Saxophones have been around for as long as we know but the tenor saxophones in particular are the most popular. Tenor saxophones have been played by talented saxophonists since the 1930s, producing incredible sounds for jazz, blues, and classical music. The tenor sax falls in between the baritone and the Alto sax is often tuned to the key of Bb. Since the sax is not as big as the baritone or the bass saxophone, it is a bit easier to play for beginners.
But whether you are neophyte or a pro player, we all know that buying the best tenor saxophone is a challenging undertaking. And even getting the right sax is only half of what is needed to play wonderful music. In this guide, we review five tenor saxophones that suit players of different levels as well as different budgets.
Top 5 Tenor Saxophones Review 2020
We also have a comprehensive buying guide to help beginners understand tenor saxophones and how to choose one. You will find out how size and weight impact usability, and learn the features to consider when buying such as keys, rods and pads, and more. Our guide also covers things to do with saxophone care and maintenance. Before you get to the detailed product reviews and the rest, take a look at the comparison table below:
Jean Paul USA TS-400 – Editor’s Choice
- Key: Bb
- Material: brass
- Finish: lacquer
- Weight: 11.8 lbs
- Warranty: 1-year limited
More features: case and gloves included, power forged keys
The Jean Paul USA TS-400 is a lovely tenor saxophone with a yellow brass construction all around its body. Finished in lacquer, this instrument is a beauty to behold and long-lasting at the same time. Issues such as corrosion or chipping are nothing to worry about with this one. In fact, the body of this instrument is incredibly tough and sure to withstand abuse, while the keys have been power-forged for easy picking and improved playability.
The manufacturer offers a decent collection of accessories with this saxophone and with a somehow reasonable price, you really get exceptional value for money. The accessories kit contains a mouthpiece, cap, ligature, swabs, cork grease, polishing cloth, and a set of professional Rico reeds, gloves, neck strap, and a carrying case. Thanks to padded straps for comfort, the case can be carried by hand or back-pack style, making it easy to transport the instrument. Also built into the case are several pockets for storage of small accessories and some compact personal belongings.
It’s worth mentioning that this sax has been tested twice before leaving the factory in order to ensure that it performs above and beyond expectations. Rest assured that this instrument is without any defects and even if it falls short, feel free to take advantage of the 1-year warranty for parts and labor.
We find this Jean Paul sax ideal for beginners or intermediate students. The sax is so easy to use, sounds amazing and doesn’t break the bank for the recommended audience. Also perfect for an intermediate player seeking for an upgrade from a budget model.
- Supplied with everything you need to get in action out of the box
- Power-forged keys for improved playability
- Stylish and durable brass construction
- Easy to play, thus great for entry-level players
- Can be knocked about without any damage
- Great value for money
- Would prove difficult for beginner players
Kaizer TSAX-1000LQ – Best Student Tenor Saxophone
- Key: Bb
- Material: brass
- Finish: gold lacquer
- Weight: 11 lbs
- Warranty: 45-day trial, lifetime limited warranty
More features: molded case included, carrying kit included, steel springs, leatherette pads
The Kaizer TSAX-1000LQ is a high-quality student tenor saxophone with a decent price point. The first thing you notice is its yellow brass body which gives the instrument a sturdy feel and a fantastic sound. Additionally, it features a gold lacquer finish which makes such a striking instrument. This sax is quite lightweight as well and that’s something anyone will love for playability.
Kaizer were really committed to make the sax easy to play by including professional leatherette pads. These are also corrosion-resistant, giving you the perfect seal throughout your play. You will surely love them. They also added high-grade steel rings below the keys to ensure that the sax is very responsive. The keys have also been designed to be in total control of the pads.
As with many entry-levels saxophones, this comes with plenty of handy accessories. You get a mouthpiece and ligature set, cleaning cloth, lubricant for mouthpiece, cleaning rod, gloves, and neck strap. A molded transport case sums up the extras.
