Category Archives: Saxophones

The Martin Saxophone – One Of The Most Sought After Vintage Brands

The Martin saxophone is one of the most sought after collectible vintage brands around. Martin made a variety of different lines of saxophone from the years from 1919 to 1967. Some of the product lines were the “The” line, Handcraft, “Typewriter,” and others. It’s a bit confusing, but what collectors now call the “The” Martin saxes are ones that had “The Martin” engraved on the bell, with the type of sax, (alto, tenor, etc.) engraved above these words.

Collectors rave about the quality of some of these old saxophones. One Martin that really gets a lot of praise is the baritone sax in the Master “Typewriter” series. This series was apparently nicknamed for an arrangement of keys that resembled a typewriter. In addition to baritone saxes, Martin also made soprano, C melody, alto, and tenor saxophones.

The oldest Martin line is the Handcraft. It was made from 1914 to 1930. The Master (called the Typewriter) was produced from 1929 to 1932. From 1932 to 1936, Martin made the Handcraft Troubadour and the Handcraft Imperial. Committee and Centennial are other names used between 1936 and 1943. These have the nicknames “Sky-line,” “Searchlight,” and “Lion and Crown.”

Vintage Martin Saxophone, Martin Saxophone

Vintage Martin Saxophone

From 1945 to around 1967, Martin made the line called “The” by collectors. The Official Music Man was seen in the early 1960’s, while the Magna was manufactured from 1956 to around 1967. All of the saxophones listed above were professional models that still have their devoted fans. However, Martin made student and intermediate saxophones, too.

If the Martin saxophone you own is an Indiana, an Imperial, or a Medalist, then you have a student model in your collection. The student intermediate models were made in the 50’s and 60’s. Martin is a popular collectible in the world of vintage saxophones, and a brand that is held up as having a great sound as well as classy engraving and good looks.

martin saxophone, vintage saxophone, vintage martin

Martin Handcraft Vintage Saxophone

The Subcontrabass Saxophone

Let’s discuss the subcontrabass saxophone. Of the nine types of saxophones, this is the largest. The smallest saxophone is the soprillo or sopranissimo saxophone, followed by the soprinino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass, and the largest, the sub contrabass saxophone. Actually, Adolphe Sax patented this monster saxophone and planned to build it, but it was never finished. It was supposed to have been tuned in B-flat, two octaves below the tenor sax, and one octave below the bass sax. The project was called saxophone bourdon.

An instrument that never was.

This saxophone never really existed. If you do an online search you will find several pictures of the gigantic instrument. But they are not exactly playable instruments. They are simply for show. In the 1960s an instrument was built but I’m not sure you can call it a real saxophone. My research has shown that it was not tuned properly. While it was able to produce musical notes, one could not even play a basic scale on it.

More than one person was required to play it, where one person would have to open and close the various pads. An instrument so big, you would need to have giant hands to play it. No single musician would have been able to play it with only two hands.

In the 1920s C.G. Conn shipped one around the country. It was to be used for advertising purposes.

What exists today?

Can one find a subcontrabass saxophone today? Well in 150 years, since the instrument was patented by Adolphe Sax, several attempts have been made to construct a real, playable one – an instrument that was deeper than the contrabass saxophone.

Today, the closest thing would have to be a subcontrabass tubax. It was developed in 1999 by Benedikt Eppelsheim of Munich, a German instrument maker. It was constructed as a larger and deeper version of the Eb “Tubax” contrabass saxophone. It has the same tonal range as what the subcontrabass was supposed to have had. While Adolphe had designed this saxophone to be tuned in B-flat, you will find the tubax tuned in C as well as B-flat. The subcontrabass tubax is one octave below the bass saxophone, or a fourth below the contrabass saxophone.

Learn about other types of saxophones, like the alto, tenor and baritone.

The Contrabass Saxophone

The contrabass saxophone is an extremely large, heavy instrument. It’s huge! A real monster. It has twice the length of tubing of the baritone saxophone and its bore is twice as wide. The contrabass is the biggest existing woodwind instrument.

Imagine a woodwind instrument that goes to a low concert D-Flat, an entire octave below the baritone sax or bass clarinet. In its lowest register, the sound produced is massive and harsh. The sound is so low that listeners can have difficulty distinguishing between notes. It can be difficult to hear actual pitches.

contrabass saxophone

contrabass saxophone

It appears that the contrabass is the lowest real saxophone ever built. Although Adolphe Sax patented the subcontrabass saxophone, I’m not sure that any were ever actually built. It seems that what was built was more of a stage prop.

