As one of the more unique and creative wind instruments, the saxophone has many different parts that allow it to produce such incredible sounds. If you are interested in this instrument, it is helpful to know about the various parts that combine to make it work and the various materials that go into its construction.
The mouthpiece, neck, and body are the three main parts of a saxophone. However, each of these three parts has a variety of smaller parts to combine to make this wind instrument produce sound. Knowing the function of each of the parts will enable musicians to make great music.
The saxophone may be quite complicated from a construction standpoint, but players can easily master it with a bit of knowledge. Continue reading this post to better understand the various parts that make up this wind instrument and how you can use that knowledge to produce polished music to the amazement of all your listeners.
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What Material is a Sax Made From?
Most saxophones are made almost entirely from brass. This is a composite alloy that consists of:
When it comes to the saxophone, most manufacturers choose to use yellow brass. This is a mixture of 70% copper and roughly 30% zinc. You will find some saxophones that are made of either gold or silver brass. These each has different ratios, so they will give off a different appearance and feel.
One reason that yellow brass is most often used is that the zinc contained in the composite is more easily moldable at low temperatures. Some custom saxophone makers have employed the use of special blends of brass in the construction of various parts that go into the making of the instrument.
It should be noted that small trace amounts of either arsenic or phosphorous is often added to the brass on the saxophone in order to make the metal more adaptable when used for tubing applications.
You might be interested to know that some other materials are used to make the saxophone as well. You will find that most of the screws located throughout this wind instrument are made from stainless steel. This gives them their luster and increases their durability. The joints and waters located on the saxophone are typically made from cork. Wax may also be applied to these areas on occasion as well.
Interestingly enough, different materials are used to make the mouthpiece. The actual material is not deemed to be that important it has virtually no effect on the sound that comes out as a result of the mouthpiece. However, you will find that either hard black rubber or ebonite is used most often, with metal or glass mouthpieces also being possible.
There are also plastic resonators included on many saxophones. Many of the instruments will also be coated in lacquer to give them a good shine. The keys are usually made from nickel plating. This will make them stronger and also keeps them looking great even after many hours of use.
Keys are Die-Cast or Stamped
When it comes to the keys on the saxophone, the process and materials have changed drastically over the years. During the early days of this instrument, the keys were typically made by hand. However, they are die-cast or stamped today.
When using the die-casting method, the manufacturer will use a molten alloy. That will then become a steel die that forms the key when it cools. If a stamping method is used, a machine will cut the keys out from a metal sheet.
Regardless of which material is used for the keys on a saxophone, they will typically be soldered together, and then a polishing agent will be applied. Many people will use a tumbling machine to do the polishing, but some still prefer to do it by hand. You will also find that many of the keys are metal plated. This makes them look better and increases their durability.
Most of the keys on a saxophone will have some sort of pad attached to them. These pads will be made of either:
Whatever materials are used here, they will usually be either stamped or cut. Once that’s done, they’ll be glued to each key on the saxophone. The keys will then be complete when they are drilled and then fitted with both screws and springs that are used to attach them securely to the instrument.
The Parts of a Saxophone Explained
Now that you know more about what materials go into making a saxophone, it is time to cover the various parts that make this such a special instrument. As mentioned, there are three main parts to the saxophone, but each of those can be broken down further. We will do that for you in the coming sections.
The Mouthpiece of a Saxophone
The mouthpiece is arguably the most important part of the saxophone because it is what players will use to control the instrument's tone quality. Since this is the most important part, it is also the one where the most attention is paid to detail. Musicians depend on the mouthpiece to be built just right so that the desired sound will come out of the instrument.
The mouthpiece generates sound when someone blows into it. Of course, this is easier said than done, but that is a general principle. The mouthpiece on a saxophone is typically made of a hard rubber material, but they can also be made of one of the following materials:
The material used to make the mouthpiece determines what type of sound ends up coming out of the saxophone. For example, metal mouthpieces tend to be noticeably louder and brighter than mouthpieces that are made of hard rubber.
It should also be pointed out, material alone does not determine the sound that a mouthpiece ends up generating. This also has a great deal to do with the tip opening. The is the space that is built between the reed and the outer edge of the mouthpiece itself.
Some will go for a wider look when making the tip opening as it creates a brighter and crisper sound from the saxophone. There is also the chamber. This is the negative space that is located inside the actual mouthpiece. These come in various sizes and are known to change the sound that comes out of the instrument.
Another important part of the mouthpiece is the baffle. This is a ledge that is located inside the mouthpiece on its upper part. Saxophone makers have developed baffles of varying geometric shapes, each one of which produces a slightly different sound.
The Reed on the Mouthpiece
Every saxophone mouthpiece has a reed. In fact, saxophones are single-reed instruments, and this is what produces their unique sound. Reeds are typically made out of a thin piece of wood. Bamboo is usually the wood of choice. It is smooth because this is what the player will actually be blowing over to produce music from the saxophone.
When you start blowing into the mouthpiece, the reed will begin to vibrate. This vibration produces the sound. When you go to buy a saxophone reed, you will notice that they are rated 1 to 5. This indicates the range of how soft or how hard the reed is. A lower rating will indicate a soft reed, while the higher numbers are used to indicate a stiff and hard reed.