Featuring Bb keys, it’s the perfect tenor sax for students and student’s bands alike. We love the fact that Kaizer stands fully behind this model with a 45-day free trial period on top of a lifetime limited warranty. If for any reason you won’t love the sax, you can ship it back to them for a full refund. Otherwise, the product is built to be tough and requires very little maintenance.
- Professional quality leatherette pads for a perfect seal every time
- Loaded with useful accessories for convenient use
- Sensitive response thanks to steel rings
- Plays in the key of Bb, ideal for students
- 45-day free trial period
- Only suited for students and beginners
- Neck strap needs improvement
Selmer Prelude TS711 – Best Intermediate Tenor Saxophone
- Key: F#
- Material: brass
- Finish: dark lacquer
- Weight: 10 lbs
- Warranty: 1-year limited
More features: left-hand table key rocker mechanism, articulated C# adjusting screw, case included, engraved bell
Selmer is a brand known for its quality, high end saxophones, but they have a pretty choice for beginning band students in this Selmer Prelude TS711. They say it’s an affordable option but this model is still expensive for the intended audience given there are cheaper options for students.
Nonetheless, it boasts an elegant yellow brass frame with a ribbed construction plus a detachable reinforced body-to-bow connection for increased sturdiness and durability. A standout feature of this instrument is its unique bore design, which provides for exceptional projection allowing you to enjoy a fully expressive performance.
In addition, the Prelude TS711 is among the few saxophones with a molded mouthpiece with cap and ligature. This gives a much warmer, even, and round sound. The use of kid leather pads with metal resonators also improves sound projection.
This instrument comes with a hand engraved bell decoration to add to its beauty. The keys have a dark lacquer finish and there’s a left-hand table key rocker mechanism with articulated C# adjusting screw. The keywork itself is fantastic and because it’s placed very close to the body of the instrument, it enhances playability of the sax. The crafting additionally makes it comfortable to play the sax and there’s an adjustable metal right-hand thumb rest for improved comfort and flexibility.
Other important additions include a comfortable neck strap, #2 1/2 reed, and a rugged sculpted foam carry case. It also includes maintenance instructions. As with any other Selmer instrument, this sax has been built to stringent specifications and you can expect it to deliver incredible sounds for years. A decent selection for intermediate players.
- Molded mouthpiece with cap and ligature
- Neck strap included
- Attractive dark lacquer body and keys
- Adjustable metal thumb rest.
- Comes with case
- Pretty lightweight and comfortable to use
- A bit pricey compared with other entry-level models
- Case is bigger than needed
Mendini by Cecilio MTS-L+92D – Budget Pick
- Key: Bb with F#
- Material: brass
- Finish: gold lacquer
- Weight: 15 lbs
- Warranty: 1-year limited
More features: hard-shell case and accessories included, Cecilio 92-D chromatic/string tuner with metronome included, contoured keys with faux mother of pearl inlays, leather pads
The Mendini by Cecilio MTS-L+92D is available in the lower end of the price, making it another good choice for beginners or students. The sax will allow to learn the ropes and perfect your key placement before upgrading to a little more expensive option. With time, you will also be able to concentrate on developing your style and tonal quality.
The body of this instrument is built tough and looks like it can take a beating for years. A contoured key construction ensures reliable support and key fingering, while the metal tone boosters combined with the ribbed bell improves the tone of the sax for a high-quality feel. The sax is quite playable and the keys are even structured against faux mother-of-pearl inlays.
The bore is quite large for young players to achieve an exceptional, full-bodied sound and the quick action keys enhance playability for all players. You can expect a deep and rich tone with uniform intonation throughout the sax range.
As is the norm with Cecilio musical instruments, this sax comes with plenty of useful accessories. The package includes a hard-shell case with back strap and zippered pocket, a mouth piece with reed and cap, a neck strap, a set of 10 reeds, a polishing cloth and cleaning rod, and a pair of gloves to keep your sax spot-free when playing. You can buy this instrument with confidence since it has the backing of a 1-year warranty against defects. Finished in gold lacquer, this an absolute beauty and will surely give you a run of your money.
