The 14 Types Of Saxaphone Explained

Saxophones are a family of woodwind instruments invented by Adolphe Sax in the 1840s. Over the years, they have become one of the most popular musical instruments in the world and are used in a variety of genres, including jazz, rock, and classical. Whether it’s for deep, soul-touching blues or upbeat, uplifting crescendos, saxophones can add a powerful voice to any style of music.

Today, there are 14 different types of saxophones – Alto, Tenor, Soprano, Baritone, Bass, Contrabass, Sopranino, Sopranissimo, C-Melody, Tubax, Mezzo-Soprano, Conn-O-Sax, Saxello, and Subcontrabass. Out of these 14, only Alto, Tenor, Soprano, and Baritone are commonly in use.

Each of these saxophones has its own unique style, sound, and tonal quality. They can be used in a variety of ways depending on the situation. In this post, I will provide information on all these types of saxophones, including their design, features, and benefits. If you are thinking about purchasing a new saxophone, or if you are just curious about what is available on the market, this post has everything you need! 

A Detailed Breakdown of All 14 Types of Saxophones

Now that you have a general idea about saxophones and the different types that are available, let’s take a closer look at each one. This will help you decide which saxophone is right for you and give you a better understanding of its unique features and benefits. We’ll also take a look at the price range for each of them along with the names of some notable players who have mastered that particular type. 

1) The Alto Sax

The alto saxophone is the most popular type of saxophone and is used in a variety of genres, especially jazz. It is smaller than the tenor sax but larger than the soprano. This particular sax has a range from D♭3 to A♭5. Some alto saxophones also have a high #F key which extends the range to A5. You’ll see that it’s often played with a mouthpiece.

The alto saxophone is a great choice for beginners because it is easy to learn and play. It is also a good choice for those who want to play in a band or orchestra. The alto sax is the most versatile type of saxophone and also the one that’s used most by professionals. 

Some people find the alto saxophone sound to be mellower and more subdued than the other types of saxophones, so it is perfect for slower, ballad-style songs. 

Commonly Used In – Jazz, pop music, concert bands, chamber music.

Price Range – $800 to $2,700 (for beginners). Advanced models will have a price tag of $3000 and above.

Notable Alto Players – Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Tim McAllister, and Jean-Yves Fourmeau. 

2) The Tenor Saxophone

The tenor saxophone is the second most popular type of saxophone, and it’s slightly larger than the alto. You can easily distinguish the tenor sax because of the curve near its neck. It also uses a larger mouthpiece and reed than the alto and soprano saxophones. The range for this sax is from A♭2 to E5, and pitched one octave below the soprano. 

Tenor saxophones are often used in rhythm and blues bands. They have a warm, rich sound that can really add depth to a band’s sound. They are also often used in classical music. 

The tenor saxophone is a good choice for intermediate and advanced players. It is not as difficult to learn as the baritone or soprano, but it has more range and versatility than the alto saxophone. 

Commonly Used In Rhythm and blues, jazz, military bands, rock, and roll.

Price Range – $1200 to $1800.

Notable Tenor Players – Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Lester Young, and Dexter Gordon. 

3) The Soprano

Amongst the commonly used saxophones, the soprano saxophone is the smallest and highest-pitched. It has a range from A♭3 to E6, which is one octave higher than the tenor and a fifth above the alto. The design of the soprano is quite unique in that it is the only sax with a straightened out bore. They are often used as solo and chamber instruments in classical music. 

The soprano saxophone is a good choice for those who want to play classical or jazz music. It is also a good choice for those who want to play in a small band or orchestra. They have a bright, clear sound that can really cut through a band. 

The soprano saxophone is a lot more difficult to learn than the alto and tenor saxophones. It takes some time to get used to the higher range and the smaller size of the instrument. A player needs to have very good breath control and embouchure to master the soprano. 

Commonly Used In – Classical music, smooth jazz, small bands, orchestras.

Price Range – $700 to $2000.

Notable Soprano Players – Carina Rascher and Christine Rall (in classical music), Wayne Shorter, and Paul McCandless (in jazz).

4) The Baritone Sax

The baritone saxophone is larger and lower-pitched than the tenor but smaller and higher-pitched than the bass. Most modern baritones often have a range from C2 to A4, and thus one octave lower than the alto. Because of its deep and darker sound, the baritone saxophone is often used in jazz, blues, and orchestras.

