Deciding between my saxophones is like choosing which is your favourite child. I’m lucky enough to own what I believe is the very best saxophone ever made, but making an assessment like that is always going to be down to opinion. You can see my repertoire of instruments on my Music Recording page, feel free to listen to the audio samples.
So through the experience of playing hundreds of saxophones, researching my perpetual next purchase and leafing through every music magazine that I come across; I believe the following 4 saxophones to be the best ever made. Well if I’m honest I’m a definite Selmer-ite so if I was really choosing it’d be Selmer Mk. VI, Selmer Super Balanced Action, Selmer Balanced Action and the Selmer Cigar Cutter. But in the interest of writing something useful, let’s diversify.
Disclaimer: These are what I believe to be the instruments that are most pleasurable to play and listen to. I have been lucky enough to play all of the saxophones below, but I know that this isn’t a hugely budget-friendly list. Keep your eyes peeled for that one…
Selmer Mk. VI
I have to pinch myself sometimes to remind myself that I’m not dreaming. I actually own one of the highly rare and sought after Selmer Mk. VIs from 1954 and the circumstances of my owning it still amaze me. This range of saxophones were crafted by Parisian artisans during the early 1950s, entirely by hand with miniature tools to build the finest instrument in the industry. Most saxophonists will agree that the Mk. VI is the finest saxophone ever made and there are endless reviews for other instruments that compare it to the Mk. VI. This saxophone is the benchmark for every sax that’s ever come since, it’s simply the best and there’s not much more to say about it.
Yamaha Purple Label
As I said, every self-respecting modern saxophone benchmarks itself against the Selmer Mk. VI and the Yamaha Purple Label is the one that comes closest. The best Purple Labels come from the early 1960s, but I’d quite happily perform at any of my gigs with any Purple Label. These are outstanding horns, with modern keywork and the closest modern sound to a vintage warmth that you’re going to find. An incredible depth matched by a beautiful body, Purple Labels are underrated and I would always recommend one.
Another Yamaha here, which you can pick up from £500 used! Although Yamaha say that the 275 is their cheaper model, I think there’s actually very little between this and the premium models. It boasts a great action, perfect tone and sound and I think it’s the greatest value for money instrument available and I recommend it to all of my students.
Yanagisawa is a Japanese company matching the quality of its larger European rivals, but is much less known. The small family artists first starting producing saxophones in the late 1800s but shot to prominence during the 1970s with their release of the A-901. The excellent finish on this model made instrumentalists around the world crave the Japanese horn even more so than its larger Yamaha rivals, bringing the family company into the limelight. The Yanagisawa A-901 is one of the lighter models, but to me it feels robust and has a deeper and more earthy tone. However the keys are soft and the action is spot on. If you can get your hands on the bare brass version with a good development of patina, I’d be very jealous and almost definitely shake your hand. In envy.