Jeremy Trezona - December 17, 2020

*Almost* Perfect: The Jean-Paul USA AS-400 Review

Is this the best $500 saxophone you can buy?

Ahen I started making saxophone content on YouTube, I could never imagine just how many brands of beginner saxophones there are out there. Because when I first picked up the saxophone 20-something years ago, it seemed like you could count the number of different brands to choose from on your two hands.

But now, with the power of the internet and websites like Amazon and eBay - the list is virtually endless. In fact, almost every week someone asks me what I think about a brand of saxophone I’ve literally never heard of!

And then, there’s Jean Paul USA.

When I ask my Beginner Series community what sax they’re playing, so many have mentioned they play the Jean-Paul AS-400, and everyone who I’ve spoken to has had nothing but good things to say about it.

Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you’ve heard some good things about it too!

Like you guys, I’ve watched the videos by Better Sax and Saxologic praising this model, and with the wave of positivity out there and the fact that it comes in right at the coveted $500 USD price point, I’ve felt comfortable recommending it to the SaxTuition community in the past before I’ve even had a chance to get my hands on it.

But, does this saxophone live up to the hype around it, or is it just a masterstroke in marketing?

The quick verdict...

As a beginner saxophone, this instrument is almost perfect.

For $500 USD, I don’t think there’s any instrument I’ve seen that can compete with it brand new at that price point.

So what makes it so good, and what are those things that hold it back from being absolutely perfect for a beginner?

Read on to find out, or watch the video above!

(Please note that the links provided on this page are affiliate links - meaning SaxTuition may receive a small commision if you purchase using these links.)

Jean-Paul USA Website

First impressions

My first impressions of this horn are really good!

It feels solidly constructed, particularly for the price point, there’s a really nice even, light spring tension across the whole sax, and we get a really nice satisfying clacking sound when we press the keys down, which is a good sign that the sax is actually sealing properly.

One thing that stands out to me while I’ve got my fingers on the keys, is that ideally I would like the key heights to be a bit lower. You can see with the images I flash up on screen (below) that when you compare it to my own pro sax the key heights on the Jean Paul are quite high - that means there’s more distance for the keys to travel when you press them down, which also means your fingers have to work a bit harder than they really need to.

Now it’s worth considering this is only an entry level sax, but it’s precisely because it’s aimed at beginners that I think it would really benefit from having a lower key action - after all, the easier it is to play, the better. But, as I mentioned earlier, the tension is still nice and light, so you don’t have to press hard to get a seal, you just have to press a little bit further than you would normally need to.

The rest of this sax, it feels very much like any other good modern saxophone, they key layout is very familiar; it just feels good.

There is a little bit of 'play' with the side keys, particularly with the side Bb, and that means there’s a point where if you press the key lightly the key will move ,but the actual pad will still be sealed shut. Luckily with a normal amount of pressure there’s no issues at all.

That’s something that’s pretty normal to find on a beginner horn that you wouldn’t get on a professional horn, but of course this sax is also less than a 10th of the price of most professional horns made by the likes Yamaha and Selmer!

Now, whilst I’m on this topic of ergonomics, this brings me to the only thing I really don’t like about this sax. And whilst I wouldn’t call it a total dealbreaker, it is a serious design defect and something that I wouldn’t expect to find on any saxophone regardless of the price point.

The issue is that it’s virtually impossible to transition smoothly between a low Eb and a low C using the rollers on those keys. You’ll notice that what happens is when you press the low Eb key down, a ledge is created and its basically impossible to then roll your pinky onto the low C.

You can kind of do it when you use your index finger and you’re not in a playing position at all, but when you’ve got your hands where they’re supposed to be - I don’t know - I can’t do it, and I’ve tried adjusting my hands to compensate for it, but even then it just won’t work for me!

I reached out to a Jean-Paul rep about this and they are aware of this issue, they said that right now it’s a limitation with this student model.They did say that this wasn’t an issue on their pro model, which retails for $1300, but of course that’ll be cold comfort for anyone that plays the AS-400.I really do hope that they fix this issue, because even though it’s not a key movement that a beginner will use very often, it’s still a serious drawback on what is by almost every other measure a perfect saxophone for this price point.

Visually the sax is really appealing, the base model comes in this shiny gold lacquer and includes some classic floral engraving on the bell and the bow of the sax, and all of the consumables - meaning the the pads, the springs, the felts and the cork, all look and feel like they’re good quality and have been set up properly before leaving the Jean-Paul workshop.

