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When to Upgrade Your Saxophone? A Buyer’s Guide

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Saxophone is an awesome instrument. But choosing a new saxophone can be a confusing process - especially if you’re a parent with no musical background.

Whether you’re a parent shopping for your child or you’re an experienced player, there comes a time when many sax players will need to upgrade their saxophone.

Why It’s Time to Upgrade Your Sax

There are many reasons why someone would want (or need) to upgrade their saxophone. Here are the most common ones:

  • The current sax is holding you back - Beginner saxes and older instruments can be great when starting out. But for many advancing players, their skills eventually surpass their instrument’s capabilities.

  • You need a sax that can play advanced music - Some saxes come with additional keys and features. These extras help musicians play advanced music they otherwise couldn’t with their old instrument.

  • Your old saxophone is in disrepair - Some saxophones are absolutely worth repairing. Other saxophones can be costly to repair. With some saxes, you might be better off putting that money toward an upgraded instrument.

  • You simply enjoy the saxophone - Sometimes, you get a new instrument because you love it. Getting a saxophone that looks and plays great will bring you so much more fulfillment as a musician.

Pro Tip for Parents: If you notice your child is thriving on the saxophone, investing in a new instrument can be the best thing to maintain their progress and enthusiasm.

The Differences Between Student vs. Professional Saxophones

Think of when you learned how to ride a bike. You probably started off using one with training wheels. Eventually, you outgrew that bike and upgraded to one that’s more comfortable and capable of traveling longer distances.

Musical instruments are similar in a lot of ways. Most student saxes are easy to play and affordable for beginners. But after a certain point, they’ll hinder a player’s progress.

Here are some improvements you can expect to find on step-up and professional saxes:

Improved Tone Quality

By far, the most noticeable difference between student and step-up saxophones is the sound quality. Step-up and professional saxophones will produce more vibrant and full sounds. By comparison, student saxes will have a “smaller” sound.

Improved Intonation

Generally speaking, step-up and professional saxes will play better in-tune. Many of the top manufacturers design their saxes with exact specifications for improved intonation.

Higher Quality Materials

Step-up and professional saxophones generally sound and play better because they’re made from better materials. The metals are more resonant and give the instrument different characteristics.

Another thing to consider is the sax’s durability. If it’s made from better parts, it’s less likely to break. It’ll also work better mechanically.


A lot of student saxes are made from an assembly line. That’s not to say they’re bad by any means. But they don’t have a maker’s touch.

By contrast, most step-up saxes are made with some level of hand-craftmanship. Whether it’s hand-hammering the bell, engraving the sax, or making acoustic adjustments, at least one real person’s artistry was involved in creating the instrument before hitting store shelves.

Finishes and Engravings

This may seem superficial, but how the saxophone looks can play a part in your decision-making. If you enjoy looking at your sax, you’re more likely to pull it out and play it.

You may like a saxophone with black nickel or silver-plated finish, or one with custom engraving. Or you might prefer the simple beauty of a sax with a rich, gold lacquer finish.

Better Quality Control

If you’re looking for a pro-level sax, you expect it to be of a certain quality. Saxophone manufacturers know their reputation is at stake, so they’ll put some extra care into their step-up and professional instruments. Since more work goes into crafting the sax, more work goes into playtesting and approving it before leaving the factory.

Trusted Brands for Step-up and Pro Saxophones

There’s no shortage of companies that claim to make “professional” saxophones. We’ve playtested many of these saxes - not all of them are created equal.

Some brands stand the test of time and have proven time and again to make exceptional instruments. Here are just some of the reputable saxophone brands we carry at Summerhays:

  • Yamaha

  • Cannonball

  • Eastman

  • Yanagisawa

  • Selmer Paris

  • Selmer USA

How Much do Step-up and Professional Saxes Cost?

Saxes come in all sorts of price ranges. Prices will vary depending on the brand and model, so there’s going to be some overlap.

But in general, these are the price ranges you can expect to pay for brand new student, intermediate, and professional saxes.

Alto & Tenor Saxophones:

  • Student: $0-2300

  • Intermediate: $2300-3000

  • Professional: $3000+

Baritone Saxophones:

  • Student & Intermediate: $0-5000

  • Professional: $5000+

Soprano Saxophones:

  • Student & Intermediate: $0-2500

  • Professional: $2500+

Tips on Choosing an Upgraded Saxophone

Choosing a sax can be overwhelming when you have so many choices. Here are some quick tips to help you pick a new saxophone:

  1. Set a budget - Know how much you’re willing to spend on a saxophone before shopping. That way, you can focus on a few select instruments and ignore ones outside of a given price range.

  2. Determine what you’ll use the saxophone for - Different saxes will work better in some situations than others. What styles of music do you play? Are you looking for a professional sax that’ll carry you through college and beyond? Or are you a more casual player who wants a decent sax but doesn’t need a pro horn?

  3. Only play 2-3 saxes at a time - It can be tempting to playtest every saxophone in the store - especially if there are dozens of options available. But “paralysis by analysis” is a real thing. Playing several saxes at once can overwhelm you and leave you more confused than before entering the store.

  4. Test each saxophone by playing music from memory - It can be hard to focus on sound quality if you’re stumbling through sheet music. Try going in with a few tunes, melodies, or scales you know by heart.

  5. Play a short excerpt, then switch to the next sax - If you’re going back and forth between a few saxes, don’t play a piece of music that’s very long. By the time you finish the tune, you’ll forget how the last one sounded. Then you can’t make accurate comparisons.

  6. Use the same mouthpiece and reed on each saxophone you try - Using the same setup on each saxophone will give you the best impression of how each one plays. That way, you’ll have consistency between instruments.

Shop for New Saxophones Today

Summerhays Music Center in Orem has the largest selection of step-up and professional saxophones in Utah. You can browse our online shop to see a sample of our saxophones. Or reach out to us and plan your next visit to our store.


Don't play inferior instruments. Perform with Confidence!

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