What Are Saxophones Made Of? (Materials, Design & Production)

what are saxophones made of
Written by Corey Morgan

Do you know early saxophones were made of wood? After the invention of saxophones, its early models were carved from wood.

However, times change and as it was found to be lacking in some features, there was a need to improvise on them.

For several centuries, several brands of saxophones have always limited their construction materials to brass. As of then, it was considered the ideal material for making not just saxes, but most musical instruments because of a number of reasons.

However, because of the way in which it generates music, it is categorized as a woodwind instrument, just like the clarinet and the flute.

In recent times, saxophones have been remodeled to be made in silver, gold and nickel-plated bodies. Because they’re made from different materials, their tone differs. However, it’ll take highly trained ears to tell the difference.

Below are some of the reasons why brass was widely used:

●    Brass is unreactive to rusting and tarnishing

Brass is made of two unreactive metals – Copper and Zinc. These metals do not react with air or moisture. So, they’re long-lasting. If other metals were used, they’ll easily rust and would cause ruptures in saxes leading to unpleasant sound production.

●    Brass is lustrous

Brass has a shiny appearance. Since it’s made from lustrous metals, it has a bright sparkly appearance which is almost as enticing as the sound it produces.

●    Brass is light

Metals generally have high densities. However, in the case of brass, it is made from two relatively light metals. This way, you can march and parade with it and can perform with it for hours without being fatigued. Brass has notably lightweight

●    Brass is inexpensive

This is relatively inexpensive. This is an added advantage for both manufacturers and saxophonists themselves. This way, its little cost of production is reflected in its affordable price.

●    Brass is malleable

This is one of its notable features. This way, brass can be bent into shapes easily. Most other metals are hard and considerably dense and cannot serve the same purpose.

Even among the brass, some variants exist. To optimize and get the best possible combinations, brands of saxophones have made several alloys of brass to produce more euphonious sounds from saxes.

What Raw Materials are used in producing Saxophones?

The primary material used in making saxophones is brass. Copper, tin, nickel, and zinc are just few of the metals that go into making brass, a composite alloy. To improve the brass’s suitability as tubing, a trace of arsenic or phosphorus can be added.

The saxophone is constructed from a variety of non-wooden components. Stainless steel is used for most of the screws. There are cork gaskets and water keys throughout. Some people put wax on these joints to make them more pliable.

There is minimal correlation between the material used to construct a mouthpiece and the quality of the sound produced by the instrument. The most popular materials are ebonite and other black, strong rubber. It’s also possible to get mouthpieces made of metal or glass.

The resonators are often composed of plastic, and lacquer is frequently used to finish the instrument. Keys are strengthened and preserved with nickel plating.

There are also further varieties known in making saxophones:

●    Yellow Brass

This is the standard variant for musical instruments. Musical instruments are made of yellow brass to produce that rich bright tone. If your saxophone isn’t specified about its material, then it’s probably made of yellow brass. It contains 70% copper and 30% zinc

●    Gold brass

Its name doesn’t imply that it is made of gold. Instead, it was given the name “gold” because of its characteristic colour – which is, the percentage of copper present in it. Copper makes 85% and zinc is present in 15%. Gold brass Saxophones are lustrous and enchanting. Gold brass is common in other musical instruments, especially in trumpets.

●    Silver Brass

The silver brass is notably different because nickel is also added to the mixture. Of all types of brass, silver brass is easily spotted because of its darker and fuller tone and characteristic whitish colour. Saxophones made of silver brass are rare to find.

●    Rose brass

This has the highest content of copper to about 90% and 10% zinc. It has a much darker tone and it is extremely rare to come by. It’s predominantly used for the leadpipe of students’ saxophones. This is to prevent red rot that results from corrosion from acidic fluids (saliva) that has built up in the tubing. Besides these, of all brand variants, it has the dullest of appearances.

●    Red brass

Red brass is the rarest variant of brass. This is a mixture of copper, zinc and tin in the ratio of 88%, 2% and 10% respectively. It is also called gun metal because it was originally used in making guns. Red brass is exceptionally resistant to salt water and steam. Saxophones made from this alloy produce amazing sounds.

Some Other Materials Used For Making Saxophones

Occasionally, you’re bound to see some saxophones made from other substances. This may include; bronze, Sterling Silver, pure silver or pure gold and plastic. These variants deepen the tone and make it mellower.

Sometimes, the parts of saxophones can be made from different materials. This is to specialize it to target areas and produce euphonious sounds.

Does the material make all the difference?

Absolutely yes. The material affects the timbre, resonance and resistance of your saxophone. Manufacturers consider these factors before choosing the material for a particular saxophone model

●     Resonance

Density is the determining factor for resonance. The higher the density, the higher the resonance; consequently, the darker and mellower sound it produces.

Materials with a higher resonating ability tend to produce deeper and fuller tones than lighter ones but respond slower. Similarly, lighter materials produce sharp sounds and respond faster.

●     Timbre

This describes the overall tone, pitch and tonal colour that the saxophone produces from its horn.

●     Resistance

This factor is true not just of saxophones but of all brass instruments. Density affects the resistance of saxes. Less dense metals are quick and responsive. However, the sound produced lacks a good tone and texture.

On the other hand, denser metals respond slowly and require twice the effort but, the quality of tone produced is top-notch.

How is saxophone made?