- Looks beautiful in its gold lacquer finish
- Comes with a range of convenient accessories
- Ribbed construction improves tone and sound of the sax
- Easy to handle for players of all levels
- Excellent value for money
- Neck strap may be uncomfortable due to lack of padding
- Low quality reeds
Yamaha YTS-62III – Best Professional Tenor Saxophone
- Key: Bb
- Material: brass
- Finish: gold lacquer
- Weight: 17 lbs
- Warranty: 5-year limited
More features: narrowed bore, case included, engraved bell
The Yamaha YTS-62III is a longtime favourite saxophone for many band directors. This model is of superior quality and durability, which makes it an instant hit. An outstanding feature of this model is the 62 neck style with a narrower than normal bore, which offers a quicker response and better control. This kind of neck also allows a decent airflow so that players can achieve a strong tonal core.
Featuring Yamaha’s new engraving with more elaborate finer details, this instrument offers delicate beauty and fantastic sound. In addition, an upgraded mechanism from B to C# promotes a proper seal for these notes and the result is a more clear response throughout the low range of the sax.
Yamaha also integrated multiple key posts into a single plate, which makes the horn blow with reduced resistance while delivering a solid core with tone color. Additionally, the quality neck receiver increases togetherness of body and neck, which results to richer tones. Integrated steel springs also offer a swifter, more sensitive key response.
This saxophone comes with a semi-hard case that’s very handy when it comes to transporting it. Introduced in 1979, this model has stood the test of time, therefore, you can be sure of reliability. Yamaha also stands behind it with a 5-year warranty for complete peace of mind. Overall, this instrument has a big sound, flawless fingering, and delivers an excellent tone throughout its entire range. Experienced players will surely love it.
- Better low B to C# connection
- Elaborate hand engraved bell
- Supplied with a backpack style case
- Newly designed neck with narrower bore for swifter response and better control
- High-quality craftsmanship
- Rich, warm tones
- A very expensive model
The instrument for the soul – why should you choose a tenor sax
The tenor sax is the most versatile among all saxophones. They are of a decent size, actually leaning towards the larger end but not too large. Tenor saxes also produce a wide and dynamic tonal range.
The smooth sounds that come from the bow of a tenor sax are unparalleled. Legendary tenor saxophonists like Charlie Parker, Kenny G and Joshua Redman, used this instrument to produce incredible sounds that made them famous. Contemporary artists are also relying on the tenor sax to produce music of this generation.
In terms of aesthetics, tenor saxophones look classic with curvy designs. Long story short, you need a great saxophone to play like the legends and the tenor sax is one of a kind.
Tenor saxophone for beginners – helpful tips
If you are just starting out playing saxophones, you could do with the following beginner tips:
- Maintain your sax on a regular basis. Most saxophones come with a polishing cloth, which you can use to wipe the exterior of the sax after every use. Lubricate the corked areas often and clear moisture from the mouthpiece. An unmaintained instrument will only sound as bad as the dirt it contains.
- Buzz the mouthpiece when it is not attached to the instrument to ensure that the embouchure and airflow are optimized.
- Start with softer reeds and slowly advance to harder options. Softer reeds will allow you to produce the right notes with ease while your embouchure is developing.
- If possible, get a personal director to address your trouble areas and help sharpen your musicianship skills.
- Practice makes perfect. You may have the most accomplished director by your side, but you are never going to make any steps if you can’t spend hours practicing on your own.
- Using a cleaning swab, remove dirt from the mouthpiece and be careful not to damage the mouthpiece tip. Use the same material to clear moisture from the inside of the neck.
- Remove moisture from the pad and the tone hole using a cleaning paper. Since the tone holes are delicate, you may have to take the sax to a music shop for cleaning.
- Clean the interior of the tube with a cleaning swab.
- Use the supplied polishing cloth to clean the exterior of the sax.