The contrabass saxophone is still produced but is quite rare.

Not many players use the instrument. It is rarely used in classical music and when used it is hardly features as a solo instrument. It has been mostly used as a solo instrument in jazz music. The instrument is difficult to hold and control, and so is actually playing it.

Contrabass players include Jay C. Easton, Thomas K. J. Mejer, Paul Cohen, Anthony Braxton, Klaas Hekman, Daniel Gordon, Scott Robinson, and Daniel Kientzy.

Personally, I like this type of saxophone. I think it fits perfectly in a saxophone ensemble. It adds to the already amazing sound of a saxophone choir. It adds an extra low end and takes you places where the baritone saxophone can’t go i.e. one octave lower.

The Bass Saxophone

The bass saxophone, built by Adolphe Sax, was the first saxophone ever.

It is said that Sax walked 186 miles from Brussels to Paris to present the instrument to the world. We certainly have to thank him for that. Such a heavy instrument? One wouldn’t think of doing that today.

The idea behind this saxophone was to build an instrument that would have the power and volume of the ophicleide, a member of the tuba family.

The instrument should also be as agile as the bass clarinet. The instrument was first heard in concert on February 3, 1844.

bass saxophone

bass saxophone

The bass saxophone is larger than the baritone saxophone but smaller than the contrabass. Its design is similar to that of a baritone saxophone. But it’s loop, near the mouthpiece extends further than that of the baritone. The instrument is not widely used. It is pitched in B-flat. Sheet music for this sax is written not in the bass clef, but in the treble clef like other saxophones. You simply play two octaves and a major second lower than how the music is actually written.

There are two versions of the instrument. One comes with a tall neck projecting high above the mouthpiece leadpipe. In the other version the neck extends below the leadpipe.

The bass version of the saxophone was quite popular between World War I and World War II. It played a major role in jazz combos during that era and was used primarily for bass lines.

The Sopranino Saxophone

Let’s take a look at the sopranino saxophone. This saxophone is one of the smallest members of the saxophone family. It is bigger than the new sopranissimo or soprillo saxophone (constructed by Benedikt Eppelsheim), but smaller than the soprano saxophone.

So in terms of size, the smallest saxophone is the sopranissimo, followed by the sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass, and the subcontrabass. (Of course, the smaller the saxophone, the higher the pitch.)

The E-Flat sopranino sax is a very delicate instrument in terms of how it is built, as well how it is played.Extremely difficult to manufacture. This sax is only a fraction of the size of the soprano and the intricate detail required to produce it is amazing. The instrument almost looks like a toy, but it is very far from that.

sopranino saxophone

sopranino saxophone

Yanagiswa and Selmer are popular manufacturers of the sopranino saxophone.

The high-pitched sopranino is tuned in the key of E-flat. The instrument sounds an octave above the alto sax.The sopranino is not very common, unlike saxophones like the tenor, soprano, and alto, but is still being produced by many of the major musical instrument manufacturers. It is increasingly being used in contemporary music.

Most sopranino saxophones are not curved, but straight. This is because of the fact that they are so small. However, you can still find some curved ones, made by Orsi.Due to the fact that this saxophone is so small, many players find it a rather cramped task to get their fingers onto the keys. Some of them have a tendency to sound rather thin and shrill.

Notable use of the instrument is in the orchestral work Bolero, by Maurice Ravel. Notable improvisors using the sopranino include Anthony Braxton and Martin Archer. Today, sopraninos are used as solo instruments and within saxophone ensembles.

Sopranino saxes are pretty expensive. For instance, last time I checked, the Selmer Paris 50 Series II was being sold for $4995.00 at a leading online musical instrument seller.

The Sopranissimo Saxophone, Nicknamed Soprillio: The World’s Smallest Sax!

The sopranissimo saxophone, nicknamed the soprillo, is the world’s smallest saxophone. It is followed (in terms of size and pitch) by the sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass, and the subcontrabass. It is a piccolo-sized transposing saxophone pitched in the key of Bb.

It ranges from low-Bb to high-Eb, and is equipped with complete keys to play within this range. Imagine a saxophone that is an entire octave above the soprano saxophone! (The soprillo saxophone is a half octave above the sopranino sax.) It’s upper register extends to a fifth above the sopranino saxophone.

The soprillo saxophone is one of the newest and rarest members of the saxophone family. It is the highest pitched saxophone ever known!

Constructing such a small saxophone has been very difficult and only recently has a true sopranissimo saxophone been produced.

