One of these saxophones is a top of the line professional instrument costing thousands of dollars. The other one I got off of Amazon for $259 bucks. In other words my professional Yanagisawa alto saxophone and the Eastar alto sax.
I’m going to do a blind test and I want you to tell me if you can hear a difference. This is going to force you to rely on your ears rather than your eyes. I’m even using the same mouthpiece and reed setup on both instruments
Check out this play test around 00:46 in the video, and let me know in the comments below which one is the cheap saxophone, and which one is the professional instrument.
If you take a listen, it’s pretty tough to tell the difference right? There are no tricks here. That audio was recorded back to back on the same track, with the same mic, in the same room. Just on two instruments that have very different price tags.
I honestly might get this wrong myself if I didn’t know which order I put them in while editing this video.
How is this possible?
Why would you ever spend thousands of dollars on a professional level saxophone, when the cheapest one on Amazon sounds almost identical? I’ve been playing for you my professional Yanagisawa alto sax which sells for around $4500 new, and this Eastar alto sax which is priced about as low as it gets for a saxophone on Amazon.
I haven’t made any adjustments to this instrument, I literally pulled it out of the packaging and started recording.
Everyone gets so hung up on which instrument to buy and the unique sound characteristics of each brand of saxophone, and the magical qualities of certain vintage instruments. But at the end of the day, what we are usually doing is blaming our equipment if we don’t like the results we’re getting.
This isn’t just for saxophones and musical instruments. You could apply this concept to lots of things where results depend much more on skill than the gear you are using.
Now this Eastar sax is nothing really special. It’s very much like all the other Chinese import saxophones. The parts very likely come from the exact same source as some of the others I’ve unboxed on this channel.
And that’s part of the reason why they are so inexpensive.
Cutting Corners – The Eastar Alto Sax
First thing when opening up the case, we see that the case itself is as cheap as it gets, offering very little protection to the instrument. A good case costs money and you should expect a quality case to come with a more expensive saxophone.
The next thing I noticed was the pads. The pads they use in this horn are cheap, but they are installed very well and they have metal domed resonators. All saxophone pads can get sticky, but the cheap ones much more so.
On this instrument, you’re going to get a lot of pads stuck closed while playing. There are ways to deal with this, but a more expensive instrument should have higher quality pads that will last longer and not get so sticky. Good pads are rather expensive though.
I cannot tell what kind of brass was used to make this saxophone, but I can only assume that it is the cheap kind. Having said that, I have tried bending it in several spots with my hands and can tell you that it is quite strong and resistant.
As much as people talk about the metal a saxophone is made out of having a big impact on the sound, the truth is the shape of that metal matters far more. This brass has been shaped to the exact same dimensions as a professional instrument. It’s probably identical to a Selmer.
The other materials used like the springs, corks, felts, lacquer and key pearls are pretty standard and I don’t think there’s any significant cost savings there.
Assembly and Mechanical Play
One area that I usually see a lot of cut corners is in the assembly. Often with these cheap Chinese saxophone imports you’ll see the corks glued on crooked or the wrong thickness of corks which result in improper key heights and a lot of play in the mechanisms.
No joke, the Eastar alto sax has the best setup I’ve seen in this price range when it comes to all this. There is virtually zero mechanical play in the keys. I found a minuscule amount in the low C key and the front F key is a bit wobbly, but since there is no pad attached to that key, its impact is minimal.
The neck has a very nice fit into the body and even the octave key on the neck has a tight fit, this is not usually the case with these instruments. The neck cork is also installed quite well I must say.
The mouthpiece it comes with is a plastic copy of a Selmer C* and it works fine. A more expensive instrument should come with a better quality mouthpiece though.
It does come with a handy set of white gloves… Which as you know are absolutely essential for playing the saxophone. *sarcasm
It also comes with 2 swabs, one for the body and one for the neck and mouthpiece. You’ve also got cork grease, a polishing cloth, a bunch of reeds and a neck strap. The Eastar alto sax also came with a saxophone stand, which is a nice accessory to include.
So really, apart from the sticky pads and terrible case, this saxophone is a great value at $259. If you’re on a tight budget, and want to get a saxophone, you can play whatever you want on this horn.
It’s in the Details
There are a lot of details that go into why a professional saxophone player like myself would rather play on a top of the line instrument like the Yanagisawa than a cheap saxophone from Amazon. If you’re serious about playing saxophone and can afford a better instrument you should get the best you can within your budget.
But for a beginner or someone who just wants to play casually or anyone on a tight budget, the Eastar alto sax will do the job.
It Will Not Fall Apart in Your Hands…
Now, every time I do these videos, there are always a bunch of comments saying that the instrument will fall apart after playing it for a short time. That’s simply not true in this case.
Musical instruments imported from China often have a bad reputation. When they first started producing saxophones decades ago, many of the instruments literally fall apart in your hands. They were so poorly produced!
Things have changed drastically since that time. The reality is that there are many quality products being produced in China. They’ve gotten quite good at making alto saxophones.
If you have a bit more to spend, my favorite budget alto sax is the Jean Paul AS-400. This comes with a very good case and excellent customer service.
Now take another listen to the two saxophones again (around 09:01). This time I’ll let you know which was which. Let me know in the comments below if you were right!
Interested in more saxophone reviews? Check out “The BEST Saxophone in the World…For Me.”