Which Is The Best Jazz Saxophone? And Why

Saxophones have been around for over a century and have become one of the most popular musical instruments in the world. They’re versatile and can be used in a wide variety of genres, including jazz, blues, funk, and rock. In this post, we’ll look at which saxophone is the best when it comes to the king of music genres, jazz!

The Selmer Paris Reference 54 is often considered the best jazz saxophone out there today. Modeled after the classic Selmer Mark VI, it has a rich and powerful sound that’s perfect for jazz. Many professional jazz saxophonists, such as Steve Coleman and Pierrick Pedron, play the Selmer Paris Reference 54.

However, selecting the best jazz saxophone is not all white and black as it may seem. Some might say that the Yamaha Custom Z is a better choice because of its superior tone and projection. Others may prefer the Mauriat Le Bravo because of its comfortable keywork and excellent intonation. To make your decision easier, let’s explore the pros and cons of different jazz saxophones on the market today!

Buyer’s Guide To The 3 Best Jazz Saxophones

As we’ve mentioned above, many jazz saxophones compete for the coveted title of the best jazz saxophone. Although the Selmer Paris Reference 54 is a strong contender, there are others too that are worth taking into account. Let’s take a look at the qualities of each of these saxophones and why they deserve to be on this list. (Source)

1) Selmer Paris Reference 54

The Selmer Paris Reference 54 is a top-of-the-line professional jazz saxophone that’s handcrafted in France. It’s based on the hugely popular Selmer Mark VI, a favorite among many of the greats such as John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Combining the acoustic characteristics of previous Selmer Paris models along with the latest in design and manufacturing, this saxophone has a rich and open sound. 


Jazz players who are acquainted with the Selmer Mark VI will enjoy a feeling of familiarity with the Reference 54.

  • Unparalleled sound quality that rivals even the best saxophones on the market.
  • Convenient to use with more precise action than older models.
  • Award-winning after-sales service provided by Selmer Paris.
  • Low maintenance is required as it’s made with the highest quality materials. 


  • At over $6000, it’s quite expensive and may not be within everyone’s budget.
  • Darker sounds may not be suitable for all types of jazz.
  • Some users have reported issues with intonation, particularly in the upper register.


2) Yamaha Custom Z

The Yamaha Custom Z is a high-end professional jazz saxophone that is handmade and set up in Japan. It has a powerful, intense sound with excellent projection. The tone is full and can fill up a room easily, making it ideal for live performances. Many jazz musicians such as Tom Politzer, Jeff Coffin, and Nelson Hill prefer this particular sax. 

 The Yamaha Custom Z is available in three finishes: silver, gold, and black lacquer. 


  • The handcrafted construction ensures that each saxophone is of the highest quality.
  • Yamaha’s decades of experience in building musical instruments shines through in the Custom Z.
  • A wide variety of finishes to choose from depending on your preference. Can also be ordered without a High F# key for a more efficient response.
  • Extremely durable and can withstand even the most rigorous playing.
  • Very responsive, making it easy to get a good tone quickly.


  • Can be difficult to play in the lower register.
  • Keywork isn’t as comfortable as some of the other options on this list.
  • Like the Selmer Paris Reference 54, there have been few instances of intonation issues.


3) Mauriat Le Bravo

Although a relatively new player in the sax market, the designers at P. Mauriat have made a big splash with their Le Bravo model. It’s a professional-quality jazz saxophone that is made in Taiwan with the best French brass. It is said that each Le Bravo sax is hand-hammered at least 400 times before it’s ready for the next step, resulting in a highly resonant instrument with excellent projection.

Endorsed by the likes of James Carter, Jason Marshall, Mornington Lockett, and other top players, the Le Bravo has an affordable price range and is ideal for advanced students as well as serious professionals.


  • Superbly crafted and sounds great right out of the box.
  • Affordable price for a professional-quality saxophone.
  • Beautiful rose brass finish with a warm, lush tone sound that’s often remarked to be sweeter than most saxophones available today.
  • Equally ideal for students and professionals.


  • May not be suitable for top-level professional players as it doesn’t have the range of some other models.
  • Few players have reported some wobbling with the palm keys as well as an average setup that needs to be adjusted.
  • The case is semi-soft and if handled without care, can damage the sax inside. It also has very little storage space.
  • You can buy it here

What Makes A Good Jazz Saxophone?

When it comes to choosing a good jazz saxophone, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Let’s go over some of the key factors that make a great saxophone.

  1. Tone: The tone of a saxophone is what you’ll be hearing most of the time, so it’s important to find one with a sound that you like. Some saxophones have a warmer, richer tone while others are more shrill and bright. It all depends on your personal preference.
  1. Intonation: Intonation is how in-tune a saxophone is across all registers. A good jazz saxophone will be in tune with itself and won’t sound out of place when played with other instruments. Unfortunately, some saxophones can have issues with intonation, which most often can be fixed with some fine-tuning.
  1. Build Quality: A good jazz saxophone should be built to last. It should be made of high-quality materials and construction that can withstand years of playing. You don’t want your saxophone to fall apart after a few months of use!
  1. Responsiveness: The responsiveness of a saxophone is how quickly it responds to your input. A good jazz saxophone will be easy to play and won’t require a lot of effort to get a good tone.
  1. Price: Last but not least, the price is always an important consideration when buying any musical instrument. You don’t want to break the bank, but you also don’t want to buy something that’s going to fall apart after a few weeks.