Traditional saxophones are brass instruments with a curved bottom and a single reed. There used to be 14 various sizes and keys to choose from, but now there are only six.

Sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass saxes are all included in this group. Soprano instruments are the smallest while bass instruments are the largest.

Saxophones get their distinctive sound from the player blowing air into the organ’s mouthpiece. The final tone of the instrument is significantly impacted by the mouthpiece’s structure. It differentiates a saxophonist from a rock band to a symphony orchestra.

The tone chamber and the lie (or facing), which is the space between both the mouthpiece’s reed and its tip, are the two primary components of the mouthpiece that contribute to the instrument’s overall sound. The lay width is indicated by a letter or number on most mouthpieces.

Attached to the end of the saxophone, the reed vibrates to produce sound. Saxophone reeds are often crafted from bamboo (Arundo donax), a plant native to the south of France. Each musician has the ability to adjust the reed’s hardness to suit their own preferences.

The reed is fastened to the mouthpiece using a ligature. Screws secure it to the mouthpiece. They can be fashioned out of a wide variety of materials, including wood, metal, plastic, and leather.

To connect the mouthpiece to the rest of the instrument, the crook is used. The cork at its top aids in fine-tuning the instrument. Where the mouthpiece is placed on the cork affects the sound.

An integral metal joint connects the crook’s opposite end to the saxophone’s main body. The hook is secured with a screw.

You can choose between open- and closed-standing keys on a saxophone. The term “closed standing keys” refers to those on a musical instrument that are kept closed by a spring while it is not in use. Pressing the key exposes the space it was covering.

The spring keeps the key in the open position until it is pressed, at which point the key retracts. A pad at the end of each key creates a tight seal over the opening.

The saxophone’s tube starts out narrow and gradually widens toward the finish. It includes notches along the edge for jotting down notes.

With the vents sealed, the instrument mimics a bugle in its ability to amplify the sound of a vibrating reed. When a hole is made in anything, the sound changes and a new pitch is created. Due to its conical form, the saxophone produces overtones in octaves. Because the same finger placement is used to generate both lower and higher pitched notes, this simplifies fingering.

How are the various parts of the saxophone produced?

The numerous saxophone parts are often produced by contract manufacturers due to the complexity of the task. The parts are manufactured and then shipped to the manufacturers of saxophones for final assembly.

  • The Body

The primary component of the saxophone is brass. This is made by mounting an oiled brass tube onto a long, tapered mandrel.

Brass is reformed by pulling a doughnut-shaped die down a mandrel, which causes the material to be stretched to an even thickness. After being heated, the tube can be bent and shaped with greater ease. The tube is cleaned with sulfuric acid after being heated, which leaves an oxide residue.

  • The Tube

The modified tube is then sent to a shaping facility, where it is bent to add a curl if necessary for the particular saxophone model.

There are two distinct bending techniques that can be used. One method involves placing the tube within a die whose shape corresponds to the desired curve. In order to make the tube fit snugly into the die, pressure water is pumped through it.

  • The tone holes

You can either make the tone holes by hand or using a machine. Workers in the past would place the brass tubes onto a steel mandrel that was fitted with pulling balls. The pulling ball was threaded with a drill press that was lowered into position.

When the drill press was lifted, the ball was pulled through the opening, and a rimmed or chimney-like structure was left behind. Each tone hole in the shaft went through the same procedure. The tone holes are now typically made automatically by loading multiple tubes into a machine.

Automatic computer controls guarantee flawless instrument performance every time. An opaque lacquer coat is applied to the body once the tubes have been constructed.

How is the quality of the saxophone controlled?

Every component of a saxophone is meticulously inspected as it moves through the production process. This is done primarily by visual inspection by qualified professionals.

Inspectors look for defects including misshapen pieces and bad soldering among other things. Furthermore, more thorough assessments can be made.

The physical dimensions of each component are checked with measuring tools like a vernier caliper or micrometer.

The audio is also checked for defects before being shipped. Instruments are tested for acceptable levels of tone, intonation, and playability by experienced musicians employed by the manufacturer.

It is possible to test how an instrument sounds in a variety of acoustic environments. If the saxophone is manufactured correctly, it should not require any fine-tuning. However, the instrument’s sharpness can be reduced by drilling more tone holes, and a flat sound can be eliminated by filling the tone holes with shellac.

What does the future hold for Saxophone.

The creation and design of saxophones are ongoing processes. Saxophones with a variety of bow radii and bell flares have been made due to the instrument’s increased demand in recent years.

More parts are now detachable, making cleanup much simpler. A third tone hole has been added to the Selmer Series III alto to help it sound better in tune. The instrument’s tone and build quality are always being refined.

Materials to avoid when buying saxophones

Even though as plastic builds are enticing, you should not consider buying them because they come with a lot of inconveniences. They’re brittle and cannot stand the test of time.

Furthermore, plastic saxophones produce good sounds but are not quick enough to respond. As a beginner, you might find it hard to use and that alone can be frustrating.

Also, for intermediate players who need to perfect their level, plastic saxes are definitely not the right way to look because you’ll lag behind in a band or orchestra. Which may only have you working yourself up unnecessarily.

So, stronger and long-lasting materials such as brass are advisable. Brass offers a unique tone and long-lasting lifespan. Get a brass saxophone today and enjoy the thrill of good music.