The Alto Saxophone
The alto saxophone is one of the most popular woodwind instruments. Beginner band students are often drawn to the alto for many reasons: it’s a beautiful instrument, it’s not too big for a younger musician to handle and it is popular in so many different types of music including jazz, classical, funk, R&B and more. If you choose to stick with the alto, there are great intermediate and professional alto saxophones to choose from as you advance in your practice.
As with any instrument, it’s subjective as to what each player will prefer, so it’s important to experiment with playing many different altos to determine which one is right for you. You’ll want to pay attention to brands, price points, construction materials and methods, and quality of craftsmanship.
For comparison, let’s look at altos from top brands including Yamaha, Selmer-Paris, P. Mauriat, Yanagisawa and Allora. Looking at horns from this collection of manufacturers will give you a sense of the broad array of price points and quality to choose from depending on your skill level and preferred style of play.
Yamaha is the largest manufacturer of instruments in the world and is well-known and respected for its attention to detail across many instrument categories, including saxophones. While there are several Yamaha alto saxophones to choose from, you can’t go wrong with the two we’ve listed here, especially if you’ve progressed in your skill level and you’re looking to advance to a professional saxophone.
- Yamaha YAS-62III Professional Alto Sax – free blowing and designed for a fast response, this horn has a beautiful tone and offers great durability at an affordable price. Available in silver-plated and lacquer, you can choose the look you want.
- Yamaha YAS-875EXII Alto Saxophone – if you’re looking for a truly special saxophone, this model offers an enhanced design for the professional sax player. Everything from the hand-engraved bell to the post-to-rib construction to the improved low-range response will make this saxophone a true pleasure to play.
Another iconic manufacturer, this French company has been making saxophones for almost 100 years, and they produce beautiful instruments for every level of player – from beginners to seasoned professionals. If you’re looking for a primary professional horn, think about treating yourself to this Selmer.
Selmer Paris Reference 54 Alto Saxophone - inspired by the legendary Selmer Mark VI, the Reference 54 looks, feels and plays like a vintage Selmer, but includes a longer bell to improve intonation. This horn, with its wonderful dark lacquer finish, is a favorite among jazz saxophonists.
Another French manufacturer, P. Mauriat is a leader and innovator of modern vintage saxophones. Their horns stand out because each one is hand crafted from start to finish. P. Mauriat continually works to create instruments that offer the sound, response, ergonomics and intonation that will impress even the most demanding players.
P. Mauriat System 76 Professional Alto Saxophone – this sax produces a bigger sound with a core that is full of rich overtones. It features beautiful engraving, a Super VI style neck and abalone key touches. This horn allows the player to deliver the highest performance possible due to the System 76's superior craftsmanship.
Yanagisawa started producing saxophones after World War II and is now one of the most respected sax manufacturers in the world. The company is known for blending old world craftsmanship with modern design and performance
Yanagisawa AWO1 Alto Saxophone - the WO Series represents the first major redesign of the Yanagisawa alto sax in over 20 years. Built for the working professional, it has a great resonant tone and performs well across many different genres.
For beginner sax players or musicians on a budget, Allora provides some excellent step-up and intermediate altos. You’ll get great value for the price point by combining characteristics that enhance the sound with features that enhance durability.
- Allora Vienna Series Intermediate Alto Saxophone – Allora’s Vienna series offers a great step up instrument with reassuring key action, great looks and the ability to perform just about any kind of music. This horn is perfect for the advancing student.
- Allora Paris Series Professional Alto Saxophone – Allora isn’t just for students. Professional sax players will find great value in the Paris Series, with precise intonation, quick response and a big sound. The attention to detail, from the hand-engraving to the key adjustment is usually reserved for instruments that are much more expensive.
Plenty of Alto Sax Options
While we’ve highlighted 5 great brands, you can and should explore alto saxes from any manufacturer that interests you. You can get recommendations from a music instructor or band director or research which alto your favorite player uses. Choosing an alto saxophone is a highly subjective process so don’t rush and be sure to try out different instrument to find the one that’s right for you.