The soprillo saxophone is so fantastically small that the upper octave key is placed in the mouthpiece and no existing parts could be used. They had to completely redesign the body with the tone hole network, as well as the keys and the mouthpiece. It is only 12 inches (30cm) in length and with the mouthpiece attached it extends to 13 inches.

sopranissimo saxophone, soprillo, saxophone

Sopranissimo Saxophone (Soprillo)

You can well imagine how difficult it is to play such a small saxophone like the sopranissimo saxophone – an instrument that requires such a tight embouchure. (Embouchure refers to the use of facial muscles and the shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece of the instrument.)

Professional soprano and sopranino saxophone players can take several months of practice to be able to play its highest notes. If you’re a professional player, I’m sure you love a challenge. Why not give the sopranissimo a try. After all, only professional players can play such a difficult instrument. It is a superb instrument for sax choirs and can also be used as a solo instrument.

The sopranissimo is manufactured exclusively by Benedikt Eppelsheim,a German instrument maker. Last time I checked it was being sold for about $2900 online.


Parts of a Saxophone

Saxophone Parts (Diagram below)

The following article discusses the various parts of a saxophone. Before buying a saxophone or learning to play it, it’s important to learn all you can so that you know exactly what you’re getting into. Learn about the complex instrument called the saxophone – a woodwind instrument which is made not out of wood, but of brass.

Learning to play the saxophone? Purchasing one for the first time? If so, you need to know its parts and their functions. From a buyer’s standpoint, familiarity with the instrument’s design and the materials used to make it will help you make a better choice. In this article we shall take a look at the various saxophone parts. We shall examine the neck, octave vent and key, mouthpiece, body (tube, bow, and bell), thumb rest, keys (spatula keys and side keys), rods and pads.

saxophone parts, parts of a saxophone

parts of a saxophone

The saxophone neck is also called the gooseneck. It is a metal tube attached to the saxophone’s body. It fits between the body of the horn and the mouthpiece. Saxophone necks can be removed, except for a soprano saxophone. The saxophone neck is one of the most undervalued parts of the saxophone. Changing it can make a vast difference on tone color, intonation, response, projection, and so on. Today, a vigorous market exists in after market necks. They are available in a variety of different metals, platings and finishes, each offering their own distinct characteristics.

On the neck is a single key and hole called the octave vent. Next to the octave vent is a flat metal key called the octave key which operates the octave mechanism on the neck.

Another saxophone part is the mouthpiece. This is where the saxophone player places his lips and blows air into the saxophone. The mouthpiece is found on the neck of the saxophone. To slide it in, a cork is needed. Only two woodwind families use a mouthpiece. They are the clarinet family and the woodwind family. Due to the fact that the mouthpiece is the direct link between a player and the instrument, it is of considerable importance. A good saxophone mouthpiece can make the difference between a rewarding playing experience and one of utter frustration. Choosing a mouthpiece should be based on your personal experience. There is no perfect choice that will be true for all sax players. The best mouthpiece for you should allow you to achieve the best possible sound with the least amount of effort.

Along with the neck, the body is one of the major parts. It consists of a conically shaped brass tube with plates called “ribs” attached to the body, which support rods, keys and key cups that hold leather pads to cover the holes on the body. The tube is the straight part of the body. The bow is the u-shaped bottom of the sax. And the bell is the flared part. There are keys on the bell called bell keys. The body of the saxophone is generally finished with some protective coating such as a high-gloss brass lacquer or clear-coat lacquer. Very old saxophones were plated in silver, gold or nickel to protect the brass, and you still find some new ones like this today. New finishes include colorful lacquer finishes, black nickel finishes, and auto-body paint styled finishes. The finish is mainly for appearance but some argue that it affects the sound as well.

Then there’s the thumb rest which is a hook-shaped piece of plastic or metal where you place your right thumb to support the weight of the horn. The thumb rest is located on the main body of the instrument towards the bottom, before the bow.

Next, in our discussion of the saxophone parts, we take a look at the keys. The keys are either made of brass or nickel and often some or all of the keys are covered with mother-of-pearls. Keys on the middle and lower part of the bow are called spatula keys, while those on the bottom right side are known as side keys. A saxophone consists of closed standing and open standing keys. Closed standing keys are held closed by a spring when the horn is not being played. When the key is pressed, the hole it covers opens. Open standing keys are held open by a spring and close when the key is pressed.

