Why Cheap Saxophones Are Cheap


Curt Altarac, a fel­low sax­o­phone repair spe­cial­ist here in North Car­olina put together a great arti­cle at MusicMedic.com based on the expe­ri­ence of one of his appren­tices fit­ting the keys (aka rebuild­ing the mechan­ics) of a cheap East Asian import sax.

Any of you who are repair­men read­ing this are imme­di­ately get­ting clammy, and per­haps get­ting cramps in your hands just think­ing about it. And if a for­mer appren­tice of mine is read­ing this– see? I’m not cruel and unusual. Just cruel.

Some­how this arti­cle slipped under my radar, but for those of you who are mechan­i­cally minded it is a great answer to “what is the dif­fer­ence between a $400 sax­o­phone and a $4000 saxophone?”.


In a word, craftsmanship.

One of the things you’ll notice read­ing Curt’s arti­cle  is that its really a lot of lit­tle things adding up to make the job of per­fect­ing the key­work much more inten­sive and time con­sum­ing than it nor­mally would be.

Its get­ting things right that takes time, and there­fore money. Get­ting things to 80 or 90 per­cent right can be done in less than 80 or 90 per­cent of the time it takes to get things 100 per­cent right. Just like when you prac­tice a piece of music, its the last few per­cent on the way to per­fec­tion that take up most of your time. Like a log­a­rith­mic curve approach­ing the Y-axis or a massed par­ti­cle approach­ing light­speed, you can approach per­fec­tion– but never meet it. The closer you get to per­fec­tion the more energy it takes.

I do believe that the cheap imported sax­o­phones play a very valu­able role– the role of being a 3–4 year horn that gets you started on the cheap. One that if you treat it right will last you just about until you start to notice its shortcomings.

Per­haps my expe­ri­ence vis­it­ing a fac­tory in Viet­nam plays a part in this, but I also believe that these instru­ments play an impor­tant part in bring­ing up stan­dards of liv­ing in the locales where they are man­u­fac­tured. What is appar­ently unprof­itable and unwanted work here in the US is con­sid­ered mod­er­ately skilled labor else­where, allow­ing folks to earn a decent liv­ing and adding choice to their lives.