Whenever you buy a new jazz saxophone, make sure you keep all these things in mind! The happiness you get from finding that one perfect sax that sounds and feels like it’s made for you, it’s quite immeasurable.

What Are The Different Types Of Jazz Saxophones?

There are 4 different types of jazz saxophones, each with its unique features and benefits. Before you select one, it is important to understand the different types and what their purpose is. (Source

  • Alto Saxophone

The alto saxophone is the most common type of jazz sax and is ideal for beginners. It has a mellower tone than other types of saxophones with a range from B flat below the stave to the F sharp an octave above the top of the stave. The alto sax is smaller than the tenor but larger than the soprano. It’s often used in pop music, concerts, military bands, marching bands, and jazz as well.

Some of the most influential alto players include Sigurd Raschèr, Jean-Marie Londeix, and Marcel Mule.

  • Tenor Saxophone

The tenor saxophone is the next most common type of jazz sax and is used by intermediate to advanced players. It has a range from A♭2 to E5 and modern versions have a high F# key. You can easily distinguish the tenor sax due to the curve in its neck near the mouthpiece.

The tone of the tenor sax is dark and rich, often described as ‘husky, yet bright’, making it perfect for blues and jazz.

Some of the most influential tenor players include Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Sonny Rollins.

  • Soprano Saxophone

The soprano saxophone is the smallest and highest-pitched type of jazz saxophone. It has a range from concert A♭3 to E6 and is pitched an octave above the tenor sax. Because of its size and pitch, the soprano sax is often used in classical music, concert bands, and big band arrangements.

Many people believe that since it is the smallest of the saxes, it must be the easiest for beginners. This is far from the truth.  In fact, the soprano sax is one of the hardest instruments to learn how to play. Players should have highly skilled breath control and embouchure to produce a good tone.

Some of the greatest soprano players include Johnny Hodges, Wayne Shorter, and Paul McCandless.

  • Baritone Saxophone

The baritone saxophone is the largest and lowest-pitched type of jazz saxophone. It is typically as large as the waist height of a tall man. Baritone saxophones are often used in jazz, blues, and rock music. It has a warm, deep, and expressive sound that is also perfect for ballads and slower pieces of music.

The range of the baritone sax (or bari-sax) is from the B below the stave to F♯ above the treble clef staff. However, there are typically two versions with one ranging to low A and the other to low B♭. While some prefer the former, many opt for the latter as they believe the low A sounds inferior in quality.

Notable baritone sax players include Gerry Mulligan, Cecil Payne, and Pepper Adams.

Which Is The Most Popular Type Of Jazz Saxophone?

Now that you’ve seen the different types of jazz saxophones there are, let’s take a look at how popular they are among jazz players. Take a look at the pie chart below.

As you can clearly see, Alto saxophones are the most popular of all the different types.  This is likely because they’re the most versatile and can be used in a variety of genres. Soprano saxophones are the least popular, as they’re more difficult to play and have a very specific purpose.

However, this does not mean that you must choose an alto sax for jazz. Since the fingerings of different saxophones are the same, a saxophone player can play any type of saxophone. Many professionals play both the alto and tenor sax. It’s all a matter of preference!

Some Tips To Find The Perfect Jazz Saxophone For You

The best jazz saxophone is always one that feels right for you. And this can change from person to person. What’s best for someone else need not always be the best for you. Here are some tips to help make your decision of finding the perfect jazz saxophone:

  1. Go to a music store and try out different saxophones. It’s important to find one that feels comfortable in your hands. You’ll be playing it for hours on end, so it should feel natural.
  1. Consider your budget. There are a variety of saxophones available at different price points. Alto and tenor saxophones can range in price from $200-$4000+. Soprano saxophones are typically less expensive than the other two types. Choose the one that fits your budget without compromising on quality.
  1. Listen to different sounds of saxophones. Do you want a mellower sound or something brighter? Consider the type of music you’ll be playing and choose a saxophone that will complement it.
  1. Ask for help from a professional at the store. They can help you find the perfect saxophone for your needs and playing style. They’ll also be able to give you some tips on how to play it.
  1. Take your time in making a decision. There’s no need to rush into anything. The perfect jazz saxophone for you is out there, you just have to find it.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about jazz saxophones. 

Q.1. Which jazz saxophone is the easiest to play?

A. Alto saxophones are the easiest to play as they have a relatively smaller range and are pitched in C. This is why they’re suggested for beginner players. However, this does not mean that they’re limited in their capabilities. Along with jazz, they can also be used for blues, rock, and funk.

Q.2. Who is the greatest jazz saxophonist of all time?

A. This is a matter of opinion, but many consider Charlie Parker to be the greatest jazz saxophonist of all time. His unique playing style and mastery of the instrument are unrivaled. He’s an influential figure in jazz and his influence can still be heard today.

Q.3. What is the price of a decent jazz saxophone?

A. A decent jazz saxophone can cost anywhere from $200-$4000+. The price depends on the type of saxophone, brand, and quality. You can find a good quality instrument even at the lower end of the price range. 

Final Thoughts

Jazz saxophones are versatile and popular instruments that can be used in many different styles and musical arrangements. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so it’s important to find one that feels comfortable for you. However, you can never go wrong with the Selmer Paris Reference 54 as many experts and professionals consider it the best jazz saxophone on the market. 

Keep the tips we’ve mentioned in mind and happy hunting for the perfect jazz saxophone for you!

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