A saxophone rod is one of the most important saxophone parts in terms of its performance. Rods support and facilitate all of the movement associated with playing the saxophone. If they are to stand up to extended and rigorous playing, they must be strong. It is important to keep them well maintained. When buying a new horn, this is one part you should pay careful attention to. Weak rods are a sign of an inferior instrument.

Lastly, let’s take a look at the pads of a saxophone. This is a key element in any saxophone. Pads cover the holes on the saxophone so the instrument can produce different sounds. Problems arise when the pads do not completely cover the holes. This can lead to a lot of frustration because such a saxophone will not play properly. When shopping for a saxophone, especially a used one, one must pay close attention to the pads. Pads must also be soft to touch. Saxophone pads also have metal or brass discs called resonators to help in sound projection and to increase overall volume.

Saxophones come in many different shapes and sizes. Many have been created throughout history but the five which remain in use today from the largest instrument with the lowest sound to the smallest instrument with the highest sound, are bass, baritone, tenor, alto and soprano saxophone. Be sure to check out the various sections on this site for information on each kind of saxophone, or the particular one you’re interested in.

Famous Saxophone Players – Great Players

Famous Saxophone Players

Time makes the difference between the good sax players and the really great ones. Some names however become very popular on an international scale, while others remain “semi gods” in smaller, connoisseur circles.

Determining the most famous players is a task that is virtually impossible, as it would be to name the best rock artist, for example. Such choices rely heavily on subjectivity and personal taste, so a list that is true worldwide and for each and every individual is hard to compile.

Some sax players make it to the top of popularity lists with their jazz music, others by playing as part of an orchestra. One atypical saxophone star is the former US President, William “Bill” Clinton, well known for his hobby of playing the saxophone.

Real and fictional famous saxophone players

Kenny G, famous saxophone player

Kenny G

Although real sax players have gotten their names on the lips of many, there are also virtual characters that play the saxophone in their own shows or sitcoms.

Famous names such as: Eugene Rousseau, Kim Hutchcroft, Antonio Hart, Sigured Rascher, Vernard Johnson, Gerry Mulligan, Sam Levine, Dean Frasier, Donald Hayes, Sam “Chip Davis, Jr., Jerome Richardson, and Larry Williams are often heard.

Fictional characters, such as some Sesame Street puppets or Lisa Simpson (from the cartoon show “The Simpsons”) are also into playing the saxophone. Other names from show biz and the media world that we can consider are: Kenny G., Branford Marsalis, Kirk Whalum, David Sanborn, Dave Koz.

Watch video about famous sax players:


Let’s take a look at three of the most famous saxophone players in history. They are Charlie “Bird” Parker, John Coltrane and Stan Getz. These three influential players are considered icons during their time and they made great contributions to jazz music. As you read, you will notice that despite their greatness, they had their personal weaknesses.

charlie parker, famous saxophone player

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker was one of the greatest improvising soloists in jazz and influenced the development of “bop” in the 1940s. He was born in Kansas City, Kansas, on August 29, 1920, the only child of Charles and Addie Parker. Charlie Parker took music lessons in a public school and started playing the alto saxophone at the age of 13. He left school in 1935 and right away he started playing professionally, joining jazz groups in his hometown.

Charlie Parker’s name started to appear in the music press in the early 1940s and he was part of a number of leading bands touring various states. He formed his own group in 1945 and worked with the famous Dizzy Gillespie. Despite being such a talented saxophone player, Parker had his own share of troubles and struggled with alcohol and heroin addiction. He went through personal and financial struggles during his final years and attempted suicide twice in 1954. He died on March 12, 1955 in New York City while watching Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra on tv.

John Coltrane, famous saxophone player

John Coltrane

Famous saxophone player, John Coltrane was an American jazz saxophonist, band leader and composer born in Hamlet, North Carolina. He lived in an extended family within the household of his maternal grandfather, Rev. William Wilson Blair. Coltrane greatly influenced jazz music of the 1960s and 1970s. His influence during that era has often been equated with what Charlie Parker contributed to jazz music of the 1940s and 1950s.

Tenor saxophonist, Coltrane is known for his huge dark tone with clear definition and body. He made the high registers look like child’s play and was known for his split-note multi-phonics. There is no denying his skill as demonstrated in the virtuoso performance of his difficult “Giant Steps”. Giant Steps is generally considered to have the most complex and difficult chord progression of any widely-played jazz composition. Coltrane worked with both Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. Like Charlie parker, he struggled with drugs and alcohol. He was able to overcome his addiction and produced the album “A Love Supreme”, a celebration of his triumph. Coltrane died from liver cancer on July 17, 1967, at the age of 40.

