Saxophone Comparison Chart

Saxophone Comparison Chart

A short guide comparing some of the best vintage saxes of all time.

Introduction

Let me start by saying: "A Saxophone will sound like ...a Saxophone."

That being said, at some point or another we all get that chance to be nit-picky when choosing one sax "over" another.  This is our conversation-creation; and strictly opinion.  If you had the chance to own any sax on this list, you are blessed. Consider this page always under construction (aka: editing)....and Enjoy! -Chadd

We believe that your first consideration should always be the sax's particular Sound Type first and then the rest of the components.

Things to know about the chart:

  • The chart is in not in a ranked order; every player has a different opinion.
  • Consider a "3 Star" to be about "Average/pretty good" for the average player/student.  We had to be strict to create these differences.
  • We also only focused on only Alto and Tenor for now; the list could be enormous.
  • Across all models, older serial #s are darker in tone.
  • To locate our biases...our experiences beyond "in shop" work are:
    • Sarge played more extensively on (and owned) Superba 1, Buescher Top Hat, Super 20, "The Martin"s
    • Chadd played more extensively on (and owns) Rev D, "The Martin"s, Superba 1

The Chart

(Chart works best on Tablet and Desktop views.)

 

BrandModelIntonationSound TypeErgonomicsOther Tidbits
Selmer  Mark VI

1958 - '62

For #'s 200k+

  • French, Classical sound, Focused, simple-smooth
  • Long span for eras. Older = Darker
  • Mid-range balances...
  • #'s +200K tinier & lighter, thinner. Less depth, more treble.
  • Versatile…Swiss Army Knife, considered "Best all-round" sax
  • Different Bell and Bow experiments over eras
  • Some with high F#
  • Altos fight competition better than tenors
Selmer Super Balanced Action (SBA) "A little wild"

  • Darker than Mark VIs, older Serial #'s are darker, tubby
  • Good all around, but cost $$$$$
Buffet Super Dynaction (DNA)
  • French, Classical sound, Focused but slightly meatier than Selmer

Altos feel more normal than Tenors

  • Heavy Build
  • Known as #2 to the Mark VI
  • Bargain saxes
  • Some have high F#
  • Some have screw in
Buffet S1

Earlier era

Later era, crazy!

  • Bold like a Super 20 but crossed with a SDA
  • Louder than expected
  • Still thin like regular French focus
  • Not many low harmonics

Some people don't like the rocking pinky tables

  • Rare finds
  • Genius Rocker Eb/C and Bb/C#
  • Only sax in history to comfortably go from low Bb to C#
  • Con: Bell-Body brace is a little weak
  • Palm-F3 is close to G pearl (bumping is easy)
Conn Wonder II

"Chu Berry"

Must adjust to sharper palm keys (tenor variances)

  • Biggest!
  • Fattest, ballsiest, loud, spread, full & resonant
  • Heavy in the Low-Mid harmonics

Oldest era listed, 1920s-30s

  • Must be good player
  • Noticeable high end intonation issues
  • Has duds
Conn "Naked Lady"
  • Bold, Brassy, Dexter Gordon, umph
  • Less focus…more overtones
  • Rolled Tone Hole
  • Early ones are darker/deeper in sound
  • Improved intonation & ergos from Chu's but retaining the big sound as much as possible
  • 1950s era ones are cheaper but still decent players
  • Definite difference in 1930s/early 40s (Rolled Tone Hole) models vs the later ones (40s/50s), 60s are different still.
Conn "Naked Lady" Deluxe

"Connquerer"

For 26M & 30M

  • More overtones than standard 6M or 10M
  • A little richer/smoother with the boldness
  • 28M alto = very bright!
  • Changed G# table for the worse (opinion)
  • Conn Lovers will ALWAYS respect this
  • Sometimes considered the "best" sax (by many opinions)
  • crazy adjustments screws. I like!, some hate.
Buescher Aristocrat Series II

