The saxophone or sax - is a conical-bored instrument of the woodwind family, usually made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece like the clarinet. It was invented by Adolphe Sax around 1840. The saxophone is most commonly associated with popular music, big band music, and jazz, but it was originally intended as both an orchestral and military band instrument. Saxophone players are appropriately called saxophonists.

The saxophone was created on June 12 1842 by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian-born instrument-maker, flautist, and clarinetist working in Paris. Although it was made four years earlier, it didn't receive its 15 year patent until 1846. It was first officially revealed to the public in the presentation of the bass saxophone in C at an exhibition in Brussels in 1841, and in the patent of 1846 (which was granted to him on May 17). He drew up plans for 14 different types of saxophones, but they were not all realized. Sax's amazing ability to offend rival instrument manufacturers, and unfortunate prejudice towards the man and his instruments led to it not being used in orchestral groups, and for a long time it was relegated to military bands--this despite his great friendship with the influential Parisian composer Hector Berlioz. The inspiration for the instrument is unknown, but there is good evidence that fitting a clarinet mouthpiece to an ophicleide is the most likely origin (doing so results in a definitely saxophone-like sound). Sax worked in his father's workshop for many years, and both clarinets and ophicleides were manufactured there. The Hungarian/Romanian tarogato, which is quite similar to a soprano saxophone, has also been speculated to have been an inspiration. However, this cannot be so, as the modern tarogato with a single reed mouthpiece was not developed until the 1890s, long after the saxophone had been invented. It is likely that Sax's intent was to invent an entirely new instrument which suited his desires both tonally and technically and possessed a new level of flexibility. This would explain why he chose to name the instrument the "Sound of Sax." In short, Sax intended to harness the finesse of a woodwind with the power of a brass instrument. The development is defined almost entirely in terms of Sax's patent. For the duration of the patent (1846-1866) no one except the Sax factory could legally manufacture or modify the instruments. After 1866 many modifications were introduced by a number of manufacturers. Saxophones came to be associated, by many, with immorality. The Vatican officially condemned the instrument in the early 20th century, and various governments tried to limit their use, notably Nazi Germany and Japan in the 1930s.



The saxophone uses a single reed mouthpiece similar to that of a clarinet, but with a round or square evacuated inner chamber. The saxophone's body is effectively conical, giving it acoustic properties more similar to the oboe than to the clarinet. However, unlike the oboe, whose tube is a single cone, most saxophones have a distinctive curve at the bell. Straight soprano and sopranino saxophones are more common than curved ones, and a very few straight alto and tenor saxophones have been made, as novelties. Straight baritone and C melody saxophones have occasionally been made as custom instruments, but were never production items (reference [1], Jay Easton's custom Vito straight baritone[2] and Bennie Meroff's custom Buescher Straight Baritone [3]).There is some debate amongst players as to whether the curve affects the tone or not.


Nearly all saxophones are made from brass. After completing the instrument, manufacturers usually apply either a coating of clear or colored lacquer, or plating of silver or gold, over the bare brass. The lacquer or plating serves to protect the brass from corrosion, to enhance sound quality, and/or (in the case of colored lacquers) to give the saxophone an interesting visual appearance. That different lacquers provide different tone qualities is a hotly debated topic in the saxophone world - some say that it has no effect [4], while there is also research to show that there are differences [5]. Generally, darker lacquer is usually associated with deeper timbres, while lighter lacquers such as silver are associated with brighter, more vibrant ones. Other materials have been tried with varying degrees of success, as with the 1950s plastic saxophones made by the Grafton company, and the rare wooden saxophones. Prior to 1960, some instruments were plated with nickel as a cheaper alternative to silver; prior to 1930, it was common for instruments to be sold with a bare brass finish (without lacquer or plating). Certain companies, such as Yanagisawa, manufacture saxophones made from bronze, which is claimed to produce a warmer sound

The mouthpiece

Mouthpieces come in a wide variety of materials, including rubber, plastic, and metal. Less common materials that have been used include wood, glass, crystal, and even bone. Metal mouthpieces are believed by some to have a distinctive sound, often described as 'brighter' than the more common rubber. Some players believe that plastic mouthpieces do not produce a good tone. Other saxophonists maintain that the material has little, if any, effect on the sound, and that the physical dimensions give a mouthpiece its tone color. (Teal 17) Mouthpieces with a concave ("excavated") chamber are more true to Adolphe Sax's original design; these provide a softer or less piercing tone, and are favored by some saxophonists for classical playing. Jazz and popular music saxophonists often play on high-baffled mouthpieces. These are configured so the baffle, or "ceiling," of the mouthpiece is closer to the reed. This produces a brighter sound which more easily "cuts through" a big band or amplified instruments. While high baffles (and the resulting tone) are commonly associated with metal mouthpieces, any mouthpiece may have a high baffle. Mouthpieces with larger tip openings provide pitch flexibility, allowing the player to "bend" notes, an effect commonly used in jazz and rock music. Classical players usually opt for a mouthpiece with a smaller tip opening and a lower baffle; this combination provides a darker sound and more stable pitch. Most classical players play on rubber mouthpieces with a round or square inner chamber.


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