The Saxophone is one of the world’s most well-known instruments. It is used in a wide variety of musical styles – ranging from jazz to blues, to pop, to classical and beyond. However, most people will recognize it for its use in Jazz. The Saxophone plays a central role in Jazz music as a melodic and improvisational instrument, helping to create excitement and colour to a piece.Saxophones on Amazon
A Saxophone is used in a similar way to an electric guitar in rock music. It’s a crucial supporting element as well as a means to let loose with some screaming solos!
The Saxophone got its big breakthrough from the 1940s into the 1960s, as a result of the rise in popularity of African American Jazz and Swing music. Saxophonists such as Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Cannonball Adderly (among many others) have, to say the least, made the instrument legendary. It can be argued that the musicians during this period helped form the instrument as we know it today.
Most people think that buying a Saxophone is extremely expensive and out of their reach. I’m here to show you that just isn’t the case. Here is a range of excellent Saxophone’s to suit any budget…
Top 5 Best Saxophones
To make the choice of saxophone more manageable I have included some of the market’s best and most cost effective saxophones. They are all excellent quality irrespective of price…
Best Saxophone for Beginners
Best Saxophone for Intermediate & Advanced Players
Best Alto Saxophone
Best Tenor Saxophone
Best Soprano Saxophone
Best Baritone Saxophone
The saxophone was invented in the 1840s by the Belgian instrument maker Adolph Sax (hence the name ‘Sax’). Adolph Sax invented the Saxophone as he was looking for an instrument that had the outright volume and projection of a brass instrument, like a trumpet, but still retained the musical agility of a woodwind instrument such as an Oboe. The first iteration of his now famed ‘Saxophone’ was very basic in design.
The saxophone was not invented for jazz music (which didn’t exist at the time) rather it was used in classical ensembles, orchestras and military bands throughout the mid-late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Only being picked up by African American musicians in the 1930’s, who then altered its design to make it into the instrument we recognize today…helping spawn the Jazz and Swing movement in America during that time.
Different types of saxophones
There are 4 types of saxophones. They are arranged like registers of the human voice. Let’s start at the highest register…
The saxophone that has the highest register is called a soprano saxophone. I have tested and found the best soprano saxophone which you can find on the top of the page. The saxophone that has the second-highest register is called an alto saxophone. I have play tested both the best Soprano and Alto Saxophones which can be found at the top of this page.
Next, there is a tenor saxophone and a baritone saxophone. The baritone saxophone is particularly recognizable because of its enormous size, which also requires the saxophonist to use an extra-large strap. Unlike the other Saxophones that hang off the neck, a baritone is held with double shoulder straps due to the instruments larger weight. Again my best picks of tenor and baritone saxophones can be found at the top of the page.
The choice of saxophone depends a lot on the musician depending if you want a deep or loud sounding instrument. It is most common to start playing on an alto saxophone as it is relatively straightforward and accessible for a beginner. However many saxophonists also like the diversity of the different instruments, and therefore learn several different types of saxophones so that they have the opportunity to change according to their taste and needs. A good example of such a saxophonist is the jazz/pop saxophonist Kenny G.
If you are a beginner or new to the instrument, it is not always a good idea to start out by buying a professional saxophone – or the most expensive saxophone on the market. Most often, the professional saxophones are more difficult to play and can be frustrating for someone just getting into the instrument.
Saxophone tuning and how to tune a saxophone
The special thing about brass players (and woodwinds) is that they do not refer to notes in the same way as many other musicians, such as a guitarist or pianist. A guitar and a piano are tuned in the key of C, whereas a tenor saxophone is tuned in Bb. This can easily create some confusion for beginners, but it actually means that when a saxophonist plays his C note aren’t actually playing a C according to a guitarist or pianist. The Saxophone will actually be playing a Bb. Even though the notes will sound the same they are actually written as different notes for these different instruments. The reason why this system exists has something to do with the sound of a saxophone and the musical ‘key’ that the instrument best suits. Despite the fact that it can seem very confusing, after some time playing the instrument it’ll quickly make sense.
Since most musical notation is written for instruments tuned to C, it is an important skill for a saxophonist to learn to transpose to the key of Bb in their head. This requires the Saxophonist to change the notes they are seeing on the pianists’ page and convert them in their head so they will be produced correctly on a saxophone, totally on the fly!
Now we have used the Bb example here, but that key does not apply to all the saxophones. The keys of all the Saxophones are Soprano: Bb, Alto: Eb, Tenor: Bb, Baritone: Eb. You must therefore familiarize yourself with a new theoretical system depending on which saxophone you choose. It is important to know the difference between the saxophones and to understand why they are different from other ‘typical’ instruments. Therefore you must familiarize yourself with a new theoretical system depending on which saxophone you choose.