Tenor saxophones are available in every price range, from as low as $300 to exorbitant prices in the region of $5,000 or more. That said, you can only buy what your budget and experience allows.
Consider the following features to choose the best tenor sax
Knowing what to look for in a sax is the first stride towards your success with the instrument. Below are the important things to consider:
Whether you are a student, intermediate or a professional musician, you can always find a tenor sax that matches your level.
These are usually affordable and offers the musicality that will keep a novice committed to developing their skills. A good student sax is comfortable and easy to use as well as capable of producing satisfying tone quality. The Kaizer TSAX-1000LQ is a top recommendation is this regard. It’s highly playable and produces a pleasing sound, not to mention a price tag that’s within reach.
Depending on a student’s commitment, it may take up to three years for them to master their sax by which they can upgrade to an intermediate model. And if the first instrument is in good shape, you can always trade or sell it to fund the purchase of the new saxophone. These instruments don’t come cheap so it’s crucial that you take good care of yours.
These models fall between a student and a professional sax. The key work and action of these saxophones may be similar to a pro instrument, but the horns do not produce the sound and tone quality of professional models. Intermediate saxes also lack the luxury cosmetic detailing of the premium brethren and have less handwork than pro models. If you are looking for a sloid upgrade from an entry-level sax, the Selmer Prelude TS711 is worth considering.
The crème de la crème of saxophones are available at hefty price tags that only expert players looking for superior tone, response and intonation can afford. Our top recommendation is the Yamaha YTS-62III, but even this is on the lower price scale of high-end models.
Professional saxophones are characterized by so much handwork such as elaborate hand engraving on the bell and hand-hammered keys. The construction material including metal alloys and solders are usually of the highest quality, resulting to excellent playability and full expressiveness.
The most common material for saxophone is yellow brass. In some cases, you may find a sax’s body made of brass but the rest of it such as neck and bell featuring a different material. Some of these other materials include bronze, sterling silver and copper. The addition of these materials may not only affect the price and tone of the sax but also require special handling. As such, these exotic metals are usually found on professional models.
Most instruments have the yellow brass coated with a lacquer to protect the surface against wear. However, there may be other finishes to choose from. For example, some models use lacquer but with added pigments to create a different hue. Others have antique finishes that make them look like vintage instruments. Below are the different kinds of finishes that you are likely to come across:
This finish is physically heavier than clear or gold lacquers and the extra weight on the instrument body gives the saxophone a thicker sound. For that reason, black lacquer is the most preferred finish by many tenor saxophone players.
Like black lacquer, silver plating also increases the weight of the saxophone. Silver, however, is slightly harder and that results to higher volume and projection of the instrument.
This plating is even harder than nickel plating and it’s the finish of choice for saxophonists who need maximum sound and projection. Nickel-plated instruments are popular with jazz bands and many other performers.
Copper and Bronze
These metals may actually be part of the sax as well as be found in the finish. As they are heavier and softer than brass, they darken the timbre of the horn, creating a mellow, “enveloped” sound.
Size and weight
The fact is, tenor saxophones are relatively larger than other types of saxophones. Even so, you still want to find an ideal size for you. The rule of thumb is matching the instrument with your body size. Taller individuals can easily find a tenor saxophone but shorter persons will have to go further in finding a sax that doesn’t feel too bulky against their body frames.
Different instruments weigh differently as well. Weight may also vary from brand to brand but the goal is to find something lightweight enough for you play with ease. Lighter models are an excellent choice for starters but keep in mind that weight increases as you go higher up.
Tenor saxophones come in the key of Bb. Saxophone keys are small, cup-like metal pieces that expose or cover tone holes accordingly. They also come padded for comfortable fingering. The placement of keys is standard in all kinds of saxophones with the difference between models being the number of keys.
For example, some saxophones might have a low B or a high G. Picking from our list, the Selmer Prelude TS711 comes with a high F#, while the Kaizer TSAX-1000LQ has the key of Bb. Keep in mind that even without extra keys, you will still be able to play different notes. The additional keys only make things simpler.
