I am sure that the answer to WHAT IS THE BEST GOOD INEXPENSIVE STUDENT INTERMEDIATE SAX question is easily found if you do a search in this forum for the Yamaha alto/tenor sax "YAS-21" or it's later variant the "YAS-23". (YTS-21or23)
There is almost uniform agreement on the subject of, "inexpensive, but perfectly suitable through college" level horns. The above mentioned models fit perfectly, as previous posts say, "They are out there."
You will discover that the true, USED BARGAIN HORN is the Vito/JAPAN labeled horn. Yamaha made these horns in Japan and put the name VITO on them. The were manufactured for the Leblanc company, which specified a rose-gold tinted lacquer, versus clear, to be applied by YAMAHA. And they had slighly different keyguards. But the horns were ALL YAMAHA, MADE IN JAPAN. The Leblanc corporation actually marketted these horns as being somewhat UPSCALE. And when last sold; their NEW, retail, price was higher in America than the exact same model which was labelled YAMAHA.
I personally work for Two Local Musical Equipment Retail/ Repair Shops doing landscape work, and have been educated about, and pointed in, this direction. That is to say the," Buy a Vito/Japan!" direction.
Now to clarify the only ISSUE that I have not personally seen discussed on this forum concerning VITO horns. I am sure that it has been, but not in conjuction with the above VITO/JAPAN YAMAHA/JAPAN issue. The only real thing to worry about when buying the (good-enough-for-most-cases-inexpensive-horn) is this: YES--- buy a good example of a YAMAHA labeled JAPANESE made horn... YES--- buy a good example of a VITO labeled JAPANESE made horn... NO---- Don't buy a Vito-labeld horn made anywhere OTHER than JAPAN... unless someone REALLY knows what they are looking at.
Why?????? Some time during Leblanc's corporate history they decided to experiment with the keywork. They created a DIFFERENT way of organizing the fingerings to create the notes. This was an effort which they called the LEBLANC SYSTEM. There are folks on this forum who know much more about this than I do. So I will not go any further than to say this, " Unless you want to learn a totally different way to make notes on a sax, DON'T by a Leblanc System horn." And how does one avoid one of these horns???? Either know what you are looking at, or simply, buy ONLY a Leblanc Vito/Japan.
This confusion about the Leblanc VITO horns is what has them currently undervalued, and thus the better bargain. And until the above clarification TRULY Becomes Common Knowledge, the Yamaha Vitos will remain UNDERvaluled.
So to simply restate: Looking for that "inexpensive, but perfectly suitable through college" level horn? FIND a good used YAMAHA/JAPAN or VITO/JAPAN labeled, less expensive horn. Either purchase one of these from a reputable seller who says that it is in AT LEAST good/playing condition... "freshly PC'd". Or have your local expert inspect the horn for it's playability, BEFORE finallizing the purchase.
Be aware that one can easily spend a Minimum of $50-100 to get a horn in Playing Condition (PC'd). And, depending on what part of the country you are in, totally repadding a horn commands a Minimum of $200. Also if you choose to have major work done on any woodwind, be certain to get a "written description" of what is to be done, and for what price. Definitions vary as to what a PC/ repad/overhaul/rebuild/relacquer IS..."
Frequently what one wants to have done to an inexpensive horn is either the aforementioned "PC it". Or secondly a REPAD. But Be Sure to ask for: full disassembly, removal of all old oils, cleaning/sterilization of body and neck pipe, all NEW pads, new corks where needed, reassembly, oil, and regulation. DO NOT feel shy about requiring the shop to play-test it using a tuner, right in front of your eyes. A VITO/ YAMAHA JAPAN horn should easily pass. All the technicians that I have spoken with say that they love to do the work described above on these horns, because they are so easy to work on... In other words they get the job done quickly, with less effort, and great results. Did I just give away a secret that they make more money per hour when doing these horns... Uh Huh.... Yup...
So now that you know that, you might be in a position to ask for a little bit of SIMPLE dent removal to be included in the very specific bargain that has been described above. Some places call it a repad, some an overhaul. And I did say "simple" dent removal. A fella's gotta eat... If you want the horn to be Dent-Free, plated keys machine-buffed, body/bell hand polished. Or lacquer removed, machine-buffed, relacquered....??? Now you REALLY gotta pay... moving toward a $ grand American.
As an aside. I believe that most folks in the know would GENERALLY not recommend any machine buffing (except on the keys). As this can involve removing metal from the horn's body and bell, thus changing the sound. Also the relacquering process can be too heavy, etc. If you own or buy a vintage/lacquer horn DEFINATELY don't machine-buff, or lacquer as you WILL reduce it's value, and the aficionados will GLARE at you. I've seen it. SMILE.
So I hope that I have CLARIFIED a couple of things aboout the whole, "VITO/JAPAN equals YAMAHA/JAPAN thing" in conjunction with the, "Be cautious about all Vito horns, NOT labeled Japan issue."
And one more thing before more educated folk beat me to it. If you were to find a Made in Japan, Leblanc Vito/Martin engraved horn WITHOUT nickel plated keywork. You may have lucked onto a professional grade Yanagisawa horn. Some of these, depending on the year, and whether soprano, alto, tenor, etc., are totally, wholly, completely Yanagisawa professional level. STAMPED JAPAN and MAY also have the YANI symbol stamped also.
I personally own a Leblanc/ MARTIN engraved tenor horn; stamped Japan and obviously ALL Yamaha, however. It has all brass keywork and is as professional grade as they get. Yet another Mystery unravelled with much effort...
Hopefully when folks search this site For BEST GOOD INEXPENSIVE STUDENT INTERMEDIATE SAX they find this link; and it eases or simplifies their search. And if they choose to read further for hours to confirm these statements, I hope that they find great pleasure doing so... I HAVE.... ALL SMILES...
Oh,,, 1+1=1...??? Welll... 1 Vito plus 1 Yamaha (sometimes equals) 1 Yamaha