Saxophone parts and construction
Saxophones are usually made of brass, but they can also be made of copper, silver and in rare cases gold. The material the instrument is made of has not only something to do with the price of the instrument but it also affects the sound itself. As with many other things, the choice of material is a matter of taste from musician to musician. The sound of the saxophone occurs by the musician blowing through a small sliver of cane leaf called a ‘reed’. The reed vibrates which then projects sound through the instruments tubes to be amplified out of the ‘bell’. From here, the musician has the opportunity to open/close flaps that shorten/extend the length of tube the sound will travel down, which in turn changes the musical note.
Saxophone Reeds: A saxophone reed is a sliver of wood that is cut out of a cane plant. However, it is also possible to buy plastic and fibre reeds, but cane reeds are undoubtedly the best and most common. A saxophone reed is available in different hardnesses, with 1 being the softest and 5 being the hardest. Hardness rating 1 is easier to play than 5, but 5 gives a better sound and generally lasts longer. Reeds often need ‘playing in’ before they sound their best.
Saxophone mouthpiece: The saxophone’s mouthpiece is located at the end of the instrument’s neck and acts as an interface between the player and the saxophone’s resonant body. The delicate parts that make up the mouthpiece are made from a variety of synthetic and organic materials. The most common materials are hard rubber (vulcanized rubber), plastics and metals. The design of the saxophone’s mouthpiece is not much different from a clarinet’s, but with some small differences. The Saxophone version is larger and has a larger chamber. Like the clarinet, the saxophone has a single reed that is used to produce sound.
A saxophonist uses the combination of airflow and the shape of the mouth (using jaw and lip muscles) to form a specific vibration in the reed. This vibration is enhanced by the horn’s shape and design to produce a rich and expressive sound. While beginners start with standard mouthpieces, skilled and well-developed saxophonists will find a wide variety of options to suit their own playing style and desired sound. Mouthpieces can be found with many different sizes of chambers, so you can adjust the tone to a warmer tone, instead of a more sharp and penetrating sound depending on your preference or musical situation. There are also plenty of reed options for any saxophonist, including the basic categories that are intended for each type and size of saxophone. Occasionally you will see a saxophonist use a clarinet reed too.
Saxophone ligature: The saxophone’s ligature holds the saxophone reed inside the mouthpiece so that the musician’s notes are clear – in the form of a full sound through consistent and constant vibration. It is shaped like a clamp. The most common materials used for manufacturing ligatures are leather, metal and plastic. The musician has many options for saxophone ligatures, although not all ligatures are equally compatible – that’s why it’s important to test them to ensure their fit. The more experienced player can achieve some variation in tone by trying different positions against the tip of the mouthpiece. If it is placed closer to the tip, it tends to give a sharper sound while further away softens the tone.
Body: The body of the saxophone is the lower end of a cylindrical tube that begins where the neck ends and ends at the bell. The body is usually made of thin brass plated in a variety of precious metals, including gold, silver and nickel. The shape and size of the saxophone body vary greatly depending on the type of saxophone – from straight to deep U-bends – but it always ends in a flared bell. Tone holes are located up and down the body and the amount vary between 20 and 24 depending on the saxophone. These holes are in several different sizes, depending on where they are located. Soldered inserts are attached to the body as support for an elegant and complicated system of moving rods, keys and central cups. The body’s brass shape is typically given an extra layer of lacquering or plating to help preserve the saxophone’s shine and keep oxygen from destroying the metal. Clear acrylic lacquer is a typical choice here, although some instruments have coloured lacquer and even silver and gold plating.
Bell: The bell is where the produced wave of sound comes out of the saxophone. The bell is usually adorned with a decorative flare or engraving. Depending on the size and type of saxophone, the bell may be aligned or straightened. The bell is a typical place for decorating the instrument, as this is the part that is most clearly seen by the listener. The best place to keep your saxophone is in its case away from any drastic changes in temperature. The bell can be easily polished with a soft cloth to remove fingerprints. Attention! Never place your saxophone on the ground balanced on the end as it will risk scratching or damaging the bell. Also, always clean the bell after touching the bare hands if you notice dirt or fingerprints. Oil and moisture from your hands can break down the finish (look) of the bell over time if it is not quickly removed.
Saxophone buying guide
When choosing a saxophone for the first time there are some considerations to be made. First of all, you have to decide which type of saxophone you are looking for. Are you looking for the deep (large, and heavy) baritone saxophone, or are you looking for the more classic higher-pitched alto or soprano saxophone?
Next you have to consider the price. Is it really necessary to go for an expensive saxophone, or will a cheaper one do the job? Especially if you look at the used market, it is possible to find good and durable saxophones for less than half of the new price. Often getting a used saxophone will mean you get a better quality instrument for the same price as a more inferior new model. The problem here, however, is that when you look for a used instrument you won’t have the professional guidance to tell you if its a good deal or if there is any damage that needs to be fixed later on.
For beginners, it may be difficult to assess the quality of a saxophone. So, if possible, it is recommended that you get a friend or someone you know with an understanding of saxophones to come and try it. This ensures that you won’t have any nasty surprises when you get the instrument home! Last but not least, does the instrument feel good in your hands? Does it look and feel how you want it to and therefore inspire you to play? If the answer is ‘yes’ then that’s the sax for you!