Rods and pads
Rods are perhaps the most important consideration in a saxophone. They need to be of good quality and durable, otherwise shoddy rods will quickly deteriorate with heavy playing or even break in the line of duty.
Another thing you have be sure of particularly when trying out your new sax is that the pads cover the holes accordingly. Also check that they feel soft to touch and if they are sturdy enough to last.
The mouthpiece is a crucial element for the success of your music. Choosing the right mouthpiece is a matter of personal preference. Be that as it may, it’s important to understand how each mouthpiece is made to impact your sound.
There are two main styles to consider:
Concert band mouthpieces
Crafted with a medium length facing curve and medium close tip opening, these mouthpieces require a harder reed to focus their sound. They are usually made of ebonite.
Jazz band mouthpieces
Typically made of ebonite or metal, these mouthpieces have a bigger tip opening, higher baffle and a larger chamber, which provides enhanced flexibility and a thicker tone. This style, however, demands precise control from the player, with greater emphasis on the embouchure and air.
Another thing to consider in a mouthpiece is the material. The general understanding is that softer materials produce a dark sound with less projection, while harder materials a bright and more projected sound.
A plastic mouthpiece is quite affordable and extremely durable. They are most common in student saxophones. The only issue is that they produce a bright sound that can be demanding to focus.
Basically hard rubber in layman’s terms, this mouthpiece is usually used by jazz and classical saxophonists who are less concerned about edge and projection.
This is characterized by a powerful projection and an equally bright sound. The mouthpiece is quite fragile though and a soft pouch will go a long way when it’s not in use. This type is a favorite for jazz and outdoor performers.
Wood mouthpieces offer the warmest tone of all materials, though it’s not widely used. On the downside, it compromises on projection and can be less stable than plastic or rubber.
Metal-plated brass mouthpiece
Most metal mouthpieces are made from plated brass. You may also find gold-plated mouthpieces and a mix of others that vary in tone.
Stainless steel mouthpiece
This has the brightest sound and the most projection of all metal mouthpieces.
Most saxophone brands offer warranties but the terms and conditions will vary. Obviously, a longer warranty is an indication that the product will last for years but it doesn’t mean that a sax with a 1-year warranty is of poor quality. In fact, there are very few models that are warranted for years, the Yamaha YTS-62III Professional saxophone being one of them.
You can either use a standalone digital music tuner or download a tuner app from your app store. Make sure that your app is warmed up and then tune it to a desired note. Watch your tuner’s display while playing one of the key notes – Bb, A, F# and adjust the mouthpiece a millimeter at time until your tuner shows the right tone.
The best saxophones come with carry cases that you can use for transporting the instrument. If you don’t get one, you can buy one that is specifically designed for a tenor sax. Here’s a good option: Gator Tenor saxophone case.
As you’d expect, an Alto sax produces a sound that’s close to the female voice, while a Tenor sax sounds more like a male voice. Likewise, the sound of an Alto sax is sharper and brighter but the Tenor is deeper and lower. They are equally hard or easy to play, depending on your level of expertise. Check out this video to learn more differences:
Having had the pleasure of reviewing the top tenor saxophones available in the market, we concluded that the Jean Paul USA TS-400 is the best tenor saxophone overall. It has a yellow brass construction with a lacquer finish, making it tough against corrosion and wear. This sax is in the key Bb, easy for beginner players to learn and it packs every essential accessory to play out of the box.
Speaking of beginners, the Kaizer TSAX-1000LQ is the perfect match. You will love the leatherette pads that increase playability of this instrument and a sensitive response owing to integrated steel rings. The price isn’t bad either.
Lastly, if you are looking for a budget instrument to get yourself going, the Mendini by Cecilio MTS-L+92D is a great selection. You still get high-quality features such as Cecilio 92-D chromatic/string tuner with metronome, contoured keys with faux mother of pearl inlays, and leather pads. It also comes complete with a hard shell case and accessories.