Guide to Saxophones

Saxophone is probably the best woodwind musical instrument and produces music that makes you want to hit the dance floor. This magical instrument was created by Adolphe Sax in the mid-19th century. Since then, various models and variations entered the market. Whether you are buying a saxophone for the first time or want to jump to a professional level, you must start with the basic information about a saxophone.

A little Background

The first saxophone was invented by a Belgian instrument manufacturer in 1840. Rising to prominence in the era of Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, and Joh Coltrane, the sax helped shape the early rock ‘n’ roll, and you’ll still find it played at rock concerts and even n symphony halls. Since then, the saxophone has gained significant versatility. From mellow and warm tenor sax tunes to the gruff honking tones produced by baritones, today’s saxophones cater to a wide range of musical moods ranging from restful to raucous.

You’ll also sometimes witness saxophones and their unique sounds contributing to popular genres like jazz, salsa, soul, pop, and R&B. We’ve also seen them play a role in the ‘wind” section of marching bands and orchestras, as well as serve as an instrument of choice in college and high school concerts. Some expert musicians master the art of playing different types of saxophones, but the majority of saxophonists perfect their skills on a certain type of saxophone, which helps them build their own distinct style and voice. 

Saxophone Types

The most common saxophones used today are The Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone, and Bass. The four saxophones mentioned are fairly modern and complete the family of nine types of saxophones in total, including Sopranissimo, Sopranina, Contrabass, and Subcontrabass. In some of these models, you’ll also find saxophone sub-types. For instance, Soprano saxophones come in curved, curved neck and straight curved varieties. The main differences in these sub-varieties are present behind the saxophones, so the audience won’t feel that much of a difference.

Build and shape



No matter what the shape, size or type of a saxophone, all models have the following things in similar:

  1. Mouthpiece
  2. Neck
  3. Ligature
  4. Upper stack
  5. Palm keys
  6. Bell
  7. Spatula keys
  8. Slide keys
  9. Lower stack
  10. Bell bow

Majority of saxophones are created with lacquered brass for a gorgeous finish. However, there is a variety of finishing materials available to take your pick. These elements vary according to the model, sound type and tonal needs of a performer. 

Lacquered brass finish: This is by far the most common finish in the market. Modern saxophones are made of lacquered brass and keys are covered in gold lacquer. Brass saxophones are lighter than others and always recommended to beginners and intermediate users. 

Black Lacquer: Black lacquer looks dark and beautiful on an instrument and also gives it a heavier feel. The heavy body of black lacquer saxophones also makes the voice fuller and rounded. 

Silver plated: Silver plating adds an extra layer and weight to the instrument. Silver plated instruments create a centered, pure tone and suit professional players more. 

Nickel plated: This finish is popular for players who need a bright, loud sound that is impossible to ignore. Many jazz performers have nickel-plated instruments to stand out from the crowd. Nickel plating is also the hardest to do on a saxophone. 

Bronze plated: Darker, richer tones come out of copper/bronze plated instruments and also make the saxophone heavy. 

Key Stacks 

Every saxophone includes a stack of keys that help a player make their own magical tunes. Higher models of saxophones have more keys whereas beginner levels have a standard number of keys. Common keys include

  • High F and High G
  • Low A
  • Front F
  • Tilted Spatulas

How to choose a saxophone

Before picking a model, you must know that each saxophone is the same in anatomy. If you can play one model, you can play any of them! 

Choosing a saxophone generally depends on these important factors:

  • A favorite musician you want to follow
  • Which sound impresses you the most
  • What genre you want to master

The Alto saxophone is the most common choice for all beginners. It is small, lightweight and easily held in beginner hands. It does not require tremendous effort to play and produces a decent enough sound. You will hear the Alto in almost all genres, from rock to jazz to pop. Price is also a great feature; you will always find an Alto affordable. Tenor, Soprano and Baritone are harder choices for beginners but great for intermediate and professional players. These instruments vary according to their build so you can choose one that truly matches your personality. 

Students and professionals also have the luxury to choose from different makes of the same type of sax. Student sax is made of cheaper materials but is not necessarily bad. It gets the job done and also acquaints you with the world of saxophones. Professional saxophones are pricey, have great finish and suit long players of the game. 


With a fairly complex instrument, you have a lot of ground to cover when buying a saxophone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy an ideal instrument. With the right knowledge of saxophone types and features, you can buy a unit that pleases the musician in you while also enabling you to profit from a resale. All in all, a saxophone makes for a beautiful, iconic, and rewarding instrument to own and play.