The playtest

Listen to the Jean-Paul AS-400 in action below!

Final thoughts

First things first, this sax has a beautiful tone.

Although they describe it as bright on the Jean Paul website, to me it’s actually quite dark for a beginner horn, but I really like it.

It has to be said, I did prefer the tone of the Yamaha 4C to the two Jean Paul mouthpieces.

Certainly the AS-4, which is the more premium mouthpiece, has a brighter sound than the generic piece they include, but both are exceptionally free blowing and very, very easy to play - so much so that it was actually a little off-putting for me, because I’m not used to having this instant response to any little bit of air that I put in!

The sax - it plays in tune, it feels good to play, it’s very affordable, and there’s only 3 things in my opinion that separate this sax from being that mythical ‘perfect’ instrument for a beginner that it really could be.

To be the "perfect" beginner saxophone, I'd like to see:

1) Lower key heights to make the saxophone more agile and 'easier' to play.

2) Include a swab (also known as pull-through cloth) in the case.
Why? It's got everything else!

But most importantly...

3) Redesign the low Eb-C keys to be more ergonomic.

The fact that it’s basically impossible to move your pinky finger over the rollers is a major issue, and although it’s not something that you’re going to be doing very often as a beginner or intermediate player, there’s no doubt that it should be something that you can do - you never want the instrument itself to be a barrier between what you can and can’t play.

I just hope that in the near future they address this issue because it’s literally one of the only things holding this instrument back from being the "perfect" beginner saxophone.

In the meantime, I suspect if I took this sax to a woodwind technician, they could quite easily drop the height of the low C key by using a thicker felt under the key guard, and therefore make it possible to actually roll the pinky between those two keys

Now, I have to say, what I do love about Jean Paul the company, is how candid they are with their story.

They recognised that for a lot of individuals and families, $1300 is just too much for a beginner instrument.They’re also very up front with the fact that this saxophone is Chinese made.

But what separates it from so many other beginner saxophones at this price point, is that each and every Jean Paul instrument goes to their Miami workshop for both quality assurance, and to get set up professionally before it ships to the customer.

Whenever I’ve contacted them, they’ve been great about getting back to me and answering my questions (although of course, I am a reviewer) but it’s just so refreshing to have a company making saxophones at this price point who

A) You can contact at all
and
B) have a brand identity and seem really committed to making good saxophones.

So if you’re thinking, "yeah, but I saw a sax for $300 on Amazon that looks the same..." - ask yourself the questions:

Does the company have a website?
Is anyone going to check the instrument over before you buy it?
Who can you contact if you have a question or a problem?


That’s really what you’re getting with this Jean Paul saxophone that you’re hard pressed to find anywhere else in that sub $500 category - a brand that’s committing to making good instruments, with real people you can contact and speak to.

And for that reason, it’s the only saxophone you can buy brand new at this price point that I feel comfortable recommending to the SaxTuition community!

Final review score: 9/10

Like what you see?

Check out the full range of Jean-Paul USA instruments below!

Jean Paul USA AS-400
Intermediate Alto Saxophone
$499.99 USD RRP

What's included?
- AS-400 Alto Saxophone
- Semi-hard Backpack Style Carrying Case
- Neck Strap
- Standard Mouthpiece
- Rico Reed #2
- Ligature & Cap
-  Cleaning Cloth
-  Cork Grease

Product page 

Jean Paul USA TS-400
Intermediate Tenor Saxophone
$699.99 USD RRP


What's included?
- TS-400 Tenor Saxophone
- Semi-hard Backpack Style Carrying Case
- Neck Strap
- Standard Mouthpiece- Rico Reed #2
- Ligature & Cap
- Cleaning Cloth
- Cork Grease

Product page 

Jean Paul USA SS-400GP
Intermediate Soprano Saxophone
$649.99 USD RRP


What's included?
- SS-400GP Soprano Saxophone
- Semi-hard Backpack Style Carrying Case
- Neck Strap
- SS-4 Soprano Sax Mouthpiece
- Rico Reed #2
- Ligature & Cap
- Cleaning Cloth
- Cork Grease

Product page 

Jean Paul USA BS-600
Intermediate Baritone Saxophone
$2949.99 USD RRP


What's included?
- BS-600 Baritone Saxophone
- Hard case
- Neck Strap
- Baritone Sax Mouthpiece
- Rico Reed #2
- Ligature & Cap
- Cleaning Cloth
- Cork Grease

Product page 


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