If you are a beginning saxophone player, you will want to consider buying an instrument with a softer reed. This should be a rating of 2.5 or below. These types of reeds make it easier to play the saxophone, while advanced players will gradually move up to harder reeds.
The Ligature on the Mouthpiece
Another important component of the saxophone mouthpiece is the ligature. This little piece is designed to wrap itself around the mouthpiece. Its main job is to make sure that the reed stays where it should on the mouthpiece.
The ligature is typically made from metal, but it can also be constructed from plastic, leather, gold, or even string in some cases.
The Neck of the Saxophone
Moving your way down the saxophone, you will notice the neck. Some people will also refer to this part as the crook. This is the part of the instrument that connects the mouthpiece to the instrument's body.
You will notice that neck is meant to be able to fit right inside the body of the saxophone. You will see it there on one end of the instrument. A neck screw is used to keep it in its proper position at the top of the body of the saxophone.
On the other end of the instrument, the mouthpiece will be attached to the neck. This is all help in position by the cork. Both of these parts are essential to keep the mouthpiece in the right position to generate quality sound.
The Cork on the Neck
Just as its name implies, the mouthpiece slides over this piece of cork as it connects to the neck of the saxophone. All it takes to attach the mouthpiece to this part of the instrument is a gentle twist in a back and forth motion as you push it over the cork. Cork can also be used to lubricate the mouthpiece so you can slide it up and down as you tune the saxophone.
The Body of the Saxophone
This is the part of the saxophone that gets noticed the most as you play it. From all appearances, it is where all the action takes place. The body consists of one big brass tube designed to allow air to pass through it as someone blows into the mouthpiece.
The body contains all of the necessary parts to modulate the pitch and the way that the instrument ends up sounding when you play it. These parts include the:
There are different types of saxophones, so the body will look a bit different depending on which one you actually have. Some, like the soprano saxophone, will have a straight body. Others, like the tenor baritone saxophones, will have a body that has a distinctive curve at the bottom.
The Keys on the Body
The keys are what allow you to change the pitch and sound that comes out of the saxophone. Most saxophones today have 23 keys. This will include six pearl keys that are located on the front of the instrument.
There are also palm keys that are situated near your left hand. There are also some keys that are positioned where both of your pinkies can operate them. As more and more keys are pressed down on the saxophone, the more distance the air has to travel to escape from the instrument. This is what effectively lowers the pitch of the music coming from the saxophone.
Each of the keys on the body of the saxophone is meant to correspond to a specific tone hole. They might be sealed, or they could be opened in an effort to alter the pitch. It all depends on how the keys are pressed down in combination with one another.
The Function of the Key Guards
You will also notice some keyguards in specific positions along the body of the saxophone. These will be on the bell and the elbow of the instrument. Their function is to protect the keys that they are positioned over. Some of the more elaborately built saxophones will have keyguards that are actually engraved with some unique and noticeable designs.
There is an Octave Key
One of the most important keys on the body of the saxophone is the octave key. You will notice this situated on the back of the horn. It is just above the thumb rest. You can actually operate the octave key simply by using your left thumb.
When you press the octave key, you will notice that the tone hole around the neck begins to open. This means that whatever note you are currently playing will go up an octave. The octave key also becomes necessary if you want to play music in the upper range of the note spectrum.
The Thumb Rest and Hooks on the Body
It can be quite the workout on your hands and upper body to play the saxophone for any length of time. This is why you will be grateful for the thumb rest and hooks that are built into the body. The thumb rest actually helps you to counterbalance the saxophone while you are holding it. This is particularly useful when you are standing up.
The thumb rest looks like a protruding shelf. It is situated right at the bottom of the horn and is on the back of the body of the saxophone. You will notice that the thumb rest has a curved shape to it. This is by design, as it helps you to support the instrument with your right thumb more easily.
If you look right over the thumb rest, you will notice a circular hook. This is where the neck-strap will be attached. You will be grateful for this minor part, as it is quite difficult to hold a saxophone in its proper position without the use of a neck strap.
The Elbow of the Body
Some people will refer to the elbow of the saxophone simply as the bow. This is a part that is included on alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. Because these instruments have a curved shape, the elbow becomes necessary. It is located at the bottom of the saxophone and has a curved shape to it as well.
You will want to be careful with the elbow because it is easily dented. That most often occurs when you are carrying it around from place to place, so keep that in mind. A dented elbow can noticeably impact the sound quality of the saxophone. The intonation will seem off, and that is no fun at all.
The Bell of the Body
One final part of the saxophone body that you will want to know about is the bell. This is the flared component of the instrument where a few of the keys that play lower sounds are located. However, the main purpose of the bell is to push the sound out from the saxophone and stabilize the notes as it does so.
As you shop for a saxophone to buy for yourself, keep in mind that there are different bell sizes. You will want to do your research to determine what type of bell you would like to have on your own instrument.
Saxophone Parts Named, Final Thoughts
The saxophone has been around for quite some time, but it is still one of the least understood of the wind instruments. This is partly due to how many different parts go into its construction. Hopefully, this post has given you the knowledge you need to better understand the saxophone and you now on your way to producing some masterful sounds as a result.