FAQ: Name Those Saxes

“And I saw the sax line-up that he had behind him and I thought, I’m going to learn the saxophone. When I grow up, I’m going to play in his band. So I sort of persuaded my dad to get me a kind of a plastic saxophone on the hire purchase plan.” ~ David Bowie

One of the most common questions I get is what instrument do I play. I usually just say sax but there is much more to say about that. Most people aren’t that interested, but for those who are, here is the list the kinds of saxes I’ve owned”

“Play difficult and interesting things. If you play boring things, you risk losing your appetite. Saxophone can be tedious with too much of the same.” Steve Lacy

I have to say that it would be much easier to play one or two of the kinds of saxes than to play so many. A number of my instructors have watched me futz with overtones, altissimo, and other voices and said I should concentrate on one kind of sax, say the alto sax, before I do others because it takes a fair amount of time to get it right.

imageBb Soprillo Sax by Benedict Eppelsheim. This diminutive instrument is so hard to play it borders upon the insane. I use this instrument as a color piece for songs like the Star Wars Bar Theme aka the “Intergalactic Rag”. In this picture note that the octave pip is actually in the mouthpiece! (Click on the picture for a bigger view.)

Eb Sopranino Sax by Yanagisawa. This sweetie, titled an Elimona, was purchased so that I could get better at the bigger soprano sax. The voicing is hard to perfect, but it certainly made playing the soprano *much* easier. It also allows me to do a soprillo, sopranino, soprano, alto sax quartet with any standard sax quartet chart.

BitsF Mezzo-Soprano Sax by Conn. I have written extensively about this pristine instrument here. I even commissioned an arrangement done by my good friend Merlin Williams. Here is a recording of one of the times we played it. Not the best version, but you get what you get when the video camera work is done at a concert:

C Soprano Sax by Epplesheim & Reese. This was an experiment by the two manufacturers. I pictured myself playing with my wife on piano by reading over her shoulder. You can read more about this instrument:

Bb Soprano Sax in a number of incarnations is one of my favorite saxes to play. Once I got the voicing, I have used it extensively in my sax xTets (where x equals the number of players who show up). My favorite is the Yanagisawa 992 pictured here next to my sopranino:


C Melody Sax by Conn. I wrote extensively about this instrument here. I have two of these now because I’m storing my son’s version.

Eb Alto Sax – This was my first kind of sax I played in 5th grade. I don’t have the original instrument a Buescher. I started with the Couf Superba I alto and tenor sax when I returned to music performance after a 30 year break. Then I bought a matched set of Yamaha Custom Z’s.


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I have a very lovely Selmer Ref 54 Limited “Hummingbird” edition sax. I had never appreciated Selmer saxes because of the well documented intonation problems. Pro’s like the sound and could adjust the pitch of the problem notes on the fly. But us mortals like consistency. So where playing a scale on a Mark VI would result in some notes being as much as 25 cents off, plus or minus, on a Couf Superba I, Yamaha Z, and Ref 54 the worst notes would be ~10 cents.

Bb Tenor Sax – This was the third kind of sax I tried. Alto and Bari sax voicing came to me very easily. Tenor required a lot of long tone work. I started with the Couf Superba I, the Yamaha Custom Z and ended up with the Selmer Ref 36. My wife has a Selmer Ref 54 tenor, but I really prefer the SBA sound of the Ref 36.

Eb Baritone Sax – The only bari I have ever owned is a Yanagisawa 991. It is a sweet ride with key works that play buttery smooth. It’s the instrument my son played in high school. And it’s currently the instrument I play the most.

DSCF0754   DSCF0746 DSCF0745   DSCF0741

Bb Bass Sax – I started with a beautiful Buescher bass sax and moved to my mid-life crisis ride a one of a kind Eppelsheim bass sax that was keyed to low A and had a custom engraving put on it. I even spec’d the color of this new instrument. Unlike the Buescher, the Eppelsheim plays as easily as a modern bari, with no need to do the alternate fingerings to get the instrument to speak, but still needs a … lot … of … air.

F Conn-O-Sax – There are more kinds of saxes, most of which I don’t own. I did get to play a Conn-O-Sax, an unusual variant of the saxophone with a straight-conical bore instrument in F (one step above the E♭ alto) with a slightly curved neck and spherical bell. The instrument, which combined a saxophone bore and keys with a bell shaped similar to that of a heckelphone, was intended to imitate the timbre of the English horn and was produced only in 1929 and 1930. The instrument had a key range from low A to high G. Fewer than 100 Conn-O-Saxes are in existence, and they are eagerly sought by collectors. I wrote about it here.


I did use to own this oddity:

Keilwerth Toneking 3000 Jazzophone which I wrote about here.

I still own this bad boy, the Goofus aka the Couesnophone and wrote about it here.


There are some more fun instruments on that post including the Play-A-Sax:

My challenge remains to play sax well enough that people invite me to sit in with way too many bands. But I certainly have gotten to play some very nice instruments. Be well.

About Gandalfe

Just an itinerant saxophonist trying to find life between the changes. I have retired from the Corps of Engineers and Microsoft. I am an admin on the Woodwind Forum, run the Seattle Solid GOLD Big Band (formerly the Microsoft Jumpin' Jive Orchestra) a GOLD sax quartet, and enjoy time with family and friends.
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1 Response to FAQ: Name Those Saxes

  1. Walt says:

    You reveal yet another corner of life in this remarkable world. Thank you for your life and your sharing.

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