, the quality of sound produced by cheap saxophones is not the same as that which is produced by expensive saxophones. However, for most people, this difference may be hard to tell. 

Only musicians and individuals with trained ears can be able to clearly distinguish between the sound produced by cheap saxophones and that produced by expensive saxophones. 

The video below does a great job of demonstrating this.

Why Are Some Saxophones More Expensive?

The primary reason why some saxophones are more expensive is simply because of the principle of supply and demand. Supply in this context refers to the quantity of a particular saxophone available on the market to consumers. 

These very expensive saxophones are manufactured in relatively smaller quantities than other musical instruments. Unfortunately, the demand for these saxophones tends to be higher than the supply available on the market. 

All this serves to drive the price of the saxophone higher. This effectively means these saxophones are only available to those willing to part with greater amounts of money.

Aside from this, the brand, material used in making the saxophone, and its condition also contribute to the price of saxophones. Saxophones manufactured by popular brands like Yamaha and Jupiter tend to be more expensive than those manufactured by unknown brands. 

Also, saxophones that come with handmade features, metal resonators, ergonomic keys, and other features tend to cost higher. Brands like Selmer Paris, for instance, produce some of the more expensive saxophones because they are fully handmade.

All these, coupled with the type of mouthpiece and case that comes with a saxophone, are the reasons why some saxophones are more expensive.

How Do You Know A Sax Is Good?

In general, good saxophones have great aesthetics. You can tell that a particular saxophone is good from how it plays and the way it sounds when played. 

A good saxophone will exhibit great intonation, with rich tonal characteristic consistency across the saxophone’s range. In short, a good saxophone produces an amazing sound.

Also, a good saxophone gives a smoother feel while pressing down the keys and releasing them when playing. It will have all the parts of its horn line up perfectly with the right measure of travel between adjacent keys. 

The pads on a good saxophone will feel crisper as well and not be prone to degradation after using them for a while. It will have perfectly circular tone holes with better-aligned seals as well. This means that a good sax is made from high quality and durable materials.

Unfortunately, bad saxophones are the exact opposite of a good saxophone. They sound like crap and are made from inferior materials. Its parts and keys may not align uniformly as well.

How Much Should a Good Saxophone Cost?

I’m sure you may be wondering how much it will cost to acquire a saxophone that is of professional quality. How much a saxophone cost depends on its model, the material used, and its condition as well. 

Also, the saxophone brand, its features, mouthpiece, and the case it comes with contribute to the overall saxophone price.

That notwithstanding, the truth is, buying a cheap saxophone will not do you much good. They do not last long, have lots of problems, and generally can’t be relied upon.  

Now that that is out of the way, if you do not have thousands of dollars to spare, can you be able to acquire a saxophone that is decent enough for your musical activities?

How much you should spend on a saxophone will depend on your playing level. 

On average, a good beginner or student-level saxophone should fall within $800 to $2700. For intermediate and pro-level saxophones, you need to make provisions within $2000 to $5000.

However, if you are working with a tight budget, you can go in for second-hand professional saxophones.  

The prices of these second-hand professional saxophones are lower than the brand new ones but can be relied on as well. Thus, they are relatively affordable. They are made from high-quality materials and produce great sounds as well.


In summary, expensive saxophones sound better than cheap saxophones. Expensive saxophones are made from high-quality materials as well. Thus, they tend to be more durable than cheap saxophones, which are usually made with inferior materials. 

Aside from the quality of materials used in manufacture, the position of keys on lots of cheap saxophones tends to be improperly laid out. This makes them relatively harder to play than expensive saxophones.