"Big B"

One of the best gems

  • Warm, smooth, focused
  • Glenn Miller's sax section

Could be annoying. Hidden low-B1

  • Two different bells in series (aristo 1 and 2)
  • Altos are great among the competition
  • Weird side Bb most noticeable on tenors (too far north)
  • Light weight!
Buescher Top Hat & Cane

"TH&C"

  • More overtones than Big B
  • A bit fatter
  • Big bell
  • Big Bell flare
  • Weird side Bb most noticeable on tenors (too far north)
  • Side Bb has less springy than C
Martin The Martin Committee II
  • Warm, wide, Ballad King
  • Can kick butt too with big mpc!
  • Spread-- Highs, Mids, Lows

Great octave thumb rest

  • C# vent
  • Best in Ballads but can do it all
  • Soldered on tone holes
  • Heavy build!
Martin The Martin "alto/tenor" TMT, CommIII, Musicman

Must adjust to sharper palm keys (tenor)

  • Deep power, wide, wailing Altiss
  • Booming low notes (a Martin trait)
  • Older #s darker & fatter
  • Spread-- Highs, Mids, Lows

G# cluster is a low mark

  • We love these (biased perhaps)
  • Soldered on tone holes
  • Near identical to Magnas
  • Alto and Tenor hold their own among competition
  • Heavy like tanks
King Super20
  • Big, edgy but dark, unique, spread, bold, with bark
  • R&R harmonics …Cannonball Adderley
  • Silversonics bell make them slightly louder & brighter

Different G#s in series

  • Variations! Silver necks, pearls, gold inlays, silversonics etc
  • Cleveland models = better than Eastlake
  • Soldered tone holes
  • Side octave pad always gets stuck (King)!
Julius Keilwerth Tone King
  • Slight bark, dark, complex, fat, spread, gruff
  • One of the darkest without being soft
  • Same body tube on all Keilwerths
  • Optional high F#
H. Couf Superba I

issues up high: A2-C#2

  • Keilwerth lineage
  • Dark, luxurious, fat, lush, complex
  • One of the darkest without being soft, a dark-bark
  • Very strong in the mids
  • Built like German tanks
  • Keilwerth Stencil w/ biggest name
  • Superba II same horn w/o Rolled Tone Holes
S.M.L. Revision D

"Rev D"

Vintage mpc can help

  • Big, Wide, French sax w/ American sound
  • SDA cross with Conn
  • Truly a sound of its own, Bold Warmth
  • Many advertised features …the screw adjusters are nice
  • G# is a bit far in reach on tenor (good on alto)
  • Tenors are better than altos
  • Side C runs flat!
S.M.L. Gold Medal
  • Big & American
  • Brighter and louder than the Rev D
  • Really more like a Conn/King mix

For the G# reach (far south), bulky/square-ish on RH

  • Similar to Rev D
  • After 1970 turned into King Marigaux models…became brighter and louder
  • Those later ones are bargains too
  • Tenor reach for G# table is long, easy to bump palm keys

Chart History

The WWS Saxophone Comparison Chart was a mild-fluke of an event; and it was created to help you! During one long lunch break, I believe it was mid-2010, I wanted to pick Sarge's brain as we discussed many of the greatest saxes of all time and we added our opinions to them. This chart idea started because customers are always asking us to compare them all, so I decided to finally make a rough chart. Ultimately, I wanted to capture Sarge's knowledge on saxes before he was gone. (He was already ill at that time.) While I've made a few updates since Sarge's passing, the chart grows more in depth and I already envision the future updates to help you compare some of these great instruments.

SOUND FILE Archives:

Sax vs. Sax - Mouthpiece vs. Mouthpiece

We usually put 3 items in a Sound File so you can compare. We built this collection of Sound Files because you needed to get a taste of what we hear in the shop, and also because we wanted to explore the varying audio differences ourselves!

TIP: Use large, quality speakers!