The baritone saxophone is quite large and players will need a harness to support its weight. It also requires a lot of air to play compared to other saxes. As such, it is often considered harder to learn than the alto and tenor, but easier than the soprano. It’s a good choice for intermediate to advanced players who want a lot of range and versatility.

Commonly Used In – Jazz, military bands, musical theaters, rock music.

Price Range – $1700 to $3000.

Notable Baritone Players – Hamiet Bluiett, John Surman, Gerry Mulligan, and Cecil Payne

5) The Bass

The bass saxophone is the largest and lowest-pitched of all the saxophones. It is tuned to the key of B♭, which is an octave lower than the tenor and a perfect fourth below the baritone. Because of its size and deep sound, the bass saxophone is often used in big bands, jazz combos, and saxophone choirs.

This sax is often a challenge to learn for beginners because of its size and range. It’s often played by resting it on a stand. It also requires a lot of air to play, so good breath control is essential. As with other large instruments, it’s important that the player has a strong foundation in embouchure and technique. 

Commonly Used In Free jazz, dance bands, rock music, concert bands.

Price Range – $4000 to $6000. Vintage bass saxes can cost anywhere north of $15,000. 

Notable Bass Players – Steve Swallow, Rufus Reid, and Dave Holland.

6) Contrabass Saxophone

The contrabass is an extremely large and heavy saxophone that has the second-lowest pitch among all the saxophones. Its range goes from a low B flat up to a high F and is one octave below the baritone.  Due

The design of the contrabass was part of the original saxophone family created by Adolph Sax. But its practical applications are very limited. Due to its large size, it’s often not used in arrangements, and it is mostly seen as a collector’s item. 

Many have described the contrabass to have a strong, vivid, and deep sound. In the hands of highly proficient players, it can create music that is quite full and expressive. 

Commonly Used In – Solo and chamber music, large ensembles.

Price Range – $20,000 to $ $30,000

Notable Contrabass Players – Anthony Braxton, Uwe Ladwig, and Paul Cohen.

7) Sopranino

The sopranino saxophone is one of the smallest and highest-pitched of all the saxophones. It is tuned to E♭, and sounds an octave higher than the alto. Think of it as a smaller version of the soprano saxophone. 

The sopranino has a sweet, light, and airy sound that is often used in modern classical music and few orchestral works. This sax is light enough that players do not require a neckstrap like other saxophones. 

Due to its small size, the sopranino requires very good finger dexterity to play well and even professionals find it quite difficult to handle its high registers and intonations.

Commonly Used In – Orchestras, concerts, few jazz and classical works. 

Price Range – $3000 to $10,000 (depending on the model). 

Notable Sopranino Players – Blaise Garza, James Carter, and Anthony Braxton.

8) Sopranissimo

The sopranissimo is the smallest and highest-pitched saxophone in the entire family.  It is also called the piccolo or soprillo. At just 30cms long, it’s even smaller than the sopranino! This sax is pitched in high E♭ and sounds an octave above the soprano. 

A unique quality of the sopranissimo is that the octave key is actually part of the mouthpiece. This is rarely seen in other saxophones and is done for acoustic purposes. 

Although the theoretical design was available, a working version of the sopranissimo could only be produced in the mid-2010s due to its extremely small size. Not many people use this particular sax for any practical purposes and it’s often seen as a novelty instrument.

Commonly Used In – Duets and stage performances.

Price Range – Approximately $3,400. It is manufactured only by one company, a German instrument maker by the name of Benedikt Eppelsheim.

Notable Sopranissimo Players – None. 

9) The Recently Popular C-Melody Sax

The C-Melody is a saxophone that was quite popular in the 1900s but it is rarely seen today. It’s larger than the alto sax but smaller than the tenor, and it is pitched in the key of C (hence the name). 

A major advantage of the C-Melody sax was that it played at a concert pitch without having to transpose. This means that players could read printed music for other instruments such as the piano, flute, guitar, and violin and play without having to change them into B♭ or E♭. 

Although these saxes have not been manufactured since the 1950s and 1960s, they’re widely available in stores all over the US. If you’re an amateur player, this sax is the perfect choice to learn some new tunes and have fun with your friends.

Commonly Used In – Traditional jazz, novelty tunes. 

Price Range – $499 to $699

Notable C-Melody Players – Rudy Wiedoeft, Frankie Trumbauer, and Joe Lovano.

