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The Best of the Best: Recommended Equipment

Searching the internet for "best reeds" or "what saxophone should I buy" is a rabbit hole you don't need to go down.

Often, these "recommendations" are sponsored by individual companies promoting their products. And although that's fine, it's also biased.

Let me save you a lot of time and money by giving you a tried-and-true, unbiased, and thoroughly play-tested list of everything you need to sound your absolute best:



Top pick: D'Addario Reserve Saxophone Reeds

Good for: All saxophone voices

Pros: D'Addario's state-of-the-art precision engineering makes their reeds the most consistent you'll find on the market. D'Addario has spent countless hours researching the tonal properties of cane, and invested countless dollars creating machinery able to measure each design and cut to the thousandth of the millimeter. Translation: the reeds in each box are going to all sound the same.

Cons: Because reeds can be played the reeds right out of the box, students tend to rush the break-in process. If that happens, the reeds can die more quickly. However, if reeds are broken in properly, the reeds can last just as long as other brands.

Since every student has different anatomy and is at varying stages in their development, one-size does not fit all. For questions about which reed strength is best for your student, email me and I'll point you in the right direction.

Runner up: D'Addario VENN

Good for: Alto and Tenor grades 7-12

Pros: Synthetic reeds are a unique alternative to cane. They are more durable and low-maintenance than cane, making them ideal for marching band. VENN reeds are a blend of polymer fibers (for durability) and cane particles (to mimic the sonic properties of cane). With proper rotation, VENN reeds can last 3-6 months.

Cons: Synthetic reeds have a different "mouth feel" than cane. As such, students should learn to play on cane reeds for at least their first year, so they get used to what they sound and feel like. As students mature and are looking for a more durable reed, however, VENN are the best-sounding synthetic reed I have ever tried.

I recommend trying out one of my sample VENN reeds to find the ideal strength before purchasing your own. (They are thoroughly disinfected and kept in meticulous condition!)



Top pick: Selmer S90 180

Good for: Alto, Tenor*, Baritone

Pros: Selmer S90's produce gorgeous, full tone while maintaining ease of articulation and precise intonation. Put simply: they sound amazing, and are easy to play.

Cons: These can be pricey, and at times hard to find. Part of the reason why they are expensive is the engineering that goes into them. The other reason is the high demand around the globe (Selmer is made in France).

*Note: for Tenor I recommend the 170 facing

Get it here: alto, tenor, and bari

Runner up: MacSax Classical Mouthpiece Series

Good for: Alto, Tenor, Baritone

Pros: I'll be honest: when I first tried the Alto mouthpiece (Castilleja), I was skeptical. After all, I saw nothing wrong with my Selmer S90 model, and wasn't looking for a change.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that these mouthpieces exceeded my expectations. They have the playability I want, and have a tonal color similar to the coveted Selmer Concept.

But perhaps their greatest asset is the price. Made here in Austin, these mouthpieces are designed to be just as excellent as the Selmer and Vandoren models, at a fraction of the price.

Cons: I have yet to personally try the Baritone model, the Oak. But, if I were in the market for a bari mouthpiece, that would be my first purchase.

Get it here: alto, tenor (be sure to select the 0.80" tip opening!), and bari



Top pick for Alto Saxophones: D'Addario Padded Closed-Hook Neck Strap

Good for: Alto

Pros: This is pretty much everything you want in a neck strap: comfortable padding (that, unlike other brands, does not stretch over time), secure attachment (plastic closed hook attaches to the instrument easily), and at a very affordable price. As a bonus: these are machine-washable. If you have not been through a week of Summer Band in Texas, take my word for it: you will definitely want to wash this guy.

Get it here: soprano/alto

Top pick for Tenor and Baritone Saxophones: Boston Sax Shop Balam Classic Strap

Good for: Tenor and Bari

Pros: The biggest benefit of a harness strap is weight distribution. Unlike traditional straps that put pressure on the neck, a harness distributes weight between the shoulders, which makes playing more comfortable and enjoyable.

Also, unlike other harnesses, the Balam is ideal for playing sitting down and standing. (Most of what you find that's less expensive fits only one body type in one playing position).

Cons: This strap can be out of stock at times.

Runner up: Breathtaking Neck Strap

Good for: All saxophone voices

Pros: This is the most ergonomic neck strap on the market. It equally distributes weight between the shoulders and upper back, while the front bar creates openness around the chest for optimal breathing. Translation: even the heaviest saxophones don't feel heavy!

An added bonus, Breathtaking also has a WrapLift. This add-on attachment takes pressure off of the spinal vertebrae, lifting the strap off the neck.

Cons: Price. I will say, though, as someone who has had issues with jaw/neck/back tension, this strap is worth it.



Top pick: Vandoren M/O

Good for: All saxophone voices

Pros: Always easy to find and at virtually at every music store, the Vandoren M/O is a great first ligature. It is easy to adjust, not too delicate, and promotes a consistent, pure tone quality.

Cons: Over time, this ligature can tarnish due to exposure to moisture. It doesn't affect the ligature itself (it will still function just fine), but it can be unpleasant to look at.

Additionally, the M/O baritone ligature doesn't always fit over the Selmer S90 mouthpiece. (That particular mouthpiece is wider than most).

Get it here: alto, tenor, and bari

Runner up: Bambu NOVA

Good for: Tenor and Bari

Pros: Price. This is an affordable, high-quality ligature that fits a variety of mouthpieces. Unlike other leather/fabric ligatures, the woven material allows the reed to vibrate without feeling restricted. It also comes with an optional metal plate, allowing the player to experiment with different sound colors.

Cons: Some players may not like the feel of a woven ligature, because it vibrates differently than a metal ligature. This is a matter of personal preference; some people love how flexible this is, and others prefer the tonal color and projection they can achieve on a metal ligature.

Get it here: tenor, bari



Top pick: Yamaha YAS-875 EX

Good for: Alto

Pros: Yamaha instruments are some of the most consistent-sounding saxophones on the market. Made from high-quality (as in, not so flexible that it requires constant maintenance) brass, Yamaha's are dependable, easy to repair (their various parts will be stocked by local technicians, at is a very common instrument brand) have a beautiful sound, and perhaps best of all, have incredibly consistent intonation and ease of sound.

Cons: The YAS EX is currently discontinued, but there are multiple models still available to purchase through sites like ebay and Currently, Yamaha is producing the YAS-875 EX II.

The other con here is price. Yamaha's aren't inexpensive, but, they also hold their value for resale more than other companies.

Runner up: Yamaha YAS-62

Good for: Alto

Pros: Like the 875EX model, Yamaha instruments are known for their consistency, ease of sound, and even intonation. The YAS-62 is a more affordable option than the 875EX, and can be found gently used for even more savings.

Cons: The 62 has a smaller bore and slightly different metal composition compared to the 875EX. (A smaller bore arguably creates a more mellow tone, whereas a larger bore creates more tonal richness and depth). Like many things in the world of saxophone, whether a student likes the 875 vs. 62 can come down to personal preference.

Runner up: Yanagisawa W010 Series

Good for: Alto, Tenor, and Bari

Pros: Yanagisawa's have a unique and beautiful tone quality. They are similar to Yamaha in their consistency and intonation evenness, but in my personal opinion, Yani's have slightly more tonal depth. The A (A=alto), T (T=tenor), and B (B-baritone) W010 series is a lesser known but still gorgeous saxophone.

Cons: For some unknown reason, there are no registered Yanagisawa dealers in the state of Texas. That means that students aren't able to try out this instrument before purchasing, which has its own set of challenges.


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