Stan Getz, great saxophone player, best saxophone players

Stan Getz

Finally, we take a look at famous saxophone player, Stan Getz whose real name was Stanley Gayetzy. Getz was born on February 2, 1927 in Philadelphia. His family was originally from Russia. He was nicknamed “The Sound” because of his sweet perfect control of his instrument. Getz is said to have recorded over 300 pieces. This consummate musician had an amazing technique and could play anything on saxophone. As one musician said, it’s as though the saxophone was a direct extension of his heart.

Getz started receiving public attention at age 20, as a result of his fabulous solo “Early Autumn” recorded with Woody Herman’s band. This beautiful song demonstrates Getz’s masterly way with a melody. In 1961, he helped make the genre, bossa nova more popular. One of his most notable performances is “The Girl From Ipanema” which topped the charts in 1964. Some of this famous saxophone player’s albums include Focus, Jazz Samba, Apasionado, The Steamer, Best of the Roost Years, Best of the West Coast Sessions, and People Time. Like the other famous saxophone players, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, Stan Getz struggled with drug addiction and was incarcerated for drugs in 1954. He tried to overcome his addiction but in 1969 he once again had problems with the law. He died in 1991 due to liver cancer.

It is sad to know that despite the great contributions made by famous saxophone players, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Stan Getz, all three had a weakness for drugs during their careers. Despite this fact, their legacy lives on and their creativity continues to inspire and influence many to this day.

Share your thoughts on the best saxophone players in the comments.

The Armstrong Saxophone – A Word Of Caution Before Buying

The Armstrong saxophone carries a brand name that is more often associated with flutes, clarinets, and piccolos. Many beginning band players have gotten their woodwind start playing one of these instruments. Currently, Armstrong is part of the Conn family of musical instrument brands and only makes flutes, clarinets, and piccolos, but you can find saxophones from time to time.

Armstrong made saxophones in the 1980’s. The saxophones were made in Elkhart, IN, like so many other band instruments have been down through the years. A used saxophone like one of these will probably need to be serviced by a professional musical instrument repairman before it will be suitable for playing. Since it may have been sitting in someone’s attic for years, it may need pads replaced and other adjustments, and a new mouthpiece may be needed.

Still, an older Armstrong could turn out to be a fairly adequate instrument for a beginner in the school band. Workmanship twenty-five or thirty years ago seemed to be better than what you find with cheap modern musical instruments.

Armstrong Saxophone

Armstrong Saxophone

If you find a vintage sax from around 1980 that goes by the brand name “H Couf” it is named after the then president of the Armstrong company. Couf had this Armstrong saxophone made by Keilwerth, which is, of course, one of the big four in saxophone manufacturers, and has a history of excellent craftsmanship. This means that an H Couf is essentially an Armstrong, although it may not be labeled as such.

If a new saxophone is labeled “Armstrong,” there is a chance that it is one of the inexpensive, poorly made saxophones imported from India or China. These saxes show up on places like eBay for prices under $300, and go by a variety of brand names. If you find a vintage Armstrong sax, and can get it serviced so that it is in good shape, you may have a good beginner saxophone on your hands.

The Vito Alto Saxophone

The Vito alto saxophone is made by LeBlanc, a French company that is known for its high quality student level instruments, particularly clarinets. The alto sax is also made according to these high standards. One popular model is called the 7131R. It is acoustically correct, which makes it possible for the new player to get the most out of the experience of playing.

The 7131R is designed with features usually found on pro level horns. They are also tough and designed for smaller hands. It’s reported to have quick response, accurate intonation and be easy to produce music from, all at a low price affordable to parents and schools. The 7131R has a range from low B-flat to high F. Its wide bow makes the lower notes easier to play. The pads are made of leather and the resonators are metal.

Vito alto saxophone

Vito alto saxophone

The price for this student saxophone is over $1000, but you might be able to find a sale price around that figure. The finish on the horn and neck pipe is lacquered brass. For a little less, you can get a Model 7133. This one has a range from low B-flat to high F-sharp. It too is made of lacquered brass. It requires little effort to get a good tone. Of course, each vito alto saxophone comes with a mouthpiece, neck strap, ligature, and hard shelled case.

Sometimes a vintage Vito from the the 1960’s or later, is actually identical to a Yamaha student horn, and was made by this company in Japan. If you can find a used Vito alto sax in good shape, chances are it would be a suitable choice for a beginning saxophonist to learn on. Yamaha and LeBlanc are both brand names that are reputable and trustworthy. Of course, used horns need to be looked over for flaws.