10) The Tubax

The tubax is a saxophone that was designed in 1999 by a German instrument maker by the name of Benedikt Eppelsheim. The name is a combination of the words ‘tuba’ and ‘sax’. Since its tubing is folded multiple times, it is more compact than the contrabass even though both are designed in the same register.

Many experts are still confused about whether to consider the tubax as a type of saxophone due to its unique, narrow-bore design. Nonetheless, it is surprisingly agile for its size and sounds well when played along with other saxophones.

The tubax is not commonly used in professional settings but it has been gaining attention as an interesting and new option for modern music compositions.

Commonly Used In – Modern classical, contemporary, chamber works.

Price Range – Approx. $30,000

Notable Tubax Players – Paul Cohen, Blaise Garza, and Vinny Golia.

11) Mezzo-Soprano

The mezzo-soprano, also called the F-alto saxophone, is a type of saxophone that’s designed to the key of F. It’s the only one in the family that follows this key. It’s pitched a whole tone above the alto saxophone and sounds similar to the E♭ alto. 

These particular saxes were only produced during the years 1928-1929 by the C.G. Conn company. As such, they weren’t that popular, and not many models exist today.

It is interesting to note that the mezzo-soprano was used more for teaching instrument repair than for actual music. Instructors would deliberately drop these saxes onto the floor to damage them and then task students with the repair process.

Commonly Used In – Personal concerts, stage performances.

Price Range – Unavailable. 

Notable Mezzo-Soprano Players – Anthony Braxton, James Carter, and Vinny Golia.

12) Conn-O-Sax

The Conn-O-Sax is an extremely rare, limited edition saxophone created by the C.G. Conn company during the year 1928. Today, there are only 25 of these in existence. 

With a range of three octaves from low A to altissimo G, it was a revolutionary instrument at the time. The tagline for the original instrument says ‘Plays like Saxophone, Sounds like English Horn, Looks like Heckelphone’. Sadly, the production of the Conn-O-Sax had to be discontinued due to the Great Depression.

Many who have heard the Conn-O-Sax being played describe it as having the sweetest and most pleasant sound of all the saxophones.

Commonly Used In – Private collector’s item. 

Price Range – Unavailable. 

Notable Conn-O-Sax Players – Paul Cohen.

13) Saxello

The saxello, or ‘King Saxello’ as it was commercially called, is an unusual yet highly successful saxophone design from the 1920s. It was manufactured by the H. N. White Company and was similar to the B♭ soprano, except for its curved neck and tipped bell.

Saxello production stopped around the late 1930s, so not many of them exist today. Those that are available are highly sought after by collectors and fetch a high price. 

Commonly Used In – Collector’s items, some recordings.

Price Range – Can go up to $4000. 

Notable Saxello Players – Rahsaan Roland Kirk (nicknamed his King Saxello as ‘Manzello’). 

14) Subcontrabass, the Larger Saxophone

Last but not the least, we have the subcontrabass. This humungous saxophone was conceived and patented by Adolph Sax in the 1840s, but for over 150 years, no one was able to manufacture it. 

It was only in 2012 that Benedikt Eppelsheim was able to finally create a full, working model and it stood 7 feet 5 inches tall. It’s said that the bell of the subcontrabass is so big that you can easily fit a full-grown child into it!

The lowest note that can be played on this sax is G#0, which is around 25.95 Hz (just within the range of human hearing). Many describe its sound as ‘haunting’ and ‘otherworldly’.

Commonly Used In – Saxophone ensembles, avant-garde music. 

Price Range – Nil. Only two are in existence. 

Notable Subcontrabass Players – Jay C. Easton

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the 14 types of Saxophones.

Q.1. What is the difference between a soprano and an alto saxophone?

A. The soprano saxophone is pitched higher than the alto saxophone. It has a brighter sound and is typically used in classical music. The alto saxophone has a warmer sound and is more commonly used in jazz music.

Q.2. What are the best saxophone brands?

A. Some of the best saxophone brands include Yamaha, Selmer, Yanagisawa, and Elkhart.

Q.3. Which type of saxophone is the best for beginners?

A. The alto saxophone is the best type of saxophone for beginners. It has a mellower sound than other types of saxophones and is easier to play. Once you master the alto sax, you can easily play on the other types.

Final Words

I hope this post was able to shed some light on the different types of saxophones and their unique features. The history of saxophones is quite an interesting one and each of the 14 types I’ve mentioned above has its own story and purpose. 

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