As a saxophone student in college with 12 years of saxophone playing experience, here is my opinion-based review on saxophone brands I have come across, both mainstream and obsure.
1. Selmer Paris/Selmer USA
Selmer makes some of the best saxophones on the market and they play well in both classical and jazz genres. From experience, Selmer saxophones play with a more centered tone that requires less control of the player to maintain good intonation. On the flipside, the centered tone reduces the flexibility of the air stream. For someone who’s main performance genre of choice is jazz, this may create some issues for soloing or stylistic playing.
Overall, the Selmer saxophones are beautifully handcrafted, personally tested, and built for the professional player in mind. If you decide to choose a Selmer, I recommend Selmer Paris instead of Selmer USA because the French models are higher in quality. Some of the most popular models are the Selmer Series I, Series II, and Series III models, as well as the Reference 54. I have personally played all of these models and the Reference 54 was by far the best! However, each player is different and everyone should take an instrument for a trial run period before deciding to make a purchase.
Yamaha makes a lot of high quality products ranging from pianos, to ATVs, to band instruments. I know many saxophone players who play Yamaha saxophones who are highly successful. I have only played a couple of Yamahas, but my favorite model, also the most popular, was the Yamaha Custom 875-EX. This is about a $4,000 saxophone but it is well worth the money. In comparison with the Selmer’s, the Yamaha saxophones do not have the highly centered tone but this makes it ideal for jazz musicians. Also, the altissimo range is easier to navigate for those performers who like to take the instrument to the extremes!
Yangisawa is a Japanese-made horn and as many of the products coming out of Japan, you can expect a high quality instrument. The saxophone price runs a bit lower than the Selmers or Yamahas, so for someone on a budget, these saxophones provide great quality at a more affordable price. Because of my lack of experience with these saxophones, I would highly recommend trying one out before deciding on one.
I have only played one of these saxophones as it was my high school horn. It has currently been passed down to my brother who is quite successful on it. Stephanhouser is a German brand. The saxophone plays well but requires a lot of personal time with the instrument to get used to the pitch tendencies. At the same time, the metal used is high quality, but the lacquer is a bit cheap. It rubs off after only a few months use and the corks need replacing after about a year. If you purchase one of these saxophones, I would recommend having the horn sent to a technician to improve the quality of the mechanics.
Jupiter makes a lot of band instruments including flutes, clarinets, and trumpets, as well as saxophones. Jupiter flutes and trumpets are great while the clarinets leave something to be desired. As for the saxophones, these are great instruments for a great price. There is a great quality instrument for just about every price range with this brand. After Selmer and Yamaha, Jupiter is probably the third most popular saxophone brand.
As said before, every player looking to purchase a new instrument should try out different brands before making a final purchase. Also, research how much others have paid for their instruments. You may be able to barter a dealer down to a price you can afford, or to at least take a little off of the purchase price.